Mr. Leep is a member of Grace Protestant Reformed Church in Standale, Michigan.
Spiritual Warfare: A Biblical & Balanced Perspective, by Brian Borgman & Rob Ventura (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2014).[Reviewed by Bill Leep, Jr.]
We are in a war of the most serious nature. As Reformed Christians, we have a tendency to ignore or downplay this reality, probably due to fear. Not the fear of being caught up in a war—far from it. More often it is the fear of the opposite extreme. That is to say, we may be guilty of the error of ignoring the power of the demonic realm to offset the error of an unhealthy interest in them. This unhealthy interest includes various errors: that of people ‘binding’ or ‘rebuking’ demons; or that of mapping a demon’s physical location; or even that involving those who may have formulas for exorcism. None of these are biblical concepts. But this overly cautious handling of the issue can cause us to take the opposite extreme of ignoring or downplaying the power of the spiritual realm. What we fail to realize is that taking this opposite extreme supports a naturalistic worldview. A worldview that says there is no spiritual realm is a view that has foundations firmly rooted in evolutionary theory—it says there is no outside force in the universe; what you see is all there is. As balanced Christians, we need to avoid errors of extremes. Martin Luther once noted that we (Christians) are often like a drunk trying to get on his horse. First we fall off one side, only to climb up and fall off the other. On a topic this important we cannot afford to fall off either side.
Spiritual warfare. As soon as I saw that in the title of this book, I was intrigued and wanted to read it, probably due to the type of business that I am in. I have had many opportunities to travel overseas to some very spiritually dark areas of the world. The biggest shock I have found was that there is a tangible difference in the “spiritual atmosphere” of some of the countries I have visited. These countries have much less of a Christian presence than what we are blessed with in my area (West Michigan). Ever since I first experienced that, I have been looking for good writings on this subject. Unfortunately, I have been unable to find good Reformed material, so I was eager to see what this book had to say. I was not disappointed. I found this book to be true to its title, a biblical and balanced perspective on the subject.
The book is primarily a mini-commentary on, the main passage in the Bible dealing directly with spiritual warfare. This is where Paul exhorts us to put on the armor and “stand against” demonic forces. The most immediate and obvious thing that is pointed out is that in standing against our enemy, we are not to be on the offensive, actively attempting to ‘bind’ demons. Rather, we are to face this real and present danger—a force that is more powerful than we are—by relying on the power of Christ, who is infinitely more powerful than the devil and any number of his hosts. Christ alone provides the protection we need to stand against this onslaught. It is tremendous comfort to know that in His power we can resist. That is the promise, the power to resist, not an imploring to attack.
Paul also reminds us that we have no reason to fear though the attack is certain. I am often mindful of that when witnessing a confession of faith. We would do well to be more intentional in reminding our youth that making this confession will paint a target on their back, at which the devil will shoot flaming arrows. It is a certainty. But they must also be reminded that they will have available to them the power of Christ to stand against any attack! It will be hard work, but as we are told earlier in Ephesians (), once we are in Christ there is work we will need to do, and putting on the armor of Ephesians 6 is part of that work.
You would do well to take the 30 or 40 minutes needed to read the book of Ephesians in its entirety prior to reading this book. The comments in this book on spiritual warfare are firmly rooted in the context of the entire book of Ephesians. In fact, there are so many references to Scripture that I had to pause once to count. I found 27 biblical references on the two pages open before me. There is no doubt that this book has a biblical perspective.
The book is not long, a little over 120 pages. It can be divided into three sections. Once the foundation is laid as summarized above, the middle portion is a good exegetical look at each of the tools we are given to defend ourselves as Christians: truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, and the Word.
One interesting note may be made about the Word as the sword of the Spirit. The sword has a dual purpose. We often think of it as being only an offensive weapon, but in reality a sword is not only offensive but defensive as you parry a blow. Spiritually, we tend to view the sword immediately as offensive—the gospel goes forth as authoritative proclamation. But in harmony with the rest of this passage, it is to be used by each one personally as a defensive weapon with which we defend ourselves from the devil’s influence through immersion in Scripture.
The last part of this book focuses on the role of prayer and preaching. Prayer is defined not as a seventh piece of armor, but first of all as the means by which each piece of armor is put on. Secondly, by grace it is a source for the power of Christ to “boldly proclaim.” Paul here requests prayers so he can be bold. Paul, the great apostle, coveted these prayers. I must say, I was convicted by that. The authors point to Paul’s making this special request not only in verse 19 but again in verse 20 to ask twice for prayers from the Ephesian Christians as a necessary aid in proclaiming the gospel. Preachers today, like Paul, are men, subject to the same temptations as everyone else, the same spiritual attacks. In fact, they have intentionally put themselves in a more vulnerable and visible position to the enemy. Paul was asking for the congregations to participate in this warfare by praying for his preaching and for his boldness. If the preaching as primary means depends on the power of the Spirit, and the anointing of the Spirit usually depends on prayer, then I have not done nearly enough of what God has here called me to do on behalf of our preachers.
Lastly, I need to admit that before reading this book, when I read the credentials of the authors, I was a bit skeptical (as is my nature) of how ‘Reformed’ this book could be. As I read through the book with that thought in the back of my mind, I was pleasantly surprised and impressed by repeated references to essential tenets of the Reformed faith. For example, references to election and perseverance are frequent, as well as a strongly worded chapter on the importance of preaching. Reformed doctrines come through very clearly. The book also has some questions at the end of each chapter, which lends it well for use in a group discussion.
This book is a great encouragement in reminding us of the power of Christ, that we have access to that power in Christ, and of our responsibility to use it, in a very balanced way in our spiritual fight. I highly recommend it to any who are curious about, or fearful of, spiritual warfare.