Monday, April 4, 2016

"3 Crucial Questions About Spiritual Warfare" by Clinton Arnold: A Review

Avoiding the topic is a profoundly inadequate response. Spiritual warfare is not an isolatable compartment of church ministry or Christian experience. Spiritual warfare is an integral part of the entire Christian experience. It is a fact of life. To think that a Christian could avoid spiritual warfare is like imagining that a gardener could avoid dealing with weeds. Our goal should be rather to gain an accurate and sober-minded understanding of spiritual warfare - not a view tainted by frightening superstitions and odd practices. (19)

In CS Lewis's majestic volume Screwtape Letters, the reluctant convert gave the following warning:
There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve int heir existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors, and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.
Both extremes should be avoided when it comes to the topic of spiritual warfare. Yet it seems that those are the only options Christians have when considering this issue. After all, those on both sides seem to get most of the attention and press.

Though I am by no means an expert on the subject of spiritual warfare, one of the most helpful books I have read is Clinton Arnold's 3 Crucial Questions About Spiritual Warfare. As the title suggests, this is part of the 3 Crucial Questions Series (I recommend Millard Erickson's volume on the Trinity as well). As such, it is limited in scope to the three important questions:
  1. What is Spiritual Warfare?
  2. Can Christians Be Demon-Possessed?
  3. Are We Called to Engage Territorial Spirits?
Within these three chapters, Arnold provides an informative, biblically-serious take on spiritual warfare. It is not exhaustive, but does serve as an adequate and helpful introduction to the topic.

One of the most helpful discussions in the book regards his division of warfare into three categories: the world, the flesh, and the devil. Arnold points out that we should be careful about emphasizing one over the others. Pentecostals might be guilty of seeing Satan behind every corner and thus mitigate the other two. Others ignore Satan and thus do not take him seriously. Arnold suggests that we should think of these three as strands in a rope intertwined.

In addition to this, Arnold's chapter on Christians being demon-possessed is a sober discussion on a difficult topic. Christians can disagree with Arnold's conclusion, but his exegesis of daimonizomai is helpful. No doubt Christians can be attacked and influenced by evil forces. Satan loves to tempt and accuse leading saints astray.

The one chapter that will require greater personal consideration regarded the final one on territorial spirits. Typically when I am asked as a pastor about spiritual warfare, this question never arises. Arnold provides a helpful survey of what the Bible says on the subject but then warns that if there are territorial spirits (and the Bible certainly hints in that direction), no one in Scripture is portrayed as casting them out. Neither Jesus, Peter, Paul, nor John engaged in such a ministry. This is a subject that will require greater investigation on my part as there are clear ministerial implications.

Overall, this is a helpful book that serves as a clear theological and exegetical introduction to a difficult, yet important subject. We are at war and Arnold has written a volume that helps us understand that war and how to wage it always keeping our eyes on Jesus.
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