BOOK REVIEW: Victory Over the Darkness (and Bondage Breaker)

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Are you really a sinner? Is that your scriptural identity? Not at all. God doesn’t call you a sinner, He calls you a saint – a holy one.

Introduction

Deliverance Ministries have become increasingly popular in the last several decades. For whatever reason, Christians seem fascinated with the supernatural realm, especially the darker side. The range of acceptance spans a huge range, from the charismatic movement’s “power encounters” with their bizarre rituals and prolonged exorcisms (e.g.,  Benny Hinn / and other “miracle worker” ministries) to the “third wave movement’s” experiential oddities (e.g., Wimber’s Vineyard) to the less sensational “warfare praying” of contemporary evangelicalism. The popularity of these topics is also evident from the deluge of “spiritual warfare” novels e.g., (Peretti’s “Darkness” series, “Angelwalk,” etc.).

Enter former Talbot professor, Dr. Neil Anderson and his “Freedom in Christ Ministries.” Anderson is the author of several books related to spiritual warfare, Victory Over the Darkness and Bondage Breaker being the foundational works and progenitors of several “for teens” versions (but thankfully no prayer coins or Bible covers . . . yet). If the continuing presence of his works on Christian Bookstore shelves is any indicator, Anderson’s popularity has not waned significantly since 1990 when VOD was published.

There is much to commend Anderson’s writings, but underlying these are several flawed principles that, if taken to their logical conclusion, will lead to bondage making rather than breaking.* The critique below will present both.

* I am in debt to Elliot Miller of the Christian Research Institute for his insightful choice of these words, as well as several observations from his writings in several 1998 issues of the Christian Research Journal.

Good Points

There is a lot about both VOD and BB that should be acknowledged before any negative criticisms are leveled against the rest.

  • Anderson generally avoids the most sensationalistic attributes of the deliverance movement by stressing truth over power encounters.
  • He recognizes that Satan’s power is (mostly) in deception.
  • He puts emphasis on personal responsibility for sin.
  • He focuses on Christ’s work in the believer’s life as our source of strength.
  • He attempts to derive his theology from the teaching epistles rather than historical gospel stories.
  • He also stresses the importance of forgiveness in a believer’s life.
  • There is also a lot of good theology and practical wisdom throughout.

Negative Points

It is precisely all these good points that make it so difficult to notice the occasional error. When all of those errors add up, they lead to big problems. As one author has stated, it is like steak laced with arsenic. It tastes the same, looks the same, smells the same – and it’s mostly steak. But that little bit of poison is enough. As will be shown below, there are several problematic teachings that under gird Anderson’s teachings such as:

  • A faulty view of human nature regarding the flesh, the “old man,” the “new man,” and the spirit.
  • Acceptance of pop psychology’s view of self-identity.
  • An unhealthy emphasis on demonic activity.
  • Confusion of spiritual warfare and demonic possession.
  • The belief that Christians can be demonized (essentially synonymous with possession).
  • Acceptance of a widespread satanic network, territorial spirits, sex demons, generational curses, etc.
  • Ritualistic methods of avoiding spiritual problems.
  • A misrepresentation of Scriptural passages to support these teachings.

The biggest problem with these errors is that they not only lead to false conclusions, but tend to counteract the good teachings of Anderson as well. This sometimes has the appearance of “balance” but only when one ignores the obvious implications of Anderson’s total teaching. For example, Anderson’s emphasis on personal responsibility is abdicated by his insistence that Christians can reach a point where they lose control over their actions to demons that take over their lives because of past sins. These problems, and others, will be addressed below.

The Believer’s Nature

If you see yourself as a sinner you will sin . . .
You must see yourself as a child of God in order to live like a child of God. (BB 44, VOD 50)

Saints or Sinners?

Anderson spends much of VOD developing his view of Christian sanctification, which sets the stage for his teachings on spiritual warfare in BB on which it’s teaching hinges. Essentially Anderson teaches that Christians no longer posses a sin nature and that if they would only realize this, they would lead victorious lives in Christ. How does this feed into his beliefs regarding spiritual warfare? Well, if Christians aren’t really sinners, then sin must come from somewhere else – enter Satan and his demons.

Anderson claims that believers are not sinners, but “saints who occasionally sin” (see VOD 44-45). He goes on to say that the “old self” is gone, that we have exchanged our sin nature for a new nature (as opposed to adding a new one). Thus, we are no longer saved sinners, but saved saints. In Anderson’s view we are Holy as opposed to being called Holy. He confuses forensic justification (God declaring us to be Holy based on our union with Christ) with actual justification (which is actually the result of sanctification – literally “saint-making” – not prior to it). While God calls us Holy it is based on the surety of our salvation in Christ and not any actual righteousness in us.

The Flesh

Anderson makes a strict distinction between “the flesh” and the “sin nature” or “old man.” He defines our flesh as programmed behavior that we have learned throughout a life separated from God. This flesh, being crucified, is only present in residual effects in a believer and is no longer part of their nature. Anderson gets away with this by defining sin as “living apart from God” rather than actual offenses. Sin is made into a pattern of behavior, a mindset that can be unlearned if only we would see that we really aren’t sinners anymore.

Biblically, the believer’s nature can be defined as their “bent or disposition.” When we are born we have Adam’s nature, that is we tend toward sin. We do not always sin, but that’s the way we’d go without restraint. This nature is not “conditioning” or “learned independence from God” – it is our tendency by nature – and cannot be simply “unlearned.” If it could, even nonbelievers could become sanctified.

Instead, when we receive Christ we receive a new nature – one disposed toward God. Just as we didn’t always sin, we don’t always follow God. In both states we retain our free will – our ability to choose which way to act. Paul says that sin dwells in our mortal bodies (Rom. 7). It is that nature that causes us to tend toward sin. It is not our self perception, but our natures that we follow. When Christ’s nature is added to us we still have the choice to follow one or the other (Rom. 6:12; Gal. 5:16-17; Jas. 4:1-3).

That we have a new nature means that now we tend toward godliness rather than sin – but sin’s influence does not simply disappear. Scripture calls the sin nature the flesh and the new nature the spirit. Thus, believers have both. When we follow our sin nature we are referred to as the old man (which is all we used to be), when we act according to the spirit we are called the new man. This conflict is described in Romans 7, which would not make sense if the old nature was simply gone.

The New Man

Further, being “in Christ” is not about who we are, but who we are in – Christ. When God looks at us He looks at Christ and it is only that fact that allows Him to call us “saints.” We are not Holy, Christ is. Thus, we should be focused on the person of Jesus instead of repeating personal affirmations as Anderson would have us do. While it is true that one day we will achieve moral perfection (after death), and we long for that state – we do not get there by claiming that we have already made it.

In fact, it is the very heroes of faith in the Bible that had the strongest realization of their sinfulness:

  • Job: “I am unworthy.” (Job 40:4)
  • Isaiah: “Woe to me . . . I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips” (Isa. 6:5)
  • Peter: “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!” (Lk. 5:8)
  • Paul, toward the end of his life, called himself the “chief of sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15)

Did these inspired writers miss something with regard to their natures, or did Anderson? What these writers realized as they grew closer to the light was just how much darkness was in them. It is our denial of sin in our lives that cause us to have an incorrect self image, not our affirmation that we are sinners who are saved.

Demonic Activity

Those who say a demon cannot influence an area of a believer’s life have left us with only  two possible culprits for the problems we face: ourselves or God . . . .  we feel hopeless because we can’t do anything to stop what we’re doing. (VOD 42-43)

What Anderson does in VOD is to create a situation where believers apparently have no reason at all to desire sin and therefore any inclination to sin must be from the outside. This sets the stage for his teachings in BB where he identifies that source. Seeing sin not as a principle but only as a person, Anderson turns the blame for sinful actions to Satan and his demons (VOD 169, BB 180 etc.). Thus, his inadequate view of the role of the flesh in a believer’s life leads him into a overstatement of Satan’s.

Demonic Possession

Anderson employs a clever semantic trick to get around the charge that he believes Christians can be possessed by demons. Instead, he refers to “demonization” which he characterizes as a continuum from minor influence to full control and ownership. He denies that Christians can be “owned” by demons but defends the idea that a Christian can give enough “footholds” to Satan that they can actually lose control of their actions. Anderson then suggests a series of ritualistic / psychotherapeutic measures to release one from this alleged bondage that is seen in his “Seven Steps to Freedom” system.

This is a huge problem – for several reasons. First, it takes the believer out of the responsibility loop by blaming demons for their own actions. Second, it creates a subjective world view on demonic activity where there may be none. Third, it ironically fosters fear as believers look around every corner for a demon, Finally, it creates an unhealthy focus on the dark side of the supernatural.

Anderson’s problem is that he sees demonic activity in a person’s life (believer or unbeliever) on a continuum of “demonization” wherein a person gradually gives over control of their lives until it is lost altogether. Anderson’s attempt to separate “ownership” from “control” is a straw man tactic. The issue under discussion is whether or not Christians can lose control – no evangelical is going to argue that we are owned by demons at any time.

It must be positively stated that Christians cannot be possessed by demons. The Holy Spirit indwells us permanently at our rebirth regardless of our level of sanctification thereafter (which may effect “filling” or “empowering”). No demon (a mere spirit entity) can possibly take control of one who is indwelt by God Himself. Thus, no Christian can ever legitimately say, “the devil (or his demons) made me do it.”

Satan’s Authority vs. Believer’s Authority

Anderson believes that when we are born into the world we are owned by Satan until we receive Christ and are brought into God’s kingdom (BB 98-99). Satan is no longer our ruler, however Anderson claims that people give Satan “footholds” whenever they sin. Finally, in order to rid themselves of Satan’s influence over them they must go through a series of renunciations and declare their authority over him and his demons.

He confuses church discipline with demonic “binding” (Mt. 18). He confuses Christ’s power with our power (Mt. 12:29). He confuses Christ’s authority with our own, promoting that which Scripture warns against (Jude 8-9). While believer’s in the NT were given authority over demonic possession of unbelievers, this in no way is analogous to a believer’s commanding of spirits in general.

Spiritual Warfare

Anderson’s reasoning for this continuum results from his failure to recognize the difference between demonic possession and spiritual warfare. In Scripture (Pre- and Post- resurrection) demonic possession was met with exorcism – a “power encounter” if you will. Demonic harassment, influence, etc. is to be met with resistance (James 4:7), not “renunciation” or other rituals. Anderson fuses these two different solutions (as he does the two different problems). This is not to say that there are continuums within each separate case – but that they are not one and the same. How one sees these two problems will determine how they react. The two have these distinctives:

Demonic Possession
Demonic Influence
  • Results in loss of control.
  • Requires outside person to solve (exorcism).
  • Can only afflict unbelievers.
  • Believers have controlling authority.
  • Results in choice to sin.
  • Requires individual resistance (spiritual warfare).
  • Can afflict believers or nonbelievers.
  • Christ has controlling authority.

The examples that Anderson uses with regard to believers fall into the second half, not the first. For example, Anderson states that Acts 5:3 is the most important verse regarding believer’s demonization (BB 178): “But Peter said, ‘Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit, and to keep back some of the price of the land?'”  But where in this verse is the idea that Satan controlled Ananias? That he had no control? Or any of Anderson’s other qualifications? He equates the “filling” here with the “filling” of the Holy Spirit . . . but does the Holy Spirit take over control of us? If He did, why would we ever sin? Obviously this verse (the most important remember) does not substantiate any of Anderson’s ideas.

Uncritical Acceptance

While there is not enough room to go into it here,  highly speculative and unfounded assumptions abound in Anderson’s writings regarding the nature of demonic activity today. He cites with approval the idea of a *satanic network, satanic ritual abuse, blood oaths, satanic rituals of all sorts, and a host of psychological phenomena that he traces to demons.  Practically any activity even remotely connected to occult beliefs are listed as footholds for Satan that each must be specifically renounced to avoid further problems.

Anderson front loads his presentations by listing such common events as fear, confusion, loneliness, anger, difficulty in studying (the Bible), bad dreams, bad thoughts about God, suicidal thoughts, sexual dreams, childrens’ reports of bogeymen,  “invisible friends,” etc. may all be demonic in origin. Any report of “voices” or any other psychological difficulty can be traced to demons. Where is the objective tests? Where are the control factors? This subjective approach and Anderson’s reliance upon the testimony of his counselees (usually short term) for support show how weak his case really is.

*The idea of a worldwide secret satanic network has been debunked by Bob and Gretchen Passantino, researchers from the Christian Research Institute (see Spiritual Warfare And The Myth Of Satanic Conspiracies and Ritual Abuse in the Christian Research Journal 1998). While it may be a controversial conclusion (although it fits the evidence),  Anderson expects Christians to simply accept it as true (unfortunately, most interested in his books probably do).

Anderson’s Answer: The Seven Steps

Below is a brief presentation and critique of Anderson’s methodology for ridding one of demonic influence and control:

1. Renunciation

In this step the counselee is encouraged to every possible involvement with the occult. Again, these include a wildly diverse collection of events from common human experience. Even those that were not committed by the believer but by anyone in his family (Anderson also believes in generational curses from satanists although the Bible presents curses as only God’s province). The list must be complete. The renunciation must be said out loud so Satan can hear it.

2. Recognition

The true inner self (a saint who occasionally sins) is affirmed, and the previous sinful lifestyle is renounced.

3. Forgiveness

Forgiveness of others is taken to mean taking the penalty of other’s sin. No repentance is required of the offending party. Rather than being motivated by God’s forgiveness of us, the focus is on our freedom from their control over us by their hurting us.  Astoundingly, Anderson suggests that counselees add themselves and God(!) to the list of those they must forgive (BB 230). Some ideas are so ridiculous (and in this case sick) that they need only be stated to be refuted. Clearly any teaching with this idea as the result provides a definitive example of reductio ad absurdum – the principle defeats itself with its own conclusion.

4. Rebellion Renounced

Rebellion against God is officially renounced and God’s authority is submitted to.

5. Pride Renounced

Essentially a repeat of prior renunciation steps, this time of pride.

6. Freedom from Bondage

Here Anderson confuses sin / lust with Satan (ROM 5:12-13; James 4:1) and asks that the counselee exhaustively renounce specific sexual sins, even – oddly –  if they were the victim.

7. Final Renunciation

This is where Anderson has the counselee renounce generational / familial curses in the hopes that prior “footholds” given to Satan by members of one’s family (however remote) will cease to be effective. Aside from the fact that the Bible nowhere supports the idea that anyone but God can effectively curse someone, Anderson (like many others) confuses God’s punishment of unbelievers for their own sin with a curse that somehow transmits through a family’s line (i.e. Ex. 20:4-5 where, in context, God promises a curse on those who hate Him).  But the idea that renunciation can somehow set someone free from a life of sin is itself problematic. Sanctification from sin is a process that requires resistance on the part of the believer – not simply verbal affirmations. When one renounces sin, it should be for current sin (Acts 19:18-20) not some possible “foothold” from the past that no longer has any bearing on one’s life. Anderson further teaches believers to speak against demonic holds on homes, hotels, and other inanimate objects. Ironically, it requires one to hold to an occult world view to accept Anderson’s strong anti-occult conclusions. Nowhere in Scripture is this idea even hinted at.

Conclusion

Anderson’s problematic view on human nature,  faulty view of sanctification, unhealthy focus on the demonic in the life of a believer, his view on what constitutes occult involvement, his uncritical acceptance of urban legends and subjective experiences to validate his claims, his poor handling of the Scriptural text in several areas, his misunderstanding of the authority of both Satan and man, his fusing of two different concepts regarding demonic influence, and the other problems listed here lead this author to the conclusion that Anderson’s writings, while full of truth, contain enough error that they should not be trusted for good theology.

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5 thoughts on “BOOK REVIEW: Victory Over the Darkness (and Bondage Breaker)

  1. You critic like a teacher approved of men. But the teacher said to forbid him not. You appear to be more interested in being right than loving God and encouraging others to. If you had ever been possessed or cast out a devil you would realize what Paul meant by, “The kingdom is in power” and not get so lost in your multitude of words.

    Jim Logan was called to this ministry from a place as you are now near.

    I pray He calls you into His harvest as well.

  2. I can barely follow what you’re saying here. Do you have any actual arguments, or are you just going to make unsubstantiated and judgmental assertions?

  3. Does the phrase, “that’s just how it is”, mean anything to anyone? I think I might be having issue at this house I moved into. My roommate had an extremely intense spiritual experience one night with a dream and there are other things that have happened. I have heard a female voice saying, “that’s just how it is”. I figure that if it means something to you or Dr Logan then I might have a real problem. Please let me know.

  4. I do not know who Dr. Logan is, and this does not sound like anything I have heard of before. Since it is completely unlike any biblical example of spiritual problems I would not let it get to me. If it is truly bothering you then talk to your pastor / priest.

  5. It seems obvious to me that you’re coming at your criticisms from a theological persuasion as well – it’s hard for any of us to be objective, truly objective. Your use of the 4 Bible heroes to back up your disclaimer of the “new man” in Christ is a bit flawed: two of those are OT heroes, who hadn’t yet been in the New Covenant to experience the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (which is “what” makes you a new creation); the same is true of Peter, at the time of that which you quoted (“Go away from me, Lord, I’m a sinful man”) he was just meeting Christ and the Spirit still had not yet been given; and then Paul, abusing his quote of being the chief of sinners, he was referring to his past, before Christ, in the days when he persecuted Christians. That is very bad exegesis at the least! Why is it that often those that criticize others for misusing Scriptures out of context, often use Scripture out of context in their criticisms!

    I see Neil’s stretches, too, and don’t agree with everything in his theology – but, he does have some things right that are very helpful – especially his emphasis on who we are in Christ, as opposed to those who set up a very unScriptural dichotomy between positional truth and actual(?) truth. And I don’t see where he says that the sin nature is eradicated, but that it’s dis-empowered by the atoning work of the cross and the Spirit’s Presence within (Romans 6 & 8). And, it’s been debated by the best theologians, and will likely be continued to be, that Romans 7 is often misinterpreted by the perception that Paul is talking about his present state of being helpless under the power of sin as a man in Christ, which the last couple verses of the chapter rectify and help us to understand that he is speaking generally (not of himself in particular), and rather of the state of a human being BEFORE they come to Christ, before Romans 6 & 8 would apply. Otherwise, Romans 7 is in contradiction to the messages of Romans 6 & 8 – which, of course, for proper exegesis, Romans 7 must be understood in the light of the whole (Romans 6 thru 8), as well as the whole of Romans, the entire letter (instead of considering chapters or passages out of context of the whole).

    As usual, many Christians in their critics of each other “throw the baby out with the bathwater”, excommunicating each other instead of seeking together to grasp Truth as God reveals it through Scripture, as we all seek to interpret it correctly. Too much of this, the pot calling the kettle black!

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