Rethinking Evil

I just read a fascinating and thought-provoking book:

Janet Warren, Cleansing the Cosmos: A Biblical Model for Conceptualizing and Counteracting Evil. Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2012 (forthcoming).

In a nutshell she offers a biblical alternative to the predominant metaphor of evil as an army (of Satan and his demonic hordes) against which Christians engage in "spiritual warfare". She argues that while such metaphors are used in the Bible they are far more marginal than we think and that Scripture offers a range of alternative metaphors to conceptualize evil and how the church engages it.

In particular she makes use of spatial metaphors — sacred space with holiness at the centre and chaos/evil at the periphery — to reimagine evil. Tracing the biblical theme of evil from creation texts, through cultic texts, to the Four Gospels, then on to ecclesiological and eschatological texts she makes a very thorough biblical case for her views.

I did not agree with everything but I found it one of the most thought-provoking books on the demonic that I have read in many years (indeed, one of the most thought-provoking books in biblical theology that I have read for some while.)

Highly recommended.

Here is the cover copy:
Understanding evil spiritual forces is essential for Christian theology, yet discussion is almost always phrased in terms of “spiritual warfare.” Warfare language is problematic, being dualistic, assigning a high degree of ontology to evil, associated with violence, and poorly applicable to ministry. This original and unique study proposes a biblically-based model as the first alternative to a “spiritual warfare” framework for dealing with the demonic, thus providing insights for preaching, counseling, and missiology. Warren develops this model using metaphor theory and examining four biblical themes: creation, cult, Christ, and church. Metaphors of cleansing, ordering, and boundary-setting are developed in contrast to battle imagery, and relevant theological issues are engaged (Boyd’s warfare imagery, Barth’s ideas of evil as “nothingness,” and Eliade’s notion of the sacred and the profane). The role of the Holy Spirit is emphasized, and the ontology of evil minimized. This model incorporates concentric circles, evil being considered peripheral to divine reality. Warren’s well-constructed model provides a refreshing alternative to current “spiritual warfare” models.


Terry Wright said…
This looks so good! I'll be getting a copy, by hook or by crook!
Anonymous said…
I wonder how Warren addresses the subject of violence in the Old Testament,when made manifest by God's direct hand or order. It is difficult to glean a holy 'center,' for example, when the Lord "hardens (the) hearts" of the Canaanites "that they should come against Israel in battle, in order that they should be devoted to destruction and should receive no mercy but be destroyed, just as the Lord commanded Moses." (Joshua 11: 20, ESV)
Terry Wright said…
Any word on when this will be published, Robin? I can't find any details on the Wipf and Stock website.
Janet Warren said…
Thanks Robin - Terry my book should be available through Amazon soon. "Anonymous" - because I deal with spiritual forces, I do not discuss violence in the OT much. You're right there are some challenging passages - perhaps some of the "just war" literature is more helpful (e.g. violence is only endorsed for specific divine purposes)? I do not deny the "divine warrior" motif but suggest instead to focus on divine authority and the work of the Spirit.

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