Stanley Hauerwas has written that American Christianity has become "too spiritual." That is, the concerns of the church have become other-worldly, with Christians focusing their attention upon the afterlife and the status of their souls.
Such a focus tends to miss the political, social, and economic implications of the Kingdom of God and how the "Kingdom come on earth" might come into conflict with the way Babylon does business.
One way to see this conflict is to note how the biblical writers consistently conflate the spiritual and the political/economic when they speak of "the principalities and powers." As John Howard Yoder describes it:
[The powers are] religious structures (especially the religious undergirdings of stable ancient and primitive societies), intellectual structures ('ologies and 'isms), moral structures (codes and customs), political structures (the tyrant, the market, the school, the courts, race and nation). The totality is overwhelmingly broad.Given this conflation of the spiritual, political, and economic I was struck last week while reading through the book of Acts how many of the riots associated with the proclamation of the gospel had nothing to do with spiritual issues, with who was going to heaven or hell. Rather, the threat of the gospel was in the area of economics. The scandel of the gospel had to do with its effect on the marketplace.
Acts 16.16-23aWhat an interesting story. Here exorcism has an economic impact. Demon possession is associated with economic exploitation. Evil spirits at work in the marketplace. God's Kingdom coming affecting the bottomline.
Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. This girl followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, "These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved." She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so troubled that he turned around and said to the spirit, "In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!" At that moment the spirit left her.
When the owners of the slave girl realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities. They brought them before the magistrates and said, "These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice."
The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten. After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison.
Here's another example:
Acts 19.23-30This is also an interesting story. Here we see a conflation of idolatry and economics. Worshiping false gods is good for business. So when the Kingdom comes business is affected. The National god is praised ("Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!") but the root motive for this religious devotion is economics. You love the god of your nation because it's good for business. And you defend the god of your nation because that god provides the moral, religious, and traditional warrant for the way your nation does business.
About that time there arose a great disturbance about the Way. A silversmith named Demetrius, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought in no little business for the craftsmen. He called them together, along with the workmen in related trades, and said: "Men, you know we receive a good income from this business. And you see and hear how this fellow Paul has convinced and led astray large numbers of people here in Ephesus and in practically the whole province of Asia. He says that man-made gods are no gods at all. There is danger not only that our trade will lose its good name, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited, and the goddess herself, who is worshiped throughout the province of Asia and the world, will be robbed of her divine majesty."
When they heard this, they were furious and began shouting: "Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!" Soon the whole city was in an uproar. The people seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul's traveling companions from Macedonia, and rushed as one man into the theater. Paul wanted to appear before the crowd, but the disciples would not let him.
Economics and demon possession. Business and spiritual slavery. National idolatry and the marketplace. It all mingles together.
Exorcisms, it seems, are about economics.