Our ideological opponents are not the enemy.
Someone who grew up in a more liberal religious tradition than mine once told me the sermons in his church were always boring, especially on Easter Sunday. “That was the day the pastor had to deal with the Resurrection,” a doctrine about which he was at best squeamish and at worst skeptical. “We would have to wait to see what metaphor the Resurrection turned out to be—one year it was restarting one’s life afresh, another would be the importance of recycling, or whatever.” A secularized account of the Resurrection does indeed lack the punch of the real thing (and that’s the least of its problems).
We evangelical Christians aren’t likely to secularize our beliefs about the Resurrection, but we are well on our way to secularizing something else: spiritual warfare.
Some outside the church incorrectly see spiritual warfare as a recent innovation, traced back to C. Peter Wagner and the Fuller Seminary church growth classes of the 1970s (thus tying it to the New Apostolic Reformation) or to Frank Peretti’s This Present Darkness and other novels of the 1980s.
But the concept of spiritual warfare has been firmly established in every era and wing of the Christian church, back even earlier than Saint Anthony wrestling demons in the desert, all the way to the New Testament itself.
There’s no absence of spiritual warfare talk from Christians these days. But listen closely to it and you’ll notice something: Rarely is this language of warfare directed toward evil spirits. Instead, it’s usually employed to describe ideological opposition toward fellow human beings. “This is spiritual warfare!” we hear as the lead-in to a call to arms about some political or …