Review: Spiritual Warfare

Spiritual Warfare, William F. Cook III and Chuck Lawless (Foreword by Thom Rainer). Nashville: B & H Academic, 2019.

Summary: A biblical and theological survey of all the passages in the Bible concerning Satan and spiritual warfare and practical applications for the life of the church.

William Cook and Chuck Lawless make both a biblical and practical case for the reality of spiritual warfare, the personal forces of evil who seek to undermine and oppose the life of followers of Christ, as well as keep in darkness those who have not come to faith. In this work they provide a comprehensive guide for believers to understanding the warfare we are in the midst of.

First of all, they survey all the relevant Old and New Testament that refer to Satan and his forces and spiritual warfare. They provide concise explanations of each passage, offering different readings of difficult passages like 1 Peter 3:18-22, and giving their own interpretation. From the early chapters of Genesis to the last chapters of Revelation, they give the account of Satan’s efforts to oppose the purposes of God from the temptation of the Adam and Eve to the final defeat and destruction of Satan. What they make clear is that while the forces of darkness deceive and tempt and oppose, human sin is our own willful disobedience to God. What is fascinating is that the New Testament portion of this survey is four times as long as the Old Testament, particularly with the testing of Jesus, the confrontations with demons throughout the gospels and Acts, the spiritual opposition aroused as the church moves into the Gentile world, and the warfare of the book of Revelation of the dragon and the beast against the people of God and the final defeat of Satan.

The second half of the book draws on this material and applies this to our personal and corporate lives as believers. They begin with how spiritual warfare manifests in the local church, defining both the pillars of a healthy church and the lines of attack on each of these. They speak of the warfare against evangelism, blinding unbelievers to truth and rendering believers ineffective through sin, discouragement, pride, and fear that shuts our mouths. They talk about the remedy of prayer for “GOD’S HEART” (an acronym). They extend this line of discussion into mission and the disinterest, division, and distraction that needs to be countered with teaching and humble dependence. They look at attacks on the family and conclude with the warfare against leaders, addressing why many finish badly. Since many who read this book are likely to be leaders, this is one chapter not to be skipped but to be read, to be used in self-examination and spiritual accountability.

Over and over throughout this book, the authors focus on the dangers of pride, self-reliance, divisions between believers, and biblical illiteracy. At the same time, the authors emphasize the greatness of God, the victory of Christ, and the power of the Spirit, all enabling believers to overcome and prevail by faith.

This book is a useful source book for anyone teaching on spiritual warfare, combining a thorough survey of scripture with practical applications grounded in years of pastoral experience. It steers a healthy balance that both recognizes the reality of spiritual warfare, and the reality that, in the victory of the cross and resurrection, Satan and his forces have been decisively defeated and the believer provided with all he or she needs for life and godliness.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Forgiveness and Justice

forgiveness and justice

Forgiveness and Justice, Bryan Maier. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2017.:

Summary: Interacts with other models of forgiveness from a biblical perspective, proposing that healing through trust in the justice of God precedes forgiveness, which can only occur where there is sincere confession and repentance by the offender.

This book changed my thinking about forgiveness. Like many, I’d come to believe in the therapeutic value of “forgiveness” even when the offender has not confessed to wrong-doing and repented of it. I can think of situations where this counsel didn’t ring true. There had been great offense, and while individuals wanted to forgive, the refusal of the offender to acknowledge the wrong, and in some cases continued the wrongful behavior, leaving a deep sense of grievance that “forgiving” could not address.

This book helped me understand why. First of all, the author, basing his discussion in scripture, focuses on a more careful definition of forgiveness, which isn’t “letting go” or reframing the offense or having greater empathy. Fundamentally, he argues that forgiveness, as God forgives, is not about our feelings, but about the offender, and can only occur when the offender confesses to the wrong, and repents from it.

How then are we to deal with the deep feelings of anger, hurt, and grievance. Maier observes that we tend to make the decision that it is good to get rid of these, and he would say, “Not so fast.” If there has been real offense, and in many cases he deals with as a counselor, profound abuse, these may be warranted feelings that stem from a deep sense of wanting to be vindicated. We should not try to reframe these hurts. Maier argues that it is the God who is just who vindicates and that healing starts with trusting in the justice of God, that we need not seek vengeance, but trust God to deal with the offense. He argues that it is precisely this about which the imprecatory Psalms are concerned and encourages their use by counselees.

He also proposes that as we begin to trust in the God of justice we find healing, before we forgive, and that in fact this prepares us to forgive. For one thing, realizing that the offender faces God’s justice if they do not repent may in time move us to pray for that repentance. That in turn raises the important question of how will we respond if they do repent.

Part of this has to do with discerning genuine repentance, something we can never fully assess. He suggests several indicators: 1). No demands, even requests for forgiveness, 2) A willingness to assume responsibility, and 3) A willingness to pay off the debt over time, realizing that trust is not restored instantaneously.

All this also means that repentance does not necessitate an instantaneous response of forgiveness. While this may be desired, the person offended must truly be ready for this and the offender must not expect or demand this. Clients should not be pressured into premature forgiveness.

I appreciate the care Maier shows in handling of scripture as well as in recognizing the seriousness of offenses like abuse and sexual assault and the need for victims to legitimately protect themselves from further harm from offenders. Moreover, this book seems to me to give a better account of unresolved feelings of anger than the “let it go” school. It acknowledges the role of God in healing, and also the very real concern for justice that is sometimes minimized in forgiveness teaching. And it helpfully focuses on when and how real forgiveness of the other may take place in a way that reinforces healing for both parties rather than compounding the problems between them.

I would highly recommend this work for all pastoral and clinical counselors, and for anyone who is wrestling with having experienced deep wounds at the hands of another. You may have heard the Lord’s teaching of “forgive as I have forgiven you” and struggle to do this, particularly when the offender has made no attempt to acknowledge the wrong done. This book unpacks what biblical and not merely therapeutic forgiveness looks like and the ways of healing that prepare us to truly forgive.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

 

Review: Preventing Suicide

Preventing SuicidePreventing Suicide, Karen Mason. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2014.

Summary: This handbook is written for pastors and other religious counselors, who the author contends can play an important role in preventing suicide. It focuses on how both theology and psychology can contribute to helping those at risk to harm themselves.

Pastors, chaplains, and religious workers are often in a position to recognize those at risk of attempting suicide. Yet often these individuals lack the training to know how to respond, and often are not integrated (sometimes because of privacy practices) into helping those considering taking their lives. Karen Mason contends that both the theological and community resources of a religious community afford important resources in caring for the suicidal. This handbook is written to help remedy that gap.

She begins by considering possible attitudes toward suicide and how these might affect our response, as well as the ways both the church and the psychological profession can work in partnership. Then she turns to some factual material. In chapter one, she focuses on incidence rates, indicating that 45-54 year olds have the highest rate of suicide deaths and that men commit suicide four times as often as women even though more women than men attempt suicide. She also considers other factors that confer risk as well as protective factors, which include family support and church attendance. She turns to shattering common myths about suicide including that real Christians don’t experience suicidal thoughts, prayer is all that Christians need, people are suicidal just to get attention, people who kill themselves are just being selfish, angry or vengeful, the depressed should just “buck up”, talking about suicide may give the person the idea to complete suicide, and most important that if someone wants to kill themselves, there is nothing we can do.

She considers theology, and theories of suicide. She explores various understanding of suicide and sin. Is it or not and is it forgivable or not? How should such beliefs shape pastoral care? She reviews the leading historical and current psychological theories of suicide.

Chapter 5 covers the material often given in “gatekeeper” training. It provides specific guidance for spotting warning signs, assessing for suicidal thinking (yes, it is appropriate and even helpful to ask someone if they have thoughts of suicide), assessing where a person is on a suicide continuum, assigning risk level, taking action appropriate to the risk level and how to provide pastoral care as part of a care team. The next chapter turns to helping those who survive suicide attempts. This is followed by talking about care for care-givers, including self care.

The last two chapters focus on dealing with what the rest of the book has sought to prevent–the aftermath of a death by suicide, dealing with caring for survivors and for the wider community. This last deals with a reality not often considered–contagion and suicide clusters. The conclusion then sums up the ways religious workers can play an important role in suicide prevention.

Each chapter concludes with a list of print and online resources related to the topic and questions helping pastoral caregivers to reflect on their attitudes and approaches to suicide.

This is an important resource that breaks the conspiracy of silence and shame with compassionate and clear steps pastoral caregivers can take to prevent suicide. Sample dialogues even give language for caregivers as they engage with those considering suicide. Furthermore, it shows how religious communities can play an important role in preventing suicide and helping people find hope.

I’ve been part of memorial services for students who have died during their collegiate years, including some who died by taking their own lives. I can tell you that one such death is too many. And if this book helps save even one such life (and I hope it will save more) it will be worth it.