Ghost, Goblins, and Demons?

Happy Halloween!  Yeah, you heard me, I said the H-word.  As I grow in “maturity”  (those of you that know me stop snickering) I can’t help but to look back and reflect on my various responses to this most perplexing holiday over the years.  I have run the gamet between handing out tracks instead of candy to hiding deep in my house with all the lights off and the doors locked, to organizing my church’s alternative “Harvest Party” to what I now feel is the best response for all Christians:

SERVE YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD!

I am not pulling any punches here folks.  Life is too short.  Recently I was approached by a brother in Christ to volunteer at the “Hell House” that his church is hosting.  Apparently, if I got the gist right, they intend to literally scare the HELL out of people.  The plan is to have a “christian-themed” haunted house of sorts that shows the horrors of abortion, drunk driving, premarital sex as rape, and the rampant crime and drug use of urban areas.  Now don’t get me me wrong these are all important issues that need to be addressed by the church, but I simply can’t wrap my head around this approach.  Is this type of boom and doom delivery, Holy Spirit with a shotgun approach ever effective?  I want to keep an open mind, so please do write me if you have success with such an event, but I just don’t see it working in my community.  Maybe I am wrong, but it just seems to be devoid of both common sense and Godliness to purposely plan to offend and scare people into the kingdom.

The thing was, he tried to sell me on this notion by calling it “spiritual warfare” and joing the ranks of the front line to gain territory in kingdom.  I am a older believer and he was making me uncomfortable with his demeanor.  I can only imagine the way such an aggressive evangelistic posture would be interpretted by the unchurched–his targetted demographic.

I tried to calmly disuade him.  He wasn’t having any of it.  I think he walked away looking at me as a coward, afraid to wage war against the enemy.  It really got me thinking about this whole notion of warfare.  As believers, we have access to an incredible array of weapons to use when warring with darkness.  I just happen to think we can skip the racks holding the lances, pikes, and maces.



I would rather pick from the shelves that hold the toilet brushes, rakes, buckets and sponges.  Nothing irks me more than being around people that see a demon lurking at every turn and want to blame whatever is going on wrong at their church on spiritual warfare.  These same good-intentioned folks will then use that as some excuse to begin, as Rick Joyner often describes, “shouting down devils and throwing hatchets at the moon.” All this type of behavior generally results in is getting a severe headache from the hatchet blade landing back on your forehead.  You might as well be spitting in a fan.

Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of room for intense intercession, the pulling down of strongholds, and yes, at times, full-scale deliverance.  The Kingdom is a strange place.  It is both physical and spiritual.  You need to battle in the heavens AND here on the ground. What I want to introduce you to is something that transcends traditional spiritual warfare.

It is called it servant warfare:

Pray while you work!

The problem with most forms of what many call spiritual warfare is that it is primarily based on big tent revival models.  Gone wrong it can generate more fear and mysticism than is healthy.  When it becomes insular it can become downright toxic to your church.  Rather than mostly spin your wheels with hocus pocus and mumbo jumbo from a folding chair in the basement of a church, do something proactive–SERVE!

Look at the model Jesus demonstrated.  He was out and about serving people even as he “warred in the heavens.”  It is a balanced blend of practical action and prayer that is the most effective weapon to use against our enemy.  By the way, permit me one comical observation; have you ever noticed that the spiritual warfare mystics will actually esteem Satan?  They give him an honor that is undeserved when they mix in the drama.  They almost remind me of the characters in a Harry Potter novel with their constant “those followers of the name that can not be named” nonsense.  It isn’t lost on me that they probably never even sniffed at J.K. Rowling novel, to understand what I am saying here.  While they were protesting and condemning the books, I was handing out drinks, candy and bookmarks to people that stood in line at midnight at bookstores to get the newest edition.

See, the majority of what people label as spiritual warfare tends to be based in human emotion.  It is nothing short of melodrama.   I am sorry if I am stepping on toes here, but life is simply too short to pull punches on this topic.

If you really believe you are under some form of spiritual attack, what better way to fight back than to get the all powerful sword of the Holy Spirit in your hands:  a toilet brush!

That’s right, I said it.  I am not trying to be vulgar, or irreverent.  I am very serious.  Pray in tongues while you swirl your brush in the porcelain pits of the worst dens of iniquity in your city.  Have a problem in your city with adult bookstores and strip clubs?  Don’t make a public protest rally with hand-painted signs and lame cheers.  Instead, quietly go and offer to clean the restrooms of these places and do it with a smile on your face.  You name the evil that may be lurking in your town, and I will find you a service outreach for the purveyors of that evil.  See vile sinners need Jesus just as much as you do, and what better way is there to demonstrate the kingdom to these folks than to lay down all your nonsense and show them real life sacrificial love? This Halloween I intend to get out of my house, turn the lights on, perhaps sit at the end of my driveway with a nice comfortable fire in the mobile fireplace and have fresh steaming cider for the adults and the best candy in the neighborhood for the kids.  I plan to make my home a little taste of heaven on earth on Halloween and offer an alternative to rebuke and evangelical outrage: KINDNESS! Will you join me?

Quit Dumbing Down The Gospel by Donald Miller

My friend Greg and I have been talking quite a bit about what it means to follow Jesus. Greg would not consider himself as somebody who takes Jesus seriously, but he admits to having questions. I didn’t have a formula for him to understand how a Christian conversion works, but I told him that many years ago, when I was a child, I had heard about Jesus and found the idea of Him compelling, then much later, while reading the Gospels, came to believe I wanted to follow Him. This changed things in my life, I said, because it involved giving up everything and choosing to go into a relationship with Him.

Greg told me he had seen a pamphlet with four or five ideas on it, ideas such as man was a sinner, sin separated man from God, and Christ died to absolve the separation. He asked me if this was what I believed, and I told him, essentially, that it was. “Those would be the facts of the story,” I said, “but that isn’t the story.”

“Those are the ideas, but it isn’t the narrative,” Greg stated rhetorically.

“Yes,” I told him.

Earlier that same year I had a conversation with my friend Omar, who is a student at a local college. For his humanities class, Omar was assigned to read the majority of the Bible. He asked to meet with me for coffee, and when we sat down he put a Bible on the table as well as a pamphlet containing the same five or six ideas Greg had mentioned. He opened the pamphlet, read the ideas and asked if these concepts were important to the central message of Christianity. I told Omar they were critical; that, basically, this was the gospel of Jesus, the backbone of Christian faith. Omar then opened his Bible and asked, “If these ideas are so important, why aren’t they in this book?”

“But the Scripture references are right here,” I said curiously, showing Omar that the verses were printed next to each idea.

“I see that,” he said. “But in the Bible they aren’t concise like they are in this pamphlet. They are spread out all over the book.”

“But this pamphlet is a summation of the ideas,” I clarified.

“Right,” Omar continued, “but it seems like, if these ideas are that critical, God would have taken the time to make bullet points out of them. Instead, He put some of them here and some of them there. And half the time, when Jesus is talking, He is speaking entirely in parables. It is hard to believe that whatever it is He is talking about can be summed up this simply.”

Omar’s point is well taken. And while the ideas presented in these pamphlets are certainly true, it struck me how simply we had begun to explain the ideas, not only how simply, but how nonrelationally, how propositionally. I don’t mean any of this to fault the pamphlets at all. Tracts such as the ones Omar and Greg encountered have been powerful tools in helping people understand the beauty of the message of Christ. Millions, perhaps, have come to know Jesus through these efficient presentations of the Gospel. But I did begin to wonder if there were better ways of explaining it than these pamphlets. After all, the pamphlets have been around for only the last 50 years or so (along with our formulaic presentation of the Gospel), and the church has shrunk, not grown, in Western countries in which these tools have been used. But the greater trouble with these reduced ideas is that modern evangelical culture is so accustomed to this summation that it is difficult for us to see the Gospel as anything other than a list of true statements with which a person must agree.

It makes me wonder if, because of this reduced version of the claims of Christ, we believe the Gospel is easy to understand, a simple mental exercise, not the least bit mysterious. And if you think about it, a person has a more difficult time explaining romantic love, for instance, or beauty, or the Trinity, than the gospel of Jesus. John would open his gospel by presenting the idea that God is the Word and Jesus is the Word and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Not exactly bullet points for easy consumption. Perhaps our reduction of these ideas has caused us to miss something.

Biblically, you are hard-pressed to find theological ideas divorced from their relational context. There are, essentially, three dominant metaphors describing our relationship with God: sheep to a shepherd, child to a father, and bride to a bridegroom. The idea of Christ’s disciples being His mother and father and brothers and sisters is also presented. In fact, few places in Scripture speak to the Christian conversion experience through any method other than relational metaphor.

To a culture that believes they “go to heaven” based on whether or not they are morally pure, or whether they understand some theological ideas, or they are very spiritual, Jesus is completely unnecessary. At best, He is an afterthought, a technicality by which we become morally pure, or a subject of which we know, or a founding father of our woo-woo spirituality.

In a culture that worships science, relational propositions will always be left out of arguments attempting to surface truth. We believe, quite simply, that unless we can chart something, it doesn’t exist. And you can’t chart relationships. Furthermore, in our attempts to make relational propositions look like chartable realities, all beauty and mystery is lost. And so when times get hard, when reality knocks us on our butts, mathematical propositions are unable to comfort our failing hearts. How many people have walked away from faith because their systematic theology proved unable to answer the deep longings and questions of the soul? What we need here, truly, is faith in a Being, not a list of ideas.

And one should not think our current method of interpreting Scripture has an ancient legacy. The modern view of Scripture originated in an age of industrial revolution when corporations were becoming more important than family (the husband, for the first time, left the home and joined Corporate America, building cars instead of families), and productivity was more important than relationships. “How can God help me get what I want?” was the idea, not, “Who is God, and how can I know Him?”

Imagine a pamphlet explaining the gospel of Jesus that said something like this:

You are the bride to the Bridegroom, and the Bridegroom is Jesus Christ. You must eat of His flesh and drink of His blood to know Him, and your union with Him will make you one, and your oneness with Him will allow you to be identified with Him, His purity allowing God to interact with you, and because of this you will be with Him in eternity, sitting at His side and enjoying His companionship, which will be more fulfilling than an earthly husband or an earthly bride. All you must do to engage God is be willing to leave everything behind, be willing to walk away from your identity, and embrace joyfully the trials and tribulations, the torture and perhaps martyrdom that will come upon you for being a child of God in a broken world working out its own redemption in empty pursuits.

Though it sounds absurd, this is a much more accurate summation of the gospel of Jesus than the bullet points we like to consider when we think about Christ’s message to humanity.


Donald MillerDonald Miller says the message of God is more than a 3-step program.

This article is adapted from the newly revised Searching for God Knows What (Thomas Nelson, 2010).