Recovering a biblical understanding of spiritual warfare.

"Power Encounters: Reclaiming Spiritual Warfare," by David A. Powlison (Baker, 160 pp.; $6.99, paper). Reviewed by Tim Stafford.

Power encounters with demons, David Powlison points out in this readable and stimulating book, have spread even into conservative evangelical circles. Today many Christians understand binding and casting out of demons as a return to the pattern of ministry followed by Jesus and his disciples. It is what they mean by "spiritual warfare"—the battle against moral evil.

Powlison contends the opposite: that this trend leads away from authentic spiritual warfare, to a pastoral ministry with no warrant in Scripture. He writes generously, accepting that practitioners are sincerely reacting to modern antisupernaturalism, but his critique is pointed. He does not focus on excesses and abuses, but on Scripture.

Powlison's main point is that in the Bible demonization is never treated as moral evil. Those who are demonized are suffering people, to be helped and healed in the same way as the sick and lame. There is no assumption of blame or sin. There are no "demons of despair" in the Bible, nor demons of bitterness, pride, lust, alcoholism, or any other sin. To treat patterns of sin by casting out demons, Powlison notes, subtly changes the terms of the universe toward one in which Satan's power is comparable to God's, and in which the responsibility of the sinner before God is confused. Most significantly, it undermines the "classic view" of spiritual warfare outlined in Ephesians 6 and taught by Christians over centuries: a warfare through prayer, Scripture, obedience, and reliance on God and on fellow Christians.

Powlison has perceived in popular evangelicalism a deep theological shift away from Reformed thinking. His argument, which takes up nearly all the relevant texts, should provoke a great deal of useful reflection on the nature of evil and suffering, God and Satan and demons, and the response we are called to make.


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