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Outline Of David Powlison’s ‘Power Encounters’ By Justin Taylor


I recently recommended David Powlison’s (out of print) book Power Encounters to someone looking for a reliable resource on spiritual warfare.
The book was written during when the ‘strategic level spiritual warfare’ craze was at its zenith among the spirit-filled brethren, so some of its observations about practical situations can sound a little dated. (Strategic level spiritual warfare, for you young’uns was, at its best, a reflective use of biblical authority to battle the spiritual forces of evil, and, at its worst, a cross between animism and ‘Ghost-busters’.)
The book does recognise the reality of spiritual warfare, and seeks to guide against excess and over-emphasis.
Justin Taylor produced a helpful set of notes outlining the book
(while also alluding to the possibility of a second, hopefully well-revised, edition).

Reclaiming: Spiritual Warfare

“A great deal of fiction, superstition, fantasy, nonsense, nuttiness, and downright heresy flourishes in the church under the guise of ‘spiritual warfare’ in our time…. But the warfare we need to wage engages and implicates our humanity, rather than bypassing it for a superspiritual, demonic realm.”

Reasons for the Urgency

  1. We live in a society where the modern agenda has largely failed.
  2. We live in a society that has become increasingly pagan.
  3. Missions, anthropology, and modern communications make us aware of the practices and beliefs of animistic cultures.
  4. We live in a society of high-profile bondage to “addictions.”
  5. Bizarre or troubled behavior, often related to experiences of extreme abuse, seems to be appearing more frequently.
  6. Many people have sometimes experienced an uncanny, heightened sense of the presence of evil.
  7. A growing number of Christians teach and practice “deliverance” ministry in the quest to cast out inhabiting demons.

Powlison’s Intentions

Truly all Christians believe in spiritual warfare; we all believe that Christ delivers us from evil. Powlison seeks to answer two crucial points of confrontation regarding spiritual warfare.

The first question engages how we understand the Christian life. What are we fighting? How does the evil one actually work? How does he exert—or attempt to exert—his dominion?

The second question engages our practice of the Christian life. How should we fight? What is the way God delivers us—and tells us to deliver ourselves and each other—from bondage to the devil? What is the mode of warfare?

Our Common Ground

The large majority of Christians give assent to four propositions, whatever our other differences.

  1. We are involved in spiritual warfare.
  2. Jesus Christ is the triumphant Deliverer and King.
  3. The modern age deadens people to the reality of spiritual warfare.
  4. Errors and excesses occur in deliverance ministries.

If deadly rationalism saps spiritual vitality on the one hand, the exorcistic mentality spawns mutant spiritualities on the other. Both the disenchanted world of modern rationalism and the charmed world of premodern spiritism are wrong.

What Is Spiritual Warfare?

Three competing visions vie for our allegiance:

  1. Capitulation to the spirit of the age by radically reinterpreting the Bible’s “spirit” realities as mythical projections of psychological, sociological, political, and medical phenomena. (Inadequate for all serious followers of Christ.)
  2. The demon deliverance ministries
  3. The “classic” Christian mode of spiritual warfare

The “Ekballistic Mode” [EMM] of Spiritual Warfare

An invented term to describe the demon-deliverance movement that might seem awkward at first. It is a grassroots practical theology that finds varied expression both in pastoral ministry and in methods of personal growth. It envisions the warfare of Christians as a battle against invading demons, either to repel them at the gates or eject them after they have taken up residence. Obviously based on the key assumption that demons of sin reside within the human heart.

The “Classic Mode” of Spiritual Warfare

Evangelism, discipleship, and personal growth. Follows the pattern of Jesus facing Satan in the desert. The textbooks are the Psalms and Proverbs, the ways that Jesus addressed moral evil, and the teachings of the NT epistles.

EMM’s Strengths

  1. They recognize and challenge the spiritual barrenness—the practical atheism—of the secular modern age.
  2. They encourage conservative Christians to reenvision the world as a spiritual place so that the fight for Christ’s kingdom and glory might be more effective.
  3. They challenge the notion that people’s personal problems can be reduced to purely psychological, social, physiological, or circumstantial factors.
  4. Many “spiritual warriors” demonstrate admirable love and self-sacrifice.
  5. They show that prayer matters.
  6. They usually believe and practice classic-mode spiritual warfare much of the time.

Cultures Dark with the Occult

There are three important features of the occult worldview and its degraded existence.

  1. Demonological explanations for all events and actions—good or bad—predominated.
  2. Occult idolatry and practices were the norm.
  3. Nations that practiced the occult also pursued other generic addictions, such as gluttony, drunkenness, varied forms of immorality, greed, blood thirst, and power.

All the contemporary “causes” are in place in the OT, but the Scriptures never identify or address spirit inhabitants as the problem nor cast them out as the solution. The OT, as a voice into these demon-filled cultures, exhibits two striking features.

  1. It minimizes Satan.
  2. The OT maximizes human responsibility.

Lifting the Curtain

Every so often in the OT God lifts the curtain to show the spirit realities at work behind the scenes. Six major passages:

  1. Genesis 3:1-15
  2. 1 Samuel 16:13-23
  3. 1 Samuel 28:3-25
  4. 1 Kings 22:6-28
  5. Job 1:6-2:10
  6. Zechariah 3

God’s Sovereignty in an Evil World

God uses evil for his glory and the comfort of God’s people. EMM advocates simply do not articulate this understanding of God’s sovereignty in the mist of evil. Consequently, their understanding of spiritual warfare becomes skewed. The demons become increasingly autonomous; sin becomes demonized; the world gains the look and feel of superstition rather than biblical wisdom. EMM advocates rightly seek to reestablish a worldview that recognizes spirit beings, both good and evil. But the drift in EMM thinking toward demonological explanations creates a world more precarious and spooky than the Bible’s world. Ironically, in the end, the EMM worldview has more affinities with the occult worldview than the Bible.

The Bible gives an opposite, theocentric explanation. There the love of God—love for his name’s glory and his people’s welcome—strikes the deciding blow in the battle. Psalms and Proverbs are the supreme manual for spiritual warfare, for fighting both flesh-and-blood and spiritual enemies. Knowing that the devil is God’s devil brings us incalculable joy and confidence in battle with our adversary.

A Different Mode

The OT teaches a worldview and method of fighting spiritual evil that is essentially different from EMM.

  1. There is a radical focus on the Lord—God is at absolute center stage.
  2. Human beings are always responsible moral agents and share center stage with God.
  3. Although the OT acknowledges the activity of Satan and his demons, it shows that God is sovereign and the demons are constrained.
  4. God’s sovereignty has striking implications for the OT’s mode of spiritual warfare, mode of ministry, mode of living the godly life, and mode of fighting multifaceted evil. The mode of warfare God taught was having faith in the Word of God, fearing God, turning from evil involvements, taking refuge in the Lord, and obeying his voice. EMM is never the mode of warfare.

Sin and Suffering

Proponents of EMM make two major arguments:

  1. Because Jesus and the apostles cast out demons, we should do likewise.
  2. Because EMM is not forbidden by Jesus or the rest of the NT, there is no reason not to use it.

Powlison argues that the Bible does not teach us to wage spiritual warfare using EMM. Rather Scripture teaches us a different way to live the Christian life and fight our ancient foe.

The Dominion of Darkness Entails Sin and Suffering

One key to understanding spiritual warfare in the ministry of Jesus Christ is to notice that he mounted a twin-pronged offensive against the powers of evil—against moral evil and situational evil. Jesus employed two modes of warfare to address two different facets of the evil works of the devil.

  • Moral evil = the evil people believe and do.
  • Situational evil = the evil we experience (suffering, hardship, unpleasant and harmful events, death)

The two meanings of evil are closely linked; Satan employs both for his evil purposes.

God consistently portrays inhabiting evil spirits as situational—not moral—evil that hurt and abuse people. Sins, such as unbelief, fear, anger, lust, and other addictions, point to Satan’s moral lordship, but never to demonization calling EMM. Jesus usually approaches the sick from the angle of sufferers needing relief, not sinners needing repentance. Contrary to EMM teaching, unclean spirits are never implicated as holding people in bondage to unbelief and sin.

Whenever and wherever Jesus addressed Satan’s attempt to establish or maintain evil moral lordship, he used the non-EMM, classic mode of spiritual warfare. Jesus always used the classic mode to deal with moral evil; he used both the classic and ekballistic modes to deal with situational evil.

Jesus’ Mode of Ministry and Ours

“Eleven examples of Jesus’ works that we are called to do in a fashion different from our master. Notice three things after each example.

First, Jesus addresses genuine human needs that continue today.

Second, Jesus performs a particular action in an unusually striking and authoritative way, a command-control mode: ‘I say it, it happens.’

Third, we are told—by precept or example—to accomplish the same work but in a different way, the classic faith-obedience mode.” (p. 77)

  1. Pay taxes
  2. Catch fish
  3. Walk on water
  4. Feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty
  5. Speak with God’s authority
  6. Call people to ministry
  7. Forgive sins
  8. Confront and curse sin
  9. Raise the dead
  10. Control the weather
  11. Heal the sick

Dealing with Demonic Affliction

Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Acts portray Jesus and the apostles as using the command-control mode to address sickness, the weather, paying taxes, speaking with personal authority, and so forth. The rest of the New Testament, following the main approach in the Old Testament, exemplifies and commands a different mode. Is there a similar switch for dealing with demons associated with ailments and afflictions?

We certainly will not be surprised to find a mode shift. Scripture is ‘silent’ on the issue in the same way it is silent on paying taxes, performing resurrections, or stilling storms by words of command. The silence thunders. The mode of addressing demonically induced sufferings reverts to the classic mode: Live the Christian life of receptive faith and active obedience in the midst of life’s hardships….

The modern demon-deliverance ministries are predicated on two fundamental errors. First, they misread the biblical record and fail to distinguish between moral and situational evil. They cast out ‘demons’ of moral evil, something neither taught nor illustrated anywhere in Scripture. Second, they fail to reckon with the general mode shift away from the command-control mode and toward the classic mode.

Steps to a Far More Powerful Way

  • Fight and win spiritual warfare through discovering the Creator God who rules heaven and earth.
  • Fight and win spiritual warfare through learning to find refuge in the Lord Jesus Christ.
  • Fight and win spiritual warfare through learning to dig into the Scripture in search of true wisdom.
  • Fight and win spiritual warfare through stopping fighting alone.
  • Fight and win spiritual warfare through growing to understand the thoughts and intentions of his heart.
  • Fight and win spiritual warfare through speaking words that do genuine good to others.
  • Fight and win spiritual warfare through honest work
  • Fight and win spiritual warfare through learning to aim your heart at what true prayer intends.
  • Fight and win spiritual warfare through not giving in to cultivated lusts.

5 thoughts on “Outline Of David Powlison’s ‘Power Encounters’ By Justin Taylor

  1. Thank you for this post. I have heard of this book but not read it. Authors keep putting a new spin on the same contraversial issue. I believe to do so minimizes what Jesus did on the cross. I know that He is fully willing and able to keep me. I am just a simple Christian and not a bible scholar but it continues to baffle me why some of our ministers feel the need for sensationalizm. It seems they get a high from this approach and that they have found a magic potion. Thank you again I will try to find this book.

  2. I too highly recommend this book…he indeed understand the need to put to death the flesh. BUT,…he clearly picks and chooses how he builds his argument to build up mortification of the flesh and tear down driving out demons. Mostly people speak against one they do not know or have seen abused (abuse is rampant). As always, there are those who find ground in the middle who practice deliverance yet never at the expense of discipleship and putting to death the flesh; Powlison doesn’t recognize those in the middle.
    Personal experience does not create doctrine; that is found in scripture. Powlison teachas as if Christ was against casting out demons and only presribed putting to death the flesh. Powlison is masterful in presenting the need for ‘classic’ deliverance and I full heartedly agree with him. I only wish he would place himself around a few non-cessastionists who love sound doctrine AND powerful ministry. It is possible and in fact; it happens every day. ‘Ek ballistic’ is not and has never been a silver bullet and those who present it as such are unbliblical. In the same way, neither is ‘classic’ deliverance a silver bullet….thus the need for discernement of spirits in 1 Cor 12, which Powlison skips over. Either the gift exists or it doesnit. I’d like to ask Powlison what to I do with those I know that see angels and demons.

    His book is very good…just not complete.

    • Thanks for the comments.
      It would be interesting to hear Powlison’s comments on the area you raise.
      The book may be a product of its time, as well.
      I remember in some circles in the late 80s and early 90s something like a Christian version of Ghostbuster which seemed little removed from basic animism.
      Perhaps Powlison would observe that the sorts of genuine spiritual encounters that occur today do happen just as the Bible speaks, very rarely, and are not the normative pattern for the Christian’s spiritual growth.

  3. I too would love to read Powlison’s book and I have heard, from CCEF I think that it is due in about a year for revision and republication. I have had many experiences with those in deliverance ministries and have seen much in the way of unbiblical flakiness. Interestingly, although some of the peo[le I met were humble and graciousy open to what God might want to do and sincerely desired to see people free, I observed quite a number of folks attracted to such ministries who seemed to have a problem with needing high amounts of control and who had glaring areas of denial in their lives where indulging sinful flesh and rebellion were concerned. I was introduced to cchristiantiy in the seventies by two people who attended a solid MB church with very godly men in leadership. The biblical pattern of church gov’t was followed. There wasn’t a heavy emphasis on sign gifts so there was not usually speaking in tongues or prophecy but on being in the word, obedience, submission to authority in Christ, fellowship, etc. That church was so blessed of God that the presence of God could be felt upon entering the church even by non christians visiting. These folks decided to leave this church to pursue greater freedom in ‘the spirit” and joined the vineyward church at some point. When I visited them, they were holding celebration services that involved getting down and dancing to rocky music. I was labelled as legalistic because to me it looked an awful lot more like self oriented freedom in the flesh than anything to do with being in the Spirit. Yet the justification was always that the natural man can’t understand the things of the spirit and that we can’t put God in a box. Thus anyone who questioned was sadly bound by a religious spirit, or judgemental, legalistic, etc. It is interesting that Paul never called the Bereans any of these names when they scoped him out to make sure he measured up against the bible. My friends changed in ways that were not positive and seemed to have lost the solid anchor they once had. I was ifluenced by them and followed them into the charismatic movmeemt with its emphasis on inner healing, freedom, deliverance, etc. Interestingly, although this was suppposedly a God directed movement, Jesus became less and less the focal point ofthe whole thing and experiences, feelings, healings, self did. In many churches today, one can rarely hear his name even mentioned. All the stuff in the ibble about God’s structure of authority is carefully avoided, especially as far as submission goes, and we have leaders who themselves don’t submit to God though they mount a pulpit. What does it have to do with the whole deliveraence question? Lots I suspect. Being delivered of a demon is easier than taking responsibility for one’s life and following ordinary discplines like sumbission and saying no to the flesh. Much that goes on in deliverance sounds more like spell casting, esp.l when there are claims of newly revealed secret keys to such things. Sine this insantiy and unsoundness started back then in the seventies, it raises for me the question of whether we began in the spirit but ended in the flesh, or even worse, whether we followed doctrines of demons, ie, an angel of llight, who by appealing to our desire for greater intimacy with God,and appearing as the Holy Spirit led us away into intimacy with self, flehs and the enemy that is, into rebellion against the very Lord we thought we were following. Intimacy with God is proved by spiritual fruit such as greater holiness, love for others, passion for the lost and for Christ; that is what freedom is for, not self indlugence.

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