Beyond Social Justice: The Intimate Arena of Exorcism

In the first part of Reviving Old Scratch I describe how liberal and progressive Christians tend to demythologize "spiritual warfare" by equating it with social justice.

According to progressive Christians, "spiritual warfare" isn't about battling malevolent disembodied spirits (demons) than it is about fighting against systemic injustice in the world.

In Reviving Old Scratch I include fighting against oppression as an instance of "spiritual warfare," but I also go on to describe how there is more to "spiritual warfare" than just political activism.

Specifically, reducing spiritual warfare to politics tends to ignore the personal and intimate ways people suffered from demonic possession in the Gospels. Jesus' ministry of exorcism wasn't a ministry of political activism, it was a ministry that brought healing into a very particular biography.

To be sure, there was a social aspect to exorcism. The demonically possessed were considered to be "unclean," and were, thus, cut off from the social fabric of Israel. As a form of cleansing, exorcism restored individuals to community. Exorcism mended tears in the social fabric.

And yet, a purely sociological account of exorcism--restoring the ostracized to community--ignores the particular and private suffering that demonic possession caused in the lives of those who sought out Jesus as an exorcist. Seeking release from that personal pain and suffering, for themselves or for a loved one, was the main reason people approached Jesus for an exorcism.

When we reduce "spiritual warfare" to political activism we miss the intimate arena of exorcism, the pain in the private lives of specific individuals. A purely sociological approach to "spiritual warfare" that focuses upon "the principalities and powers" misses this suffering.

This isn't to say that our battle against the devil shouldn't focus on systemic evil. Just the observation that the devil causes us to suffer in private and particular ways that shouldn't be ignored or minimized.

If Jesus' exorcisms were anything, they were intimate acts of compassion that soothed the pain in the hearts and minds of suffering people.

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