Unger, Merrill. Demons in the World Today. Tyndale.
Merrill Unger writes with much force and energy and in a clear style. While he gets many details wrong, the general thrust of his argument is correct. This book is an update (but by no means a replacement) to his classic Biblical Demonology. In this work Unger (correctly) recognizes that “possession” is a misleading term (and one the Bible never actually uses). This allows him to bring pastoral insight to Christians who are struggling with the occult.
My main problem with this work is that Unger lumps all “bad” spirits as “demons” and all good spirits as “angels.” While he equates demons with fallen angels, he realizes that his position isn’t self-evident and a number of plausible theories are advanced. He rejects the idea that demons are the disembodied souls of fallen Nephilim (Unger 12-13). He says it is pure speculation. Modern scholarship has shown it is anything but that. I’m not 100% sold on the idea, but one can make a case for it. Nephilim are not fully human or divine, so it makes some sense that their souls are earth-bound.
Unger says, alluding to Revelation 12, that demons are connected with the primordial fall of the dragon and his angels (13). But when we look at Revelation 12, the “fall” is happening at Christ’s birth, not in some eon past. On another note, following the plain reading of the Bible and numerous scholars today, Unger agrees that the “sons of God” are semi-divine beings who copulated with human women (12). And then he argues that demons are incorporeal beings (22), and that the two are the same; how, then, can an incorporeal demon fornicate with a woman?
There is a way out of this. It is something along the lines of when angelic beings enter the realm of time, space, and matter, they can take on the properties of matter (this is obvious from Abraham’s encounter with the angels). Nonetheless, I agree with Unger that demons are invisible spirits. I simply reject the equation with fallen beney ha-elohim. Strangely enough, Unger seems to entertain the idea elsewhere (28).
Unger has some sage comments on the supernatural and the demonic. He writes, “When men ignore God’s warnings and enter a forbidden realm, they may witness materializations, levitations, and luminous apparitions, as well as experience spirit rappings, trances, automatic writing…” (27). His chapter on magic, while good, reads sort of like a series of horror clippings from a magazine. The pastor can probably use these as sermon introductions.
What is “demon possession” and can Christians be demon-possessed? Unger defines possession as “a condition in which one or more evil spirits inhabit a body and take complete possession” (140). A key indicator is when a possessed individual “blacks out” and doesn’t remember anything. This seems to indicate that Christians cannot be possessed, as defined above.
However, the occultic attacks on disobedient Christians are far more insidious than merely chanting “oppressed, not possessed.” Unger then documents probably close to 100 cases.
Unger’s dispensationalism mars his treatment at points. While there are strong cases for the cessation of spiritual gifts, Unger’s arguments are just bad He argues throughout the book that the super gifts ceased because the perfect has come (1 Cor. 13), which of course means the New Testament canon. There are several huge problems with this (huge enough that modern cessationists no longer advance this argument). According to 1 Corinthians 13, whenever the perfect comes, other conditions will also obtain. Do you know in full? Has faith passed away? Do you still see in a glass darkly? The most obvious problem is that 1 Cor. 13 doesn’t identify the perfect with the New Testament canon.