This Present Darkness Review

While I work on reading the next Left Behind book, here is a review from my website, which I wrote late in 2005 (before I became Orthodox and was checking out Lutheran theology):

This Present Darkness by Frank E. Peretti, Crossway Books, ISBN 0-89107-390-6, available in bookstores and on Amazon.com:

Summary here.

I once loved this book, back when I first read it in high school.  If you’re just looking for a good read, the writing itself is full of vivid descriptions, imagination and the occasional humor, with decent editing.  I can see why I got so engrossed in this book back in high school.

If you’re looking for a theologically sound book, however, look elsewhere.  This book suffers greatly from numerous theological errors and hysterias which abounded in evangelicalism in the late 80s (it was written in 1986).  When I read it again in late 2005, I wondered if Pat Robertson had been a consultant.

For example, it is full of dubious teachings on demons, exorcisms, New Age beliefs and agendas, the mythical New World Order, and the methods God uses to speak to us.

(A woman gets a “message from God” that only she can hear, while she’s praying on page 370, and isn’t even sure what name God is telling her.  If God did use an audible voice to speak to someone, wouldn’t he enunciate?  Also see my write-up on charismatic sign gifts, here.)

The first time I read it, I thought it was a wonderful insight into spiritual warfare.  I began to interpret everything as demonic or angelic activity, even when the human heart was perfectly capable of driving itself to good or evil.  So you see there are dangers to reading the book with an impressionable mind.

For example, there is the idea that you can somehow hurt a demon by saying, “I rebuke you.”  You’re just, well, rebuking it, chiding it.  What’s that going to do, make it feel bad?  According to Christ, demons are cast out only by those who have properly prepared themselves through prayer and fasting.

Also, the demons are depicted in disorder, sometimes even working against each other out of spite.  Christ specifically said that Satan and his minions do not work that way because “a house divided against itself cannot stand.”

On page 70, Hank says, “That’s what the gospel is all about, fighting Satan, shining the light of the gospel into the darkness.”  (He said this after encountering a demon.)  Actually, the gospel is about Christ and him crucified!

Also, the human characters in the book seem like puppets, led this way and that by angels and demons who move them around, suggest things to them, even speak through their mouths.

Another dubious belief shown here is that every human vice has its own demon, rather than coming from the human heart.  An exorcism on page 152 reminded me of Pat Robertson describing exorcisms he had done, in which he named demons, such as “the demon of smoking.”

About mid-way through the book, we discover that a kid got possessed by a demon just by going to a fortune teller!  This kid also says that the new thing among teens is not the usual vices, but demons!  Huh?

There is also a lot of danger in how exorcisms are presented in this book.  First of all, a reader can get the impression that demons cause every vice, and that everyone who sins or has a different faith is full of demons to be ousted.

Unnecessary exorcisms can be just as harmful to the supposed “possessed” as a botched exorcism can be to the exorcist.  Occasionally, a story will hit the news about a child who was killed during an “exorcism”–a child who could have been helped more effectively by a doctor.

Second of all, we see Mary just walking into the room during an exorcism.  These people are surprisingly casual.  If there really is a demon to cast out (which could sometimes be the case), only people who are properly prepared through prayer and fasting, and who know what they’re doing, should be there.   I’ve heard that even an unconfessed sin can open you up to attack from the demons you are fighting.

The Lutheran Church cautions against such cavalier attitudes toward demonic influence and exorcism, saying that we can’t be sure what is demonic, and what is a person’s own moral failing.  We can cause great harm by making “hasty judgments.”  Ultimately, we are accountable for our sins, not demons bearing names such as “lust” or “despair” or “hate.”

[Unfortunately, the resource I once linked to, on the LCMS website, no longer exists.  But I found another website which quotes it here.  The text is below:]

Demonic Influence
Q. What does the LCMS church teach about demonic influence over a believer? I’ve heard that demons can “gain a foothold” in a believer’s life, perhaps through some conscious, unrepented of sin, and thus have a strong influence over emotions, choices, etc., but they can’t really “possess” the believer like they can a non-believer. What’s the Biblical teaching on this, and how should we go about dealing with it?

A. First of all, it is important to note that your question properly distinguishes between demonic influence on a believer, and demonic possession of human beings.

The New Testament often speaks of the influence of demonic powers on people, including Christians. St. Paul exhorts Christians with God’s help to stand their ground against very real superhuman “powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:12).

Paul’s exhortation is meant for Christians of all times and places and assumes the ongoing and present reality of demonic powers and entities (“demons”).

He encourages them to use the weapons, both defensive and offensive, provided by God to combat such influences: truth, righteousness, the “Gospel of peace,” faith, salvation, the Word of God, and prayer (Eph. 6:14-18).

The New Testament also recounts many instances of demonic possession, mainly in the synoptic Gospel accounts of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus encounters persons “possessed” by demons who have take them captive and who cause physical and mental affliction (Matt. 4:24; 8:28-33; 9:32; 12:22, etc.).

By the power of His Word Jesus exercises total power over these demons and drives them out (Matt. 4:24; 8:16; Mark 7:30)–which is itself a sign that the Kingdom of God has come (Matt. 12:22) in Him.

These “exorcisms” are a sign that through Jesus God “has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves” (Col. 1:13).

When it comes to determining today whether people are demon possessed as they were in biblical times, and who they might be, great caution is in order. The Scriptures are relatively silent about this and offer few details for making such judgments.

In fact great harm may come to individuals when hasty judgments are made. Absolute certainty in such matters is simply not possible today.

An additional caution is also in order on this topic. Some today seem in danger of excusing their moral failings by arguing “the demons made me do it,” claiming they are victims of demons who bear the name of human vices and from whom they need to be “delivered.”

Surely it is true that the devil and his angels tempt us to sin. But finally we are accountable to God for our sins (Rom. 3:19), from which Jesus Christ freely and triumphantly delivers us as we place our trust in Him.

Another view of exorcism–which says it should only be done for catechumens at baptism–is here.

Professor Langstrat, Alexander Kaseph, and various other “New Age” characters seem more like caricatures of evangelical fears about New Agers in the 80s.  Aren’t New Agers into love and harmony and connection with the divine, not taking over towns and nations in Satanic plots?

Not only that, these people are shown as making human sacrifices and blood rituals.  Since when do New Agers commit murder for their religion–except maybe in Chick Tracts?

Apparently, being an important person in the town and a New Ager is akin to being in the KKK, as we see on pages 94-95, when news reporters discover that various high-ups are into New Age.  Heck, these New Agers are even into terrorism.  Why does New Age=world domination and Hitleresque activities?

Not only that, but the New World Order propaganda pops up on page 257:

As a decisive and powerful tool of the Universal Consciousness Society, Omni Corporation is about to establish still another foothold for the coming New World Order and the rule of the New Age Christ.

(When is that supposed to happen, exactly?  Wasn’t Bush Sr. supposed to bring it about in his second term?)

You know, there is a political party (Natural Law) based on New Age principles.  Yet you don’t hear anything about the party establishing footholds of any kind.  It’s just way too small.  Most people vote Republican or Democrat, not Natural Law.

The treatment of prayer in this book is disturbing.  You have to pray constantly, not even stopping to sleep or go to the bathroom, or else the angels will fail.  I thought prayer was about what you say, not how long you spend saying it, not endless chanting or droning on and on like an overlong novel?

As for more domestic issues, why do we never see Hank doing housework?  Every time we see Hank and Mary Busche together, Hank is doing his pastor thing and Mary is doing housework.

Also, that dinky church can’t possibly support the Busches (even if they guilt everyone into tithing ten percent or else) or provide constant work for Hank.  Mary has no children to care for, and pregnancy is never mentioned throughout the book.

So why doesn’t she have a job?  Why doesn’t Hank take on a part-time job?

Even on page 155, we see another wife, Mrs. Strachan, serving food while her husband chats, like a dutiful servant–er, wife.  Strachan complained that the regents of the college, New Agers in the “Inner Circle,” “were becoming like peas in a pod, like clones of each other.  They all acted the same, talked the same. . .”

Funny, this reminds me of the Steve Taylor song “I Want to be a Clone“–a satire on “churchianity,” Christians talking alike and acting alike and trying to make converts act just like them to be truly “saved.”

On page 149, we see a description of a video arcade, complete with heavy metal music, drugs, sex and demons.  My husband used to go to video arcades in his youth.  They were just hangouts full of geeks playing video games, not “hellholes.”

As for plot points, why would anybody put a death threat on Hank Busche’s door just for making someone leave a church?  What exactly happened in the Lou incident?  All we get about Lou and church issues are vague summaries.  It’s hard to sympathize with Hank’s fight to get Lou cast out of the church.

All in all, the book is entertaining, but deserves to be called propaganda, not serious fiction.

More reviews of Peretti’s works are here.  While I do not agree with everything in the reviewers’ theology (they seem to be dispensationalist), I agree with much of it as presented here, and we agree that the Charismatic churches are in error.  (One reviewer says Peretti is an ordained minister in the Assemblies of God.)

Though I don’t agree with every single thing in it, such as the part about Christian rock being sacrilegious, and the accusations that God’s grace and Christians are only in the Orthodox Church, this article by Orthodox Father Seraphim Rose makes an impressive argument that Charismatic teachings on spiritual gifts actually come from the mediumistic practices of other religions and spiritists.

Do keep in mind that this is Fr. Rose’s opinion, not necessarily the official teaching of Orthodoxy.  However, the Orthodox beliefs regarding sign gifts are quite different from the Charismatic version, and the Charismatic movement is seen as a revival of the ancient Montanist heresy (see Theology page 1).

[Late 2005]

 

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