Growing up in a Baptist church was great for my understanding of the Bible, but it left me with some questions, like, why does Acts talk a lot about demons, but we don’t see them today? Missionaries would sometimes talk about “coming under spiritual attack.” I knew it was biblical, since Paul says our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but I wondered how one would recognize it from regular bad-stuff-happens. Many years later, I saw this book at a friend’s house. A beginner’s guide to spiritual warfare? Yeah, that sounds like what I need. I thought it would talk about demons and what to do about them, but it was more practical.

The authors start out by saying that while it’s easy to go overboard with the whole demon thing, ignoring them is not the right answer, either. 1 Peter 5:8-9 says that we are to resist the devil, not ignore him. Just as an army needs to have some knowledge of it’s enemy (and even know who its enemies are), we need to have some idea what we are fighting against. We in the West are very uncomfortable with demons because, unbeknownst to us, our Englightenment worldview excludes the possibility of demons. The Enlightenment worldview says that we are human because we are rational (for example, “I think, therefore I am”). Furthermore, rationality, by means of the scientific method, is the only way to discover truth about the world. The spiritual world, if it exists, is not detectable by the scientific method, so the proper thing to do is to ignore it.

The biblical view says that there are three realms: the divine realm (God), angels and fallen angels, and the natural world, including us. Furthermore, it says that our humanity is defined by our relationship to God and that divine revelation is one of the primary ways that we learn about the world. As a Christian we are obviously ok with some supernatural (namely God), but it does not extend far. Demons, no way. Miracles? Probably fakers, that stopped happening in Acts. God talking us? Well, ok, maybe, but it’s probably just wishful thinking by that person. This is our Enlightenment worldview speaking, however the biblical worldview is very clear that God intervenes in the world regularly. Governments are appointed by God and a little bit of faith can literally move mountains. Michael and another angel fought against the demonic “prince of Persia” to bring God’s answer to Daniel’s prayer. Jesus casted demons out regularly and Peter warns us that the devil is like a roaring lion looking for who he can devour.

So how do you tell if a problem is caused by a demon or by something “ordinary” and psychological or something? Western thinking likes either/or questions like this, but this is really an invalid question based on an incorrect, dualistic view of the world. The biblical view is that the spiritual and the natural are related. The problem might be caused by Satan, or it might be a result of the ordinary problems caused by a bunch of self-oriented sinners living around each other, but you can be assured that either way, Satan will be lying to you about who God is and/or who you are.

The devil’s main strategy is to deceive us about who God is, and if we are a Christian, who we are. Therefore, the main battlefield is our mind: either we believe his deceptions and remain in bondage, or we believe the truth and are freed. The truth is that, in Christ, God is: loving, caring, good, merciful, gives unconditional grace, present, gives good gifts, nurtures, accepts us, reliable, just. Satan will attempt to use our circumstances as evidence that suggests that God is perhaps maybe not completely above reproach in a small area. “Surely if you eat from that one tree you will be like God, are you sure he isn’t maybe possibly holding out on you?” “Don’t you think God not satisfying your loneliness might be a sign that maybe he doesn’t really care that deeply about you—of course he loves you—but, maybe, you know, in a more general sort of impersonal way?” Likewise, the truth is that we are children of God, adoped into his family, unable to be separated from him or his great love, viewed as perfect in Christ, seated on a throne in the heavenly realm next to God, sons and daughters of the King—princes and princesses of Heavan. But Satan will say, “really? perfect?? how about X, how can God possibly consider that perfect? Yeah, Jesus took away the punishment, but God expects perfection, so, don’t you think you need to fix X before thinking about acceptance?”

Listening to those lies will keep people from us from coming to God, which is basically being put in bondage. If we can’t trust God to satisfy the desires he put in us our only choice is to do it ourselves. We develop coping mechanisms for the fact that this only sort of works—the Bible calls them sin. And all the devil needs to do to control us is remind of the lie “look at the happy familiy over there, too bad God didn’t give that to you,” and bam! you’re right back not trusting God and unhappy and needing to seek out satisfaction yourself, instead of splashing people around you with God’s living water that Jesus promised us. “What we usually call counseling is often discipling—learning the truth about God and the truth about our relationship to Him. If young Christians were properly discipled, many of the problems that later take them to professional counselors would not develop” (p. 104).

Spiritual warfare is primarily submitting ourselves to God and resisting the devil (James 4:7). We submit ourselves to God by confessing our sin, realizing why it is wrong (not just “God told us not too,” but why He hates it), repenting of it, receiving His forgiveness, forgiving those who have wronged us, and committing ourselves to living out the truth that God tells us about who He is and who we are. We resist the devil through the truth in God’s word, by taking every thought captive, through the power of the Holy Spirit and the name of Jesus, and through prayer. It requires an up-to-date relationship with God. The more intimate our relationship is with him, the more we recognize His voice and reject the lies of the enemy.

This was a very insightful book to read. The authors have a big task: convince the reader, who is probably skeptical about “this whole demons thing,” about the need for spiritual warfare, show how we are lied to, and how we should respond. They accomplish their task well. Everything is very biblically based—the authors taught at a conservative seminary for their career, and personally transitioned from a ignore-the-devil attitude to a more charismatic approach, but they kept their biblical rigour.  Probably the best aspect of the book is how the authors succinctly capture biblical truths and challenge the reader with them. For example, “People may not live what they profess, but they always live what they believe. It is what Jesus meant when he said ‘by their fruit you will recognize them.’” (p. 35)  So while the book is not very long, it packs a lot of challenging truth in a small space. If you are wondering “‘spiritual warfare,’ what’s that all about?” this book is for you. If you’re freaked out by all the charismatic talk of spiritual warfare and want a grounded, thoughtful explanation, this book is definitely for you.
Review: 10
This is a very pithy, wise, challenging book. It manages to cover a broad range of topics, often with only a brief paragraph, but that paragraph really gives the foundation for thinking about it further. Many times I read their explanation and said “wow!” Yet somehow, it doesn’t strike me as a 100-year book, even though I think it should be. Perhaps I just am not fond of conversational style, even though it is effectively used here? As I read this book I kept thinking “10!” I took copious notes, and I cannot come up with coherent criticisms, so I’m giving this a 10.