Book Review: Understanding Spiritual Warfare: Four Views

 

I just got the pre-release copy of Understanding Spiritual Warfare: Four Views, edited by my friends James Beilby and Paul Eddy (IVP, 2012). The introduction alone is worth the price of the book!  It is the clearest, most comprehensive, yet most succinct overview of the concept of spiritual warfare throughout church history that I’ve ever found.

Following the introduction, Walter Wink (with Gareth Higgins and Michael Hardin), David Powlison, myself and C. Peter Wagner (with Rebecca Greenwood) each contribute an essay representing a distinct perspective on spiritual warfare. Each author also offers a response to the other three essays.  You probably weren’t aware that Christians held such different views on this topic, and, in fact, until the publication of this book there was no standard way of delineating between these different perspectives.  In the course of defending our own distinct perspective, each author was asked to answer three questions: Are Satan, principalities and powers, and demons real? Can Christians be possessed? And, are we supposed to engage with “territorial” powers?

Each of the essays is well written and well argued, and I felt the exchanges were engaging, spirited and respectful.  In my opinion, the most “out there” essay was by Wink, who argues that Satan and the principalities and powers don’t exist apart from human social systems.  While I firmly dissent from this opinion, I felt that Wink was the only author other than myself who understands the systemic nature of evil that is fueled by these fallen powers.  The most intriguing essay, on the other hand, would probably be the one written by Wagner, simply because his illustrative stories are so…well… with all due respect, so very odd. Read it, I think you’ll agree.  Curiously enough, there was no essay with which I agreed and disagreed more adamantly than this one.  While it was superbly written and well argued, I found Powlison’s essay to be the least biblical and least gripping. Not that he doesn’t have some good things to say, but it frankly struck me as a westernized, almost psychologized, revision of the New Testament’s view of the demonic realm. And my essay…well, I’ll just say that it’s the one I found myself agreeing the most with. Surprise!

If there is a flaw in the book, it could only be that the line between the four “models” at points seemed a little blurry and somewhat contrived. This is a minor flaw, however, and I think it’s a weakness that probably should be expected since, unlike other “Four Views” books, there wasn’t a clear-cut distinction between various schools of thought on spiritual warfare prior to the publication of this book.

If you’re at all interested in spiritual warfare — and if you’re a kingdom person, how could you not be? — I have no doubt that you’ll thoroughly enjoy and benefit from this book.

Blessings,
Greg

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