Since World War II, most scholars say that America and the West are in a post-Christian
era. A number of Christian scholars have suggested that we have now entered into a new
dark age, similar to the thousand-year period preceding the Reformation. One of the most
well-known aspects of the dark ages was a preoccupation with the mystical and the occult,
based upon experimental knowledge. Perhaps this accounts, to some degree, for the
explosion of interest in the demonic realm and, for many Christians, the new priority upon
deliverance teachings and, what is often called, "spiritual warfare." Into this
climate steps a "Christian" novelist -- Frank Peretti.
Frank Peretti's [first] two books have taken the Christian market by storm. Although they are fiction, they are chock full of theological presuppositions and teachings on the Christian life. Since they are fiction, these theological views are not highlighted or supported by Scripture references and the casual reader, reading for pleasure, often unknowingly picks up Peretti's theology of spiritual warfare. It is therefore imperative that Peretti's novels be evaluated from a Biblical viewpoint. Even though Peretti writes fiction, we believe that he pretty much believes what he is writing is realistic. Very likely, he sees himself helping the Christian community prepare for spiritual warfare. "Keep on ... piercing the Darkness!" was how he autographed one of his books.
In 1986, Frank Peretti's book This Present Darkness (Present) was the first published, but little notice was taken of it at that time. So-called
Christian fiction was just beginning to become popular in the Christian market. By 1988,
this sleeper suddenly awoke and took the market by storm. As late as July of 1989 Present
was still the #1 best-seller among Christian books. In August 1989, Peretti's next work, Piercing
the Darkness (Piercing), was released by Crossway Books and promised
to be at least as popular (by 10/89, it had already passed the 750,000 sales level of Present). [In 1992, Peretti authored another charismatic thriller, Prophet; its
popularity never matched that of his other two books. Nevertheless, all three remain on
the "Christian" best-seller list and have topped five million in print. In
August 1995, Peretti's fourth spiritual warfare novel, The Oath, is
scheduled for release.]
An important shift has taken place in Christian books in the last few years, the more popular books are no longer non-fiction Bible study or devotional works, but novels. In itself, this is not necessarily bad. The use of stories has always been an extremely effective way to communicate important principles. Just look at the number of parables our Lord used to communicate important truths about the Christian life. So even though fiction can be an effective way to teach the truth, it more often can be very dangerous; since the theology is normally not clearly stated, non-Biblical and erroneous ideas can be taught without the reader distinguishing between literary license and false teaching. In addition, we must remember that when Christ used parables, he taught something that was true, not fiction. Fiction, therefore, can never be an excuse for sloppy theology, even though many fiction writers want to hide behind this flimsy excuse.
Both books revolve around the theme of New Age groups which seek to defeat
Christianity. [Only Present and Piercing are discussed in this
report; see also the
Media Spotlight review of This Present
Darkness for additional details.] Peretti's unique approach is that he gives the
reader a "two-dimensional" view of the conflict. Not only does the reader see
the various human agencies which are working against the church, but he opens up the spirit
world so that the reader can see what [supposedly] is going on behind the scenes in the
spiritual realm. Here is the real arena of spiritual warfare -- the struggle between the
Holy Angels and the fallen angels or demons and how they work to influence what is going
on in the physical realm. The reader sees the connection between the demons and New Age
practices, such as creative visualization, channeling, and how the demons influence fallen
men to work against the cause of Christ and Christianity. We think his exposť of the New
Age is the only strength of his books.
In both books, Peretti does a masterful job of describing the problem confronting the church and the Christian today. Present is set in a small town called Ashton. There, several people, including a local college professor, the police chief, the mayor, the pastor of the large liberal church in town, and a number of important townspeople, have become involved in various New Age groups emphasizing human potential, mind control, hypnotism, etc. The common denominator is that they are all in pursuit of power and control. In their attempt to gain control of the small town, various crimes, including murder, are committed. Arrayed against them is the small community church led by a faithful man of God and the editor of the local newspaper. Peretti paints a picture of just how a town can be taken over by evil, of how many Christians are afraid and simply want to ignore what is really going on, and what tragic consequences apathy and spiritual ignorance can produce.
In the more recent Piercing, Peretti gives a chilling account of just how fragile our current religious freedoms are in this country, and presents a convincing scenario of how these freedoms can be destroyed. In this book, the headmaster of a local church school is accused of child abuse and his children are taken from him by the local authorities. At the same time, charges are brought against him at the school for child abuse -- he spanked a disruptive child -- (carried out in a loving and Biblical way), for outrageous religious behavior against a child, and excessive religious instruction harmful to the child. These charges were brought because a child, who had picked up a spirit guide while practicing guided imagery exercises at the public school, was being taken over by a demon in the classroom and blaspheming God. An exorcism had then been attempted. Behind this is an attempt by the ACFA (a thinly-veiled parallel to the ACLU) to get restrictive legal definitions and precedents established to restrict Christian teaching in private schools. Behind this, of course, is the demonic plan to destroy the witness of Christ. Networked with the ACFA are various other groups involved in everything from human potential to witchcraft. It is only through the diligence and faithfulness of the local church and the pastor and their strong prayer cover that victory is won.
In both of these works, Peretti has given a very convincing scenario of just how precarious the position of Christianity in America is today. He shows an excellent understanding of the New Age movement and all of its various manifestations. He also gives a realistic account of how the various organizations grouped under the umbrella term, "New Age," network together, and the very real danger they present to Biblical Christianity. However, while Peretti does an excellent job in describing a problem confronting the church today, he falls into some very serious errors in describing the solution.
Peretti's emphasis on spiritual warfare and his description of war with demons reveals
a certain theological approach, whether he intends this or not. This deeply concerns us
because it is a view of spiritual warfare that is becoming very popular, yet has what we
believe to be some serious errors. While it would be easy to take potshots at Peretti's
description of angels (they all seem to have wings -- only cherubim and seraphim have wings
in Scripture) and some of his graphic descriptions of how they do battle and what the
demons look like, that does not really concern us. The serious problems are those which do
not fit with the picture given in Scripture.
Problem One: Peretti's view of the Holy Angels is serious error. He
seems to make them glorified humans, even to the point of having some sinful attitudes. At
one point in Piercing, one angel laughs a "spiteful laugh" (p.
16). Further, his angels seem to come in various races -- one is a Native American, another
an Oriental, and another an East Indian. There is no Biblical basis for either of these
views. First, the Holy Angels are no longer capable of sin, thus would not be given to
spite. Second, the angels are non-racial, at least in human terms.
Problem Two: Peretti seriously confuses demons with the works of the flesh. He has demons named murder, hatred, lust, greed, strife, and division. In the Scriptures, these are works of the flesh (Gal. 5:19-21), not demons. This approach is becoming very common in contemporary, "pop" demonology. The source for this knowledge of demon names comes not from the Scripture, but from interviews with demons. Are we to believe lying spirits? There are at least two major problems with this approach:
(1) The great danger that this poses is that it causes believers who struggle with sins of the flesh to look to some sort of exorcism or deliverance as their solution, rather than claiming the victory of Christ over sin and simply walking in obedience. In Peretti's view, the believer sins not because of his own flesh, but because he is being moved to do so by a demon. At one point in the book, two Christians in the local church are having a phone conversation and spreading gossip and malicious rumors about the pastor and the school headmaster. When Peretti attempts to show what is going on in the spirit realm he writes: "Gossip sat on her shoulders, dangling his skinny fingers in her brain while Strife sat on the table and watched" (p. 223).
(2) Perhaps many believers do not realize that to get information from demons, no matter how much, is condemned in the Bible as spiritism and sorcery (Deut. 18:10-11). We are not to seek or listen to any information which a demon gives out. We are to develop our views on this, and any other matter, solely from the text of Scripture, not the interpretation of our experiences with demonic power.
Problem Three: Another major area of weakness is Peretti's understanding
of prayer. While prayer is a vital aspect of spiritual warfare, Peretti makes spiritual
victory so dependent upon prayer that he has the angels receiving their strength from the
prayers of the saints. According to Peretti, as long as the saints are praying, the holy
angels can have victory, but when the saints stop praying, the angels become helpless.
This view of prayer totally ignores the sovereign power and the work of God. God will work
out his purposes and plans for man and is not limited by the prayers of the saints. The
closest parallel to this is found in Daniel 10:10-21. However, notice that the angel who
came to interpret Daniel's vision was sent from God on the first day of Daniel's prayer
(10:12). Why did it take him three weeks and the intervention of Michael, "one of the
chief princes," for God's messenger to get through? Because he received opposition
from an evil angel -- "the prince of the kingdom of Persia" (10:13). But nowhere
in this "angelic conflict" is Daniel and his prayers -- in any way, shape, or
form -- related to helping the angel get through to Daniel. The text merely states that
there was a conflict and opposition from below. To infer, as some have done, that Daniel's
prayer helped the angel get through, is to add to what the Bible says.
Further, Peretti's view of prayer comes dangerously close to positive confession at times. According to Peretti, if the church will submit to God and pray, they will always have victory over the demonic. There seems to be no room in his view that temporary demonic victory may be in God's plan (e.g., Dan. 7:25; Rev. 13:7-8). This is where Peretti and this new view of spiritual warfare is sympathetic with certain elements of dominion theology. One school of dominion theology emphasizes spiritual dominion more than political dominion. In their view, Christians will be victorious over Satan in this age.
Problem Four: This weakness is related to the third. Peretti has his angles and demons operating in a fashion that appears to be completely independent of God. [Peretti also has demons in charge of hell, a concept not found in the Bible.] In fact, God is so far removed from the actual battle that He is only alluded to at times. This leaves the reader with the impression that God is not in complete control of every move made by either demons or angels. The Scriptures clearly teach that Satan and the demons are completely under the control of God. In Job 1, Satan must get God's permission to inflict suffering on Job. In fact, it was God who initiated the conversation by asking, "Have you considered My servant Job?" (1:8; 2:3) The demons are not left to their own devices. This is the basis for the promise in 1 Corinthians 10:13 -- that no Christian will be tested beyond his ability to withstand.
Further, Peretti's view fails to take into account the way God uses Satan and the demons to discipline believers and unbelievers, even to the point of purposefully deceiving them. In 1 Samuel 16:14, God sent a distressing spirit to Saul; in 1 Kings 22:19-22, God sent a spirit to deceive Ahab in his battle with Syria. Also, in 2 Samuel 24:1, we are told that God moved David to number the people, but in 1 Chronicles 21:1, we are told that Satan moved David. Apparently God used Satan to move David to sin in order to discipline the nation for their disobedience. God's involvement in spiritual warfare is so removed from Peretti's scenario that his view comes very close to being autonomous forces doing battle on their own moves. In fact, as one reads Peretti, God does not come out the hero; instead, it is the victorious Christians who win the day.
In summary, Peretti's understanding of angels, demons, and spiritual warfare does not reflect a correct view of the Scriptures. But his books are so popular because many Christians today are being led astray into this erroneous view of spiritual warfare by deliverance teachers. The role of demons is becoming emphasized in a way that goes beyond the Scriptures. We want to make it clear that we believe in the reality of demons and that demons do tempt the saints and are actively engaged in warfare against the saints. Our problem is that the solution presented by those who hold to a deliverance theology are putting an emphasis on demons that goes way beyond the Scriptures. Too often the knowledge about demons and their warfare does not come from the Scriptures but from those who have had "experience" with the demonic. This, in effect, puts experience over the clear teaching of Scripture. The counterattack to demons presented in Scripture includes prayer (Eph. 6:18), submission to God and resisting Satan (James 4:7), and the pursuit of holiness and righteousness in the believer's life (James 4:8; 2 Tim. 2:22).
But how is this to be implemented? What is the Biblical view of spiritual warfare and how does it differ from the increasingly popular view as fictionalized by Peretti and the deliverance teachers?
It is not uncommon today to hear Christians talk about how they have recently been
enlightened concerning the demonic realm or spiritual warfare by listening to the
experiences of other Christians. They may speak of how they used to not believe in the
supernatural world, but now they do after hearing or seeing an event relating to demonic
activity. As Christians, we should not believe in Satan and the demonic because of
experiences; rather we should believe because the Bible tells us it is true. We believe in
demonic activity because the Bible tells us, not because we have had a wild and
hair-raising experience. The question always comes up: "How do you interpret and
evaluate these experiences?" On the same basis a Christian believes in demons in the
first place -- the Bible tells me so. The Bible is the basis for the believer's instructions
relating to spiritual warfare.
[For a more complete understanding of "the new spiritual warfare," see Ice
and Dean's 1990 book, A Holy Rebellion: Strategy for Spiritual Warfare
(Harvest House: 194 ppgs.).] There is potential danger in this new emphasis, because like King Saul, advocates of the
deliverance ministries are going beyond the limits of Scripture. One of the ways
Christians are opened-up to the new spiritual warfare is over the issue of just how active
Satan and his demons are today. The discussion usually centers on whether or not one
believes in the supernatural realm, which most people in America do believe in today.
Then, when a person is convinced that the demonic realm is alive and well on planet earth,
it is assumed that they are to be dealt with in accordance with the teachings of the
These are really two separate questions?: (1) Are demons active in the world today?; (2) Since they are, then how does the Bible tell us how to handle them? So often, once a Christian is convinced of question one, then they do not even think to ask question two. Often believers are then rapidly escorted into an experience-based approach to dealing with the demonic. (Unfortunately, this popular approach, which has been largely developed by "talking" with demons, is advocated by so-called mainstream evangelicals such as C. Fred Dickason in his book Demon Possession and the Christian: A New Perspective. Dickason is a theology professor and head of the Theology Department at Moody Bible Institute.)
The new deliverance teachings fail to account for the uniqueness of the ministry of
Christ and the Apostles (Eph. 2:20). The deliverance teaching is modeled (often only
loosely) after Christ's unique ministry where He came into direct conflict with Satan and
his demons. There are events in the life of Christ that are as unique to His special
one-time ministry. While we are to be like Christ, there are many areas in which the
things He said and did were related to His special, one-time ministry as the God-man who
came into the world to save sinners. How do we distinguish the aspects of the life of
Christ which we are to build upon from those areas which were related to His unique,
Messianic ministry? We believe that the New Testament (NT) Epistles were given to
specialize in instructions for how Christians are to live during the Church Age.
Many of Christ's miracles and conflicts with the powers of darkness are related to His Messiahship, and are not a pattern for "spiritual warfare" during the Church Age. A couple of examples would include: (1) Satan's direct temptation of Christ to forsake the Father's plan for His Messianic mission by following Satan's course (Matt. 4:1-11); (2) An encounter with demons who were afraid that Jesus, the Messiah, was there to destroy them (Mark 1:23-27), something which will happen fully at the Second Coming.
This is not the picture painted by that section of the NT which specializes in doctrine and examples for living the Christian life during the Church Age -- the Epistles. Direct demonic conflict will resume in the future during the seven year Tribulation period when Christ finally does bind the strong man and the demons and deposits them in the bottomless pit. While it is true that believers are tempted as was Jesus the Messiah, and that we are involved in spiritual warfare, it is handled in a different way as we will seek to demonstrate later.
The Greek word for "demon" (daimonion) and its related words are used 77 times in the (NT), according to our sources. All but eleven of these instances occur in the four Gospels. Only seven of these uses are in the Epistles (4 times in 1 Cor. 10:20-21; 1 Tim. 4:1; James 2:19, 3:15). The other four uses occur once in Acts 17:18, and three times in Revelation (9:20; 16:14; 18:2). A similar use occurs with the phrase "evil/unclean spirits," except that this phrase is used more in Acts (6 times), but in a way similar to the Gospels. We do not think these occurrences approach the thinking and practice being taught by many in the deliverance "ministries" of contemporary Evangelicalism. We are not setting one portion of the NT against another, rather because these two sections are harmonious, it is instructive that the Epistles do not warn believers to look out for demon possession, nor do they describe how to become engaged in a deliverance ministry.
Reconstructionist Gary North has described the agenda of the Christian in this present
age to be that of gradually taking back the ground from Satan lost in the fall of Adam.
"God is in charge, waiting for His people to challenge the rulers of the earth and
take the steering wheel from them," claims North, "the battle for the earth is
currently going on" (Liberating Planet Earth, pp. 23-24). Dominionists
believe that this is taking place right now (Kingdom
Now), before Christ returns.
Therefore, we are living in the Kingdom of God and it is up to us to defeat Satan, his
human allies, and to take spiritual and physical dominion. North explains the nature of
this process as something which is to be accomplished "step by step, person by
person, nation by nation" (p. 9).
Peretti paints a similar "take dominion" picture in Present -- step by step, demon by demon, Christians can take over a town for Christ and run them out of town spiritually. Whether spiritually or physically, the principle of taking dominion generally is the same. However, we believe that the task for believers during this present evil age is evangelism and Christian living, while "waiting for his Son from heaven, who he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come" (1 Thes. 1:10), not gradually taking over a town for Christ by rounding up the demons and running them out of town. The task of taking dominion is often expressed in the deliverance teachings of binding demons and the Devil to prohibit Satanic influence.
Spiritism is best defined as "the masquerade of demonic forces, who pretend to be
departed spirits with the intent of deceiving through the power of Satan those foolish
enough to believe the testimony of demons in preference to the authority of the Word of
God Himself" (The Kingdom of the Cults, pp. 199-200). Since Spiritism
involves unauthorized communication with demons, this abomination is a very real
possibility for those like Peretti who practice the new spiritual warfare. This approach
seems twice as risky in light of the many Biblical warnings for believers to stay away
from these kinds of things (Matt. 7:21-23; 2 Cor. 11:13-15; 2 Thes. 2:1-12; Rev. 9:20-21;
It is not that we do not believe that demons are real, or not active. Just the opposite
is true! It is because we believe in their activity that we are concerned about current
trends relating to the handling of this problem. The Scripture warns us of tremendous
demonic activity during all of human history, but how does this same Bible tell Christians
to handle it? We believe in an indirect manner rather than a direct approach.
The direct approach was what Christ and the Apostles were engaged in during Messiah's first coming. As noted above, this was related to his one-time, unique ministry. The direct approach will be implemented during the Tribulation and at the Second Coming in the future. We believe that a proper understanding of what is going on in the Gospels and Acts and how it relates to the everyday instructions as outlined in the Epistles is central to this issue. If one sees the direct approach of Christ as the norm for today, then he will likely be greatly impressed with the new spiritual warfare, however, at the risk of becoming involved in spiritism. On the other hand, if the Epistles present the standard, then an indirect approach follows.
The indirect approach would deal with demonic activity in a person's life, whether believer or unbeliever, by challenging them to follow God's Word in any given area of contention. We call this approach indirect since demonic influence is sometimes behind a specific problem. However, the specific issues should be dealt with and God will work behind the scene to take care of the demonic when the subject works on the overt problem.
If you are dealing with an unbeliever, then you preach the gospel to them as you would any unbeliever, since all unsaved are at the mercy of "the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience" (Eph 2:2). There is no Biblical precedent for having to cast out demons from any sinner before he can be placed in a savable condition any more than there is for a sinner to make any adjustment in his unsaved state (through psychology, inner healing, etc.) so he can come to faith in Christ.
When dealing with a believer's problem, the issue of sin should be dealt with directly and God will do the behind the scenes work. If the problem is lust, then the product of the flesh should be handled the way any sin of the flesh is to be tackled. One is only asking for trouble by passing the buck and not dealing with the problem for what it really is. Sins of the flesh cannot be dealt with by labeling the problem as the demon of lust and attempting to exorcise it. Spiritual warfare as outlined in the Epistles is clear:: (1) recognize that Satan is behind temptation and false doctrine
(1 Tim. 3:7, 4:1), (2) flee youthful lusts (2 Tim. 2:22) and (3) stand against Satan through the power of prayer (Eph 6:18). The emphasis is on personal responsibility to overcome sin by asking God for the victory (1 Jn. 5:4), not by verbal arguments with demons.
Instead of seeing spiritual warfare as it is presented in the Bible, where the devil is
fought with the weapons of prayer, preaching, witness, godly living, and obedience to the
Scriptures, Peretti sees himself as a modern-day exorcist desiring hand-to-hand combat,
striking the powers of darkness with dramatic words of authority. This is a far cry from
the picture of the spiritual warfare given by the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 6:10-20.
Peretti's concept of spiritual warfare teeters precariously between the superstitions of
medieval Rome and the notions of Eastern, pagan religions (Peter Masters, The
Healing Epidemic, p. 83). [The foregoing statement was applied by Masters to
charismatic "demonologists" in general; we have specifically applied this
teaching to Peretti.]
If Peretti merely dispensed his flawed (if not heretical) spiritual warfare theology in novels, that would be bad enough. But Peretti (an ordained Assemblies of God minister) also travels throughout the country as a regular conference speaker (presenting "dramatic visual presentation[s] you'll never forget") -- not as a novelist, but as an expert theologian in what the Bible teaches about true spiritual warfare. But since his teachings are, in reality, based upon charismatic experiences, not the Bible, true Bible-believing Christians should beware.
*This material has been excerpted/adapted from a Biblical Awareness Ministries' report by Robert L. Dean, Jr., and Thomas Ice ("Frank Peretti and the New Spiritual Warfare," Biblical Perspectives, Vol. II, No. 5, Sep/Oct 1989). (Biblical Awareness Ministries and its newsletter, Biblical Perspectives, no longer exist.)