Talk of exorcism, demonic possession, and spiritual warfare is likely to evoke some suspicion among Christians from North America and Europe. Even though these realities are spoken of in the Holy Scriptures and attested to the history of the Church catholic, they are apt to be dismissed or explained away by Christians living under subtle influences of Enlightenment skepticism. Such was not the case for Martin Luther, who knew that "sin, death and the Devil were not a theological problem to be solved – they were enemies to be fought against. The problem of evil is not primarily a problem within the sphere of the intellect, and it would be foolish to try to solve it there. The true fight is not carried out with syllogisms, but with prayer and preaching." Luther's spiritual offspring in the Malagasy Lutheran Church resonate with the Reformer's profound understanding of the old evil foe's attacks on body and soul, in his effort to unseat Christ Jesus. Malagasy Lutherans can teach us how to pray the Seventh Petition of the Lord's Prayer, "Deliver us from evil," with an awareness that we are praying against the Adversary as we call upon our Father to rescue us from every evil.
Having been to Madagascar several times in the last few years both with seminarians on study trips and as a guest lecturer, I have seen much of what Robert Bennett writes about in I Am Not Afraid: Demon Possession and Spiritual Warfare. Norwegian Lutheran missionaries came to Madagascar in 1866. The legacy of their dedicated and often painful labor is a large and growing Lutheran Church that is maintained by a confessional, conservative Lutheran theology and is marked by a vibrant life of mercy and outreach. One of the elements distinctive of the Malagasy Lutherans is the practice of exorcism in evangelization and spiritual care. Robert Bennett, who has made numerous trips to Madagascar to do field research for this book, examines the phenomena of demonic activity along with the practice of exorcism in the Malagasy context. For this reason alone his book represents a major contribution to missiological research giving us a glimpse into the revival movement (fifohazana), life in the toby (encampments of mercy operated by the church to provide holistic care), and the extraordinary ,vork of the mpiandry (lay people trained and commissioned by the church) who serve to evangelize, show mercy, and guide converts to the pastor for catechetical instruction and Baptism.
Yet there is much more to Bennett's work that wiII benefit not only missionaries but also theologians and pastors. North American pastors are also confronted with circumstances that give evidence of demonic activity and are often uncertain how to respond. Lutheran Service Book: Pastoral Care Companion (St. Louis: Concordia, 2007) contains a section of resources under the heading "Occult Practices and Demonic Affliction'' providing pastoraI guidance, biblical readings, Psalms, hymn stanzas, and prayers for pastors to use in situations such as these. These resources were not available in previous agendas and pastoral companions of The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod or other North American Lutheran bodies. Bennett's biblical and theological treatment of the demonic will assist pastors seeking to minister to people who experience satanic attack. I Am Not Afraid: Demon Possession and Spiritual Warfare fills a void in Lutheran pastoral theology; it will be practically helpful to pastors confronting this dark albeit often disguised spiritual condition in our culture.
The magisterial, two volume work, Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts by New Testament scholar Craig Keener links Jesus' exorcism of demons and unclean spirits with what Bennett and others have observed in Madagascar. Keener also provides strong arguments to counter the skepticism of both those who would dent the veracity of the New Testament accounts as well as their counterparts in places like Madagascar. I Am Not Afraid: Demon Possession and Spiritual Warfare rightly deserves a place alongside of Keener's exegetical treatment as a particular Lutheran contribution. Dr. Bennett, who is also a parish pastor, has provided readers with an engaging and carefully documented study that will help western readers learn some valuable lessons from our Malagasy brothers and sisters. Indeed, we do have much to learn and we should be grateful to Dr. Bennett for giving us a readable and interesting introduction.
John T. Pless
Assistant Professor of Pastoral Theology and Missions
Concordia Theological Seminary
Fort Wayne, Indiana
Ash Wednesday, 2013