Reading about Spiritual Warfare?
I am regularly asked the question: “What book should I read on demonology from a reformed perspective?” or some variation about spiritual warfare, Satan, and the kingdom of darkness. Being the seminary professor writing his dissertation on the topic, and even the nature of being “the counseling professor”, the question is very understandable. I’m always apprehensive, though, of being labeled “the demon guy”, and I trust I will rue the day I first publicly speak on this topic! But until then, I thought I’d share some books I’ve found to be most contemporarily helpful and accessible to the modern church-goer.
There are always a few “go to” volumes I recommend to folks on the topic of spiritual warfare. First and foremost is Joel Beeke’s, Fighting Satan: Knowing His Weaknesses, Strategies, and Defeat. At 126 pages (and small pages at that!), this work is tremendously accessible and is thoroughly helpful. As is often the case with Beeke’s writings, it is a summary of puritan literature on the topic of demonology, but in an accessible way. Even as I say that, a few in the audience will be thinking that Beeke is less than “accessible” at times, with some of his writings being a bit stodgy, as he can find himself merely recapitulating old literature in slightly updated prose. This is not one such book of his! In a straightforward and illustrative manner, he really does repackage puritan demonology in digestible fashion for the 21st century reformed christian. If you’re looking for a “one stop shop” on what the reformed church believes regarding Satan, his power, and how we “engage” him, Beeke is the place to start.
My other go-to recommendation is Frederick Leahy’s book, Satan Cast Out: A Study in Biblical Demonology. It is a Banner of Truth staple on this topic, and the only one in their collection of its kind. Leahy, as an Irish Reformed Presbyterian pastor and seminary professor, was effectively asked by missionaries on the field at the time about “all this weird stuff” they were encountering, so they sought his theological input. To this end, Leahy writes about a situational awareness of the kingdom of darkness. Expect a biblical theology of what Satan is capable of and how we rightly approach such considerations from reformed and presbyterian commitments. While I would love to see Leahy “go further” on a few points, this book soundly stands the test of time (pub. 1975) and offers the modern reader much to consider.
For those a bit more daring at heart, and those up for engaging with “bizarre” interpretations of the Scriptures, there is a solid academic work on the topic: Understanding Spiritual Warfare, Four Views. It is certainly not the most accessible for the average person in the pew, and some will be lulled to sleep by the academic nature of some of the discourse. But as far as expanding one’s thinking about the topic in a more rigorous way, this volume will serve well. Be aware that the contributor writing on “our side” of things, David Powlison, pulls his punches in the section he writes. While this is unfortunate and is the case with much of Powlison’s writings on the topic of demonology (Power Encounters, Safe and Sound), the Four Views book still serves as a useful guide on the topic. Perhaps what is best about this volume though is Powlison’s rebuttals to the three other views and is where a reformed demonology is actually articulated in the work.
Much more could be said about spiritual warfare and good books on demonology. People are always wont to bring up the Unseen Realm and its companion volumes by Michael Heiser, or Neil Anderson’s various contributions to the field, wondering how reformed believers are to take such works. We could discuss the benefits and drawbacks of Clinton Arnold’s, 3 Crucial Questions, Borgman and Ventura’s “balanced perspective” on Spiritual Warfare, or the very exciting recent academic contribution by Graham Cole, Against the Darkness. But I believe starting with Fighting Satan, and if your biblical curiosity is not sufficiently addressed by the end, consider moving on to Leahy’s work. If a “situational awareness” is not what you're searching for, then perhaps jumping to the more academic Four Views book may be worth exploring.
The old stalwarts of the faith, the puritans, were the ones who were willing to call a spade “a spade” in this particular area of theology, and did so with biblical acuity. For those who don’t have the time or desire to wade through their thousand-page tomes on the subject, the above contemporary works should at least get you started.
In all of these considerations, though, let us not forget to keep our eyes fixed upon the Captain of our faith. Because it is very easy for us to grow distracted when considering the Enemy and his works, that we lose focus upon the Hero of our tale.