Erwin W. Lutzer. God’s Devil: The Incredible Story of How Satan’s Rebellion Serves God’s Purposes. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2015. See here to buy the book.
God’s Devil is about the origin of the devil, his
motivations and agenda, and his work and capabilities. The book also
covers spiritual warfare, the ways that God uses the devil, the question
of whether the devil can possess believers, and eschatology.
There are parts of the book that are rather speculative, yet they are
sensible. Erwin Lutzer tends to psychoanalyze the devil in describing
what he believes are the devil’s motivations. Lutzer fails to engage
biblical scholarship about how the Satan was a prosecuting attorney in
the Hebrew Bible and later became conceptualized as God’s arch-enemy, as
Lutzer sees the Satan as God’s archenemy throughout the Bible. This
does tend to close Lutzer off from alternative explanations of Satan’s
motivations. At the same time, from the standpoint of a Christian
interpretation of the Hebrew Bible and details about the devil in the
New Testament, Lutzer’s speculations about the devil’s motivations are
reasonable: that the devil wanted his own kingdom out of pride, that the
devil seeks to destroy or rule God’s creation, that the devil is
envious of human beings on account of the mercy God shows to them and
the glory God desires for them, and that the devil aims to alienate
people from God.
Lutzer is also speculative when it comes to the devil’s capabilities,
as when he denies that the devil can read people’s mind, be in more
than one place at once, and create life. Yet, Lutzer’s speculations are
sensible here, since the devil is a created being, not God.
Although there is speculation in the book, there are plenty of points
that Lutzer supports with Scripture. While Lutzer denies that the
devil can read people’s minds, he still notes that, according to Jesus’
Parable of the Sower, the devil can take the word of God out of people’s
hearts (Mark 4:15), meaning that the devil has some influence on
people’s hearts. Lutzer denies that demons can possess believers, yet
he thinks that demons can oppress and influence believers, and some of
what Lutzer describes sounds close to possession. Lutzer refers to Acts
5:3, in which Peter says that Satan filled Ananias and influenced him
to lie to the Holy Spirit. Lutzer’s argument that giving into sin can
provide the devil with a foothold in a believer’s life is consistent
with Scripture, for Ephesians 4:26-27 warns that sinful anger can
provide the devil with a foothold.
Lutzer also shows from Scripture, particularly the New Testament,
that God can use the devil to discipline believers and to purify them.
The book says a lot of things that Christians have said before, yet
there were occasions when I gleaned from it a fresh insight about
Scripture (fresh for me, at least), or when Lutzer addressed intriguing
questions. Lutzer interacts with the question of how the devil could
try to discourage Jesus from going to the cross, only later to
participate in instigating Jesus’ death. For the sake of thoroughness
in examining this issue, Lutzer perhaps should have addressed I
Corinthians 2:8, which presents the rulers of this age (arguably
supernatural beings) as ignorant when they crucified the Lord of glory.
Lutzer still does well, however to address how Satan could oppose then
support Jesus going to the cross.
Lutzer also asks when exactly Jesus bore people’s sins, and, on the
basis of Deuteronomy 21:23, he concludes that Jesus did so right on the
cross, not before that time (i.e., not in Gethsemane or when he started
wearing the crown of thorns). On the basis of Galatians 5:16, Lutzer
contends that believers need the Holy Spirit in order to abstain from
fleshly desire, which is different from saying that they need to starve
the flesh before they can walk in the Spirit. Lutzer is also unafraid
to take possibly unconventional stances: he argues, for example, that
the devil is still in heaven, whereas there are many believers who think
the devil is in hell right now, or has already been cast out of
heaven. In addition, Lutzer denies that the devil will rule in hell,
saying instead that God rules there, and that the devil will be punished
in hell, like its other inhabitants.
The book is pastoral, in the sense that Lutzer offers compassionate
and sensible advice. To those who are afraid of the devil harming them,
Lutzer says that the devil is under the sovereignty of God. Lutzer
also talks about how commitment to the truth of the Word of God can
cleanse a person and serve as a basis for saying “no” to the devil.
Lutzer illustrates many points with anecdotes.
Lutzer leans heavily on God’s free grace, as when he says that
believers need not strive to appease God, for Christ has already
appeased God on their behalf. Lutzer says that our righteousness does
not make us more pleasing to God on good days, and our struggles on bad
days do not make us more displeasing to God, for believers are accepted
by God on the basis of the blood of Christ. Moreover, Lutzer believes
that believers who are influenced by the devil are still saved, even if
they have fallen into spiritual pits. At the same time, obedience to
God is a prominent theme in this book. Lutzer criticizes Cain for
trying to please God on his own terms rather than out of obedience.
Lutzer also talks about how sin can open the door for the devil, and how
obedience and commitment to God can provide one with power against the
demonic, which would be lacking if a person were not under God’s
authority. And Lutzer maintains that the cross of Christ transforms the
believer, not just offers believers forgiveness: “The cross was not
merely to clean the impure water that comes from the fountain, but to
fundamentally change the nature of the fountain itself” (page 200).
Lutzer perhaps could have integrated his feel-good grace message with
his obedience message better than he did, but he still made thoughtful
I had slight areas of disagreement. Lutzer criticizes one woman for
rebelling against church authority, which was somewhat of a turn-off to
me; at the same time, Lutzer told a compelling story about how he
refused to obey a cult leader who was on a power trip. Lutzer says that
God’s rules on sex are for our well-being and happiness, and I wondered
if that were truly the case for homosexuals who are pressured by
conservative Christians to remain celibate for the rest of their lives.
On page 178, Lutzer refers to I Corinthians 7:5’s advice that couples
limit the duration of their celibacy, so that Satan might not tempt
them. Would not such realistic advice be relevant to the debate over
whether homosexual Christians should be celibate for the rest of their
natural lives? I am not criticizing Lutzer for his stance on same-sex
relationships, as if I expect him to have a different stance. I just
have doubts about whether his stance accords with reality in the world.
As is the case with all of Lutzer’s books that I have read thus far,
this book has a warm, inviting style. Lutzer is an effective teacher
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. My review is honest!