Understanding Spiritual Warfare: Four Views

April 23, 2013 — Leave a comment


As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a big fan of the multi-view books. I think this is my fifth one to review, but it’s my first one to offer a giveaway for. Keep reading for detail on that.


Understanding Spiritual Warfare opens with a substantial introductory essay. Editors James Beilby and Paul Eddy have done their share of multi-view books, and they provide a strong foundation for the ensuing dialogues. They detail 3 broad issues that inform the spiritual warfare conversation: (1) moral objection to the spiritual warfare language, (2) the actual existence and nature of spirit beings, and (3) Christian perspectives on the theology and practice of spiritual warfare itself (2). Their opening essay contributes a vital part of the discussion in its own right, which is a marked contrast to the last multi-view book I reviewed.

With the stage set, the first contributor is Walter Wink, though his writing is edited together by Gareth Higgins. Wink is the only contributor who denies the existence of Satan and demons and this significantly weakens his overall model, the “World Systems” approach. Instead, he sees what we attribute to be Satan and demons is the emergent “soul” of corrupt world systems. For the most part, conservative evangelicals will find Wink’s liberal theology unpalatable and as David Powlison notes in his response, it really is a different kind of religion (77, in Wink’s case at least). Having misdiagnosed the issue, Wink’s approach is not attractive, but it gives the book an overall balance.

David Powlison is the next contributor, and his approach is dubbed “The Classical Model.” Every setting some biblical foundations, Powlison answers 5 key questions (98):

  • What is the look and feel of spiritual warfare?
  • How do we understand and help those involved in the occult?
  • How do we understand and help those living in addictive bondage to sin?
  • How do we understand the exorcisms in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Acts?
  • What about the experiences that are common in “spiritual warfare ministries” and in animistic cultures?

I like this layout and I think it really hits on the key questions we need to ask and answer on this topic. Honestly, I think the whole book would be stronger if each contributor had had to answer these questions.

Next comes Gregory Boyd with “The Ground-Level Deliverance Model.” I think this is the next strongest approach, even though I would disagree with most of Boyd’s theological positions. He at least takes the text of Scripture seriously and offers a model that grapples with the realities at work (unlike Wink’s approach). Boyd also offers some proposals for actually engaging in spiritual warfare, which are (1) wake up (to the reality of warfare), (2) live a revolting lifestyle against the kingdom of Satan, and (3) stand against demonic oppression and infirmities. (151-154) Powlison and Boyd really seem to be only separated by a theological divide, as Boyd affirms most of Powlison’s position (117-118) and only questions Powlison’s approach to divine providence (118-119) and feels Powlison may have overly domesticated the battle (119-122).

Lastly, C. Peter Wagner and Rebecca Greenwood offer “The Strategic-Level Deliverance Model.” Greenwood does most of the writing, but Wagner is the forefather/innovator of the position. As they understand it, spiritual warfare has a “ground-level” dimension (delivering an individual from demonic influence), a “occult-level” (more organized demonic presence through witchcraft, Satanism, etc.), and finally a “strategic-level” (power confrontations with high-ranking principalities and powers). To the latter, Boyd objects in his essay not to its practice in general, but that the Scriptural precedent seems that angels take care of this without our help (cf. Daniel). However, the majority of the essay is Greenwood offering anecdotal evidence for practicing this very thing. Though this essay is the most overtly focused on explaining how to do spiritual warfare, it has the least developed foundation, something each responder points out.


Overall, this is a very helpful book. The introduction sets out the issues nicely, and the contributors come from a variety of positions. Rather than each being a different shade of evangelical options, only the central two positions are. Though the final position is not entirely incompatible, it represents a well-developed approach that lacks appropriate biblical foundations, which is problematic to say the least. Maybe not as problematic as Wink’s denial of Satan and demons, but his approach is a kind of non-approach anyway.

Readers who want to dig into this subject ought to pick up this book, and here’s how you can win a copy. If you’re in RSS, you’ll probably need to click through to see the PunchTab form. As always, just follow the prompts to earn your entries! I do want to add this disclaimer though: I plan on starting a blog newsletter in the coming weeks or sometime before Google Reader’s demise. By entering your email, you are also adding yourself to the mailing list. You can enter the giveaway without using your email, but if you go that route, that is what you’re doing (and this will be true in giveaways from now on!)

Book Details

  • Editors: James K. Beilby & Paul Rhodes Eddy 
  • Title: Understanding Spiritual Warfare: Four Views
  • PublisherBaker Academic (December 1, 2012)
  • Paperback: 240pgs
  • Reading Level: General Reader/Bible School
  • Audience Appeal: Christians and especially pastors interested in the subject of spiritual warfare
  • Gratis Review Copy: Yes (courtesy of Baker Academic)

Purchase Info

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I'm an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let's connect!

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