Moore to the Point
Hello, fellow wayfarers. Why Driscoll’s demonology is bad for us … Why some of the most spiritually growing people tend to judge themselves way too harshly … Beth Moore leaks my first-day-of-kindergarten pictures … And books. This is this week’s Moore to the Point.
Russell Moore
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When you say “spiritual warfare” but you mean “politics”

Over the past couple of weeks, a meme has bounced around social media of disgraced preacher Mark Driscoll with the captions “It’s spiritual warfare … It’s a demonic battle.” People posted it beneath statements along the lines of “Pumpkin spice lattes are back again” or “Grocery stores are stocking up on candy corn” or whatever. These were jokes, of course, but they were lampooning a recent video in which Driscoll gave a jumbled and historically confused rant about “critical theory” being “spiritual warfare” and “demonic.”

Now, I know what Driscoll is doing, and so do most of you. Like a politician in a primary, he’s trying to get back into the game by saying crazy-sounding stuff so that everyone will say, “Can you believe this?” Pat Robertson, who retired this week at the age of 91, perfected this technique over a period of about 50 years. So even our discussing this today is exactly what Driscoll wants us to do. But I’ll risk that to spend a little time looking at what’s going on here and why it’s much bigger than just this one incident.

This is also bigger than the issue involved. As y’all know, I don’t hold to critical race theory (CRT) for my views on racial justice and reconciliation—unless one wants to classify Isaiah and Luke and Galatians and Ephesians and James and Revelation as “critical theory texts,” as apparently some people do. Now that CRT has often come to mean seeing injustices not only as individual slights but also as social systems, yes, a biblical witness that addresses both personal and social injustices would classify erroneously but fervently as CRT, just as a generation ago, the same type of arguer would classify reading Harry Potter books as “occultism.”

What interests me in this exchange, though, is not Driscoll or the issue he’s trying to sell products with. Rather, it’s the way he’s doing it. The rhetorical move here has become increasingly common in recent years: using the language of “spiritual warfare” to apply to human “enemies”—especially to partisan political enemies.

At the most basic level, of course, everything is spiritual warfare. As the apostle John wrote, “We know that … the whole world is under the control of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). We realize that we would not have conflicts and disappointments and outrages if we were not fallen people in a fallen world—and all of that is revealed to us in Scripture as rooted in the imagery of a war in the spiritual arena (Rev. 12). In one sense, everything in error is a result of spiritual warfare.

But this isn’t what the language of spiritual warfare often means in Driscoll’s kind of context. Approaches like his seek to use the biblical warfare language to draw on certain aspects of the spiritual and apply them to the mundane—in other words, to make the mundane seem more spiritually significant. With this Manichaean framing, a person can tap into the reality of the Evil One’s schemes to defend a very secular paranoia against those whom the person considers to be plotting in conspiracy to undo whatever is good.

This is akin to the modernist ministers of the last century who would preach on Easter of the Resurrection as “a new start to your life this year.” That sort of tactic doesn’t elevate the hearers’ new-start resolutions to the status of the bodily resurrection of Jesus. All it does is reduce Jesus’ resurrection, in the minds of those listening, to their to-do-lists for the year.

Even more dangerously, this sort of one-on-one reduction of political arguments to spiritual warfare has another side effect. The Bible reveals spiritual warfare to be “against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:12). Of course, people usually don’t literally mean that their political or cultural opponents—whether the Koch brothers or George Soros or National Rifle Association lobbyists or Planned Parenthood advocates or the local school board—are metaphysical evil spirits. But metaphors matter. Think of what has happened throughout history when the metaphors of rats, insects, or animals have been applied to human beings.

Demons, after all, are not just evil. Demons are craftier than human beings, more powerful than human solutions, and, most critically in this discussion, irredeemable. The cross of Christ saves fallen human beings, not fallen angels (Heb. 2:16). We are not called to persuade demons to do the right thing. We are not called to love demons and to bear with them patiently. No one gives an altar call and asks Satan to appear to the tune of “Just as I Am.” Demons are to be opposed—full stop.

This means that when we do, in fact, wrestle against flesh and blood but pretend that we are spiritually withstanding principalities and powers, we can easily convince ourselves that the stakes are high enough for us to use any means necessary. After all, the Sermon on the Mount doesn’t apply in hell.

But then awful things can happen—if only just our ongoing rage and inability to love and pray for and even evangelize those with whom we disagree. Moreover, we start to lose sight of what spiritual warfare actually is.

In Jesus’ first-century world, the Zealots could assume that spiritual warfare was opposing Rome. The tax collectors could assume that it was opposing anti-Roman insurrectionists. The Sadducees didn’t believe in spirits, but if they had, they could assume that spiritual warfare was opposing the Pharisees. And the Pharisees, of course, could assume that it was opposing Jesus (Matt. 12:24; John 7:32). Later in history, people could act as though spiritual warfare was persecuting Jews—picturing Jewish people as less than and simultaneously more than human.

In the bad cases, such assumptions lead to bloodshed; in the worst cases, they can lead to genocide. And, in every case, they empty the biblical truth of spiritual warfare of all its meaning.

The entire point of spiritual warfare is that it is not present or absent based on tribes or factions. Spiritual warfare is a reality for every person—and shows up both in doing the wrong things the right way and in doing the right things the wrong way.

If the term spiritual warfare were simply another way of saying “arguing with each other” or “owning the Libs” or “raging against the corporate machine” or whatever, it would mean that some people are exempt and other people are unsalvageable. That mindset would deny 1 John 1:10 and John 3:16 all at the same time.

Eventually, people learn that by calling something “spiritual warfare,” we Christians are just talking about doing what we want to do and denouncing anyone we want to denounce. Most of the people who played Dungeons and Dragons or read Harry Potter aren’t leading covens right now. Past decades’ political tumults are now far distant, have been replaced by others, and didn’t turn out to be the Armageddons people told us they would be at the time. The natural conclusion is that spiritual warfare is just the way Christians say “I hate this” or “I’m scared of that” or “You kids get off my lawn!”

The consequences of this are catastrophic. Seeing the devil you think you know is a great way to avoid seeing the devil you know all too well, the devil that’s too close to your own heart to seem scary and alien. And that way is death—sometimes physical death, sometimes civilizational death, but in every case spiritual death.

Spiritual warfare is too important to be just another way of tribal signaling for those who think they are defending Christianity from the secularists, when they are really just secularizing Christianity. This doesn’t do anything to withstand secularism. It does nothing to conserve the gospel. And it turns us all not into ambassadors of reconciliation but into ambassadors of accusation. Hearing that someone is out to get us makes us rage all the more because our time is short. And all of that means we end up resembling the very Devil we think we are fighting.

If we demonize opponents, we cannot really oppose demons. And that turns out, in the end, to be something to which we should say, “It’s spiritual warfare; it’s demonic.”

When you say “failing” but you mean “spiritual warfare”

I’m interacting with a lot of college and university students—both Christian and secular—these days: in my Sunday Bible study at church, in the classes I’m teaching in Chicago, and in conversations at campuses across the country where I’m asked to speak. And I’m finding that many of them are not following the typical pattern of the Prodigal Son, who goes to a far country to spend his inheritance on riotous living. There’s some of that, of course, in every era. But I’m encountering a lot of young Christians who think they are failing at following Christ, when they are actually living out everything a believer should expect from another follower of Jesus.

In many cases, these are Christians who are convinced they cannot really belong to Christ because they keep facing the same sins in their lives over and over and over again. When I press into this a little, I find that they are not justifying their sins but are actively fighting them. Sometimes they fail—and they confess their sins, seek to make things right where possible, and try to learn how to avoid such things, as best as possible, in the future.

For many of these young people, what’s driving them into despair is not that they are degenerates. It’s that they are repenters.

One young Christian told me that he had worked to overcome pornography and was in despair because he still remembered the images he had seen. I heard this same story again in someone else and then in yet another person. As they described what was going on, I realized that these young people are decisively not doing what I’ve seen some middle-aged married church members in the past do. They are not saying that since almost everyone now grapples with the temptation to pornography, it doesn’t matter. They aren’t casually sinning and saying, “I’ll ask forgiveness later.” These young Christians are actually heroically fighting against temptation—with what everyone from the Desert Fathers on would describe only as spiritual success.

Yet these followers of Christ think they’re failing. Why? Because they assume “success” means a sort of tranquility, a rest from the awareness of oneself as a sinner, a rest from the need to repent of sin.

As I said to one of them, “What you are expecting is achievable, but you have to be dead first. What you’re expecting is to be something other than a sinner. That will happen, but when it does, you will be in the New Jerusalem in the presence of Christ. If you think you experience it before then, you are actually just finding a way to call your sin something other than sin. And that’s, well, sin.”

What they think is failing is actually just the ordinary Christian life involving the kind of spiritual warfare Jesus taught us to wage—which starts with “our Father” and continues through “forgive us our debts,” all the way through “deliver us from the evil one.” We never get too spiritually “successful” to move to some other way of praying.

The Devil wants to deceive us into thinking that sin is inconsequential. And he also wants to accuse us into thinking that God is transactional. The Devil wants us to think either that we are our own gods, defining good and evil, or that God is angry with us unless we have fully defeated our sin and face only diminishing temptations until they are just irritations and then quirks and then nothing at all. That’s how Screwtape wins.

We win by confessing our sins, claiming the gospel that tells us there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ, and then fighting for holiness—not so we can prove to Jesus that we are worthy of his love but because Jesus is with us and knows that it takes more repentance, not less, as well as a growing understanding of just how much we need to repent of, for us to be holy.

Metaphorically, some of us assume that Jesus pictured us as hunting dogs, set loose on our own, one by one, and able to track down the scent of where we are going with precision. He didn’t. He pictured us as sheep. Not as mutton but as sheep. We are headed to a pasture of green grass and still water, but we have to be directed there by the voice of the Shepherd, calling us step by step, and by a rod and staff that comfort us—not because they are ornamental but because they can pull us back when we are headed off a cliff.

When I hear people wave away their sin and say, “That’s just how I am” or “I’m just human,” I don’t believe they are hearing this from Jesus. And when I hear people despairing of hope because they have to keep fighting and repenting, I don’t believe they are hearing that from Jesus either. Some of us need to take our sin more seriously. And some of us need to receive the gospel more joyfully.

Those who think repentance is failure will eventually give up. But those who recognize the path of repentance and confession and faith as ongoing are those who will see both where the path leads and the One who has been here all along to help us get there.

That’s spiritual warfare. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

The new Russell Moore Show is here

The new podcast, The Russell Moore Show, is now out and available at Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen. The video series is up on YouTube, and you can find that here.

The first episode features Beth Moore and me talking about how to know when to leave a bad spiritual situation, how to know when to stay, and how to keep from getting bitter and cynical. Along the way, Beth does some hilarious stuff—which I won’t spoil. Beth texted this morning that we should do this as a regular podcast, titled “Moore and Moore and More.” I am more than up for that.

Please listen, subscribe, send to your friends, and leave a review.

On next week’s episode, David French and I have our first-ever argument with each other, and you can be there to hear it. Meanwhile, send me your questions (at to answer on our Q&A episodes.

Desert Island Bookshelf

This week’s submission is from Eric Hoehn, who says that this shelf is what he would choose if he could have only one for the rest of his life:

The Hobbit / Lord of the Rings trilogy by J. R. R. Tolkien—I reread these every two or three years and have done so for the last 50 years. They speak to me afresh every time I take the journey.

The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis—Lewis presents a very compelling fictional story of the afterlife and the meaning of our lives here and now. Every time I read it, my hunger for eternity is stoked.

Space Trilogy by C.S. Lewis—Did Lewis have a crystal ball?

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens—This was the first serious piece of literature I read. My fifth-grade teacher took our class through it, along with a spirited discussion of some of its implications. He stoked my love of reading. I still read this book every year at Christmas.

Privilege the Text by Abraham Kuruvilla—I discovered Dr. Kuruvilla five years ago, and he has helped me profoundly in sermon preparation. His focus on what the author is doing with what he wrote and the three worlds of the text are so helpful!

Descent into Hell by Charles Williams—A close friend of C. S. Lewis, member of the Inklings, and prolific writer in his own right. This is perhaps his best novel.

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare—He understood human nature so well and wrote so beautifully!

50 Core Truths of the Christian Faith by Gregg R. Allison—While Grudem is more complete, this volume can be read devotionally … and I do.

Paradox Lost by Richard P. Hansen—Dr. Hansen does a wonderful job of describing the different types of paradoxes that exist in Scripture and how we can navigate them without doing injustice to either of the truths that constitute the paradox.

Poet and Peasant and Through Peasant Eyes by Kenneth Bailey—Dr. Bailey navigates the parables in Luke using cultural backgrounds, literary structure, and what the author was trying to do with what he wrote to provide insights into these wonderful stories Jesus told.

A Theology of the Body by Pope John Paul IIOne need not agree on all points of theology with the late pontiff to appreciate his philosophical depth and insights into human sexuality.

The Confessions by Augustine of Hippo—This is a pilgrimage that one must take with perhaps the greatest theologian of the early church as he reflects on his own conversion to Jesus. His additional material on the nature of time is scary relevant.

Thanks, Eric! I haven’t read Hansen but now will look it up. And I have a completely different viewpoint than the sermon prep book you recommend, but that’s the point of these shelves, right? Different viewpoints are good to explore. The other books on your shelf I could surely ask to borrow if I were on the island next door.

Reader, what do you think? If you could have one bookshelf with you to last you the rest of your life, what volumes would you choose? Send a picture to me with as much or as little explanation of your choices as you would like.

Quote of the Moment
"I love you more than I hate all that."

—Graham Greene, The End of the Affair

Currently Reading

Philip Yancey, Where the Light Fell: A Memoir (Convergent)

Anne Tyler, Saint Maybe (Vintage)

David W. Bebbington, The Evangelical Quadrilateral, Vol. 1, Characterizing the British Gospel Movement (Baylor University Press)

Currently Watching

The Way Down: God, Greed, and the Cult of Gwen Shamblin (HBO Max)

Impeachment: American Crime Story (FX)

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