Christianity: Demon Possession and The Road Less Traveled
Posted on Wednesday, February 15, 2006 @ 00:00:00 EST
Topic: The Christian Faith
The Christian FaithA few days ago Loyd wrote to me with an excellent question about demon possession. Citing the recent decision to declare Andrea Yates insane when she murdered her children, he asked, "Is this an example of demonic posession? Is insanity the modern day example of the biblical possession?"

To answer this important query I will turn to a famous and oft cited story from Lutheran history in Germany back in the 19th century and refer to the attitude of a 20th century psychiatrist toward such things.


Rev. Johann Christoph Blumhardt (1805-1880) is relatively unknown to most, but is still widely recognized in his native Germay, perhaps because of his landmark biography, which appeared the year he died and still remains in print. You can read it as an e-book online. This and many other very interesting books published by Plough Publishing House in the UK are available as free e-book downloads. Plough is the publishing activity of Bruderhof Communities in the UK and seeks to inform, encourage, and challenge a wide range of thinkers and seekers on a variety of topics. Some of these titles are authored by Bruderhof members, others by thinkers whom they feel have significant things to say to modern society.

Blumhardt served as pastor of a Lutheran church in Moettlingen, a parish at the northern end of the Black Forest, numbering 874 souls and encompassing two villages. The youngest of three orphaned girls, Gottlieben Dittus, had many demons cast out from her through the prayerful ministrations of Pastor Blumhardt. So wondrous and awesome were these events that Pastor Blumhardt was immediately catapulted to nationwide noteriety. People by the hundreds flocked to him for healing.

When criticized for using his pastoral office as an instrument for healing, Blumhardt replied, "According to the New Testament, God wants to offer his gifts through human instruments. The gospel is to be proclaimed by servants of God, ambassadors for Christ, and these messengers are to bear spiritual gifts and powers for the church. That is why the apostles were endowed with exceptional power, both to preach and to heal.

"Christianity knows absolutely nothing of this anymore. Hence all the despair in face of misery, and the devious means many try. Hence, too, the plight medical science finds itself in: it is expected to replace by its skills what the servants of the gospel ought to provide, but have long ago forfeited. In this case, medical science is to be commended for having labored far more faithfully than the servants of the gospel, in spite of the unbelief it professes as a body" (p. 117).

In his classic work on the history and evolution of dynamic psychiatry, The Discovery of the Unconscious, Dr. Henri F. Ellenberger cites the case of Blumhardt in his introductory chapter and concludes with these words:

"...modern scientific knowledge is based on experimentation and measurement. Science strives toward the unification of human knowledge: There is only one science, of which the particular sciences are branches. . . Thus, medicine became a branch of science, psychiatry a branch of medicine, and psychotherapy an application of psychiatry, based on scientific findings. In that perspective, the physician, including the psychiatrist, becomes more and more a technician and a specialist. Since science is all-inclusive knowledge, it cannot admit the validity of extrascientific healing--hence the contempt of "official" medicine for all kinds of primitive and popular medicine, the latter containing remnants of primitive and early scientific medicine" (p.47).

This is a rather roundabout way of saying, Loyd, that it became quite unscientific in the 20th century to admit that there were demonic beings influencing and even possessing people. We preferred rather to speak about these as primitive, uninformed, simplisitic ways of speaking about what we felt we knew as mental illness. And mind you, I'm not putting down the great progress that has been made by medical science in these areas. Then toward the end of the past century came along a psychiatrist by the name of M. Scott Peck to publish his now very famous book, The Road Less Traveled. I commend that to you as well.

Peck says medical scientists and the churches have not been talking together as much as we might about such things as spontaneous remissions of cancer and psychic healings. The attitude of many in the medical professions is that miracle cures are nonexistent. Too many Christians feel the same way, suggesting that such things only happened way back in the days of the early church. Peck says he and many other physicians have now changed their minds. Miracles do happen. That is, after all, what our Bible says. Why do we Christian believers doubt it, whether it has to do with healing of the body or the casting out of demons? There's a whole lot more to this world than we thought we knew about. Actually, at the end of his monumental work, Ellenberg obliquely suggests the same thing and decries our failure to unify all knowledge into human science.

Okay, Loyd, here's where I stop. I'm not intimate with the Andrea Yates case. I only know what we both have read in the news. But is there still such a thing as demon possession? Yes indeed. And does Jesus still cast them out? Oh yes. And, further, do miracles of healing still happen? Most certainly. But at the same time shall we throw away all that modern medicine brings? By no means. Lets just make sure we get into that dialog Peck points to and all travel down that road less traveled.

This article comes from Alvin H. Franzmeier