Angels, Satan, Demons, and the Christian View of the World4
In his new book, Against the Darkness: The Doctrine of Angels, Satan, and Demons (Crossway, 2019), Graham Cole makes this important observation:
“One of the questions that animates so many today is whether we are alone in the universe. The thought that humanity is the lonely product of blind evolutionary processes chills. . . . Indeed the human imagination is not content with such solitariness, and so we find all sorts of alien beings frequenting popular entertainment. . . .
Christians should not be surprised by any of this. We affirm that humanity is not a cosmic orphan, thrown up by blind evolutionary processes. As theists we believe that there is a Creator and ourselves, but is that the whole story? Not according to Scripture. There is another order of intelligent life that must be factored into the discussion: the angels, both fallen and unfallen. Yet although Christians espouse belief in such an order of intelligent life, I wonder whether, operationally speaking, many of us – at least in the secularized West – live as though we are effectively alone” (17).
I agree with Cole. To use his words, “operationally speaking” many Christians live each day as if angels and demons don’t exist.
In my book, Convergence: Spiritual Journeys of a Charismatic Calvinist, I noted how both cessationists and charismatics deal with the issue of angelic and demonic activity. Here is what I wrote:
One final distinction [between cessationists and charismatics] is the way in which both groups view the role of the angelic realm in human experience. This is essentially an extension of their respective views on whether and to what extent we should expect supernatural manifestations in the course of daily life. Cessationists believe in the existence of angels and demons, but are reluctant to account for inexplicable phenomena, much less routine occurrences, by appealing to angelic activity or demonic attack. They are somewhat skeptical of reports of angelic manifestations and thus do not live with the expectation of angelic encounters in daily experience.
For charismatics, on the other hand, angels and demons are a functional reality of every-day life. They feel little, if any, hesitation in attributing unusual phenomena as well as scandalous sin to the presence and power of either angelic or demonic entities. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that whereas cessationists generally deny that Christians can be demonized, charismatics affirm it and regard deliverance ministry as an essential, indeed routine, component of the church’s responsibility.
Have charismatics gone too far at times in defaulting to angelic intervention to explain otherwise inexplicable phenomena? Yes. Have cessationists gone too far in ignoring the potential for angelic activity commensurate with what we see in the experience of both Old and New Testament believers? Yes. Is it possible to affirm the reality of angelic manifestations without falling prey to sensationalism and hype? Yes. Is it possible to question some claims to an angelic presence without being accused of deism or skepticism? I hope so.
I was drawn to this issue on thinking yet again about the role of the angelic and demonic in the Christmas story. I hope to address this in more detail in the days leading up to Christmas Day. Stay tuned.