Charles Hodge on Demons and Evil Spirits

By Ryan Patrick Hoselton

You may be thinking that this is another Fundamentalist rant against Halloween. It’s not. In fact, I love dressing up in costumes, and I especially love candy. There is nothing wrong with how most celebrate Halloween. It’s a fantastic opportunity for parents to bond with children, communities to come together, and it’s a great excuse to eat candy.

However, the fact that most Westerners can enjoy the holiday with lightheartedness indicates a major shift in our culture: most do not take evil spirits as seriously as previous centuries. My colleague at work asked me what I’ve been writing about recently, and when I explained the topic of evil spirits, he said: “that’s ridiculous.” Case in point. Thankfully, we’ve come a long way since the Salem Witch Trials, but have we gone too far to largely ignore the dimension of evil spirits? Of course there are still groups that celebrate witchcraft and the occult, but the mainstream culture has largely dismissed any notion of evil spirits as unscientific, mythical, and antiquated—if not in theory then at least in practice and conscientiousness. The truth is that the realm and agency of evil spirits is no light matter, and it exists just as actively in our modern world as it always has.

Charles Hodge (1797–1878), the Princeton theologian and author of the seminal Systematic Theology, maintained that “great evils…have arisen from exaggerated views of the agency of evil spirits” (Systematic Theology, 1.XIII.4). Nonetheless, he also recognized the reality of the evil supernatural realm and warned Christians not to underestimate it. “There is no special improbability in the doctrine of demoniacal possessions” Hodge wrote, “Evil spirits do exist. Why should we refuse to believe, on the authority of Christ, that they were allowed to have special power over some men? The world, since the apostasy, belongs to the kingdom of Satan” (1.XIII.4).

Many believers wrongly assume that the dimension of evil forces has no bearing on them. Hodge challenges Christians to consider that if we believe what the Scriptures say about the activity of evil spirits in the Old Testament and Apostolic eras, what indication to we have that it would be any different today? “As to the power and agency of these evil spirits,” they are “represented as being exceedingly numerous, as everywhere efficient, as having access to our world, and as operating in nature and in the minds of men” (1.XIII.4). Demons are still operative, actively trying to manipulate and pollute the souls of men and women. Thus we ought to “be on our guard and seek divine protection from the machinations of the spirits of evil” (1.XIII.4).  It is important to have a right and balanced theology of evil spirits in order to understand the import of Christ’s victory over them.

Redeeming the world from the dominion of Satan “was the special object of the mission of the Son of God” (1.XIII.4).  Christ’s incarnation was the apex of history when “he manifested his power” over the rule of Satan, “making the fact of his overthrow the more conspicuous and glorious” (1.XIII.4). Christ overturned the force of Satan’s power by conquering sin and rising victorious from the grave, demonstrating who truly has authority over death. That God sent his own Son to defeat evil forces shows that he takes them very seriously, and we should do likewise.

If men and women do not submit to the authority of God, they will bow to the authority of Satan. Perhaps the manifestation of mankind’s allegiance to Satan does not appear supernatural on the surface in our Western world, but it is nonetheless deceptively real. Christ will come again to claim his kingdom, and he will put a final end to Satan and his followers and gloriously deliver his people from their power.


Ryan Patrick Hoselton is pursuing a ThM at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He lives in Louisville, KY with his wife Jaclyn, and they are the parents of one child.