Background: This article was originally published on my Radoxodar blog in December 2008. As I am now using that blog for other purposes, I have migrated Radoxodar posts to futuristguy, if I hadn’t reposted them here already. An edited version of this article appears in my tutorial on Theodicy.
I was an early though moderate proponent of “spiritual mapping,” and went to one of the earliest conferences held on that subject, almost 15 years ago. About a decade ago, I also served as a consultant to a regional prayer network, working with them on issues of culture, symbols, and occult religions and spiritualities. I volunteered in that role for several years.
I was in it deep enough and long enough to become uncomfortable with what I experienced from those committed to spiritual mapping and strategic prayer as essential to evangelism. Eventually, I stepped back from my advocacy of these perspectives and practices, although I am not anti-charismatic and I do believe that signs and wonders can be appropriate missional encounters in cultures where people are captivated by occult forces. I see this as one of the most difficult areas of doctrine to integrate into a holistic biblical paradigm because it has been so beyond the knowledge and experiences of most Christians in the West. That, however, is in the process of change both through the decline of Christendom, the ascendance of Eastern and occult religions, and the excesses of numerous strains within the “New Apostolic Reformation” movement as seen in the implosion of the Lakeland Outpouring and elsewhere.
The following material comes from comments I made to the post, “Subtle Changes,” on Former Leader’s blog. A post-Charismatic, Barb has critiqued the ongoing problems in Pentecostalism.
Comments on the “Subtle Changes” Post by Former Leader (2008)
Great post and comments – I wasn’t heavily involved in this stuff, but have been circling around the edges of it for awhile. Hard to find a balance – still working on that.
If you’ve been adversely affected by the “Transformations” theology and “spiritual mapping/strategic-level warfare prayer” practices, you might be interested in getting this book I found over 10 years ago: Spiritual Power and Missions: Raising the Issues by Edward Rommen. It’s available at amazon. It has several articles that give a substantial theological critique of the Otis-Jacobs-Sheets-Wagner-etc. system, if that’s part of how you want to process your release from captivity.
I attended the second ever spiritual mapping conference in 1994, not because I was a total advocate, but because I am a cautionary critic and wanted to find out what this was about. I have had many friends directly involved as advocates, and I could see something seemed out of whack. I wrestled for a few years with whether the Transformations system was biblical, abiblical, or anti-biblical. I finally concluded it was an abiblical system (not substantiated in Scripture) that easily becomes anti-biblical (a counterfeit system) by taking us away from the clear teachings of Scripture. (Though I still do hold to many aspects of spiritual warfare and theodicy, even as a never-been-Charismatic missional-minded mostly-Baptist-in-my-theology guy!)
Here’s an analogy I came up with to explain what I see as the core problem. It’s like we’re doorkeepers who stand in the open doorway between two rooms. In the outer room it is fully dark. In the throne room sits Jesus and it is full of light.
Spiritual warfare praying wants us to stand in the doorway, facing into the dark room, and focusing on casting out the darkness. Some of the light from Jesus flows past us and into the dark room. We occasionally turn toward Jesus, but not for too long because our supposed job is to stand against the darkness.
But what Scripture wants of us is to stand in the doorway, facing Jesus, taking in the light. When we stand in the doorway and face Jesus, the same amount of light goes around us and into the dark room as when we go the warfare route, plus we can always turn temporarily to greet anyone who comes near because they are being drawn toward the light.
We become like whatever we focus on. If we integrate our lives around Jesus, we ourselves are transformed and can affect the people around us. It’s ironic that when we integrate our lives around how people are influenced by Satan, we ourselves become inhumane because we no longer see humans, only spiritual forces. I wonder if all abusive theologies are built around such contempt for the very people whom God loves …
Meanwhile, welcome back to the land of Aslan! His springtime has arrived and is melting the gloom and desolation of the White Witch’s winter …
Over the past few years, I’ve been trying to find a balance on this topic, starting from the rather odd journey of an post-liberal/evangelical/Baptist who has studied cross-cultural missions since the 1970s and hung out with friends in the spiritual warfare/prayer movement, but am now primarily associated with “emerging” and missional movements, where cultures frequently function in a post-Christendom/anti-hyper-rationalist/spiritual powers framework.
Go figure …
I don’t know what it means either …
Anyway, about a year ago I posted a lengthy comment on Dutch emerging guy Marc van der Woude’s blog. It’s about “theodicy,” a doctrinal perspective which gives a storyline framework to the unseen world without letting it hijack The Main Story. If interested, check out this link. My comment is near the bottom, and interesting that the final comment is from a Charismatic brother searching for balance within the emerging movement.
[UPDATE: March 23, 2019. The link above is broken. Here is the Wayback Machine archive link for that page.]
Also, you might find The Invisible War: The Panorama of the Continuing Conflict Between Good and Evil by Donald Grey Barnhouse a reasonably balanced view on the doctrinal side of spiritual warfare.
Afterword ~ Responses (2009)
There were several comments to the original posting of this article on Radoxodar in 2009. They follow, along with my reply in between.
1. Rob: We have been involved in prayer and missions ministry in the Pacific Islands for 20 years now. I must say that I have appreciated the insight that has come through spiritual mapping. Our challenge is to then get involved in the practical dimensions of community transformation. I think that there is a feeling that prayer alone will change the world. But it does take individuals moving into such situations that are revealed or exposed and tangibly bring the power and presence of Jesus into that situation.
We continue to endeavor to be sensitive to what Father will reveal in various situations. Our goal is to be salt and light and minister love, and restoration. It is not to rail at the devil nor try to shout out the darkness. The relational component is often the basic missing link. [January 16, 2009]
2. My Reply: Thanks for your comment, Rob, and I do apologize for taking a while to get it posted and to respond.
Thanks for sharing some details of your approach. It sounds more balanced than that of others I’ve encountered.
And because this post was a summary of some more extensive case study work I did, let me add this clarification: I do believe important insights for prayer, relationships, and ministry can come from a process of cultural observation and analysis – which includes taking a close look at the local history and current situation with various spiritualities and religions, and seeking to understand how those influence individuals, families, organizations, and cultures. I learn much about where I live by looking at cultural-spiritual signs and symbols, studying written sources about local history, listening to lectures, engaging in discussions, praying and discerning.
So, although I’d agree that insights can be gleaned by some techniques used in spiritual mapping, I continue to have serious concerns about the biblical validity of many of the methodologies and reasonings for what to do with those insights, and how the methods of social transformation supposedly work.
My overall perspective is that human brokenness, human sinful natures, angelic and demonic forces, and the Triune God are all influencers of individuals and cultures. It may be impossible to separate the interweavings in our lives of all these “actors.” The key questions for me are whether all the actors are considered, and whether each is in focus or if any is the object of overfocus. It’s tough to keep all these in a system that’s in balance. I appreciate that you are trying … [January 28, 2009]
3. Rob’s Follow-Up: Thanks for the reply. I love getting that kind of feedback. It is very helpful to me. [January 28, 2009]