Could it be….Satan? (A book review)

As I am reflecting on the nature of sin this season, I thought it would be worthwhile to read a book from a Charismatic/Pentecostal perspective. This book talks about the invisible battle we face as we seek to live holy lives. As someone who’s diabolic imagination has been set aflame by Screwtape Letters I accept the world that Kris Vallotton describes in Spirit Wars: Winning the invisible Battle Against Sin and the Enemy. I have attended charismatic churches and been around when people were praying over others for demonic deliverance. A lot of these ‘deliverances’ seem more psychosomatic than real, in the same way that divine healing can sometimes be attributed to the placebo effect. Still I have seen enough, and have thoughtful friends with enough discernment that I know that some of it is real and there is a real spiritual battle being fought. Therefore a book helping Christians better wage this war makes sense to me.

And Kris Vallotton does not disappoint. He shares from his own experience of demonic oppression, physical depression (or in his case a hormonal issue), experience in praying with people and his reading of scripture. He argues that for those who are in Christ, victory over sin and the powers is not only possible, it is the norm (explaining at one point that he can go several weeks without sin). Vallotton does not discount that there could be psychological causes for struggles and advocates that those struggling with long term depression or anxiety see a physician, get a proper diagnosis and medication. He also avoids the spirit-flesh dualism of some Pentecostal preachers by urging that physical, emotional and spiritual causes for our struggle are intermingled inside the human person and cannot be easily separated.

I don’t endorse everything that Vallotton says here. He oversimplifies at some points and takes fanciful leaps. I would question his interpretation of the Bible. People who self-describe as prophets (as Vallotton does) often take an imaginative approach in biblical exegesis, which provides keen insights as well as abysmal errors. So I affirm some of what he says but have serious questions about other portions of this book. For example, he uses Nehemiah and Joshua as exemplars of how we can resist “the enemy” and carry out the task that God gives us. This spiritualizes and allegorizes the biblical history of the Old Testament, which is legitimate to a point, but Vallotton’s approach means an uncritical view of both Nehemiah and Joshua. Contrary to leadership and popular accounts, the hero of the books of Joshua and Nehemiah are not the men the book is named for, but Yahweh himself. Joshua and Nehemiah do some things well and also make horrid missteps along the way ( i.e. Joshua is told to be strong and courageous, but instead sends spies and sits on his hands for several chapters, fails to call on God; Nehemiah ends with the sending away of foreign wives). I think if Vallotton was attentive to the ways these leaders failed, his insights for spiritual warfare would be more incisive.

Also, Vallotton makes errors in his interpretation of passages by drawing distinctions that are not in the text. He makes the common error of drawing a strong distinction between spirit and soul (within the human person), but the biblical material neither supports this nor warrants it. Likewise, he distinguishes terms (such as a distinction between prisoner and captive in Isaiah 61:1) which betray an amateur understanding of Hebrew poetics and parallelism.

I think this book is more useful as describing one person’s experience of the spiritual battle and his personal insights into the nature of it. When it comes to Biblical interpretation I do not think Vallotton is a trustworthy guide though he does provide and interesting window on individual texts. I would recommend this book to the discerning charismatic Christian who can separate the good from the bad, truth from error. While I have my reservations about parts of this book (some of which I failed to mention here), I will likely refer back to sections.

Thank you to Chosen books for providing a copy of this book in exchange for this fair and honest review.

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