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Spiritual Mapping: A Misguided Focus on the Demonic

For the last three decades we in PCM have had to deal with the extraordinarily grievous effects that misguided practices of spiritual warfare have had upon Christian leaders, communities, and families, and most particularly upon children growing up in homes where an all-consuming focus on the demonic has crippled the formation of their minds and imaginations. The dark myths out of which these ideologies and practices are spawned form the milieu in which fear, paranoia, and a tragic absence of the good of what it means to be truly human is missing in their lives.

These effects include even dissociative identity disorders as well as other emotional and spiritual illnesses.1 To see evangelical leaders such as C. Peter Wagner and others dress up these unscriptural ideas and methods in pseudo-technical language and then give to them a universal platform has been and continues to be for us among the gravest of concerns.

These ideas have been around and germinating in the United States chiefly through individual and group "deliverance" ministries that operated on the fringes of Charismatic renewal in the fifties and sixties. By the early seventies the more confrontive and aggressive methods in focusing on "principalities and powers" (i.e., demons perceived as ruling demonic spirits) were in place in these groups. These ideas and methods spread to the extent that I first found it necessary to write and strictly warn of them from a pastoral perspective in Restoring the Christian Soul (1991) and then again several years later in Listening Prayer (1994).2

Now it is with thanksgiving that I recommend to you a book that adequately addresses these practices from the perspective of their very serious theological problems. Written by Dr. Chuck Lowe, it is entitled Territorial Spirits and World Evangelization3 Dr. Max Turner, Vice Principal and Senior Lecturer in New Testament, London Bible College, provides a helpful overview of Lowe's book, stating that it is:

"... a methodologically clear, admirably lucid, and mission-hearted challenge; a challenge not merely to our theories about strategic-level spiritual warfare, but to our evangelical technocratic quest for successful 'method.' Lowe argues that the floodtide of confidence in this 'method' has swept away exegetical, historical and empirical caution, and that it has unwittingly produced a synthesis uncomfortably closer to The Testament of Solomon (an intertestamental magical writing) and to animism than to any biblical understanding of demonology and spiritual warfare."

We can all be deeply grateful to Dr. Chuck Lowe for wading through the morass of writings that put forth what has come to be called "Spiritual Mapping" and "Strategic-Level Spiritual Warfare"-now so widespread that it is referred to by the acronym SLSW. The descriptive names attached to these ideas are sufficient warning that we are dealing with a neo-gnosticism, an extra-biblical and new spirituality that puts itself forward as Christian.4

In his book Dr. Lowe rightly laments the fact that evangelicalism (unlike Catholicism) sets no requirement for prepublication ideas. For us, unfortunately, the only court of truth is public opinion. We are democratic and entrepreneurial. In the spirit of free enterprise, anyone can propagate any belief, no matter how absurd or heretical, provided a publisher is willing to take a chance on market demand (p. 14).

Dr. Lowe patiently and thoroughly, from the Old and New Testaments as well as Church tradition, shows the teaching and practices of SLSW to be in error. He shows as well its links to animism and the magical intertestamental writing, The Testament of Solomon. In order to fully bring the above home to his reader, Lowe quotes Dr. Clinton Arnold, who identifies six points at which the Apostle Paul is silent, in contrast to the Jewish magical intertestamental literature of the time:

  1. Paul does not discuss the origin of the demons;
  2. Paul does not reconstruct spirit hierarchies;
  3. Paul does not affirm territorial jurisdiction;
  4. Paul does not name the powers
  5. Paul does not list the functions of various spirits;
  6. Paul does not teach techniques for thwarting demons.

Chuck Lowe follows up Arnold's six points by saying: "Strikingly, at each point where Paul is silent, SLSW speaks. In short, SLSW has more in common with intertestamental Judaism than with New Testament Christianity" (p. 84).

Spiritual Mapping and SLSW as Method and Technique

Dr. Lowe's book concludes with an important indictment of evangelicals whose reliance on and fascination with methods and techniques have entrenched them in a thoroughgoing form of secularism. Procedures used to increase the productivity of machines on the factory floor are first brought into the front office to increase human efficiency: Management science is born. But if workers can be managed on the job, worshippers can be managed in church: Revivalism is born. If the conversion of individuals can be managed, so can their organization into groups: Church Growth is born. If God can be managed, so can Satan: SLSW is born.(p. 148).

This is painfully obvious as we see when, in the following, Dr. Lowe quotes C. Peter Wagner:

"So it is perfectly consistent with the worldview of mainstream evangelicalism to describe SLSW as spiritual technology for completing the Great Commission in our generation" (p. 149)."

The last section of Lowe's book shows how dangerously close evangelicals have come to being themselves postmoderns:

"As post-modernity supplants modernity, objectivity gives way to subjectivity, rationalism to emotionalism, scientism to spiritism, mechanism to shamanism. In concrete terms, just as the Church Growth Movement was a manifestation of modernity's mechanistic worldview, so SLSW is an embodiment of post-modernity's spiritistic worldview. A well-intentioned attempt to correct one error has directly precipitated another...conformity to the mechanistic technique of modernity is being replaced by conformity to the spiritistic technique of post-modernity (p. 151)."

Thus, Lowe warns evangelicals that their techniques and methods must be examined in order to see how it is they have become disillusioned by the succession of one failed missionary method after another to the degree that they have finally fallen (many of them) into the spiritism of the postmodernist.

Another book written on this subject is entitled 3 Crucial Questions about Spiritual Warfare5, by Clinton E. Arnold, an author Chuck Lowe quotes in the above. It is another book that faithfully exposes theological problems in the Spiritual Mapping movement. Arnold does so, it seems, from having been within the movement. Unlike Lowe, however, Arnold either denies or does not realize that this is an issue that strikes at the very heart of the Christian faith. He, in fact, states that it does not (see pp. 196, 197), in the context of an appeal for unity in the Church and with the leaders of this movement. This failure seriously weakens the book. These mistaken practices and ideologies are much more than merely peripheral issues. Even as Lowe points out, they participate in a spiritistic worldview. In my opinion they involve a form of dualism that (finally) skews even the way we see the Godhead. This view is beginning to show up in the work of evangelical theologians such as Gregory A. Boyd, in his book God at War: The Bible and Spiritual Conflict. A contention of this book, one that should wake up the most passive Christian, is that we must go to the primitive cultures to learn what spiritual warfare is all about. We must, in other words, learn discernment from occult sources-shamans, witchdoctors, and the like. This is yet another example of what it looks like to tip over from scientism into spiritism, mechanism into shamanism.6

These problems are of a stunning magnitude and call for nothing less than a return to a Christian worldview, and to the wisdom and knowledge that come with the empowering of the Holy Spirit. Mr. Arnold, strangely denying the seriousness of the ideas inherent within SLSW, recommends yet another method to fix the problem, one that he finds superior to SLSW. In this, of course, he is missing the crucial thing that Lowe notes, the tendency that has made evangelicals susceptible to this whole problem to begin with-dependence upon technique and methods. (Here again we see the problem impinging on the way we see the Godhead: The true power and work of the Holy Spirit are eschewed.)

These are indeed big foxes, foxes that ruin our vineyards and our very lives with them. Dr. Donald Bloesch, in his recent volume on the Holy Spirit, provides a clear and lucid picture of the dangerous rationalism encompassing the evangelical church today, the sort of rationalism that Arnold himself fails to recognize in his diagnosis of the problems of SLSW. Bloesch's book, along with Dr. Chuck Lowe's, will be a help to leaders struggling with these issues. Both these evangelical theologians realize the paradoxical end of such rationalism-that of subjectivism ending finally in spiritism.

  1. When people start focusing on demons, naming them, placing them in hierarchies, aggressively attacking them, listening to them, and forming fanciful mythologies about what they "hear" and "see" them doing, they begin to "speak out" an unreality that is far from Christian. This has an absolutely deleterious effect upon the growing minds and imaginations of children.
  2. See Restoring the Christian Soul on wrong ways of doing spiritual battle, especially chapter 14, and Listening Prayer, chapter 4 on Intercession, and chapters 14 and 15 on the related problem of neo-gnostic ways of prayer.
  3. Published by Mentor/OMF International, 1998, ISBN 1 857 92 3995.
  4. The adherents of "Spiritual Mapping" practice these things through personal "revelation", what they refer to as the gift of prophecy. The spiritual mapping movement is shot through with what I've described in Listening Prayer as neo-gnostic listening.
  5. Published by Baker Book House, 1997, ISBN 0 8010 5784 1.
  6. This is exactly what we find in the neo-gnosticism of Carl G. Jung and throughout the New Age. In my work (see especially The Healing Presence), I've described the effects on Christians of this gnosticism as it hails, so to speak, out of the liberal far left. Now, out of the fringe Charismatic world and its misguided "prophetic movement", we see in their practices the emergence of a full-blown gnosticism, this time from the far right.


Wheaton PCM 2006
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