As I’ve been furiously writing and editing my dissertation to make an end of quarter deadline, one of the major elements of my project that has kept me focused is the distinction made between the three levels of spiritual warfare advocated and practiced by third wave evangelicals (or neo-charismatics). It clarifies my work because unlike others who have recently written about demons–say Michael W. Cueno’s American Exorcism–I can always remind myself that my focus is only a a fraction of the picture.
Here’s the basic spiritual warfare breakdown. This version is taken from Peter Wagner’s 1997 Praying With Power, but there are many other near-identical versions of it in the spiritual warfare literature:
Ground-level spiritual warfare confronts demonic spirits that molest individuals. This is personal deliverance: casting out demons.
Occult-level spiritual warfare exposes organized 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
There are many, many works on ground-level spiritual warfare. It’s also a great source of inspiration for Hollywood horror films. The fascination with personal deliverance has left its pentecostal and Catholic quarters for the wider waters of popular culture. I don’t know that it was a great move–it’s surely resulted in an explosion of pseudo-science and pseudo-religion–but it has been profitable and popular.
Occult-level spiritual warfare is less well studied and less frequently practiced. Evangelicals (and Catholics) have long waged a war against non-Christian religious traditions. The most threatening of these are traditions that can be practiced alongside Christianity. A recent example would be the treatment of yoga in schools, but many others fit this billing. Some of these traditions are openly anti-Christian, but most are dangerous simply because they are not Christianity. It doesn’t have to be much more complex than that, but for occult-level warfare these traditions are seen, unrepentantly, as the domain of Satan. Good intentions mean nothing here, this is a hard and fast line being drawn.
Strategic-level spiritual warfare (or SLSW) is, pardon the theory-talk, a structuring structure. In a significant way, it is framework for the other forms of spiritual warfare. SLSW says that the forces of darkness are organized and hierarchical. This corporate evil is the means by which smaller units of organized darkness (occult-level) multiply. Sure, you can fight the New Age bookstore. The problem is that you’ve only dislocated and disrupted the middlemen. In a drug-metaphor, ground-level warfare attacks junkies, occult-level attacks local dealers, and strategic-level confronts the cartels. Why bother harassing every junkie if the drugs will continue to flow downstream to other users?
The work I do with SLSW is trying to explain, practice-wise, why this form of spiritual warfare is so concerned with the world in spatial ways. A colleague, Sean McCloud, is writing a whole book about the first level of spiritual warfare. His work will deal considerably with the therapeutic and materialistic qualities of this level of warfare. Those elements are present in SLSW but significantly diminished because of the way this ‘umbrella’ level of warfare sees its first priority as participating in a cosmic battle between Satan and God.
Remembering the three levels of warfare keeps me focused because I know I don’t need to say everything about spiritual warfare. There is no book, yet, that successfully explains why all three of these levels of warfare are necessary and how they work and why they are all coming together in the 1980s. Pieces of the story are clear: deliverance ministry has a long history in American pentecostalism. After a brief hiatus around WWII, exorcisms came back into fashion in the 1960s and then exploded in popularity in the 1970s after popular culture picked up on the practice and sensationalized it.
But the pieces of the story that explain occult warfare? Very murky. The pieces of the story that explain spatial and territorial demonology that is at the heart of SLSW? Almost absent. I’m working on it, but I’m also thankful I don’t have to account for everything just yet.
- Warfare in the 1980s (mcconeghy.wordpress.com)
- Power Evangelicals: Growing Trend or Passing Fancy? (mcconeghy.wordpress.com)
- Contested Missionary and Historical Paradigms (mcconeghy.wordpress.com)
- George Otis, Jr., Giant? (mcconeghy.wordpress.com)
- Studying the Controversy: Territorial Demonology (mcconeghy.wordpress.com)
- Mapping Spiritual Mapping (mcconeghy.wordpress.com)