Author: Robert H. Bennett
Publisher: Concordia Publishing House
I have to agree with the description on the back cover of this book: Bennett has produced a fascinating and unnerving work. A pastor friend of mine recommended this book to me a couple of years ago, but I only recently got my hands on it. Afraid was a little different than I expected, but it was well worth the time to read. The information and message are invaluable, now more than ever. This is not to say that the information is new or it wouldn’t have been helpful in days past. But today’s America is heading back into pagan spirituality, even among professing Christians, yet the dangers of the spiritual world have been largely forgotten, or ignored. In many ways, the church in America seems out of touch with the reality of the spiritual warfare going on around us. In Afraid, Bennett brings together research, experience, and catechesis to educate the reader on this all too real threat and to provide comfort and peace to people who are afraid.
As I mentioned, the book was a little different than I expected. I think I thought that the book would address a great variety of supernatural situations and how they were, or were not, dealt with accordingly. From how the book began, I also got the impression that the book would address the various forms this pagan and demonic spirituality presents itself in American culture. While the book does a little of both, it was different and in some ways better than my expectations.
Like with most nonfiction books, this is another where the reader should begin with the front matter and introduction. Here, you will find a list of key terms and a bridge to what you think you know about demons and spirituality and what is actually at play. Perhaps you are already have something of an understanding on this topic, but I encourage you to read this part anyway. From here, Bennett, a pastor, explains in a series of chapters how Christians and nonchristians alike seek answers, help, and even peace from occultists, hypnotists, shamans, necromancers, wiccans, voodoo priests, psychics, and other spiritualists in regards to their interactions with what they think are ghosts or their other spiritual issues.
Towards the end, Bennett lays out what an exorcism looks like (though he detailed them in previous chapters), explains the handful of worldviews in competition to each other and how they react to the spiritual, and show how even some pastors respond poorly to interactions with demons, and the consequences of their ignorance or naivete. At the back, he provides a list of exorcistic hymns as well as a scriptural and subject index. At the end of every chapter, there are a series of study questions good for personal study and group discussion. There are even answers at the back!
My biggest issue with the book is that I think the competing worldviews chapter and the explanation of an exorcism chapter should have been at the beginning of the book. Also, it is sometimes difficult to tell if he is writing to Christians, Lutherans, or seekers. But perhaps he just recognizes how poorly most Christians have been catechized? But though I might have structured the book a little differently, this book is a tremendous resource.
The meat of the book, in addition to what I’ve already mentioned, consists of a series of people’s encounters with spirituality and the demonic, and how these troubled people were (or were not) helped. Some of the stories are from Bennett’s personal experiences, but many are stories from other pastors. These are included not to fascinate the reader necessarily but to warn all people, and especially Christians, the danger of treading lightly among the demonic, no matter how harmless or helpful they may appear. Bennett warns how these extrabiblcal sources may even sound “Christian, ” but the question is, are they of God? Problems arise when we look for answers and life in the creation rather than the Creator. Furthermore, he explains in no uncertain terms that there is no such thing as spiritual neutrality or exclusion. You are either with Christ or with satan.
I do not want you to be participants with demons.1 Corinthians 10:20
Bennett frequently catechizes the reader, including numerous scripture passages and quotes from church fathers and modern-day Christian exorcists. He explains that we do not believe in ghosts, and such encounters are demonic in nature. Yet spiritual warfare does not always apear like how we expect. He also shows that some things that we consider to be physical or psychological issues are actually intertwined with spiritual attacks, and vice versa. He emphasizes the need for physicians, psychologists, and pastors, each working together to help the troubled person. Yes, all need to recognize the value and vocation of the others. We are not simply physical beings or only spiritual, but both. Thus, help should come from those who can attend to the body, the mind, or the spirit as is needed.
Repeated throughout the book are examples of what an exorcism looks like. Bennett explains that exorcisms are not necessarily as flashy or spooky as the movies make them out to be. He also explains that they are not a once and done thing. The key elements are as follows: confession and absolution, baptism (if already done, then reassurance in it), catechesis, the reading of scripture, prayer, and continuing in fellowship and catechesis with other believers. He stressed that people should not think of exorcisms or prayer as a magic spell and you’ll be set for life. For one, superstition always leads to idolatry. Secondly, as Christians, we know that we cannot leave ourselves swept clean and empty (Luk. 11:24-26). We must be filled with the Spirit. We need creeds and doctrines, regular catechesis, encouragement from believers, and participation in the Sacrament. This truth cannot be stressed enough.
Finally, Bennett makes a couple of other points. For one, he notes that even pastors struggle with this. Many have not been instructed in exorcisms, and too often, they avoid all mention of the demonic, some even doubting its existence. This should not be so, both for their own sake and for the sake of their flock. Furthermore, pastors and their families can be attacked when serving the Lord and doing exorcisms. But they, just like us, must remember that it is not us or they who have power but God who has authority. We are simply the means through which Christ works. Christ has the supremacy. Most importantly, it is the Lord who has power, not the devil. God and the devil are not on equal footing. The accuser does not carry the same authority as the Judge. In this truth, we can have peace and assurance that God will care for and deliver us from evil.
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.Ephesians 6:12
Bennett’s Afraid is an important book that everyone should read. I mean that. Pastors, laypeople, nonchristians, seekers, and by whatever other faith title you give yourself. The demonic is real, and not all paths of spirituality are safe. In fact, none are safe, save that way found in Jesus Christ. This book was written for many purposes. It was to warn people about the dangers of the demonic, to educate those on where these dangers can be found and how many have sought help, and to comfort those who are afraid. This book is a tremendous resource for any pastor or layperson looking not only for information and encouragement but also for direction on how to help those afflicted and afraid.
Blessings to you and yours,
~Madelyn Rose Craig