Demystifying Spiritual Warfare

Spiritual warfare has always sounded to me like a mystical metaphor, a well intended phrase aimed at making prayer and meditation sound more interesting, more “manly.” I know spiritual warfare is not just thinking and wishing. I’ve read Ephesians 6. But I also grew up Baptist. And we Baptists tend to interpret verses according to our subdued and stubborn independence. We’re all about dunking, not dancing or drinking. We treat “Spiritual warfare” like it’s mostly just preaching, praying, Bible-study, or witnessing. We Baptists aren’t quite sure about what to do with the Holy Spirit. And don’t even ask about the gift of Tongues. I didn’t grow up in a Charismatic church. For Charismatics, “Spiritual warfare” is liable to evoke images of casting out demons and calling down fire from heaven.

If we hope to understand spiritual warfare in our current culture, however, we need to go beyond Charismatic fires and Baptist waters. Both have merit, but somewhere between the safe space of Baptist hymnals and the Charismatic sensationalism, there’s a theater of spiritual warfare that’s oblivious to our denominational divisions. All Bible-believing Christians are walking around with a target on our heads. And the tempting arrows don’t care which church we gather at, so long as we’re exposed and easy targets. They’re aiming for Catholics and protestants alike, eastern orthodox and Anglican, high church and low church, evangelical and charismatic. As long as we serve the one true God we are road blocks to every advancing force deadset on toppling Christ from His throne.

In terms of spiritual warfare, we need to consider what Christian conviction looks like in a foxhole, when following Christ puts a target on our heads for literal persecution. How faithful are you and me when following Christ publicly means we’ll lose our jobs, our friends, our children, or even go to prison? How faithful are we when our spiritual warfare is no longer abstract and mystical, but a daily fight for our lives?

I’m asking these questions because Rod Dreher’s seminal book, Live Not by Lies (2020) sits open in front of me. It’s message echoes in my mind, irritating my apathy, convicting me. If you haven’t read the book yet, I recommend it. It’s not a “feel-good” book, or a devotional, or even a “must-have” academic text. Instead it’s more like a practical theology primer for cultural dissidents.

Reading it is like attending a rainy war memorial service. You can almost feel the cold rain and hear the quivering impassioned voice of a frontline reporter on stage relaying arduous accounts of battle fatalities and boldly proclaiming the cost of freedom. Every Christian reader is hereby challenged to take up their own cross if they hope to survive the next enemy invasion.

In Live Not by Lies Rod Dreher challenges every Christian reader to take up their own cross if they hope to survive the next enemy invasion.

Dreher illustrates the irreplaceable importance of truth by preaching across recent history through unlikely stories of how faith and family ultimately conquer some of the most oppressive world orders in history. This book confronts us in every chapter, reminding us that even with the bloodiest chapters in history, history still repeats itself. So be ready. This is a book that blurs spiritual warfare and earthly resistance movements. That’s good. We Christians do well to remember that the spiritual warfare described in Ephesians 6 and 1 Peter 5:8 is not talking just about invisible mysteries. It’s also about the real-world dangers inspired by those devilish inklings.

But I’m not here to review Dreher’s book. Instead I want to aim the message of that book at a target close to home. The thesis of Live Not by Lies is that people everywhere can defy ungodly forces in society even in the worst authoritarian circumstances as long as they, surprise surprise, “Live not by lies.” With that anthem reverberating in my mind, I understand a little better why my wife Hillary’s ministry Mama Bear Apologetics is so special.

We can defy ungodly forces even inside the worst authoritarianism as long as we “Live not by lies.”

Over the past six years or so I’ve come to marvel at the smashing success of Mama Bear Apologetics (MBA). The first book is approaching 100,000 sales after only two years in publication. Audiences span the globe. Hillary is getting speaking invitations, doing interviews, and watching the mission of MBA multiply on a cellular level at hundreds perhaps thousands of churches. The upcoming book Mama Bear Apologetics Guide to Sexuality is poised for an even more impressive launch later this year. I’ve had a front row seat the whole time. I watched when Hillary birthed the idea years ago. I prayed alongside her as she laid the foundations of prayer. I watch perplexed, but impressed, as she guided it’s growth with a strategy of team-based practical apologetics. I brainstormed with her and cheered her on as she focused the whole project on cultural apologetics for moms. To top it off, she infuses the ministry with her one-of-a-kind voice. All along I knew she was doing something special. But I did not realize until recently just how special this work has become. MBA is dropping care packages behind enemy lines, into one of the most misunderstood and sorely neglected theaters of spiritual warfare – motherhood.

I love to brag on my Hillary. This ministry wouldn’t exist without her. And I love to celebrate strong ministries that advance God’s kingdom. But that’s not why I’m writing here. I’m writing to draw attention to one of the reasons why MBA has been so successful. Hint: it’s not about a formulaic models, savvy marketing, stellar designs, or a beautiful leading lady.

Mama Bear apologetics is equipping moms to reorient their child-rearing into a countercultural legacy. MBA is a vital training resource for all the moms (and dads and grandparents) out there who realize that spiritual warfare is already descending on their children at school, in daycare, at the library, in boys and girls clubs, through MOPS groups, in sports, in books, on TV, and in video games. If you have kids in the public school system, or you’ve been paying the least bit of attention to mainstream media then you already know why we Christians need a countercultural stance if we’ll have any hope of standing up straight. Enemy forces aren’t just rattling church doors, or arguing on facebook. The enemy is coming for your kids. Your kids need basic battle-readiness if they’re going to have a fighting chance in the spiritual warfare streaming high speed across the streets and along the halls.

Conscientious parents, and singles, are a big reason why Mama Bear groups are forming in churches and homes across the country. They want more than just spiritual feelings, introspection, and Christian fellowship. They even want more than charitable services, and mission work to the poor. Those things are all well and good. But, if we hope to be prepared for what’s beating down our doors, then we need more. We need preparation for war. The audience for MBA is mostly moms but the audience is really anybody humble enough to read a book with a cartoon bear on it. These Mama Bears recognize an urgent need to APPLY their spirituality in ways that fortify the faith and protect families for future generations. They cannot lean back lazily on the relics of bygone Christian culture. They cannot expect other forces in society to rescue them. Local churches are invaluable. Community support is wonderful. But compared to the Christian home, those come second. If the better parts of society are going to survive into the next generation it will, ultimately, be because families fought to protect them. Every Christian home is a sampling of church and community. God-fearing churches and communities are worth fighting for. Yet the family is more important still.

Mama Bear apologetics is equipping moms to reorient their child-rearing into a countercultural legacy.

Is your home a fortress of faith? Are your kids growing up with a counter-cultural outlook? Are they learning how to recognize bad ideas? Do they know how to respond to peers or adults pressuring them to compromise in their faith? Are they learning how to stand up to bullies without becoming a bully themselves? These are questions that parents need to be answering now, while they are still the strongest influence in their children’s lives.

Through the lense of spiritual warfare, we can start to see how our current culture is a landscape of active battle scenes. Enemy forces are vying to overtake traditional marriage, pit neighbors against each other, undermine Christian families, dissolve religious liberty, cripple churches, invert the sanctity of life, divide the races, detonate sexual wholeness, and invert gender norms. When we look hard at the consequence of ideas, we can see a post-apocalyptic warzone. Suddenly, spiritual warfare isn’t so mystical anymore. You can almost smell the gunpowder and taste the smoke. In this landscape, Rod Dreher explains the need for countercultural home-based ministries saying, every church “should start forming these cells – not simply to deepen its members’ spiritual lives, but to train them in active resistance” (pg. 174).

Beyond just ideas, prayers, and beliefs, “active resistance” is action-oriented. Active resistance means muddy boots and dirty fingernails. It means a working faith. Active resistance means acknowledging that for Christians “we’re not the home team” anymore. But far from quitting, we’re the rebellion, and we’re ready for a fight. I’m not talking about “vigilante justice,” riots in the streets, or insurrections on the capital. I’m talking about apologetics training at home. I’m talking about starting a Mama Bear book study group at your church. I’m talking about hosting religious exiles fleeing deadly persecution overseas. I’m talking about praying with the fervency of a future-martyr. I’m talking about actively engaging in school board meetings and town halls. I’m talking about utilizing the legal system to hold local authorities and civic projects accountable to the Bill of Rights. I’m talking about pastors exercising their civil rights by preaching morally and politically charged messages to the full extent that their religious freedom allows. I’m talking about street preachers, evangelists, and church leaders strategically challenging unjust laws wherever legal authorities are commanding disobedience to our God. I’m talking about donating to religious freedom cases where Christians have been judicially harassed for refusing to support LGBTQ practices or Critical Race Theory (CRT) programs. I’m talking about reorienting your purchasing habits to shift your financial support toward organizations you can believe in. I’m talking about raising your level of learning so you are equipped to recognize fancy lies no matter how “smart” they sound in a British accent (Ahem, Richard Dawkins). I’m talking about holding your children’s teachers accountable to academic integrity, and picking out groups and caregivers who while reinforce instead of undermine your Christian influence with your children.

Much of what passes for church-life in the western world is too passive, introspective, and otherworldly to survive persecution. So it’s no surprise to see popular Christianity declining in numbers. The Church, as the body of Christ, is losing weight, shrinking in size over the last twenty years or. But losing weight isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Nominal, inactive pseudo-religious folks are wandering out the back door in search of cultural hubs with more popular currency to enrich their social status. The church just isn’t as fashionable as it used to be. “Cultural Christians” aren’t a big loss for the church because they weren’t very “Christian” in the first place. They may have kept some of the seats warm on Sunday, and posed for the photo ops. But then they go out and malign the name of Christ the rest of the week. To be sure, some people were genuine enough before leaving the faith. Many others, however, were nothing more than “Christmas and Easter Christians,” or posers role-playing the faith. Others were too lazy or selfish to ever be serious about Christ. Still others were well-meaning but morally compromised and never quite released their personal baggage enough to accept Christ’s forgiveness fully.

Much of what passes for church-life in the western world is too passive, introspective, and otherworldly to survive persecution.

Fortunately, the same phenomenon that is reducing the waistband around the body of Christ, might be making us stronger for it. We’re shedding weight and gaining muscle. One Harvard study suggests that religious intensity is getting stronger. The dwindling numbers in the pews just might reflect a fit and ready crew of committed Christians who understand the cost and are answering the call.

All this has happened before, mind you. When God called Gideon to battle in Judges 7, the army was too large. Gideon’s army didn’t need 32,000 men at the start, or even 10,000 after the first round of sifting. God led Gideon to victory with a mere 300 soldiers.

Sometimes less is more.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to see the number of committed Christ-followers surpass the stars in the sky. But, in times of exile, persecution, and cultural threats to the faith, we do well to focus on depth more than breadth. Most of us western Christians have not yet seen real religious persecution in the United States, and not in recent memory in Europe. But a lighter form of persecution is already at work which Dreher and others call “soft totalitarianism.” Even when the “persecution” is nothing more than a little peer pressure, public scorn on social media, and unpopularity at work or school – that pressure is still enough to drive some folks away from the faith.

Brothers and sisters, we were not made to surrender to anyone but Jesus – as He’s the only good master. It’s high time we Christians take seriously the call to spiritual warfare. It’s not a metaphor. It’s a concrete tangible description of the life-or-death struggle for spiritual loyalty. I think every Christian should read Mama Bear Apologetics and Live Not By Lies. Reading those books is great, and greater still is the paradigm shifting life-change they can generate. We are already in the middle of a live battlefield. The choices in front of us are clear. Which side will we fight for? And will we die with our boots on?

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