Review: Deliverance by Jason Bray

Jason Bray, Deliverance (London: Coronet, 2021), 304pp.

Deliverance is an account by a priest of the Church in Wales, the Revd Dr Jason Bray, of his role as a deliverance minister, and represents an unusually frank and detailed exploration of the present-day practice of Anglican exorcism. In fact, it is hard to point to any book that is a better introduction to the realities of deliverance ministry in contemporary Anglicanism, since most books in this field are either instructional texts focussed on the theory and practice of deliverance or a series of anecdotes from deliverance ministry interspersed by a deliverance minister’s reflections or personal demonological theories. Certainly, when I was writing my book A History of Anglican Exorcism I would have found a book like this very helpful in giving an honest account of the realities of deliverance ministry in the modern world.

Dr Bray is a deliverance minister refreshingly uninterested in theory, and while no book on deliverance can be entirely free from demonological speculation, Bray mercifully keeps it to a minimum and appears to understand that his book will be far more readable and accessible to the general public without excessive theologising. What is rather special about Deliverance is that it assumes no knowledge on the part of the reader of what Anglican clergy do, and Bray deftly weaves his account of deliverance ministry into a much broader depiction of clerical life that makes clear the pastoral context within which deliverance ministry is, well, delivered. Deliverance ministers are priests like any others, with the usual responsibilities, who are obliged to fit in deliverance ministry alongside their other commitments.

Dr Bray is clearly a deliverance minister who belongs to the fairly cautious, sacramental school of thought on exorcism that can be traced back to Max Petitpierre and, before him, Gilbert Shaw. Bray also names Dominic Walker as an influence, and Bray shares Walker’s reticence in accepting the reality of many claims of demonic possession; indeed, Bray makes clear he has never yet had cause to perform a ‘Major Exorcism’ (an exorcism of a person believed to be possessed) and, while he acknowledges the theoretical reality of such cases, he believes them to be exceedingly rare. In this respect Bray differs from some charismatic and evangelical exorcists who are sometimes more willing to discern demonic possession. The emphasis of Bray’s ministry, therefore, is on paranormal phenomena affecting people in their homes, and it consists primarily of a ministry of house blessing and the occasional Requiem Mass where a ‘genuine haunting’ is concerned.

In addition to conveying the way in which deliverance ministry is integrated into the wider life of an Anglican priest, Deliverance also conveys the sheer mundanity of most deliverance ministry – which indeed reflects the reality of exorcism at most times and in most places in history, as a form of ‘spiritual pest control’ rather than the sort of set-piece dramatic confrontations with the devil imagined in popular culture. I can only presume that it is in order to present a balanced and truthful image of the much-sensationalised deliverance ministry that Bray has written this book, and he had presumably done so with the agreement of the bishop to whom he acts as deliverance advisor. This is a bold move on the part of the Church in Wales – and one that I would be surprised to see in the Church of England, whose strategy has historically been to avoid any publicity for the ministry of deliverance. Dr Bray’s decision to take advantage of the ever ready public interest in exorcism to present an impressively desensationalised account of the realities of deliverance ministry may well turn out to be the better strategy, since secretiveness about one of the church’s ministries has the tendency to breed misconceptions. While I have many personal reservations about the ministry of deliverance as practised in the Anglican Communion, it is difficult not to commend the honesty of Dr Bray’s book, which will no doubt become a first port of call for those interested in the ministry of deliverance.

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