Powers of Darkness (Arnold)

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n many ways this is a shortened version of his dissertation. But it can also function as a supernaturalist, evangelical response to the then (and now) current leftist evangelical fascination with “powers-talk.” It also documents how conservative evangelicals, thanks to some Charismatic influences, are taking the Bible seriously on principalities and powers.

It’s important to read Ephesians. It’s even more important to read the sections in Acts where Paul engaged in “Power Apologetics” against demons, magical grimoires, and riots.

The Stoichea

Arnold follows the RSV/NEB/TEV in reading the elemental spirits as personal beings, and not as abstract elements (Arnold 53). This seems to be the correct reading because it echoes Galatians 3-4 in seeing them as guardian tutors.

He has an excellent section on Judaism. I say excellent in general, for I will push back on some parts. He notes that Jews did have categories for the “demonic,” even if they weren’t as explicit as in New Testament times. This is true, but scholarship has since shed more light on this. Take Deut. 32:16-17. Most translations read something like, “They sacrificed to demons.”

By itself this isn’t too problematic, but it leads Arnold to draw some conclusions that are in tension with the rest of his work. Arnold writes, “Biblical writers attributed no real, independent existence to these deities. Instead they called them idols” (56). I know what he is wanting to do. He wants to safeguard against henotheism, and I commend that. But if he calls these entities demons, then he is forced to admit that they do have some kind of existence.

Sure, Zeus doesn’t exist. But I don’t see what exactly is gained by saying Zeus doesn’t exist, but the demonic presence behind Zeus does exist. But is that even what the text says in Hebrew? It says they sacrified to “shedim.” This is a territorial guardian spirit whose Akkadian root word connects it to the underworld. This doesn’t refute Arnold’s analysis, but it makes it much richer.

And while Arnold does posit some sort of pre-creation angelic fall, he realizes that the Old Testament never really says that. It posits Satan’s falling, to be sure, if only by implication.

Paul and the Powers

Fairly standard NT theology material here. Examines Paul’s use of “powers-language” and makes clear that gnosticism was not involved.

Contra Walter Wink

There has been a tendency in recent theology to equate the powers with socio-economic structures. Earlier theology would have seen the powers as influencing these structures but never identifying the two. He incorporates Paul’s use of “in Christ” language to negate any perceived need for a young believer to go towards angelic intermediaries, power-intermediaries, etc.

Hilariously, Wink commits the “illegitimate totality transfer fallacy” by arguing “that one term can be made to represent all the uses” (quoted in Arnold 199).

The book ends with practical guidelines for spiritual warfare today. He understands that belief in “Powers” and “spirits” today bothers Christians, even professed conservative ones. And he doesn’t back down. The bold believer is one who affirms the reality of shedim, powers, demons, etc., and is willing to engage them in spiritual warfare

Bavinck: Sin and Salvation in Christ

Bavinck, Herman, John Bolt, and John Vriend. Reformed Dogmatics: sin and salvation in Christ. Vol. 3. Baker Academic, 2003.

Bavinck continues his theme that “grace restores nature.” He addresses all of the loci of theology following anthropology, which he dealt with in his previous volume. This volume is not as philosophically heavy as the first two, so it might be easier to read for some.

Origin of Sin

As is the case with most 20th century Dutch writers, Bavinck was quite attuned to the reality of spiritual warfare. “Then we learn that involved in the struggle of evil on earth there is also a contest of spirits and that humanity and the world are the spoils for which the war between God and Satan, between heaven and hell, is waged (Bavinck 35).

Sinful Flesh

He gives a careful discussion on the contrast between “spirit” and flesh.” For Rome Adam’s transgression resulted in the loss of the superadded gift (43).  In this case fallen nature is identical with uncorrupted nature. This is one of the reasons that Thomas Aquinas, while perhaps knowing better, gave the appearance of reducing flesh to the physical. Bavinck writes, “In this sense flesh is contrasted with spirit, though not with the human pneuma, which, after all, is also sinful and needs sanctification….but with the Holy Spirit, which renews the human spirit….and also consecrates the body and puts it at the disposal of righteousness” (54).

The Spread of Sin

The Reformation stressed that original sin is not just the loss of something but simultaneously a total corruption of human nature (98).

Good take on free will: Humans have lost “the free inclination of the will towards good” (121).

The Nature of Sin

Sin is not a “substance” or a thing, but an “energeia” (137).

Bavinck has a good section on “The Kingdom of Evil” (146ff). He notes the numerous subordinate spirits, which have their own subdivisions. He explores the connection between “devils” (a most inaccurate word) and the spirits of dead persons (he rejects this identity; it’s just interesting that he explored it).

The Covenant of Grace

Bavinck’s discussion of the pactum salutis is fairly standard, but in it he makes some comments which appear to give the Son an eternally subordinate role.

This doctrine of the pact of salvation… is rooted in a scriptural idea. For as Mediator, the Son is subordinate to the Father, calls him God…, is his servant… who has been assigned a task… and who receives a reward… for the obedience accomplished… Still, this relation between Father and Son, though most clearly manifest during Christ’s sojourn on earth, was not first initiated at the time of the incarnation, for the incarnation itself is already included in the execution of the work assigned to this the Son, but occurs in eternity and therefore also existed already during the time of the Old Testament… Scripture also clearly… sees Christ functioning officially already in the days of the Old Testament (214)

The language of subordination is clearly there.  There is no denying it.  Several other things are going on, though. Bavinck says the Son is subordinate as a mediator, and this mediation preceded time (in one sense).  That’s all Bavinck is saying.  He isn’t trying to drive an ideology with it.  Moreover, in one sense Christ gives up his kingdom to the Father at the end, which would seem that his subordination is tied to that giving up the kingdom. Finally, in the previous volume Bavinck affirms the single divine will and the inseparability of operations, something no advocate of ESS can accept.

Later, Bavinck says that Christ’s mediatorial work is finished when he delivers the kingdom to His Father (481).

Covenant of grace: “The essential character of the covenant of grace, accordingly, consists in the fact that it proceeds from God’s special grace and has for its content nothing other than grace” (225).

Covenant and Election

“The covenant of grace is the channel by which the stream of election flows towards eternity” (229).  Bavinck doesn’t make a strict identity between election and the covenant of grace, but for all practical purposes he does identify them.

The Person of Christ

Bavinck sees the Christological history as “East — unity of person,” West — distinction between natures” (255).

Rome and the East see a communication of divine gifts, but not attributes to the hypostasis.  Lutherans see it to the attributes.

The Reformed say the person of the Son was immediately united with the human nature, and the divine nature was mediately united with it (276, citing Zanchi).

Nature and Person

Hegel said nature and person are related as essence and appearance (306).  This, obviously, will not do.  Rather, nature is the substratum, the “principle by which” a thing is. “Person” is the owner of the nature.  He acts through the nature.

We Reformed say that Christ had an infused knowledge, but that knowledge was only gradually completed. “He did not yet share in the beatific knowledge here on earth” (312).

The Work of Christ

Christ’s Humiliation

 Survey of relevant passages dealing with redemption, sacrifice, etc.

“Christ is the mediator of both creation and re-creation” (363). Christ is a mediator in both natures. 

Christ’s Exaltation

Regarding the atonement, Bavinck points out that intercession and sacrifice have the same range.  If the former is particular, so is the latter (466).

Salvation in Christ

Old Testament righteousness: it was not a personal quality of theirs but the case they represented (494).

Rome: Baptized children receive justification/infused grace.  They receive “sufficient grace” later on (515).  This illumines the intellect.

Reformed:  regeneration, faith, and conversion are not preparations that a person has to meet, but they are fruits which flow from “the covenant of grace, the mystical union, the granting of Christ’s person” (525).

The Reformation captured the idea of grace much better.  There was no opposition between natural and supernatural, but of sin and grace.  “The Reformation rejected this Neoplatonic mysticism” (577).

It is not a substance, but “a restoration of the form of the creation originally imprinted on humans and creature in general” (578).

This is required reading for all interested in the history of dogmatics.

Defeating Dark Angels (Kraft)

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Kraft, Charles.  Defeating Dark Angels.

After John Wimber’s Power Healing and Power Evangelism, this is the best book on inner healing and deliverance.  I would also recommend you read it in conjunction with JP Moreland’s book on Anxiety, whether you have anxiety or not.

Demons can attach themselves to wounds.  As Jesus brings healing to the wounds, the demons get weaker.

He makes an identification between demon, angel, and evil spirit.  I don’t think that is exegetically warranted, but that’s not where Kraft’s real strength is, either. He sees these as “the ground troops,” which are distinct from the principalities.  That much is correct. I think demons are “ground troops” as well and that is a good way of putting it. I just don’t think demons are fallen angels.

Can Christians be demonized?  We need to be clear that demonize does not mean demon-possessed. Kraft makes a very subtle distinction:  a demon cannot live in a Christian’s spirit–the deep core of a person–because Jesus lives there. Very true.  But the Christian’s spirit is not the whole person.

>>A demon cannot indwell a Christian in the same sense as the Holy Spirit can.  A demon is a squatter and subject to momentary eviction. 

>>Do demons “cause” events?  Not really. Normally they will simply “tag along” with a bad event and exploit it.

>>Demons will often “bluff” because they know while Christians have the greater power, they usually don’t use it.

>>Not only will demons attach themselves to sin, but also to damaged emotions.  In order to enter a person (but not a Christian’s spirit), a demon either has a legal right (e.g., the occult) or an entry point via an emotional or spiritual weakness.

God at War (Greg Boyd)

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Boyd, Greg.  God at War: The Bible & Spiritual Conflict. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsityPress, 1997.
If I were an Arminian or a Molinist, how would I respond to Greg Boyd?  I begin the review that way because Boyd, like some hyper-Calvinists, thinks in a fundamentalistic fashion: you are either 100% committed to his view, or you are 100% committed to what the opposite view necessarily entails.  Missing is nuance.  This is rather frustrating because much of the book is quite excellent and groundbreaking when it comes to spiritual warfare.  On the other hand, Boyd’s extreme way of phrasing the arguments makes for fairly easy reading.
Boyd advocates a “Warfare Worldview” model, which sees much (or all?  He isn’t really clear on this point) of the evil in the world as a result of demonic activities.  At least on one level that’s hard to argue against.  Entities in the spiritual world have free agency and hinder God’s purposes (or try to).  A case in point is Daniel 10.  The danger is that Boyd seems to pay a near fatal price:  by framing God’s sovereignty as a puppetmaster, and rejecting it, we come very close to having a God who really can’t do all that much.  That’s somewhat ironic for Boyd’s worldview, since if God can’t control the future, it’s not clear whether he will win the battle.

 

His first chapter examines various approaches to the “problem of evil.”  He notes the Bible never really deals with it (God never answers any of Job’s questions).  Boyd argues that to the degree we chalk up evil to some mysterious working of an abstract God’s inscrutable will, to that degree we cannot account for the actions of angels and demons on the world. Boyd asks: “Does this omnipotence necessarily entail that God is all-controlling” (Boyd 41)?  It depends.  What is meant by “all-controlling?”  That’s the problem.  Even Calvinist traditions affirms human choice of some sort and that God works through secondary causes.
Boyd’s argument is that we are more likely to find a “why” for the existence of evil in the free actions of human and demonic entities that simply chalking it up to Providence.  I agree, but I think he comes close to negating Providence altogether.  Notwithstanding, Boyd points out that a “warfare worldview” mentality didn’t make much sense in an Enlightenment world–whether conservative Enlightenment or French unbelief.  Such a worldview believes in the reality of spirits and non-physical causes.  Indeed, pace Kant, it posits the “world-in-between.” (Which, one suspects, is why Kantian thought doesn’t have a place for angels.  Are angels phenomenal or noumenal entities?  They are neither).
If God is unmoved essence, then the warfare language of the Old Testament is rather odd, if not downright blasphemous.  And such a Hellenistic mindset is at odds with modern understandings of the universe, where events are more fundamental than static essences (68).
God’s main enemies in the early OT were Yamm, Rahab, and Leviathan. He was at war on the water. Boyd rehashes the standard cosmic creation/warfare motifs of the ANE.  I’m going to skip all that in the review.  Boyd, though he has since abandoned this view, held to a day-age/gap theory view where creation was created before Gen. 1:2, allowing him to see the tehom as analogous to Tiamat.

 

I’m not persuaded of that, but he does have a point that Genesis 1-2 can’t be exhaustive, for it says nothing of the fall of Satan and/or other angels/Watchers.
Psalm 74 depicts Yahweh’s battle with the Caananite god Yamm, whom Job noted had a guarding aspect (Job 7:12).

 

The monotheism of the OT didn’t rule out sub-beings who were clearly not humans.  Call them angels, if you want to (though that isn’t strictly accurate).  We see this in the divine council (1 Kgs 22:20; Jeremiah 23:18).  This view posits Yahweh as a personal agent who communicates and hears speech.

Some notes

Most likely refers to the fallen Watchers theme (262).  The NT usually refers to deceased humans (at least in an unqualified way) as psyche, not pneumata.  Pneumata usually refers to nonhuman spiritual beings.  Secondly, this is in the context of Noachian judgment.  If it is merely deceased humans, then why limit it to the flood?
Contra Walter Wink:  Wink thinks these powers are “the inner aspect of material or tangible manifestations of power” (quoted in Boyd 273).  There are some major problems with this, though.  Paul almost certainly thinks of personal agents. Further, he sees these powers as engaged in personal activity (Eph 2:2).
Boyd says Satan is Abaddon or Apollyon of Revelation 9 (277).  I don’t think so.
In terms of textual scholarship, the book is top notch.  The endnotes are a feast.  We cringe at the open theist aspects of the book and wish he hadn’t written the first chapter.