Richard Beck About ‘Scooby-Doo-ification’ and the Reality of Evil
Richard Beck About ‘Scooby-Doo-ification’ and the Reality of Evil
When I heard that well-known Christian psychology professor, Richard Beck, was making a serious plea with his new book 'Reviving Old Scratch' to give more attention to the devil, my first thought was that he was on his way to discredit his entire career. Think about it, Christians who see a demon behind every dark corner and live in a constant struggle with Satan will dismiss Beck for stating the obvious, while Christians who have relegated the devil to ancient myths and who see any interest in demons as a sign of immature faith will consider Beck an unscholarly thinker who is making himself ridiculous.
There is no way you can win talking about the devil, well, at least not when you are trying to address everybody making a sincere effort to strike a balanced middle ground. Even if there’s no devil at all, he seems to have conquered Beck’s effort the moment Beck started writing his book. Well, perhaps not.
For one, when I asked Richard if he wasn’t making things very difficult for his own career, he started laughing. “Um, well, I don’t know, nobody has asked me this question yet. Ha ha! Not as a psychology professor, but maybe as a speaker and writer. Yes, I might be missing the point for conservatives while liberals might indeed find the whole conversation ridiculous and irrelevant. Perhaps I wrote a book with no audience. But on the other hand, I write what I’m passionate about and I think it is important for a writer to write something nobody else has written yet. I decided to say something to both conservatives and progressives. I didn’t want to say something people expected me to say. I didn’t feel like being a theological echo chamber. People who read my book might get flustered a bit. I’m fine with that.”
Indeed, Richard Beck doesn’t write to please audiences. His intention is to revive the devil, that is, to take the devil seriously, is born out of a deep engagement with the power of evil in the world, not a desire to resurrect fairy tales. The moment you start reading “Reviving Old Scratch” you encounter the realism of someone who stands with both feet firmly planted in today’s world.
What exactly is your book about? What is your message concerning ‘Old Scratch’
“I’m exploring whether the language of the devil and demons has any relevance for modern Christians who often fall
What are the problems of both groups?
“I’m mainly writing for people who tend to doubt the reality of the devil. They are faced with a fairly sophisticated secular audience that doesn’t share the Christian worldview. But I also address more Pentecostal and charismatic groups that tend to see demons as disembodied spirits who are fighting in unseen spiritual spaces with angelic beings…”
Like in the Frank Peretti books?
“Right! Such people tend to miss the mundane aspects of our battle with Satan and they also miss the political aspect of the biblical language of the principalities and powers. Spiritual warfare then becomes a very occult, exotic conversation which I think can be problematic. Some see a demon under every rock, behind every door, with every computer malfunction, or flat tire. That kind of obsession with spiritual warfare can be unhealthy."
"But to go back to the progressives and liberals who find the devil just awkward. For
"Everybody knows the Scooby-Doo show. I was a great fan of it when I was younger. During each episode, especially in the first seasons, Scooby-Doo, the talking dog, and his group of human friends
"And this is what a lot of progressive and liberal Christians do with the devil. They reduce Satan and demons to human problems: social justice, economic problems, civil rights, etc. I call this Scooby-Doo-
You are a psychologist, not a theologian. What is your unique take on spiritual conflict?
“Spiritual warfare is generally a felt experience. We experience it as temptation, as stress, despair, weakening faith or other emotions. The battle is uniquely a psychological one. It is therefore not so strange that a psychologist would write about this. I begin my explorations with human experience and I reason from there to theological implications.
“I come at it from a different angle. I work from experience toward metaphysics but
How did you change your mind about Old Scratch, the Devil?
I minister in prison once a week and also participate in an inner city outreach from my church where we reach out to the marginalized, homeless, and addicted. When I first went, I was a typical skeptical intellectual with a lot of theology in my head that didn’t really allow for the reality of spiritual warfare. But the inmates and my homeless friends talked about the devil and demons all the time. As they asked me to pray for them to be delivered from the devil I had to challenge my skeptical attitudes if I wanted to be pastorally engaged and effective. I could only pray if I meant it."
"I also learned a lot from theologians like N.T. Wright, who show how central Jesus’ battle with Satan was in his proclamation about the coming kingdom of God. Yes, Jesus’ kingdom had political and economic implications, but
Why is it such a big deal to not be focused on spiritual warfare?
"If there is not a spiritual aspect to spiritual warfare then all the evil that is left in the world is due to the people who perpetrate it. People then become the face of evil; they are then demonized. This is one of the paradoxes I explore in my book. In banishing demons and the devil from our world we are forced to see human beings who commit evil acts as the embodiment of evil. Human beings then become devils and demons. The only way to combat evil, if humans are the sole agents of evil, is for the Good Guys to take power away from the Bad Guys. And everyone knows that the Bad Guys are the people in the other political party. This is what happens when spiritual warfare is reduced to a purely human political struggle and it’s one reason, I believe, why politics in the US has become so ugly."
Can you briefly say how we should engage in spiritual warfare?
"Spiritual warfare is calling to account the national and personal idols that we have so the kingdom of God can be established in our midst. And when Jesus spoke of the kingdom of God he didn’t march on Rome but called the people of Israel to repentance to become an alternative location of flourishing in the midst of Imperial Rome. Ultimately, spiritual warfare is our daily effort to live a cruciform life to establish love in the world. I call it the invasion of love."
Buy Richard Beck's 'Reviving Old Scratch' here.
By Josh de Keijzer, @YossmanTweets, © HelloChristian.com