Reviewed by Dr. J. Stephen Yuille
Many years ago, I waded through the depths of William Gurnall’s The Christian in Complete Armor – an exhaustive exposition and application of Ephesians 6:10–20 (almost 1,200 pages of minuscule script). Since then, I’ve been searching for a book that conveys the same essential message without (dare I say) the verbosity. I’m glad to report I’ve found it – Spiritual Warfare: A Biblical and Balanced Perspective, by Brian Borgman and Rob Ventura.
Strengths and Advantages
At the outset, I want to mention three reasons why you should read this book. (I’ll conclude this review with a fourth – the most important of all).
First, the book has something to say (albeit indirectly) to a society that exhibits an unhealthy fascination with zombies, vampires, wolverines, witches, and demons (wrongly perceived). Our society’s preoccupation with all that is ghostlike is nowhere more evident than in the vast number of Hollywood films and Television shows about good-looking (for the most part) non-humans struggling to find meaning somewhere on planet Earth. How are we to handle all of this nonsense? This book provides a safe haven.
Second, the book has something to say to a church that evidences deep-seated confusion over the nature of spiritual warfare. While at college, I participated in a summer missions’ trip to Russia. At one point, we traveled by bus between two cities. As we set out, a young woman took it upon herself to lead our team in prayer. She thanked God for the angels riding on top of the bus. Her hope was that her prayer would impart enough energy to these angels, so that they would be able to ward off the demons that wanted to wreck our bus. Personally, I thought she had been reading too many of Frank Peretti’s books, so I challenged her leaky theology. She was deeply offended, and became increasingly apoplectic as she defended her pseudo-Gnosticism. (Needless to say, it was a long bus ride.) How are we to respond to those who have a warped perception of what it means to engage in spiritual warfare? This book provides a solid reproof.
Third, the book has something to say to the believer who desires to know what it means to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.” How do we resist temptation? How do we mortify the flesh? How do we wrestle with the spiritual forces of wickedness? This book provides a sure guide.
According to the authors (Brian Borgman and Rob Ventura), the book’s purpose is to equip Christians to think and fight biblically (p. ix).
In the “Introduction,” they acknowledge that spiritual warfare is a controversial subject: some people ignore the reality of demonic activity while others attribute every bump in the night to demons (pp. 1–3). The authors seek to present a balanced (i.e., biblical) position by defining the nature of spiritual warfare in its historical context. They provide a brief overview, from Satan’s conquest of Adam in the garden to Christ’s conquest of Satan at the cross (pp. 3–6). They acknowledge the eschatological significance of Christ’s victory; namely, we live with the “already” and “not yet” realities of salvation. This tension is a recurring theme throughout the book. Christ’s kingdom is inaugurated, but it is not yet consummated. This means we engage in an on-going struggle with a defeated enemy. The authors repeatedly stress this tension, pointing to the urgency of the present conflict and the certainty of the final outcome.
From here, the book divides into three main sections.
In the first (chapters 1–4), the authors expound Paul’s preliminary remarks (vv. 10–12). What does it mean to be strong in the Lord? What does it mean to put on the full armor of God? What are the schemes of the devil? What is the nature of our conflict?
In the second section (chapters 5–10), the authors explain the different pieces of armor (vv. 13–18): the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the gospel of peace footwear, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the spirit.
In the third section, (chapters 11–13), the authors consider the role of prayer and proclamation in spiritual warfare (vv. 19–20). Briefly, prayer is the means by which we employ the pieces of armor (p. 88), while preaching is the actual “unsheathing of the sword of the spirit” (p. 100).
The book concludes with a “Debriefing,” in which the authors summarize the main principles gleaned from Ephesians 6:10–20.
Following the conclusion are three insightful appendices. The first addresses the relationship between God’s sovereignty and Satan’s activity. The second grapples with the issue of whether or not Christians can be demon-possessed. The third includes an exhortation to pray for pastors.
The book is well-written and well-organized. It’s exegetically sound, theologically solid, and pastorally sharp. Moreover, each chapter concludes with reflection questions, which serve to relate biblical truths to personal contexts.
But the book’s greatest strength (and this brings me to the fourth reason why you should read it) is its Christological focus. To the point, the authors make it clear that we engage in spiritual warfare by putting on Christ. (For example, see pages 11–13.) Our union with Christ links redemption accomplished and redemption applied. In other words, all the blessings of salvation (that is, all that Christ purchased for us) flow to us through our union with Him. We live upon His merit. We commune with Him in His names and titles, His righteousness and holiness, His death, burial, and resurrection. Our life is intertwined with His, meaning His wisdom is ours to direct us, His power to protect us, His mercy to assist us, His grace to forgive us, and His faithfulness to encourage us. To engage in spiritual warfare is (above all else) to live daily in the reality of what it means to be in Christ.
By pointing us to the Christ-centered nature of spiritual warfare, Brian Borgman and Rob Ventura accomplish their desired goal – namely, to equip us to think and fight biblically.
Dr. J. Stephen Yuille is Pastor of Grace Community Church in Glen Rose, TX, Director of Baptist Studies at Redeemer Theological Seminary in Dallas, and Book Review Editor for Spirituality and Christian Living here at Books At a Glance.
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Spiritual Warfare: A Biblical And Balanced Perspective