by Dale Harris
I’ve been spending a fair bit of time in Acts these days, and feeling like it's a book I’ve read a dozen times but never seen before. One of the episodes I find particularly fascinating is the account of Paul’s visit to Ephesus.
I’m pointing this all out because if you want to take the Book of Acts seriously, you can’t escape the conclusion that confronting the demonic is on the Church’s to-do list. But if I were to write a “theology of exorcisms” based on the Book of Acts, one of the first chapters, I think, would deal with oppressive economic structures, the “powers and principalities” that exploit and dehumanize people in ways that seem so normal to us—even necessary—but are best understood as “demonic.” And then I would try to draw lines between what’s happening in Acts 19 and the Church’s call to both name and provide alternatives to these ways of doing business. Economic systems are by nature spiritual, I’d say, and economic structures are demonic when they make money ultimate and people a means to an end.
And then I’d brace myself.
But I’d also point out that in Acts 16 we see the same thing happening. Paul performs an exorcism (16:18), freeing a girl from demonic possession. But it’s not just a demon that's being excised here. It's also the economic exploitation this girl's been suffering at the hands of her pimps. Because when the men who made their living off her “prophetic utterances” find out that their “hope of profit is gone," Acts says, that’s when the metaphorical excrement hits the proverbial air-circulation device.
By Acts’ reckoning, it seems: helping the vulnerable escape economic exploitation—girls the sex trade, say—or children the sweatshop—or workers the tyranny of the bottom line—or shop-a-holics the clutches of Mastercard—by Acts reckoning, at least, these are all ministries of exorcism with the potential to raise hell.