Understanding Spiritual Warfare: Four Views

edited by James K. Beilby and Paul Rhodes Eddy
Reviewed date: 2018 Nov 20
230 pages
cover art

This "four views" book is a great introduction to different models of understanding spiritual warfare. I wasn't familiar with any systematic models of spiritual warfare, so I came into it knowing nothing. The introduction chapter is rather high-brow, as is the essay on the World Systems Model. The others are more accessible.

World Systems Model
by Walter Wink, with Gareth Higgins and Michael Hardin
In the World Systems Model, Wink presents a view of spiritual warfare that rejects the idea of Satan and demons as personal, volitional beings. Instead, Satan is "the archetypal representation of the collective weight of human fallenness." Satan is "a shorthand for a cluster of ideas."

Wink does believe in evil and in spiritual power, though. Although he doesn't view Satan and demons as beings with individual or independent existence, he does believe that earthly institutions (like nations or companies) have spiritual dimensions. Satan and demons are the spiritual manifestations of world systems. Satan is in global culture, in economies, in political systems. Hence, the World Systems Model.

So then, what is spiritual warfare in the World Systems Model? It is 1) living the Christian life, and 2) changing world systems through the power of fervent intercessory prayer.

The three other models of understanding spiritual warfare all accept Satan and demons as literal, volitional beings, so the World Systems Model is the outlier here. Wink seems to draw more inspiration from philosophy and modern rationalism than from theology or the Bible. Not that he ignores the Bible; to the contrary, he returns to it quite often, but his theology is liberal and I'm not impressed with his interpretations.

Classical Model
by David Powlison
The classical understanding of spiritual warfare accepts Satan and demons as the Bible presents them: as independent spiritual beings. Spiritual warfare, though, is not focused on demons or deliverance ministries. It is focused on living the Christian life. "To win spiritual warfare is simply to live as light in a dark world."

In contrast to those who believe Satan and demons are the primary cause of evil and suffering in the world, the classical model focuses on man's inherent sinfulness. "To lose [spiritual warfare] is to ... revert to what comes naturally to every fallen heart." Sin comes from the human heart, not from demons.

Indeed, "when the problem is moral bondage to Satan [or sin], demonic deliverance is never the practice" in Scripture. "Sin is dealt with by repentance, not exorcism."

Exorcisms are healing ministry, not spiritual warfare
The classical model of spiritual warfare does not deny the existence of demons or the necessity of exorcisms and deliverance, but it understands those as healing ministry to sufferers, not a fight against "dark powers." "Demon deliverance is a subset of the category of healing." As seen the Bible, there are no demons associated with particular sins, so there is no moral stigma for those afflicted by demons. Exorcisms and deliverance ministries are therefore properly understood to be part of healing ministries, not part of spiritual warfare.

Deliverance Model
by Gregory Boyd
The book calls this the "Ground-Level Deliverance Model", but that's actually a term used by those involved in Strategic-Level Spiritual Warfare (SLSW). The deliverance model sees Satan and demons as conscious, volitional agents, and that the fight against Satan and his demons is an integral part of the story and narrative of the Bible.

In the deliverance model, spiritual warfare is to live life in imitation of Christ, by:

  1. Opposing oppression, racism, and violence, and
  2. Delivering people from demon oppression.

The deliverance model does not attribute all personal suffering to demons; often there are psychological conditions as well as demonic oppression, and both should be treated. Exorcisms and psychiatric treatment are both necessary.

Boyd takes pains to say that talk of demon possession is imprecise. It is more appropriate to talk of demon oppression, and even Christians--who belong to God--can be oppressed by demons who have taken up strongholds in them. (In this respect, the classical and Strategic-Level Warfare models agree with the deliverance model: Christians are not exempt from demon oppression.)

Boyd does not talk about demonic "legal rights" as some deliverance ministers do.

Responses to the Deliverance Model
Wink (the World Systems Model proponent) responds that "no Christian creed ever enshrined confession of a personal devil or an ontological satan," so such a belief is not necessary for orthodoxy. Then he deconstructs the concept of "person" as a "conscious, volitional creature." Wink is a useless philosopher. Useless. I know people like this and they are insufferable and completely unattached to reality.

Powlison (Classical model) responds that Boyd's deliverance model de-emphasizes our own sin and attributes evil to Satan and demons, not us. He suggests Boyd focuses too much on spirits and not enough on holiness and living the Christian life.

Wagner (SLSW) agrees largely with Powlison and Boyd, except that he says living a Christian life is merely a prerequisite for spiritual warfare. It isn't warfare itself. Spiritual warfare is ground-level deliverance (that is, exorcising demons in individual people) and strategic-level spiritual warfare (that is, driving out territorial spirits.)

Strategic Level Spiritual Warfare
by C. Peter Wagner and Rebecca Greenwood
The book calls this the Strategic-Level Deliverance Model, but the people who invented it call is Strategic Level Spiritual Warfare (SLSW).

SLSW believes in territorial spirits. That is, powerful demonic beings who have authority and power over specific geographical regions. Spiritual warfare consists of combatting demons both at the ground-level (that is, by driving spirits out of individual people) and at the strategic level (by identifying and driving out territorial spirits). At the ground level, SLSW is similar to the more traditional deliverance model.

Spiritual Mapping
At the strategic level, SLSW practices something called spiritual mapping. Spiritual Mapping is the practice--through research, prayer, fasting, etc.--of identifying territorial spirits and the source of their power. The power is often grounded in the sins of the people, even sin from past generations.

SLSW also is a big proponent of something called prayerwalking, where Christians literally walk the streets of their communities, praying intercessorally to break the power of territorial spirits. Prayerwalking is also practiced as part of spiritual mapping.

Identificational Repentance
Once the territorial spirits have been identified, one way their power can be broken is through Identificational Repentance--that is, repenting on behalf of one's group for past generation sins. One example given is a group of Christian pastors repenting to the Cheyenne tribe in south central Kansas for the sins of the United States government. Broken treaties with the tribe had brought curses and allowed territorial spirits to gain a stronghold in that geographical region. After that identificational repentance, there was a boom in oil and gas production in south central Kansas, bringing increased prosperity to the region.

Another example is the fight against abortion in Kansas, and George Tiller in particular. Rebecca Greenwood recounts the fervent prayer, the dreams and visions and signs, and the revelation given to her that the territorial spirit involved was Lilith. Then they got a sign in the form of an owl, which Greenwood associated with the demon Lilith. Greenwood describes Lilith and the bizarre story behind her (she was Adam's first wife, before Eve) which was confusing to me, because I've read the Bible and Lilith isn't mentioned. Turns out it's not from the Bible, it's some Talmudic tall tale. Greenwood identifies Lilith as a nocturnal goddess, so they set up a night-time prayer vigil to combat Lilith during the hours her power is greatest. Eventually some court decisions went against Tiller, which Greenwood takes confirmation that Lilith's power in Kansas was broken. Then later Tiller was murdered. Greenwood is careful to say that neither she nor anyone else wanted George Tiller dead or condoned any acts of violence. They never prayed for Tiller's death; rather, they prayed for him to repent.

Inventing Biblical Evidence
Given that there's no biblical example of confronting a territorial spirit, I wondered how Wagner and Greenwood would explain this lack. Greenwood just conjures up a biblical example: she claims the Acts 16 account where Paul casts a demon out of a fortune-telling slave girl is an example of combatting a territorial spirit. This is wishful thinking, as there is zero evidence in the text for such an interpretation. In fact the text strongly suggest the opposite.

Responses to SLSW
The responses to SLSW are pretty savage. Wink calls SLSW a pagan religion. Powlison says there is zero biblical evidence for SLSW, and that SLSW is animistic and unbiblical: "It seems to me no accident that Greenwood must rely on such things as Greek mythology, Talmudic fantasy, and a vivid dream she once had." He says Greenwood and other SLSW proponents are credulous and zealous, and they have bought into fantasies.

Boyd agrees that SLSW has no biblical examples, takes Greenwood to task for confirmation bias and for believing the rabbinic fiction of Lilith, and throws shade on SLSW for lusting after political and social power.

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