Over the last couple of weeks I’ve had a number of people in different contexts canvas me for my opinions on “spiritual warfare”. Given my experience with occult spirituality people seem naturally curious as to how serious I take intercessory prayer and what insights I might have.
Well I do take it seriously and do have some insights but they may be uncomfortable ones for many fans of the Third Wave movement. To be blunt I see a lot of “deliverance” ministers and “spiritual warfare” practitioners engaging in practices that can only be described as Christian shamanism. That is, the distinction between some of their techniques and magical occult practices in mostly semantic. And I say this as a person who has seen both sides of the fence.
I am not the first to notice this. In fact the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelisation raised this as a concern in its Deliver Us From Evil consultation statement. So let me bring to your attention some of their warnings:
- We urge caution and sensitivity in the use of language when it comes to spiritual conflict. While biblical, the term "spiritual warfare" is offensive to non-Christians and carries connotations that seem contradictory coming from those who serve a Lord who died on a cross. Additionally, there is a large range of meanings attached to various spiritual conflict terms such as healing, deliverance, power encounters, possession, demonization, powers, and so on. Additionally new terms are constantly being coined (e.g., Strategic Level Spiritual Warfare, deep-level healing, etc.).
- We call for watchfulness to avoid any syncretism with non-Christian religious beliefs and practices, such as traditional religions or new religious movements. We also affirm that new believers are reasonable when they expect the Gospel to meet their needs for spiritual power.
- We call for discernment concerning magical uses of Christian terms and caution practitioners to avoid making spiritual conflict into Christian magic. Any suggestion that a particular technique or method in spiritual conflict ministry ensures success is a magical, sub-Christian understanding of God's workings
- We encourage extreme care and the discernment of the community to ensure that the exercise of spiritual authority not become spiritual abuse. Any expression of spiritual power or authority must be done in compassion and love.
- We cry out for a mantle of humility and gracefulness on the part of cross-cultural workers, who having recently discovered the reality of the spirit realm, go to other parts of the world where people have known and lived with the local realities of the spirit realm world and the struggle with the demonic for centuries.
- Because spiritual conflict is expressed in different ways in different societies, we strongly caution against taking ideas, methods, or strategies developed in one society and using them uncritically in another.
- Because we must resist the temptation to adopt the devil's tactics as ours, we warn practitioners to take care that their methods in spiritual conflict are based on the work of Christ on the cross:
- Submitting to God through his substitutionary death on the cross, Christ deprived Satan of his claim to power;
- Christ's willingness to sacrifice himself in contrast to fighting back is a model for spiritual conflict;
- When we separate the cross from spiritual conflict, we create a climate of triumphalism.
In particular I’d like to draw your attention to critiques of Frank Peretti and Peter Wagner.
Here’s a few choice quotes:
For a book billed as being anti-New Age, such a concept of prayer – in which it somehow supplies power to angels – is amazingly “New Agish.” [Dean C Halverston]
I am convinced that such a [Strategic Level Spiritual Warfare] worldview can lead, in certain cases, to forms of mental illness. Young people who are going through profound physical and psychological changes in their teens can be particularly vulnerable if they are led to adopt the fundamental premises of the spiritual warfare paradigm as held in the Third Wave movement. [Pierre Gilbert]
In summary, if my experience with the occult has taught me anything it has been how to recognise magick and misleading teaching in friendly guises. What I advocate instead is deconstruction of the popular spiritual warfare paradigm and the exploration of more critically contextual (read: Biblical) understandings of the unseen creation and intercessory prayer.