I have recently finished reading two books on demonology. This was all inspired by my encounters with Reiki and my desire to understand more about what is really going on behind this “healing” practice. I have already blogged about one of the books, Satan Cast Out by Frederick Leahy. It is a wonderful little volume which I would highly recommend. The second book is Demon Possession and the Christian: A New Perspective by C. Fred Dickason. While my main purpose here is to review Dickason’s book, I am going to do so by comparing it to Leahy’s hence the title of this post.
The goals of the two books are different, but they do have a lot of overlap. While Leahy talked a lot about the theology behind Satan’s position, Dickason concentrates mainly on answering the question: Can a Christian be demonized? He answers affirmatively and then goes on to talk about how we should deal with such cases.
While Dickason does not spend a lot of time on Satan’s status in this world post-resurrection, I think he would probably agree with Leahy’s assessment that he is like a chained lion, not free or unbound but still pretty dangerous. They also both agree that Satan and his minions can do nothing which God does not allow them to do.
The main difference between the two lies in what is the main point of Dickason’s book, whether a Christian can be possessed. Leahy says a definitive no; Dickason after much discussion says yes. Leahy spends very little time on the issue, seeing it as a pretty clear no. Dickason spends hundreds of pages looking at first biblical, then theological evidence, and then at case studies. His conclusion is that the biblical and theological evidence is ambiguous and therefore we must look at what is before our eyes. So he asks can we find cases of demonized Christians? In his own experience as a counselor, he claims to have seen 400 such cases. He also cites evidence by other counselors and pastors who claim to have seen demonized Christians. So Dickason’s position rests mainly upon what he and others have witnessed. He does acknowledge that if the Bible provided clear evidence that Christians could not be demonized that it would trump all other evidence. But, going through many passages, he dismisses the biblical evidence as inconclusive.
While it is hard for me to dismiss the many case studies Dickason cites, it is also hard for me to read passages like Romans 8 and to think that God’s people can be inhabited by demons:
“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? . . . For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 8:31-35, 38-39; ESV)
The way that Dickason deals with such passages is to say that being inhabited by a demon does not separate a believer from the love of Christ. Neither is he convinced by the argument that the Holy Spirit and demons cannot coexist in one person, saying rather that since both are spiritual beings and do not take up space that it is nonsensical to say they cannot share a space.
Dickason’s arguments are somewhat convincing as one reads through them. I also find his book rather discouraging whereas Leahy’s was quite encouraging to the believer. So perhaps I am just defending the position I want to believe anyway, but I find it hard to accept Dickason’s easy dismissal of passage like Romans 8. It seems to contradict the plain sense of the text to me.
Part of the problem is how Dickason views “demon possession.” He argues first of all that there is no “possession” by demons; they own nothing though they are squatters and try to claim authority where they have none. Leahy also would agree with this assessment that the demons have no real authority though they constantly try to claim it. But Dickason uses this as part of his argument that Christians can be demonized; since people are not really “possessed” by demons, it is not a matter of who owns the person, God or Satan, so there is no conflict when a demon inhabits a Christian.
Because he does not believe in “demon possession,” Dickason chooses instead to speak of people being “demonized.” Another difference from Leahy is that Dickason lumps all activity of demons in people into one category. He sees no levels of demon activity. Leahy would say that while a Christian cannot be possessed, that is, cannot have a demon inside them, they can be oppressed by demons. He cites, for example, the thorn in his side which the Apostle Paul speaks of having or of Peter and the other disciples whom Jesus says Satan will sift like wheat. These things Leahy would call oppression by demons but would distinguish from what is happening with the many people from whom Jesus casts out demons. So too would Leahy see a difference between Judas in whom Satan enters and the other disciples who are tested but ultimately found faithful. Dickason looks at the biblical evidence and says that the Bible does not distinguish between different kinds of demon activity. Therefore he lumps it all together under the heading “demonization” and ends up concluding that yes, Christians can be demonized.
Really, I think this is where Dickason begins to go wrong. He is correct of course that the Bible does not identify distinct categories of demon activity, but this does not mean that they don’t exist. I think we can clearly see that what happened to Judas (Satan entered into him, we are told) and what happened to Peter (sifted like wheat but ends up repenting) are two very different things. It is clear that Satan and his crew do work for evil in the lives of believers, both authors agree on this. But by identifying only one way in which they work, as Dickason does, he is left with no choice but to say “Christians can be demonized.” And in a broad sense, taking demonized to mean affected by demons, this is true. But does it mean that demons can enter into believers? Of this I am not convinced.
Which brings us to Dickason’s many case studies. He claims to have personally witnessed 400 such cases and quotes others who have also witnessed them, though in lesser numbers. If Leahy is right and Christians cannot be possessed, then what is going on in all these cases? There are a few possible explanations. The first is, of course, that these people are not believers. We all know that not everyone who claims to be saved is. It is very difficult for us to judge another’s inner state. Dickason a number of times says that he knows that individuals he encountered were believers. He says it so much, in fact, that it makes me even more skeptical. Because how can we know? I think my husband is saved. I think my pastor is. I think many of my friends from church are. But I can’t know. Our previous church had a pastor who renounced his faith and left. While I was not there for most of his ministry, obviously some very godly people themselves had seen fit to call him as a pastor and had judged he was not only saved but worthy to lead others. And yet he proved otherwise. Even being a pastor, pastor’s wife or missionary is no guarantee of salvation.
Leahy says that in all cases in which demons are cast out, the person then comes to salvation. I think what he means by this is that while demons may be temporarily cast out from non-believers, because the Holy Spirit is not there, they will come in again. So in all of the cases he cites, the end result for the possessed is salvation. If there were not salvation, there would not be permanent freedom from demons. So I wonder if this is partly what is coming into play in Dickason’s examples. The people involved may end up saved, but they weren’t necessarily so at the beginning. Or, in other words, God sometimes saves people through demon possession; just as He might use a severe illness to bring one to faith so He at times uses a period of demon possession as the means of their salvation.
Another possibility is that in some of Dickason’s cases, there was no real demon possession. He cites only a minority of his 400 cases. They are very dramatic with demons talking through the person, but I suspect that not all were no dramatic. Obviously, one would select the most astounding for one’s book. So perhaps in some of the others, where there might be less drama, they were instead cases of demonic oppression, but not possession.
And then there is the possibility of some psychological manipulation going on. I don’t want to impinge Mr. Dickason’s reputation nor do I have a lot of insight into how such things work. But it seems to me that he often approaches people asking if he might explore them to see if there are demons present, they give consent, and he begins to command demons to make themselves known. I would think for vulnerable people this could be quite affecting. Dickason himself says that his demonized people often also have other psychological issues. So perhaps in some cases at least the search for demons becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy as some pretty messed up people have this idea introduced to them.
If we are to accept that believers cannot be demonized, then I do not think there needs to be just one solution to the problem of all these supposed cases of possession. There are probably, rather, a number of different factors at work depending on the case.
Dickason has a number of other interesting things to say. Among those whom he would call demonized believers, he does not seem to see Satan as an equal opportunity possessor. It is not as if he thinks the average believer who is walking with the Lord is in danger any moment of having demons enter in. Instead, he associates demonization with either an affiliation with the occult (on the part of the believer or their ancestors) or a deliberate sin pattern. In the case of the latter situation, in which someone has given in to persistent sin, we must ask anyway whether they are truly saved. Now even King David committed murder and adultery, so it is not as if God’s people cannot do awful things, but when we see such sins we ned to ask if the person is saved anyway. Are they a believer going astray or someone who never was saved, though they appeared to be, who is now showing their true nature? I hope that this would be a place where church discipline enters in though I fear many churches do not enact it appropriately.
In the former case, where there has been some involvement with the occult, either on the part of the demonized person of their family, I am more inclined to think that the possession is a last-ditch effort on the part of the demons to keep the person in their camp. That is, that the person perhaps always had an affiliation with demons and as they are on the verge of conversion, the demons put up a fight and get more visible. It can be hard even in one’s own life to point to one moment and say “here I was saved” so I can see that the lines here get very fuzzy so that it may appear that the person was saved, then demonized. But if we view these things as a process, then I would be more inclined to say that the person got saved through demonization (as I talked about above).
The other idea Dickason has that intrigues me is the relationship between demonization and the gift of tongues. Dickason believes, as my church does and as I believe Leahy would, that such extraordinary gifts have ceased since the end of the apostolic age and the completion of the canon. Therefore, he sees all modern manifestations of tongues as the work not of God, but of Satan. Because of this, he says that many well-meaning believers end up demonized when they have hands laid on them for the purpose of conveying the gift of tongues. He would view this as a part of the “demonized because of association with the occult” category though of course we do not normally think of tongues as part of the occult world. While I am not convinced that tongues and other extraordinary gifts can completely passed away, I do not think God uses them very often in our society which has the benefit of His written Word. And I do think that a lot of what goes on in more pentecostal churches, not just tongues which at least are mentioned in the Bible, but also other things like congregational laughing fits, do not seem to be in character with the God I know. So it is intriguing to think that these things may be not from the Holy Spirit but from demons. And if they are, it is easy to see how one be may become the focus of demonic activity through them.
In the end, I cannot recommend Dickason’s book because I do not agree with his main point, that Christians can have indwelling demons. It is interesting in parts and did make me think. There were also long parts about his approach to the problem which were not so interesting. It is certainly not a book I would give to a young or new believer who is not able to evaluate the evidence in their own and to assess Dickason’s arguments critically, but for some it may be an interesting read. If you are looking for a book on Satan’s activity, I far prefer Leahy’s.