Monday, November 28, 2011

What is Demonization? Part 1

While many of us intuitively know that spiritual warfare is important in the Christian life, we really are not that interested in knowing personally the full range of spiritual warfare mentioned in the Bible.  The demoniac who lived in to tombs- a bit too scary and strange for our world!  The demons who attacked the Jews who had a deliverance ministry by casting our demons in the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches (Acts 19:13)- way to weird and different.  We know the influence of demons is scriptural, but how exactly does demonization relate to our contemporary world and ministry in our current context? 

For the remainder of November, we will investigate this question through the lens of demonic possession.  Today, we often equate what in past times would have been considered demonization with mental illness that is best treated with counseling and drugs.  My interest in this question arises from the need as a biblically-based pastor to deal with clear NT teaching regarding demonization in light of today’s psychological awareness of mental disorders.  Several practical questions drive this inquiry.  Are people still influenced by demons?  Is there a relationship between mental disorders and demonization?  How would we diagnose the real need of the individual?

This research is a compilation of research by Christians without psychological training as well as from modern psychologists.  Understandably, there is not much psychological data on demonization, but there is a growing interest by Christian psychologists in integrating the biblical concept of demons with modern understandings of mental illness and addiction.  This research will begin with a summary of these psychological studies.  Next, it will then give a Biblical and theological rationale for the reality of demons and provide a definition of what it means to be demonized.  Lastly, I will give a pastoral response to the problem of understanding what mental problems are the result of demonic influence as opposed to naturally caused mental problems.

Psychological Data:

The foundation of modern science is the worldview of naturalism.  Naturalism is the belief that the universe is a closed system that operates in strict conformity with the law of cause and effect.  Since the universe is a closed system, the supernatural cannot act upon the universe and all events can be explained by cause and effect.  In the past century, psychology has attempted to gain the status of being a true science.  The result is that psychology has accepted naturalism as a starting point and most secular psychologist do not accept the idea that demons, or even God, can act upon humans.  Instead, all human behaviors can be explained by natural cause and effect.  If someone has mental problems then there are natural explanations that must be dealt with so that the problem can be solved.  Therefore, secular psychologists only look for natural explanations for mental disorders.

The problem is that many Christian psychologists also have accepted the same understanding of human mental problems as their secular counterparts.  Instead of accepting that Jesus cast out demons, some attempt to explain what happened in purely psychological terms.  As Miller and Jackson state,

“The most common form of psychosis is schizophrenia, a syndrome that has been recognized as a mental disorder since the nineteenth century.  The sparse accounts of demon possessions recounted in the Bible suggest that some of these individuals may well have been suffering from schizophrenia or another psychotic pattern.”  (Miller and Jackson, 342)

Others attempt to illustrate how uncommon demonization is in comparison with psychological problems like schizophrenia.  One example is Archibald Hart in an article in Leadership magazine.  He states,

If this is schizophrenia, though, what does demon possession look like?  The characteristics of demon possession are not neat and simple to discern, but those with extensive experience with possession look for such things as:  The presentation of a new personality.  However, this is also seen in ‘multiple personality disorders,...; a striking lack of human warmthMarked revulsion to Christian symbols. ... However, I also see many schizophrenics evidence this reaction.  So this sign, by itself, is not evidence of possession; Physical phenomena.  Many describe an inexplicable stench, freezing temperatures, flying objects, and a ‘smooth, stretched skin’; Behavioral transformations.  Obviously, then, possession is not as common as is supposed, and many so-called possessions have more natural explanations. (Hart, Leadership, 75-77)

Hart does not rule out the possibility that demonization could occur, but his criteria for evidence of demonization are so extreme that none of the New Testament accounts of demonization could be considered true cases of ‘possession’.  Perhaps Hart and some other Christian psychologist want to minimize the influence of demons on humanity for theological reasons, but I think many do so because that are following the science of psychology as they were taught.

Thankfully in recent literature, several Christian psychologists have addressed the issue of demonic influence on humanity.  These psychologists include Sydney Page, Rodger Bufford, James Beck, Gordon Lewis, and William Wilson.  All of these researchers have a problem integrating demonic influence into a psychological framework because it is seemingly impossible to scientifically investigate.  Much of what is written about the influence of the demonic on humanity is from case studies by Christians who believe in the demonic.  This causes some concern for Bufford.  As he states, “This concern is particularly significant since these accounts come almost exclusively from case studies rather than more rigorous scientific investigations with standardized procedures for observation, statistical analysis, and checks on the reliability of the resulting data.” (Bufford, 104)  Thus, these men conclude that demonization is scriptural but the task of psychology is to come up with a scientific way of explaining this phenomenon.


  1. Hey Wes,
    thanks for sharing this. I like it.
    I love that it is a call to the unshakable foundation that the Gospel MUST be in our lives rather than just behavior modification.

    Christian counseling Northgate

  2. Christian counseling Everett

    Christian Counseling Everett | Family Counseling Services | We treat individuals, couples and families – Agape Help

    Contact Us:>
    Call: 206-772-2200 Monday - Friday, 9am - 6pm