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‘The devil is in our doctrine,’ lecturer tells Princeton Theological Seminary


Warfield lecturer Dr. Philip G. Ziegler says the gospel of Jesus Christ cannot be explored without talk of the devil

June 12, 2024

Dr. Philip G. Ziegler

“Calvinists don’t really do the devil,” Dr. Philip G. Ziegler, professor of Christian Dogmatics at the University of Aberdeen, recently said as he named the “strong sense of human responsibility and the demystifying impulse that marks Reformed theology” before setting out the plan for his six lectures to prove the doctrinal importance of the devil. Ziegler presented his case to about 150 attendees in person and online during the 2024 Annie Kinkead Warfield Lectures.

Held every two years since 1959 at Princeton Theological Seminary, the Warfield Lectures were established by Dr. Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield, a distinguished professor of the seminary from 1887 to 1921, out of devotion to his reclusive wife, who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.

“The title of tonight’s talk is one that will certainly inspire a ton of hate mail if it’s ever taken out of context,” the Rev. Dr. Jonathan Lee Walton, president of Princeton Theological Seminary, said in his introduction of the Warfield Lectures, Ziegler and the opening topic, “Satan — A Motivational Talk.” The title of the lectures as a whole was “God’s Adversary and Ours: A Brief Theology of the Devil.”

To disarm the haters, Ziegler opened with a funny story dating to 1627 from Ostróg, Poland (now in Ukraine), in which the Calvinists failed to cure a noble woman possessed by the devil and took her to the rector of a Jesuit seminary. When pressed, the Calvinists admitted that their schismatic priests did not have the power of exorcism, so the rector decided to heal both the woman and the souls of the Calvinists. He instructed the Calvinists to bring a copy of John Calvin’s “Institutes of the Christian Religion” and give it to the woman. The devil in the woman “began to kiss and caress the book with great marks of joy.” But when the rector hid a picture of St. Ignatius in the same book, the devil recoiled, screamed and refused to touch it.

The Rev. Dr. Jonathan Lee Walton (Photo courtesy of Princeton Theological Seminary)

“The curious tale intimates that our Reformed forebears were at rather a loss as regards to the devil and all his works,” said Ziegler, who explained that while the original storyteller attributed this to moral cowardice, spiritual weakness, liturgical competence and heretical doctrine, today one might find there are gifts to uncover in better understanding how the devil plays into Reformed understandings of salvation in Jesus Christ.

Ziegler gives four arguments for why one should re-embrace the devil. These motivations include participation in the cultural-historical discourse on the existence of evil; a more open theological exchange with ecumenical partners; a better understanding of New Testament writers’ reports of the devil; and because he was presenting at Princeton, home to the Center for Barth Studies, an unpacking of the “theological exorcism” preached by Karl Barth. Ziegler was careful as he set up his case to acknowledge the Reformed tradition’s contribution to Christian ethics and to point out that understanding the role of the devil in dogmatics is not intended to absolve humankind of its role in human suffering or questions about God’s role in it as well.

Ziegler expressed hope that his opening talk might spark an interest in diabology. “The lectures that follow are an attempt to inquire about and to assume a renewed theological responsibility for the devil in our Christian doctrine,” said Ziegler.

In Lecture Two: “The Devil — A Theological Career,” Ziegler explored the historical theological approaches to the devil and its impact on doctrines of Creation, providence and angelology.

In Lectures ThreeFour and Five, Ziegler explored what the devil’s main works of temptation, possession and lying mean for the Christian life.

Lecture Six brought all of these insights together and, according to Ziegler, attempted “to give an account of the place of the devil in our doctrine.”

The lectures can be viewed on Princeton Theological Seminary’s YouTube channel.

Beth Waltemath, Communications Strategist

Today’s Focus: Warfield lecturer Dr. Philip G. Ziegler

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Loving God, thank you for your leadership and guidance. You provide us with a way out of no way. For this we are eternally thankful. Amen.