This is a Mind And Media review, by Andrea Powell.
“The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him, for he cannot bear scorn”
As a youth, I delighted in stories of mockery. My husband, Matt, tells a story of talking with a young woman about her witchcraft when he was a young man. She threatened to cast a curse on him. And with a cocky toss of his head, he dared her to. Matt tells this much better than I can, but I remembered it appealed to me to mock the devil and his fools. I’m afraid my first response to Wicca is to mock it. While mocking the devil, as Martin Luther encouraged, may be effective with the devil, to truly engage people in sincere discussion about the gospel, mockery will only undermine my desire to speak to those deceived by the philosophy of Wicca. I picked up Steve Russo’s book, What’s the Deal With Wicca: A Deeper Look Into the Dark Side of Today’s Witchcraft, expecting to be irritated by the whole discussion.
I was very impressed with Russo’s handling of Wicca. He wrote the book for those “already involved in Wicca, at the curiosity stage, or wanting to help a friend…” (p.9). He wants to help “sort through the confusion…about this earth-centered religion…give you some real answers about spirituality and your desire to make sense out of life.” (p.9) He did his homework. He documents the book well, and gives plenty of quotes from the “experts” of the religion. His concern and care for the youth being seduced by Wicca is apparent and winsome.
The bulk of the book is Russo explaining Wicca, the appeal of it and its doctrines. I can see why it is such an attractive religion to teens. It is a very self-centered, dramatic religion, steeped in secrets and pursuit of power. When I was discussing some of this book with Matt, he made the observation that Wicca appeals so well to teens because it is a religion that draws heavily on the religions of human history’s infancy. You don’t see mature, successful, powerful people using Wicca. It may be somewhat popular with celebrities, but they are the exception that proves the rule.
I don’t remember my teen years fondly. I remember being characterized by a false sense of importance, arrogance in the midst of ignorance, and a very distasteful self-centeredness. I suspect this is why I find many teenagers I come in contact with, annoying. It is a painful reminder of my own distasteful past. Teens are Russo’s target audience, and he treats them with respect and love. I don’t think I could have been so gracious. I’m thankful God has raised up such a man.
Russo successfully cuts through the confusion inherent in such a personally designed religion to lay out the basics. He describes the underlying principle for all behavior in Wicca to basically mean “that witches have the total freedom to do whatever seems right to them, as long as they don’t harm themselves or anyone else.” (p.19) He points out their fatal flaw of worshiping the creature instead of the Creator, and contrasts effectively Christianity’s Creator/creation distinction.
I did find times where Russo and I parted ways. For instance, he says, “A lot of kids today feel like the Christian church isn’t relevant to their daily lives. One of the problems is that they’ve bought into a religious experience rather than establishing a personal relationship with God.” He never defines religious experience. If he means they bought into an emotional experience devoid of any anchor to truth, then I agree–that’s a bad religious experience. When I hear the word religion, I don’t think of a dirty word. I believe the Bible uses the word very positively and usefully (see James 1:27 for instance). My religious experience is in the context of the historic, biblical creeds and church structure God has given His people. My religion is not dependent on feelings and experiences. I have real experiences but they flow out of truth, they don’t determine it. I don’t believe it is possible to have a “relationship” with God outside of His doctrine, outside of His covenant promises. I felt like Russo’s use of the term religion only catered to the audience’s misconceptions about religion.
I really appreciate Steve Russo’s use of God’s authority in scripture. However, I believe he inadvertently undermines his goal. While, encouraging people to look scripture up for themselves, he uses different translations without noting the translation. I found the following passage especially troublesome:
“God has every right to exercise his judgment and his power, but he also has the right to be very patient with those who are the objects of his judgment and are fit only for destruction. He also has the right to pour out the riches of his glory upon those he prepared to be the objects of his mercy-even upon us, whom he selected.” Rom 9:22-23.
I don’t know what translation he used because he doesn’t indicate it. As you can see, by comparing his chosen translation with the KJV below, his translation obscures God’s willingness to show wrath. Did he choose the translation he did to soften God for people? Did he not like what God said about Himself?
“What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory,” Rom 9:22-23 KJV
How can he establish God’s word as a high authority when God’s word changes from translation to translation? His target audience, young people already prone to reject God’s authority, would only find it confusing. I don’t want to get into a long discussion of the modern day church’s use of translations, but I do think one of the problems with it is demonstrated in Russo’s book.
I appreciated Russo’s attempt to use logic to show the weakness of Wicca. I certainly believe God determined the rules for logic and they should be a tool in every Christian’s arsenal, but unfortunately his logic breaks down pretty obviously in at least a couple of instances. I am not trained in logic, so if I can spot a logical fallacy, it must be an obvious misstep. On page 129 he attempts to defend the Christian Bible by appealing to miracles. “And if you examine all the other religious leaders in the world, you will find that only the Judeo-Christian leaders were supernaturally confirmed by genuine miracles that couldn’t possibly be some form of mental or emotional experience or some kind of trickery.” But every religion has their story. In fact God says in Deut. 13:1-3:
“1: If there arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and giveth thee a sign or a wonder,
2: And the sign or the wonder come to pass, whereof he spake unto thee, saying, Let us go after other gods, which thou hast not known, and let us serve them;
3: Thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams: for the LORD your God proveth you, to know whether ye love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.”
Clearly He allows others to use miracles to deceive. The test is to be doctrine. We test the truth of something by doctrinal truth.
I really loved Russo’s call for his readers to examine truthfully the biblical faith and Wicca. On page 135, he says, “Biblical faith is based on facts. God is not some vague All, or force, or some imaginary thought.” I believe this is the only legitimate way to respond to lies of the devil. Christians are people of the Word. We live and fight with the truth of Scripture. It’s the cults (like the Mormons’ “burning in the bosom”) that use vagaries and experientialism.
I found the first part of this book very helpful in getting the facts of Wicca straight, and I really liked Russo’s appeal to absolute truth. Later in the book, when he tries to establish the Bible’s authority, I found his use of logic weak in several areas. I do think it had some strong and valuable points, however. At the end of the book, we part ways when it comes to his use of soteriology. While I don’t think a discussion of predestination would be helpful in this context, I do think it has implications for how we witness to people. Ideally, I would like to see a call to repentance from self-love and rebellion against God, and a call to complete submission to one’s Creator. God’s sheep will hear His voice.