Michael Horton:

What would things look like if Satan really took control of a city? Over a half century ago, Presbyterian minister Donald Grey Barnhouse offered his own scenario in his weekly sermon that was also broadcast nationwide on CBS radio. Barnhouse speculated that if Satan took over Philadelphia, all of the bars would be closed, pornography banished, and pristine streets would be filled with tidy pedestrians who smiled at each other. There would be no swearing. The children would say, “Yes, sir” and “No, ma’am,” and the churches would be full every Sunday . . . where Christ is not preached.

Christless Christianity (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008), p. 15. (You can read the first chapter online for free.)

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15 thoughts on “What Might Happen If Satan Took Over?”

  1. Josh says:

    This is really good perspective. I remember first reading that chapter and realize like wow that is the modern church.

  2. conor says:

    Great quote.

  3. Matt Beatty says:

    I don’t get the logic. Is that what Ephesus or Corinth looked like? Ancient Rome, post-czarist Moscow? Modern-day Amsterdam?

    I know it’s cool to paint a picture of Christless Christianity as one that is entirely moral, everyone is happy, etc., but I don’t see it… in Scripture or anywhere else in the world.

    You might argue that modern day Tehran or some other Muslim stronghold is very moral AND Christless… but do you really see human flourishing there? Are people really content and happy?

    There’s no doubt that some Christians would be content for the Kingdom of God to appear and look a lot like Mayberry, but others should be careful not to diminish the tangible consequences that come to society (take the disappearance of exploitative pornography that wrecks marriages, homes, young girls self-conception, etc.) when the Gospel is believed AND PRACTICED.

  4. ChrisB says:

    Matt, Satan doesn’t control Moscow or Amsterdam. Those cities are battlefields in the great war.

    His logic, his point, I think, is that Satan doesn’t want people to be “bad.” He wants people to think they don’t need Jesus. At times that takes the form of a life “more fun” than Christianity, but it can also be a life that is so “moral” it doesn’t see any need for Christ.

  5. Paul C says:

    I get the point of the OP, but I think it goes to far in its attempts to make the point. Yes, morality is a terrible deceiver when it comes to the gospel. But the “god of this world” is already at work for us to see all around us. We need not imagine what it would look like if “Satan took over”.

    Religious deception is rampant today. Pornography, divorce, broken homes… and that’s just in the church (not to mention the world). He doesn’t need to simply preach morality. He has many tools in his toolbox.

    When Daniel was praying (Daniel 10), the “Prince of Persia” (spiritual force) withstood the returning answer. Indeed civilizations and cities have principalities overlaid which serve to keep people in bondage even now.

    So I disagree with ChrisB’s blanket statement.

    When the Devil tried to deceive Jesus by offering Him all the kingdoms of this world, Jesus didn’t say, “They’re not yours to give.” Because He understood that when man fell, the domain of earth became Satan’s. Hence the massive need for salvation; and with that the recognition that we are in a spiritual war.

    And if you really want to see what would happen if “Satan took over” do some research on the Congo and other areas throughout the world.

  6. pduggie says:

    Some good stuff there.

    In reading the preview, I’m curious about this

    “Even baptism and the Supper are described as “means of commitment” rather than “means of grace” in a host of contemporary systematic theologies by conservative as well as progressive evangelicals.”

    As wikipedia would say: [citation needed]. A *host*?

    I found a reference on Scott Clark’s blog to this “Recently saw an evangelical theology that described the sacraments as “means of commitment.” At least Finney was consistent. ”

    But that isn’t covering the ‘host’ and still doesn’t tell me who.

    I also wonder about baptistry in all this. (no offense). But IIRC, its Baptists that tend to see baptism as an ordinance displaying the commitment of the worshiper rather than an instrument of a sovereign God to communicate grace (the Reformed view)

  7. John says:

    Chris and Matt both have good points – first, this story is great reminder that Satan is the great deceiver. Second, reality never looks like this because we are depraved lunatics apart from God’s grace.

  8. DJ says:

    This quite captures so much of what God has been speaking to my heart lately, mostly through Tim Keller’s book “The Prodigal God.”. I would REALLY recommend it to everyone, but especially anyone looking to understand this more.

    Moral of the Parable of the Prodigal Son(s): there are two ways to be completely lost; 1) Reckless “self-discovery” like the younger brother, 2) Perfect moral “obedience” like the older brother. The quote above speaks to the reality that you can have people obeying all the rules and be MORE damned than reckless living people because they have no idea of their need for a Savior and think they are doing it all right already.

  9. Dave says:

    DJ – or the story of the Pharisee and the sinner. One, clearly depraved, is able to call for God’s grace and mercy because he so clearly sees his need. The other, righteous in the eyes of the world, only further condemns himself because his whitewashed heart is blinded to the reality of his depravity.

    If Satan did control – life might truly look how Horton described it. But there would be no rest – no life – and no peace, no matter how pristine the circumstances.

  10. Andy says:

    Sorry, Justin, I disagree 100% with the original post, because it implies that Satan’s greatest desire is to somehow trick people out of salvation. But as you surely know, knowledge of God’s truth is not something we arrive out by our own cleverness, but is a work God does in us. Satan cannot deceive the elect by foisting false morality on them. God draws the elect to him, and Satan can do nothing to thwart him.

    By the same token, the fall did not happen because Satan deceived Adam & Eve into false morality. No, the fall happened because Satan deceived Adam & Eve into doubting God. Satan’s greatest desire is to break humanity’s faith in God and usurp God’s glory. Note his lie from which all his other lies derive: “Did God REALLY say such-and-such?”

    False morality may be marginally compatible with Satan’s purposes, but let’s not think for a second that a world under Satan’s complete dominion would look all cozy and rose-tinted. It would be barbaric and bloodthirsty.

  11. Mike says:

    I think this is another example of Horton jumping to radical conclusions to satisfy his arguments. I haven’t yet read his Gospel-Driven Life, but I think in Christless Christianity he makes alot of antecdotal claims with broad brush strokes over the evangelical community. I would reference John Frame’s review of the book to explain this further:

    http://www.frame-poythress.org/frame_articles/2009Horton.htm

    1. Hugh says:

      Sometimes we need to go a little past the point, to get the point. Horton is trying to hit home the most vital of issues, albeit with a fairly oversized sledgehammer. John Frame on this occasion, was being overly picky about the size of the sledgehammer, and decided to use his own oversized version to hammer Horton. Not a very wise move.

      http://trevinwax.com/2009/11/11/was-frames-review-of-hortons-christless-christianity-on-target/

      1. Mike says:

        Thanks Hugh, those comments by you and Trevin Wax are helpful. I think I myself may have let my pendulum swing too far with Frame in reading his review. I read Christless Christianity before Frame’s review and did find it helpful. While Frame’s review is a bit sensational and overstated, his main points still stick in my mind. Horton is so stuck to black/white distinctions between law/gospel, sovereignty/responsbility etc. that he can tend to get away from a Biblical perspective on these issues. I think similarly here since he sees the ultimate evil as morally upright people who don’t have Jesus (law), that he fails to consider how satan might influence more blatant immorality. That’s my fear with such a quote. However, it is only one quote and insofar as it goes its a worthwhile warning. Thanks Hugh.

  12. Hugh says:

    Pure demon methodology = complete physical and moral chaos.

    Subtle demon methodology = morally upright, Christless Christianity.

    Satan is smart enough to realise that not many people like total chaos. But a Victorian-esque type of ‘pristine moralism’ is a very effective way of keeping people away from Christ.

    Satan usually prefers the subtle method – the smooth, beguiling ‘Serpent’ of Genesis 3, “who leads the whole world astray” (Revelation 12:9).

    But Satan doesn’t control cities (ChrisB is right). God doesn’t allow him that level of power. “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” (1John 3:8) So he has to settle for prowling around like a roaring lion seeking whom he can devour (1Peter 5:8).

    But if Satan DID control a city, he might easily do what Barnhouse suggested, and keep people distracted from where real peace, purity and joy can be found.

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Justin Taylor


Justin Taylor is senior vice president and publisher for books at Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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