Return to Journal Index Menu | Go to Main Menu


Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society, Spring 1997 -- Volume 10:18


THE GOSPEL AND SPIRITUAL WARFARE:

A REVIEW OF PETER WAGNER’S CONFRONTING THE POWERS1

JOHN F. HART
Professor of Bible
Moody Bible Institute
Chicago, IL

All those who are concerned for the content of the gospel should be equally concerned for the spread of the gospel. The purity of the good news of salvation is irrelevant if it is never preached, and therefore never heard and believed. It is precisely because the content of the gospel message is so precious and so liberating that Paul could affirm an OT thought, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!" (Rom 10:15b, NIV). But someone must bring the good news of eternal life if people are to receive it. The apostle further explained, "And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?" (Rom 10:14b, NIV).2

But unknown to many Christians, some missiologists are spearheading a movement to drastically change the way Evangelicals think about the spread of the gospel. These changes primarily regard the inclusion of new approaches to spiritual warfare as essential elements for world evangelism methodology.

Spiritual warfare is unquestionably a biblical concept. Every Christian wrestles against personal but invisible, wicked forces (Eph 6:12). Yet a large portion of modern spiritual warfare teaching derives its theology from empirical data and unbiblical sources. Combining evangelism and world missions methodology with these forms of spiritual warfare philosophy poses serious problems. Its hidden dangers lie in how some spiritual warfare teachings entice Christians into forms of "Christian spiritism" and other highly questionable practices. At the same time, valuable human resources for spreading the gospel may be misused so that the gospel itself is not preached.

These alarming trends are evident in Peter Wagner’s most recent book, Confronting the Powers. Are such stringent criticisms fair and honest against well-intentioned people like Wagner whose hearts long for reaching the world for Christ? Our intentions are to substantiate this criticism in the following review.

 

I. Background and Purpose for the Book

A. Wagner, and the A. D. 2000 and Beyond Movement

Confronting the Powers is a shrewd apologetic to counter recent criticism of the author’s strange approaches to world evangelization and prayer for the lost.3 Peter Wagner, for years a leading expert in church growth, is currently coordinator for the United Prayer Track of the A. D. 2000 and Beyond Movement. The A. D. 2000 and Beyond Movement, now headed by Luis Bush, has unofficially taken the baton of world evangelization from the first (1974) and second (1989) Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization.

According to his own testimony, Wagner accepted his new responsibilities as coordinator for the United Prayer Track on the one condition that he be allowed to continue his work with the Spiritual Warfare Network. Wagner’s summary is interesting: "Luis Bush readily agreed, realizing ahead of time that this would attach the whole A. D. 2000 Movement to some of the more radical forms of praying for the lost with which some were experimenting" (italics added).4

B. Radical New Strategies for Evangelism

Wagner believes that God has given "strategic-level spiritual warfare" to the Church as the greatest power boost for worldwide evangelism since William Carey’s pioneering missionary endeavors. This "new spiritual technology," as Wagner dubs it, involves much more than casting demons out of people (which he refers to as "ground-level spiritual warfare"). It involves even more than aggressively confronting stronger demonic powers propagating the occult (which he labels "occult-level spiritual warfare"5). Strategic-level spiritual warfare incorporates the direct confrontation of territorial spirits—demons believed to be controlling geographical regions in order to dominate people groups. But the new methodology also incorporates other novel strategies such as "spiritual mapping," "identificational repentance," and "prophetic acts."

Spiritual mapping is a strategy to "map out" the demons’ geographical activity with the help of individuals who, according to Wagner, have "gifts of prophetic espionage" or a spiritual "hunting instinct to track down the enemy’s manipulations."6 This strategy also includes learning the names of controlling demons who manipulate political figures or inflict social oppression. Spiritual mapping incorporates "overt and systematic attempts to discover the devices of Satan,"7 with the goal of praying more effectively against Satan’s control of those without Christ.

Identificational repentance involves Christian confession of the sins of a non-Christian people group so as to help "get to the roots of any present-day social and spiritual sicknesses" that prevent the reception of the gospel.8 Prophetic acts are public displays styled after the ministries of the OT prophets, intended for the purpose of community evangelization. It is implied (at least by the author’s illustrations from history9) that, like the prophets of old, we should challenge demons head-on by destroying pagan shrines and idols. Legal and ethical ramifications of such practices are altogether ignored.

 

C. An Overview of the Content of the Book

Two major divisions outline the contents of the book. After tracing the development of spiritual warfare and prayer (and the controversy it has evoked) in an introductory chapter, the author takes a chapter each to evaluate the issues of hermeneutics, epistemology, and history. A second division attempts to argue from the biblical evidence. Wagner examines the ministries of Jesus, Peter, and Paul for evidence to support his strategic-level spiritual warfare. Final chapters focus on the same teachings in the record of the church at Ephesus, and the teachings of other epistles. An appendix in the book explains the philosophy of prayer for world evangelization written by Wagner and adopted by the A. D. 2000 United Prayer Track.

 

D. Charismatic Presuppositions to Spiritual Warfare

Behind Wagner’s approach to spiritual warfare for world outreach is an unrelenting commitment to "power evangelism"—the need for signs and wonders to promote the gospel. Wagner’s self-confessed mentor is John Wimber,10 founder of the Vineyard Church and leader of the Signs and Wonders movement (also known as the Third Wave, and recently identified with the Toronto Blessing11). Cessationism is regularly criticized, since in Wagner’s view God is still communicating to the believer through audible voices, visions, dreams, prophets, personal appearances, and the gift of discerning spirits.

This contention is supported by a distinction he wishes to find between two Greek words: the logos of God (the written Word) and the rJhma of God (God’s speaking directly to the believer today).12 Wagner also claims he came into the charismatic experience through a rJhma. After suffering from incurable headaches, he was healed once and for all:

Then in 1983, John Wimber received a rJema word from God that the root cause of my headaches had been a demon and that I was to drive it out myself rather than ask someone else to do it for me. I obeyed. I cast out the demon in the name of Jesus, and I have not suffered any such headaches since that day.13

Absolutely no exegetical backing is given for the logos/rJhma dichotomy except to quote a verse where each Greek word is used. This misuse of Scripture is inexcusable for one who claims biblical scholarship.14 Most often, logos and the rJhma are used synonymously in the Greek NT.15 Even a quick scan of a Greek concordance will verify that rJhma is not used of God’s direct communication to the believer in voices or dreams. Whatever study Wagner has done, he has overlooked the well-known exhortation from the lips of Jesus in Matt 4:4, "Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word [Greek, rJhma] that proceeds from the mouth of God."

Since the word logos is not used in Jesus’ statement, does Wagner believe that Christians are to live on every direct communication given to us personally by God? Is the written Word of God, Wagner’s logos, excluded from the command? As a final touch to convince his readers, Wagner grossly inflates the opinion polls on his views: "I dare say that the standard-brand evangelical doctrine of ‘logos only’ that we were taught might now find a place on an ‘endangered doctrines’ list, about to become extinct."16

One of the recent miracles that has been widely used to support charismatic teachings is the report of numerous Christians who have had their teeth filled supernaturally. Wagner, responding to criticism of these apparent miracles, writes:

For the last several years I have traveled frequently to Argentina and Brazil. I have talked to many people who have had their teeth filled by the power of God, including some who have had old bridges removed and replaced and some who have seen new teeth grow into places where former teeth have been extracted. I have personally looked into enough mouths and cross-examined enough people who have experienced divine dental work to be completely convinced, beyond any doubt, that this miracle has happened and is happening with considerable frequency in those two nations. Most mouths I have looked into in Brazil have had teeth miraculously filled—not with a white substance such as in Argentina, but with gold!17

Personally, I find these reports far removed from the miracles of Jesus and the apostles in the Gospels and Acts. While I do believe that God is concerned with the minor details of our lives, I think Wagner has trivialized the miracle-powers of Christ. I don’t see Jesus miraculously restoring broken fingernails and healing sprained ankles. If God wanted to heal, why would He fill teeth or repair old bridges? Why would He not completely restore the teeth so that no filling or bridge was necessary? But much more disturbing than Wagner’s theology of healing is his epistemological basis for establishing the truth of these miracles.

 

II. Theological, Biblical, and Historical Issues

A. A Subjective and Relativistic Theology

Traditionally, Evangelicals have argued that experience and ministry ought to flow out of theology and Scripture. Wagner offers us a paradigm shift: theology must flow out of ministry (à la experience in exorcisms and healings)!18 Correspondingly, emphasis is placed on subjective experience over the objective Word of God. Personal experience becomes the verifiable proof of new doctrines about the spirit world. Theology is defined as "a human attempt to explain God’s Word and God’s works in a reasonable and systematic way."19 The paragraphs which follow this definition are given over to a discussion of the words attempt and human. In light of this, the charge of theological relativism does not seem to be an unfair assessment.

In one place, the author comments: "Much ministry experience has verified that this [a spirit of unforgiveness] is one of the major obstacles to personal deliverance and also to corporate or social deliverance on the strategic level."20 Such statements may appear reasonable to many Christians. But establishing doctrine by the subjectivity of experience yields utterly contradictory results. Being of charismatic persuasion, Wagner holds to speaking in tongues as a valid gift for today. Yet another veteran spiritual warfare counselor has determined, by addressing demons in Christians, that speaking in tongues is always a counterfeit gift.21 Once removed from the scrutiny of the Bible, spiritual warfare experiences do produce a human attempt at theology. Wagner himself admits that it is best to be always tentative in one’s conclusions in discerning knowledge of the invisible world.22 Yet the majority of the book defends a certainty about the spirit world through experiential knowledge. For example, Wagner explains that through the gift of prophecy and the gift of the discernment of spirits, "we can know what has and what has not been bound in heaven" (italics added).23 So while theology is a "human attempt" to describe truth, what we can really trust is experience and credible eyewitnesses.24 This is a serious attack on evangelical epistemology.

In the book, the reader will find a wide array of speculative theology to support the author’s radical strategic-level warfare. Very few of these innovative ideas are exegetically based.25 A small sampling includes: 1) praying on location for a community, region, or nation is inherently more powerful than praying at home;26 2) demons working in the occult are significantly different in their strategies than those involved in demon possession and demand distinct warfare approaches to defeat them;27 and 3) demons have two kinds of names—functional names and proper names.28

B. A Flawed Epistemology and Hermeneutic

In Confronting the Powers, spiritual warfare is handled like a Western social science involving case studies, innovative experimentation, and the gathering of data from all sources. Wagner writes:

Nevertheless, certain people such as shamans, witch doctors, practitioners of Eastern religions, New Age gurus or professors of the occult on university faculties are examples of the kind of people who may have much more extensive knowledge of the spirit world than most Christians have.29

 

Wagner would have us believe that all innovative methods involving spiritual warfare are amoral. As his defense for experimenting with new techniques for discovering the spirit realm, he cites the debates Christians have over amoral issues such as erecting church buildings, celebrating Christmas, using instruments for music in church, and preaching in stadiums.30 Several times he mentions the first reactions to the Sunday School Movement in the early 1900s as a parallel to the rejection of his new techniques.

The false assumption is made that every NT believer has authority over the demonic world and therefore can investigate and interrogate demons, sifting for profitable knowledge to advance God’s kingdom. No mention is made of God’s commands that seeking information from the spirit world is strictly prohibited. To the contrary, he advocates "first-hand research into the world of darkness" and chides those who are unwilling to listen to "independent expertise in demonology."31 The Deut 29:29 instructions are violated: "The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever…"

Common among modern spiritual warfare advocates is a repeated criticism of Western Christianity’s view of the supernatural.32 Wagner fits the characterization. In his view, the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century has maintained a dominant influence on Western Christians, limiting their worldview to a naturalistic outlook. This is regularly offered as the core reason why Western Christians, in their fight against demons, reject charismatic techniques (i.e., casting out demons, confronting territorial spirits, etc.). American Christians too readily verify reality by their five senses. The result is that Christians bring a rationalistic preunderstanding to their interpretation of Scripture.33

What we have here is the proverbial straw man. Most evangelical Christians do believe in demons, angels, and the supernatural—just not in Wagner’s variety. Instead of Western Christians being blinded by rationalism, Wagner and other modern spiritual warfare teachers have been biased in their epistemology and hermeneutics by animism34 and Western relativism. In attempting to take out a speck from the eye of American Christianity, spiritual warfare advocates may find a log in their own eye.35 They themselves too readily verify reality by their five senses!

Recent trends in hermeneutics have tended to question all facets of Western thought, even the trend among Evangelicals to question the ability to interpret the Scripture with certainty.36 Silva writes, "If there is anything distinctive about contemporary hermeneutics it is precisely its emphasis on the subjectivity and relativity of interpretation" (italics original).37 Given the dramatic cultural shift in the West away from a rationalistic worldview, it is not difficult to see that Wagner has employed this culturally-prejudiced, anti-Western worldview that he has superimposed on Scripture. Although he is sensitive to this charge, his attempt to refute it is unavailing.

While a high view of Scripture is directly affirmed, the majority of Confronting the Powers renders such affirmations nugatory. Much of Wagner’s teachings, which he argues are essential for victory over demons, is never found in the Bible. He freely admits this himself.38 Other teachings are found in the Gospels but not in the epistles (e.g., casting out demons). With these he contends that many of the things that the apostles taught or practiced do not need to be repeated in the epistles because the apostles took these truths for granted. By this hermeneutic the author sidesteps progressive revelation, explaining away the unique role of the epistles over the Gospels for the church age.39

The unique role of the apostles for the church age is also degraded. It is acknowledged that the apostles would not have accepted anything that contradicted their OT Scriptures.40 Still, Wagner feels that the apostles were open to new phenomena that the Holy Spirit wanted to do through them. The modern church should follow this apostolic model. But do all believers have authority equal to the authority of the apostles for receiving new teachings? Can we now suspend Jude’s teaching that the faith was once for all entrusted to the saints (Jude 3)? Has the clear teaching of Peter been set aside: "His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness…" (2 Pet 1:3, NIV)? Strategic-level spiritual warfare strikes at the very heart of the spiritual experience—the all-sufficiency of the Scriptures.41

Beyond this, we contend that strategic-level spiritual warfare does indeed contradict the Scriptures. It is biblically unclear that demons work within specific geographical territories. So little scriptural revelation exists to support this idea that it must be unessential for our successful victory over demons.42 Yet all of strategic-level warfare hangs on this teaching. After quoting 2 Cor 4:3–4 regarding Satan’s power to blind the minds of people so as to obstruct faith in the gospel, Wagner rallies us to pray against territorial spirits behind this demonic strategy. " I believe," he remarks, "that God has provided ways and means for His people to remove many of these obstacles to evangelization."43 But this satanic strategy is not a blindness on people-groups, nations, or geographic domains, but on individuals—every individual outside Christ. We might even conclude, based on Wagner’s theology, that if Jesus or Paul had identified the name of the leading territorial demon over the Jewish nation, they could have prevented the national rejection of the gospel!

 

C. A Reconstructed History

Most of the chapter on history struggles to explain why so few examples can be gleaned from past centuries that support strategic-level warfare. One of the premier historical proofs for Wagner’s spiritual warfare is the analysis of the history of the early church offered by Ramsay MacMullen in Christianizing the Roman Empire (A. D. 100–400).44 Wagner cites this work repeatedly.45 According to Wagner’s citations, MacMullen believes that Christianity conquered the Roman Empire in the first four centuries primarily by the demonstrations of power in casting out demons.

But MacMullen’s work is cited in ways that disregard its purpose and scope, as well as its theology.46 MacMullen specifically states that his intention is history, not theology.47 Accordingly, he counts as converts those who come into the church from pagan backgrounds, regardless of their comprehension of Christian doctrine or previous Christian instruction. He freely admits that more "converts" came into the church by emotional experiences than any mental interaction with the historical facts of Christ and the Scriptures.48 Miracles produced this new "faith" irrespective of doctrinal understanding, so that "the only thing that was believed in was some supernatural power to bestow benefits."49

MacMullen looks at conversion quite broadly—and certainly not biblically. His definition excludes the necessity of faith in the death of Christ for one’s sins, even eliminating a need to generically comprehend the love of God.50 He also allows for insincerity among the converted. The vast majority of Christian converts were "largely or totally ignorant of the simplest matters of doctrine, rarely or never attending church."51 MacMullen’s work is more accurately described as an account of how Christendom became the sanctioned religion of Constantine, than as an account of the spread of the true Church of Jesus Christ.52 This is precisely why Wagner’s use of MacMullen is misleading. Wagner writes, "He [MacMullen] speaks of the tremendous evangelistic power that is accompanied with what I call strategic-level spiritual warfare, or what he calls ‘head-on confrontation with supernatural beings inferior to God’" (italics added).53 In reality, Wagner’s form of evangelism (confrontation with Satan and demons) becomes more a Western spirit of competition than a biblical missiological outreach.54

After detailing an account of the apostle John’s ministry in Ephesus discussed by MacMullen, Wagner reminds us that the story is not in Scripture. But he quickly quotes MacMullen’s defense in using it as history.55 What we are not told by Wagner is that the story originates in the apocryphal Acts of John.56 By appealing to MacMullen as his authority for power evangelism and strategic-level spiritual warfare, Wagner has once again failed to rely on the Scriptures as the true source of inspired information about the works of the apostles.

 

III. Exegetical Issues

A. Christ and the Gospels

The second major portion of the book traces spiritual warfare in the life of Jesus and the apostles. Loosed from orthodox epistemological and hermeneutical moorings, Wagner provides us with an abundance of outré exegesis. Beelzebub (Matt 12:24, 27) is declared to be an inferior territorial demon, not Satan.57 How does Wagner arrive at this interpretation? His answer: "The reason I have concluded that he is a principality under the command of Satan is that the consensus of written materials I have examined and of personal interviews I have conducted with experts about the occult lead me to that judgment."58

So then, Beelzebub, (the "strong man," or "strong woman"59) becomes symbolic of any territorial spirit that must be bound (Matt 12:29) or overcome (Luke 11:22). Wagner calls this interpretation the most important contribution "to the nuts and bolts of evangelism." Transferring the use of "overcome" (Greek, nikaw ) in Luke 11 to Revelation 2–3, he is able to read into the command to be an overcomer a commission to engage in strategic-level warfare!60 He fails to see that under such a definition, the vast majority of godly Christians for the entire history of the church have miserably failed as overcomers. He also engages in the well-recognized hermeneutical blunder of totality transfer.61

Little objection can be raised with the fact that in the Gospels, Jesus experienced direct encounters with Satan and demons. But Wagner makes the unwarranted assumption that the example of Christ and His commands to the disciples to cast out demons, etc., are directly applicable to believers today. The application is made by appealing to two broad arguments: the commissioning of the 70 or 72 (Luke 10:1ff) and the Great Commission (Matt 20:18–20).

Of the former passage, Wagner feels Luke 10:19 confirms the fact that there are absolutely no limitations to the authority over the enemy that the Lord has given to believers: "Behold, I give you the authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you."62 In his opinion, "we have the power to deal with the demonic forces through all levels of their hierarchy." But in the following sentence he unevasively contradicts the force of the verse and his own commentary. "Confronting Satan at the very top might fall into another category."63 Jesus, however, included Satan in the phrase, "all the power of the enemy," as is evident from His words in verse 18 ("I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning").64 Wagner manipulates the verse to fit his theology.65

Concerning the Great Commission, Jesus supposedly transferred authority to His disciples, and through them to us.66 But the Great Commission mentions nothing of a delegated authority. The reference to authority (Matt 28:18) is all-inclusive ("all authority"), belongs exclusively to Christ ("has been given to Me"), encompasses a lordship over good as well as evil angels ("in heaven"), and extends to all human rulers or kings ("and on earth"). The Church has no—and needs no—delegated authority to carry out her obligation to evangelize and disciple the world (28:19–20). What it has is the Holy Spirit; what it needs is obedience.

 

B. The Apostles, Acts, and the Epistles

Five examples of strategic-level spiritual warfare are found by Wagner in the ministry of the apostles—two involving Peter, and three associated with Paul.67 Wagner labors to explain why only five experiences can be found in the book of Acts if confronting territorial spirits is so indispensable for evangelism. The defense offered is that Luke avoids being overly repetitious, and allows the reader to assume that this pattern of demon-confrontation continued on many other occasions.68

Peter’s confrontation with Simon Magus (Acts 8:20–23), the former magician, is metamorphosed to imply that Peter engaged in strategic-level warfare. Wagner admits that an assumption must be constructed, and that no clear proof can be claimed for this interpretation.69 The exegetical leap is made that since Simon exercised territorial influence, he must have been under the power of a territorial spirit.

Another strange hermeneutical principle employed by Wagner is his perception that behind a political encounter is a power encounter.70 By this exegesis, Herod’s imprisonment of Peter (and James; Acts 12), together with many other such incidents unrecorded by Luke, constituted Peter a veteran of strategic-level spiritual warfare.71

The apostle Paul not only experienced being "slain in the Spirit" on the road to Damascus, he was commissioned at this time to "build a ministry of strategic-level spiritual warfare into his future activities."72 In his encounter with Bar-Jesus, the Jewish false prophet and sorcerer (Acts 13:6–12), Paul was defeating a territorial spirit. Mark’s failure to continue in ministry (Acts 13:13) is explained by the hypothesis that the younger missionary took a dislike to high-level spiritual warfare.73 But all of this can be maintained only by ignoring the fact that there is absolutely no mention of Satan or demons in the context.

Once again, Wagner stretches his exegetical conclusions and discovers the name, Python, for a territorial spirit defeated in the healing of the Philippian slave girl (Acts 16:16).74 The Greek phrase is either pneuma pytJwnos (Byzantine and Majority Texts, "a spirit of divination or prophecy,"75 or "a spirit of Python"), or pneuma pytJwna (UBS3, Nestle-Aland26th, "a Pythonic spirit," "a divining spirit," or "a spirit, a Python").76 No major translation (cf. KJV, NASB, NJB, TEV, RSV, NRSV, NKJV) favors rendering the phrase with a proper name. 77 The phrase seems simply to be idiomatic for a spirit of divination.78

Unknown to most Christians—and understandably so—Paul’s greatest evangelistic success (Ephesus) and failure (Athens) relate to his use of (or failure to use) strategic-level spiritual warfare. Applying what resembles church-growth philosophy, Wagner understands the lack of converts at Athens as evidence that Paul used a wrong evangelistic method. The apostle failed to demonstrate the mighty Christian God in an open power encounter.79

At Ephesus, Paul had to wait for God’s timing. He was not originally permitted by the Holy Spirit to enter Ephesus (Acts 16:6) because he was not yet fully prepared to do spiritual warfare.80 When he did arrive, power encounters with Diana, the territorial spirit,81 was the chief instrument of conversion.82 Although in Wagner’s view we cannot trust extrabiblical historical traditions like Peter’s martyrdom or Thomas’s ministry in India,83 we can assume the veracity of the tradition about the apostle John from the apocryphal Acts of John. According to its testimony, John went into the temple at Ephesus and prayed against the goddess Diana and called upon the demons to flee. The altar crashed to pieces and half of the temple was destroyed.84

Regarding spiritual warfare in the epistles, only a few comments can be made. Jude 9 is explained to be only an injunction against exceeding our authority over demons.85 But when Wagner tells us that in rebuking demons, "it is appropriate to remind the devil…where he can go,"86 can we really believe this is not a direct violation of Jude’s warning to avoid reviling angels or demons? James’s command to "resist the devil" (Jas 4:7) is taken as an offensive and aggressive invading of Satan’s territory (i.e., rebuking Satan, casting out demons, etc.).87 But the context of parallel passages where resisting the devil is mentioned opposes an offensive approach to spiritual warfare. To "resist [wicked spiritual forces] in the evil day" in Eph 6:13 is equated with standing firm (6:11, 13, 14), and to resist Satan in 1 Pet 5:9 is qualified in the verse as remaining strong in our faith. Terminology that would lead us to take an offensive attack against Satan is completely absent.

 

IV. Conclusion

Confronting the Powers has little to commend it as theologically sound or practically edifying. Little or no mention is made of man’s depravity, or his own blindness to truth. The failure of the gospel is always attributed to the demonic world. When the gospel is indirectly defined (and only two or three times does any definition at all appear), faith is barely mentioned. The gospel is explained as "repentance and allegiance to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior"88 or "repenting and experiencing personal faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord."89 According to Wagner, accepting Christ is what James meant by submitting to God (Jas 4:7).90 For Wagner, binding the "strong man" (i.e., a territorial spirit) frees a person to accept Christ. Although he acknowledges that this is not evangelism, it is an essential preparation for evangelism.91

One of the great dangers of "power evangelism" or "strategic-level spiritual warfare" is that it will rob the energies of Christians who could be legitimately praying for people to be won to Christ, or who could be the "beautiful feet" that carry the good news of forgiveness in Christ. Under Wagner’s spiritual warfare theology, Paul should have written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who do spiritual warfare!" I have rarely read an evangelical book in which I found myself in major disagreement with the author on every page. Confronting the Powers comes close.

Endnotes

1C. Peter Wagner, Confronting the Powers (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 1996).

 

2Wagner, after quoting Rom 10:14, qualifies Paul’s theology with his own: "There are exceptions, however, even today. Those of us who try to keep track of what God is doing in the world agree with each other that never before have we seen or even heard of so many conversions through divine intervention…particularly among Muslims." The author further explains that Jesus or an angel has appeared to others, and some have experienced God through auras of light, voices, dreams, or daytime visions. Bibles have supernaturally appeared in mosques or Muslim homes. On one occasion, a Muslim was physically transported by supernatural power from her home to a church where she received Christ (p. 186).

 

3We refer to Wagner’s book as a "shrewd" apologetic because of his disarming style and approach. The reader is dissuaded from critical analysis of the book’s content by 1) spiritual claims to be following God’s will even against personal desires, together with an insistence on refraining from polemical arguments (p. 34); 2) misleading citations of other scholars; and 3) the failure to footnote any scholars who oppose his teachings. As a result of point 3, the reader is exposed only to authors and books that tend to support strategic-level spiritual warfare. The verifiability of Wagner’s representation of his opponents is impossible. As an example of point 2 above, Wagner cites Colin Brown that Jesus was not exercising His deity in doing miracles, but was fully dependent on the Spirit. Immediately following, Wagner remarks, "This is such a crucial issue for power ministries, including strategic-level spiritual warfare today, that I want to make sure what Colin Brown and I have said is very clear" (p. 129, italics added). His next sentences then argue for doing miracles greater than even Jesus, based on John 14:12. The reader is left with the impression that Brown holds to power ministries and agrees with Wagner’s charismatic interpretation of John 14:12.

 

4Ibid. Wagner is well aware of the terms he has used here. One major unit of the first chapter is entitled, "Radical Varieties of Prayer." "Experimentation" is also a common word he applies to strategic-level spiritual warfare (e.g., pp. 20, 27, 33–34, 152).

 

5The author admits elsewhere (p. 136) that this is an artificial distinction and cannot be recognized in Jesus’ ministry or teachings.

 

6Ibid., 30.

 

7Ibid., 237. "What an Xray is to a surgeon, spiritual mapping is to an intercessor" (p. 236).

 

8Ibid., 31. "When white Americans adequately repent of the slave trade, healing of racism will begin. When Japanese repent of bombing Pearl Harbor, the grip of the Sun Goddess will loosen. When Christians repent of the Crusades, doors will be opened for the evangelization of Muslims and Jews. These are only a few examples of pulling down strongholds…on the current Spiritual Warfare Network agenda" (p. 239). This theology raises insurmountable questions. Is the gospel itself impotent to penetrate a culture and bring significant conversions? To what degree is the knowledge of distant history, e.g., the Crusades, and the repentance of history’s inhumanities crucial for the success of the gospel? Could there be other widespread atrocities done to Muslims and Jews that prevent their acceptance of the gospel, yet about which Christians are lamentably ignorant? Is it sufficient if European Christians repent of the Crusades, or are American Christians also responsible? Must the Roman Catholic Church also repent, since the Crusades took place under her auspices?

 

9E.g., Wagner cites a story about Boniface, an eighth century English missionary sent to Germany by Pope Gregory II. The missionary cut down an oak tree held sacred for worship of the pagan god, Thor. The success of this power encounter, says Wagner, opened the way for the reception of the gospel (p. 111).

 

10Ibid., 16.

 

11For an overview of the outbreak of holy laughter and the Toronto Blessing, see James A. Beverley, "Toronto’s Mixed Blessing," Christianity Today, September 11, 1995, 22–27.

 

12Wagner, Powers, 52–55, 62, 64, 155.

 

13Ibid., 59.

 

14Elsewhere, Wagner makes such claims: "During the last three decades I have developed a degree of expertise in the field of spiritual gifts" (p. 96).

 

15"Any difference of meaning between logos and rJhma would be only a matter of stylistic usage." Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains, ed. Johannes P. Louw and Eugene A. Nida (New York: United Bible Societies, 1989), §33.98.

 

16Wagner, Powers, p. 55. Wagner has many overstatements in his book. Consider his analysis of evangelical responses to power evangelism, divine healing, miracles, and casting out demons, since the early oppositions in the 1980s: "Strong voices that still object to these are now few and far between" (p. 33). Again, he exaggerates the role of his approach to spiritual warfare: "Beginning from the days of Jesus until now, every significant step for the Christian movement has been won through spiritual warfare" (p. 126).

 

17Ibid., 59.

 

18Ibid., 44, 53, 233. According to Wagner, even Paul’s theology was rooted in his experience (p. 44).

 

19Ibid., 41.

 

20Ibid., 236.

 

21C. Fred Dickason, Demon Possession and the Christian: A New Perspective (Chicago: Moody Press, 1987), pp. 144, 189, 193–97, 221. "This author has tested fifteen cases of tongue-speaking, fourteen from demonic spirits and one from psychological pressure" (p. 144). Cessationism verified by spiritual warfare experiences has no more validity than charismatic theology verified experientially.

 

22Wagner, Powers, 69.

 

23Ibid., 155.

 

24Ibid., 59–61.

 

25Exegesis is admitted to be founded unambiguously on assumption: "I am now going to make an assumption on which I base my interpretation of this scenario…My assumption is that a territorial principality of some kind had been assigned by the evil one to keep Samaria in spiritual captivity" (p. 173. Cf. also pp. 178, 188–89).

 

26Ibid., 26–28.

 

27Ibid., 22.

 

28Ibid., 200.

 

29Ibid., 148.

 

30Ibid., 32, 79, 81, 85.

 

31Ibid., 147.

 

32Timothy M. Warner, Spiritual Warfare: Victory Over the Powers of This Dark World (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1991), 26–27, 43, 59, 87, 115–16, 125, 130, 140; John Wimber, "Power Evangelism: Definitions and Directions," in Wrestling with Dark Angels: Toward a Deeper Understanding of the Supernatural in Spiritual Warfare, ed. C. Peter Wagner and F. Douglas Pennoyer (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 1990), 37; Neil Anderson, "Finding Freedom in Christ," 128; Charles H. Kraft, "A Response to ‘In Dark Dungeons of Collective Captivity,’" 272–73.

 

33 Wagner, Powers, 76–77.

 

34Animism is the precise criticism of Wagner and other strategic-level warfare specialists presented in Robert J. Priest, Thomas Campbell, and Bradford A. Mullen, "Missiological Syncretism: The New Animistic Paradigm," in Spiritual Powers and Mission: Raising the Issues, ed. Edward Rommen, Evangelical Missiological Society Series, no. 3 (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 1995), 9–87. The response on behalf of radical spiritual warfare advocates is presented by Charles H. Kraft, "‘Christian Animism’ or God-Given Authority," 88–136. The dispute over recent developments in spiritual warfare is currently reaching its peak. Surprisingly, the debate has surfaced in missiological circles more than in theological circles. Evidence of the debate may be found in the fact that the Evangelical Missiological Society has published this entire special edition around the issue.

 

35Something near elitism appears in several of Wagner’s statement, such as, "Charles Kraft and I both conclude that many of the differences in the way we interpret the Scriptures, in contrast to the way our critics interpret the same Scriptures, are that we have been able to distance ourselves further from the Enlightenment worldview than they have" (p. 77). "I was continually finding and teaching important things in Acts that the most popular commentators had scarcely mentioned…" (p. 162). "None of the commentators I have yet read, however, had acquired professional expertise in both of those areas [power ministries and missiology]" (p. 163).

 

36Cf. Silva’s comments in Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. and Moisés Silva, An Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics: The Search for Meaning (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1994), 234. Silva may be too blithe about the positive aspects of the developments of preunderstanding and reader-response in hermeneutics, and its stress on subjectivity (pp. 237, 243). Cf. Thomas’s criticism of new hermeneutical romance with subjectivity in Robert L. Thomas, "Current Hermeneutical Trends: Toward Explanation or Obfuscation?" Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 39 (June 1996): 255–56. Please see my review of this article in this issue of JOTGES.

37Silva, Hermeneutics, 241.

 

38Ibid., 79.

 

39"This revelation of the purpose of God in Scripture should be sought primarily in its didactic rather than its descriptive parts…What is described in Scripture as having happened to others is not necessarily intended for us…" (italics original). John R. W. Stott, Baptism and Fullness of the Holy Spirit, revised ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1975), p. 6.

 

40Wagner, Powers, 81.

 

41Often, the need for extrabiblical data is prepared for by questioning the sufficiency of the Bible to address the spirit world: "The Bible does not provide us with sufficiently clear evidence to prove either the point that Beelzebub is the same person as Satan, or that he is not" (italics original) (p. 147). The supposed inadequacy of Scripture becomes the unconscious grounds for appeals for experimentation: "If we are not satisfied with the fruit of our current evangelistic activities, whatever they may be, strategic-level spiritual warfare might at least be worthy of some experimentation" (p. 152).

 

42"Daniel spoke of evil angels who exercised influence over Persia and Greece…Although Paul showed a great deal of dependence on the book of Daniel for some of his terms and concepts…, Paul himself never connected the powers of darkness with any specific country or territory." Clinton E. Arnold, Powers of Darkness: Principalities and Powers in Paul’s Letters (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 99. Cf. also Priest et. al., "New Animistic Paradigm," 68–78. It is interesting to note that in Daniel, the names of these demons are not supplied.

 

43Wagner, Powers, 25.

 

44Ramsey MacMullen, Christianizing the Roman Empire (A.D. 100–400) (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984). Wagner calls him a secular historian.

 

45Wagner, Powers, 51, 100–103, 105–106, 114–15, 220–22, 228, 230, 245.

 

46I do not consider myself an expert in church history. But in my best understanding of MacMullen’s book, it appears to me to be basically historical deconstructionism. In his view of history, the early church fathers often distorted the facts, excluding historical elements that they perceived to be unprofitable for Christian progress (MacMullen, Christianizing the Roman Empire, 6–7). With this philosophy, the author can readjust historical sources and resulting conclusions. Theologically, the work is neither conservative nor evangelical. As a case in point, MacMullen doubts the literal conversion of Lydia’s household as the book of Acts records. He concludes, "My doubt arises from knowing how few among those who listened to Paul anywhere really did believe…" Therefore, "in the whole early church, more than a trivial portion at any given moment can have been Christian only in name, though among them no doubt belief often developed, in time, as a result of a person’s going through the motions." According to MacMullen, the motives for doing so were primarily the social and material benefits (p. 107).

 

47Ibid., 1.

 

48Ibid., 3–4.

 

49Ibid., 4.

 

50Ibid., 19, 21, 107–108. MacMullen rejects what he calls the "generalizing" of conversion, which would result in all conversions being read historically as involving the desire to know God and receive eternal life. He views this process as an imposition of present culture on past history (p. 8).

 

51Ibid., 5. He also finds that secular and even pagan, occult practices were sometimes syncretized with Christian conversion.

 

52Even the title of the book, Christianizing the Roman Empire, hints that MacMullen may not be concerned with the spread of the gospel in the evangelical sense. His chapter entitled, "Conversion by Coercion," seeks to establish how Christians or the empire won converts by offering them food or money, which was said to be a major element in conversion (pp. 114–15). Anti-pagan legislation and the destruction of pagan temples and shrines were common.

 

53Wagner, Powers, 220.

 

54Note this spirit in what MacMullen observes for the period of history he is surveying: "So a campaign of demotion [of paganism] was under way." MacMullen, Christianizing, 18.

 

55Wagner, Powers, 222.

 

56MacMullen culls his information from a variety of secular inscriptions and Christian documents. These include apocryphal works like the Acts of John (MacMullen, Christianizing, 26) and the Acts of Peter (p. 28), and a forged document called The Life of Porphyry, dating from the sixth century but which MacMullen feels can be legitimately used to describe non-Christians won to the Church in the fourth century (pp. 86-88).

 

57Abaddon/Apollyon (Rev 9:11) and Wormwood ( Rev 8:11) are also names of demons, not Satan. Wagner, Powers, 147.

 

58Ibid., 148.

 

59Since Diana of the Ephesians is a territorial demon, demons must be female as well as male, concludes Wagner (p. 217).

 

60Ibid., 142–45. "This [Luke 11:21, 22] is a key text for understanding the concept that Jesus commissions us to do strategic-level spiritual warfare…" (p. 145).

 

61Cf. Dan McCartney and Charles Clayton, Let the Reader Understand: A Guide to Interpreting and Applying the Bible (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1994), 181–82; Grant R. Osborne, The Hermeneutical Spiral: A Comprehensive Introduction to Biblical Interpretation (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1991), 66.

 

62Wagner, Powers, 136–37, 166. "The question then becomes, did Jesus mean ‘all’ when he made this particular promise? I think he did" (pp. 136–37).

 

63Ibid., 137.

 

64Liefeld’s comment is correct. "The ultimate implication of overcoming ‘all the power of the enemy’ is to be victorious over the chief enemy [i.e., Satan]…" Walter L. Liefeld, "Luke," in Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1984), 8:939.

 

65It is also intractable to apply the force of the highly emphatic Greek statement "and nothing shall by any means hurt you" to every believer today in the way it was applied literally to the 70 or 72 specially appointed disciples. This unusual protection was undoubtedly given even to them only for this particular occasion. See John A. Martin, "Luke," Bible Knowledge Commentary, New Testament Edition, ed. John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1983), 233.

 

66Ibid., 127–28, 138, 141–42, 159. Once again, turning to the Great Commission to bolster a so-called delegated authority from Christ to the believer is commonplace in spiritual warfare circles. Cf. Warner, Spiritual Warfare, 51–52, 58; Dickason, Demon Possession, 262, 300.

 

67Wagner, Powers, 163.

 

68Ibid., 189–90. Cf. also p. 214.

 

69Ibid., 175–76.

 

70Ibid., 177.

 

71Ibid., 180. Wagner confesses that he does know what happened with James, who was martyred by Herod (p. 178). From the vantage point of Wagner’s strategic-level warfare theology, it seems that the apostle James was not a veteran spiritual warfare specialist and not an "overcomer"! Additionally, Wagner holds that prayer was offered by the church only for Peter (Acts 12:5), not for James (p. 178).

 

72Ibid., 186–87.

 

73Ibid., 190–95. As in the case of Mark, Wagner suggests that strategic-level warfare can get "messy" (pp. 169, 194). The impression left is that exorcism is an emetic.

 

74Ibid., 195–97. For Wagner, a better translation of Phil 4:3 would be "they did spiritual warfare on my behalf" (p. 179).

 

75 S.v. pytJwn, William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, translated by Walter Bauer, second ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), 438.

 

76Metzger’s textual commentary calls pytJwna the more difficult reading, but why this is so is not explained. Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, corrected ed. (New York: United Bible Society, 1975), 448.

 

77Even translating with "Python" does not demand that the word be interpreted as a proper name of a territorial demon.

 

78"In most languages there seems to be no reason to borrow the term ‘Python,’ since it may be readily misunderstood. It is both more meaningful and to some extent more accurate to translate ‘a spirit of divination’ or ‘the spirit which caused her to foretell the future’ or ‘…to tell what was going to happen.’" Semantic Domains, §12.48, §33.284–85. Originally, the word referred to the mythological dragon or snake which guarded the oracle of Delphi in central Greece. Since Apollo slew Python, the term was given to anyone who prophesied through the supposed inspiration of Apollo. F. F. Bruce, The Book of Acts, in The International Commentary on the New Testament, revised ed., (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 312; D. H. Wheaton, "Python," in New Bible Dictionary, ed. J. D. Douglas et. al., second ed. (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 1982), 1003.

 

79Wagner, Powers, 206– 207. Exactly why Wagner refuses to see that demonstrations of power often result in unbelief rather than belief is unexplainable. For this phenomenon in Christ’s ministry, cf. Mark R. Saucy, "Miracles and Jesus’ Proclamation of the Kingdom of God," Bibliotheca Sacra 153 (July–September, 1996): 304–306.

 

80Wagner, Powers, 208.

 

81The strange principle is used that the name of the chief god(s) of a city is also the name of the territorial demon(s).

 

82Ibid., 209–17. Some qualifications are made by Wagner to this analysis. Paul actually defeated the territorial spirit, Diana, through ground-level and occult-level rather than through strategic-level spiritual warfare (pp. 212–13). Nevertheless, when Paul battled with "beasts" at Ephesus (2 Cor 15:32), he was taking on territorial spirits (pp. 209–10).

 

83Ibid., 189.

 

84Ibid., 221.

 

85Ibid., 228.

 

86Ibid., 200.

 

87Ibid., 231–32.

 

88Ibid., 157.

 

89Ibid., 26.

 

90Ibid., 231.

 

91Ibid., 157.

 

Return to Journal Index Menu | Go to Main Menu