My notes from the Manchester WTC Hub open night teaching from Dr JJ Knecht
We might mention angels and demons in readings and sermons and so on, but we don’t tend to go on and talk about them that much in church usually.
How do you picture angels and demons?
What do they look like?
You see a glowing person with a shiny face in our culture. Or a little red suited horror? Angels are mentioned quite a lot in various ways in conversation, ‘She’s an angel.’ People even talk about struggling with their demons. Mediaeval pictures show battles of white angels against demons being thrown down. We tend to start with such pictures in our minds, from movies and TV etc.
Take a step back from all that.
Look at scripture!
But that’s not as easy as we might think.
To start with. there are different cosmologies.
- Council of the gods? ( 1 Kings 22, Job, Genesis 1, Isaiah 6) – other gods exist but God is the head of the council of the gods.
- Sons ‘marry’ daughters of Men (Gen 6)
- Territorial spirits (Dan 10; Deuteronomy 32)
- Possible Henotheism in early Judaism.
Terminology – two terms are used angelos (Gk messenger), malakh – Heb. (One being sent)
Idea is grounded in a sent messenger
Two main functions of angels in scripture:
- WORSHIP of God. Dt 32:43, Rev 5:11
- MESSENGERS. Josh 13:3, Gen 22:11, Annunciation to Mary.
We hardly see them in the OT
Satan is mentioned. But the word for demon is rarely used.
Featured far more, as the personification of opposition to Jesus. By them people are caused pain, despair. Cast out of society.
Karl Barth’s Approach.
Swiss theologian, reformed, central focus on the revelation of Jesus Christ. Barmen Declaration against Nazism with Bonhoeffer. Church Dogmatics huge and very influential works.
In Book III:3 he writes a lot on angels and demons.
The Limits of Angelology
“The dogmatic sphere we enter into this section is the most remarkable and difficult of all” Having written about the Trinity, incarnation etc.
He’s saying this is a very difficult subject! Why?
Because “angels are not independent and autonomous subjects like God and man and Jesus Christ.”
What does that mean?
What is Systematic Theology?
The story of God’s interaction with creation, through covenant. The Bible is a story about us and God, angels are not a main part of that. They are peripheral. Not covenant partners. When they align with the will of God, they are angels. When they diverge from that, they then become demons.
What’s Barth’s methodology?
His approach is that ‘only the Holy Scriptures of the OT and NT can be the guide… we must respect what it says and what it does not say.’ (372)
Order – I believe that I may understand. (Credo ut intelligam)
Faith must guide the types of questions we ask.
Angelology must be allowed to have the force that scripture gives it.
Don’t go from our creaturely (culturally) preconceived ideas of angels and demons then to scripture. Go from scripture first. This is profoundly the case for good theology, with regard to how we view God, mercy, justice etc.
Listen to God first!
Be good listeners to what God says first, repeat that to the question.
This question leads him to talk about heaven. God created heaven. He made it, as he made the earth. So, angels are creatures. Not divine. Not co-eternal with God. But heaven is the place he has chosen to reside. Why? To help us understand him. We can’t understand how great God is, but heaven/ the heavenlies are created by God to help us understand how he is high and other.
Angels reside in heaven, therefore closer to God.
If we are ever led to believe we have a relationship with an angel apart from God, we need to beware of the possibility of deception with regard to demons. There is a need for balance here: a middle ground.
We have a materialistic western rationalistic mindset. The majority world may have an over emphasis or duality.
‘We contend for the lordship and glory of God – through the ministry of angels.’ (479)
Angels are always ‘of God’ or ‘his’ or ‘of Christ.’
‘Where an angel appears and speaks and works, God himself appears and is speaks and works.’
God is accompanied by angels in his work. It’s HIS work!
God ought to be the focus of our dedication at all times. Focusing on angels (too much) would again be repetition of the original, Adamic sin: dedication to something creaturely. God wants a relationship with us, not for us to have a relationship with angels.
Acknowledging the existence and importance of angels underlines one’s intention to take scripture seriously.
“There are also other spirits… demonic, erring and disruptive spirits of annihilation which deserve nothing else than to be driven out.:” (Evangelical Theology, 53)
We acknowledge the reality of demons. Angels created by God, which asserted their own will, and therefore lowered themselves from the place had put them. (As with us, sin pulls you down and robs us of who we were intended to be! We are dehumanised by sin, they are ‘de-angeled.’)
We tend toward the materialist error. Move to the middle, we don’t need to become magicians. We don’t fixate on them or have to sensationalise the demonic.