Territorial Spirits and World Evangelization

Chuck Lowe. Territorial Spirits and World Evangelization. Sevenoaks, Kent, Great Britain: Mentor/OMF. 1998. Paper. 199 + 2 pages. ISBN 185792399-5

Reviewed by Wright Doyle

Hardly have I read a more helpful book on a controversial subject. Dr. Chuck Lowe, lecturer at Singapore Bible College, clearly learned his Biblical exegesis and the disciplines of thorough research well, or he would not have earned a Ph.D. under the tutelage of distinguished scholar Leon Morris.

Though he studied at a noted charismatic school (Oral Roberts University), the author has transcended the limits of that perspective to give us a careful analysis and critique of the very popular “strategic level spiritual warfare.”

Though brief, his book manages to deal with this innovative technique from several angles: careful elucidation of terms and concepts; biblical exegesis; evidence from the intertestamental period and from church history; comparison with animism; empirical data; the career of James Fraser; and modern sociology.

To begin with, he finds that the most basic concepts of strategic level spiritual warfare (SLSW for short) are vaguely, inconsistently, and sloppily defined and used by its proponents (of whom Peter Wagner is the most prominent). That is, “territorial” spirits turn out, most of the time, not to be territorial after all!

Then Lowe compares SLSW with the Bible, and finds, first that the Biblical evidence for territorial spirits is, at best, spotty and inconclusive. Despite the multitude of proof-texts adduced, SLSW cannot stand careful exegetical investigation.

Then Lowe shows that the Bible not only never calls for “warfare prayer” – that is, aggressive “binding” of Satan and demons or “rebuking” them – but even prohibits such a practice! See 2 Peter 2:10-12; Jude 9-10. Always, in the Bible, we are to pray to God with humble, believing intercession. Lowe’s discussion of spiritual warfare in Ephesians – the only book of the Bible which actually tells us how to engage in this activity – was especially helpful to me. Instead, we are to stand firm, resist the devil, and seek to do all that God commands.

Likewise, any appeal to church history will not confirm what SLSW advocates claim for, in the Early Church, the Reformation and the career of John Wesley, we find that the basic assumptions of current SLSW practices are not only not accepted, but receive strong condemnation. Only in the Middle Ages do we see the type of speculation about demons (with their names, ranks, and various activities) in which modern SLSW indulges so much – and that was a period when the Bible’s exclusive authority was at a historic low point!

Nor can animism guide us in this area. Not only are its various worldviews widely divergent, but pagan religions cannot have much weight in the formation of Christian theology! When we turn to modern missions history for support, Lowe’s rigorous examination of the data shows that SLSW promoters have accepted anecdotal, unverifiable, and inaccurate reports as true. Furthermore, they have interpreted even this evidence through the lens of their own bias, when other explanations of church growth (such as sociological factors) are not only possible, but probable.

Lowe’s account of James Fraser’s work among the Lisu a hundred years ago proves that he is no rationalist. Instead, he believes that the “old-fashioned” way to spiritual victory is still the best – preaching, perseverance, and humble prayer.

Finally, the author places SLSW in its larger context of modern evangelicalism’s seduction by the world’s commitment to technology. As an American, I have to confess that much of this criticism applies to me and my countrymen, and I cringed as I identified myself among those whom he described as vulnerable to the newest fad. He is right to point out that the church growth school grew out of modernism, while SLSW arises from the post-modern fixation with the irrational.

If only we would just comb the sacred Scriptures for wisdom in our missions and evangelism! Perhaps we would see more lasting results – the idol of current Evangelical efforts. Certainly, we would bring greater glory to our God.