The New Spiritual Warfare Strategies Part I |

McMahon, T.A.

Worldwide revival is no longer just a hope churning within the hearts of some Christians. An ever increasing multitude are fervently declaring, "It's here now, and the Holy Spirit is doing a new work to guarantee it!"

Influential leaders throughout Christendom are pointing to what they perceive to be firstfruits of the Holy Spirit in preparation for a great outpouring. The laughing phenomenon of the "Toronto Blessing" and the ministry of Rodney Howard Browne, some contend, began the process by restoring joy in the hearts of God's faithful servants. Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims and tens of thousands of pastors received the "imparting of the Spirit" at the Toronto Airport Vineyard and carried it across oceans and continents as well as across numerous denominational lines. Thousands of churches in England were influenced by the movement. Leaders of the Brownsville Assembly of God tell us that it was from an Anglican church on that distant shore that the "imparting" returned to this country and ignited their "Pensacola revival." With the Assemblies of God hierarchy giving enthusiastic approval, Pensacola's "anointing" has spread to a great many of the denomination's churches throughout North America.

During 1995 and 1996 many students on Christian college and seminary campuses took part in what they believed to be "a genuine revival." Christian media, both charismatic and noncharismatic, have fostered the belief that revival is dawning. Recent book titles such as The Coming Revival, Revival Signs: Joining the New Spiritual Awakening, The Hope at Hand, and The Coming World Revival not only testify that this eagerly awaited event is at our door, but point to that which practically guarantees it: prayer.

David Bryant, chairman of the National Prayer Committee and a leader in the Forum for National Revival, writes,

God is stirring up his people to pray specifically, increasingly, and persistently for world revival....He will not let us pray in vain. He has promised to hear and answer us fully. We can prepare for the answers with confidence.1

Prayer for revival, you can be sure, has been the earnest endeavor of Christians of every generation since the apostolic era. But this generation has taken it to another level. In fact, the leaders in this worldwide prayer effort call it a "strategic" level for doing spiritual warfare.

C. Peter Wagner, professor of missions and church growth at Fuller Theological Seminary's School of World Mission, is a central figure in the promotion of this surprisingly vast and aggressive prayer-focused movement. Characterized by Wagner as "radical concepts and practices" and termed "strategic-level spiritual warfare," the approach includes some familiar prayer activities with new labels, along with some unfamiliar applications and some brand-new tasks. The terms "strategic-level intercession," "territorial spirits," "spiritual mapping," "tearing down strongholds," "identificational repentance," and "prayerwalking, prayer journeys, and prayer expeditions" proclaim the militancy of this endeavor. International prayer warriors are taking the fight to the strongholds of Satan. Power encounters with demons are the rule, not the exception, in this spiritual battle for global revival and world evangelization.

If all of these new ideas are, to use Wagner's words, "some of the important things the Spirit is saying to the churches these days," we should indeed take heed and submit to the Holy Spirit's leading. On the other hand, what if most of these new activities are the product of misguided zeal on the part of the movement's leaders and participants?

In this two-part series we will examine the writings and teachings of those who have laid the foundation for the new spiritual warfare. In particular we will focus on C. Peter Wagner's book, Confronting the Powers, which appears to be the most comprehensive defense of this movement which has impacted a wide spectrum of professing Christianity. The book's list of supportive evangelical organizations and individuals is impressive, and includes Bill and Vonette Bright, Campus Crusade, World Prayer Assembly; Ralph Winter, U.S. Center for World Mission; Thomas Wang, Luis Bush, A.D. 2000, Lausanne II; Jack Hayford, Richard Foster and many others.

Be assured that we have just as great a desire as anyone to encourage prayer in the lives of believers and to see those efforts result in genuine revival and the salvation of lost souls. At the same time, we believe it would be a spiritual tragedy of immense proportions if the already hundreds of thousands of sincere Christians now spending valuable time, energy and resources in this new spiritual preoccupation ended up being, at best, unproductive or, at worst, unwitting pawns of the adversary.

Our basic premise in evaluating the strategic-level spiritual warfare (SLSW) movement is to appeal to the Scriptures. Isaiah's admonition still stands: "To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them" (8:20). God's inerrant, authoritative and sufficient Word is the only objective basis a believer has for discerning truth in spiritual matters.

In establishing a beachhead for the spiritual warfare movement, Dr. Wagner would not fully agree with the above premise. While he maintains his belief in biblical inerrancy and the absolute authority of the Scriptures, he reasons that there are many extrabiblical resources for spiritual discernment, not the least of which is personally hearing from God. Wagner's entrée into the development of SLSW had such a beginning: "While in Manila, the Lord spoke to me in a voice that, although not audible, was almost as clear as if it had been: 'I want you to take leadership in the area of territorial spirits.'"2 Few believers would deny that God can and does on occasion personally speak to the hearts of His own. While that experience is sup-ported by Scripture, many would argue from the Scriptures that it is the exception rather than the rule in God's everyday guidance of believers. Certainly no doc-trine can be established on the basis of one's personal, subjective word from the Lord. Thus, what is of concern is not that Wagner heard from God, but what he heard. Is the doctrine of territorial spirits (to be addressed in Part II) confirmed by God?

Extrabiblical revelation is the cornerstone for the development of most of the doctrines of the new spiritual warfare. Though considered spurious not too long ago by the majority of evangelicals, extrabiblical revelation is now regarded by a growing number of leaders as necessary to fulfill God's mandate to the church today. They profess to find support for their belief in the doctrine of rhema. In brief, there are two Greek words in the New Testament which refer to the Word of God: logos and rhema. Although Peter Wagner acknowledges that the two words are used interchangeably, nevertheless he and others promote a distinction foundational to their doctrine: logos designates the written Word of God, while rhema indicates the spoken word of God. Regarding spiritual warfare, rhema, in contrast to logos, means receiving valid knowledge about the invisible world "from hearing the voice of God, as He communicates His thoughts directly to us as individuals." Wagner states that "Both forms of the word of God...are valid sources of know-ledge, and both should be used, as God directs, to confront the enemy in spiritual warfare."3 Underscoring the fact that the rhema doctrine is becoming a prominent evangelical teaching, he wrote that he is

...[one] among rapidly increasing numbers of others who believe that a valid source of divine knowledge comes through what some would call "extrabiblical revelation." I daresay 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.4

Dr. Wagner qualifies the above by adding that any such knowledge which contradicts Scripture must be rejected by faithful Christians. While that may shore up the confidence of some, his extrabiblical revelation has many other problems, as we shall see; and the decisive fact remains that it has completely denied the sufficiency of the Bible (2 Tim:3:16-17; Jn:8:31-32; 2 Pt 1:3).

John Wimber, to whom Wagner refers as his mentor in the realm of signs and wonders, is presented as an example of one way in which extrabiblical revelation is authenticated; i.e., by the credibility of those who observe or experience them.5 Dr. Wagner tells of continuous years of suffering from headaches for which no painkiller could bring relief:

Then in 1983, John Wimber received a rhema 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.6

While we do empathize with C. Peter Wagner in regard to his suffering, his example raises many questions of concern. Dr. Wagner—a Christian—had a demon? The demon had a specialty? Wagner drove it out himself? God told John Wimber to tell his friend these things? With no biblical support, that's a great deal to swallow as being from God himself. Moreover, why would Wimber's credibility be put forth as validating the authenticity of this rhema word-from-God testimony? His track record of prophecies is far less than trustworthy. In the early '80s Wimber also had a rhema word from God that He would heal well-known Anglican vicar David Watson, suffering from terminal cancer. Some months after Wimber's announcement, Watson succumbed to the disease.

Wagner's example in support of validating extrabiblical revelation reflects some of the teachings basic to the SLSW movement. Since demons are the focus of most of those developing spiritual-warfare strategy, they offer a great deal of information gained from extrabiblical sources. C. Peter Wagner believed he had a demon because John Wimber, Neil Anderson, Fred Dickason, Charles Kraft, Mark Bubeck and nearly all those promoting strategic-level spiritual warfare believe Christians can be demonized. Those advancing this doctrine admit that the Bible has neither teaching nor example of Christians having demon spirits. Dr. Wagner nevertheless offers extrabiblical evidence such as "personal ministry experience," "a consensus...from others who have ministered in the area of deliverance," having "seen many positive, even dramatic, results in the lives of those Christians who have been delivered from demons," and that "none of [these reasons] contradicts any explicit biblical teaching"7 (Emphasis in the original)

Although Wagner gives no details in his book regarding his self-deliverance, the strategy common to spiritual warfare circles is to ascertain the demon's name for better control purposes and then cast it out. A survey of the most popular SLSW literature reveals that in nearly every case each demon has a name which is indicative of its duty (e.g., Lust, Anger, Rebellion, Deception, Pornography, etc.). So the key, say those experienced in this, is to spiritually discern the name of the demon in order to facilitate a successful deliverance. While Wagner and others admit that methods based upon such spiritual information (often from the demons themselves) should be viewed with suspicion, that hasn't appeared to have slowed down the SLSW proponents. Why? Because they are getting results! On the other hand, as any student of military strategy will tell you, results aren't always what they appear to be.

One of the underlying suppositions of the strategic-level spiritual warfare movement is spiritual pragmatism; i.e., if something seems to produce good results, it must be of God. Trial and error accompanies such thinking. Wagner indicates that experimentation is used by SLSW people as their mode of developing "some of the more radical forms of praying...."8 Is this how we are to grow spiritually? Search as you may, you won't find this approach in God's Word. Deuteronomy 13 tells us that just because something works, that doesn't indicate it's good. A false prophet getting a true result may simply be the bait to lead a person astray. Subversive ministers of righteousness can be some of Satan's finest (2 Cor:11:14).

Sadly, many who are a part of the spiritual warfare movement will see our concerns as ignorance based on the presumption that we have not "been there, done that." The more charitable participants in SLSW perceive us as either "just not called to the spiritual front lines" or "pitifully blind to the dynamic things the Holy Spirit is doing in our day." On the contrary, rather than quenching or grieving the Holy Spirit, we are simply trying to point to that which the Spirit of Truth has already made clear in the Scriptures for truly effective spiritual warfare. In Part II we will address more details of this growing spiritual army and its various methods of attempting to win its battle with Satan. TBC


  1. David Bryant, The Hope at Hand (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1995), 231.
  2. C. Peter Wagner, Confronting the Powers (Ventura, CA, Regal Books, 1996) 20.
  3. Ibid., 52-53.
  4. Ibid., 55.
  5. Ibid., 59.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid., 86.
  8. Ibid., 20.