by G. Richard Fisher
Criticizing the teachings of popular author Neil Anderson might seem a risky task. After all, his books are advertised in Charisma and The Marketplace (formerly The Bookstore Journal) and endorsed by the likes of Bill Bright, Chuck Swindoll, Kay Arthur and Trinity Broadcasting Network favorite, Jack Hayford.
His teachings focus on liberation from bondagebondage from sin and the power of the devil, subjects any Christian ought to be familiar with. But a closer look reveals teachings that have far more in common with extremist Charismatic movements than with the Bible.
The bondage that Anderson promises deliverance from is not simply from the power of sin but from demonssome of them originating with long-dead ancestorswho indwell believers. Anderson says 85 percent of all Christians are struggling with various levels and depths of this demonic bondage.1
Anderson would have us pray the following prayer:
I cancel out all demonic working that may have been passed on to me from my ancestors. ... I renounce all satanic assignments that are directed toward me and my ministry, and I cancel every curse that Satan and his workers have put on me. ... I reject all other blood sacrifices whereby Satan may claim ownership of me.2
These prayers are not intended to be said by someone seeking salvation, but by Christians who already have been delivered from the power of darkness and translated into the kingdom of Gods dear Son.3
The Assemblies of God denomination issued a 15-page position booklet refuting the idea that Christians can have indwelling demons. It concludes that such teaching is unbiblical and erodes the biblical concept of salvation and peace.4
The Christian Research Institute has issued a position paper warning the Christian public about Andersons teachings. It states:
While Anderson promotes freedom in Christ vociferously, his emphasis on the occult from which we are to become free is more noticeable, and is described in more vivid terms in the material he presents in seminars and publications than our freedom. His seven steps to freedom, the core of most of his materials, includes a lengthy recitation of renunciation/announcement statements that focus on blood oaths, marriage to Satan, generational curses, and so on. Nowhere in Scripture do we find a precedent for such a focus.5
The Calvary Contender for Aug. 15, 1995, also issued a Neil Anderson Warning:
Much of what he says is soundly biblical, but his message and methods are tainted by (his) version of demonic deliverance, inner healing, psychotherapy, false memory syndrome, ... ritualism and generational curses.
Anderson, Mark Bubeck, and C. Peter Wagner all parrot these false ideas, often using one another as the source authorities.6
A fellow traveler of Andersons, Bubeck has gone into even wilder extremes and now has a prayer to get demons off all parts of the body:
I ask You to look all through the sexual organs and function of my body for any evil spirit activity. ... I ask that the Holy Spirit would search out all my bones, blood circulation, nerve circuitry, muscles, tissues, glands, hair, skin and every cell for any wicked spirit activity against my physical body. Evict any afflicting, evil powers totally away from my body.7
Anyone who maintains that Andersons and Bubecks teachings are biblically unsound needs to be able to define what the Bible does teach about demons and the believer. Gil Rugh summarizes:
Believers cannot be possessed by demons. Scripture teaches that the Holy Spirit indwells us and is greater than the devil who is in the world. ... The Scripture is clear on this matter. ... Christs work was sufficient. There is no further deliverance that must take place. If there were, salvation in Christ would be incomplete. If the church would stop and think through its theology of Scripture we would realize that something is drastically wrong with what is being promoted by those who teach that believers can be demonized.8
While Anderson may attribute sinful propensities to our own as well as our ancestors demons,9 the Bible is quite clear in James 1, Mark 7 and Galatians 5 that man sins by himself, from himself, and that there is no exorcistic short-cut. Sanctification is a lifelong struggle.
Thomas Ice also warns believers in regard to such teachings:
The real potential for problems in the Christian life is blaming things on the demonic and neglecting normal Christian growth and maturity. It is this kind of lack of maturity in the lives of many believers, because they are looking for the quick-fix of a Neil Anderson deliverance, that will prove in the long run to effect the greater damage. I am concerned that believers wake up to the false ways of Dr. Anderson.10
Calvary Chapel founder and pastor Chuck Smith, in answering the question as to whether a born-again Christian can be indwelt by a demon, writes:
The proponents of this unscriptural doctrine use such terms as Christians being invaded by demons rather than demon possessed. This is nothing more than a word game and a smoke screen to hide the scriptural weakness of their position. They also present an illogical supposition that demons can invade or control the mind or body but not the spirit. Gods Word declares that the body is a temple of the Holy Ghost who is in us.11
CONFUSION IN THE CAMP
Not all deliverance teachers speak with the same voice and Anderson may not be aware of the disarray in this field. A good illustration is John Arnott, who says that what he used to call demons, could really be the Holy Spirit:
We used to think when people shook, shouted, flopped, rolled, etc., that it was a demonic thing manifesting and we needed to take them out of the room. That was our grid, thats what our experience had taught us, that demons could be powerful. ... Who cares? If he thinks its God and he likes it, let him enjoy it! Because you can test the fruit later. ... if you play it safe with this thing, the Holy Spirit, you know what? Youre never going to get anywhere.12
Counseling clients often play into the suggestions of such warfare counselors. What is sought in the way of demonic manifestations usually can be created. It has long been recognized that symptoms of demonic possession can be self-induced through expectation and priming.13 Gullible, confused, hurting, struggling people can be led along almost anywhere by an apparently knowledgeable authority figure.
Counselor David Powlison writes:
An atmosphere of intense expectation can produce almost anything. Counselors find what they are looking for; counselees produce what counselors are looking for. The power of suggestion may sound like a cheap trick... . But suggestion is a force of vast and subtle power.14
So it is clear that a counselor usually findsand can help createwhat he is looking for. Suggestion goes a long way in creating the anticipated results.
A MORE PALATABLE VERSION
Anderson has in the past misrepresented the doctrine of sanctification. However, his most recent book, The Common Made Holy, (co-authored with Robert Saucy) is a toned-down, nuanced, sanitized and softer version of his false teachings. Though trying to make his ideas more palatable and less offensive, it is still the old demons in Christians error. The book is more a sales pitch and marketing tool for his other writings, which teach more blatantly the demons in Christians doctrine.
In chapter 17, The Warfare of Sanctification, Anderson and Saucy subtly present quotes on the general theme of spiritual warfare from authors who would not agree with the premises of demons in believers or ancestral bondage, such as Thomas Brooks, F.F. Bruce and Martin Luther.
Anderson and Saucy go so far as to quote David Powlison, whose book, Power Encounters, thoroughly refutes Anderson and others of like mind. While these out-of-context quotes give the air of respectability, scholarship and agreement, they are misleading.
Powlison calls the views of Anderson and the like a hybrid religion and a demonic and superstitious worldview.15 He shows without question that exorcistic ministry is not the sturdy biblical view of historical orthodoxy.
Powlison also describes counselees caught up in these views as living in an impoverished world of semi-occult warfare16 and others who lose the view of classical biblical warfare as living in a cartoon world.17
ENSLAVEMENT OF THE FLESH
Anderson and Saucy further confuse the picture by saying:
Thus yielding to the flesh is also yielding to the influence of Satan and his demons. That such influence can reach the point of enslavement is also taught in Scripture.18
Again there is a total confusion of categories. Yielding to the flesh is direct and talked about throughout Scripture. And, yes, the flesh can enslave. That yielding to the flesh is exactly the same as yielding to Satan directly is untrue. There is a certain sense in which all sin plays into Satans program. There is a general sense in which all sin furthers Satans aims. However, the Scripture does not confuse the indwelling flesh or sin nature with demons which are always external to the Christian. There is a sense in which yielding to sin is a yielding to Satan because we further his agenda but it is a stretch and a lie to say that means we then have occupying demons and that we need a special Anderson prayer ritual/exorcism to rid ourselves of those internal pests.
The Bible warns us in regard to the mastery of sin (which is the power of sin in what the world would call addiction). The flesh and its power should be a far greater concern than personal forays with demons. There is a certain sense that if I will take care of my life as God intended, He will take care of the demons. It is a matter of focus.
The Apostle John said to Keep yourself from idols (1 John 5:21). He did not say Keep yourself from indwelling demons.
John gives us great assurance when he says: He who has been born of God keeps himself and the wicked one does not touch him (1 John 5:18). The Greek word for touch is hapto. It means to fasten onto or to lay hold of. What Anderson says can happen, John is saying cannot happen.
No wonder John can say: He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4). Idols of the heart should be a great concern for us as Christians. Again we must attend to the things God prescribes and He will take care of the rest.
METHODICAL AND MISLEADING
Anderson and Saucy sometimes sound orthodox. For example, they write: Scripture reveals that believers can, to a varied extent, come under the influence of Satan and demons.19
Probably no one would disagree. Where the two authors go with that statement is something else. Readers can agree with the reality of warfare, demonic influence and intense struggles with evil but the two authors move slowly to another extreme and describe warfare in a more occultic fashion.
There is a great difference between influence and indwelling, between influence and occupation, between influence and moving in and taking over. It is one thing to say that my enemy influences me as opposed to saying my enemy has moved into my house.
Andersons apologists sometimes say, We are closer than you think in what we believewe are not that far apart, our agreements are more than our disagreements. Yet on this vital issue Anderson is a world apart from orthodox Christianity. Such teachings must drastically color ones view of sanctification, sin, addiction, discipleship, counseling, the Bible and pastoral care.
Anderson and Saucy play another word game, saying, Biblically, it is impossible for Satan to possess a believer in the sense of ownership.20 Once a believer belongs to Christ, he is Gods possession; Satan has no ownership.
But Satan possesses a believer not in the sense of ownership, Anderson says, but in the sense of indwelling. After all, that is what the New Testament means when it speaks of demon possession (a demon inside a person). Anderson and Saucy say that demon possession is the same as saying a person is demonized (Greek: diamonizomai) which is the same as having a demon inside.21 They are right on that. Anderson and Saucy then teach that a believer can have a demon inside, and that a demon can occupy and control a believers body. Their view is that a believer can be internally demonized, that in fact the demon has moved in.
Anderson and Saucy also dodge the issue with the statement, the demon need not be seen as residing in the very center of the person.22 The demon is not at the very center but is still somewhere inside, they will say.
The Bible is silent on the issue of where a demon resides in an unbeliever but Anderson and Saucy, in neo-gnostic fashion, offered this explanation:
Bible commentator Franz Delitzsch describes how demonization simply involves demons intruding themselves between the persons own spirit and body and taking over the persons nervous system in order to express demonic actions, thereby limiting the persons expression of his or her real self.23
Anderson and Saucy, via Delitzsch, localize the demon in the nervous system inside the believer. Jessie Penn-Lewis is the source of this idea, not the Bible.
Anderson and Saucy do not explain if Delitzsch is talking about the saved or unsaved, and there is no Scripture to support their conclusions. Yet we are to believe that demons, though not in the very center of our being, are in our nervous systems, because Anderson and Saucy say so and cite Delitzsch to try to convince us.
Anderson also cites Delitzschs A System of Biblical Psychology.24 The volume used by Anderson was published by Baker Book House in 1966. It is a reprint of an edition originally published in 1899, nearly a decade after Delitzschs death. However, is Delitzsch a safe source to quote when it comes to speculation about the exact whereabouts of demons? A close reading of the nineteenth century theologian shows a mixed bag at best.
Delitzsch was persuaded in his later years by higher criticism and theosophic influence.25 Theosophy, in its origins, was an Indian philosophy championed by Helena Blavatsky and taught the latent spiritual power of man as well as reincarnation and occult knowledge.26
Moreover, a reading of the entire chapter from A System of Biblical Psychology from which Anderson made his brief citation is even more damaging to his employment of Delitzsch. Under the chapter heading, Natural and Demoniacal Sickness (pp. 345-360) Delitzsch is addressing pre-cross demonic relationships to sickness in the New Testament. He is emphatic: We first of all present to ourselves only symptomatically the demoniacal forms of sickness that Scripture places before our eyes...27
Delitzsch never once suggests that Christians can be invaded by demons but suggests quite the opposite. He contends that the accelerated demonic activity in Christs time was to confront and contend with Jesus knowing He was the vanquisher.28 He states clearly the kingdom of God that came in and with Christ was to announce itself unmistakeably by the visible overcoming of demons (Luke xi. 20).29
We must also note that Delitzsch located the demons not in the nervous system as stated by Anderson, but that:
...demons intrude themselves between the corporeitymore strictly, the nervous bodyand the soul of man, and forcibly fetter the soul together with the spirit, but make the bodily organs a means of their own self-attestation full of torment to men.30
Again, he was emphasizing the relationship of demons to physical sicknesses in the Gospels. He was also careful to say that not every sickness has demonic origins.31
Therefore, two things are evident: Anderson should have been suspect of his source in the first place; and Delitzsch, who upon a closer reading, is dealing with a different issue entirely (the demonic and disease in the New Testament era) and does not support Andersons case at all.
Apart from Delitzsch, Andersonfrom at least 1990has taught on his own that:
...demonic influence is not an external force in the physical realm; it is the internal manipulation of the central nervous system.32
Another misleading argument of the two authors is that because we may relinquish control to a besetting sin, it follows that an evil spirit can control us from within our body.33 Scripture affirms the former but not the latter. The authors mix oranges and cucumbers.
Scripture never suggests equating sin with demons. We are told to struggle against besetting sins (Hebrews 12) and we know that the flesh is ever with us. However there is no Scripture to ever suggest that demons can reside in a believer in the way that sin does. Sins are inclinations and actions; demons are fallen spirits. Scripture says a believer could possibly be controlled at times by the old nature but never by an indwelling demon.
Apologists Brent Grimsley and Elliot Miller write:
This analogy between demonic evil and the evil of fallen humanity is flawed. God stands in a different relationship to demons than to believers. He is the judge of Satan and demons and the savior of believers. Demons are enemies of God; believers, despite their sin natures, are His servants and friends. God will dwell with His people; He will not dwell with His enemies. This argument fails to recognize the essential difference between evil persons (demons) and redeemed persons (believers) who have evil within them (the flesh), but also have a new nature (the spirit) which causes them to ultimately triumph over evil (1 John 3:9).34
Testimonials, anecdotes and sensational stories do not determine truth. These stories and experiences are often put through a subjective grid of embellishment, faulty evaluation and interpretation. We must start with the Scripture and critique everything in its light.
REAL SPIRITUAL WARFARE
Michael Hortons words on Ephesians 6, the greatest single passage on warfare in the Bible, go right to the heart of Andersons errors:
We are not left with our own weapons or armor, but with the same armor that won Christs victory in the first place. He clothes us with his victory, with his righteousness, with his truth, with his gospel, and his salvation. His Word protects us from Satans designs.
That approach may not be as exciting as the theology of glory, which reads a passage like this one as if it were a Star Wars script. It is, however, sufficient to keep us from dying on the battlefield. If spiritual warfare were really concerned with taking back territory and goods stolen by the devil, in terms of naming and claiming the salvation of loved ones or automobiles, we would be the saviors. Instead we are wearing borrowed armor. And it is alien armorprotective gear that is not our own. Furthermore, there is nothing here about territorial spirits whose activity can be mapped by specially gifted prophetsthat has more to do with superstition and magic than with Christianity. Folk religion always finds a way of deifying and demonizing spirits of the forest or spirits of the cities. Nor does this passage tell us how to get rid of so-called generational cursesthat is, the attribution of demonic activity to genetic or hereditary problems.
There is not the slightest hint of such superstitious tendencies in this key passage on spiritual warfare. In fact, Satan most likely uses such diversions to distract us from the real battle, which Paul is anxious to set in our view.35
1. Neil T. Anderson, The Bondage Breaker.
Eugene, Ore.: Harvest House Publishers, 1990, pg. 107.
2. Ibid., pg. 207.
4. Can Born Again Believers Be Demon Possessed?, Springfield, Mo.: Gospel Publishing House, 1972.
5. Dr. Neil T. AndersonFreedom In Christ Ministries, Christian Research Institute International, Statement No. DA-080, pg. 1.
6. See further, The Quarterly Journal, July-September 1996, Mark Bubeck And Spiritual WarfareThe Cloning Of JessiePenn-Lewis. See also other PFO reports on Rebecca Brown and deliverance issues.
7. Mark I. Bubeck, Spiritual Warfare Basics. Sioux City, Iowa: self-published conference booklet, no date, pg. 23.
8. Gil Rugh, Demonization of the BelieverAn Unbiblical Teaching Exposed. Lincoln, Neb.: Indian Hills Community Church, 1994, pg. 26.
9. Bondage Breaker, op. cit., pp. 205-208.
10. Thomas Ice, Biblical Perspectives, Vol. V, No. 3, May-June 1992, Demon Possession And The New Clinical Deliverance, pg. 6.
11. Chuck Smith, Christian PossessionThe Scriptures Say No! Costa Mesa, Calif.: The Word For Today, 1979.
12. Cited in Hank Hanegraaff, Counterfeit Revival. Dallas: Word Publishing, 1997, pg. 52.
13. See further, Satan Cast OutA Study In Biblical Demonology by Frederick Leahy, pp. 180-181.
14. David Powlison, Power Encounters. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1995, pg. 134.
15. Ibid., pg. 25.
16. Ibid., pg. 151.
17. Ibid., pg. 142.
18. Neil T. Anderson and Robert Saucy, The Common Made Holy.Eugene, Ore.: Harvest House Publishers, 1997, pg. 353.
19. Ibid., pg. 347.
20. Ibid., pg. 349.
22. Ibid., pg. 350.
24. Ibid., pg. 398, endnote 39.
25. Elgin S. Moyer, Who Was Who In Church History. New Canaan, Conn.: Keats Publishing, Inc., 1974, pg. 114.
26. See further, The Columbia Viking Desk Encyclopedia. New York, N.Y.: Viking Press, 1953, Vol. 2, pg. 1260.
27. Franz Delitzsch, A System of Biblical Psychology. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1966, pg. 347.
28. Ibid., pp. 359-360.
29. Ibid., pg. 360.
30. Ibid., pg. 354.
31. Ibid., pg. 348.
32. Bondage Breaker, op. cit., pg. 111.
33. Common Made Holy, op. cit., pg. 351.
34. Brent Grimsley and Elliot Miller, Can A Christian Be Demonized?, Christian Research Journal, Summer 1993, pg. 38.
35. Michael Horton, In The Face of God. Dallas: Word Publishing, 1996, pg. 97.
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