The Great Irony of Spiritual Warfare

My recent book Reviving Old Scratch grew out of a series I did in 2013 entitled "On Weakness and Warfare." Those posts were aimed at progressive Christians but Reviving Old Scratch was written with a wider audience in view. Consequently, the central point of those 2013 posts wasn't featured in the book.

What was that central point?

The central point was that spiritual warfare is the natural language of progressive Christianity.

That's a bit of a shocking assessment given that progressive Christians tend to be the most skeptical about the existence of the devil and the most worried about invoking "spiritual warfare." These are the "doubting and disenchanted" Christians from the subtitle of Reviving Old Scratch. Conservative Christians, by contrast, are much more comfortable with the devil and spiritual warfare.

And yet, it's my belief that spiritual warfare is a more natural fit for progressive Christians than for conservative Christians.


It has to do with how we believe God's power works in the world. By and large, progressive Christians claim that God's power in the world is love, the weakness of the cross.

But if that is true, we have to face the fact that love is always contestable. Because love will not force the issue or seek to dominate love is always prone to challenge and rejection.

Again, the key point: Love is always contestable.

In short, love, being love, implies struggle. One has to fight for love. In Reviving Old Scratch I quote singer Pat Benatar: "Love is a battlefield."

In short, because of the way progressives think about God's power in the world spiritual warfare--"love is a battlefield"--is the natural language of progressive Christianity.

By contrast, many conservatives believe in God's providential and meticulous control of the world. God controls the outcome of every event.

But if that's the case spiritual warfare is immediately ruled out. In such a view there is no space for oppositional forces to operate.

Thus the great theological irony of spiritual warfare.

Conservative Christians embrace spiritual warfare but fail to see how it's inconsistent with a theology of God's meticulous control over the cosmos.

By contrast, progressive Christians are skeptical about spiritual warfare and yet their theology implies that very struggle.

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