Spiritual warfare and missions often conjures up unsettling stories of exorcisms, animism, frightening images of three-eyed, multi-armed, tongue-protruding, garland-of-severed-heads-wearing Hindu destroyer goddesses, and cosmic battles between bat-winged demons and armor-clad angels. At least, that’s what I thought of when I heard the title of Jerry Rankin and Ed Stetzer’s book, Spiritual Warfare and Missions: The Battle for God’s Glory among the Nations.
The supernatural has always been a fascinating and mysterious subject that has resulted in a divergence of views from skepticism to fanaticism. But how should we think about it, particularly in light of God’s mission? With years of firsthand experience, Jerry Rankin, 23-year missionary in Asia and former president of the International Mission Board, and Ed Stetzer, director of Lifeway Research and missiologist in residence at LifeWay Christian Resources, turn the focus away from the spiritual manifestations of the war to the true root cause of the battle, Satan himself. To understand spiritual warfare, we must understand our adversary, his methodologies, and our own responsibility in missions.
Rankin and Stetzer identify that God’s purpose is to be exalted among the nations. That is done as God’s people, informed by God’s Word, declare his glory. God’s desire is that all the nations would rejoice and sing for joy in him. Spiritual warfare comes in as Satan seeks to oppose God’s kingdom and deprive him of the glory due his name. Satan’s desire is to keep lost people lost, and he does this through both external and internal means. If the body of Christ is to take the gospel to every man, woman, and child in every tongue, tribe, and nation, it must break through both lines.
Satan uses external means to create obstacles to intimidate and discourage the church to turn back from its mission to proclaim the gospel to the lost. According to Rankin and Stetzer, there are four external obstacles to the church and mission of God. The first is counterfeit gospels. Satan does this by seeking to distort the truth, to deceive people into believing lies, and to persuade us to interpret truth and reality by our feelings and experience rather than the truth of God’s Word. It can happen as people adhere to false religions or when they “have been inoculated by the gospel by being shown or told about a weakened version of the real thing but not the true thing.” The second external obstacle of Satan to the mission of God is to keep nations under control of false religions or atheistic regimes closed to the gospel through governmental regulations. The third external obstacle is to keep people groups hidden from our awareness, not just separated by geographical boundary but by language and culture. Our goal is not to get the gospel into every country but to make disciples of all peoples. The fourth external strategy of Satan is the persecution of believers and the church.
But Satan’s strategy is not only external. In fact, Rankin and Stetzer argue that his most effect strategy to hinder the church from declaring the excellencies of Christ to the lost is internal, that is, within the church itself. First, Satan internally hinders the mission of God by convincing Christians that missions is optional. Here the authors ask a very direct question: “Is your church a world force for evangelism, impacting society and making a powerful impact for the kingdom of God, or is it a church devoted to serving and ministering to needs of its own carnal Christian members? When priority is given to comfortable facilities and convenient activities benefitting the community of the redeemed rather than taking the gospel to a lost world, you have located a ‘missions-optional’ church.” The Devil would love to substitute congregational programs for a 24/7 missionary lifestyle. Second, Satan seeks to erode the authority of God’s Word. When the inerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture is questioned, the impetus for missions is lost. The further we distance ourselves from God’s Word, the more our mission becomes ineffective if not eliminated.
A third internal strategy Satan uses is to distort the call of God by deceiving us into thinking that only a few are called to go on mission while the rest of God’s people are exempt. Fourth, Satan hinders God’s mission by eroding the faith of God’s people. “Faith is the bridge between God’s assignment and our obedience.” If Satan can keep us questioning and doubting, God’s mission will remain incomplete. Fifth, Satan works to internally hinder God’s mission by seeking to destroy the spiritual vitality of the church. Whether it be unholy lives or unhealthy disciples, self-absorbed attendees or self-reliant leaders, weakness within the body of Christ is a means Satan exploits to keep them from fulfilling the mission of God.
In Spiritual Warfare and Missions, Rankin and Stetzer take the focus of spiritual warfare away from angels and demons and the mystical power encounter to placing it firmly upon the truth, beauty, and power of the gospel. They clearly and convincingly set out God’s purpose in mission and how the adversary, Satan, strives against it. Biblically balanced between the demythological and the overtly paranormal, Rankin and Stetzer take a thoughtful look at the reality of Satan’s activity in the world while giving their readers hope in the victory of Christ. Their focus on the internal hindrances of Satan directs readers to self-examination of faith and practice and will hopefully lead to a change in church methodology and personal lifestyle. May we all stop asking questions like, “What does God want for my life?” or “What does God want our church to do?” to properly frame the question in light of his mission: “What does God want?” Spiritual Warfare and Missions helps us get there.