BCCN: Bob Larson battles Satan ‚ and legions of critics

• BC Christian News • JUNE ISSUE 1999 • VOL. 19 #6 • Formerly "Christian Info News" •

Bob Larson battles Satan ‚ and legions of critics
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By David F. Dawes and John Cody

Bob Larsen in Vancouver, 1991.

TO MANY, he is the Bad Boy of Christian broadcasting - a cynical con artist exploiting gullible Christians.

To many others, he is a courageous man of God, fearlessly waging his own unique brand of spiritual warfare.

Bob Larson is best known for his radio broadcast, Talk- Back, and books like Dead Air and In the Name of Satan. His abrasive, sometimes belligerent style, ultra-conservative politics, and aggressive fund-raising tactics have drawn both vociferous support and condemnation. Bob Larson Ministries (BLM) has branched out into television, and Larson is now giving workshops, with ads promoting him as "the world's foremost authority on the supernatural."

As his profile has increased, so have his critics; they have made a variety of damaging allegations, involving financial fraud and adultery. Larson soldiers on, supported by a loyal following. His next Vancouver rally will be held June 19.

Several hundred people attended his New Westminster rally March 26, at Massey Theatre. Most cheered and prayed as he ministered to people who were clearly wrestling with emotional or spiritual problems. To the faithful, he was literally casting out demons; to the skeptical, he was manipulating naive, biblically ignorant believers.

Onstage was a table displaying over a dozen books and videos; Larson referred to them several times, urging people to buy them as essential "demon-proofing" tools. At one point, a heckler stood up and began reciting allegations against Larson; he was shouted down by several supporters, and then escorted out by security personnel.

One dramatic encounter centred on a Christian teenager named Crystal. Her father stated that he had exorcised her earlier that week, by consulting Larson's books and tapes. He declared that his daughter had likely encountered evil "Indian spirits" when aboriginal dancers performed at her school. He asserted that Crystal had been disturbed by the fact that the dancers were "speaking in another language and she felt kind of yucky." He was convinced that, as a result, the girl had brought home several demons.

Threatening to use a Bible as his "sword," Larson interrogated the girl; in a bizarre, guttural voice, she said her name was "Satan." Larson responded: "Don't be so egotistical. You're not Satan; but you've earned a right to the title." Larson characterized the distorted voice as the manifestation of a demon.

Larson is one of the more high-profile practitioners of 'deliverance ministry,' which is also promoted by people such as Neil Anderson, Benny Hinn, Derek Prince and Morris Cerullo. Their views are challenged by evangelicals like Christian Research Institute (CRI) apologist Elliot Miller, who recently warned: "There is a lot of mythology around occult and demonic activity being uncritically accepted by Christians today, which gives too much credit to the devil. You end up with a superstitious worldview, in which there is literally a devil under every bush."

Larson's militant approach to exorcism has some precedent in church history. For example, a 17th century Roman Catholic ritual instructs an exorcist to confront demons with epithets: "Most unclean spirit! Invading enemy! Robber of life! Twister of justice! Creator of agony!"

Supporters are quick to defend his approach. BLM board member Ross Johnston, an associate pastor at Bakerview MB Church in Abbotsford, attended the March event, and declares: "I witnessed phenomena very likely common to the ministry of Jesus." Rob McGrath, executive director of House of the Good Shepherd in Burnaby, and one of the rally's security personnel, praises Larson as "one of the few men of God who is moving and operating in the fullness of the gifts, the power and the anointing of the Holy Spirit."

A key belief of deliverance ministers is that Christians have a God-given authority to "bind" Satan and his demons. They base this on their interpretation of Matthew 16:19. Some prominent evangelicals reject this notion as unbiblical, including Miller and Grace To You broadcaster John MacArthur. Larson replies: "I'd like to know what their experience is in the realm of deliverance. This is an environment in which practical experience is critical." According to Miller, the Matthew 16 concept of binding "refers to church discipline, not spiritual warfare, as the larger context makes entirely clear."

One of Larson's tapes asserts that, while believers' spirits belong to God, their minds are vulnerable to "demonization." Christians, he contends, "can be put into a trance. A demon can look out of them, can speak out of them, and to some extent make them do something that would be contrary to their purposes as a Christian."

"If this is true," replies Larson critic Ron Black of the Dallas-based Trinity Foundation (TF), "then John 8:36 is a lie and Christians have no spiritual security."

Larson cites the behavior of Peter in Matthew 16:22 and Ananias in Acts 5 as proof that they were "demonized." One Larson supporter, Edmonton pastor Raymond Rueb, disagrees, stating: "Peter was not demonized. He was momentarily deceived and used by Satan." Miller asserts that Ananias was "in no way . . . either inhabited or controlled by Satan."

Larson also believes that Christians can be affected by ancestral curses, and must go through elaborate procedures to "renounce" them. As scriptural support, he cites "the biblical principle expressed in Exodus 34:6-7." This scripture, however, makes no mention of curses pronounced by humans on their own descendants. These verses deal with God punishing sins "to the third and fourth generation," a practice which God later abandons in Ezekiel 18:19 - 20.

Larson maintains that there is a vast satanic network perpetrating horrific ritual abuse of children and human sacrifice. While affirming the reality of satanic mayhem, a variety of Christian apologists, including Gretchen Passantino of Answers in Action and CRI's Hank Hanegraaff, insist there is no evidence of a huge conspiracy. Larson responds: "Show me Jimmy Hoffa's body. Nobody can produce it; but everybody wants me to produce the bodies. Officially, there's no Mafia; but don't tell that to people in Sicily."

Critics contend that Larson's teachings are harmful. "His theology is closer to Zoroastrian Manicheanism . . . than anything even remotely biblical," asserts David K. Barnett, adjunct professor of pastoral theology at Criswell College in Dallas. "His practice is more like Dungeons & Dragons than anything scriptural." Black dismisses Larson's workshops as "a travelling ectoplasm show," and states: "His dualistic theology is more dangerous than even the Word Faith movement." Passantino decries what she sees as Larson's "abysmal lack of knowledge regarding satanism, witchcraft and the occult." Those who follow his teachings, she says, "look foolish and credulous to the secular world," and "are ill-equipped to deal with the real threats of the world of the occult."

Ross Johnston counters: "Bob probably has one of the most complete understandings of the supernatural of any church leader of our day."

Serious ethical allegations about Larson appeared in 1993, in articles published by two respected Christian magazines, World and Cornerstone; and a website called the Bob Larson Fan Club Page, operated by Colorado resident Kenneth Smith, is devoted to showcasing Larson's alleged moral lapses.

Larson contends: "People are fabricating and exaggerating information, and then it takes on a life of its own. It's like asking, 'When did you stop beating your wife?' Which lie do you want me to respond to?"

In a December 7, 1990 fundraising letter, Larson claimed: "By December 31, I must erase a $185,000 deficit in paying for our air time. If I can't, we could lose so many stations it would be difficult to continue Talk-Back." But according to BLM's federal tax return for that year, in 1990 the ministry had a surplus of over $500,000, and a net worth of almost $2,000,000.

Larson responds: "That money may turn up on my tax report as actual funds. But I may not legally be able to use those funds. Go ask Focus on the Family how much they have in the bank. I'll guarantee that it's millions of dollars. They should have that money because of contractual obligations, or in case of emergencies."

Larson has often asserted that his annual salary is $69,000. According to BLM tax returns for the years 1990-93, he received over $1,200,000. He explains: "I had gone for 13 years without any compensation whatsoever; and the board decided it was time to make that up to me."

Cornerstone maintains that a former vice president of BLM, Lori Boespflug, wrote "the vast majority" of Dead Air, and was denied appropriate recognition. Larson responded during a broadcast that Boespflug was fired for immoral behavior.

Smith's website features what he claims are excerpts from Larson's handwritten diary. Smith maintains that they confirm Larson had a liaison with his secretary before he filed for divorce from his wife of 23 years. "It's a lie," replied Larson. "What they have done is try to piece together scraps of information to allege moral impropriety."

There are a variety of other allegations, involving doctored radio shows passed off as live broadcasts, callous treatment of troubled callers off the air and questionable real estate transactions.

Long-time associates vouch for Larson's integrity, and his concern for spiritually troubled people. Johnston states: "Those of us who know him best see his genuine love for God, and compassion for others." Much of that compassion, says BLM's Canadian office manager, Jan Bray, is demonstrated out of the public eye: "He spends many hours on the phone with some individuals, after he's gone off the air."

Critics, however, are adamant. Barnett declares: "My greatest concern is that people who are angry at God will find and use Larson and his ilk as justification for their alienation." TF president Ole Anthony states: "Larson says he's standing alone against the demons from hell. I thought Christ finished that work 2,000 years ago. Larson is in danger of being guilty of preaching another Jesus one who didn't finish the job." Cornerstone editor Jon Trott states: "I view Bob, and others who profit from satanic hysteria, as businessmen and not ministers . . . I refuse to view him any more seriously than I view Jerry Springer, except for one thing: Bob purports to speak for God, and in that regard I tremble for him."

Larson's own conclusion? "Whether or not people like my methods, I am leading souls to Christ every day and trying to help hurting people. Is that not what counts?"