Spiritual Warfare: A Biblical & Balanced Perspective

Spiritual Warfare: A Biblical & Balanced Perspective
Brian Borgman & Rob Ventura
Reformation Heritage Books, 2014
ISBN: 978-1-60178-284-7

Spiritual warfare is real, wreaking havoc in our world. It is not a war of bullets, bombs and drones; of planes, warships and tanks; but a war that rages in the hearts and minds of all who listen to satanic lies – lies bombarding us from many directions, but always rooted in that malignant being known as the devil. These lies lure us away from worshiping and obeying the one true God revealed in the 66 books of the Bible.

Beginning in the Garden of Eden, where Adam & Eve rebelled against God by believing the serpent’s lie that eating forbidden fruit would make them like God (Genesis 3:1-24), this war has raged uninterrupted to this present day.

When coming to spiritual warfare, there are two extremes to avoid: first, an excessive interest in the devil, demons and their strategies that seems to outstrip the Bible itself; and second, a dismissive attitude or denial that the devil “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8 ESV) – that this war is real and raging. Borgman and Ventura, recognizing the danger in both extremes, set out to give a biblical and balanced perspective on living faithfully in a spiritually ravaged world.

Living the Christian life is not merely about mastering one truth or even a set of principles. Rather, it is learning to think and act biblically. We must be reminded of certain truths frequently so that we don’t become unbalanced or myopic in our view of the Christian life. One such truth is that we are in a war of the most serious nature, and that war is not with flesh and blood but against spiritual forces of darkness. This vital truth ought to shape our worldview. Unfortunately, some Christians almost completely ignore the reality of this war. Others, however, seem to give it far more attention than Scripture does. There is certainly danger in both extremes (p.1).

Having stated the need for balance in understanding the nature of spiritual warfare – of living victoriously over sin and temptation – the authors provide a brief overview of the biblical history of spiritual warfare followed by a careful, concise study of Ephesians 6:10-20, the fullest biblical treatment of the topic. The discussion unfolds as follows.

  1. Be Strong in the Lord
  2. Put On the Full Armor of God
  3. The Schemes of the Devil
  4. The Nature of Our Conflict
  5. The Belt of Truth
  6. The Breastplate of Righteousness
  7. The Gospel of Peace Footwear
  8. The Shield of Faith
  9. The Helmet of Salvation
  10. The Sword of the Spirit
  11. Warfare Prayer
  12. Warfare Prayer and Proclamation
  13. Spiritual Warfare Debriefing

Three appendices add excellent value to this small volume.

  1. The Sovereignty of God and Satan
  2. Can a Christian Be Demon-Possessed?
  3. Christian, Pray for Your Pastors!

Devoting three chapters and one appendix to vital place of prayer in spiritual warfare, Borgman and Ventura tell us that “prayer the critical component of our warfare, saturating each piece of our armor” (p.88). In support of that assertion, they quote Joel Beeke:

Prayer is critical because every piece of Christian armor is useless without it. Prayer is like oil. Just as every part of an engine is useless without oil, so every part of Christian warfare is vain without prayer. Fighting Satan without prayer is like David fighting Goliath in Saul’s armor. The armor doesn’t fit, and it is ineffective against the blows of the enemy” (Beeke, Striving Against Satan, 56) (p.88).

Readers seeking information on spirit-world hierarchies, prayer mantras and demon-busting strategies will need to look elsewhere. Borgman and Ventura are content to say all that Scripture says and nothing more; concerned to draw believers back to the sure Word of God. There is nothing novel or sensational here – just solid, careful biblical exposition that builds the believer up in faith.

Each chapter concludes with four probing questions for discussion and reflection making this a great book for a small group study. Pastors will also find this a great resource in helping to develop a series of expositions on Ephesians 6:10-20. This is how I’ve made use of the book.

I warmly recommend this biblically faithful, reader-friendly and balanced treatment of spiritual warfare.

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Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness

Be Still!
Departure from Collective Madness
Gordon C. Stewart
Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2017
ISBN: 978-1-5326-0065-4

Our world is a mess.

Despite a decades-long war against it, terrorism rears its ugly head around the globe. Technology allows us to communicate with anyone anywhere at any time, but we still cannot muster the ability to get along face-to-face. The gap between the haves and the have-nots continues to widen. We are more educated than ever, but still don’t seem to understand (or simply will not accept) that promiscuous living results in destroyed health, wrecked families and disillusioned people. Wherever one looks, there is a collective madness driving us to self-destruction.

Gordon Stewart, an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA), has years of experience reflecting, writing and speaking on issues of faith and culture. Along with his pastoral experience in campus ministries and congregations in five states, Stewart has been a guest commentator on NPR’s (National Public Radio) All Things Considered, as well as having pieces published in various venues.

Eric Ringham, an editor with whom Stewart has worked, says the following:

Gordon knows something about writing commentaries that many people of faith do not: that is, how to be inclusive in addressing an audience that may hold some other faith, or no faith at all. He writes from a Christian perspective, but not to a Christian perspective.

I appreciate Ringham’s perspective, but evangelical Christians (myself included) will, in some of these essays, search in vain for a “Christian perspective” that is truly faithful to biblical teaching.

Drawing from personal experiences as well as current events, both national and international, Stewart’s 48 brief essays in Be Still explore issues of life, death, religion, relationships, capitalism, politics, terrorism, ecology, animal rights, gun control, and nationalism, to name just a few.

The late Kosuke Koyama (to whom this book is dedicated) once told Stewart, “there’s only one sin – exceptionalism” (p.xi). Stewart concurs saying exceptionalism manifests itself in “religion, race, nation, culture, and finally, species exceptionalism.”

I’ve been thinking about Stewart’s assertion regarding the ways in which exceptionalism manifests itself. It requires only a cursory review of history to recognize the problems of exceptionalism in race, culture and nation (including America). But I am dubious when Stewart speaks of species exceptionalism. From the biblical account of origins, only humans were created in the image of God – something never said of animals.

Wayne G. Boulton, “fellow Presbyterian teaching elder, scholar, author, faithful friend, and cheerleader” (p.xiv) of Gordon Stewart, says this is “a book written in the tradition of public theology” (p.xv). With reference to the religious roots of the public theology displayed in this book, Boulton writes:

Though the religious roots of this vision and struggle are sometimes hidden, the thrust is public theology through and through. By the late nineteenth century, Christianity had produced only two major social philosophies: medieval Catholicism and Calvinist Protestantism. Within the recent period, however, the modern social gospel movement originated and developed a third – namely Christian socialism.

A great cloud of witnesses, the women and men surrounding this fine book are not difficult to bring to mind: Wendell Berry, Jane Addams, Cornel West, Walter Rauchenbusch, Reinhold Niebuhr, James Luther Adams, Dorothy Day, James Gustafson, Paul Tillich, Jim Wallis, and many others.

The movement is novel for its idea of social salvation. The leading direction has been that in order to make Christianity relevant to technological, nationalistic, and capitalist society, the church must recapture the utopian and revolutionary character of the faith … only in modern form. The church’s mission, the movement has argued, should be social, i.e., to transform the structures of society in the direction of social justice.

So how do you do that? … Be Still! is the Reverend Gordon C. Stewart’s answer.

Whatever your political, cultural and theological bent, you will find Stewart challenging, provocative and passionate – worth reading.

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The Ten Commandments of Giving

dr-roy-w-lawson

Dr. Roy W. Lawson (1932-2014) is fondly remembered by the constituency of The Fellowship of Evangelical Baptist Churches in Canada (FEBCC), the family of Christians through which he faithfully served God throughout his life.

Some years ago, Dr. Lawson presented a brief paper on giving for the leaders of a church responsible for preparing a church budget. He entitled it “The Ten Commandments of Giving.”

I first saw this paper in a weekly email  to pastors and leaders of the FEBCC from Steven Jones, President of the FEBCC . These are excellent principles concerning how Christians should approach the spiritual discipline of financial giving. Dr. Lawson’s Ten Commandments are reprinted here by the kind permission of Steven Jones.

The Ten Commandments of Giving

Commandment #1: Percentage Giving

“‘I am the Lord, and I do not change. That is why you descendants of Jacob are not already completely destroyed. Ever since the days of your ancestors, you have scorned my laws and failed to obey them. Now return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord Almighty.’ But you ask, ‘What do you mean? When did we ever cheat you?’ ‘You have cheated me of the tithes and offering due to me.’” (Malachi 3:6-8)

Two great mistakes we make regarding percentage giving:

1. We have given people the idea that if you give a tenth everything else will be taken care of. God is not obligated to bless poor management.

2. We have led people in a direction as to the purpose of their giving that is incorrect. “If everyone tithed we would never have a need.” The reason God asked man to give is the very same reason He put the tree in the garden: man needs a constant reminder that God is in authority over him.

Commandment #2: Generosity Giving

“If you give, you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full measure, pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, and running over. Whatever measure you use in giving – large or small – it will be used to measure what is given back to you.” (Luke 6:38)

A lot of people have taken this principle and abused it. It is not just giving or the size of your giving, it is the condition of your heart. We tend to be cheap with God.

Commandment #3: Faith Giving

“Tell those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which will soon be gone. But their trust should be in the living God, who richly gives us all we need for enjoyment.” (1 Timothy 6:17)

It takes much more faith to give what you have than to give what you do not have.

Commandment #4: Grace Giving

“Remember this – a farmer who plants only a few seed will get a small crop, but the one who plants generously will get a generous crop.” (2 Corinthians 9:6)

When you give to God, by His grace, He returns it. So you have sufficient for yourself and enough to give again.

Commandment #5: Giving in Appreciation

“So two good things will happen – the needs of the Christians in Jerusalem will be met, and they will joyfully express their thanksgiving to God. You will be glorifying God through your generous gifts. For your generosity to them will prove that you are obedient to the Good News of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 9:12-13)

Commandment #6: Systematic Giving

On every Lord’s Day, each of you should put aside some amount of money in relation to what you have earned and save it for this offering. Don’t wait until I get there and then try to collect it all at once.” (1 Corinthians 16:2)

We tend to look for the big gift, but the need is met by a multiplicity of people being systematic.

Commandment #7: All-inclusive Giving

“On every Lord’s Day, each of you should put aside some amount of money in relation to what you have earned and save it for this offering. Don’t wait until I get there and then try to collect it all at once.” (1 Corinthians 16:2)

Every member is important and we should do whatever we can to get everyone on our membership list to be a systematic giver.

Commandment #8: Blessed Giving

“On every Lord’s Day, each of you should put aside some amount of money in relation to what you have earned and save it for this offering. Don’t wait until I get there and then try to collect it all at once.” (1 Corinthians 16:2)

We give as God has blessed us. One of the reasons we are not blessed is because we might not be giving.

Commandment #9: Faithful Giving

“On every Lord’s Day, each of you should put aside some amount of money in relation to what you have earned and save it for this offering. Don’t wait until I get there and then try to collect it all at once.” (1 Corinthians 16:2)

Do not procrastinate your giving. Everybody needs to be systematic, giving as God has blessed them and not waiting to give someday.

Commandment #10: Responsible Giving

“When I come I will write letters of recommendation for the messengers you choose to deliver your gift to Jerusalem. And if it seems appropriate for me also to go along, then we can travel together.” (1 Corinthians 16:3-4)

“We want to avoid any criticism of the way we administer this gift. We are taking pains to do what is right not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of men.” (2 Corinthians 8:20-21)

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Struggling for the Soul of Our Country

struggling-for-the-soul-of-our-country-p-m-browning-jrStruggling for the Soul of Our Country
Preston M. Browning Jr.
Wipf & Stock, 2016
ISBN: 978-1-4982-0994-6

In ten essays and three appendices, Browning, “a Southerner, an octogenarian, a socialist and, with reservations, a Christian” attempts to explain what he believes is a struggle for the soul of a nation – the soul being defined as “a complex mixture of beliefs, passions, conflicting desires, hopes, fears and contradictions.”

Browning, an academic, author, poet, critic and activist residing in Western Massachusetts where he operates Wellspring House retreat for writers, presents his seasoned views “developed over decades of reading, reflection, and writing.” These essays voice the passionate concerns of a man who has lived his entire life struggling to plant and nurture a new vision for American society. Readers will quickly gain an idea of where Browning stands by simply reading the table of contents

Essays
American Global Hegemony vs. the Quest for a New Humanity
American Pathologies and the Response of Faith
Why I am a Christian Socialist
Letter to My Grandchildren
Struggling for the Soul of America
Religionless Christianity in an Age of Spectacle
America’s Forgotten Wars
American Dystopia: Cold War, the CIA, and John F. Kennedy as Sacrificial Victim
Climate Change & Our Shared Earth
The Plague: Money in Politics

Appendices
Israel’s Heartlessness: We See It in the Treatment of Palestinians
Anger and Hope

As with all of us, Browning’s life experiences have influenced his worldview. A child of the Great Depression, he was raised in rural Virginia in an Episcopalian family.

At church he regularly encountered the message of ancient Hebrew prophets of the Old Testament along with the words of Jesus, most of which he understood to have “excoriated the wealthy of their day for oppressing the poor and ignoring the suffering of the neglected and dispossessed in their midst.”

At home Browning had a mother who

“spent much of her time as a kind of unlicensed and unpaid social worker, visiting some of the most destitute citizens of our county, bringing to these wretched folk food, clothing, and sometimes a little cash but most importantly, a reminder that they were not forgotten.”

Browning says he “never recovered” from those impressionable years.

At a fairly early age I developed a distinct distaste for money-grubbing and an inchoate suspicion of capitalist ideologues, though it would be several decades before I was able to clearly articulate my deep repugnance and later yet before I realized it, although I had read little of Marx since my college days and had never attended a gathering of socialists, I was, in all but name, a socialist. Hence the motif that appears in one way or another in many of these pieces – an unqualified antipathy toward contemporary multinational capitalism and the American empire that supports it – follows quite naturally from the impressions and experiences of my childhood.

The foundation of Browning’s analysis of the state of America’s soul rests on four assumptions:

(1)   that the many pathologies that undermine the psychological and spiritual health of America, including our addiction to violence of all sorts, are closely associate with the brutal, unrelenting quest for wealth that US capitalism epitomizes;
(2)   that an economic system that destroys lives, families, communities, and the Earth, as does contemporary multinational capitalism, is neither sustainable nor worthy of the support of those who suffer its abuses;
(3)   that America is a sick society breeding sick individuals and that only a radical revolution of mind and heart is likely to prevent future catastrophe;
(4)   that as a society we face several major crises, the most immediately threatening of which is global warming, with which we are unprepared and seemingly unwilling to deal, at least with the seriousness such a threat requires.

Throughout these essays, Browning explores American history, foreign policy, economics, human rights, and environmental concerns – all matters of critical importance.

While left-leaning liberals (nothing pejorative intended here) will applaud most, if not all, Browning has to say, right-leaning free market conservatives (again, nothing pejorative intended) will likely dismiss the book as a socialistic, utopian rant. That would be unfortunate, for while one may not agree with Browning’s diagnosis and prescription, he raises many uncomfortable questions for all Americans. He deserves to be respectfully heard.

Browning is troubled by “American exceptionalism”, the belief that the USA is a superior nation above all others. For those who may believe this is no big deal, he says this exceptionalism is demonstrated by:

an American propensity to studiously disregard the opinions of other peoples respecting our country’s actions and, in fact, to regard any opposition to official US decisions as outright hostility.

He illustrates the assertion by reminding readers of the disdain America held toward countries that refused to join the US attack on Iraq in 2003.

Further, Browning believes America’s ignorance of its own history, along with the desire to live only in present means that the country continually fails to learn the lessons from its own past.

There is very little encouragement for contemporary America in this collection of essays. Browning challenges our own self-understanding as a morally upright, compassionate nation striving to enable peoples around the world to live in freedom and security. He sees the nation as driven by imperialistic aims – ensuring Americans continue to enjoy the good life at the expense of everyone else.

While I do not agree with all that he identifies as problems – his seeming disregard for the horrendous history of the Soviet and Chinese socialistic experiment is problematic to say the least – I believe he has identified many issues and hypocrisies within American culture that can no longer afford ignoring.

There is one matter which I cannot ignore. Browning describes himself as a Christian, and as an evangelical Christian myself – one who has invested the last 46 years of life in pastoral ministry – I confess that his understanding of what constitutes being a Christian is radically different from mine. To make my point, consider this statement he makes to his grandchildren in the essay entitled “Letter to My Grandchildren”. He writes:

I know that none of you believes in the supernatural, intervening God of traditional religion; neither do I. But I do believe that there is a spiritual force in the universe that in some way makes our lives – all life, in fact – possible and that prevents the universe and the Earth from flying apart into trillions of bits and pieces.

Whomever, or whatever, this god described by Browning is, he certainly is not describing the God revealed in the Bible – the Old and New Testament Scriptures of Christianity. The God of the Bible is a personal, all-knowing, all-powerful, ever-present God who intends to renew and restore the creation we have so carelessly and rebelliously destroyed. This Creator God has promised to create a new heaven and earth where righteousness will prevail (2 Peter 3:1-18).

As Americans go to the polls this November to elect a president from among the two most unpopular candidates in history, and in light of the surprisingly strong primary campaign led by the avowed socialist, Bernie Sanders, Browning’s essays speak to many issues on the hearts and minds of the American public.

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The Christian Lover

the-christian-lover--michael-haykinThe Christian Lover: The Sweetness of Love and Marriage in the Letters of Believers
Michael A.G. Haykin with Victoria J. Haykin
Reformation Trust Publishing, 2009
ISBN: 978-1567691115

Carl Trueman, Professor of historical theology and church history at Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia), captures well my response to The Christian Lover.

Michael Haykin never ceases to surprise with his gift for producing unusual books on neglected aspects of church history. Here he gives his readers insights into the love lives of some of the great saints of the past, bringing out their humanity in touching and unique ways. An unusual book, certainly, but well worth reading.

I discovered this book while perusing my Facebook page – a friend had posted a link to the Kindle version offered for free at the time. I was interested because Michael Haykin is a personal friend whose work I appreciate, particularly his historical research of Calvinistic Baptists – a heritage that I happily want to share.

Michael Haykin is a prolific author and editor (see “Books & Papers” here), but this particular title struck me as so unique, I immediately downloaded it and began reading. I did not put my iPad down until the last word. Trueman is right: “An unusual book, certainly, but well worth reading.

Marriage has fallen upon hard times. Not only is western culture floundering on the very understanding of what constitutes marriage, the Christian church also seems increasingly comfortable with ending marriages for any number of reasons.

In his Introduction, Michael Haykin reminds us that:

At the heart of marriage, as conceived by God in the primal state, is the intention that the husband delight in and passionately love his wife, and vice versa.

But as is sadly too often the case with many biblical principles, Haykin says:

A cursory study of the history of love and marriage within Christian circles will reveal, however, that this divine ideal has not always been heeded and , indeed, sometimes has been rejected.

He supports his assertion with examples of faulty views of marriage from such notable church fathers as Jerome (4th Century Bible scholar) and Augustine (Latin-speaking theologian of the same era). This influence carried in the Middle Ages through the influence of Bede (ca.673-735) and other Roman Catholic authors of that period.

Haykin believes that the Reformation brought, not only a “rediscovery of the heart of the gospel and the way of salvation”, but also “a recovery of a fully biblical view of marriage.” He gives the remainder of the Introduction to showing how Calvin (1509-1564), the 17th century Puritans, and 18th & 19th century evangelicals rehabilitated marriage, bringing it back to a solid, biblical foundation.

Correspondence between twelve couples spanning the 16th – 20th centuries forms to heart of this book.

16th Century
Martin & Katharina Luther
John & Idelette Calvin

17th Century
John & Lucy Hutchinson (17th Century)

18th Century
Philip & Mercy Doddridge
Benjamin Beddome & Anne Steele
Henry & Eling Venn
Thomas & Sally Charles
Samuel & Sarah Pearce

19th Century
Adoniram & Ann Judson
John & Lottie Broadus

20th Century
Martyn & Bethan Lloyd-Jones

Each couple is introduced with a brief overview of the lives and ministries, followed by correspondence that passed between them. The letters reveal a full range of human emotion – deep and abiding love, concern for one another’s spiritual well-being, as well as genuine passion to serve the God they love.

I could not help notice how the language and writing style changed through the centuries, becoming tighter and much less adorned as they move toward the 20th century. Rarely, if ever, does one see the richness of expression evidenced in earlier times. Letter writing itself has fallen on hard times.

The marriages portrayed were not perfect, but they were rooted in love for God, commitment to God’s design for marriage, and devotion to one another as husband and wife. This is surely worth reading.

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