I am no Rachel Held Evans. My blog/website does not garner near her number of visits. There is no book to my credit. Interviewers do not line up. But, I am like Rachel Held Evans.
Like Rachel, I couldn’t put Richard Beck’s new book down. When my copy arrived I told Patty that I would be finished over the weekend. I have no idea how long it took Evans, but Reviving Old Scratch: Demons and the Devil for the Doubters and the Disenchanted gave little time for anything else.
Nowhere or Everywhere
When it comes to the devil, Devil, in religious, particularly Christian, discourse, there are generally to extremes. On the one hand many believe the idea of a personal Devil to be anathema to the modern mind. Any notion of a meta-physical reality, something beyond what is physical, belongs to a bygone era. Smart people don’t need the Devil to stay in line.
On the other hand many believe in a personal Devil and are certain he may be found, or one of his demons, under every rock. Every negative event is the outworking of the Devil’s desire to bring evil upon all of life. This was characterized by the comedian Flip Wilson. His routine included, “The Devil made me do it.” Any human responsibility or consequence flew out the window when another entity could be blamed for one’s actions. Worse, when the Devil is under every rock, or behind every malevolent event, it is easy to dehumanize another person by vilifying them as the Devil himself or herself. The notion of working out any conflict that might be the consequence of human action or cause morphs into a mighty battle with the Devil. People become the Devil, in the flesh.
Those left with any interest in the subject between these two poles move along the spectrum looking for a way to talk about the Devil with a straight face, with no fingers crossed behind our back. What do we do?
When I think of Scratch, I tend to think of a golfer whose average score is par. If you watch the Triple Crown, horse racing, you know that sometimes a horse gets scratched from the race. Some games are scored in such a way that to fail to score at all is to fail to scratch. Who ever heard the Devil referred to as Old Scratch?
Enter Richard Beck. His own grappling with the Devil runs along the described spectrum. Many an educated person who grew up in church grapples with what to do with this unseen entity. About the time it seems there is little use, you might find yourself listening to a prayer in a maximum security prison and the one praying says, “and protect us from Old Scratch.” At once you are curious about the reference and then learn that maybe you jettisoned the Devil too soon, or at least in a way that is unhelpful.
Doubters and Disenchanted?
Beck certainly outlines his target audience in the subtitle. But, if you don’t think you fit the description doubter or disenchanted, maybe you should read the book to see whether or not you find yourself in the pages. I will venture a guess that even if you do not like Scooby-doo, you have at one time or another practiced the Scoobydooification of the Scriptures. Even more, in the age of boutique coffee roasting, you may find out bad coffee is not so bad. And, tell me, have you ever thought to yourself, “I love humanity. It’s people I can’t stand!” If so, then don’t dismiss the book out of hand. There is something for everyone here.
Today on the podcast I share a conversation with Richard Beck. Out of respect I kept our time on the phone to an hour. But, the devil angel on my shoulder really wanted another hour.
Who Is He?
From the back of Richard’s new book,
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.
You can read more of Richard’s writing, and so his thinking, at www.experimentaltheology.blogspot.com.