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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

"Understanding Spiritual Warfare - 4 Views"

TITLE: Understanding Spiritual Warfare: Four Views
AUTHOR: Walter Wink, David Powlison, Gregory Boyd, C. Peter Wagner and Rebecca Greenwood.
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012, (230 pages).

Spiritual warfare means different things to different people. Some underplay its significance, while others hype up its importance. Even scholars and theologians are not able to agree. Instead of trying to pit one another in order to find out who is right or wrong, this book brings together four diverse but important perspectives of spiritual warfare. Walter Wink advocates the "World Systems Model," where if there are institutions and world systems that have been taken over by evil forces and principalities, the Christian is to name them, unmask them, and "engage them." Wink then makes a bold call for Christians to take on a counter-offense against the principalities of evil, to a "collective exorcism" believing that God will empower believers to wrestle against the spirits of the age. At the heart of Wink's view is the place of Satan, whose fall from being a 'servant of God' to a spiritual rebel has become a spiritual objective of Satan to do the same for the rest of the world. He makes a useful observation that actions and counter-reactions by humans against themselves can often make people forget that the enemy is out there, not our fellow people. I do agree with David Powlison who argues against Wink's excessive use of prayer as a form of spiritual battling. Prayer is more than that. While Wagner agrees that prayer is a powerful weapon in intercession and spiritual warfare, how much prayers and intercessions change history remains debatable.

David Powlison promotes the "Classical Model" where spiritual warfare is centered on fighting the flesh. Powlison describes spiritual warfare as a term for "describing the moral conflict of the Christian life." Using Ephesians 6 as his launching pad, he sees the warfare more as a defensive approach. In dealing with deliverance, he points out three biblical examples of how sin is dealt with through "repentance" and not "exorcism." Through Christian disciplines of prayer, evangelism, spiritual growth, one automatically fights the sinful desires of the flesh. Boyd makes a useful critique when he says that spiritual warfare cannot be limited to lifestyle strategies, and asserts a need for binding and loosing spirits. I agree with Boyd that Powlison's model tends to be an over-reaction to the excesses of exorcism and sensational spiritual deliverances. That said, Powlison does gives us a good "classical" reminder that when we follow the ways of Jesus, and obeys his teachings, we are already equipped for spiritual battle, in character.

The third model is the "Ground-Level Deliverance Model" which is advocated by Gregory Boyd. He says that earth is the battle ground where evil rebels constantly against God's purpose on earth. That is why the prayer "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven" is a specific spiritual warfare prayer. Boyd frowns at how some modern theologians have not only downplayed, but denied the reality of Satan and evil powers by rendering them as mythological. Boyd offers four objections. First, believing there are perhaps some mythical character in the Bible does not mean these characters' thoughts and teachings are mythical. Second, there is no reason why a person who believes in science and technology, cannot similarly believe in spirits and forces in the spiritual realms. Third, one must beware of modern arrogance, thinking that our modern technological advancements dispel any reality of historical beliefs. Four, we need to abandon any arrogance or forms of cultural superiority over ancient times. In short, spiritual warfare is real, physical, and exists right now. That said, Boyd then deals questions surrounding the need to deal with personal demons that requires exorcism, and whether Christians can be demonized in the first place. Wink and Hardin takes issue with Boyd's use of a "personal devil" as a key way to deal with spiritual warfare. For them, spiritual warfare is more than that. Powlison claims that Boyd  has unwittingly denied God's sovereignty over evil, and argues that spiritual disciplines that battle against evil must be tied together with mercy. Wagner prefers to take issue with Boyd's "strategic level" kind of warfare, saying that while spiritual warfare need not be the centerpiece of ministry, it can be an important central strategy.

Finally, Peter C. Wagner and Rebecca Greenwood helms the view of "Strategic Level Deliverance" where spiritual warfare is of a territorial and cosmic dimension. Both Wagner and Greenwood highlight the realty of dark forces, quoting personal experiences from different corners of the world. Their version of spiritual warfare covers many territories, like land, war, idolatry, sexual immorality, broken covenants, and many power encounters. Believing that the Church is the chief vehicle for spiritual warfare, their conviction is that if we do not pray, we become prey for the evil one. Even the issue of abortion is a result of evil. Wink critiques Greenwood's exegetical method and her use of "federal theology" that basically ties American society as breaking her covenant with God. Powlison too questions Greenwood's exegetical exercises, saying that he remains unpersuaded that abortion is a direct result of spiritual rebellion. Boyd accuses Wagner and Greenwood's "triumphant theology" that is too "Constantinian" for comfort. Rather than working toward a victory on earth, Boyd calls for humble living, and wait for Christ to come and bring to completion the final victory.

My Thoughts

There are so many things to learn from in this book. Like iron sharpening iron, these four views are ably argued for and against by the different writers. It highlights issues that bring clarity to the original propositions, adds in important nuances to the understanding of spiritual warfare, and maintains a healthy respect for persons who agree or disagree. While I am tempted to say that the biggest beneficiaries for this book are the contributors themselves, readers are in for a treat as they are invited to listen in to the conversations and to be reminded that spiritual warfare is real, wide-ranging, and deeply mystifying too. Readers ought not to be distracted by the different views and opinions of the authors and editors. Instead, readers can acknowledge the variety of differences based on contexts, understanding of differences, and an awareness of how each perspective deals with spiritual warfare. There is nothing to lose when we learn from others. There is everything to gain when we are humble to acknowledge that together, we are stronger. This book shows us the way on how Christians may differ in views, but united in their stance against principalities and powers of evil. In Christ we stand.

I like Wink's way of seeing spiritual warfare with a worldview of systems, and how we need to be on the alert that evil does reside in many structures and systems in the world. I appreciate Powlison's wide treatment of what spiritual warfare is, how to understand the occult, how to help those in addiction and bondage, how to understand exorcism as recorded in the Scriptures, and the experiences of warfare in other native cultures. Boyd's essay is particularly instructive, especially when he deals with the postmodern skeptics who dispel the reality of spiritual realms. Wagner and Greenwood's more radical perspective of warring against evil in a more forceful manner, stem out of personal experiences they have encountered, and while they may sound radical, their views ought not to be dismissed outright. After all, some experiences cannot be explained. The responses by the other writers make this book a highly educational one for the reader, and keeps us humble to know that spiritual warfare is much bigger than any one view. In fact, four views only go to scratch the surface of this very important topic. That said, this book can help begin our learning and our equipping for spiritual warfare. This is perhaps one of the best books, if not the best book on comparing spiritual warfare perspectives. For four capably argued perspectives, with rebuttals and positive engagement, readers are in for a treat and a great learning experience, learning from those who not only argue for it, but live it.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Baker Academic and Graf-Martin Communications without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

1 comment:

  1. An Excellent Introduction to the Debate about the Nature and Practice of Spiritual Warfare.

    The Equation book