Saturday, November 2, 2013

Demon Possession and the Christian

Here are a few exploratory thoughts regarding demon possession and the Christian.  This is not as fully developed as I would like and this should be seen as tentative in relationship to the two articles I contrast.  I would recommend reading both articles to get a flavor for the differing types of reasoning involved.

          Among evangelicals there has been debate regarding the question, “Can a Christian be demon possessed?”  A variety of biblical texts and theological reasoning are thrown back and forth but with, seemingly, little movement in the discussion.  By re-framing the discussion and looking at commonalities between the two positions a larger arena of agreement may be achieved.  The first goal will be to locate the hinge of the debate regarding demon possession.  What exactly is being debated when evangelicals speak of “possession?”  By paying careful attention to what those who deny Christian possession are willing to grant can happen to a Christian it will be seen that the divergence between the two positions is not that great after all.  The second goal will be to briefly discuss how to best minister to a Christian who is experiencing an especially acute struggle with the demonic.
            For purposes of this paper two articles, which lay out contrary positions regarding the Christian and demon possession, will be compared.[1]  Brent Grimsley and Elliot Miller in their article denying demon possession of a Christian state early on in their discussion:
Thus, the issue is not the translation of the verb [δαιμονίζομαι], but the location of wicked spirits relative to the believer.  In other words we may ask: Can demons control Christians from within or only oppress them from without?[2]

Grimsley and Miller, thus, isolate two factors to be considered: location (within or without) and influence (control or oppression).  However, the manner in which they explicate this is deficient for they only render two possibilities flowing from these two variables.  They completely overlook a third option: Demonic control of the Christian from without.[3]  Of course, there will be a spectrum of possible meanings for “control” but this option should not be overlooked.  In fact, Grimsley and Miller come very close to just such a proposal later in their article.  In speaking about those “dramatic cases” appealed to by those who argue for the possibility of Christian possession they write:
It seems that demons would be capable of producing certain audible, mental, and bodily phenomena from a position external to the Christian in order to create the illusion that the Christian is, in fact, possessed.  If they can convince believers that they have the power to control them, then such believers, though actually in control of their own wills, will grant the powers of darkness a degree of control by default.[4]

Notice the two key features of the demonic as “external to the Christian” and the granting to the “powers of darkness a degree of control by default.”  This is a fascinating admission that contains the seeds for fruitful discussions that may serve to bridge the two viewpoints.
            As a starting point it is first helpful to recognize that the issue of “location” is not the central concern.  If a Christian can be placed, or place oneself, under severe demonic control then it ultimately does not matter whether that control is obtained by demonic spirits inside the believer as opposed to from a position outside the believer.  Sam Storms helpfully articulates this concern: “Is it necessary for a demon to be spatially ‘inside’ a person’s mind to infuse or to suggest words, thoughts, or for that person to ‘hear voices’ not their own?”[5] 
            Granting that demons can interject thoughts and words into a Christian’s mind how much influence might this have on the Christian?  It is here that Grimsley and Miller’s discussion should be nuanced.  They spoke of how oppressed Christians are still “actually in control of their own wills,” but still, nevertheless, “grant the powers of darkness a degree of control by default.”  What does this mean exactly?  Perhaps headway can be attained by looking at an analogous situation in which a Christian has been victimized by abuse and noticing the effects produced upon the will. 
            Dr. Steven Tracy articulates some of the effects that traumatic abuse can have on people.  Some of these effects include: hyperarousal, intrusion, and numbing.[6]  These effects can influence the nature of human responses.  In other words, the “will” may be constrained in certain ways that narrow the range of human choice.  Tracy explains:
This isn’t implying that abuse survivors have no responsibility for their behavior, but it’s simply pointing to the truth that the effects of trauma are very complicated.  Many of the effects of trauma are not consciously chosen by the victim.  Abuse victims do not choose to have amnesia, nightmares, flashbacks, panic attacks, or increased heart rates.[7]

If the traumatic abuse from another human being can produce such effects might it not be possible that demonic oppression can produce similar results?  If such a possibility is granted then there is reason to envision a scenario in which a Christian can come under demonic oppression to such an extent that profound influence is exercised by such demonic beings.  The Christian’s “will”—the ability to choose—may be significantly impaired or constrained.  Such a scenario fits well the view mentioned earlier: Demonic control of the Christian from without.  Thus, with a bit of expansion regarding the notion of the will as being constrained and a move beyond the issue of the location of the demonic (i.e., insider versus outside) the two positions can come to common ground.  There will, of course, continue to be potential disagreement on the nature and extent of the “control” or “influence” that the demonic can have on the Christian.  Nevertheless, the common ground reached is not insignificant. 

     [1] Brent Grimsley and Elliot Miller, “Can a Christian Be Demonized?,” n. p. [cited 18 October 2013].  Online:  Sam Storms, “Demonization and the Christian,” n. p. [cited 18 October 2013].  Online:
     [2] Grimsley and Miller, “Can a Christian Be Demonized?,” Online.
     [3] Logically there is a fourth option stated here for the sake of completeness but otherwise irrelevant to the discussion: Demonic oppression from within.
     [4] Grimsley and Miller, “Can a Christian Be Demonized?,” Online.
     [5] Storms, “Demonization and the Christian,” Online.
     [6] Steven R. Tracy, Mending the Soul: Understanding and Healing Abuse (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 97-104.
     [7] Tracy, Mending the Soul, 104.