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Worldviews in Conflict: Christian Cosmology and the Recent Doctrine of Spiritual Mapping (Part 2)

 

The more controversial question whether a Christian can actually become demon possessed has divided believers for some time. It is not within the scope of this study to deal with the particular issue in any depth. To some extent, the problem is difficult to resolve since not everyone agrees on what it means to be “possessed,” and whether or not a person can “backslide” and thus be susceptible to demonic control. If, on the other hand, we limit our discussion to the notion of demonic “attack,” then I think it is fairly easy to say that Christians do experience such oppression (II Cor. 12:7; Eph. 6:11-18; I Pet. 5:8-10).

In a temporal sense, we are pressed to conclude that Satan does wield some power over the believing community. At the same time, it remains clear that Christ is the consummate ruler of the universe (Isa. 9:6-7; Luke 22:69; Eph. 1:20-22; I Pet. 3:22) as well as the head of the church (Col. 1:15-20). The church and the Kingdom of God are, therefore, certain to advance against every demonic strategy, and Satan’s dominion will ultimately be destroyed (Matt. 16:18; cf., Rev. 20:1-3). On the cross, Christ paid the balance of human indebtedness, and thus disarmed “the powers and authorities” of Satan (Col. 2:15). The clock is ticking, and in view of the imminent return of Christ, the devil’s time is running out.

Believers already have been given authority over Satan and demons. After the seventy disciples went out at Jesus’ instructions, they returned overjoyed that the demons submitted to the name of Jesus (Luke 10:17). Commenting on the disciples’ initial success, Christ replied:

I saw Satan fall like lightening from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you (Luke 10:18-19).

Spiritual warfare must be seen, therefore, not so much as a practice by an elite group of intercessors, but rather by every professing Christian. We must acknowledge that we are not merely contending against government policies, corrupt politicians and the godless gurus of rock and roll, we face the unseen reality of demonic forces. Moreover, every believer experiences trials and difficulties, and—in varying degrees—attacks of Satan. Typically, this means that evil of a demonic origin stands behind and is partly the cause of some of our trials, though this does not mean that the devil—himself—is directly involved.51

 

Is Spiritual Mapping Biblical?

Concerning the third and final question, we must ultimately ask whether the practice of spiritual mapping is biblical. By “biblical,” I mean is the doctrine clearly taught, practiced, and promoted based on the evidence of Old and New Testament data?—either as an imperative or implied by a principle. Here, we must be careful to distinguish a scriptural basis from an experiential, philosophical, or testimonial foundation. Christian leaders, pastors and teachers, have a great responsibility and duty to perform with respect to doctrinal development. Those of us who sense the call of God to shepherd the church must take our doctrine seriously since we understand it has a profound effect upon the life of the average Christian (I Tim. 4:11-16; cf., James 3:1).

I cannot criticize mere theorizing on issues that are unclear from an examination of Scripture. Speculation, as a human enterprise, is the mother of invention, and when it is conducted in an academic setting it is both appropriate and healthy. On the other hand, books and sermons that promote doctrine can either edify or damage the church. Whether or not the teaching and practice of spiritual mapping will have any long-term negative affects on the church remains to be seen. The inherent problems of the “Shepherding Movement” of the 1970’s, for example, were temporarily masked by its impressive popularity and high profile endorsements. Eventually the weaknesses surfaced, but by that time many people were wounded, and some ministries were destroyed.52 Whatever the practical consequences, we must never allow upbeat commercialization and popular appeal to substitute for serious biblical investigation. Spiritual mapping has yet to be fully assessed on this basis. Nevertheless, I want to begin by making some constructive comments.

First, those who engage in spiritual mapping rightly point out that the church has often been weak in failing to recognize the invisible world of darkness. Since the period of the Enlightenment, a large percentage of scholars in the Western church—following the more rational European tradition—gave little attention to discussion about satanic influences. Biblical criticism, which is a legitimate sphere—in itself—was admittedly fostered in a climate of academic skepticism. During the early part of the twentieth century, continental theologians, like Rudolf Bultmann, were “demythologizing”53 the New Testament from every element they deemed foreign to the sophisticated modern mind. The notion of a real devil was thus viewed as a relic of the past, to be received only by the primitive or superstitious Christian. These cavalier dismissals of traditional church doctrine are perceived, by today’s standards, as both premature and shortsighted.54

Another noteworthy feature coming from the spiritual mapping school is their insistence that human conduct—alone—cannot account for all the evil that exists in the world. This perspective is not only supported by the testimony of Scripture, but is the conclusion of many sensible people who have taken the time to examine history. How can we fully account for the brutal, unmitigated genocide of several million people in WWII German extermination camps? Or, more recently, what could motivate one tribe in Rwanda to butcher thousands of innocent people from another tribe, including old women and children. Human nature is very dark, but darker still are the inexplicable and heinous events that bludgeon our senses, forcing us to admit that satanic influence is present in the cosmos.

 

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Category: Living the Faith, Winter 2002

About the Author: Larry L. Taylor, M.A., D.Min., is Affiliate Faculty at Regis University in the Denver area and formerly professor of humanities at Portland Bible College. Larry Taylor founded a church in Colorado and has 17 years of pastoral experience.

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