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: The Awakening

The Awakening

The AwakeningFriedrich Zuendel. Walden, NY: Plough Publishing, 2000.

Summary: An account of Pastor Johann Christoph Blumhardt’s victorious ministry with a demonized woman, Gottlieben Dittus, the awakening in the village that followed, and the miraculous works and the reactions that followed.

Pastor Johann Christoph Blumhardt at thirty-three was assigned to ministry in Mottlingen in 1838. Very soon he learned of a woman in his parish suffering a strange illness, accompanied by bizarre symptoms that her doctor had been unable to alleviate. The symptoms were not limited to her body, but also in her surroundings. There were sounds of tapping, objects moved and more. Sometimes she reacted with great fear or hostility to prayer. Ruling out other explanations, Blumhardt entered an extended fight to rid this woman of demons, which eventually is accomplished. Blumhardt attributes the victory to Jesus. We see a pastor who quietly persists in invoking the name and power of Jesus in commanding the demons, who sometimes try to negotiate the terms of their departure, to leave.

Subsequent to this, an awakening breaks out in Mottlingen and the neighboring parish of Haugstett. A parish that had been indifferent to the things of God suddenly becomes stricken with their sins, coming to Blumhardt to confess those sins. As he hears their confessions, he experiences the Spirit’s prompting to absolve them in Christ’s name, a controversial act, but one marked by transformed lives in many who came to him.

Then miracles began. Blumhardt was eventually banned from personal ministry, limited to urging people to attend to the preaching of the gospel, and responding in faith to what was proclaimed, and still more miracles occur. This extends to deliverance of Blumhardt from several enemies who sought to kill him, including one who had broken into his home at night who was miraculously transformed when Blumhardt cried out, “Jesus is victor.”

This phrase, “Jesus is Victor” could have served as the title of this book. What is striking about Blumhardt is the combination of humility and authority that characterize this man. He has a humble estimate of his own abilities, but acts with conviction and confidence in the power of Jesus to counter the powers of sin and evil that he meets. One has the sense that the fight with Gottlieben was one engaged reluctantly, not sought. He refuses to use manipulative techniques to stir people up, trusting to the ministry of the Word and the work of the Spirit.

The book also makes a powerful case for the reality of spiritual warfare, the real existence of demonic personalities that may invade and afflict individuals. Much of this is connected in this narrative with engagement in magical and occult practices which opened people to these dark powers.

Blumhardt also contends that all he did was ask for and do what he saw in the gospels, coming importunately in prayer and exercising the authority Jesus spoke of to forgive sins. He wrote:

Jesus says, “I have authority from my Father to forgive sins, and those whom I forgive are forgiven.” What the Lord did ought to continue, for everything he did as a man shall be done by other human beings until the end of days. The Father authorized him, and he authorized others. He said to the disciples,”As my Father has sent me, so send I you.” Thus his disciples could say to repentant sinners as decisively as Jesus himself did, “Take heart, your sins are forgiven.” And what is to shake our conviction that this power remains in force for those proclaiming the good news today–that they, too, should have authority to forgive sins.

Blumhardt’s words offer a bracing challenge to those who seek revival. Are we prepared for spiritual warfare, and have we fostered a life of dependence upon the power of God? Are our revivals marked by deep grief and repentance for sins, and do we offer the assurance of the Lord’s pardon warranted in the finished work of Christ? His book also reminds me that we live in dark times where our nightly news carries reports of acts of singular evil. I’m troubled by our tendency to reduce all of these to mental illness, though in some instances, there is clear prior evidence of illness. In a society increasingly open to dark powers, might it not be possible that at least some individuals, or even groups have been invaded by such powers, giving themselves over to destructive evil. Blumhardt raises the issue of the call of the people of God to confront such evil under the greater authority of Jesus. Will a politically captivated, culturally co-opted, and personally compromised church be able to respond? Who are the Blumhardt’s of our day? Where is the repentance that marks a truly reviving church?

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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: Adventures in Spiritual Warfare

Adventures in Spiritual Warfare

Adventures in Spiritual WarfareWilliam P. Payne (Foreword by Charles H. Kraft). Eugene, OR: Resource Publications, 2018.

Summary: A narrative of the author’s awakening to the reality of spiritual warfare and personal evil, and the resources and commended practices available to Christians for engaging that warfare.

Content warning: This review discusses the author’s accounts of demonic beings who haunt, attack, and inhabit people, deeply afflicting and controlling them and confrontations in which this beings are dispelled and defeated.

Some people simply think of evil as “the dark side of the force” or simply an impersonal malign reality expressed in the worst of human atrocities. William P. Payne narrates a very different kind of encounter with evil, in the form of personal beings, demons, minions of the arch-enemy Satan, who seek to attack, deceive, bind, and destroy individuals and oppose the advance of Christ’s kingdom.

The narrative begins with his early encounter with the demonic in a haunted Marine barracks, in a man he found in a fetal position, and a woman suffering from post-abortion stress. The demonic became personal when he moved to a new home haunted by a “trickster” spirit. He describes demonic associations with pagan artifacts in a seminary classroom, sex demons (succubi or incubi) who have sex with individuals, and personal attacks he experienced.

If this is troubling or frightening, Payne goes on to discuss the equipment of the believer to engage in spiritual warfare. He begins with the New Testament and the empowering of Jesus and the apostles by the Holy Spirit. He cites the global pentecostal movement, most of whom need little convincing of the reality of evil powers and the necessity for spiritual warfare in the advance of the gospel. He describes how he learned to “flow with the Spirit” in ministry situations and discerning ones calling in community as one seeks to minister.

The third part of the book discusses various strategies for defeating demons when they oppose evangelism, are angry, put people to sleep, or even intensify insanity. Payne is careful to recognize that there may be genuine medical conditions and urges proper assessment but also argue that such persons are often more vulnerable to spiritual attack, which may intensify symptoms. He argues for a both-and approach.

He discusses the idea of “soul-ties” and how others may be affect through emotional ties by the demonic. He suggests that in some situations, whole families may need to be cleansed because of these ties. An interesting chapter in this section also discusses the exercise of dominion over biting ants and insects an other attacking animals, and even places.

The last section of this book explores different giftings and how they might be employed in spiritual warfare. He considers healing, words of knowledge, and raising the dead. He notes Craig Keener’s documented studies of miracles.

One thing that is striking throughout is Payne’s passion to see people come to faith in Christ, and that much of his spiritual warfare comes in the context of seeking to lead people to faith, or results in people coming to faith as they see the power of God. This seemed consonant with the scriptures and was one of the things that made his accounts credible for me.

It seems that his book assumes prior familiarity with this ministry. He uses language like “prayer covering,” and “pulling down strongholds” that may be new to those who haven’t read Charles Kraft or others engaged in this ministry. I might suggest some explanation would be helpful, or a companion text that goes into greater depth in instruction, which best seems to occur with those practiced in spiritual warfare.

There are a large number of encounters with demons in this book. One may wonder at the prevalence and variety of ways Payne encounters the demonic. What I am struck by though is that with the loosening of sexual ethics resulting in both consensual promiscuous relationships and assaults, with the prevalence of drug usage, and the ways literature and film have opened the door to the use of magic and occult powers, people have opened themselves to influences that leave them increasingly vulnerable to the demonic.

None of this should make us fearful. But it should drive us to examine our preparation for ministry. We may believe in the demonic but are we prepared to confront it? Payne insists God wants to work through us powerfully, and his book is an appeal that we would open up to Him and what He would do in and through us.

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

Review: Beyond Awkward

Beyond AwkwardBeyond Awkward: When Talking About Jesus is Outside Your Comfort ZoneBeau Crosetto. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2014.

Summary: Talking about faith with others often feels awkward and is why most of us don’t do it. This book explores how to press through that awkwardness to important and life-changing conversations.

Beau Crosetto thinks it is worth it to press beyond the awkwardness of speaking about one’s Christian faith. To begin with, he contends that there are people who are waiting for us to show up. Taking risks is worth it when one experiences the awesome privilege of helping someone else believe. That said, there are differences between good awkward and just plain weird and the most important thing is waiting on God and looking for openness. We often think we need to know lots of information when what many are looking for is how can faith in Christ transform a life. What Crosetto shares here in the first part of his book is not necessarily a lot different from other books on Christian witness.

it is what comes next that sets the book apart. Crosetto contends that when we engage in witness, we may be called to engage in spiritual warfare–a word of discernment, a prayer of healing or the demonic confronted. He contends that God can speak to us in these situations and gives help for discerning God’s voice. Using Philip’s encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch, he argues that God’s role is to send us and set up situations, and our role simply to follow in obedience. That doesn’t mean we are passive but rather that we take risks to explore whether God is opening up opportunities with people without forcing unwanted conversations. He deals with how to discern between genuine care and pushiness and concludes with a lengthier chapter on turning conversations toward a discussion of Christ and inviting a response.

I suspect that some who read this will balk as they come across the supernatural material–if they are from Western countries. Others might still find Crosetto “pushy” but what struck me was his stories and how his risks came out of relationship, how he was willing to wait when others weren’t ready, and how his trust that the Spirit of God was in this venture was vindicated over and over by people appreciative that he had raised issues they were struggling with, with the offer of hope in Christ’s transforming work.

In the academic circles I work around, it is easy to get drawn into a world of subtlety, nuance, and indirectness about matters of ultimate importance. Furthermore, I think we often fail to account for the ways spiritual warfare works in darkening minds and obscuring truth. The forthrightness and spiritual discernment this author writes about is vital in this world, even if it may sometimes seem jarring. What won me over in this book is the winsomeness of a person who cares deeply to share with others the reality that can transform others for good and who is willing to be at God’s disposal.

Review: The Drama of Ephesians

Drama of EphesiansThe Drama of Ephesians, Timothy G. Gombis. Downers Grove, InterVarsity Press, 2010.

Summary: This book approaches Ephesians as a drama of the victory of God over cosmic powers in opposition to Him through Christ and through a redeemed and transformed church that acts as Divine Warrior.

That summary might have caught your attention. I’ve always loved the letter to the Ephesians and read numerous commentaries. Most, in some form or another will divide the book in half, with chapters 1-3 comprising the indicative of what God has done in Christ, and chapters 4-6 the resulting imperative of how the church should live as Christ’s redeemed. I was expecting another treatment of this sort when Timothy Gombis caught my attention by talking about drama and reminded me of Dorothy L. Sayers, who wrote an essay asserting that the dogma of the church is the drama–this great, amazing and surprising story that changes everything.

What Gombis gives us here is not another commentary of Ephesians but a perspective on the letter as a whole that ultimately enlists us as players in God’s story. First he gives us the backdrop in explaining the “heavenly” language of Ephesians and the understanding in Paul’s time of the principalities and powers and how some of these function in resistance to God’s purposes in creation. I appreciated his measured approach that takes these realities seriously without becoming obsessed with identification of territorial spirits. There is in fact a cosmic conflict taking place and Ephesians is the drama of how God has achieved a stunning and subversive triumph over these powers and how the church participates in their ultimate defeat. It begins in Ephesians 1:3-19 with a cast of characters incorporated into Christ for the praise of his glory to the rest of the creation. This is a new people with a new identity. Gombis argues that this is not about a “who’s in and who’s out” but rather:

“In the logic of Ephesians, the two groups are not the saved and the damned, the in and the out. The two groups are those whom God is transforming by his love and those to whom the first group is sent in order to embody God’s love” (p. 77).

He goes on in Ephesians 1:20-2:22 to talk about how God in Christ achieved the victory that formed this transformed and transforming group. It begins with the assertion of Christ’s kingship and his conflict with the powers in which he subverts their deathly control over humans, and the power of sin, and their divisions against each other. Through the cross, people are brought from death to life, and from hostile divisions to one new humanity that embodies God’s presence on earth, the temple.

In chapter 3, Paul embodies in his own ministry as an apostle, including his humiliations and imprisonment, the cruciform life and victory of Christ. Paul’s prayer at the end of chapter 3 speaks of the ways God empowers subversive actors like Paul, and the church in the fulfillment of their role in this cosmic war. Chapters 4:1-6:18 then call the Ephesian church into this warfare, where they act as the Divine Warrior. Gombis emphasizes that this is not culture warfare against people and not warfare carried out in arrogance, but rather a church in its unity, and purity, and sacrificial service, and humility that embodies the cross-shaped life.

I not only appreciated the overarching dramatic perspective Gombis gives us of this letter but his willingness to share his own participation in efforts to embody these truths in a church in urban Springfield, Ohio where he was involved at the time this book was written (he has since taken an academic post in Grand Rapids, Michigan). The book reflects extensive research on the cosmic warfare elements in Ephesians and Jewish thought of the time, a vision of Ephesians that is both faithful to the text and captures our imaginations in a fresh way, and is good scholarship that is written to serve the very church he sees as a central actor in this drama of God’s triumph.

Tomorrow’s post will feature an interview with Timothy Gombis.