Taking Satan Seriously

There is a growing interest in the subject of satanism and demonology throughout Western society. This can be easily confirmed by checking on the books in the average bookstore. In part the interest in Satan is connected with the New Age movement with its teaching about channeling and other occult practices.

This interest is seen also in the enormous popularity of Frank E. Peretti’s novels This Present Darkness and Piercing the Darkness. His ideas are shaping the thinking of Christians on the subject of Satan and demons.


Recently my colleague at Calvin Seminary, Professor Carl Bosma, put a note in my mail box which read: “Attached find a book list from IndIana University Press. I visited their booth at the Society on Biblical Literature conference and noted quite a collection of books dealing with demonology. Please take a look.”

Attached was a 3-page list of recent publications from the university press. All the titles were academic books written for students and scholars. Among the titles: How About Demons?, Servants of Satan and Saints, Demons & Asses.

Professor Bosma and I have a common interest in the subject of satanism because of our past experiences on mission fields where we saw evidences of demonic activity. We are aware of the popularity of occultism in certain countries and the power it exercises over both the masses and the rich and educated. Both of us are concerned that missionaries from the West be given more training than in the past in how to deal with satanism in a Biblical way.

Awareness of demonic beliefs and their influence is important not only for evangelistic, church-planting missionaries. but for relief and development workers as well. Poverty and spiritism go together. Wherever you find one, you find the other. When you exorcise the spirits through the work of the gospel, you then have to deal with the poverty of the people that have long been Satan’s victims.




Satan and his activities are now receiving more attention in missionary dIscussions than at any previous time in modem history. This is partly due to the emphasis given the subject by Peter Wagner, professor of missiology at the School of World Mission, Fuller Seminary.

A few years ago, Wagner shifted the center of his attention from church growth to “signs and wonders,” the role of miracles in the church’s contemporary ministry. Most recently he has focused on the subject of demons and on the nature of “spiritual warfare” as a component of mission strategy.

When Christian mission is viewed largely in terms of spiritual warfare as Wagner and his associates do, there is a renewed emphasis on Biblical teaching regarding Satan. The expression “territorial spirits” is beIng used frequently today in missionary discussions. It refers to the presence of demons and the control they exercise over geographical areas—cities, villages, neighborhoods, houses and sometimes entire nations.

Satan, we are told, may also control non-geographical territory such as social organizations and structures, or ideologies and movements. The work of Christian missions is to recapture what Satan has seized in the name of Chrtst. the church and the Kingdom of God.

Recapturing Satan’s territory involves proclaiming the gospel. establishing the church. and very often the exorcism of evil spirits. Conscious, planned confrontation of unseen forces through prayer and exorcism becomes an essential part of mission strategy.

This distinguishes the new “power encounter” approach from traditional mission strategies which take satanic powers into account but place the major emphasis on gospel proclamation. Traditional missionary thinking tends to downplay the power of demons, particularly their direct influence on Christians, in the name of Christ’s victory over Satan on the cross and the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit.


While we may have critical things to say about various aspects of the new approach, one thing is certain: it is high time that Christians begin to take more seriously the Scriptures’ teaching concerning Satan, demons and the unseen spiritual world. During most of the twentieth century, the church was largely silent about these matters. Now the church finds its members exposed to novel ideas about Satan and interpretations of the demonic that frequently are of pagan origin.

In addition, we must admit that up until recently most Western missionaries did less than an inadequate job of dealing with the world of spirits. In their teaching of converts and by their responses to spiritual phenomena on the field, they revealed serious deficiencies in their understanding of the subject.

This was because the missionaries themselves came from churches and schools that were part of a culture where the objective reality of Satan and demons was denied or at least seriously doubted. Missionaries took the Bible seriously, But they gave scant attention to Satan and unseen spirits, especially the implications of satanic activity as it affects daily life.

More on the subject next month.

Dr. Greenway teaches World Missiology at Calvin Seminary, Grand Rapids, MI.