Introduction to Spiritual Warfare


Are Satan and demons real and active in our world today? Barna Group research demonstrates that over 50% of self-described born-again Christians do not believe that Satan is a real, personal being. This webinar explores why a western worldview has caused the Church and individual Christians to often ignore or deny the reality of Satan and the demonic and, in contrast, what a biblical worldview would have us believe about spiritual realities and their potential impact in our lives. (Please note there are webinar handouts available for download below.)


Jeff Stam is an ordained CRC pastor who served 8 years as missionary with CRWM to Central America. He is the founder and current International Director of Set Free Ministries based in Grand Rapids, MI and author of the book Straight Talk about Spiritual Warfare: What the Bible Teaches, What You Need to Know.

Introduction to Spiritual Warfare

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Thanks Jeff for your article on spiritual warfare.  I looked at the handouts that you provided but did not watch the video.  A one hour video doesn’t seem to fit the format for Network articles.  I would have appreciated a nutshell version of the video, in print.  I did pick up a basic gist of what you may have been saying, plus I’ve done a small amount of reading on this spiritual warfare.

I personally do not see where this kind of teaching has any place in the CRC, let alone Christianity.  I think it lends itself to delusional and primitive thinking.  The leverage that you may have is that you can find some Biblical warrant for spiritual warfare.  But the world and life views of the first century were very primitive.  In Bible times, people didn’t look for answers to their maladies in natural laws and natural order, but rather in the spiritual order.  Bible times were pre-scientific age, pre-industrial age, and pre the age of reason or enlightenment.  Their life view was very limited and superstitious.  And the Bible authors wrote from within the cultural perceptions of their day which included this superstitious perception of life.  They were products of their culture and not products of logic or enlightenment or cultural growth and advancement.  This is the thinking that goes into your “spiritual warfare” mentality.  A regression to first century superstition. Plus, on top of being built on a first century world view, spiritual warfare has little or no objective verification.  It all seems to be a matter of emotional perception and opinion.

This thinking of yours may gain some foothold among the less developed societies of our world, but in more developed cultures it is more a matter of delusion.  Who really wants to go back to an age of first century superstition?   Thanks Jeff for this article.  We do need to know what others in our denomination are thinking.  For one, I hope the teaching that you are espousing does not catch on.


I appreciate you input. I must say I'm a bit confused about the material not fitting your article format. I wasn't aware that anyone had turned the webinar in for any type of article publication. Perhaps it happens automatically with all webinars. 

I assume that you are aware that the topic of Spiritual Warfare has been formally discussed within the CRCNA for a number of years and that in 2009 Synod approved the report of the "Third Wave Pentecostalism" study committee, which had an extensive section on spiritual warfare.

It is unfortunate that you were not able to attend the webinar, because it did focus on what seems to be your main issue of contention--worldview. You are clearly speaking from a western worldview, which is greatly impacted by scientific naturalism. However, by it's very definition, it doesn't not allow for the reality of that which is spiritual (supernatural, if you will) and, therefore, not limited to the analysis proffered by scientific naturalism. Those from a Reformed perspective have, for the most part, done a good job in being able to find a balance between a western and a biblical worldview, which are at times in conflict with each other; or at minimum, approach the world from differing perspectives, resulting in differing outcomes, responses, expectations, etc...worldview.

Since the Bible account seems to clearly demonstrate that Jesus spent a significant part of his ministry in dealing with the demonic (and at least one recorded direct encounter with Satan), it would seem that the presence of the demonic represents for than "deluded, superstitious first-century view of the world;" unless we are willing to count Jesus (God) among those so deluded.

Roger, I have a feeling I will not easily sway you from your convictions. I do invite you to view the webinar in its entirety, or better yet, read the book the Webinar series is based upon: "Straight Talk About Spiritual Warfare," publish by CRC Publications. It is technically currently out of print, but still available on line. I would assume it is also in Calvin's library since it was used as one of the texts in a CTS class for a time.

Thank you for your interaction. - J. Stam

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Hi Jeff. There is no official format for “Network” articles that I know of.  It just seems that the large majority of articles on this site are short articles that take no more than fifteen minutes to read, some even less.  So when a one hour video turns up, it just seems out of character for the Network.  I don’t generally come to the Network to read or watch lengthy articles.  Of course, no one is forcing me to read any article, so I can be as selective as I wish.  The subject matter of your article did catch my attention.  Thanks for writing or video taping.

Yes Jeff, I am aware of what our denomination has done with “Third Wave Pentecostalism.”  Personally, I think it’s disappointing.  I apologize for sounding less than sensitive to this cause.  I know you are deeply involved in this thinking.  But, to me, it sounds so much like a dumbing down of Christianity.  It’s a regression of any intellectual advancements cultures have achieved. This represents a superstitious mentality that belongs in the dark ages, rather than in the twenty-first century.  Plus, it is not even verifiable.  It’s more a matter of opinion, and the subject matter for vampire and exorcism movies, but not reality.

I understand what you are saying about Jesus dealing with the demonic and Satan himself.  That’s the dilemma.  I’m of the opinion that our views of inerrancy and infallibility fall short in expressing an honest view of truth and reality.  The views that we hold to (of the Bible), in a large sense, bind us to a first century way of understanding life and reality.  They hog tie Christians into an archaic perspective, and bind us to a primitive and superstitious view of spiritual warfare.  Jesus was part of a first century culture.  He participated in that culture.  He dealt with people under the umbrella of an archaic culture and primitive superstitions.  For Jesus’ message to make sense in the first century he had to adapt to the culture he was part of.  He couldn’t come into the first century and live and preach as though he belonged to the 21st century.  If that was the case, he would have driven a Chevrolet rather than a mule.  But that would have made him a mismatch for his culture.  So instead he came into the first century world and brought a message of hope that was relevant under the umbrella of that world and its culture.  We have to be able to discern what belonged to the first century, and leave behind what doesn’t fit in the 21st.  And we can leave behind your notion of spiritual warfare and much of this third wave movement.

Is it any wonder that Christianity isn’t growing in Western culture?  When you add your views of spiritual warfare and third wave Pentecostalism, Christianity becomes all the more unbelievable and unrealistic to the world, at least to the world of reason.  I apologize, again, for being crass in responding to your article.  I think you mean well, but I do think you have seriously missed the boat.  Please don’t take offense.



Can you interpret the incarnation and resurrection of Christ through this same strictly modernistic lens?  


Hi Jeff Brower.  Hope you’re doing well.  I think that is your term - “strictly modernistic.”  I didn’t use it.  But of course, there are a lot of Christians (inside the CRC and outside) that understand the incarnation and resurrection as you do, but don’t buy into this spiritual warfare movement.  I think I would take exception to both words, “strictly” and “modernistic.”  If you are equating modern with reasonable, I would prefer reasonable, without the use of “strictly.”


Granted. It just seems that there is a sense of what CS Lewis would call "chronological snobbery" in your earlier comments, the thought that because something is old it is therefore bad or discredited. Simply because something is ancient doesn't therefore mean that is archaic. Has modernity progressed in some ways? Certainly, but at the same time what is termed " reasonable" according to modernity is also often very reductionistic. The resurrection may seem very unreasonable to a modern worldview, but that may be more a judgment on the worldview and not on the resurrection.

I'm sure we can debate this, but historic orthodox Christianity at its core seems to be irreducibly miraculous. If we remove the miraculous from it as simply archaic, I'm not sure what we' re left with.

Perhaps third wave Pentecostalism's view of spiritual warfare isn't the formulation or framework or language most in harmony with reformed theology. But there are formulations out there that don't neglect or entirely discount this area. That's another discussion, I think.

CS Lewis can speak of a “chronological snobbery,” but Christians have their own form of snobbery.  Christians can speak of their religion as though it is the only valid religion in existence.  Christianity considers itself as the exclusive religion, and other religions do the same. Religions tend to be mutually exclusive, but none more than Christianity. That’s the height of snobbery.  So when it comes to the miracles of other religions (miracles that are central to their faith) we, as Christians, discount them as groundless, unrealistic or unreasonable. Just consider how we view the many so called miracles of the Mormon religion or the Islamic faith.  And, of course, their miracles are backed up in their Scriptures which are fully inspired by God, like our Scriptures.  So how can we claim, we’re right and you’re wrong?   But didn’t you say, Jeff, that Christianity at its core is irreducibly miraculous.   It would seem that Christians use the same principles, to discount the miracles of other religions (and therefor those religions themselves), that these so called modernists use to discount Christianity’s miracles.  But, all the while. we claim that our miracles (which are central to our religion) are valid and should not be called into question.

We think modern science is unreasonable to call into question Christian claims (such as the six day creation account).  This is another example of Christian arrogance.  Christianity is not the only religion that has miraculous religious creation accounts.  Are scientists suppose deal with all the differing religions one at time.  Why is it that Christians think that their view of a miraculous creation is the only valid account and only one capable of standing up to the science of today?  Isn’t this another example of our snobbery?

Or as Christians, we send our missionaries into Islamic countries in order to get Muslims to change religions, even when it may mean they will suffer terrible persecution.  Isn’t this part of our Christian arrogance?  Our religion is not just better than yours, but ours is the only true religion and your is a false religion.  “So change and suffer. You’ll be better off.”

From inside our box of Christianity, we don’t think we are arrogant or snobs.  But from the outside we are seen as the epitome of snobbery.   So it doesn’t really do much good for CS Lewis or other Christians to criticize when the mud is really on our own faces.

You are right Jeff, everything old is not necessarily bad or outdated.  But, at the same time, there is much that is old or very old that is archaic or primitive.  And this whole spiritual warfare movement represents a first century mentality or world view that is archaic.  The fact that there is no objective verification for it confirms it’s primitive nature.  I did like the movie, “Ghost Busters,” but I’m not ready to claim that it represents reality.


It seems that the possible presence of the miraculous or supernatural in other religions is a greater threat to the empiricist that it is to the Christian. 

I think rather than painting all Christians with one brush, you'd have to admit for a wide variety of viewpoints on this subject even within conservative Christianity. For example, this quote from CS Lewis : "I do not think that it is the duty of the Christian apologist (as many sceptics suppose) to disprove all stories of the miraculous which fall outside the Christian records…I am in no way committed to the assertion that God has never worked miracles through and for Pagans.” 

But to return to the original question-- are the miraculous and supernatural elements of the New Testament accounts archaic, or simply not in line with a modernistic worldview?

I doubt that the empiricist feels any compulsion to disprove the miracles of the multitude of religions.   A strict empiricist simply denies them because there is no empirical evidence to support them.  And if there is no support other than opinion or belief, why consider them.  It seems to be a matter for those who believe in a particular miracle or miracles in general to give proof, and not the other way around.  Believing something is true doesn’t make it true. When there is verifiable evidence, I imagine even the empiricist would admit validity.  

Of course, you realize there are a variety of shades of empiricism.  You seem to be talking about the stricter empiricist when talking about empiricism.  I haven’t placed myself in any such categories, but if I were to, I might feel closer to pragmatism which stresses practical consequences.  And I don’t really see much in the area of practicality when it comes to the spiritual warfare espoused by the third wave movement (Pentecostalism).  That’s especially true when we realize that the science of psychology, with a good track record, has tackled the problems associated with what neo-Pentecostals have associated with spiritual warfare.

A Frank Peretti fictional scheme of spiritual warfare may look fantastic on paper, but it’s fictional and doesn’t work in reality.  And the same is true of third wave spiritual warfare. It interesting that our ecumenical creeds don’t touch this topic, and what our confessions have to say is very scant.  And even what our confessions have to say doesn’t fit nicely into the paradigm of the third wave movement. This whole third wave movement is very recent and gets its impetus from a more recent form of Pentecostalism.  And it seems questionable.

Of course, I guess we could go back to the  witch hunts of the 17th century.  They, too, were part of a Christian religious movement (Puritans) that had no grounding in reality or truth.  That’s an example of something thought to be true (with religious grounding) among a segment of Christianity but in actuality belonged to an archaic mind set.  The same could be said for palm readers, sorcery, magicians and witchcraft.  Throughout history, but especially in early history, belief in magic and people possessing magical powers was common.  Even Pharaohs and kings claimed magical and divine powers.  This too, was part of a primitive or archaic way of considering reality.  Perhaps you don’t agree.  But very few political leaders today claim divine or magical powers or insight into reality that others don’t possess.  We’ve moved beyond the primitive cultural perceptions of reality that belong to a past culture. And we can still believe in God.  So yes, Jeff, the Bible was written under the umbrella of an archaic culture in many ways and what was seen was witnessed through the lens of that culture.  That’s similar to the Puritans truly believing that many in their communities were witches and possessed by demons and should be burned at the stake.

One other thing, Jeff.  CS Lewis said (in your quote) he doesn’t deny miracles performed outside of Christianity or even through other religions (pagans).  But I would imagine he (and you) would deny the miracles that confirm the truth of other religions, such as the angel Gabriel being the agent though whom God gave Mohamed the Koran, or the angel Moroni revealing the golden plates (the book of Mormon) to Joseph Smith, therefor making those writings the God inspired writings and therefor without error.  It’s easy to acknowledge miracles if there is no great consequence involved.  We, as Christians, believe, similar to the Muslims and Mormons, that our Scriptures are the inspired word of God and therefor absolutely true.  On what basis do you know that Christianity is the one true religion and that Christ is the only way to God?  And is the reason you give the same reason they would give for believing their religion is the one true faith?

I am not of the Christian Reformed denomination; I work in the offices of another denomination and regularly check this network for useful resources.  I wasn't able to see the webinar on its original date and just now greatly appreciated the archived version. It sounds like some of the comments already posted come from the very type of worldview development the presenter describes, where, as scientific knowledge expands, we become somewhat arrogant in thinking we need less of the spiritual side. Be that as it may, I can personally attest that demons are active today, and that it is possible to invite them into our lives by yielding to temptations or creating situations where they feel welcomed.  I used to be an evening supervisor in a domestic violence shelter where many of the residents brought serious spiritual baggage with them.  Some of them were in the habit of watching extremely questionable material on television, especially while the supervisor was busy in the office or another area of the shelter. You could literally feel the movement of demonic forces in the shelter TV room, but I found that if I took my guitar or a CD player to work, those forces could be driven away with praise music lifting up the name of Jesus Christ.  Once, I actually surprised a demon in that room and it hid in an empty bedroom, pushing a bunk bed in front of the door to prevent my coming in.  No kidding--a bunk bed moved about two inches with no physical person in the room. I wedged the door open and commanded it to leave in Jesus' name, which it did. Please don't assume I was smoking something illegal at the time, LOL; I was one of those who thought everything could be explained by natural means until I began experiencing things like this while working in that environment. 

In another context, I am involved in occasionally leading worship for the meetings of an addiction recovery ministry.  I believe that people suffering from addictions are unfortunately all too familiar with the spirit world.  However, having experienced the dark side of spiritual involvement, many recovering addicts who accept Christ are very responsive to spiritual warfare in dealing with their situations.  They readily accept that angels are there to go to bat for them and the Holy Spirit is very present to help them.  Consequently, many experience miraculous provision and are awesome witnesses to others.

Demons are a very real and present threat, but we have authority over them in the name of Jesus, and we have the Holy Spirit to remind us when our personal activities are giving them cause for bothering us. Thank you for this webinar.



Very interesting comment Cindy.  Thanks for adding your contribution to the dialogue.  It’s good to see a variety of responses from different vantage points.  My comments have not been in favor of this third wave movement that is getting a foothold and gaining some momentum in our CRC denomination.  It doesn’t bother me to discount a movement, because it seems less personal attacking a movement rather than a person.  So I really don’t want to disparage your personal experience.  That is your experience and it seems to bring meaning to your life and Christian experience.  So I apologize if I am hitting too close to home.  But I do feel experiences and testimonies like yours could help to clarify, what I see as a problem with this movement.

I realize that personal testimonies of having witnessed demon possession and having personally entered into battle with demons seems to add credence to this spiritual warfare perspective.  How can one argue against first hand experience?  But a first hand experience isn’t necessarily an objective viewpoint.

The mind is a tricky thing.  And a particular mind set can easily lead one (or many) to believe something is true when it likely is not be true.  It’s called deception or being deceived.  How does this work?  What might be a good example that comes close to home.  In my last response, I mentioned the witch hunts of the 15th and 16th centuries (the Salem witch hunts being most notable).  These witch hunts had their origin within Christianity and were based upon both Old and New Testament Scripture. Although there was an European precedent, in the U.S. it was the Puritan movement and churches that authorized and sanctioned these witch hunts.  As you may know, the Puritans were known for their very strict and puritanical life style. Life and living was a very serious matter.  The Puritans didn’t celebrate holidays. Play, even, by children was discouraged; toys were outlawed, especially dolls (that’s easy to understand why); children were put to work at a very early age. Fun for the sake of fun was strictly forbidden.  Drawing from the Bible, as their ultimate authority, joy was distinguished from fun.  Joy was permissible because joy is always directed toward God.  The angels who rejoiced in the birth of Jesus were expressing joy toward God, but were not there to have fun.  David, in the Old Testament, danced before and unto the Lord, but he was not dancing for the sake of fun.  David was not participating in a high school sock hop.  For the Puritans, as with many Christians, all of life was to be lived to the glory of God.  Anything that didn’t promote his glory was wrong and sinful. “Fun”, as opposed to “joy,” always turns in upon self.  The Bible nowhere promotes fun, but does promote joy.  So you can begin to see where the Puritans got this idea that “fun” was not just wrong, bad, or sinful, it was Satanic.  “Fun” was Satan’s imitation of “joy.”  And people who wanted fun in their lives were dabbling in Satanism or witchcraft.  The mother who wanted her children to experience some fun in their lives was in serious trouble.  And the mother who had a fit rage or went into depression because her children were not allowed to have fun gave the sure signs that she was possessed by the devil or by demons.  And she was dragged away from her Christian home and punished or burned for being a witch.  I”m sorry I can’t take longer to explain further.

This is just one example of how a Christian cultural perception influenced the behavior of an entire community.  And certain behaviors by individuals were sure signs of demon possession.  Did this perception of witch craft have Biblical support?  It certainly did.  Probably as much or more support than the Bible gives for this third wave movement that has come to the CRC and other Christian churches.  The preponderance of other religions (false religions) also give evidence of how a world and life view can affect whole communities of people. So I would say, think twice before jumping on this “third wave” wagon that is traveling through our denomination.  It may make some Biblical sense (like the witch craft of the Puritans) but is totally unreasonable and illogical.