Too often, in my opinion, books on spiritual warfare start from experience and speculation and then hunt through Scripture for proof texts.
Spiritual Warfare in the Storyline of Scripture: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach takes a different approach. It begins instead by surveying the Bible’s teaching on spiritual warfare from Genesis to Revelation and then develops practical applications. William F. Cook III and Chuck Lawless are both professors at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary with extensive pastoral experience. Their book not only contributes to our understanding of what the Bible teaches about spiritual warfare but also provides a model for exploring any topic for those who believe the Bible is the supreme authority in all matters of faith and practice.
As the reader opens the book, the endorsements and forward raise one’s expectations for what lies ahead. Clinton E. Arnold (who has written a few books on spiritual warfare) has this to say about the book:
Many Christians do not realize that the theme of spiritual warfare pervades the Scripture from Genesis to Revelation. Bill Cook and Chuck Lawless develop and explain this crucially important theme and draw out numerous practical applications. This well-written book will change your perspective and it will motivate you to a greater dependence upon the Lord through prayer. I only wish they had written it thirty years ago when I started my teaching career.1William F. Cook and Chuck Lawless, Spiritual Warfare in the Storyline of Scripture, B&H Academic, 2019, 1.
Then, in the forward, Thom S. Rainer announces that it will be an official book of his organization, Church Answers. Along with other endorsements, these encourage the reader to press on. Indeed, the book is worth reading.
Defining Spiritual Warfare
After quoting four definitions of spiritual warfare, the authors offer their own pointing out three emphases:
. . . we define spiritual warfare as “the ongoing battle between the church and the devil and his forces, with the church standing in the armor of God, defensively resisting the devil, and offensively proclaiming the gospel in a battle already won.” This definition emphasizes three issues. First, the battle is primarily between the devil and the church. . . . Second, the battle is ongoing though it has already been won. . . . Third, daily victory comes not by some magical or mystical approach to warfare, but by daily following Christ.2Cook and Lawless, p.3.
The storyline of Scripture
The importance of the storyline or plotline of Scripture has been emphasized by evangelical writers more frequently in the last 20 to 30 years. It is central to the academic discipline of biblical theology as practiced by evangelicals (see my book review of What is Biblical Theology?). In this book, the authors provide an example of how to trace a theme through Scripture and draw out practical applications.
Biblical and Theological Foundations
In part one, William Cook examines the biblical teaching about spiritual warfare from Genesis through Revelation. Because Satan and demons are mentioned less often in the Old Testament, it is covered in one chapter. The New Testament discussion, however, includes six chapters. Cook is not trying to be exhaustive in discussing each passage but focuses on what the passage contributes to our understanding of spiritual warfare. The reader may wish for a more in-depth examination at times, yet often footnotes point to more extensive discussions elsewhere. Moreover, Cook is careful not to speculate and read into a passage. His comments on Daniel 10 provide a good example of this:
The heavenly battle between the prince of Persia and Michael leave many questions unanswered. What is clear is that as believers pray, they engage in a spiritual battle. While it may very well be true that certain demons are given particular territories to afflict, it does not follow that believers are to personally engage these so-called territorial spirits. If this were to be a part of the believer’s participation in spiritual warfare, then it appears that the angel that spoke to Daniel missed an important opportunity to instruct him on the subject.3Cook and Lawless, p 40.
Throughout part one, Cook provides a very helpful overview of what the Bible teaches about spiritual warfare in about 200 pages. He sets the stage well for his co-author to develop practical applications for the church today.
In part two, Chuck Lawless develops practical applications in five chapters: Spiritual Warfare and the Local Church, Spiritual Warfare and Evangelism, Spiritual Warfare and Missions, Spiritual Warfare and the Family, and Spiritual Warfare and Leaders. As we read through these chapters, we notice that the author does not focus on Satan or demons but on God. In so doing, He reminds us that the Bible is a book about God, not Satan. 4Cook and Lawless, p204. Throughout these chapters, the emphasis is on knowing God through studying and living the Scripture in the fellowship of the church. In this way, his approach to spiritual warfare is comprehensive. That is, the battle involves the flesh, world, and the devil.5Cook and Lawless, p 207f. The headings of the author’s strategy for the local church illustrate his comprehensive approach:
- Focus on the Centrality of God
- Preach the Sinfulness of Humanity and the Grace of God
- Emphasize the Believer’s Position in Christ
- Promote Unity, Model and Teach Godly Relationships
- Teach and Model Holiness in Lifestyle
- Prioritize Prayer
- Disciple Believers in Wearing the Armor of God.6Cook and Lawless, p 215-226.
Spiritual Warfare and Missions
Missionaries will be interested in the discussion on strategic-level spiritual warfare, exorcism, and dealing with demons (p 279-285). While Lawless appreciates the importance placed on spiritual warfare by advocates of strategic-level spiritual warfare, overall he is concerned about the lack of biblical support for the practices. He also raises (correctly in my mind) serious questions about formulaic prescriptions for exorcism and dealing with demons. While I agree with the position presented, this is one place where I wish there was a deeper discussion.
Spiritual Warfare in the Storyline of Scripture resists going beyond what Scripture teaches. While this might frustrate some, it takes Deuteronomy 29:29 seriously, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” Also, I appreciate that the authors develop a comprehensive approach to spiritual warfare that recognizes we battle the flesh, the world, and the devil. This book will also encourage you that Satan is a defeated enemy who will flee when we resist him. In short, this book will help you formulate a biblical, comprehensive, and practical understanding of spiritual warfare.
The Authors’ Final Challenge
The book concludes with a final challenge that encapsulates their approach to spiritual warfare:
- Spend time studying the greatness of God. Open the Word, and be amazed. The enemy’s lures lose their power when we are more fascinated by God. Praise him for who he is.
- Connect deeply with a local church. You may already have that connection; if not, you need it if you want to live in victory. We remind you not to fight alone.
- Deal with any open doors for the enemy in your life. Confess them to God. Hold yourself accountable to another believer. Close the doors by repentance and prayer.
- Stand firm in the armor of God, and press on in obedience. God has already given us all we need for victory. He is our warrior, and he has provided us his armor to wear.
- Tell someone about the victory you have in Christ. Trust God to use your witness and your words to free somebody else from the enemy’s trap.7Cook and Lawless, p 337,338.