Is the devil real? Can Christians be ‘possessed’ by the devil or demons? What are ‘strongholds’? Where does the devil come from? How can I ‘do’ spiritual warfare? These, and other questions, are common to a greater or lesser degree in the Church, and so I am very grateful to Mike McKinley for writing this excellent little book. Following the careful Is God Anti-Gay? by Sam Allberry, and Who on earth is the Holy Spirit? by Tim Chester and Christopher De La Hoyde, this is a book in the excellent Good Book Company’s Questions Christians ask series. It continues the excellent form of that series, by tackling an area wrought with confusion and often false teaching.
McKinley begins with an anecdote familiar to those of us who have engaged with this stuff before – that whilst spiritual warfare and so on are very normal to our brothers and sisters in Africa, for example, Western Christians are almost oblivious (or unhelpfully obsessed) to the reality the Bible speaks of. The author quotes a sobering statistic; 60% of American Christians don’t believe the Devil is real. McKinley also regales us that wonderful and wise observation of C. S. Lewis,
“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, and hail a materialist or magician with the same delight“
This introduction sets the tone for this helpful book – biblically aware, culturally sensitive, and above all balanced and fair in its treatment of a difficult topic. One element I found particularly helpful in McKinley’s discussion of the various questions was his determination to look at what the Bible actually says, and his openness to the reality of spiritual warfare. For all the sensationalising, popularising and falsifying that goes on around this vital topic, McKinley cuts a calmly biblical, Jesus-centred path through the maze. I was personally quite challenged by his treatment of the origin of the devil – noting that context demands that a traditionally-invoked passage is probably not talking about the Devil, something I am going to have to look into more.
McKinley also very helpfully clarifies some of the language and practices around the Devil and the demonic. This is typified in his very helpful list of names for the Devil, and this (along with other key bits of information) is presented in a useful chart. I appreciated his discussion of ‘possession’ of people by the Devil/demons, and his emphasis on clarity of language here – it might be better to talk of ‘demonisation’, as the biblical text implies that demons do not have us, but rather that we have (or host, like an unwelcome and unruly house-guest, as McKinley puts it) them.
Without wanting to ruin too many of McKinley’s conclusions, then, I will end the review here. Suffice to say, particularly at this short length, this is an immensely helpful and very readable book on an important but often-misunderstood topic. It joins the aforementioned previous excellent efforts in this series on the Holy Spirit and Homosexuality. I would recommend this book to pretty much any follower of Jesus, and to the interested seeker wondering about spiritual things. McKinley’s calm style, and wonderful emphasis on the Victory of Jesus combine to make this an excellent and very helpful little book.