Spiritual Warfare: Problems

Some people see cosmic forces, even diabolical spiritual beings, at work whenever evil appears; others find such talk primitive and systemically dangerous. Within this either/or spectrum, James K. Beilby and Paul Rhodes Eddy find four approaches to “spiritual warfare”: (1) the world systems model of Walter Wink, the classical model of David Powlison, the ground-level deliverance model of Greg Boyd, and the strategic-level deliverance model of C. Peter Wagner and Rebecca Greenwood. Hence, there is a new “four views” book: Understanding Spiritual Warfare: Four Views.

Some, as I said, find such talk primitive and systemically dangerous. Why? Do you think “spiritual warfare” language is potentially hazardous? 

According to these authors, there are three areas of problems in discussion of spiritual warfare:

1. Talk of spiritual warfare divides the world into two groups: the bad and dark vs. the good and light. Such language empowers those who think others are systemically influenced by the spiritual beings and turns the others into enemies. It’s certaintist. It entitles those in the light to violence. It border on “holy war.” It emerges from the pathological state of the religious mind. It breeds intolerance.

2. Talk of spiritual warfare assumes the real existence of the spirit world, of angels and demons and the Satan. Many see this as primitive, mythological and superstitious. Bultmann famously said it is impossible to believe in electric lights and the world of demons at the same time. There are, in other words, better explanations than offered in the Bible times.

3. Talk of spiritual warfare entails the practice of spiritual warfare, but this is a contested practice. There is a focus on the world, or systemic approach to spiritual warfare; the flesh, a classical model of spiritual warfare at the personal, inner level; the devil and demons, which leads more to a deliverance model of spiritual warfare. Thus, to exorcism (however that is expressed): personal or “territorial” (C. Peter Wagner).

Rethinking the Bible’s ideas: Beilby and Eddy have a good sketch of three recent attempts to re-evaluate and re-express what the Bible says: Karl Barth (origins in nothingness but not nothing; doesn’t believe in them but against them; they are the myth, the myth of all mythologies), Walter Wink (corporate, human, systemic powers need to be considered; but Integral worldview approach of panentheism is his approach; there is an inner and outer aspect of reality; “the spiritual dimension of earthly, human institutions and structures”), and Amos Yong (an emergentist cosmology; God is the only purely spiritual being; demons, etc, therefore have physicality but are personal realities; demons are divergent malevolent realities; they are only parasitic and privative).

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  • Joe Canner

    One potential hazard of spiritual warfare language is the tendency to blame external forces for our problems and weaknesses. While I do not discount the existence and effect of spiritual forces, we are plenty enough capable of evil all on our own without having to explain evil with reference to those forces. As a former pastor of mine (who was generally quite active in spiritual warfare) once said in reference to those who overuse spiritual warfare language: “instead of blaming the demon of tiredness, maybe you just need to go to bed earlier!”

  • Diane

    I agree with Joe Canner. Blaming spiritual warfare allows us to avoid responsibility to look both at our own behavior and at systems that produce evil. It’s very easy to throw up our hands and attribute everything bad to “fallenness,” “demons,” “sin” or “spiritual warfare” and say we can do nothing because “it will be with us always as it always,” when, in fact, there is often much we can do, for spirit and flesh are interlaced.

  • Jim

    As to point #2 “there are better explanations than in Bible times”… As a pastor and one who has done a lot of ‘up close and personal’ care, I have come to better appreciate how language functions, i.e. what it does for us.

    It seems to me that the “better explanations’ in some cases might be an appeal to the language of mental illness, the clinic, etc. That language seems to not distance us from the ‘other” (he has ‘X disorder” and I do not) but also to comfort us that he might have something that I do will not likely have. It’s located in him and there because of genetics, or environment or nurturance or lack thereof.

    The language of demons seems to put the onus on demons, who occupy certain people for reasons that only demons know. If that is the case, then if a demon can possess him then what prevent a demon from possessing me or someone I care about?

    So, it may be that we select ways of explaining not only as a way to ‘understand’ the other but also to give ourselves a deeper sense of control and the assurance that “i could never be like that guy.”

    Then we get these levels of confusion where someone who has been diagnosed with X mental disorder does something so horrendous we cannot help but say that he was evil for doing so. Is evil in the person, the act or the outcome of the act.

    The politics of ‘diagnosis’…..

  • Jim

    “to not ONLY distance us from the other” I should have said

  • T

    The American church has little hesitation supporting and even memorializing the physical warfare of the U.S., but is hesitant about spiritual warfare, considering it “dangerous.”

    Brothers and sisters, this should not be. We should be adept at the latter and resistant to the former. We are Jesus’ church, not the American Legion.

  • It has been my experience that those most skeptical of the existence of demonic forces as personal / causative agents in the world are those with the least amount of experience traveling and working with believers in third world contexts. Two stories can illustrate this.

    Last semester, in my advanced Greek exegesis class, I had a classmate named Johannes, from Ethiopia. He is an extremely intelligent, gentle, and faith-filled guy. Towards the end of the semester, my professor asked each of us to pick a passage from 1-3 John, reflect on it and how we would teach it in our particular ministry contexts, and share this with the class. One American classmate talked about 1 John 4 and testing the spirits; he suggested that the author’s christological focus means that he probably had in mind testing teachers by the standard of their christology, and said that in his context (youth ministry) he tries to help his students think clearly about who Jesus is and test what they hear by that standard. That is surely a valid application of the passage.

    Well, my Ethiopian friend Johannes stood up and commented on the same passage, but he focused particularly on 4:4 and the assurance that the faithful have conquered “he who is in the world.” He calmly relayed that it is rare for a Sunday morning Ethiopian church service to take place without having at least one or two people be physically and mentally assaulted by demonic forces, that they always have a team of spiritual leaders ready and vigilant in every service waiting for just such an occurrence, and that many Christians live in fear of demonic forces as a result. He commented that he would seize on this passage (and the others like it in 1 John) to build believers’ confidence that they do not need to fear the demonic forces of “this world” because they are in Christ, who has conquered.

    The next story is a conversation I had with a young Indian man in Manali, India (about fifteen hours north of Delhi by bus) this summer. He was raised in a Christian school but left the faith when he graduated, and about four or so years later was coming back to his former mentor (with whom I was staying this summer for a couple weeks) and saying that he felt compelled to study the Bible. He and I got the chance to talk alone for a while and he told me that one of the reasons he felt God leading him back was because he had experienced spiritual oppression and warfare, to the extent that one morning, while staying in a hotel, he was awoken at about 3 a.m. by what he described as a demon choking him. He was unable to do anything except to think about Jesus, and when he finally managed to speak Jesus’ name, the demon released its grip and fled out of the window. He was unable to get back to sleep and so left the hotel extremely early in the morning.

    I am grateful to be studying in a context that affords me access to some of the global diversity of the body of Christ (shameless plug for TEDS), and I am grateful to have been able to travel and talk with believers in a context very different from my own to have my perspectives challenged. Obviously two personal anecdotes don’t end any discussions and certainly don’t trump honest and thorough biblical exegesis; and I can’t speak to the third-world experiences of theologians who might disagree with me about the reality of demonic forces. But I submit that Bultmann’s entire biblical and theological project was undertaken in thrall to philosophical and cultural assumptions that are in fact alien, in many important ways, to the New Testament, and that he could have done well with a good dose of traveling and knowing believers well in cultures other than his own. (There are many deceased German theologians and biblical scholars about whom I’d say much the same.) It reminds me of reading Keener’s book “Miracles” and wondering how it’s possible for scholars to operate almost entirely on a plane completely separate from thousands of actual experiences had by real believers.

  • I think the idea of spiritual warfare needs to be rethought. I doubt that the central verses in Eph. 6 even applies to the concept of how we think of it today. Furthermore, we don’t see spiritual warfare demonstrated in the NT as laid out in Eph. 6 but rather Jesus and the disciples cast out the demons. I have no problem accepting the existence spiritual entities and recently wrote about an experience here: http://thebookofdavis.blogspot.com/2012/12/my-feeble-attempt-to-cast-out-demon.html

  • John

    In experiences I have had with non-Western cultures, spiritual warfare/oppression seams real. From a Haitian classmate in seminary asking a professor how one should respond to a witch doctor turning into a dog in front of their eyes or seeing Indigenous college students suddenly become “possessed” for lack of better term and through prayer and the power of Jesus seeing them restored in a matter of moments.

    I agree people are capable of enough evil on their own, but I also feel that Satan provides influence into situations. Daniel 10:12-14 really seems to express a spiritual struggle, and even that certain physical entities have a spirit/demon influencing them.

  • I would almost go so far as to say “devils and demons” are the mythology of a culture’s older superstitions. Tony Jones takes this view, especially in light of medical, psychological, and sociological studies where a condition which once was considered demonic is now found to be chemically imbalanced in a person’s physiology (see NPR’s latest review this past month of a news lady who believed herself to be demonic till discovering a chemical imbalance in her brain). Or, where once an occurence or event was explained by demonic influence (an eclipse of the sun, for instance) that can now be explained through science and technology.

    Moreover, I would like to go so far as to say that all of sin is human derived. That it’s responsibility lies only with us and on no other ground. However, this then would completely remove Satan’s fallen reign on earth per sections of the bible. Still, it holds a large attraction for me on many levels for I especially feel unqualified to say “this is of the devil, and that is not” (despite many a missionary’s experiences in animistic Africa to the contrary). So much of this can be fanciful thinking based upon “feelings” and erroneous “spiritual insights” when time and again those feelings and insights have been proven as incorrect diagnosis of an event by medicine, science, a sociological studies.

    So it is with caution that I personally attribute a demonic influence to something or someone. My preference is to search out the “sin” first and the “spiritual healing” that might occur through the minitrations of the Holy Spirit and God’s active display of grace. And where medicine or group support systems might help, to pursue those endeavors as well.

    Otherwise, it is the Holy Spirit’s problem and not mine own to sort out the “invisibility” of demonic forces around-and-about me. I may feel an oppression but cannot be certain if even mine own feelings are true in this regard. It is enough for me to do what I can through the Spirit’s empowerment on a human level knowing that even my “certainty” can be undiscerned based upon ignorance or non-professional awareness.

    Hence, I leave a lot of room for personal doubt in proscribing certainty to demonic influences. It gathers from another age of more ancient belief systems which continue to linger in the modernday human consciousness. And where necessary, will speak like Jesus did to the beliefs of those He ministered to without debating their superstitions. To work within whatever belief systems we must to deliver the good news of the gospel. This is the pragmatic side of my spirit in these matters.

    Thus, my Pentecostal friends and I can have warm fellowship around the Lord despite their emphasis on Satan and all things demonic. I may not agree with their spiritual outlook but see the task as futile in convincing them otherwise. It is enough to know that God is their God and that we may have communion with one another, lending wisdom where we may.

    And when hearing of Muslims in the Middle East having dreams of Jesus biding them come, (because there are no other resources for them to hear of Jesus), to thank God for however He works His wonders and miracles while not denying the possibilities of the Gospel. My modernism does not assure me of my beliefs, but it can assure me in my doubts.

    That said, please be kind in any responses. I use this forum here to be honest and will stand corrected where it makes sense. Thanks.

  • Phil Miller

    On my way into work this morning, I heard a promo for a story on NPR (I didn’t get to hear the story unfortunately) that said the sheriff in Newtown was hoping to use genetic analysis to help determine if there was something that predisposed the shooter to act the way he did. He was doing so with the hopes to potentially identify those who might be inclined to do something similar in the future. The immediate thought that I had was that such reasoning isn’t all that different than believing someone is possessed by a demon that’s causing them to act out. Just as others have said that an extreme warfare view can remove personal responsibility from the equation, I think boiling down all of our actions to genetic predispositions can have the similar effect. I know this is somewhat of a tangent, but I do find it interesting how a pure materialist view can end up circling back to a position that is almost primitive.

    Personally, I do tend to believe that the demonic realm is real, and I even would go as far to believe that these spiritual beings have some sort of real personhood. I don’t dwell on it a lot. I don’t live in fear of demons. But I can’t dismiss it outright. For one thing, Jesus certainly seemed to affirm the existence of demons. While I would say that the people Jesus interacted with in the Gospels would most likely be diagnosed with mental illness today, I don’t think that rules out the reality of a demonic realm. I don’t see it as an either/or situation. Not surprisingly, my thinking on these issues has probably been influenced more by Boyd than anyone else. I appreciate Walter Wink’s work as well. To me, though, Boyd’s stuff seems more in line with historic Christianity.

  • I have come to believe that the idea that there are evil spirits who roam around looking for prey fosters unneeded fear – and fear always distorts us. OTOH, I have often used “prayers of deliverence” for myself and found them to be highly effective. I’m not entirely sure if there are spirits of some sort who must remove themselves at my command per spiritual warfare teachings. Or if clearly and determinedly speaking my will allows me to break through barriers/problems are creating. (Just as a simple example, one day I was praying while driving and really “in the Spirit”. Then all of a sudden it was like someone had turned the music off. I tried going back into prayer with no success. So I spoke, “if there is anything which is not of God present, I command you to leave in the name of Jesus.” Poof – the “music” came back on.) At any rate, I suspect that focusing on demons is unhelpful, but prayers of deliverence are a useful tool that believers should be taught to avail themselves of.

  • Bill

    Take it from people like me who were mixed up with all sorts of occult practice before following Jesus:

    The idea we should talk not about spiritual warfare as warfare is kind of weak. That’s exactly what it is and those of us who have been freed of the bondage of evil forces bent on destruction of our souls and bodies can testify to differing degrees how much of a war it is.

    However, I am not one to see a demon or demons under every rock. That’s kind of nutty even from my perspective. We have to admit the Scriptures use language of spiritual warfare and we have graphic examples in the Gospels of demonic activity and what Jesus did about it.

  • T

    One of the helpful starting places I’ve heard over the years is this statement:

    “One cannot be a Christian without believing in the spiritual world.”

    The core of that reasoning is that we believe that Christ has been resurrected from the dead, and that he lives and reigns right now with the Father, who is also “in heaven.”

    So, even before we get to whether we believe that there are evil spirits and what, if any, role(s) they play, we likely need to spend some time thinking about where and how Jesus is and in what sense he is now active in our world, even though not physically present as typical human being. Once we begin to realize that we must believe that there are at least three persons (the Father, the Son & the Spirit) who are both fully persons who are not physical in our common conception, but who are nonetheless meaningfully active in and interactive with the physical dimension, we have begun to lay the groundwork for thinking about the rest of that dimension and how it might interact with the physical.

    My gut is that, as others have alluded to above, we are probably more deistic in our thinking than we may realize or even want. It is not only the possibility of demons that scare us, generally out of ignorance, but also an active Holy Spirit, for the same reason.

  • Kenny Johnson

    @Rory Tyer #7,

    From a skeptical point of view (which I come from), neither of those stories is very convincing, especially the 2nd. The 2nd story is a common experience called sleep paralysis.

    The first can just as easily be dismissed as psychological.

  • Kenny Johnson

    My own views have evolved over the years and I’m not sure what I believe anymore. I used to be quite confident in the existence of evil spiritual beings like demons and a personal entity known as Satan, but over the years I’ve become increasingly skeptical of their existence. It seems that Satan was a late theological development among the Jews that seems to be borrowed from the Persians.

    I’m still open to the possibility of supernatural evil, but I tend to focus my attention on physical evil instead. People are quite capable of committing evil all on their own.

  • Greg D

    Spiritual warfare is a reality. I don’t think we can avoid it. But, as with anything in life, there are extremes to this theology. I have known many people that see the devil (and his minions) under every rock. And, there are those who see things as either black or white (the devil or God) leaving no room for human interaction and freewill. Could this extreme theology be a product of hyper-Calvinism, ascribing everything to divine providence whether it be evil or good? Or, could it be a product of Frank Peretti and other authors like him who have written many good books (fictional) on this subject. I know for me Peretti’s books (Piercing the Darkness and This Present Darkness) were my first introduction and peek into what spiritual warfare could look like. He painted the picture that demons are always vying for our loyalties and seeking to destroy us, while angels are always seeking to protect us at any cost necessary. A continuous and unseen spiritual battle unfolding before us unaware. Although fanciful storytelling, I’m not convinced it’s totally true. I instead tend to believe we have a choice to yield to the Spirit that dwells within us, or to the flesh that is always with us. Of course, I’m more Arminian in my theology which allows for and prescribes this type of thinking.

  • CGC

    Hi Everyone,
    I appreciate the honest reflections of others on this list. This issue of spiritual warfare is one of many issues when it seems like Christians are all over the map. Some Christians experience or sense God’s presence and some don’t. Some have experiences of the demonic world and others do not. Some want to say because of their lack of experience that the spiritual world must not exist while others want to go all the way to the other end and interpret everything as spiritual warfare, etc. Some people look at creation and see God’s fingerprints while for others those fingerprints are invisible to them or they just don’t “see” them at all. Faith, doubt, experience and lack of experience have great impact on how we interpret and understand many issues such as this topic.

    So here are a few of my thoughts on spiritual warfare.

    1. I believe spiritual warfare imagery (especially the book of Revelation for example) subverts actual warfare with spiritual warfare (anyone notice how the evil kings in the book of Revelation turn on each other and destroy themselves? Evil and violence are self-destructive in the end). How Christians fight is very different than how the world fights.

    2. Worshipping Christ and giving God glory is how we respond to the pressures and opressions of the world.

    3. Our world is unnatural, demonized, and wounded. The world of the supernatural is what is truly natural and brings holiness and wholeness. God desires to bring reconciliation and restoration to this world in the present and not just some future event.

  • Luke Allison

    My only problem with a complete demythologization of spiritual warfare passages in the Scripture is this: we sort of assume that we’ve seen everything there is to see in our world. I feel as though the history of scientific discovery refutes this idea at every turn.

    Turning demons into Freudian projections and spiritual warfare into the battle for a healthy self is condescending and completely Anglo-centric.
    On the other hand, blaming demonic activity for something like the Sandy Hook massacre is short-sighted and simplistic. When there are obvious systemic and political errors behind a tragedy, do we really need to blame an invisible menagerie?

    My experience when it comes to these conversations is that those who have had experiences of spiritual warfare tend to believe more strongly, while those who haven’t (like myself) tend to be more skeptical and look for other answers. I recently had a class with Paul Eddy and Greg Boyd on this subject, and both those professors have had fairly distinct and disturbing experiences with the demonic. I lean toward guys like Wink because his theory matches my real-world experience more closely.

  • Phil Miller

    When there are obvious systemic and political errors behind a tragedy, do we really need to blame an invisible menagerie?

    As I alluded to above, I don’t think it’s an either/or thing. I think that when we’re looking at causation when it comes to events, even from a pure materialist perspective, things rarely boil down to being as simple as assigning blame to one thing or person. Look at an event like September 11. The number of people, motives and other factors that we’re involved probably would quickly number in the thousands. It’s a tangled web of things. The way I see it, the spiritual realm simply is another layer on top of all these other things.

  • CGC

    Thanks for these words Luke. Whether it be Professor Eddy or Boyd or someone from another country, trying to give reductionistic answers to situations we have no experiences or detailed knowledge about are our little power plays to control and give comfort to our little worlds we inhabit.

  • Matt Marston

    Wipf and Stock just released a fantastic book on this subject called CLEANSING THE COSMOS by E. Janet Warren. She offers a different model for conceptualizing and counteracting evil than the spiritual warfare model. Warren developes the model through an engagement with Scripture as a whole.

    I think she is sucessful in developing a different view from spiritual warfare, but avoiding reductionism. She works with Boyd, Yong, Barth and others, challenging them but incorporating the best of their insights. If this great blog discussion interests you, please read this book.

  • Norman

    Within the Kingdom of Christ Satan has been defeated and expelled. Outside the Kingdom is where darkness dwells and that can be manifested in myriads of means. In the OT and NT it was often represented by those who followed corruption and were described by Christ as a brood of vipers who were the offspring of Satan in the Garden. That description may simply be a means of identifying those who are in disagreement with higher spiritual callings established by Christ. But it’s also hard to ignore the physical aspects of Demons whom were being cast out by Christ as evidence of His Higher powers over all entities whether physical or spiritual.

    What Demons represented however is likely going to be difficult to pin down but it may be similar to 3rd world countries ancient ties to black magic and witch doctors and peoples perceived realities whether real or psychologically induced. We may not accept some 3rd world stories as realities but I’m sure it is real to them and I can’t think of any better means of riding them of those “demons” than through entering the freeing power of the Kingdom of Christ.

  • Luke Allison

    Phil: “The way I see it, the spiritual realm simply is another layer on top of all these other things.”

    I completely agree.

    CGC: Right on.

  • LexCro

    Great discussion! Here’s my assessment of points 1-2 on spiritual warfare that Scot posted above:

    1. Typically, spiritual warfare language doesn’t turn others into enemies as much as it (biblically) assumes that there are enemies–namely, Satan and his host. Was it not our Lord Jesus who spent much of His ministry casting demons out of people? Was it not our Lord Jesus who depicted His Church as a militant group storming the gates of hell (Mt. 16:18)? Whether we like it or not, the spiritual warfare outlook is pervasive in Scripture (from Genesis to Revelation), and such an outlook assumes that there are enemies. Jesus had this mindset, and His apostles did as well. Does this spiritual warfare outlook necessarily anathemitize others persons? Nope. At most, through the spiritual warfare lens folks who remain in bondage to the world, the flesh, and the devil (Christian or non-Christian) position themselves to be used as Satan’s pawns. However, as distasteful as it may seem to think of someone as being “used” by Satan, such a view ought to elicit the Christ-like application of truth and love. This is exactly what Christ did when He characterized Peter’s rebuke of His messianic agenda as collusion with Satan himself (Mk. 8:31-33)! Jesus called him out, but He didn’t totally ostracize Peter. Instead, Jesus corrected Peter. Was Peter in league with the enemy in that instance? Yep. But Jesus’ rebuke of Peter falls far short of anything resembling a “holy war”. And as for the charge of “intolerance” (Western culture’s

    2. There are too many Bultmannian errors to correct in a limited space, so I’ll restrict myself to one. History disproves the cry of “We’re too smart to believe in that nonsense! We’ve got space shuttles and i-Pads!”. There is seldom a one-to-one correlation between the uptick of a society’s technological acumen/industrial development and the downturn in its overall belief in spiritual/metaphysical realities. To quote a web-blogger who simply puts it better than I can:

    “There is not and there will never be a secular science-based utopia. It is a fundamental category error to pretend it is even remotely possible. What passes for secularism is merely the transitional state between one dominant religious form and its successor. Post-Christian culture is neither secular nor scientific, it is pagan and pre-Western civilization…The half-life of a secular society is about twenty years.” (Vox Day, commenting on the rise of Islam in Denmark)

    Sure, many may use the lingo “science-and-reason” (usually scientism) to water down Christianity’s cultural influence, but in the process, they merely lay the groundwork for new religions/spiritualities to fill the void left by Christianity. This is exactly what has happened and is happening in the West.

    Prior to my conversion to Jesus Christ, I actively practiced witchcraft for 10 years (from age 9 to age 19). Even before my family had embraced occultic practices, I had had demonic experiences. Upon following Christ, I was delivered from much of the spiritual bondage I experienced prior to knowing Christ: Demonic visitations/apparitions, inexplicable and ongoing rage, levitation, out-of-body experiences, etc. Since becoming a Christian 20 years ago, I’ve experienced spiritual warfare intermittently on a personal level and in college campus ministry and local church ministry. By the grace of God, I’ve had the opportunity to participate in the deliverance of others via exorcism and healing. Lest I exaggerate, let me say that these miraculous aspects of ministry were occasional. Most of my ministry focused on discipleship, evangelism, and leadership development. But there were times when the background noise of spiritual warfare came to the forefront and had to be dealt with. I simply believe in spiritual warfare because it’s reality to me.

    With all that said, let me ask this: What if there are far more risks/dangers in failing to attend to spiritual warfare than there are in engaging in spiritual warfare? What if the Lord Jesus wants to work to engage hostile powers through His Church, but He cannot because of our unbelief, timidity, and syncretistic relationship with scientific materialism? We know from the Scriptures that there was at least one instance in which Jesus could not perform a miracle in a region because of the unbelief of the inhabitants. What the unbelief of His people still prohibits this at times? Isn’t there a danger (especially for Jesus’ Church) in failing to liberate people and engage Christ’s enemies on His terms?

  • Marshall

    How about a Kingdom view of spiritual warfare? That is, when you are trying to drain the swamp, there be alligators. From one point of view alligators are God’s critters doing God’s work, but they still must be dealt with.

    In the end does Jesus drive demons to that mysterious place “away”, or in the end does he heal them?

  • NateW

    I haven’t read Barth, but I like the brief way you summed up his ideas on the subject saying that he doesn’t believe “in them but against them”. To look at a person who is oppressing and harming others through Christ’s eyes means 2 things: 1)Not excusing his actions (he is responsible for for the harm he has caused others, 2) but also knowing that this evil does not come from the core of his being, but from the dirty rags he has put on to cover his shame and pain.

    I see talking of demons then as a way of speaking of both these realities. We must fight against the evil that this person is committing whilst knowing that at his heart the individual desires God and is oppressed by shame, anxiety, and fear just the way we ourselves are. Talking about demons is good insofar as it helps one to conceive of a person as suffering under the oppression of evil rather than as evil himself. To approach this person as if this is true takes away the power that shame and fear have over him and thus “exorcises” his demon. To approach him as if he himself is utterly evil and depraved only increases anger and violence.

    So, to my mind, the actual content of beliefs about demons matters very little compared to the spirit in which those beliefs are held and the assumptions they lead to regarding the value of another person. If “demons” do not lead us to incarnation of Christ in other’s lives then we should be free to rethink them, but not condemn others for believing if they are so led into compassion and faithfulness.

  • LexCro

    @ Marshall #25:

    How is a view of demons as God’s creatures doing God’s work consistent with (1) the biblical outlook on such entities and (2) a Kingdom of God outlook (especially in light of Jesus’ exorcism ministry and Jesus’ teaching on Satan/demons)? Also, from Scripture it seems like God’s ultimate destiny for Satan and his host is Hell (Rev. 20:10). In fact, I think there is some indication that this has already happened to some rebel spiritual entities (1 Pet. 3:18-22; 2 Pet. 2:4). What kinds of things in Scripture indicate possible rehabilitation for such entities?

  • Peter

    I find utility (yes, pragmatism rearing its ugly head) in Wink as well as Boyd. I find scriptural support for each. What to do with that? Of all the things that I’ve heard or read about spiritual warfare, the most biblical (and practical!) is this: Everything that we do is spiritual warfare. Fits neatly into any paradigm and protects us from wandering off too far from Center.

  • LexCro

    With respect to spiritual warfare, what do folks do with the myriad testimonies from Christian church history and the experiences in the contemporary church (many, though by no means all, from the Southern Hemisphere)? When my wife and I were in Africa, I had occasion to speak with African Christians for whom spiritual warfare is a reality. Many of these folks were as “educated” as any average Westerner, and they told credible stories of spiritual conflict in the name of Jesus. I have heard the same accounts from non-Western Chfistians who have visited or immigrated to the U.S. Not only are these stories consistent with the New Testament accounts, but they are also consistent with accounts from church history. Also, many of these accounts are even consistent with the testimonies of non-believing anthropologists who have encountered phenomena that cannot be explained using conventional explanations (see the “Miracles and Method: The Historical-Critical Method and the Supernatural” chapter of Greg Boyd’s “The Jesus Legend”).

    Something else here. It seems to me that when spiritual warfare and testimonies thereof are discussed that a tacit ethnocentrism and elitism rears its ugly head. Usually, this elitism takes shape in statements that amount to “Well, THOSE FOLKS aren’t as educated as we are, so THEY need all this demon/Satan/powers lingo to describe realities that WE know to be non-supernatural.” But this is deep nonsense. Many of the second- and third-generation Christians (not to mention believers thereafter) were incredibly well-educated, even far more educated than many of us. And these same reasonable and intelligent folks had no problem reporting that they had cast demons out of folks in the name of Jesus. And in some instances it was precisely these kinds of Kingdom-advancing, miraculous signs that prepared peoples’ hearts for reception of the Gospel (oddly enough, just like in the New Testament–go figure!). Let us not confuse the fact that we benefit from more scientific discovery and technological development than they did with being more educated than they were. This holds true for our estimation of our brothers and sisters in the Southern Hemisphere and their testimonies of the way our Lord is plundering Satan’s kingdom through His Church in order to liberate people.

  • Kenny Johnson

    Is it possible that all these “Africa stories” happen in Africa and not in the U.S. for a reason? My skepticism says its likely because these cultures are more accepting of the supernatural and therefore are more likely to view events through that lens.

    But in the west… if something bad happens, someone gets sick, someone isn’t acting right, etc. we view it through modernist eyes and assume it’s coincidence, disease, mental illness, etc.

  • Ruth Anne shorter

    Thankfully, many of these readers are experienced in other cultures to know the truth. Reminds me of listening to Bart Ehrman who used to believe and even a student of Norm Guiseler until– he “gained more knowledge”. Lord, help us as we think we are so smart. Heaven is going to be a surprise to many– uneducated believers’ simple faith trumping religious “knowledge”.

  • Merv Olsen

    Interesting discussion. My own experience over 47 years has taught me to take demonic activity seriously. I have had some close encounters of an evil kind, from which I was rescued by the One who is stronger than Satan. Since Jesus had to face the devil head on, it’s not surprising that we will have to! After all the devil is a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour – or when it suits, he disguises himself as an angel of light.

    I have read many of Peter Wagner’s books and appreciate his perspective to some degree. However, my favourite work is by Dr Ed Murphy “The Handbook of Spiritual Warfare” ((Thomas Nelson, 1992) – 590 pages of very helpful teaching.

  • Merv Olsen

    Well said Ruth … my sentiments exactly!

    Thanks for sharing your friends’ experiences, Rory – great testimonies to the delivering power of our Risen Saviour, King Jesus.Stories like this can be given a million times over.

  • To paraphrase C.S. Lewis’ introduction to Screwtape (I lost my copy long ago, so this isn’t the exact quote): “There are two equal and opposite errors we can fall into with regard to demons. One is to deny their existence; the other is to believe–and take an unhealthy interest in them.” That “unhealthy interest” can take Christian forms–a demon behind everything–as well as occultic forms. Note that not every illness in the New Testament is called “demonic” or even the result of sinful behavior. Yet some unexpected things are–such as the woman bent double, whom Jesus healed in Luke 13. Count me in as thinking Jesus knew what He was talking about when He called out demons–but not everyone else doing the same thing does.

  • M. Scott Peck’s last book was on this topic. Very interesting reading — lots more wisdom and discernment needed than most exercise.

    I’ve read widely and pondered at length … this spiritual topic requires much power from the Spirit of Truth in order to get to the truth. Systematizing it just is not appropriate, IMO.

  • Mike DeLong

    I think we need to begin with this: talk of spiritual warfare is necessary because the Bible talks of it. Using modern psychology and science to “explain” biblical references to spiritual/demonic activity is a repudiation of the authority of the Bible in these matters.

    I disagree with the premise of #1 – talk of spiritual warfare does NOT divide the world into two groups, if the authors are talking about people. The Bible speaks clearly about two spiritual kingdoms, one of darkness and one of light. Most people who talk about spiritual warfare don’t divide people into good/evil categories, but rather talk (as the Bible does) of spiritual powers in the heavenlies that seek our harm. Most of the conclusions in #1 are unsubstantiated and prejudicial.

  • Bev Mitchell

    Bravo everyone for your honesty in dealing with this essential subject. I’m no expert, so will keep quiet and learn. I do want to say that LexCro’s (24) question (below) is one that should always be kept in mind when we are tempted to shy away from these parts of Scripture that are so difficult for sophisticated Western ears to hear.

    “What if the Lord Jesus wants to work to engage hostile powers through His Church, but He cannot because of our unbelief, timidity, and syncretistic relationship with scientific materialism?”

    Merv (32) Thanks for the comment on Ed Murphy’s handbook. I just picked it up recently and was hoping it would be useful. I also like Boyd’s work in this area. BTW, I think there is a new edition of Murphy’s book, but don’t know if there are many changes.

  • Percival

    I usually agree with T (#13) in these kinds of matters and this issue is no exception. There is a lot of wisdom in going back to the basics – we must believe in a spiritual world if we believe God is spirit. However, belief in a spiritual reality does not negate belief in a material reality. A demonized person may also have a corresponding chemical imbalance of schizophrenia. A witch doctor may use hypnosis, slight of hand, poisons, etc. as means of bringing spiritual bondage onto people. Dreams may be random firings of the cerebral cortex used as an organizing principle in the brain and may also reveal spiritual truths. I don’t see why it has to be all material or all spiritual.

    This discussion also shows how some of the Bible was not addressed to the modern mind. Because we are ignorant of Satan’s schemes, and we do battle against flesh and blood, and unfortunately the things of the spirit are not spiritually discerned (for us anyway).

    I share CGC’s concern (#20) that we often try to make our interpretation of our experience take on an authority that it should not have, and that we should approach fantastic stories with a degree of skepticism. However, it is also true that it seems arrogant to not give the experiences of our ancestors and our majority-world brothers and sisters a respectful consideration instead of perfunctory dismissal. We have something to learn from them and they have something to learn from us, but humility is necessary.

  • I agree w/ Rory #7. Most Americans (westerners?) really don’t know when they’re actually in a spiritual power encounter, and Eddy Gibbs and I spoke about this when a church I knew of was really under attack. In Africa where I was (S. Africa & Zimbabwe), spiritual warfare was matter of course – and they were prepared, too. Here, we’re not prepared, and we rationalize so much we don’t know where the enemy’s influence is. My colleagues & I who’ve worked in reconciliation work know it will happen, somewhere, sometime, and we have to always be alert and prayerful, “in Christ” – the full armor of God. Sometimes, the attacks affect the parties and their families and sometimes the reconciling mediators and our families are in the line of attack. I do know God is faithful and our refuge.

    I honestly don’t see the mindset of #1 much from wise Christians — we’re all weak and vulnerable where we’re not “in Christ”, brothers and sisters. We need to walk in the light, as he is in the light!

  • To my earlier comment above #9, I’d like to add an addendum….

    Thinking broadly across the militaristic/violent paradigm of warfare in the bible I would submit that the most basic spiritual warfare found in Scripture is that of our unsubmitting heart to God. For myself, this is the warfare that makes most sense. Call it sin, call it gracelessness, call it pride or legalism, it is I myself that continues the battle of godlessness. Not the devil, not demons, not spiritualized entities.

    And as a group, humanity itself is what I think of when I read the expression “principalities and powers” – a group that battles for self and not for self-submittal. However that grouping of humans exist – whether by church fellowship, denomination, as Christian religion, as non-Christian religions, in government, in associations of whatever kind, committed to whatever kind of purpose or charter. We live in an unsubmitted world whose spirit is ungodly and “fights” against God’s reclamation, redemption, revival, restoration, renewal and rebirth.

    So to me, when I think of “spiritual warfare” I think of it more in these terms of Holy Spirit vs. us – or, of our heart and of the hearts of people as a collection unsubmitted to God. More than I do of non-mortal entities. Many have argued for their reality (devils and demons). Maybe so. But they remind me of man’s ancient struggle against the very God himself. That Jesus recognized this and spoke to it regardless of whether the idea came from Persia or elsewhere. Whether it has currency in how we envision it or not. The idea is the same. God came to redeem that which is unredeemed. Peace.

  • Joe Rutherford

    The satanic spirits have two basic modes of attack against the Church. One is the use of violent brute force, the other is the tactic of subtle deception. True saints have no choice but to fight. There is no place on earth where we can escape the war. We all might as well and must put on the whole armor of God and get with it!

  • AD


  • AD

    “a recognized authority on the New Testament” – maybe. But this guy doesn’t sound like he’s ever experienced anything, supernatural in nature, in his life. Anyone that would even suggest that spiritual warfare “emerges from the pathological state of the religious mind. It breeds intolerance” is clearly ignorant and has no firsthand experience on the subject. I mean, I can write 20 books on what’s it’s like to be an astronaut just because I once watched Apollo 13, but that doesn’t mean that I actually would know what it’s like to BE an astronaut.