Deliverance and Spiritual Warfare
By Steve Fernandez
A new ministry model has hit the mainstream Evangelical Church. It is the deliverance model of spiritual warfare. It purports to have recovered the biblical teaching that enables the church to effectively deal with Satan and his demons. I refer to it as the deliverance model because its main teaching is that many Christians are, in some degree, in bondage to Satan, and need deliverance by direct confrontation with Satan and the kingdom of darkness. It involves "taking authority" over the devil by identifying, commanding and rebuking demons. It is based on the assumption that a true believer can be demon possessed. While this type of deliverance model has been held in some circles in the past, for the first time it is coming like a flood into many mainline evangelical churches.
There are many proponents of this theology of spiritual warfare and deliverance. Among them are Peter Wagner and Charles Kraft of Fuller Seminary, and John Wimber of the Vineyard Church International. Perhaps the most influential is Neil Anderson, associate professor of practical theology at Talbot Theological Seminary in La Mirada, California. Dr. Anderson has written a number of books and conducts large seminars in churches across America. His books related to the subject include: The Bondage Breaker and The Seduction of Our Children (Harvest House Publishers), Victory Over Darkness (Regal Books), Release from Bondage and Walking Through the Darkness (Campus Crusade for Christ; Here's Life Publishers).
The deliverance model of spiritual warfare makes grandiose claims. In fact, Dr. Anderson's teaching centers around what he calls, "steps to freedom", which promise instant freedom from bondage, a result that (this is the impression he gives) normal ministry up to now could not achieve.
This study intends to measure the deliverence model in light of scripture. Its purpose is to show that, while it is well-intended, it does not lead to a balanced, biblically based, philosophy of spiritual warfare and Christian living. It is one more example of a tendency, in American evangelicalism, away from the sufficiency of scripture toward an experienced based theology.
I want to make two preliminary statements that may help set the stage. First, I realize that some have said they have been helped by this teaching. I am not saying that they have not. There are some good biblical principles taught amidst the error. The reality of spiritual warfare is emphasized, and that is helpful. The possibility of Satanic deception and the need to guard ourselves from it is also a key biblical truth that is emphasized. The believer's identity in Christ is also stressed, together with the believer's complete acceptance in Christ. This is particularly emphasized in Dr. Anderson's book, Victory Over Darkness. Because there is some biblical truth presented, people are helped.
Having said that, the problem still remains that the overall paradigm of the believer's authority and the nature of spiritual warfare go beyond what scripture teaches. It gives an undue emphasis to demons that minimizes personal sin and responsibility. It unwittingly undermines the sufficiency of scripture and exalts experience as the basis of belief and practice. These concerns will be addressed later in this article. J.I. Packer speaks about the danger of teaching that contains truth mixed with error when discussing the Keswick view of sanctification. It is appropriate here. He says:
It is not much of a recommendation when all you can say is that this teaching may help you if you do not take its details too seriously. It is utterly damning to have to say, as in this case I think we must, that if you do take its details seriously, it will tend not to help you but to destroy you. Manufacturers publicly recall cars that have been built with faulty parts, because defective parts spell danger. One wishes that teachers and institutions that have in the past spread Keswick teaching would recognize the pastoral danger inherent in its defective parts and recall it in the same explicit way.1
I believe this same analysis can also be made of the deliverance model of spiritual warfare. It also needs to be said that the issue does not concern the reality of Satan and demons and their direct influence in the lives of believers. In other words, the issue is not whether or not believers are involved in spiritual warfare. They are! Dr. Anderson tends to convey the idea that only those who hold his deliverance model take spiritual warfare seriously. He says:
We have not been taught that the spiritual world does impinge on the natural world. We have been brought into the secular world view of the West. Many Christians either exclude the supernatural from their world view altogether, or consign it to the transcendent tier where it will have no effect on their lives. By doing so they not only exclude God's power from their theology and practice, but they also explain all human failure...as the result of psychological or natural causes.2
Dr. Anderson implies that those who deny his deliverance model are not in touch with God's power. Church history would disagree. Martin Luther, for example, did not hold to Dr. Anderson's views and he certainly knew something of spiritual warfare and the power of God. He wrote in his hymn, "A Mighty Fortress is Our God:"
A mighty fortress is our God, A bulwark never failing; Our helper He amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing. For still our ancient foe Doth seek to work us woe, His craft and power are great, and armed with cruel hate. On earth is not his equal. And though this world with devils filled, Should threaten to undo us. We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us. The prince of darkness grim, We tremble not for him. His rage we can endure, For lo his doom is sure. One little word shall fell him.3
Would anyone venture to say that Luther knew nothing of spiritual warfare? He was the primary human instrument raised up by God to oppose the diabolical darkness of Medieval superstition and religious corruption. Whether we appreciate it or not, we stand on his shoulders and others like him. The fact is, Luther, the other reformers, and the leaders of the great movements of God in the 18th and 19th centuries practiced nothing of what Dr. Anderson advocates, yet God moved mightily. The power of God was demonstrated greatly. The issue then, is not the demonstration of God's power, or the reality of spiritual warfare, or the stratagems of Satan. The issue is how we deal with them. The issue is how the power of God is demonstrated, where our resources lie, and to what extent a true believer can be influenced by Satan and demons. With that in mind, we will now go on to look at the distinctive theological features of the deliverance model of spiritual warfare.
Next Section: The Distinctives of the Deliverance Model
Spiritual Warfare book: Deliverance and Spiritual Warfare ©1995 Steve Fernandez