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Book Review of Chuck Lowe, Territorial Spirits and World Evangelisation : A biblical, historical and missiological critique of Strategic-Level Spiritual Warfare (Bristol, Great Britain: Christian Focus, 1998)
By Dr Alex Tang
Over the last decade, a new theory and practice of evangelism, missions and spiritual warfare has caught the imagination of the evangelical churches all over the world. Peter Wagner, a major proponent of this theory writes,
The body of Christ has come to a place unlike anything known in church history. Even the Book of Acts has not recorded the kinds of awesome ministry we are now seeing in many parts of the world … Never before has God entrusted to His church the level of spiritual warfare which is occurring in every continent in the 1990s. Even ten years ago, we did not have the vocabulary to describe what is almost commonplace these days, such as strategic-level spiritual warfare, spiritual mapping, identificational repentance, and prayer evangelism…..The new assignment that God has given to the International Spiritual Warfare Network and to the body of Christ in general deals with the highest levels of “rulers of darkness of this age” as the Apostle Paul would say (see Eph.6:12). The notion of confronting the Queen of Heaven is not fun and games. It is an advanced, high-risk assault against the powers of evil that no one would want to undertake other than by a direct command of God.
This theory is of the view that the present mode of missions and evangelism which involved prayer, hard work and persistence has failed because did not take into consideration the resistance by ‘rulers, authorities, powers of this dark world and spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.’ (Eph 6:12). Hence a direct assault on these powers will result in a great harvest of souls for the Kingdom. This new theory is Strategic Level Spiritual Warfare (SLSW). Wagner writes, “I believe that God is now giving His missionary force the greatest power boost it has had since the time that William Carey went to India in 1793.”
What is Strategic-Level Spiritual Warfare (SLWL)? SLWL has two components: the theory of ‘strategic-level spirits’ and the practice of ‘spiritual warfare’. In writing about spiritual warfare, Wagner identified three levels:
· Ground-level spiritual warfare confronts demonic spirits that molest individuals. This is personal deliverance: casting out demons.
· Occult-level spiritual warfare exposes organised forces of darkness such as witchcraft, shamanism, Satanism, Freemasonry, Eastern religions, New Age and the like.
· Strategic-level spiritual warfare involves wrestling with principalities and powers and rulers of the darkness, as Paul defines in Ephesians 6:12
Most of the churches have no problem with ground-level and occult-level spiritual warfare though the degree in which they are involved varies. The early Church Fathers such as Justin, Irenaeus, Tertullian and Cyprian address the issues of possession and deliverance which will involve ground-level and occult-level spiritual warfare. Present day practitioners of deliverance such as Charles Kraft, Neil Anderson and Francis MacNutt deal with mainly ground-level and occult-level spiritual warfare. It is at the level of strategic-level spiritual warfare that the problem arises. Is there such a level as SLWL? Is there such a spirit as territorial spirit? Are Christians called to assault such spirits?
Lowe, a lecturer on New Testament interpretation, theology and preaching at the Singapore Bible College, clarifies the area of discussion in his book:
To support SLWL, it is not sufficient to find biblical texts or empirical data confirming the existence of demons or enjoining spiritual warfare. Both are undeniably taught in the Scripture and widely practiced in the church. Instead support must be directed towards the distinctive characteristics of SLSW. Consequently this critique focuses on the theory of territorial spirits and the practice of warfare prayer.
Wagner presenting his hypothesis on territorial spirits in 1992 wrote:
Satan delegates high ranking members of the hierarchy of evil spirits to control nations, regions, cities, tribes, people groups, neighborhoods and other significant social networks of human beings throughout the world. Their major assignment is to prevent God from being glorified in their territory, which they do through directing the activity of lower ranking demons.
It can immediately be seen that this hypothesis will stand or fall on the issue of whether spirits or demonic beings can legitimately be perceived as occupying territories.
Lowe summaries his findings on territorial spirits as:
The Bible does not portray demons as geographically specific. Tutelary spirits do appear on occasion, but only to make the point that opposition to the people of God is motivated by Satan. The Bible provides little additional information about demon taxonomy.
Old Testament Review
Deuteronomy 32: 8-9
When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance,
when he divided all mankind,
he set up boundaries for the peoples
according the numbers of the sons of Israel.
For the Lord’s portion is his people,
Jacob his allocated inheritance
The basic idea here is that God divided all the nations of the world, keeping Israel for himself. The meaning of ‘sons of Israel’ is obscure. The Dead Sea scroll of Qumran reads “sons of God” while the Septuagint reads ‘ angels of God”.
Lowe wrote that,
If the Septuagint version is original, then this verse means that God has appointed angels to serve as guardians over the nations, while he looks after Israel. This is a lot of ‘ifs’, and at best this passage affirms the existence of ruling angels, not demons. For both reasons it cannot bear a lot of weight. But at least it raises the possibility that guardian spirits exist, though it is not clear whether these are all angels, all demons, or some of each. Nor is it clear whether their jurisdiction is geographical, geopolitical or ethnic (italic his)
God presides in the great assembly;
He gives judgement among the ‘gods’:
“How long will you defend the unjust
and show partiality to the wicked?” (Ps 82:1-2)
The identity of these ‘gods’ is not clear. They may be human judges over the nations, pagan deities or angelic powers behind the national rulers. If they are angelic powers, their corruption, as Lowe noted, will suggest demonic orientation as in Ps 82:6-7
“I said, ‘ You are “gods”;
you are all sons of the Most High.’
But you will die like mere men;
You will fall like every other ruler.” (Ps 82:6-7)
In that day the Lord will punish
the power in the heavens above
and the kings on the earth. They will be herded together
like prisoners bound in a dungeon;
They will be shut up in prison
and be punished after many days.
The punishment threatened against ‘the powers’ implies that they are demonic. The parallel between the powers of heaven and the kings on earth could suggest that they are linked; that is these demons work through the kings and serve as guardians over the nations. Again, though, all this is possible but not definite, and inferential rather than explicit.
Ezekiel is writing about the word of the Lord to the king of Tyre.
In the pride of your heart
you say, “ I am a god”….
But you are a man and not a god,
though you think you are wise as a god. (Eze 28:2)
You were anointed as a guardian cherub,
for I ordained you……..
Though your widespread trade
you were filled with violence,
and you sinned.
So I drove you in disgrace from the mount of God,
and expelled you, O guardian cherub.(Eze 28:14,16)
‘Cherub’ may be a patron deity working through the human ruler of Tyre. The guardian angel over Tyre has fallen into sin and was expelled from God’s presence.
In the end, the symbolism of this text remains obscure to the modern interpreter. Perhaps behind the king lurks a ruling demon. Perhaps the imagery alludes to a pagan notion of divine kingship. Perhaps the king is a symbol for the city-state, proclaiming its wealth and claiming omnipotence.
Daniel 10:13, 20
This is the most cited text for the existence of territorial spirits. Daniel has a dream and prays for God to reveal its interpretation. After twenty-one days, an angel appears to explain both the dream and the delay.
The prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia…..Soon I will return to fight against the prince of Persia, and when I go, the prince of Greece will come…No-one supports me against them except Michael, your prince (10:13,20-21)
As Michael is a prince and guardian over Israel, it is reasonable to conclude that the opposing princes are demonic guardians over Persia and Greece. From this passage, it can be argued that there are geographical boundaries for the princes of Persia and Greece. Next it may be assumed that there are similar ruling princes or demons in other geographical areas all over the world. It can also be assumed that under each ruler, there are lower ranking spirits over smaller regions. Lowe however commented that, “ This argument infers a lot out of a little. From demonic rulers over two nations, to demonic rulers over all the nations, to demonic rulers over smaller units within each nation…. An assumption built on an analogy and leading to an inference.”
Ancient Canaanite Beliefs
Throughout the Old Testament, it is evident that the peoples of that day- unfortunately including Israel at times – regarded gods, deities, spirits or angelic powers of various kinds as having territorial jurisdiction. A prominent example is the severe dislike Jehovah God has for high places.
The reasoning behind this is that if the Canaanite gods are actually demons, then the belief in territorial deities provides evidence of territorial spirits.
Lowe countered by stating that he has found eighty six references to ‘high places’ in the Old Testament, yet “not one states or implies that the gods are actually located at the site or restricted to it, only that they are worshipped there”. It then beg the question that if the gods are not there, why should the people worship them at the high places and not anywhere else?
New Testament Review
The New Testament gives very little information on territorial spirits. Hebrews 2:5a “It is not to angels that he has subjected the world to come” implied that this present world is subjected or ruled by angels. Paul did not write much about demonic spirits except to affirm that Satan is the ruler of the kingdom of the air (Eph 2:2) and that the rulers and authorities are in the heavenly places ( Eph 3:10; 6:12).
Lowe also commented on four other references which proponents of territorial spirits would cite: the Legion of Mark 5, Artemis of Acts 19, the residence of Satan in Revelation 2:13, and the harlot of Revelation 17.
In Mark 5, as Jesus was about to exorcise the Legion from the Gerasene demoniac, the demon begged not to be sent ‘out of the area’ (Mark 5:10). It was suggested that the demons were territorial and would be punished if they lost control of their territory. Another explanation may be they are afraid of being sent into the Abyss ( Luke 8:31).
Artemis of Ephesus was actually an amalgamation of several female deities : the ‘mother goddess’ of Asia Minor, the Greek goddess Artemis and the Roman goddess Diana. Since the deities from three different geographical area could fuse, it is unlikely the worshipers regard Artemis as a territorial or local deity. The importance is that her central temple was located in the city.
Revelation 2:13 identifies Pergamum as the place where Satan lives and have his throne. It is unlikely that Satan is a territorial spirit.
Concerning the harlot of Revelation 17, Wagner explains:
the harlot of Revelation 17 is in all probability the most influential territorial spirit mentioned in Scripture…We are told that this obscene evil creature “sits on many waters” (Rev 17:1). What are these waters? “The waters which you saw,…are peoples, multitudes, nations and tongues” (Rev 17:15). Here we have an explicit reference to an evil supernatural being who has gained the highest level of malicious control over human social networks of many kinds. I have been calling this sort of being a territorial spirit.”
Lowe pointed out the difficulty with this comment. If the harlot has authority over many peoples, multitudes, nations and tongues, she is not a territorial spirit. She may be a universal spirit!
Extra Biblical Sources
From the extra biblical sources, Lowe quoted the example of 1 Enoch and the Testament of Solomon. In 1 Enoch, the concept of spiritual hierarchies is detailed. The spirits are not geographical but functional. Each of the fallen angels teaches a forbidden science to mankind, example war, seduction and materialism. The Testament of Solomon makes no distinction between strategic-level spirits and ground-level spirits. Instead, the evil spirits are simultaneously heavenly and earthly.
Lessons from Animism
It is often quoted that the Western mind can not accept the concept of SLSW because of the concept of the Excluded Middle. Charles Kraft explains it as your worldview and your experience of the supernatural. Lowe concludes “while animistic faiths often affirm the existence of territorial spirits, this evidence provides little support for SLSW, for two reasons. First, even where it appears, territoriality is not a prominent feature of animism. Secondly, the cosmology of animism is incompatible with that of Christianity”.
Summary on Territorial Spirit
In his analysis, Lowe did not find any definite example of territorial spirit in the Old Testament, the New Testament and some of the extra biblical sources. He did make allowance that “the literature abounds with anecdotes of notable success in ministry following the practice of SLSW. These accounts bear closer scrutiny, both on their own merits and in the light of social-science models of religious change” Surprisingly, Ed Murphy in his massive tome on Spiritual Warfare did not mention territorial spirits or SLSW.
The second component of SLSW is warfare prayer. Lowe notes that warfare prayer “ consists of one fundamental characteristic, aggression, and two basic practices: naming the spirits, and using the names in direct confrontation and imprecation in an attempt to ‘bind’ the spirits” It should be noted that we are not discussing demon possession and prayer for deliverance. Most proponents for SLSW distinguish that sort of demons from ruling or territorial demons.
Old Testament Review
Lowe comments “that the Old Testament provides little evidence of aggressive warfare against ruling spirits for the simple reason, that God is always the one who subdues them”
Daniel 10: 1-21
Did Daniel engage in warfare prayer?
Daniel the prophet who engaged in three weeks of warfare prayer along with fasting (Dan 10:1-21)……This story leaves us little doubt that territorial spirits greatly influenced human life in all its sociopolitical aspects. And it also shows us clearly that the only weapon Daniel has to combat these rulers of darkness was warfare prayer.
A careful reading of Daniel 10 showed that Daniel was unaware of a spiritual battle going on and when told about it, did not express much interest. He was praying for an interpretation of a dream and once he received the interpretation, he ceases praying (Dan 10:2-3). There is no evidence that he engaged in aggressive warfare prayer.
Wagner revised his interpretation when he wrote, “Daniel did not engage the enemy directly. In fact, he apparently did not even know a battle was taking place”.  In a latter book, Wagner’s comment on Daniel 10 is “ The chapter does not provide a method for conducting spiritual warfare. Much less for undertaking spiritual mapping research.”
Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him. The LORD said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, Satan! The LORD, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?
The two points to note from this verse are that the only human participant, Zachariah is only a bystander and that it is an angel who confronts Satan. Even then the angel does not directly rebuke Satan but appeals to the LORD to do so.
New Testament Review
In the very same way, these dreamers pollute their own bodies, reject authority and slander celestial beings. But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not dare to bring a slanderous accusation against him, but said, “The Lord rebuke you!”
Lowe commented on this verse by making two points. Firstly, if the great archangel is so circumspect with the devil, how much more prudent should mere mortals be with demons. Secondly, it is God alone who has the authority and power to rebuke Satan and the demons; mortal man does not.
Wagner identified five examples in the book of Acts that can be interpreted as SLSW. They are (1) Peter versus Simon Magnus, (2) Peter versus Herod, (3) Peter versus Bar-Jesus, (4) Paul versus the Python Spirit and (5) Paul versus Diana (or Artemis) of the Ephesians.
Following Lowe, we shall limit our discussion only to Acts 19.
In Acts 19, Luke records the works of Paul in Ephesus and a riot because of his success. Ephesus was the site of the principal temple of Artemis. Did Paul do SLSW in Ephesus?
In his 3-volume commentary on the book of Acts, Wagner states, “Acts 19 is the only account of ministry in the Scriptures where we find references to all three levels of spiritual warfare:
1. Ground-level spiritual warfare – vv. 11-18
2. Occult-level spiritual warfare – v. 19
3. Strategic-level spiritual warfare – vv. 23-41”
Yet Wagner writes in his next book, “We can surmise, then, that Paul did not have a head-on encounter with Diana in Ephesus, as he did with Python in Philippi …….often significant damage is done on the strategic level to territorial spirits through power ministries on the ground and occult levels. This is the way I like to interprete Paul’s ministry in Ephesus.”
It is interesting to note that Wagner interprete Paul’s success in Ephesus as through ground and occult level spiritual warfare and not SLSW. There is no mention of warfare prayers in the book of Acts.
Summary on Warfare Prayer
There has been no specific mention of aggressive prayer directed at a high level demonic spirit by a human being in the Old and New Testament. Examples of SLSW quoted by Wagner are mainly ground and occult level spiritual warfare. Lowe summarises, “The Bible does not call us to attack ruling demons; in fact, it warns us not to. Nor need we do so, for God has already defeated them in Christ.” It is interesting to note the warfare prayer in appendix B of Ed Murphy’s Handbook of Spiritual Warfare consist not of the aggressive prayer as advocated by proponents of SLSW but of thanksgiving and dependence on God.
Does it Work? SLSW & the Empirical Evidence
Proponents for SLSW are sure the strongest justification for SLSW is that it works. Warfare prayers are credited with bringing down the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain, with penetrating Albania with the gospel, to depose Manuel Noriega, to lower crime rate in Los Angeles during the 1984 Olympics, to turn around the economy in Argentina and encouraged the government of Argentina to return 150,000 hectares of land to the native Indians. Rapid church growth in South America is credited to SLSW.
Lowe asked the following questions, applying it to SLSW in South America.
1. Are the reports reliable?
He noted that most of the empirical data is unconvincing because it was haphazardly collected or cited.
2. Is the interpretation of experience credible?
i. Was SLSW practised before the growth occurred?
Apparently there was already church growth in Brazil, Chile, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Haiti, Jamaica, Puerto Rico and Argentina before the concept of SLSW was formulated.
ii. Was SLSW the cause for subsequent growth?
There are many other variables that can account for subsequent growth including socioeconomic factors and political factors
iii. What other explanations exist?
The distorting effect of prior assumption on the interpretation of data.
To explain the growth of Protestantism in Latin America, Peter Wagner, has offered three different interpretations of this phenomenon over the last twenty-five years, each of which correspond to his theological presuppositions at the time.
As early as 1973, and then again in 1986, Wagner identified nine ‘major factors causing church growth among Latin American Pentecostals’. If nothing else, this long list calls into question the tendency to attribute growth to any single factor or method, SLSW included.
In 1973, during his conservative evangelical stage, Wagner stressed the work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration, and played down the role of miracles. By 1986, however, during his ‘power evangelism’ stage, he concluded that the work of the Holy Spirit through signs and wonders is ‘the first and most essential dynamic underlying Pentecostal growth’.
In 1986, warfare prayer received only a brief mention, alongside healing and other similar phenomena. But by 1992, Wagner identified this practice as the key to the growth of Protestantism in Latin America.
Whichever view may be correct, the changing analyses illustrate the importance of prior assumptions in the evaluation of evidence, and the decisive role of premises in interpretation. The data never changed: over the entire period, Pentecostal and charismatic churches were the fastest growing. What changed was the experience of the interpreter. When examining the empirical data it is crucial to note that ‘bare facts’ do not exist. Data requires selection, not to mention interpretation, and both introduce the possibility of significant subjectivity.
Lowe has showed us how important interpretation bias is and how it can affect our thinking.
A Biblical and Effective Alternative.
In the discussion so far, it has been shown that SLSW is indefensible, both in its component of territorial spirit and warfare prayer. What then is a biblical and effective alternative?
Firstly, Paul does not exhort the Ephesian Church to launch an offensive against Satan; instead he urges them merely to stand firm in face of an attack. In Ephesian 6:10-20, the main thrust of the passage is to stand firm.
All that precedes builds toward the exhortation: they are to be strong in the Lord and to put on the full armour of God so that they may be able to stand firm (Eph 6:10-11). All that follows reinforces the exhortation: the rest of the paragraph elaborates the spiritual disciplines which will enable them to stand (Eph 6:14-18). The preoccupation with subordinate details of armour and demons often distracts from the main point: ‘Stand firm’.
Secondly, the biblical and effective way for world evangelisation is not new techniques, methods, principles or ministries. It is to be found in prayer, faith and patience. Lowe concludes by saying that we need “to stand firm on the promises of God, to resist the hosts of darkness, to intercede for one another, to pray in detail for the ministry, and to work for the glory of God”.
Peter Wagner is a prolific writer, averaging a book a year since 1984. Almost single-handedly, he has brought into general consciousness of churches worldwide the concept of SLSW. Following him are other writers and teachers of SLSW.
Neil Anderson comments:
What should we do about Satan’s hierarchy of demonic powers? Nothing! We are not to be demon-centered; we are to be God-centered and ministry-centered. We are to fix our eyes on Jesus, preach the gospel, love one another, and be God’s ambassadors in our fallen world.
It is rare to find a book that examines the subject objectively, not awed by the tremendous and powerful anecdotal testimonies and be able to examine the biblical text correctly with the proper hermeneutic tools. Chuck Lowe has succeeded in this and is to be congratulated in providing a breath of fresh air amongst a lot of hot air.
Soli Deo Gloria
 Started in 1990 by Peter Wagner and he is the international co-ordinator.
 Peter Wagner, Confronting the Queen of Heaven ( Colorado Springs, CO: Wagner Institute for Practical Ministry, 1998) p. 5-7
 Peter Wagner, Confronting the Powers( Ventura, CA: Regal, 1996) p. 46 Italic author’s
 Peter Wagner, Praying with Power ( Ventura, CA: Regal, 1997) p. 61
 Peter Wagner, Confronting the Powers( Ventura, CA: Regal, 1996) p. 115-116
 Chuck Lowe, Territorial Spirits and World Evangelisation?(Bristol, Great Britain: Christian Focus, 1998) p. 26
 Peter Wagner and Douglas Pennoyer, edd, Wrestling with Dark Angels (Ventura, CA: Regal, 1990) p. 77; Peter Wagner, Warfare Prayer (Ventura, CA: Regal, 1992) p. 76-77
 Chuck Lowe, Territorial Spirits and World Evangelisation?(Bristol, Great Britain: Christian Focus, 1998) p. 29
 Chuck Lowe, Territorial Spirits and World Evangelisation?(Bristol, Great Britain: Christian Focus, 1998) p. 30
 Ibid. p. 31
 Ibid. p. 32
 Ibid p. 33
 Peter Wagner, Warfare Prayer (Ventura, CA: Regal, 1992) p. 89
 Chuck Lowe, Territorial Spirits and World Evangelisation?(Bristol, Great Britain: Christian Focus, 1998) p. 35
 Peter Wagner, Warfare Prayer (Ventura, CA: Regal, 1992) p. 87-88
 Charles H. Kraft, Christianity with Power ( Ann Arbor, MI: Servant, 1989)
 Chuck Lowe, Territorial Spirits and World Evangelisation?(Bristol, Great Britain: Christian Focus, 1998) p. 101
 Ibid., p. 27
 Ed Murphy, The Handbook For Spiritual Warfare ( Nashville, TE: Thomas Nelson, 1992,1996)
 Chuck Lowe, Territorial Spirits and World Evangelisation?(Bristol, Great Britain: Christian Focus, 1998) p. 46
 Ibid p. 46
 Peter Wagner, Warfare Prayer (Ventura, CA: Regal, 1992) p. 66
 Peter Wagner, Engaging the Enemy (Ventura, CA: Regal, 1991) p. 19
 Peter Wagner, Praying with Power ( Ventura, CA: Regal,1997) p. 83
 Chuck Lowe, Territorial Spirits and World Evangelisation?(Bristol, Great Britain: Christian Focus, 1998) p. 50
 Peter Wagner, Confronting the Powers ( Ventura, CA: Regal, 1996 ) p. 163
 Peter Wagner, Blazing the Way, The ACTS of the Holy Spirit series Book 3 ( Ventura, CA: Regal, 1995) p. 163
 Peter Wagner, Confronting the Powers ( Ventura, CA: Regal, 1996 ) p. 213
 Chuck Lowe, Territorial Spirits and World Evangelisation?(Bristol, Great Britain: Christian Focus, 1998) p. 45
 Ed Murphy, The Handbook For Spiritual Warfare ( Nashville, TE: Thomas Nelson, 1992,1996) p. 593. This prayer is taken from Mark Bubeck, The Adversary ( Moody Press, 1975) and was written by Dr. Victor Matthews and edited by Dr. Neil Anderson.
 Peter Wagner, Warfare Prayer (Ventura, CA: Regal, 1992) p. 163-164
 Chuck Lowe, Territorial Spirits and World Evangelisation?(Bristol, Great Britain: Christian Focus, 1998) p. 121-122
 Chuck Lowe, Territorial Spirits and World Evangelisation?(Bristol, Great Britain: Christian Focus, 1998) p. 60-61
 Chuck Lowe, Territorial Spirits and World Evangelisation?(Bristol, Great Britain: Christian Focus, 1998) p. 141
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