Radical Jesus and a Tyrant Devil


“How do we like the government of satan?” asked early Quaker Stephen Crisp in a 1691 sermon. “I hope we do none of us like it.

We are a generation of selective ears, like all the generations that went before us, different only in the kinds of things we filter out.  For fourscore and seven years European-American males held it to be a self-evident truth that all men were created equal, but filtered out African-Americans, Native Americans and women.  For seventeen centuries Christians have filtered out Jesus’ pacifism and worshiped the power of the carnal weapon.  Today, of those that willingly hear of a Holy Spirit and a Creator God, many refuse to listen when the same scriptures that herald the Holy Spirit speak of “unclean spirits” too, or when texts declaring the might of God also warn of a “god of this world” opposing the Almighty.  Many of us smile at the ignorance of first-century writers who, lacking the insights of modern psychiatry, could only impute pathology to evil beings; we read Paul’s “god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4) merely as a clever figure of speech.  But perhaps this is just what the god of this world wants.

On the other hand, the First Epistle of John (3:8) reads, “For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil,” and Jesus’ own recorded words confirm that this is how He understood a major part of His own mission on earth: to “announce liberation to the captives” (Luke 4:18), to “cast out devils,” (Matt. 12:28, Mark 1:39, Luke 11:20, 13:32), and to empower His apostles to cast out demons in His name also (Matt. 10:8, Mark 16:17).  For Jesus as for His contemporaries, the demonic world was real, and it had one ruler, whose grip on this fallen world was to be shaken loose by Jesus’ crucifixion and rising again: “Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out” (John 12:31).

Now consider this contemporary reflection: “To the extent that we no longer realize the reality of the supernatural power of the demonic realm – against which we are powerless in our own unaided humanity – we no longer sense the need for a Savior, for Jesus Christ.  Even for many professing Christians, Jesus has become simply an excellent teacher of values, among many other teachers, like Confucius and the Buddha.  This is a major problem with the New Age movement:  It fails to recognize the reality of the supernatural dimension of evil, and affirms that human beings are good and have tremendous untapped potential for growth if only they can discover how good they are and rid themselves of shame.  Consequently, there is in the New Age system of thought no real need for a Savior; they see Jesus simply as a good man bringing a wonderful message of love for the human race.”  (from Francis MacNutt, Deliverance from Evil Spirits: A Practical Manual, p. 33.)   If you, like me, have a knee-jerk reaction to writers who speak of a “New Age movement” as if it were an intentional gathering of wills like the Labor Movement or the Civil Rights Movement, please put it aside; Francis MacNutt has a point here, and one of particular poignancy in these times when we see the Great Lie Machine gathering up its money and political power to trash all life on earth.

Yes, the Great Lie Machine.  You don’t have to be a conspiracy-theorist to see the same spirit of selfishness,  hypocrisy, and lust for power at work in phenomena as diverse as the  consolidation of big money’s control over nominal democracies and their media, while it continues to back regimes that disappear, torture and slaughter their dissidents; the stealthy expansion of environmental pollution, debt-slavery, offshore sweatshops, surveillance, prisons, weaponry, information-management and crowd-control technology; and the insane race to degrade and destroy the earth for the sake of the wealth to be sucked out of it.  The only question is whether there is one will and one master intelligence running the Great Lie Machine.  Not yet having the mature discernment to answer this question for myself, I turn it over to my heavenly Shepherd, trusting that we who more want to do the right thing than get the best interest rate will be enlightened about it, mobilized and led by Him when the time comes for appropriate action.

Just recently I received a request from a friend to discuss the newly published Radical Jesus: A Graphic History of Faith on this blog (Paul Buhle, editor; published 2013 by Herald Press in Harrisonburg, Virginia and Waterloo, Ontario; ISBN 978-0-8361-9621-4; paperback).  I like the book very much, find it beautifully illustrated, and hope to see my own life changed by reading it!  It starts with Sabrina Jones’s masterly sketch of the ministry of Jesus, “Radical Gospel,” from His baptism in the River Jordan to His post-resurrection giving of the Great Commission.   Taste and wit are shown in Friend Sabrina’s blending of scenery from first-century Palestine with images from the urbanized twenty-first century: the crowd around the Baptist is clearly of the ancient world, but when the Devil comes to tempt Jesus in the wilderness, we see a horned Satan with eyeglasses, who offers Jesus “all the kingdoms of this world” in a panorama that includes the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty.  The illustrations of Jesus’ parables likewise jump forward twenty centuries to show modern soldiers guzzling bottled water and a skeleton-like hunger-striker refusing food brought by a guard who could be from Guantánamo.  It delights me to imagine the Gospel of Jesus Christ, made graphic through Sabrina’s richly gifted pen and brush, reaching people that might never take the trouble to read the Bible itself — except that here we see Jesus the teacher and Jesus the resurrected martyr but not Jesus the healer, and not Jesus the Savior who claimed, “all power is given unto me in heaven and in earth” (Matt. 28:18), draws all people to Him (John 12:32), and gives eternal life to whoever comes to Him (John 17:2).  My prayer is that I’ll see these other sides of Jesus in Sabrina’s future work.

“Radical History,” by Gary Dumm, with Laura Dumm and others, introduces the reader to some of the Church history you might never get to know if you weren’t one of the contributors yourself, and it’s vivid and fast-paced, covering Wycliffe and the Lollards in 14th-century England, the Anabaptists and Hutterites on the Continent and in America, the Quakers in the Colonies; it ends with a one-page life of abolitionist Angelina Grimké (1805-1879).  “Radical Resistance,” by Nick Thorkelson, brings the history up to the present day. The setting is a group discussion that could take place “last week, or 20 years ago, or next month,” “in Brockton, Massachusetts – or the hills around Sâo Paulo, Brazil – or the ruins of Port-au-Prince… – asking: … What are we called to do?”  Different presenters tell stories of inspiring acts of witness, from the 19th-century mission of Sojourner Truth (1797-1883) to the Christian Peacemaker Teams of today.   There the reader is left, wondering what he or she is to do now, and with whom?

There is One who can tell us what we are to do now, who said He would be with us “alway, even unto the end of the world” (Matt. 28:20); but if He is not a Savior, but only “a good man bringing a wonderful message of love for the human race,” then He can’t give us the new, courageous heart and Holy Spirit-guided discerning eye that we need in order to be turned from hesitant, comfort-loving Christian Peacemaker wannabees into the faithful saints that the condition of the planet now calls for.  And this, in my view, is one limitation of Radical Jesus.  The other is that the huge array of bad guys currently running things, and stupid or misguided or enslaved or indifferent people working for or complicit with the bad guys, is just plain daunting: convert one wicked person to the way of righteousness and you’ve made all heaven rejoice, maybe, but then what about the other billions?  Don’t these people have a world headquarters that can be immobilized?  Is there some master strategy that can be blocked, some hypnotizing chief enslaver that they can all be freed from?

Jesus said, “I testify of ‘the world’ that its works are evil” (John 7:7b), “but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33b). Yes, there is a chief enslaver, called in Scripture the prince, or god, of this world, and our Savior has defeated him (or “it”) already; it remains for us to unseat that god in our own hearts by saying “yes” to faith and love, and “no” to fear, pride, greed, lust, selfishness, anger — we may be given several opportunities to do this in any given day.  And then we are to listen.  We will surely be called and led.


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13 Responses to “Radical Jesus and a Tyrant Devil”

  1. Michael Snow Says:

    Amen. Here are surprising quotes for many evangelical “Christians [who] have filtered out Jesus’ pacifism and worshiped the power of the carnal weapon.” The faithful testimony of Charles Surgeon:

  2. A Quacker Post on Pacifism | Christian Pacifism Says:

    […] Radical Jesus and a Tyrant Devil […]

  3. Blogs of Pilgrims On Christ’s Path | Christian Pacifism Says:

    […] among Friends […]

  4. Thy Friend John Says:

    Thank you, Michael!

    Today I felt my unprogrammed Friends’ meeting as in distress over the Syrian refugee crisis and the President’s moves toward military action rather than opening our doors to fleeing Syrians, much as the US denied sanctuary to Jews fleeing Hitler in the 1930s. Meanwhile, the people of the US were spending $12.3 billion on their Black Friday shopping spree. What is to be done with this country of ours, this people, this government? Toward the end of the hour I was given a message to share: There _is_ a devil; and there _is_ a Savior.

    We’re so attached to the vain hope that we can conquer evil by our own good intentions, and need no Savior! We’d be so happy to hail Jesus as merely a great wise man of the past! My prayers continue that more and more of us will wake up to the reality of our situation.

  5. Micah Bales (@micahbales) Says:

    Amen, John. Thank thee for this post!

  6. Thy Friend John Says:

    Thank you for your encouragement, Micah!

    I don’t pretend to know what the Devil’s ontological status is — that is, is it a living being in its own right, or is it a figment of human sin (that “is not, and yet is,” Rev. 17:8), given the appearance of unity, intelligence and power by human projection? To put it another way, Is the Devil merely an idol set up by the human (and possibly also an angelic and a “serpentine”) will to disobedience and separation from God? If its ultimate fate is to be “not found written in the book of life [and so] cast into the lake of fire” (Rev. 20:15) does this means that, with all other figments, it will simply vanish when we’re reconciled with our Maker again? Or is it a fiendishly clever being with its own life? I confess my ignorance.

    Nonetheless it shows every appearance of reality when we all make our blood sacrifices of fear to it, for we bow down to it every time we decide to attack and hurt someone in order to solve a perceived problem: this is not God’s way, but its opposite. Something addictively draws us to it; we even set up institutions, like the military-industrial complex, or capitalist competition itself, or its shadow the two-party system, to perpetuate its insane world-view that there are good guys (always “us”) and there are bad guys opposing us that have to be crushed. Whether the Devil’s a something or a nothing, we’re clearly in bondage to it: just look at the newspaper.

    And there is too much evidence of demonization, not just in first-century Galilee but all around us today, for us to say there’s no such thing as demonic influence. We’re in denial of the unseen, because it’s frightening; but it’s not frightening when an all-seeing Savior is there to be our Shepherd.

  7. treegestalt Says:

    Clearly this ‘devil’ is an interior force — or at least, derives all the power it possesses from using our own cunning and our own desires against us. “No deception without self-deception.” And what saves us from it is likewise internal, though Jesus is what that salvation looks like, the person who showed people and told us what God is really like.

    We get newage from looking at only half the truth, leaving out the ucky bits like that ‘devil.’ But newage religion is right in saying that people are innately good — It merely falls short when it ignores the mischief people get up to in our present immature condition. “The Devil always was a liar,” as Jesus said in John’s story. This doesn’t just mean that we’re led into evil by deception — true as that is — but that what the Devil tells us about innate human evil is a lie. That lie leads people into abusing ourselves (in the unamusing sense of the word) and excuses our wish to abuse other people.

    There is only one spirit that lives, only one that could have made us living beings; and it isn’t the Devil — unless this devil is, as the Hebrew scriptures suggest, working for God incognito all along.

    Meanwhile, Satan still claims to control all the kingdoms of this world. Jesus didn’t seem to deny that claim — except that when he replies that only God deserves ‘worship’ — This implies that only God has the actual power Satan claims.

    Why does God leave things appearing this way? Please see http://sneezingflower.blogspot.com/2013/12/gods-self-disclosure-through-rebecca.html for my partial answer…?

  8. Randy Oftedahl Says:

    Thank thee, John, for this ministry. I think of Walter Wink’s brilliant “Powers” trilogy, that spoke of the Powers and Principalities as created by God but fallen and in need of redemption. Just like us all. But we can’t wait for that Redemption to reclaim the Powers – that is not ours to decide – but it is for us to follow the True Guide and pray that the rulers of this world repent and turn from the evil one to the True Light and Loving Grace of our Lord God. And yes, as you say, we are given opportunities to do this every day if we can but open our eyes to see and our hearts to receive. Peace to you.

  9. vombutch Says:

    Read about “The Fight”(Parts I-III) of your life on http://www.wordpress.com please, and thankyou for this challenge.

  10. Patricia Dallmann Says:

    Well-said, thought and felt, John. I, too, have puzzled over the question of whether the “demonic” is solely the malevolent misuse of human capacity, or the activity of an independent will that provokes human acquiescence. But since I feel that speculation is pointless and can be dangerous, I, as you, do not conclude one way or the other. In practice, however, I inwardly act as though demons and their provocations are independent and can be thwarted with the power of Christ. And it works!

    In school when we were learning a brand new topic, we would first learn the vocabulary for new ideas. We would then learn the way these new ideas related to one another, giving us a structure for understanding the topic. I think that this process can and should be applied to spiritual matters.

    For several months I’ve immersed myself in The Philokalia, the writings from 4th-15th century desert monks. These writings give a vocabulary and conceptual structure that assist in the resistance of evil and the preparation to receive grace. The problem of the human condition is parsed in these writings with excellent discrimination.

    There is nothing that contradicts Early Friends understanding there, but the emphasis is different: more ascetic in its identification of and opposition to the vices. And I think that now, more than in the biblically literate 17th century, we need to see and identify exactly what we’re doing wrong. (Fox and the others could say, “Repent” and it would have some meaning for its hearers. Now we need a list of what exactly vices are, for in our culture we often mistake vice for virtue: for example, self-love, pride, greed, attachment to worldly concerns, shamelessness etc.)

  11. mariellen gilpin Says:

    Like Pogo, I have met the enemy, and she is me. I find it helpful to pray for my demons; whether they are simply my strong unprocessed feelings, or actual entities outside myself, doesn’t matter; the demons respond kindly to being prayed for. As Isaac Penington said, “Our life is love, and peace, [and] praying for one another, and holding one another up with a tender hand.” Pray for the demons within us, and true healing can occur. Been there, done that. Still doing it.

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