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Reviving Old Scratch: Demons and the Devil for Doubters and the Disenchanted Paperback – May 1, 2016
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"Richard Beck is one of the most important and fascinating minds in contemporary Christianity, and this exploration on the devil and demons is his best work yet. Lively, engaging, and profoundly relevant, Reviving Old Scratch manages to both tickle and challenge, inform and delight. Beck forges a fresh way forward that avoids the conservative tendency to overspiritualize the devil and demons on the one hand and the progressive tendency to reduce these powerful forces to social issues on the other. A must-read for skeptics and thinkers, Reviving Old Scratch surprises in all the right ways. I couldn't put it down!"
--Rachel Held Evans, Author of Searching for Sunday and A Year of Biblical Womanhood
"I'm grateful to Richard Beck for helping us reclaim that which was clearly important to Jesus: casting out demons and contending with evil. While I m not sure if I believe in spiritual warfare, I'm certain I've experienced it, and Reviving Old Scratch allowed me to come several steps closer to reconciling these seemingly irreconcilable statements. Beck manages to take demons, the devil, and spiritual warfare and pull them into the reality we live in today, and for that I am grateful."--Nadia Bolz-Weber, Author of Pastrix and Accidental Saints and pastor of House for All Sinners and Saints
"In our secular age, most western Christians instinctively dismiss the devil and demons as antiquated mythical notions of our superstitious past. Yet, as Richard Beck argues, this dismissal adversely affects both the coherence and the vibrancy of the Christian faith. In this insightful and highly important masterpiece, Beck helps Christians understand that they need not suspend their doubts about "Old Scratch" to discern his reality in the dark dehumanizing forces that are all around us. Whether you're convinced or doubtful of Satan's existence, this book will inspire you to enter into the age-long spiritual battle that has always been at the center of the Christian faith."
--Gregory A. Boyd, Author of God at War and Satan and the Problem of Evil
"Richard Beck's Reviving Old Scratch will first put your theory of Satan and demons and the powers to death, then it will make you wonder if there isn't more than social justice and activism and believing in real, personal demons and angels, and then it will put a real Old Scratch with a mask onto what you thought was dead, and then you will be armed for the deeper battles of life and justice and love. Beck's prison ministry with people who suffer at the hands of Old Scratch evokes authentic spirituality in a way no other book about the powers has done."--Scot McKnight, Northern Seminary
"In a world where it's awkward to talk about spiritual warfare, Richard Beck reminds us why it39;s still necessary, and he gives us words, images, and stories to start the conversation. Let him (re)introduce you to the devil!"
--Sara Barton Chaplain at Pepperdine University and author of A Woman Called
"Profound and compelling. Follow Richard Beck as he narrates the interconnection between spiritual warfare and social justice through the powers and principalities. I highly recommend it!"--Kyle Strobel, Professor of spiritual theology at Biola University and co-author of The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb: Searching for Jesus' Path of Power in a Church that has Abandoned It
About the Author
Richard Beck is professor of psychology at Abilene Christian University in Abilene, Texas, and a popular blogger and speaker. He is the author of several books, including Unclean. His published research also covers topics as diverse as the psychology of profanity and why Christian bookstore art is so bad. Beck leads a Bible study each week for inmates at a maximum security prison.
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Richard Beck challenges both approaches, which is perhaps the greatest strength of this book. Those looking for stories resembling scenes from "The Exorcist" will be sorely disappointed, for Beck is convinced that the effects of Satan and his minions are much worse than simply inducing vomiting in those who have fallen prey to their onslaught. Likewise, those who equate spiritual warfare with political activism will be pressed to acknowledge that perhaps there really is a "spirit" within the structures that needs to be exorcised or fought in order for real transformation to take place.
This book is written for Christians, and it will be helpful for those from a wide range of backgrounds. Those who've become embarrassed by Christian claims about the Devil as a pitch-fork carrying, red creature with pointy ears, might come to see the reality of Satan after reading this book. Likewise, those obsessed with exorcisms and demonic possession, as understood in some (charismatic) circles emphasizing spiritual warfare, might find that Satan's power is much greater than even they had imagined.
Beck is a gifted communicator who draws from a range of source material to illustrate his points, including such diverse things as Scooby-Doo, Pat Benatar, and Twitter. Most relevant are the stories that he shares from his time leading a weekly Bible study at a maximum-security prison. I highly recommend this book to all who have an interest in this topic.
*Main (and only) Criticism - The editing work is quite poor. Typos are so numerous in places that I wondered if I had received an advance copy that hadn't been proofread by an editor.
In Reviving Old Scratch, Dr. Beck argues that-- regardless of whether Satan is a sentient being with a personal will and physical/spiritual presence-- there is a certain understanding of evil and of the Devil that is both robust and thoroughly Christian. Per my understanding of the text, he argues that the pathway to understanding the Devil lies through re-enchanting our worldview, regardless of whether we are theologically conservative or liberal. Both sides of the theological fence have become disenchanted with the world, and both need to re-engage with what it means for the immanent God to be incarnate through acts of love.
The content of book hearkens back to C.S. Lewis' "That Hideous Strength". If you enjoyed this book and are looking to see its themes fleshed out in a work of fiction, I would highly recommend Lewis' Space Trilogy. The final book in the series addresses many of these themes, and I would wonder if the author was similarly affected in some capacity.
This book very effectively outlines the fundamentals of his position, and of why we should care about it. I'm not sure that a hostile reader would be persuaded, but a reader open to the ideas it presents would likely them engaging.
Unfortunately, the limitations of the book are in its simplicity. I struggled with whether to rate this "3" or "4" stars, but ultimately, I feel that it was too shallow to accomplish what it set out to do. If the book was able to engage in a mental conversation with me by answering the questions I had, I would have bumped it up to "4" stars. If it was able to do so in a way that I found profound masterful, I would have bumped it up to "5" stars.
Below are some specific points where I felt the book, had it been written differently, could have been elevated from "3" to "4" stars:
- Dr. Beck pulls out some tensions we have with scripture, but fails to resolve (or even address) the tensions in ways that leave the reader satisfied. For example, in the "Jesus the Exorcist" chapter, he addresses the Jeffersonian approach to "cutting up your Bible" and removing the passages we find troubling. He claims that this is problematic. However, elsewhere (such as in the chapter, "Angels & Demons"), he notes discrepancies in how modern people understand scripture and the world versus how ancient people do. This is disconcerting and, even if the author does not wish to sidetrack the reader, the tension-- which is quite central to the book-- should at least be addressed, so as not to leave a reader in a more confused state than when they began.
-While I'm sympathetic to Dr. Beck's arguments in the chapter, "The White Witch", for rejecting penal substitutionary atonement theories-- in fact, I am inclined to agree with him-- he has stirred up an anthill without being able to deal with the resulting bug bites. In most of today's theological institutions, including churches and seminaries, rejecting penal substitution is akin to rejecting a fundamental of Christianity. For Dr. Beck to throw that out as a fragment of a chapter without addressing or dealing with the profound implications is like putting a hungry person in the middle of the Pacific without a boat and expecting them to fish. You just completely upended someone's world in order to get them access to what they need, but didn't give them any of the tools or resources they need to deal with the complete change of circumstances.
-I found myself unsure of how to apply much of what he advocated for. In the "Holy Ghost Congo Lines" chapter, he argues for rejecting a disenchanted worldview and embracing enchantment, but he doesn't tell us how to get there. At the end of the chapter, he spends maybe two paragraphs trying to elucidate how we can do this. Those two (or so) paragraphs should have and could have, frankly, merited several chapters on their own. In "Angels & Demons", he argues that Christians should reject the Zeitgeist of the world and embrace Christ's vision of love, but I don't understand how we're supposed to apply that or what that looks like. He rejects the actions of those such as Westboro Baptist, but fails to explain how our application must lead in a different direction.
In conclusion, my core problem with the book is an inconsistency between its content and its method. The book argues that we should reject disenchantment, find depth and meaning in the world, and really live out a bold and revolutionary love. Unfortunately, the book is very shallow-- this is a very short book and is not, itself, enchanting. It fails to carry out the bold and revolutionary work that it tasked itself with. Its content is great, but it's coffee-table level.
Would I buy it again? Yes, but knowing that I would be dissatisfied at the end. If Dr. Beck were to put out a follow-up, in which he dove into the issues he raises in-depth and brings the reader to enchanted, strange new places in bold and revolutionary ways, I would be thrilled to join him. As it is, unfortunately, this book isn't sufficient to complete the work it sets out for itself.
This book was paid for by me. I did not receive any compensation or free copies. I have no affiliation with Dr. Beck/etc. I have no conflicts of interest that I believe I need to disclose.