Book Review: Understanding Spiritual Warfare

Review by Eric Twietmeyer

How does your church wage spiritual warfare? Does it take seriously the call to fight a spiritual war? This recent multiperspectival book unearths four different views.

As a liberal theologian, Walter Wink speaks from a “world system” model. Spoiler alert: He doesn’t believe in an evil being named Satan. Conservative author and teacher David Powlison explains what’s termed a classical model of spiritual warfare—primarily exploring truths found in Psalm 28 and Ephesians 6, focusing on Christian living. He demythologizes animistic, demon-laden experiences, preferring to “normalize the abnormal” and “humanize the bizarre.”

Professor/pastor/teacher Greg Boyd brings historical background to Old Testament spiritual warfare and commends deliverance ministries and counter-cultural living. Openness theology only surfaces briefly in one of Boyd’s responses. Peter Wagner and Rebecca Greenwood hold our interest with a brief explanation of strategic-level warfare and corresponding anecdotes.

The dialogue between this cast of authors clarifies their differences and highlights the strengths and weaknesses of each perspective.

Because of this book, I am re-awakened to my enemies: the world, the flesh and the devil. I want to pray and do pastoral counseling better. I won’t be looking for the devil behind every tree, but I won’t be surprised to encounter his work either. Pastors and leaders of prayer groups will find motivation and content for encouraging their congregations to pray.

This is a good resource to explore the EFCA’s Statement of Faith and its mention of spiritual warfare (Article 8). Each author has significant footnotes for further reading. I wish the introduction included a list of Scriptures for study so that readers might familiarize themselves with basic passages before diving into the viewpoints. I recommend Understanding Spiritual Warfare.

Eric Twietmeyer is an urban missionary with the EFCA North Central District in Minneapolis, Minn. In college, Eric presented his final Greek exegesis paper on Ephesians 6:10-18 wearing a shirt, tie and . . . army pants..

Review by Randal Kay

Back in the late 1970s, the Olympia Brewing Company of Tumwater, Wash., ran an ad campaign revealing that the secret to its great beer was to be found in its special Artesian well, which was (humorously) protected by little invisible Artesians. In the television commercials the purveyor of the beer kept asking people if they had ever seen an Artesian. It was a cute ad campaign.

I relate that story because in my “brand” of evangelicalism, we often treat the demonic and the lead demon, Satan, as something more akin to a motley band of renegade Artesians than to the one who has set himself up to unsuccessfully wrest God’s kingdom from God.

I was personally drawn to this book because as a young Christian I encountered the demonic (and am praying never to have that experience again), I would have appreciated having this read this book prior to that experience, but I guess better late than never. I feel that the editor’s attempt to give the readers a wide-range of belief and experience is helpful in weighing the various ideas regarding the spiritual realm.

I also appreciated the way various authors gave the theo-historical background of those various belief systems. Although we are told that many in the West are no longer interested in spiritual things, I find the rise of television and movies that deal with “the other” seems to be increasing. Therefore, this would be a good book for a pastor to have as part of his or her library.

I would go so far to say that the introduction, along with its extensive footnotes, is worth the cost of the book. Here is truly a good resource for not only what we believe, but also how we are to respond to the reality of those beliefs, whether we’ve seen ’em or not.

Randal Kay is senior pastor of Felton (Calif.) Bible Church.

Review by Mark Dunker

The woman on the ground writhed and shrieked. Church leaders prayed loudly “in the Name of Jesus” and claimed “the blood of Jesus” over her, as they cast out seven demons. My first trip to Africa challenged my conservative evangelical views about the spirit world.

Now that Africa is my home, my beliefs about spiritual warfare have expanded, but are they biblical?

Understanding Spiritual Warfare is a good book to help church leaders evaluate biblical support of differing belief systems regarding the purpose and scope of the war happening around us. Walter Wink’s pantheistic and unorthodox “world systems model” sees Satan as merely a symbol. Having his view dismantled in the introduction had me constantly questioning its inclusion in this book.

In David Powlison’s “the classical model,” spiritual warfare describes “the moral conflict of the Christian life,” where our weapons include repentance, truth and obedience. Although he uses Scripture, his views don’t fit our diverse world but a rationalistic western one.

Gregory Boyd’s “ground-level deliverance model” sees spiritual warfare as directly dealing with the demonic. The kingdom of God is advanced as Satan’s is diminished. Boyd’s view seems biblical and balanced but would be easier to digest if he wasn’t the “Open Theism” guy.

C. Peter Wagner and Rebecca Greenwood’s “Strategic-Level Spiritual Warfare” expands upon the deliverance model, through direct confrontation of territorial spirits. They use shockingly little biblical support but rely primarily on their experiences.

As I continue to interact with people across the theological/denominational spectrum, this book has increased my understanding of the primary views and given me a greater ability to interact intelligently with those who are more “out-there.”

Especially helpful are the authors’ responses to opposing positions, which equip leaders to have informed interaction with people who hold differing views.

Mark Dunker is a ReachGlobal staff member in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. He serves as city team leader and trains church leaders cross-denominationally as part of ReachGlobal’s East Africa Equipping Team.

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