Empathy for the Devil: Finding Ourselves in the Villains of the Bible, By JR. Forasteros

Empathy for the Devil

Finding Ourselves in the Villains of the Bible

by JR. Forasteros

Empathy for the Devil
  • Length: 224 pages
  • Dimensions: 5.5 × 8.25 in
  • Published: November 07, 2017
  • Imprint: IVP
  • Item Code: 4514
  • ISBN: 9780830845149

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Do we have anything in common with the bad guys of the Bible?

The sins of wrath, idolatry, and abuse of power are closer to us than we think. How do we guard against them? We learn not only by following moral exemplars—we also need to look at the warnings of lives gone wrong.

In this fictionalized narrative, JR. Forasteros reintroduces us to some of the most villainous characters of Scripture. He shows us what we can learn from their negative examples, with figures such as Cain, Jezebel, King Herod, Sampson and Delilah, and even Satan serving as cautionary tales of sin and temptation. Forasteros vividly tells their stories to help us understand their motivations, and his astute biblical and cultural exposition points out what we often miss about their lives.

We soon discover that we might have more in common with these characters than we would like to admit. Take a fresh look at the scoundrels of Scripture, and find sound pastoral guidance here to walk the path of righteousness.

"Sometimes we get closer to truth by taking the opposite perspective from the one we typically take. Empathy for the Devil gets us closer to truth by exploring the dark side, the devil's side. Like a series of narrative proverbs, we can learn something about what is right by looking closely at what is wrong."

Thomas Jay Oord, author of The Uncontrolling Love of God

"This is a beautifully written, compelling, and important book that will make you see the villains of the Bible and yourself in a whole new light. Highly recommended."

Matt Mikalatos, author of Sky Lantern

"Empathy for the Devil is unlike anything you've ever read. Part fictional anthology, part nonfiction, the pages of this book bring ancient antagonists to life in ways that will both shock and inform you. It's Wicked for the spiritual formation set. Every one of us knows what it's like to linger before a mirror, seeing a deep secret or two we withhold from the world, wondering if others really understand our hearts, anxious about whether or not we want them to. When JR. told me he was going to write a book about how relatable the villains of Scripture are, I thought if anyone could pull it off, he could. And he has. The people in these pages are infamous for the worst things they ever thought and did. Plenty of us can probably relate to the fear of being remembered for our faults, what we got wrong. But beyond the darkness there is always a light to move toward. This book shows us the cost of selfish ambition and the choice we have to be protagonists in a story much larger than ourselves."

Clay Morgan, author of Undead: Revived, Resuscitated & Reborn

"The deepest truth usually dawns on us through the power of a story. Nowhere do we find more explosiveness than in the stories of Scripture. We love these stories because they're not whitewashed or edited. We see ourselves in our human rawness. JR. Forasteros has done two things quite well in this book: narrated the story of the dark characters of Scripture and introduced them into our lives in believable terms. If we can own them rather than castigate them, we may find the saving grace of God that delivers us from evil."

Dan Boone, president, Trevecca Nazarene University, Nashville

"We underestimate the power of looking to our greatest enemies. We forget that they are like us more than they are unlike us and that if we can learn to see ourselves in their eyes, to bridge the gap between 'us' and 'them,' tremendous healing and peace can be found. Never has there been a time in history where this message is more needed, and JR. tackles the subject with creativity, wisdom, and grace. You don't want to miss this book."

Allison Fallon, author of Packing Light

"Reading Empathy for the Devil is like realizing your whole life you've been trying to see the stars through the wrong end of the telescope. Carefully researched and creatively written, Empathy for the Devil gives us a new kind of Copernican Revolution. It reframes the way we think about the other and the Other. I feel like I can see the stars with fresh eyes—or maybe for the first time."

Tom Fuerst, author of Underdogs and Outsiders

"The most compelling question any great story seeks to answer is why? Why did Cain kill Abel? Why did Delilah seduce Samson? Why did Judas betray Jesus? These questions are all the same question: Why does evil exist? And, more to the point, why does it exist within us? In Empathy for the Devil, JR. Forasteros tells seven gripping stories about the most infamous characters of the Bible so we can learn why they did what they did, and, in turn, why we do what we do. Tread lightly, reader: when JR. parts the veil over Jezebel's face or grants us entrance into Herod's inner sanctum, you're unlikely to discover the evil adversaries you booed in Sunday school. Rather, you're going to find yourself subtly nodding your head. You will see these misunderstood men and women of the Bible in such arresting, startling new ways that you may even catch glimpses of yourself in their eyes. The question you have to ask yourself then is why?"

Blake Atwood, author of The Gospel According to Breaking Bad

"A provocative exercise in literary invention that casts key biblical figures in an intriguing new light, from Cain to Judas to—yes—even Satan."

Josh Larsen, co-host of Filmspotting, editor and critic at Think Christian, author of Movies Are Prayers

"It's easy to pass over the villains of the Bible, dismissing them as foils of the story, convinced that they're not like us. But JR. Forasteros says, 'Not so fast!' Even though we rightly admire the heroes of the Bible, JR. holds up the mirror of Scripture and invites us to ask, Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who's the vilest of them all? It's not who you think. Empathy for the Devil is a creative, insightful, provocative look at the villains of the Bible, not just as cautionary tales but also as exemplars of the human condition—our common lot. Here is wisdom: by identifying with these 'bad boys and girls' (Oh, my villainous heart!), JR. helps us see how we can become incarnational models of God's redemption in Christ."

Rodney Reeves, dean, Redford Professor of Biblical Studies, Southwest Baptist University

"A tendency of triumphalist Christianity and American exceptionalism, and really just human pride, is that it tends more and more toward ignoring its own weaknesses and sin. Empathy for the Devil helps curb this tendency by exploring the shapes and contours, the colors and smells, of our faults. These expanded and gentler retellings of biblical villains' stories create much-needed space for our own brokenness and for God's grace to transform, not just triumph over, the devil in all of us."

Tim Basselin, associate professor of media, arts, and worship, Dallas Theological Seminary

"Empathy for the Devil is as provocative a read as it is informative to the very way Christians respond to both the sinfulness within our own human hearts and the world all around. This is a must-read for those with any interest in loving the downtrodden, mistaken, failures, and misfits often all too quickly marginalized and remembered only by their shortcomings."

Guy Delcambre, author of Earth and Sky

"Researchers have demonstrated a correlation between reading fiction and a capacity for empathy. This should not surprise us, for both require attentiveness, imagination, and the ability to enter into another's story. Synthesizing solid yet accessible biblical scholarship, fictionalized retellings of biblical narratives, and pastoral wisdom, JR. Forasteros invites us to consider the perspectives of familiar and not-so-familiar villains of the Bible. Empathy for the Devil performs a kind of 'listening between the lines' for the desires, motivations, and rationalizations of even the most despicable characters and their (mis)deeds. The point is not to elevate them, but to humble us. Their stories, carefully considered, expose similar tendencies and twistedness lurking within our own hearts. Every reader will benefit not only from JR.'s insights into these cautionary tales, but from the exercise of entering empathetically into their stories and allowing the Holy Spirit to shine the flashlight into the darkest corners of our souls."

Brannon Hancock, associate professor of practical theology and worship, Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University

"Identifying society's villains may be the amusement of our day. We rally outrage (usually via social media) and direct it toward our enemies, distancing ourselves from their errors and evils. In Empathy for the Devil, JR. Forasteros beckons us to reconsider our judgments. With beautiful prose and solid biblical exposition, Forasteros kneads empathy into readers' hearts as we see our common need of rescue from evil—a rescue God graciously provides in Christ Jesus to villains like you and me."

Erin Straza, author of Comfort Detox and managing editor at Christ and Pop Culture

"Written with the biblical knowledge of a scholar, the incisive wisdom of a prophet, and an imagination worthy of the Inklings, Empathy for the Devil expertly shines a spotlight on the 'bad guys' of the Bible so as to illumine the bad guys within our own hearts. Be ready for a page-turner that takes an inventory of your soul."

Randal Rauser, author of What’s So Confusing About Grace?

"Empathy for the Devil is book that gives a fresh take on the villains of the Bible. I still remember reading the chapters on Judas and Satan for the first time. The 'frog' in my throat got bigger the more that I read it. Not only does this book give a fresh perspective, it also invites the reader to walk a mile in each villain's shoes. After walking that mile, you might ask yourself: Is there a little bit of villain in me too?"

Da MAC, recording artist

"JR. has a history of slaying giants. As a fellow 'weird pastor' I've always loved how JR. tackles the subjects all of us want to hear about but typically don't have the nerve. He mixes sharp scholastic skill with wit. He communicates not as someone who emulates popular culture but as one who truly lives and creates culture. In Empathy for the Devil, we get fantastic exegesis that cuts each of us right to the core. We realize evil is something truly different than what Western Christianity has created over the last few decades. I'm glad JR. wrote this book. It is one we all need to read because it teaches us about the humanity we all have. But even more than our humanity, it teaches us the power of deep, beautiful, reckless divine grace."

Chad Brooks, pastor of Foundry Church and host of The Productive Pastor podcast

"At first glance, you might be thrown off by the title. But I'd say stay with it! What Forasteros has laid out here is a popular culture ortho-theology. The era we live in is nothing less than out of the ordinary. So we need even more out-of-the-ordinary theology. This is exactly what Forasteros has done in this magnificent text. He has helped us to grasp transcendence from the margins—a theology for those who don't fit. Yes. Finally. He's given us a manifesto for our current sociocultural setting. Bravo!"

Daniel White Hodge, associate professor of intercultural communications, North Park University, author of Homeland Insecurity and Hip Hop's Hostile Gospel

"With creative genius, JR. invites us to open the floodgates to our imaginations and see things like never before. This is a thought-provoking and mind-bending book. JR. is a brilliant and articulate storyteller, and you won't be able to put this book down. So get cozy, grab a cup of coffee, and immerse yourself in this book!"

Tara Beth Leach, author of Emboldened

Read an Excerpt


1. Cain
2. You Wouldn't Like Me When I’m Angry: How Anger Might Be an Invitation to Life

3. Delilah and Samson
4. I’m Not Like Everybody Else: When the Light of the World Goes Dark

5. Jezebel
6. House of Cards: Power, Fear, and the New American Gods

7. Herod the Great
8. Between Rome and a Hard Place: Living in a World of Impossible Choices

9. Herodias
10. The Cat's in the Cradle: The Fingerprints Our Families Leave on Us

11. Judas
12. What Death Smells Like: The Betrayal of Faithfulness

Interlude: The Monster at the End of the Book

13. Satan
14. Running with the Devil: On Devils, Older Brothers, and Pharisees Then and Now

Epilogue: Empathy for the Devil: What to Do When It Turns Out You're the Villain


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JR. Forasteros

JR. Forasteros is the teaching pastor at Catalyst Community Church in Rowlett, Texas, and is an active blogger and podcaster on the church and pop culture. He blogs at NorvilleRogers.com, where he reviews films and books, and is the cocreator and cohost of The StoryMen podcast.