Neil Anderson

Demon Possession and the New Clinical Deliverance*

A friend once told me that "80% of snake venom is protein." Even though we all need a daily source of protein in our diet, it does not follow that snake venom is a good source for protein. The 20% will still be fatal! I have long believed that those who teach a high percentage of the truth, yet mix in a percentage of falsehood, do more damage within the evangelical community than those who are more blatantly in error. I am sorry to have to conclude that many of Dr. Neil T. Anderson's views on spiritual warfare and deliverance approaches fit into the category of subtle falsehoods. His whole approach is built upon a faulty foundation.

Dr. Neil T. Anderson had been a pastor for a number of years, but currently is an associate professor of practical theology at Talbot School of Theology. Anderson has written a number of books and conducts large seminars, often in churches that would not normally host someone teaching a message of how Christians can receive deliverance from the demonic. His books relating to this subject include: The Bondage Breaker; The Bondage Breaker Study Guide; and The Seduction of Our Children all from Harvest House Publishers. Also Victory Over the Darkness (Regal Books); Released From Bondage; and Walking Through the Darkness from Campus Crusade for Christ's Here's Life Publishers.

Whether through his books, live seminars, audio or video tapes, Dr. Anderson is fast becoming one of the most popular influences within Evangelical Christianity. Anderson's message contains a blend of psychology, theology, Bible verses, but most importantly story after story to give his readers/listeners confidence that he has practiced what he preaches.

Even though Anderson usually presents his message in highly psychologized categories (i.e., self-esteem, positivism, Freudian subconscious, and views personality as onion layers, etc.), nevertheless he often criticizes psychology, producing the false impression that he is Biblically critical of these things. Even though on occasion he renders valid Biblical critique, the nature of his criticism would more accurately be classified along the lines of an in-house disagreement between competing psychological theories. (An example would be his understanding of so-called multiple personality disorder [MPD] in Released:207-10.) Along the same line, Anderson makes it clear that he is not in favor of the "direct deliverance encounter" which involves the casting out of demons; sometimes he even speaks critically of such practices. However, in spite of these criticisms, Anderson himself presents a seven step deliverance approach which he calls a "truth encounter," rather than a "power encounter." As we shall see, any kind of "deliverance encounter" must be built upon the belief that Christians can in fact be demon possessed, other wise there would be no need for deliverance.

Neil Anderson's special blend of psychology, use of the Bible, case studies (i.e., stories), and his belief in deliverance blend together to create what I call his "clinical deliverance" approach. His use of psychological categories and analysis produce a clinical flavor to do his deliverance teaching. Instead of talking to the demons, as do those involved in good old fashioned direct deliverance, Anderson finds out the background information through a questionnaire similar to those commonly used in a doctor's office to gather a patient's history. Anderson then takes the "patient" through his "seven steps" of deliverance, in much the same way a counselor would deal with a patient.

Dr. Anderson's clinical approach is much more appealing to an evangelical community, which has already been psychologized, to believe that their problems are primarily the result of something someone else has done to them in the past, rather than something for which they are currently responsible. In these instances, Anderson convinces them that they are victims of demonic strongholds, albeit through their sins and "hurts," from which the "bondage breaker" then offers deliverance. Instead, the Bible teaches that our problems and struggles in life are handled through normal growth and maturity as we apply Biblical teachings on living the Christian life.

A BIBLICAL VIEW OF DEMON POSSESSION

A watershed issue for all Christians to consider is whether or not a believer can be demon possessed. The last decade has seen a major shift by Evangelicals away from a belief that Christians could not be demonized or demon possessed to a dominate view that a child of God can be demon possessed and thus needs periodic deliverance. Neil Anderson believes that Christians can be controlled by a demon (The Bondage Breaker: Harvest House, 1990:171-73).

We must start with a clear understanding of what Scripture means when it refers to demon possession. Anderson often relies on experience-oriented stories, presented as "case studies," which serve to create an impression that Christians can be demon controlled. This "evidence" in turn shapes his view of Scripture on this matter. Instead, we should develop our categories and thinking on this matter from the Bible from which we then use to interpret experiences which we encounter.

For a definitive presentation of the Biblical material you should read (Thomas Ice and Robert Dean) A Holy Rebellion: Strategy for Spiritual Warfare, (Harvest House:1990). Another good book on the subject is Alex Konya, Demons: A Biblically Based Perspective (Regular Baptist Press:1990). If you can get a copy of Merrill F. Unger's out of print book, Biblical Demonology: A Study of the Spiritual Forces Behind the Present World Unrest (Scripture Press:1952), it is still very helpful. Unger's later books on the subject are not recommended, since he shifted from Biblical authority to experience in subsequent works.

Anderson's approach commits the fallacy of defining a word based on its root meanings, or etymology, rather than on how the word is actually used in the Bible. "Demonized" and "to have a demon" are used of only one extreme: to be inwardly controlled by an indwelling demon. They are never used to describe a case involving anything less. For example, these terms never describe Satan's activity of accusation, temptation, deception, or persecution; they only describe the extreme case of being inwardly controlled by a demon. Therefore, Anderson is wrong to say that there is only one word. He is also wrong to say "demon possession" is not a term that exists in the Bible because the Greek term "demonize" and it's accurate English translations equivalent, "demon possession," are used in the Bible. Further, the parallel phrase "to have a demon" also means demon possession in the Greek New Testament.

Biblical demon possession is the direct, inward control by demons (also called evil spirits) of their victim by residing in him. Demon possession does not include external temptation aimed at a person by Satan and his demons. I do not believe the Bible teaches that a Christian can be possessed or indwelt, by a demon. I do believe, however, that Christians can be severely influenced or oppressed by Satan and the demonic. The key issues on this matter revolve around the differences between internal control and inhabitation and external influence.

The example Christ cited to the Pharisees in Matthew 12:43 ("When the unclean spirit goes out of a man, it passes through waterless places, seeking rest and does not find it"), the demon is searching for a new home because he was cast out of the individual he once occupied. Then the homeless demon says, "I will return to my house from which I came" (12:44). The demon and his friends can only enter the house if it is empty and unoccupied. In the case of all believers the house is occupied, and God the Holy Spirit answers the door even if repossession is attempted. This passage is saying that only empty houses -- unbelievers -- can be reoccupied. Therefore, Christians cannot be demon possessed. There are several other New Testament passages indicate that Christ's victory over Satan and the demonic was so great that he cannot come back and repossess believers (John 17:15; 1 John 5:18).

Another reason believers cannot be demonized is that the New Testament nowhere says they can! Nor does the New Testament ever use the language, referring to a believer, that describes demon possession. Whenever a person who is demon possessed is dealt with, the Bible indicates that they are "cast out" (e.g. Mt. 8:16; Mk. 1:34). ("Cast out" clearly indicates that when someone was delivered from demons it was a "power encounter" not a "truth encounter," as Anderson claims.) Never are believers said to respond to Satan or demons by casting them out, which is always the remedy in the New Testament for a demon possessed person. Instead, for the believer, the command is always to stand or resist, which is the counter to an external temptation by Satan and the demonic. This supports the idea that Christians cannot be demon possessed since they are never commanded or told how to deliver believers (or anyone) from demonic possession.

MISGUIDED ARGUMENTS

Neil Anderson and others who teach that Christians can be demon possessed mainly attempt to establish their views based upon the many stories (they call them case studies) they tell of Christians which they characterize as bound by demons. Another approach often attempted is to try to stretch some of the language of the Bible to fit their views. Anderson does not even present a study of the passages and terms normally dealt with in a study of this issue, except for his cursory treatment of demonized as in Bondage Breaker. When I listened to the taped messages from his seminar on the Bondage Breaker, He did not even deal with the issue directly. He merely assumed that believers could be demon possessed or they would not be experiencing the problems they were having. Anderson tended to simply talk about those who believe these things (i.e., Christians can be bounded by demons) and those who did not, as if the latter did not believe that Satan and his demons were real.

Anderson introduces the subject, as noted above, with a letter from a lady named Sheila. He views her as a Christian and one who is under "demonic control." I must confess I have a hard time distinguishing the difference between someone who is said to be under demonic control and demon possession. They certainly sound the same to me.

Anderson links possession of a believer to the amount of sin that a believer compiles in one's life. If he sins greatly in an area, then that allows stronger bondage than one who sins less. This fits into Anderson's statement that demonization is a matter of degrees. Even if there are degrees of possession, either one is or is not possessed. Attempting to redefine demon possession as a matter of degrees does not overcome the fact that the Bible does not support any kind of demon possession in a believer.

"Let me quickly add," declares Anderson, "that demonic control does not mean satanic ownership" (Breakers :172). At this point Anderson creates false categories that do not reflect the teaching of the Bible. According to the material presented above defining from the Bible a picture of demonization in Matthew 12, we saw that a demon could not enter the house or person who was occupied by the Holy Spirit. Anderson says that demons can return as a squatter, when that passage makes it clear that a demon cannot enter at all into the house regardless of the descriptive label one may decide to put on such an action. I must ask, "How can a 'squatter-demon' be said to control a believer when Christ has prayed for our protection in these things (John 17:15) and our Lord is said to be protecting us from the evil one" (1 John 5:18; 2 Thes. 3:3)? It can't happen! Since Satan does not own us, then his demons cannot control us.

Dr. Anderson then slips in an amazing statement about our options relating to who is responsible for one's actions.

"Those who say a demon cannot control an area of a believer's life have left us with only two possible culprits for the problems we face: ourselves or God. If we blame ourselves we feel hopeless because we can't do anything to stop what we're doing. If we blame God our confidence in Him as our benevolent Father is shattered. Either way, we have no chance to gain the victory which the Bible promises us" (Breakers :174).

This is an example of the influence of psychobabble upon Dr. Anderson's theology. This mentally reflects pragmatic positivism rather than the reality of the Bible. If we blame ourselves, which is the right answer to the question as to who is responsible for sin in my life, it does not lead to hopelessness. If we learn the lessons of the Bible we find that God has provided for victory over sin, even though I am responsible for committing it, through growing in grace as a believer in Christ Jesus. It will stunt the growth of a Christian if he is wrongly blaming the devil for his sins when he is responsible to apply normal Christian growth principles to the problem, not deliverance.

SEVEN STEPS OF STUMBLING

Since Christians can be demon possessed, then according to Anderson they also need deliverance. Not that good old fashioned kind where the deliverance minister shouts, rebukes, and binds the demons sending them to the pit of hell, while the subject is usually exhausted from the protracted event. Instead, Anderson advocates a clinical deliverance through which the patient goes through a seven step process of self-deliverance.

Anderson's clinical approach is wrong at the outset because it incorrectly diagnoses a Christian's problem as demon possession instead of a lack of growth or disobedience. So whether one uses a reserved or wild method is not the issue.

Christ has delivered all believers from bondage to Satan at the point of salvation. If any past sins have to be dealt with specifically because they are a special kind of sin, then it follows that Christ did not really gain victory over all the believer's sin. All sin has been dealt with at the cross.

The seven steps of Anderson's clinical deliverance approach is presented by him as the key to successful Christian living. Unless one has gone through the seven steps, the implication is that you are not free to grow in Christ. This is disturbing since these steps, arranged in this way, have been uniquely developed by Dr. Anderson. He emphasizes the importance of following and completing each step so that freedom will be accomplished. Yet this would imply that Christians of the past have not really been free to live for Christ. At best, this is highly doubtful.

The seven steps are unique to Anderson because the Bible doesn't teach such a system. Once again, if deliverance were a key to proper Christian living then the Epistles, written to teach a Christian how to live for Christ, would be teaching these things. Instead, silence on this matter speaks volumes.

Dr. Anderson is correct to emphasize our position in Christ as a key to Christian living. Christianity involves putting into practice what Christ has accomplished for us positionally. Sanctification is correctly viewed as justification applied. However, Dr. Anderson is wrong to (mis)apply the believer's position in Christ as the basis for his clinical deliverance steps. Our position in Christ, as I have shown above, provides protection for a believer from demon possession in the first place. So how can it be said that our position is the basis for something (demon possession) for which our position already protects us from?

Our position in Christ is the basis for living the Christian life, which includes help in the area of resisting the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the Devil.

The third step in Anderson's clinical deliverance approach is titled "Bitterness Versus Forgiveness" (Breakers:194). Anderson advocates in his seminar and implies in a book (Released:174) that God is one of those whom we need to forgive. Any idea that we as sinful creatures must forgive our sinless God is blasphemous. God has never done anything wrong to ever be in need of forgiveness. Forgiveness is what is offered to one who has wronged another. Who has God wronged that He needs forgiveness?

DELIVERANCE -- A TRUTH ENCOUNTER

Dr. Anderson is fond of contrasting his clinical deliverance approach with the traditional deliverance approach of direct conflict with demons by saying, "I don's see the battle as a power encounter, but rather a truth encounter. I believe that it is truth that sets us free" (Released: 183). In John 8:32, where Christ says, "you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free," He was talking with the Jews who said they had never been enslaved to anyone (8:33). Jesus responded to them by saying, "Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin" (8:34). So it is clear from the context that Christ is talking freedom from sin, not about freedom from demons.

In the New Testament when it came to deliverance from demons, it was a power encounter! Christ did not carry on a discussion about the truth with the demons He cast out, using His power as God. Christ demanded them to leave because He was powerful enough to bind the strongman.

Once again, Anderson's error is his belief that Christians can be demonized, when in reality they cannot. Power encounters for casting out demons are also wrong because Christians cannot be demon possessed. Dr. Anderson rightly understands the Epistle's emphasis is on the believer learning and applying truth. The Epistles do not teach "truth encounters" for deliverance, they teach truth mixed with obedience for maturity.

CONCLUSION

Dr. Anderson believes that one of the greatest problems within evangelicalism are those who believe that Christians aren't subject to demon activity:

"The prevailing belief among evangelicals today is that Christians cannot be severely oppressed by demons ... Nothing has done greater damage to diagnosing spiritual problems than this un-truth ... Those who deny the enemy's potential for destruction are the most vulnerable to it" (Bondage: 21).

Just the opposite of what Anderson has said would be true if Christians are not subjected to the type of demonic oppression which he and others like him advocate. The real potential for problems in the Christian life is blaming things on the demonic and neglecting normal Christian growth and maturity. It is this kind of lack of maturity in the lives of many believers, because they are looking for the quick-fix of a Neil Anderson deliverance, that will prove in the long run to effect the greater damage.


* This material has been excerpted/adapted from a Biblical Perspectives report by the same name: Tommy Ice, Biblical Awareness Ministries, Vol. V, No. 3, May-June 1992. (Biblical Awareness Ministries no longer exists.) The use of this material should in no way imply an endorsement by BDM or its editor of Tommy Ice or of his current ministry affiliations; in fact, because of Ice's affiliation with the ministries of Tim LaHaye, the guru of Four Temperaments/Personality Testing in the professing church, we do not recommend any of Ice's books or articles written after the demise of Biblical Awareness Ministries at year-end 1992.


Biblical Discernment Ministries - 10/92

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