Having spent some time recently thinking through many questions I’ve had about spiritual warfare, I decided to read the newly released book, Understanding Spiritual Warfare: Four Views. I want to give a brief summary of the different views represented, as well as a succinct analysis of what was presented. The book follows the same structure as the other four views books, in which each chapter presents a view, followed by responses by each of the other three representatives.
Overview of the Four Views
The World Systems Model by Walter Wink
Wink’s view is distinguished by his rejection of Satan and demons as personal, autonomous beings. He argues that Satan is presented by Scripture as one of God’s servants rather than one of his enemies, and so has been massively misunderstood. But he also argues for a panentheistic worldview in which the “spirits and powers” of which Scripture speaks are the “spiritual interior” of human social structure, and thus the primary mode of spiritual warfare is engaging the evils in human society, particularly violence, especially violence in the name of anything sacred.
The Classical Model by David Powlison
Powlison argues that the devil and demons are real, that spiritual warfare is real and to be taken seriously, but that the primary way one fights the spiritual war is through the ordinary means of grace that God has provided, which lead to repentance and sanctification. He primarily devotes his chapter to expositing Scripture, though he also discusses a few practical examples where he illustrates fighting the spiritual powers of darkness through the means of prayer, the word, and repentance from sin.
The Ground-Level Deliverance Model by Gregory Boyd
Boyd argues that living like Jesus, particularly in social causes, is a key way we fight the spiritual war, but he also believes that deliverance from demonic possession is also an important piece of spiritual warfare. Similar to Wink and Greenwood, he also sees importance in rejecting the societal structures that are used by demonic forces. But he differs from the last view in that he sees activist-type solutions as primary.
The Strategic-Level Deliverance Model by Peter Wagner and Rebecca Greenwood
Wagner introduces the view by giving some personal background to the topic, and Greenwood explains the view as an academic and as a field practitioner. Their view is similar to that of Boyd, but they argue that not only do we need to deliver individuals from bondage to demons, but also directly confront the demonic powers behind social ills, territorial spirits. Additionally, they do not view these aspects of spiritual warfare as sometimes necessary, as Boyd indicates, but instead that they are keys for normal frontline spiritual warfare.
Some Thoughts on Each of the Four Views
The World Systems Model
For anyone who is evangelical, committed to the inerrancy of Scripture and the omnipotence of God, Wink’s model will come across as at best bizarre, and at worst, extremely dangerous. His exegesis of Scripture is odd at best, and his focus on nonviolence seems quite forced, ironically, on much of the discussion. Additionally, he rejects God’s sovereignty (an open view of the future), which seems to have many disastrous consequences for how we view our role and God’s in spiritual warfare.
The Classical Model
Powlison carefully engages Scripture, particularly Ephesians 6, where Paul most explicitly discusses spiritual warfare in the life of believers. He seeks to not minimize the reality of spiritual warfare at all, but to ask how Scripture indicates we ought to fight the spiritual war. He also (somewhat reluctantly) provides some illustrations of how his view has helped others get to the root of real spiritual problems instead of doing the “deliverance” type of ministry that Boyd and Greenwood advocate.
What I found particularly compelling even beyond his exegesis of Scripture was that when faced with serious problems among people, he doesn’t deny the role of evil spirits, but rather says that rather than looking for a “demon of fear” to cast out, we ought to instead be probing to see what sin issues there are that need to be repented of. When we proclaim the gospel and apply it to sin, we will see real change. I may write later of specific things that he said that were helpful to me.
The Ground-Level Deliverance Model
I don’t want to prejudice readers based on Boyd’s other views, but Boyd is an open theist, so that very much affects how he views this topic. That necessarily affects how he views God’s role and ours in spiritual warfare, so it is worth being aware of going into his chapter. His writing makes it seem as if being a socio-political activist is a primary way that we engage in spiritual warfare, with pacifism being a large peg in his system. This seems like a difficult view to prove, given that Paul’s discussion of spiritual warfare in Ephesians 6 certainly does not discuss any of those types of things.
He affirms deliverance ministries as a way of rescuing people from the clutches of demonic activity, activity which has led them to sin and misery. He also affirms casting out territorial spirits as a secondary (at best) aspect of deliverance ministry. His view of Scripture also seems suspect, though not quite as far left as that of Wink. He seems to associate demonic oppression and possession with moral, sinful problems, i.e., the demon of fear, or worry, etc.
The Strategic-Level Deliverance Model
I don’t want to be uncharitable, but Greenwood’s exegesis is incredibly sloppy with many unproven, fairly wild assertions. E.g., regarding Acts 16 and the exorcism of the slave girl, she writes,
A fairly inescapable conclusion would be that the demonic spirit in this young woman was indeed a territorial spirit or principality that had maintained this region in darkness. (p. 181)
Such a conclusion is only inescapable (even possible) if one comes to the text assuming the work of territorial spirits in the chapter. Nothing in the text even hints at such an idea. Her chapter is riddled with this type of argumentation.
Greenwood’s charismatic leanings come through emphatically, as she relates a story of casting a territorial spirit out of Kansas (presumably so as to stop a high abortion rate), in which a combination of God revealing to her in a dream that Lilith (mentioned once in Scripture as a normal creature, but that developed into a mythological creature in later literature) was the name of the territorial spirit and seeing an owl confirmed to her that she needed to cast out this spirit. It was, to say the least, bizarre.
Not only is she advocating her approach to spiritual warfare as possible, she’s advocating “strategic-level deliverance” as primary strategy in spiritual warfare. That is, that we will not see change in nations and communities without directly confronting territorial spirits. Paul did not seem to similarly adopt such a strategy in Acts, but rather proclaimed the gospel and cast out demons when they directly interfered with his ministry.
Though I certainly had leanings in his direction before reading the book, I certainly found Powlison’s position not only the most thoroughly biblical, but also the most rooted in the realities of life in a sinful world. Having said that, I still have questions unanswered about the topic that I would love to hear Powlison address, so I will read his fuller book-length treatment of the topic.
One important reminder that came through in every chapter and from every view was the Importance of prayer in spiritual warfare. Even where I might end up disagreeing with most of the authors, I can’t help but be challenged by their dedication to prayer in pursuing Jesus and advancing the gospel.Read More