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Constructing a charismatic ontology of evil: a critical examination of Nigel Wright

Charismatics have been accused of a dualistic approach to spiritual warfare, giving too high a status to Satan and developing a ‘demon-consciousness’. In the 1970s and 80s, a number of books and ministries developed demonologies that gave a detailed hierarchical description of the demonic world, and suggested that such demonic infestations were behind a range of sicknesses and sinful habits. In reaction to this, even some commentators sympathetic to charismatics have written critiques of such approaches to evil and spiritual warfare; for example Andrew Walker, concerned as to the fear that such approaches can engender, coined the term ‘paranoid universe’ for this worldview. Frank Peretti’s works of popular Christian fiction were said to have reinforced the distortions of such a paranoid worldview. Nigel Wright has sought to counter charismatic ‘remythologising’ through an ontological account of evil that highlights its deceptive and shadowy nature. His ‘non-ontological realist’ analysis of the devil and demons seeks to deny them ontological substance without reducing their reality. He challenges traditional views of the devil as personal, and of the fall of angels as the origin of demonic forces. Through dialogue with Karl Barth, Jürgen Moltmann, Walter Wink and others, he defines evil as a godless emptiness that nonetheless has complex ways of taking form in the experience of societies and individuals. I have in my own research firstly sought to discover the views of a number of pioneers involved in the Anglican charismatic renewal in the 60s, 70s, and 80s in relation to spiritual warfare, and secondly conducted a case study in 2007/8 in a charismatic Anglican church (pseudonymously called St George’s) where there was well developed theology and praxis of spiritual warfare. In this paper I shall use some of these results to examine and critique Wright’s proposed ontology, and begin to construct a charismatic ontology of evil that seeks to remain faithful both to their experience and to the biblical data.

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Graham R Smith

Birmingham, UK
University of Birmingham
last modified 2011-02-09 14:21