Who says “The devil made me do it”?

This entry is part 4 of 7 in the series Satan & demons: Thomas Farrar's commentary

Ex-Christadelphian Tom Farrar has written an article objecting to the way Christadelphians characterize mainstream Christian comments about the role of Satan in their life.

Over time, in discussions with Christadelphians, I have repeatedly encountered the accusation that Christians who affirm the existence of a personal devil do so in order to avoid taking responsibility for their sins. This idea needs to be addressed.

In particular, Farrar accuses Christadelphians of ” teaching that “The devil made me do it” is a theological position of mainstream Christianity”. In his article he provides several quotations from Christadelphian sources, as well as from mainstream Christian sources. These quotations fail to substantiate the charge he is making.

Statements from Christadelphian sources

Each of Farrar’s quotations from Christadelphian sources is examined here.

1. “You know the phrase, “The devil made me do it.”  This is the popular view, that some kind of supernatural being or force for evil makes us do things that we would not normally contemplate.”

This statement does not say “The devil made me do it” is “a theological position of mainstream Christianity”. Nor does it say that “Christians who affirm the existence of a personal devil do so in order to avoid taking responsibility for their sins”. It does say that “The devil made me do it” is “the popular view”, where “the devil made me do it” is the view that ” some kind of supernatural being or force for evil makes us do things that we would not normally contemplate”. It is unlikely that Farrar would oppose such a statement if pressed, since his own article provides evidence that this is “the popular view”. However, this Christadelphian statement does not say what Farrar is accusing Christadelphians of saying.

2. “This problem of finding somebody upon whom to blame our problems must be the reason so many people want to believe in the devil — for then we can shift the blame by saying, “The devil made me do it.””

This statement does claim that “the reason so many people want to believe in the devil” is that they can then shift the blame for their own actions. However, it does not say “The devil made me do it” is “a theological position of mainstream Christianity”.

3. “[The devil] relieves them of the great burden of guilt that they would otherwise have to carry. If they lose their devil a great load of sin comes down on their shoulders, for which they cannot escape the blame.”

Farrar acknowledges this statement is “Referring specifically to Jehovah’s Witnesses’ belief in the devil”. Consequently, this statement does not say “The devil made me do it” is “a theological position of mainstream Christianity”.

4. “Unfortunately, current ideas upon the subject are astray from the Bible. It is taught that the devil is a superhuman monster, a fallen angel, who dominates the minds of humanity, inducing mankind to sin. The teaching induces fear of the devil, and also provides an excuse for sin by blaming it on him.”

This statement says the teaching that the devil tempts people to sin “induces fear of the devil, and also provides an excuse for sin by blaming it on him”. However, it describes these as side effects of the teaching. This statement does not say “The devil made me do it” is “a theological position of mainstream Christianity”. Nor does it say that “Christians who affirm the existence of a personal devil do so in order to avoid taking responsibility for their sins”.

5. “Such men as commit murder and other crimes of the grosser sort, either from delusion or dishonesty, shift the blame from themselves to an imaginary supernatural devil; and they are encouraged in this cowardice by the popular religious leaders.”

Farrar acknowledges this is a statement made by a Christadelphian over a hundred years ago. Even so, this statement is highly qualified, saying “Some men” blame the devil for their sins, which Williams says they do “either from delusion or dishonesty”, not because they have been taught to. He does say “they are encouraged in this cowardice by the popular religious leaders”, but does not describe them as the source of the idea.

These six quotations are the only evidence Farrar provides for his claim that Christadelphians teach “The devil made me do it” is “a theological position of mainstream Christianity”, and “Christians who affirm the existence of a personal devil do so in order to avoid taking responsibility for their sins”. Even the most sympathetic assessment of these quotations would grant him only half marks for quotations two and five. In passing it is worth questioning why Farrar believes that a quotation from a member of a fringe Christadelphian group written in1898 (well over one hundred years ago), is part of a body of evidence “that the accusation described at the beginning is widespread in Christadelphia”.

Farrar’s evidence from mainstream Christianity

It is ironic that having accused Christadelphians of teaching “The devil made me do it” is “a theological position of mainstream Christianity”, and “Christians who affirm the existence of a personal devil do so in order to avoid taking responsibility for their sins”, Farrar then provides evidence that these views are widely held (not taught), in mainstream Christianity. He starts wit the following quotation from Chrsitian apologists Boa and Bowman.

Ironically, many people twist the biblical teaching about the Devil’s role in temptation into an excuse for sin.

Here Boa and Bowman state explicitly that “many people” use the devil as “an excuse for sin”. Clearly they are speaking of Christians. Perhaps Farrar would be happier if Christadelphians taught, like Boa and Bowman, that “many people” use the devil as “an excuse for sin”. Farrar then provides another source which is counter-intuitive to his own argument, an article on bible.org, which Farrar says ” emphasizes that it is wrong to blame the devil in order to remove our guilt”. However, Farrar fails to quote the article’s opening sentences, which describe exactly why the article was written in the first place.

Is the devil to blame for our sin and suffering?This is a common question and one that is often mishandled. Satan is blamed for everything evil and while there is a certain sense in which that is true, it fails to take into consideration all the other issues like our own personal responsibilities for our own actions.

This article states explicitly that the proportion of the devil’s blame for our sin and suffering is a question “that is often mishandled”, that “Satan is blamed for everything evil”, and that this frequent mishandling specifically fails to take into consideration “our own personal responsibilities for our own actions”. Perhaps Farrar would be happier if Christadelphians taught, like this article, that the proportion of the devil’s blame for our sin is a question which is “often mishandled”, such that “our own personal responsibilities for our own actions” are not taken into consideration.

Farrar then quotes an article from the ‘Study Jesus” website. Again he fails to quote a highly pertinent statement in the article.

Excuses, excuses: How seldom one says, “I am to blame, I have sinned.” If you ask a man in jail, ‘Why are you here?” Almost always you will hear excuses. Somebody else is to blame. “It was not me; I was framed.” “I did not have a fair trial; the judge should be behind bars.” “My friends slowly drew me into evil practices.” One man even said, “It’s my wife’s fault,” just like Adam in the garden.

This article states explicitly that it is rare to hear people taking the blame for their own actions, and that “Almost always” people blame another party. The article was written specifically to combat an issue which the author felt was widespread among Christians. Perhaps Farrar would be happier if Christadelphians taught, like this article, that when people transgress “Almost always you will hear excuses”, and that “Somebody else is to blame”.

The next quotation Farrar provides is from an article by “In Touch Ministries”.

Those who believe they are at Satan’s mercy deny themselves victory because they never make more than a halfhearted attempt to overcome temptation. This belief opens the door for all kinds of excuses: “I can’t help it”; “The Devil made me do it”; “There was no way I could say no.”

Again we find Farrar quoting a mainstream Christian source teaching that there are Christians who excuse their sins by saying “The devil made me do it”. Perhaps Farrar would be happier if Christadelphians taught, like this article, that there are indeed Christians who use “all kinds of excuses” when they sin, including the specific claim that “The devil made me do it”.

Farrar’s next quotation is from an article describing how a mainstream Christian sought to excuse her sin by claiming “Satan had a big part in the theft”, which the article states explicitly “sounds like she was saying that the devil made her do it”.

In March 2009, a 62-year-old woman was charged with stealing more than $73,000 from her church in the state of Washington. When the detectives interrogated her, she told them: “Satan had a big part in the theft.” It sounds like she was saying that the devil made her do it.

Here is yet another example of a mainstream Christian using satan as a means of shifting the blame for her wrongdoing. Perhaps Farrar would be happier of Christadelphians taught, as this article does, that there are indeed mainstream Christians who seek to minimize their personal responsibility for their transgressions by shifting the blame onto the devil.

Farrar’s next quotation is from yet another article targeting the belief among mainstream Christians that the devil is more responsible for their sins than they are.

So all this business about having the demon of lust inside you or the demon of alcohol or any other demon for that matter is all just screaming, “The devil made me do it!” But this time, the devil isn’t guilty.

This article states explicitly that this is “a classic excuse”, and takes it for granted that his Christian readers will not only have heard it from other Christians but will have used it themselves. Perhaps Farrar would be happier if Christadelphians taught, as this article does, that “The devil made me do it” is “a classic excuse”.

Later Farrar cites an article which he acknowledges is addressing “dangers found in some charismatic churches where sins are habitually blamed on demon possession”. This article states that blaming the devil and demons for sin, is in fact “a widespread theology”.

Today we see a widespread theology that seems to be a strange mix between Reverend Leroy and Geraldine. We find ministries with leaders who point to the Devil and his imps for the sins that plague us. For example, one very radical ministry told a Christian woman who visited them that her problems came from a “legion” of demons within her, and in order to get rid of them, she needed to vomit them out right there in church! Others are told they have a “spirit of divorce,” a “spirit of lust,” “neglect,” or “procrastination.” These spirits are blamed for people’s sins, and the solution to these sins then becomes casting out the spirit causing them.

It is surprising that Farrar quotes this in support of his case. This article targets explicitly “a widespread theology” taught by “ministries with leaders who point to the Devil and his imps for the sins that plague us”. The article is in fact aimed at combating the very doctrine which Farrar insists has no part in mainstream theology, and is not taught. This article makes it clear that it is being taught by some Christian leaders, and that this very attitude is a danger of belief in a literal satan and demons.

Additional Christian commentary

The repeated warnings found in Christian commentary aimed at combating the “devil made me do it’ attitude, emphasizes that this form of responsibility avoidance is a recurring problem among believers in a literal satan and demons

“The Devil Made Me Do It” is a comforting thought to a sinner struggling with a load of guilt.1

Some people try to excuse sin by saying, “The devil made me do it.”2

It’s common for human beings to excuse sins by blaming God or Satan (“The devil made me do it” is for some more than a saying).3

I hear folk saying, “The devil made me do it.” Well, he didn’t. It is that flesh of yours which is responsible.4

In fact some commentators acknowledge that mainstream Christian teaching about satan and demons can be responsible for this attitude.

We may place too much emphasis on the demonic, claiming that “the devil made me do it.” Or we may see demons behind every painful life situation.5

Others warn of Christian ministries and leaders with teachings which encourage people to place responsibility for their sin on satan and demons. David Moore’s review of the “deliverance ministry” led by Neil Anderson found fault with Anderson’s theology, which Moore identified as causing Anderson to “look elsewhere when considering the root of personal sin”.

As already noted, Anderson’s view of the believer’s core identity as a saint causes him to look elsewhere when considering the root of personal sin. ((David G. Moore, “Neil Anderson’s Approach to the Spiritual Life”, Bibliotheca Sacra 153, no. 609 (1996): 81.))

Similarly, Seven Fernandez criticized Anderson’s teachings, and the entire “deliverance ministry” model, for providing “a blame-shifting rationale that finds a welcome response in the heart of man”.

Anderson says his counselee wrongly concluded “she was the cause of her troubles.” It sounds much like Adam when he retorted, “The woman whom Thou gavest to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate” (Gen. 3:12). The deliverance model gives new meaning to the phrase “the Devil made me do it.” It unwittingly permits a blame-shifting rationale that finds a welcome response in the sinful heart of man. Perhaps this, in part, explains its ready acceptance in a church that is becoming more and more self-absorbed and resistant to dealing with sin.6

Final comments

It is indisputable that mainstream Christian teachers recognize the typical Christian belief in a literal satan and demons, results in an ever present danger of blame-shifting and avoidance of personal responsibility for sin. Many warnings to this effect can be found throughout mainstream Christian teaching literature; Farrar has provided several himself, and others have been listed in this article. Christadelphians are in no such danger, since we reject the concept of temptation by supernatural evil.

It is also worth noting that those Christian leaders who wish to oppose the danger of blame-shifting which so easily besets those who believe in a literal satan and demons, do so through teaching which is virtually indistinguishable from what Christadelphians have always taught. Here is an example from a well regarded mainstream Bible commentary.
We must realize that the greatest enemy you and I have is ourselves. I hear folk saying, “The devil made me do it.” Well, he didn’t. It is that flesh of yours which is responsible.7
The similarity of language with traditional Christadelphian teaching is extraordinary; McGee’s statements reproduce Christadelphian commentary virtually word for word.

A Brother says:—”Our greatest enemy lies within.”8

The term “flesh” in Scripture, with reference to sin, refers to “deeds done in the flesh” for which man’s mind and heart are responsible.9

It is clear that the best defense against the devil, and the best way to avoid the blame-shifting error against which mainstream Christian leaders are constantly fighting, is to attribute temptation and sin to our flesh and take full responsibility for our actions; exactly what Christadelphians have always taught. In other words, mainstream Christians would be best served by following Christadelphian teaching on this subject. Clearly literal belief in satan and demons is simply causing more problems than it solves.

Series Navigation<< The temptation of Christ: a ten point idiosyncratic interpretationNew Testament satanology & rabbinic literature >>
  1. Tom Davis, “Demon Possession and the Christian: A New Perspective”, Grace Theological Journal 10 (1989): 89. []
  2. Simon J. Kistemaker and William Hendriksen, Exposition of James and the Epistles of John (vol. 14; New Testament Commentary; Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953–2001), 49. []
  3. Larry Richards and Lawrence O. Richards, The Teacher’s Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1987), 1019. []
  4. J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible Commentary (vol. 2, electronic ed.; Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997), 21. []
  5. Kendell H. Easley, Revelation (vol. 12; Holman New Testament Commentary; Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998), 164. []
  6. Steven Fernandez, “The Deliverance Model of Spiritual Warfare”, Reformation and Revival 4, no. 1 (1995): 108. []
  7. J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible Commentary (vol. 2, electronic ed.; Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997), 21. []
  8. Robert Roberts, ‘Chats with Correspondents and Extracts From Some of Their Letters”, The Christadelphian, 21,  no. 1335 (Birmingham: Christadelphian Magazine & Publishing Association,1884), 319. []
  9. Claud Lamb, “In Adam or in Christ”, The Christadelphian, 112,  no. 241 (Birmingham: Christadelphian Magazine & Publishing Association,1973), 393. []

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