As I continue to work on my dissertation, one of the texts I find myself coming back to again and again is George Otis, Jr.’s The Last of the Giants: Lifting the Veil on Islam and the End Times (Chosen Books, 1991). In many ways it is straight-forwardly a Cold War artifact, like the far more famous (and two decades earlier) Late Great Planet Earth (1970) by Hal Lindsey. Otis’ works less out of a commitment to end times prophecy, reading current events as Biblical proof texts, than to a deliberately spiritual reading of current events. The difference is not semantic. Lindsey offered a reading of the book of Revelation that transposed events and figures from the 1970s into the text. Lindsey’s work was decidedly pre-millennial–the day and hour were unknown, but maybe the alignment of world power meant it was imminent (and woe unto you if you were left behind). Otis sees current events as an opportunity to re-orient the kinds of spiritual actions necessary to advance the Gospel. So The Last Giants is actually, although not very openly, post-millennial: Get to work, evangelists, because you are needed to usher in the kingdom before Christ’s return. What a difference twenty years makes, right?
The work is important to my dissertation because the sorts of spiritual action he commends are spiritual warfare, especially the practice of spiritually mapping territorial demons. (If that sounds fascinating, great! Look for my dissertation in about 6 months.) Here’s a generic example that highlights why, with my concern about spatial prayer techniques, this work is repeatedly open on my desk:
With effects as boundless as the God whom it stimulates, prayer is easily the single-most important weapon in the believer’s arsenal today…. John Robb points out that intercessory prayer, mentioned more than thirty times in the book of Acts alone, preceded virtually all “major breakthroughs in the outward expansion of the early Christian movement.” Evidencing its timeless value, prayer also played a pivotal role in the exemplary revivals of Johnathan Goforth (China and Korea) and Charles Finney (U.S.A. and Britain), and is widely considered responsible for the dramatic opening of Eastern Europe. It is also possible to link it directly with recent Gospel penetrations into the Muslim world.
Otis isn’t an ostentatious writer (boundless effects notwithstanding) but he has a strong sense of the connection of history to spiritual agency. This means when he speaks of mapping negative spiritual forces (as the majority of the work does), he is looking for the ways that non-Christianity has created permanent spheres of evil that must be overcome by Christianity. These include a wide range non-Christian entities such as Islam and Buddhism, but it also emerges in a concern over American materialism and secularity. The visual representation of this global concern–organized for greatest missionary efficiency–is Luis Bush’s 10/40 Window. While Bush’s initial presentation of the 10/40 window emphasized how this map captures the geography of the world’s unreached peoples (China, India, Islamic centers across northern Africa and the middle East), Otis uses it instead to make a very strong case for the geography of powers that lay behind the existence of these non-Christian cores. It isn’t simply a matter of topography that is influencing this window, but rather unseen spiritual geography that has polluted these areas’ chances for conversion.
The challenge for me is writing about the kind of imagination that precedes and facilitates the reality of unseen spiritual geographies. We know they have effects–increased missionary activity to the 10/40 Window–but what about other kinds of consequences? One is that spiritual warfare in America becomes a missionary field for the same kinds of actions that are appropriate in enemy strongholds (like China). Of course, the animism that is so easily blamed in the non-Western world isn’t present in the United States. How to explain the persistence of evil geographies? What are their historical roots if they are not in the people’s understanding of divinity tied to a pervasive natural religiosity? How do they continue despite the presence and success of Christianity in America? It takes Otis a whole book (and several others) to really get the gist of this down. Moreover, his techniques are superficial and much of the work is left to others to detail and experiment with. (Hence a whole project.)
But outside of my project’s narrow concerns, the work’s publication in 1991 says a lot to me about the enormous changes in evangelicalism from the period when Lindsey was writing to the 1990s. The rise of the Religious Right, Moral Majority and other central components of America’s evangelical-political movement must have meant that Otis was brutally aware that (conservative, evangelical) Christianity had successfully emerged in the U.S. in a way that was not accurate for the early 1970s. It’s a reflection on two decades of growth and progress–recognizing that the work of Christians had shifted geographically and called for new techniques to combat what it found. Does that explain the shift from pre- to post-millennialism? A growing optimism about the prospects for Christianity at home and abroad? Certainly the shift to active concern about the history of the non-Christian world–by confounding its secular tendencies and re-missionizing the home field–represents a stark contrast with the actions of earlier generations. Otis’ followers were in no way content to leave secular spheres to their own devices. And yet the saw those secular spheres in America aligned with those abroad. The root of the cause–negative spiritual geography–meant that the actions to fix it were the same. It led a huge number of Americans to use spiritual warfare techniques developed to fight animism right in their own back yards.
Check back on future Tuesdays for more about these techniques from the works of George Otis, Jr., Richard Dawson, C. Peter Wagner, and a host of others.