Introduction to Understanding Spiritual Warfare: A Comprehensive Guide
[My book, Understanding Spiritual Warfare: A Comprehensive Guide was released by Zondervan two weeks ago. Here is the Introduction to it.]
Both the complexities of spiritual warfare and the controversies that it provokes have made me hesitant to write this book. It has taken several years for me to overcome my reluctance and finally to put words on a page. Two things in particular contributed to this decision.
First, no matter how hard one may try, it is quite simply impossible to ignore the vast amount of material in both the OT and NT that speaks of Satan, demons, and our incessant battle with the temptation and oppression they try to impose on Christian men and women. The only way to justify avoiding these many biblical texts is to argue that the word “Satan” does not point to a living, personal being whose intentions are to undermine the spiritual flourishing of Christians and to destroy the kingdom of Christ. No, “Satan” is simply a symbol, or perhaps a poetic metaphor that refers to all manner of evil, both moral and natural. At most, it refers to what people in ancient times once believed, but we today are far too intellectually sophisticated and technologically savvy to embrace such outmoded and superstitious ideas. Both Satan and demons were a part of a worldview that has long since lost its usefulness and cogency. This is the 21st century, for heaven’s sake.
Early on in this book you will quickly see that one cannot so easily dispense with the plethora of biblical assertions concerning the reality of Satan and his demonic hordes. If the worldview of the Bible is no longer relevant, then such a verdict must apply equally to the incarnation of Christ, the miracles he performed, his death and bodily resurrection, together with the hope of salvation and his second coming to consummate history as we know it, just to mention a few. The biblical worldview, put simply, is God’s worldview. And notwithstanding the many industrial and scientific advances we’ve come to enjoy in our day, I have more confidence in God’s inspired verdict on what is real and not real than I do in the opinions of the most educated and allegedly enlightened minds of this or any other century.
My point, then, is that one cannot claim to believe in the divine origin and inspiration of the Bible and so casually dismiss its extensive and unambiguous teaching on the existence and activity of Satan. Simply put, I’ve written this book because I believe to be true what the Bible says about this invisible enemy.
My second reason for writing is directly related to what I’ve been doing for the past 46 years. I’m a local church pastor, and I encounter on almost a daily basis men and women of all ages who are sorely oppressed, tormented and tempted by demonic powers. But the good news is that I’ve also witnessed firsthand their deliverance, their freedom from the influence of the enemy, and the resultant joy, peace, and spiritual flourishing that comes with experiencing the victory that Jesus died and rose again to give us. You will read, in what follows, numerous personal accounts of such victories, together with practical guidance on how you, too, can extinguish the “flaming darts” (Eph. 6:16) of the “cosmic powers” and “spiritual forces of evil” (Eph. 6:12) that so often bombard your life.
Although the sub-title to this book uses the word “comprehensive,” there are undoubtedly some issues that I must address only briefly. The wide array of topics and the seemingly endless controversies that surround them unavoidably impose on me certain limitations. Still, though, I’ve done everything possible to address the most pressing and urgent issues with which most Christians wrestle, as well as the questions they so frequently ask.
You may already be asking yourself, “What approach, theologically speaking, does Storms take in this book?” That’s a perfectly reasonable question to ask. There are, after all, numerous models and perspectives on spiritual warfare circulating in the broader body of Christ. There are more progressive (dare I say, liberal?) perspectives that, as noted above, minimize the problem by delegitimizing the very existence of Satan and his demons. They would argue that the problem of evil is more structural and systemic than personal. That is to say, the principalities and powers mentioned in Scripture are not living, thinking, conniving spirits but the interior structures of society, be they political, governmental, social, educational, etc., that exist to maintain power and control over the marginalized and weak in our world.
Although I will on occasion disagree with David Powlison’s approach to spiritual warfare, on this one point I am in complete agreement with him:
“[We need to know] that ‘Satan’ is not merely a personification of impersonal forces (like ‘Mother Nature’). Evil comes in person, a perverse covenant lord aiming to command our disloyalty to the true King. The devil is a purposeful, intelligent, malevolent personal agent. As an immoral being, he is potent, culpable, and doomed. To react against Jesus is to live in the image of this devil, obeying his desires and loving darkness (John 3:19; 8:44). Behind the webs of deception spun by individuals and ideologies, a liar works. Behind the violence and violation done by evildoers, whether individual or institutional, a murderer works” (“The Classical Model,” in Understanding Spiritual Warfare: Four Views, edited by James K. Beilby & Paul Rhodes Eddy (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2012), 91.
Then there are the many Bible-believing evangelicals who embrace a cessationist view of spiritual gifts (such as Powlison), according to which the more overtly miraculous gifts of the Spirit are no longer available to the church, having been sovereignly withdrawn by God (or at least, no longer bestowed by him) sometime soon after the death of the Apostle John, likely toward the end of the first century a.d. These believers do not in the least deny the existence of Satan and demons, but their approach to facilitating the spiritual freedom of the oppressed is markedly different from the view that I will take in this book.
I am unapologetically a functioning, practicing charismatic. One need only consult my recent book, Understanding Spiritual Gifts: A Comprehensive Guide (Zondervan, 2020) to gain a sense for how I believe the gifts of the Spirit to be operative today. So, in the interests of providing the reader with fair warning, I do believe in speaking in tongues, the gifts of prophecy and discerning of spirits, divine healing, and the ministry of casting out demons and providing, in God’s grace and power, deliverance for those who are either demonized or oppressed or sorely harassed by the enemy.
If that is off-putting to you, I do hope that you will at least dig into the pages that follow to hear a perspective that I believe will be of great benefit to your spiritual life and perhaps also to those who come your way. If you are at least only mildly intrigued by this, I welcome you to walk with me through this challenging dimension of Christian life and ministry.
Scattered throughout the pages of this book are real-life testimonies of men and women who have experienced deliverance from demonic oppression and now walk in the joy and freedom of inner spiritual healing, and in the case of some, physical healing as well. Each has given permission for their story to be told, although their names have been changed. Each of them spent eight weeks going through an extensive time of ministry that was launched here at Bridgeway Church over two years ago. Each session, each week, often would last up to two hours. It involved digging deeply into each individual’s past and present experience. These were not counseling sessions, although we highly value that aspect of ministry for God’s people. It was a highly intensive, carefully constructed sequence of prayer, confession, repentance, and affirmation of the truth of God’s Word as it applied to the lives of those who chose to walk down this path. I trust that you will be greatly encouraged to hear of how the Holy Spirit facilitated the healing and freedom of so many, and how he can do the same for you.