Popular contemporary songwriter Graham Kendrick supports ‘strategic level spiritual warfare; (SLSW). ‘Satan’, he writes, ‘has the real-estate of villages, towns and cities over-shadowed by ruling spirits which work untiringly at his command to bring about his malevolent will – fostering fear, violence and deception’.1
Last month we began to review Michael Reid’s recent book on SLSW. Only a few Christian writers have questioned such teaching, including, for example, the claim that ‘warfare prayer’ alone was responsible for the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain, and the deposing of certain ruthless dictators.
However, Reid maintains that SLSW teaching is ‘without Scriptural foundation’ (reference 2; hereafter all cited page numbers refer to this same book). He could not be clearer or stronger in his attitude towards it. But how does he explain SLSW beliefs and practices? His explanation is equally forthright.
For Reid, their beliefs and claims are ‘based on experiential evaluation and questionable empirical evidence’. Uncompromising language indeed!
To many Charismatic and Pentecostal churches, Reid’s rejection of SLSW will come as a surprise. He is, after all, a Charismatic himself.
Nevertheless, he is out of step with the massive amount of literature produced in recent years commending, articulating and developing SLSW teaching and applying it to areas such as evangelism, church growth and prayer.
As many as 509 books dealing with ‘spiritual warfare’ were added to one worldwide database between 1960 and 1986 alone, including an astonishing increase of 523% during 1985 and 1986 (p.107).
Beyond 1986, through the 1990s and into the new millennium, a ‘plethora of literature’, CDs, videos and audio cassettes have appeared, as well as thousands of internet sites on the subject.
Reid proceeds to identify three ‘significant and interrelated concepts’ central to SLSW – concepts which make it both appealing and dangerous.
Truth kept back?
One such concept relates to what Reid calls a ‘hermeneutical approach’ (p.112). In my view, he could have described the concept more precisely, but he is concerned that some SLSW advocates, like Peter Wagner, base their beliefs not on the Bible but on ‘personal ministry experiences’ (p.113) – or what he calls ‘consensus’ or ‘positive, even dramatic, results’.
Charles Kraft goes so far as to suggest that the Lord may have kept back some important spiritual truths from inclusion in the Bible so that people could discover them in the same way that scientists or historians advance their knowledge of the world (p.114).
This is disturbing and Reid is right to condemn this approach, since it seriously undermines both the authority and sufficiency of Scripture.
A second concept central to SLSW is the idea that our Western ‘worldview’ prevents us from recognising the existence and reality of demons – who allegedly influence human life on earth (pp.115-120) and create many problems for us.
Significantly, the Lausanne 1993 Statement on Spiritual Warfare expressed concern that such a view could make Christendom ‘revert to think and operate on pagan worldviews’ (p.120).
And Reid is right to emphasise that ‘Christianity is a supernatural faith’ (p.119) because the Holy Spirit uses and blesses the Word in irresistible ways to save people and change communities.
The third concept underlying SLSW methodology and teaching is the crucial importance of observation and experience. This is, supposedly, a valuable source of understanding and ‘is valid unless contradicted by the Word of God’ (p.125). This seems to overlap considerably with the first concept Reid identifies.
Sadly, where there is disagreement between the Word and ‘experience’, it is the former which SLSW requires to be adjusted and reinterpreted. One illustration given by Reid of the priority attached to experience, is Peter Wagner’s ‘extensive use’ of ‘anecdotal evidence’ (p.130), mostly in the context of anthropology.
Basic to SLSW teaching is the concept of territorial spirits – coupled with the strategies proposed to remove them.
Wagner, for example, thinks that 2 Corinthians 4:4 (‘the god of this world has blinded the minds of them who do not believe’) may refer, beyond individuals, to districts, tribes, countries and various kinds of social networks and structures, where Satan holds sway with his evil hosts (p.132).
However, the text cannot stand Wagner’s interpretation. What it teaches is Satan’s universal influence in blinding ‘the mind’ or understanding of all unbelievers. His purpose is to keep them individually and collectively in darkness – not just some of them, or some more than others.
Does Ephesians 6:10-18, on ‘the whole armour of God’, give more support to SLSW teaching? Reid accepts the reality, intensity and extent of spiritual warfare, as well as the power of the enemy (p.135).
However, nowhere in Ephesians 6 does the Apostle suggest that individual spirits are associated with particular territories, or that they need to be named before the gospel can be preached effectively in those areas (p.143).
But is there more demonic activity in some areas than in others? Reid rejects both ‘spiritual mapping’ (pp.143-146) and ‘identificational repentance’ (pp.147-152) as unbiblical strategies.
The author is also unhappy with the extremes of ‘warfare prayer’ and ‘strategic-level intercession’. What reason does he give? ‘There is no biblical validation for the notion that the glorious truths of redemption are insufficient to destroy every satanic stronghold’ (p.161). After all, the devil was defeated at Calvary (Hebrews 2:14).
For the reviewer, the case-study with its statistical results (pp.169-256) was of limited value, partly because of the small statistical sample used and the fact it was restricted to a four-day seminar. A thorough-going biblical analysis of the whole subject would have been more valuable in its place.
In the closing chapter, entitled ‘Theological reflections’, the author brings together in four sections the various questions and conclusions discussed in the earlier chapters. This is a more helpful chapter but it tends to be superficial, depending more on helpful quotations from reputable preachers and theologians than on Scripture.
In the first section Reid reflects on the question of whether or not SLSW teaching is ‘biblical fact or methodological fiction’ (pp.258-266).
Quoting writers like Wayne Grudem, Iain Murray, John MacArthur and Martyn Lloyd-Jones for support, Reid reiterates a point interwoven throughout the book – that SLSW teaching stands on a ‘shaky foundation’ (p.259) and promotes a methodology ‘which bears little resemblance to the gospel of Jesus Christ’ (p.260).
It is strong language on Reid’s part, but he has yet more to say in his condemnation of SLSW. This teaching ‘has usurped the authority of the scriptures’ (p.261) and has ‘firmly fixed’ its focus on Satan and his demonic host rather than on Christ.
That is not all. He continues, ‘there has been a corresponding demotion in respect to God, who is reduced to a position of passive attendance awaiting the initiative of man in order to act’ (p.262).
Reid also concludes that SLSW proponents are ‘effectively promoting a “gospel-plus theory”‘ (p.265). I agree.
Knowing the truth
In his second section the author emphasises the importance of ‘knowledge of the truth’. The point is a necessary and welcome one. But there is no application to SLSW teaching and the discussion is brief (pp.266-272).
His third section focuses on ‘the gospel of the New Covenant’ (pp.272-279). Here he stresses that ‘it is vitally important for each and every true believer to understand the gospel of Jesus Christ biblically’ (p.272).
He draws attention to divine sovereignty in salvation and its God-centredness – in plan, accomplishment and application (pp. 273-274).
As a consequence, ‘Satan has no real power to obstruct the work of the gospel … he is already defeated’. It is only as a result of new birth that ‘the impossible is made possible and the sinner bows in glad surrender to the Lord of glory’ (p.277).
In the fourth and final section, ‘God’s remedy: the preaching of the gospel’ (pp. 280-288), Reid criticises superficial preaching, the desire to be sensational, and the SLSW error that the devil and his work are ‘impeding the progress of the gospel’ (p.280).
What is the remedy? ‘A return to the old, old story of redemption; the story of a God of love who sent his Son; the story of a Saviour who bled and died to open the way back to fellowship with the Father; the story of the Holy Spirit who came to quicken and make alive those dead in trespasses and sins; the story of a mighty Christ and an eternally defeated foe’ (p.286).
Reid’s book is helpful and we must pray that its message will be heeded.
1.Charismatics and the New Millennium by Nigel Scotland, Eagle, 2000, p.136.
2. Strategic level spiritual warfare: a modern mythology, by Michael S. B. Reid, Xulon Press, 2002, p.106.