Summary: Satan, at least as a concept, it pretty important part of Christianity. Even for those that are resistant to seeing Satan behind every sin or temptation, the theological concept of something greater than simple temptation or individual sin is important.
Richard Beck is a psychologist that writes theology. And honestly, he is one of the best theologians that I have read. He is accessible. Beck is a long time blogger. And much of his books have been heavily worked out on his blog prior to becoming full books. So the chapters tend to be short and focused. There tends to be lots of stories and illustrations. And there tends to be relatively few footnotes.
Beck is on the liberal end of Christianity. He is not overly fond of Penal Substitutionary Atonement theories. (He likes Christus Victor as his primary atonement theory.) But does not reject the basics of Christian orthodox theology. Theology for Beck has to be practical to the people around him. And while Beck is an academic and college professor ( academics and college students are some of the people that the theology has to work for) he is also a prison chaplain and a member at a church that leans Pentecostal and poor.
In many ways Reviving Old Scratch is riffing off of Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age. One of the central images of the book is the Jefferson bible. Jefferson snipped out all of the miracles and difficult passages for Jefferson’s rationalist mindset. But just because you have difficulty with the supernatural does not mean that the supernatural does not exist.
Beck wants to help the modern, liberal leaning, rationalist Christian remember that Satan exists. Not just the Frank Peretti style angels and demon fighting, but systemic evil. Temptation that is beyond internal psychological battles.
I am not sure that the full premises of Reviving Old Scratch is realized. But I do think that the ideas it raises are worth the time. Beck does not ask that we check our brains at the door or that we casually accept some of the simplistic spiritual battle language. But the broader concepts and theology is important. Without a concept of Satan and evil, fully realized Christianity as a force for healing and wholeness in this life doesn’t quite make sense.
The concept of sanctification and struggle toward abundant life can only be a struggle if there is evil outside of ourself that needs to be struggled against. And because Beck is an advocate of the Christus Victor atonement theory, and some theological concepts that tend to be most fully realized in the Eastern Orthodox stream of Christianity, he give some language and concepts to that struggle that many that are rooted primarily in Reformed protestant theology have lost touch with.