Christian White Magic: Q and A, Part 3

Should an “Evangelical League Dark” rout demons in the evil places normal Christians fear to trod?
on Sep 15, 2016 · 12 comments

Riddle me this: what is the only acceptable form of Christian white magic?

Answer: God’s spell!

With this truth in mind, and I hope also with the true and saving Gospel of Jesus Christ in mind, let’s finish this series that fleshes out Six Christian Spells Worse than Fantasy Magic. We have one common Christian white magic spell left: unbiblical “spiritual warfare” spells.

4. How can you say that prayer and demon-challenging are ‘Christian white magic’? Jesus and the apostles did this all the time.

Several readers challenged my view that certain modes of anti-demon-warrior behavior or prayer count as Christian white magic. Before, I quoted from spiritual warfare author and teacher Neil Anderson. He claims demons can own physical territory or objects, and writes:

When I rent a room in a hotel, it is under my stewardship. I have no idea what occurred in that room before I rent it, so I renounce any previous use of the room that would not please my heavenly Father. … Next, I commit the room and all that is in it to the Lord and command Satan and all his evil workers to leave the room in the name and by the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ. Finally, I ask for the Lord’s protection while I sleep.1

justiceleaguedarkAnderson and some other authors/teachers act as a sort of evangelical Justice League Dark. In other words, standard Christian heroes handle regular matters such as preaching, local church organization, and counseling related to human sin. But the Evangelical League Dark goes where standard heroes fear to tread, into the paranormal realm of evil spiritual forces.

In this view, this is where the real battle lies—a battle far removed from ordinary spiritual actions, such as Bible teaching, prayer, local church fellowship, or discipling your children.

But this is a notion I do not see in Scriptures. Jesus indeed confronted demons. Sometimes the apostles do the same. But in their teachings and writings, the apostles do not emphasize their dealings with demons. Instead they value the non-paranormal aspects of Christianity: teaching, prayer, fellowship, pursuit of holiness, responsible practice of spiritual gifts, evangelism, being good citizens, living quiet lives and working with their hands.

This is why I found fault with the “praying against the devil” scene in the movie War Room. While the story is of course fiction, the scene’s intent is clearly to show that Christians really should “rebuke Satan” aloud in real life. Many Christian moviegoers will assume this practice is biblical. But Scripture never encourages this response to the devil. Even if we assume the devil is anywhere near, or involved with our struggles or situation, the Bible never gives an exorcism guide in the way some Christians seem to want. Instead, James says, as a side comment to his exhortations to “regular” Christian actions, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”2

Photo and comment by CW Briar.

“I think having an understanding and equipping for spiritual warfare is important, but I also know when a lot of Christians are blaming ‘demons,’ they’re really just succumbing to superstition. This book was a laundry list of out-of-context verses that I doubt will teach discernment in the matter.” Photo and comment by CW Briar

Moreover, Scripture never encourages us to treat physical spaces or objects as if they could be “haunted” by demons. When Jesus cast out demons, he knew the person was under demonic influence. Even when the apostle Paul cast out a demon, he waited days before taking action against a stalker servant girl who wasn’t just unstable.3

Finally this view of demonic influence can affect peace between people. In some situations, a Christian may have a personal conflict with someone else. But instead of trying to work through reconciliation, the Christian might assume that other person is being influenced by demons. (If the person is actually being affected by trauma or else just ordinary human sin, the emphasis on demons can really sidetrack actual biblical reconciliation efforts.)4

That is not someone’s wrongful abuse of an otherwise healthful “Evangelical League Dark” approach to Christian spiritual growth. It is a mindset that fits exactly with this anti-biblical emphasis. It values supposedly biblical methods to defeat demons with spiritual prayers or other practices. And it devalues our need to confront personal sin in the light of Christ’s death and resurrection—the very spiritual warfare practices the apostles valued.

I can’t help but wonder if such an Evangelical League Dark emphasis can sidetrack some Christian fiction. Might this lead us to focus on angels, demons, and “spiritual” realities, rather than exploring the depths of humans where spiritual battles are actually fought?

Few to no readers of Six Christian Spells Worse than Fantasy Magic questioned my points about romance prosperity gospel “spells” and “if only” spells. So I’ll end here. Yet I do offer to interact with any further questions about any of the pieces in this Christian White Magic series. Thanks to all our SpecFaith readers for their grace-based challenges and discussion!

  1. Neil T. Anderson, Helping Others Find Freedom in Christ (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 1995), 110, quoted by Elliot Miller, The Bondage Maker: Examining The Message and Method of Neil T. Anderson. Part Three: Spiritual Warfare and the Seven “Steps to Freedom.”
  2. James 4:7. The rest of the passage does not emphasize overt “spiritual warfare” versus invisible spirits, but spiritual warfare in how we avoid the world’s temptations, act humble, submit to God’s commands, draw near to God, and more.
  3. Acts 16: 16-18.
  4. This paragraph has been edited for clarity.
E. Stephen Burnett explores fantastical stories for God’s glory as publisher of and its weekly Fantastical Truth podcast. He coauthored The Pop Culture Parent and creates other resources for fans and families, serving with his wife, Lacy, in their central Texas church. Stephen's first novel, a science-fiction adventure, launches in 2025 from Enclave Publishing.
  1. Audie says:

    A few months ago, I read a book called “Truth or Territory” by Jim Osman. I think he brought some good sense to this type of practice.

    Along with pointing out that the Bible does not command or suggest that Christians pray against demons in the way shown in “War Room”, he shows a couple of passages that are actually against it.

    II Peter 2:9-11.
    9 then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment, 10 and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority. Bold and willful, they do not tremble as they blaspheme the glorious ones, 11 whereas angels, though greater in might and power, do not pronounce a blasphemous judgment against them before the Lord.

    Jude 8-10.
    8 Yet in like manner these people also, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones. 9 But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you.” 10 But these people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively.

    I know that for me it seems counter-intuitive that one could “blaspheme” the devil in any way, yet both passages use that type of language in regards to how the people being talked about were railing against the devil.

    Here’s a quote from Osman to wrap up his points.

    We dare not rebuke demons! This is a completely unnecessary, unbiblical, and unwise practice. We are not commanded to wage the truth war in this fashion. Like the practices of binding Satan, praying hedges, and renouncing curses, rebuking demons is a tool that God has not put in our arsenal. It is a completely man-made tactic which appeals to the pride of our flesh. Satan does not fear our useless incantations. Let’s abandon them and exchange them for the proclamation of the truth! Truth Or Territory (Kindle Locations 1948-1951)

  2. Travis Perry says:

    While I can agree that the Scriptures do not teach us to clear rooms (and several related practices), doing so is not “white magic,” technically speaking. I explained in detail on a blog post of my own what “magic” is in the Bible. And according to Biblical use, you cannot actually use the term “magic” for seeking God’s power. (“Heresy” might apply, but not “magic.”)

    However, I do admit the point is a bit technical and semantic. It centers on the definition of “magic” and there are in fact multiple possible definitions. If by “magic” you mean magic in the literary sense, yes, such a usage could be termed “white magic” (but again, you are departing from Biblical usage to say so).

    The point I really am concerned with you about is that you literally said that addressing Satan in War Room was, literally, praying to Satan. And you were, literally wrong to say so. So much, I am literally angry that you still have not admitted how wrong you were. You literally need to issue a public apology on this subject.

    You accused those Christians who are deeply concerned with this sort of spiritual warfare (yes, I agree they act incorrectly in their methods) of being in DELIBERATE allegiance with Satan. Because that’s what saying someone “literally” praying to Satan means. I am not a lawyer, but I am pretty sure that saying what you did qualifies as slander. It certainly qualifies as bearing false witness, because it is a FALSE statement. Nobody is deliberately seeking Satan here.

    If you didn’t know if was false to call addressing a demon “prayer,” then it was demonstrated to you from Scripture beyond all reasonable doubt you were wrong. Jesus and the apostles addressed demons and did not pray to them. I am addressing you now and not praying to you. So while the practice may not be encouraged or recommended or not right, it is NOTHING BUT WRONG TO ACCUSE FELLOW BELIEVERS OF PRAYING TO SATAN. It is slanderous and false testimony!

    I’ve been pretty mild on this topic, given how serious a breach I feel this was on your part. Well, up to now, that is. I’m not so mild anymore.

    It is time to stop hedging, brother. Admit openly (and literally) that you were wrong in calling such a practice “prayer” and you did not mean to say people who have a doctrinal disagreement with you are showing literal allegiance to Satan.

    I hope I am being clear. Please receive the message, admit you were wrong, and apologize.

    • notleia says:

      As much as I like Burnett getting his chain yanked, I think you’re giving him too much credit for all the LITERALLY this and LITERALLY that. Granted, I’m not always 100% sure if/when he’s serious or exaggerating to make his point, but I read that as more rhetorical than otherwise.

      Besides, “War Room” is terrible for lots of other reasons.

    • Hello back, Travis.

      I caught up to this reply late. Yet I’ve spent a while (as you can tell!) pondering a response, amidst other writing deadlines for fiction and nonfiction projects.

      First of all, to accuse someone of intentionally slandering real Christians is a very serious thing. So far I do not believe I am guilty of that charge, especially because the only “Christian” I have critiqued is a fictitious character from a movie.

      However, second, it would also be very serious to imply that a Christian who “speaks to the devil” (real Christians have done this) are thereby practicing some kind of worship of Satan or actual allegiance to Satan. That is not at all what I meant, and therefore this reading is not a fair one when you said:

      You accused those Christians who are deeply concerned with this sort of spiritual warfare (yes, I agree they act incorrectly in their methods) of being in DELIBERATE allegiance with Satan. Because that’s what saying someone “literally” praying to Satan means. I am not a lawyer, but I am pretty sure that saying what you did qualifies as slander. It certainly qualifies as bearing false witness, because it is a FALSE statement. Nobody is deliberately seeking Satan here.

      Again: that is not what I meant to imply. But perhaps the term “prayer” obscures this. If so, it is therefore a poor term to use in communicating the problem. In fact, it looks like I was more careful in this piece here than I was back in the original article. Here I put “praying against the devil” in quotes. But there I actually said:

      Here, a woman “prays up” a miracle to keep her husband from cheating. Then she quite literally prays to the devil, ordering him to leave her family and her house because it’s “under new management.”8 That’s an especially bad example of “spiritual warfare” spell-casting.

      For that reason, I believe I can apologize for unclear communication back there. But I never accused Christians of actually, intentionally colluding with the Devil.

      However, I must dig in a bit about the use of the term “prayer.” I am also using the term colloquially (per Notleia‘s severely backhanded defense), to describe an out-loud, verbal communication to a spiritual entity. For example, some people practice “praying” to saints. Others “pray” more informally, such as a non-Christian person’s (or a Christian person’s) “thank God” remark.

      In fact, some might “talk to Satan” in a way that is not a prayer. Martin Luther is reported to have done this. Even Jesus said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan,” and some Christians (myself included) think or voice this aloud in moments of temptation (which was not necessarily Jesus’s original intent, but it kind of works anyway).

      Which leads me to this next. I suppose what could be happening here is this:

      1. I state that the War Room character’s (and by implication other serious Christians’) yelling at Satan counts as a “prayer,” e.g. asking/telling a spiritual being to do something. Unlike an informal or colloquial “talking to Satan,” this was presented in the story as being a very serious and spiritual and dramatic breakthrough. This is simply not true, and I have seen the very bad results when Christians think they can resolve family dysfunction or spiritual problems by simply praying or identifying the work of Satan. It’s a particularly “spiritual” sounding response that ends up denying our need to work together, intentionally, in order to align with God’s Spirit and confront personal sin. (We seem to agree on this.)
      2. 2. But someone who has “talked to Satan” more informally would take umbrage, thinking they are being accused of intentionally colluding with the Devil.

      If this is the case, then I’m glad to make the distinction. I don’t believe an informal or casual “statement” “to Satan” counts as a “prayer” to him, any more than a grieving Christian’s out-loud statement “I wish you were here now” to a dead family member counts as a prayer to a saint. If that is true, then I’m guilty of “prayer” all the time. 🙂

      In that case, we might be more in agreement. All that remains is to assure you that I do not believe Christians who condemn the devil out loud, or try to “clear rooms” in supernatural/spiritual warfare fashion, are trying to do something evil. In many cases, they believe what they are doing is good and biblical. So when I apply the term “white magic” here, take note of the white — people are not trying to do “dark magic.” That’s the point. And yet, the practice counts as magical thinking nonetheless: a sort of “If I do this formula, then X good spiritual results will follow.”

      Please let me know if we need further communication on this. And by the way, super congratulations on your significant prize at Realm Makers two months ago, especially after all the traveling nonsense you had to go through to reach that conference!

  3. HG Ferguson says:

    Stephen, once again, I am on the horns of a dilemma with you. On the one hand, I agree with you about the fact that some Christians treat spiritual warfare like pagan magic. But you treat it like a comic book or a superhero movie. In reading your post again — now for the third time — I cannot help but wonder if you honestly believe that Satan, demons, the Devil’s hand and the occult just really do not exist, or at best are mere abstractions, following liberal theology. God’s command to resist the Devil in James is no side comment. It is a summation. You want to reduce it to a side comment, but since when are any of God’s commands side comments? Unless you want to erase them the way you do in Deut. 18 because things like this are “not things” and “not a sin.” But God says they are (I Sam. 15:23) in no uncertain terms. Period.

    This betrays your worldview. You downplay spiritual warfare so much you almost want to dismiss it, and it blinds you to what God really says. Yes, battles are fought the way you describe, but when you say “actually fought” you are openly teaching that we do not “actually” struggle with demons or the Devil’s hand. No Christian who’s ever “actually fought” a battle with the Devil’s hand will buy into your thinking for a nanosecond. And if any of you out there reading this HAVE dealt with the Devil’s hand, you know I speak the truth.

    Stephen, your worldview blinds you. You bring the Word of God to comics, to superheroes, to Harry Potter and you look at it through these lenses. Of course we can enjoy these stories and appreciate their value. The Avengers is one of my favorite movies and the way Voldemort fragments his soul and ultimately loses it is a masterpiece. But reality, spiritual reality, is what only the Word of God says, not what the word of Rowling says or the word of Whedon says or anyone else. God’s Word is not judged by what they say. What they say is judged by God’s Word. Period.

    And what does God’s Word say? You claim there is no basis in scripture for the idea that demons can haunt physical places. Yet that is precisely what God says in Isaiah 34:14. I will not go into an extended exegesis of this (though I can), but here in this chapter you have YHWH’s curse on Edom in some very specific language. Then in verse 14 it gets dang creepy if you know Hebrew and Jewish folklore. “The shaggy goats” cry to each other, and there LILITH will make her abode. The word “shaggy goats” is always associated with demons and demonic creatures in the OT (source, Jewish Virtual Library) and translating it “wild goats” is done by demythologizing rationalists who want to sleep better at night. And Lilith, the Hebrew demoness, the stealer of children in the night, is called here BY NAME. It does not mean “screech owl,” it means exactly what it says, and modern Jewish translations of this verse say LILITH. Even if you want to say “screech owl,” go ahead but realize that this too reflects the connection owls have to the demonic in ancient folklore (source, Jewish Virtual Library). My point: at the very, very least you have demonic entities haunting the ruins of Edom because God has cursed it. Not a place ideal for overnight camping… Yes, demons can and do “haunt” certain places where God’s curse falls, and I believe, great evil has been wrought by the people living there. I may not have any scripture to back that last bit up, but I do believe it. So did Tolkien.

    Stephen, you need to cease treating spiritual warfare like this. Harry Potter is not real. Superheroes are not real. But the Devil’s hand is. You love to say that scripture doesn’t say this and scripture doesn’t say that to bolster your attacks. Well, neither does the Word of God ever put the two words “good” and “magic” together, but you are one of the chief apostles of it. You are openly teaching the opposite of what God says about magic in language so clear, and about other things like spiritual warfare in these posts. Did God really say? Do you know who you sound like? With whom you sound like you are standing? Do you?

    You need to stop. You need to call things what God calls them, look at the real world the way God does (both visible and invisible), indeed think God’s thoughts after him and say what God and God alone says about things. About demons. About magic. About everything. I say this to myself as well, every day. Let the words of my mouth (my teaching) and the meditations of my heart (my thinking, my feelings, who I am inside) be acceptable in your sight, O YHWH. I long to see the same in you.

    • HG, thank you for your comment. But I do not thank you for the false accusations.

      If my approach seems confusing, I would hope you would not bolt for the most drastic of conclusions, such as that I actually deny the Devil and demons exist (per anti-biblical liberal theologians).

      I have challenged evangelical teachings that “spiritual warfare” is about identifying and confronting these entities directly, by use of mantra, “territory” work, or some other spiritual activities.

      I have not done anything like denying the Devil or demons actually exist and are dangerous.

      The two sets of ideas are not equivalent. I think they are equivalent only if Christians assume the Devil has particular powers and methods. Other Christians prefer pointing to the epistles that warn about Satan, but also assure us the Devil is a foe defeated by Christ. This biblical view does not deny the Devil’s dangers. But it does point instead to the teachings that Christians fight these demonic influences through “simple” and non-dramatic means, such as growing in holiness, local church work, and constantly comparing our assumptions to Scripture.

      I have also responded to your last comment, back in the original article, here. Right now I am going back to fix the formatting there. But some of what you’ve reacted to, I’ve already addressed back there.

      I cannot proceed with a discussion with you while you are assuming the worst about my motives, and then attempting to make the comments section of a website like a local church auditorium in which you are the pastor, who has some solo right to call someone to “account.” That is not your role here (any more than it is mine).

      We are instead two Christian brothers a in conversation. No one has any spiritual authority to call another to account or demand some recantation.

      Therefore, it is inappropriate and rude to cast about high-and-spiritual sounding accusations about “blindness,” or shallow insinuations about superhero movies. This in particular gets far too close to the default evangelical response to Christian fans of stories: “Well, you like frivolous things like superhero movies, so clearly these have warped your mind as you’ve gone further into escapism and further from reality.”

      I’m glad to discuss this further, especially starting with the parts you said you do agree with. But this is not a pastor/straying-Christian relationship, one way or the other. We are two people in conversation on a website. Please keep that in mind!

      • Keith says:

        Stephen, having read your blog a time or two I cannot fully say that I think you are wrong, but I find it hard to say anything else. Spiritual battles are often personal as the Evil One always attacks us as individuals rather than a group. To say there is only one kind of spiritual warfare seems to deny this. I have had extensive conversations with people doing the Lord’s work in many ways, and I have heard accounts that would curl your hair. Spiritual battles are real, demons are real and they fight nasty! Satan can defeat you in a myriad of ways, including convincing you that you don’t need to fight. Guard yourself, Stephen, he bowls like a hungry lion, but also can come in through a single believed non-truth. Your Brother in Christ, Keith.

        • Keith says:

          Sorry, bowls should be “howls”

        • Audie says:

          I have heard accounts, too, and at this point, I’m simply now unimpressed with them.

          We do not take our experiences, or those others have had or claim to have had, and thus create a theology from them. Christian theology has its source in the Bible.

          And as I tried to show in my earlier comment to this post, the Bible not only does not teach that Christians are to go around binding and rebuking demons, but teaches against such practices.

        • Happy Sunday, Keith, and thank you for your comment. For my part, I am undecided about the anecdotes I have also heard regarding demonic influence, or even “possession” (similar to science fiction in which noncorporeal alien entities can inhabit and control a person’s body, and/or enhance that person’s abilities).

          No doubt demons still have some limited powers in this world, though they act as defeated and humiliated foes after the completed mission of Christ (Colossians 2:8-15). Even John MacArthur, who counts as a full-blown “cessationist,” has described confronting a demon-influenced person.

          To say there is only one kind of spiritual warfare seems to deny this [method of Satanic attack on individuals].

          I hope I have not given this impression. What I’ve said is not, “There is only one kind of spiritual warfare.” Instead I’ve asked, “What spiritual warfare does the Bible emphasize — directly confronting demons and Satan? Or directly confronting sin as we grow to be like Jesus?”

          The issue is not, “How many kinds of spiritual warfare are there.” The issue is rather, “What kind does the Bible teach is normative? And what kind does the Bible imply is exceptional?”

          By contrast, some evangelical materials — Anderson’s among them — act as though demon-confronting is normative, but “regular” spiritual growth using church teaching, Scripture study, fellowship, and accountability is less necessary. That’s the reversal of priorities I confront here.

          I hope that helps, and thank you again for your comment.

What do you think?