Lent: Jesus and the Demon of Status Quo

Mark’s gospel tells us that after Jesus called his first disciples—Simon, Andrew, James and John—they left their nets and followed him. They all went to Capernaum. On the Sabbath day Jesus was teaching in the synagogue and a demonized man was there.  The man screamed, “What have you to do with us Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? We know you are the Holy One of God.” Jesus quieted the man, cast out the demon, and he set the man free (Mark:1-21-28).

This was Jesus’ first healing, and his first confrontation with the Darkness after his wilderness temptation. And it happened in a house of worship. The three L’s of exorcism are: location, location, location

Diverse interpreters of the Bible understand these unclean spirits differently. The quasi-charismatic evangelical hermeneutic that shaped my reading of the text, takes the spiritual world as a given. These are demons—beings of personal evil bent on destroying humanity. Post-Enlightenment bible scholars with a bent toward demythologizing the supernatural look at what the spirits means within the early church’s proclamation. So one group looks at demons as personal evil (could it be . . . Satan?) and the other group see demons as representations of cultural and institutional structures (e.g. the ‘spirit of the times’). The result is that one camp reads this account as Jesus’ confrontation with a very real spiritual being, the other camp understands this as Jesus’ encounter with systemic, structural evil.

Of course these two readings are not mutually exclusive. It is possible to observe, in the context of Mark, a man in the synagogue who was really demonized and that Jesus’ first miracle and confrontation with the demonic happened after his teaching challenged the teaching of the scribes. “They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes” (Mark 1:22).

Ched Meyers observes, [T]he meaning of the powerful act must be found by viewing it in terms of symbolic reproduction of social conflict” (Binding the Strong Man, Orbis 1988, 2008, 142). The demonic stronghold becomes apparent as Jesus opposes the pervading political, social and religious thought.

Meyers writes:

Although Jesus identity is hidden to the protagonists (e.g. the disciples) in the story, the demons know exactly who he is. Clearly understanding the political threat he poses to the status quo, they struggle to “name” (that is control) him (1:34; 3:11) (143).

In Lent, it is easy to talk about following Jesus and the cost of discipleship. It is even easier to conceive our Lenten journey as our own little private devotion to God. However, walking with Jesus the way of the cross necessarily will bring us into spiritual, political conflict with evil. Following Jesus means opposing structures and systems which hurt people. In Mark’s story, Jesus’ teaching is contrasted with the scribes for the authority of his teaching (1:22, 27). In Matthew 23, Jesus is explicit in condemning the teaching of the scribes and Pharisees for their hypocrisy, and the way they subvert true justice. And yet these were the social, political and cultural leaders of his day.

The way of the cross is not about private spiritual devotion. It confronts political realities. This was as true at the beginning of Jesus’ mission as it was at the end.

“What’s that got to do with us Jesus of Nazareth?”

The status quo tends to hurts people. If you want to see the reality of demons, question it. When you hear the phrase what’s that got to do with us (or what that’s got to do with me) you may be listening to a demon. Cain, the first murderer, uttered a similar sentiment, “Am I my brothers keeper?”  That’s demonic. It is also demonic when a Christian apologist shames mass shooting victims for speaking out about assault rifles. Or when the victims of domestic or sexual violence are discounted because of due process. Or when you see an angry outburst when someone dares to say black lives matter, and challenges the practices of law enforcement and mass incarceration. Narrow is the gate to salvation but we have institutionalized the wide way of destruction.

Following Jesus will bring us more and more into confrontation with the powers because the way of Jesus is diametrically opposed to the kingdom of this word. To walk with Jesus will mean challenging unjust systems, structures and the status quo. If it doesn’t, you’re doing it wrong.




Jezebel is pretty bad (so is this book): a book review

One of the most helpful classes I took  in seminary was a course on Inner Healing and Deliverance (Inner healing is healing of past wounds through prayer, deliverance is the casting out of demons).  Personally I needed take that class so I could think through what I thought of this ministry and healthy ways of approaching it. As part of the course, the professor had us read selections from various different inner-healers and deliverance ministers. When we sat down to discuss our first reading, one of the guys in the class waxed on about the author’s Gnostic tendencies and dualistic worldview. The professor listened patiently while I mentally prepared my own list of critiques and concerns to vomit on the class. When the professor spoke he reminded us that we were reading selections from practitioners not from academic theologians and therefore there would be a certain lack of doctrinal precision. He then advocated that we read with a sympathetic-critical eye. This meant that we  should first read in sympathy with the author (do they give us a way forward? Is it helpful?) and secondarily apply a more critical approach (i.e. How thought through  is the argument? Are there problems? Is it biblical? Is the emphasis appropriate?).

I mention this sympathetic-critical approach at the start of my review for Confronting Jezebel because it delineates the sort of approach I have tried to take with this review. This is not a book that I will recommend and find much of it deeply problematic but I have tried to listen to what is helpful and good here.

In this newly revised edition author Steve Sampson aims to expose the ‘Jezebel spirit, the demonic principality of control which sows discord, manipulates, causes rebellion, wreaks havoc and destroys lives. Sampson examines the biblical story of Jezebel and Ahab and draws inferences from her life (and other biblical controllers) about how  this demonic principality was at work  in the events described. But most of his observations about the so-called Jezebel spirit are drawn from his ministry and observations of manipulators and controllers and the havoc they have made in church, families, business and the wider culture.  Along the way he shares stories of manipulation, characteristics of a Jezebel (i.e. takes undue credit, never admits faults, jealous of attention, manipulates the flow of information, etc.),  how someone with an ‘Ahab spirit’ works in passive compliance with a Jezebel and  the need to confront controllers by calling them to repentance and freedom by the Spirit’s power.

What this book  helpful here? Does it give us a way forward?

I think Sampson is right to point out that their may be a spiritual dimension to people’s behavior. Controlling manipulators have deep wounds and insecurity which opens them up to demonic influence. Suffice to say, I agree with the author that Satan is real, at work tearing down and hurting others and certainly uses human manipulators to do his bidding.  I also appreciated that throughout this book, Sampson ends each chapter with a prayer inviting the reader to self reflection on where they have controlled others, been under inappropriate control, or our failure to confront manipulators. This means that the attentive reader would not just read a book like this and diagnose the spiritual condition of  bad bosses  and bitter spouses, but should also look at their own heart condition to see where they are manipulative or complicit in someone else’s unhealthy control.

What is problematic?

Unfortunately I find I struggled to find much good to say about this book.  Here are some of the problems I had with the book:

  1. Sampson doesn’t handle the Bible very well – For the most part, Sampson’s description of those with a ‘Jezebel spirit’ is rooted in experience rather than in scripture. When the Bible is referenced, stories are interpreted in line with his analysis whether or not the text warrants it. The story of Jezebel in the Bible does not tell you that a spirit stands behind her every action (or Ahab’s inaction). But Sampson applies a bizarre typology to the Old Testament where every enemy of God is interpreted as to represent a demon (there are a rash of charismatic books which do this and I don’t think it is helpful). This means he reads into the story details which are not appropriate or helpful (i.e. Jezebel had eunuchs because the Jezebel spirit emasculates men and controls them. What?). Jehu (the King of Israel that deposed of  Jezebel and ended Omri’s line) is also read typologically as a godly man finally fed up enough with Jezebel that he confronts her and destroys her. Jehu was certainly God’s instrument to get rid of Jezebel and her son (like Assyria and Babylon weren’t good nations even though they carried out God’s judgment against Israel and Judah specifically) but he didn’t exactly go on to be a godly king.  If you care about interpreting scripture well, this book will be painful to read.
  2. I didn’t really trust Sampson’s analysis. This book has tons of examples of Jezebel manipulators but with many of the stories I found myself feeling like I wasn’t getting the whole story. Often these were stories about the evil controller and their innocent victims, told from the perspective of the victim. As I read, I didn’t doubt that the situations that Sampson were describing were unjust, but I found myself wondering what details were left out and if the innocent parties were as innocent as Sampson claimed. I also felt like he loaded the idea of a ‘Jezebel spirit’ with any sort of societal, social and personal evil. Rebellion? That is a Jezebel spirit. People are too passive? It is because they are controlled by a Jezebel spirit. Society is pro-abortion? That is what a Jezebel spirit does. Homosexuality? Jezebel. In the end, I found the concept of Jezebel spirit to be so malleable that  I don’t think it really offered much insight. If everything is Jezebel than nothing is. Why not just say the devil made me do it?
  3. I struggled with Sampson’s emphasis- I don’t know how you are suppose to read a book like this without second guessing whether or not  every sort of opposition and jerkiness you have experienced in life is the result of somebody being demonized. I am not sure that this book advocates the sort of love, understanding and graciousness I want to characterize my human interactions. I am not someone to back away from confronting manipulation and control when I see it, but I don’t think that arming oneself with  a list of characteristics of those who have a Jezebel spirit is proper spiritual discernment.
So while I think this book does name the spiritual dimensions to conflict and control, I didn’t find it all that helpful. By all means, bind the Strong Man but don’t use Sampson’s book to do it.

Thank you to Chosen books for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for this review.