Personal or impersonal? : an analysis of Karl Barth and Merrill Unger's perspectives on the personhood of the demonic

MacDonald, Scott Douglas (2013-03)

Thesis (MTh)--Stellenbosch University, 2013.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: Is the demonic personal or impersonal? The question is rarely treated in depth. This thesis initially delves into the demonological offerings of a pair of twentieth century theologians, Karl Barth and Merrill Unger, in order to discern their particular positions upon the subject. Personhood itself is a divisive issue between the two theologians. Barth’s perspective on personhood is not intrinsically linked to the physical nature. Persons are who they are because of their relationship with the divine. In reference to the demonic, Unger briefly assesses personhood by inseparably correlating it with ontological reality. Their disagreement continues into the definition of “demon.” Barth prefers to see the demonic as uncreated yet derived from God as a byproduct of His creative decree, and Unger opts for a famous classical construction that they are created beings who rebelled against their Maker. Yet, Barth and Unger are both found to not only adhere to personal language concerning the demonic but also to posit demons as personal beings. According to Barth and Unger, demons are real, personal, and malevolent. This unusual unity, even with their distinct theological backgrounds, can only be properly understood as the result of their mutual profession to reflect the biblical material. Considering the dated nature of Barth and Unger’s writings, recent biblical scholarship is examined in order to determine whether or not their attestation of a demonic personhood is borne out by current studies. While a few exceptions are noted, the majority of scholars indicate that the biblical material portrays personal intermediary players besides God and humanity, with the category of “demon” becoming progressively prevalent as one chronologically journeys through the divine revelation. Spurning a Bultmann-inspired demythologization, Barth and Unger simply attempt to reflect the biblical material. But how does Barth and Unger’s idea of demonic personhood hold up in light of the multicultural context? As the globe hurriedly shrinks during our technologically connected age, the boundaries between cultures have fallen, resulting in numerous contexts which contain two or more cultures sharing the same space. How can Christianity navigate such turbulent times, except by emphasizing the centrality of the God’s Word! It coheres God’s people, while convicting and transforming every contacted culture. In the multicultural context, specifically through the Western and African worldviews, Barth and Unger’s personhood of the demonic speaks admonition and affirmation to the Christian masses. Unhealthy superstition is challenged,and dismissive skepticism is chastised. Caution is upheld, and the openness of the African worldview is vindicated. Thus, in light of the multicultural context, a biblical personhood of the demonic realm is plausible, and as a revelation-centric position, it surpasses current ethnocentric expressions of the topic. As we turned toward constructing some conclusions, Barth and Unger’s strengths and weaknesses were assessed. Karl Barth claims that conveying the biblical testimony is his first concern, but on the subject of the demonic, he entertains a confusing philosophy which unpredictably maintains personhood. Merrill Unger paints with broad brush strokes, failing to discuss or respond to the progressive way in which the demonic is unveiled throughout the biblical text. One of the strengths of Barth’s demonological presentation, which includes demonic personhood, is that he highlights the activity of the demonic before the ontology of the demonic. Though interacting with scholars and theologians, Unger’s clear emphasis and strength is on recapitulating the biblical text, linking nearly every point to numerous texts. Finally, if we accept the reality of a personal demonic, our response to the demonic should reflect it. Theologically, it should spur us onward toward a truly personal view of redemption. Practically, it means that we should critically analyze and carefully consider the constructive works of counselors, pastors, and deliverance practitioners that we may cautiously adapt our ecclesiological practices to reflect biblical realities.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Is die demoniese persoonlik of onpersoonlik? Die vraag word selde in diepte behandel. Hierdie tesis beskou aanvanklik die demonologiese aanbiedinge van twee twintigste-eeuse teoloë, Karl Barth en Merril Unger, om hulle spesifieke standpunte oor die onderwerp te onderskei. Persoonskap self is 'n verdelende kwessie tussen die twee teoloë. Barth se perspektief op persoonskap is nie intrinsiek aan hulle fisiese aard gekoppel nie. Persone is wie hulle is weens hul verhouding met die goddelike. Met verwysing na die demoniese evalueer Unger kortliks persoonskap deur dit onlosmaaklik met die ontologiese werklikheid te korreleer. Hul meningsverskil strek tot in hul definisie van die "demoon". Barth verkies om die demoniese as ongeskape, tog afgelei van God as 'n byproduk van Sy skeppingsverordening te sien, en Unger verkies 'n bekende klassieke voorstel dat hulle geskape wesens is wat in opstand gekom het teen hulle Maker. Tog word daar gevind dat Barth en Unger beide nie persoonlike taal betreffende die demoniese aanhang nie, maar demone ook as persoonlike wesens poneer. Volgens Barth en Unger is demone werklik, persoonlik en kwaadwillig. Hierdie ongewone eensgesindheid, selfs met hul verskillende teologiese agtergronde, kan slegs behoorlik verstaan word as die gevolg van hul gedeelde aanspraak dat hulle die Bybelse stof weerspieël. Die verouderde aard van Barth en Unger se geskrifte in ag geneem, word onlangse Bybelwetenskap ondersoek om te bepaal of hulle bevestiging van 'n demoniese persoonskap deur huidige studies beaam word. Hoewel 'n paar uitsonderings waargeneem word, dui die meerderheid geleerdes daarop dat die Bybelse stof persoonlike tussengangers buiten God en die mensdom uitbeeld, met die kategorie van die "demoon" wat toenemend voorkom soos wat 'n mens chronologies deur die goddelike openbaring reis. In veragting van 'n Bultmann-geïnspireerde ontmitologisering probeer Barth en Unger eenvoudig die Bybelse stof weerspieël. Maar hoe hou Barth en Unger se idee van demoniese persoonskap stand in die lig van die multikulturele konteks? Soos die wêreld haastig krimp tydens ons tegnologies-verbinde tydperk, het die grense tussen kulture verval, wat gelei het tot verskeie kontekste waarin twee of meer kulture dieselfde ruimte deel. Hoe kan die Christendom sulke onstuimige tye navigeer, behalwe deur die sentraliteit van Gods Woord te benadruk! Dit verenig God se volk, onderwyl dit elke kultuur waarmee ons in verbinding tree oortuig en transformeer. In die multikulturele konteks, veral deur die Westerse en Afrika se wêreldbeelde, spreek Barth en Unger se persoonlikheid van die demoniese van vermaning en bekragtiging aan die Christenmassas. Ongesonde bygeloof word uitgedaag, en afwysende skeptisisme word gekasty. Omsigtigheid word gehandhaaf, en die oopheid van Afrika se wêreldbeskouing word geregverdig. Dus, in die lig van die multikulturele konteks, is 'n Bybelse persoonskap van 'n persoonlike demoniese realm geloofwaardig, en as openbaringsgesentreerde standpunt oortref dit huidige etnosentriese uitdrukkings van die onderwerp. Soos wat ons 'n paar gevolgtrekkings begin maak het, is Barth en Unger se sterk- en swakpunte geassesseer. Karl Barth beweer dat die oordra van die Bybelse getuienis sy eerste belang is, maar betreffende die onderwerp van die demoniese koester hy 'n verwarrende filosofie wat onvoorspelbaar persoonskap handhaaf. Merrill Unger verf met breë kwashale, en versuim om die progressiewe wyse waarop die demoniese dwarsdeur die Bybelse teks ontsluier word te bespreek of daarop te reageer. Een van die sterk punte van Barth se demonologiese voorstelling, wat demoniese persoonskap insluit, is dat hy die aktiwiteit van die demoniese bó die ontologie beklemtoon. Hoewel hy in gesprek is met geleerdes en teoloë, lê Unger se duidelike klem en krag in sy samevatting van die Bybelse teks, met die koppeling van byna elke punt aan talle tekste. Laastens, as ons die werklikheid van 'n persoonlike demoniese aanvaar, moet ons reaksie daarop dit weerspieël. Teologies moet dit ons aanspoor om verder in die rigting van 'n waarlik persoonlike siening van verlossing. Prakties beteken dit dat ons die konstruktiewe werke van verlossingspraktisyns, pastore, en raadgewers krities moet ontleed en versigtig moet oorweeg sodat ons versigtig ons ekklesiologiese praktyke kan aanpas om Bybelse werklikhede te weerspieël.

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