Summary: Satan, at least as a concept, is a pretty important part of Christianity. Even for those who 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 who writes theology. And honestly, he is one of the best theologians that I have read. He is accessible. Beck is a long-time blogger. Many of his books have been heavily worked out on his blog before becoming full books, so the chapters tend to be short and focused. There tend to be lots of stories and illustrations. And there tend 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. While Beck is an academic and college professor ( academics and college students are some of what theology has to work for), he is also a prison chaplain and a member of 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 Reviving Old Scratch 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 a systemic evil. Temptation that is beyond internal psychological battles.
I am not sure that the entire premises of Reviving Old Scratch is realized. But the ideas it raises are worth the time. Beck does not ask that we check our brains at the door or casually accept some of the simplistic spiritual battle language. But the broader concepts and theology are 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 ourselves 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 gives some language and concepts to that struggle that many that are rooted primarily in Reformed protestant theology have lost touch with.