Liberal theological traditions have moved away from a satanology of the devil being an actual being to simply a personification of evil. Among Episcopal Church leaders, for example, the discussion of evil in the world is commonplace; a conversation about the devil is a rarity.
One of the headlines making news this week about The Church of England is related to the use of devil language. Gone are the days when parents are asked to take a vow at their children’s baptism “to reject the devil and all rebellion against God.” The name of the devil has been deleted and replaced with “to turn away from sin” and “reject evil.”
On the surface, this appears to be a good thing. As followers of Jesus, we should daily turn away from sin and reject evil. However, as noted in Matthew Bell’s article, “The Church of England doesn’t want You to Worry about the Devil,” such a shift likely represents a theological shift, moving away from the devil as a supernatural being to a representation of evil in general.
Years ago, and using the KJV language of substituting “devils” for “demons,” C. S. Lewis wisely wrote: “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors” (The Screwtape Letters, 15). What can be said about demons is equally applicable to the devil as well.
The problem with deleting the devil from our theology is that we also delete what the Bible teaches about the devil. Certainly, Church history has created numerous satanic caricatures: pitchforks, red dress, cloven hoof, etc. And though these unbiblical traditions have made him out to look more like a nasty clown, such is no excuse for discarding the biblical teaching on Satan.
Many biblical passages address Satan as a literal being. For starters, we only have to check out Genesis and Revelation, Job and Zechariah, and the Gospels to learn that the devil is much more than a representation of evil in the world. Jesus met and spoke with him (Luke 4:1-4) and clearly identifies him as one capable of being cast out of heaven (Luke 10:18). Paul was not shy in noting that Satan disguises himself as one who is attractive (2 Cor 11:14).
Yes, delete the ridiculous Church traditions–they’re satanic in and of themselves.
Yes, delete the notion that the devil is only a literary device used for oral learners in an age gone by.
Don’t delete the devil. That is what he would want you to do.
(image credit: Microsoft Office)