The residents of the sleepy college town of Ashton, comfortable in their middle American lifestyle, had no idea that their
community was about to play a significant role in the ages-old battle between the forces of good versus evil. A malevolent
storm was brewing in the nether regions, a storm that would challenge the mightiest of God's angels in their task to preserve
the earth from satanic conquest. And the people of Ashton were to play the major role in equipping His angels with the power
they would need to meet that challenge.
Author Frank E. Peretti weaves a tale of suspense tempered with humor in his book, This Present Darkness, which, just of late, seems to have surged into popularity since its original release in 1986. Already in its eighth printing since its debut, This Present Darkness is causing Christians to buzz with excitement at the prospect that they may have learned something new and of great importance to help them in their own struggles against the spiritual darkness that pervades the earth.
The premise of Peretti's book is the power of prayer to influence the forces in the spiritual world. When the novel's chief protagonist, a godly pastor by the name of Hank Busche, discovers a sinister plot to turn Ashton's college into a bulwark of New Age philosophy, he finds that human effort alone will not stop the advance of this evil. A novice at prayer, Hank and his wife Mary learn quickly that, unless God intervenes, their very lives are at stake.
Facing discouragement at every turn, set up for a sexual scandal intended to discredit Hank, threatened with death or worse, the Busches find that they are not alone in the fight. God has other prayer warriors they know nothing about until the chips are down and the eleventh hour has passed in the plot to turn Whitmore College over to a political machine steeped in witchcraft.
Behind the political machine is one Alexander Kaseph, holder of interests in multi-billion dollar corporations working to establish a new world order. Kaseph allows himself to be possessed by "the Strongman," chief of all demons.
Employed in Kaseph's service is professor of psychology Juleen Langstrat, known to dabble in witchcraft, and a channeler for one of the Strongman's princes, Ba'al Rafar. Through her wiles, she controls the local sheriff, Alf Brummel, and other lesser characters embroiled in their sinister plot.
But Kaseph, Langstrat, et al., do not reckon on the power of God to move the hearts of men toward good. Besides the Busches, Marshall Hogan, editor of the Ashton Clarion, discovers through some top-notch investigative work that all is not kosher in his quiet little town. With the help of an assistant, Bernice Krueger, he gathers enough evidence to indict the conspirators, provided he can overcome the superior game-playing that he is up against. And provided he doesn't get murdered as have others before him who got too nosy.
Peretti's tale braids the story of Ashton's human struggle with the "real" struggle behind the scenes: the spiritual warfare that controls the destinies of men. Demon spirits, dark, sinister, fierce in their antagonism against God and man, gather in a brooding cloud of evil, discernible only to other spirits in their realm: God's angels strategically planted to offset this attack here, that countermove there.
Flailing with swords against forces vastly superior in number, God's angels take their share of blows. A broken wing, a deep gash in the body, pain from countless injuries incurred during moments of lull in the humans' prayer lives. But with every prayer comes a new surge of strength, equipping the angels with the ability to stand against the strongest demons.
On the other side, lesser demons are terrorized by their superiors, kicked into submission, ridiculed, and abased by every means available to spirit entities. Tiny demons disappear into puffs of smoke, if not at the hands of God's angels, then at the behest of their superiors displeased with their lack of performance. And it seems that, no matter how powerful a demon, there is always one more powerful than he to keep him in place. Jealousy results in a treasonous act by one demon of high status who is rankled over the impending victory by his hated and abusive superior.
In the end, the Christians of Ashton -- The "Remnant" -- win the day along with a lot of souls, and keep Whitmore College free of control by the Strongman.
Peretti's tale is absorbing. It can even be described as positively inspiring. However, it reflects an inaccurate concept of spiritual warfare and the spirit realm in general.
Let's keep in mind that all we really know about the spirit realm is what Scripture reveals. Anything beyond that is conjecture. When we fictionalize reality we have a novel. When we fictionalize conjecture we have fantasy. And that is what we have in This Present Darkness -- a fantasy.
I don't say this to burst the balloons of all those who enjoyed reading This Present Darkness. Nor is it necessarily a criticism of Peretti's authorship. It's just that because of the success of his book, Peretti is sought after for speaking engagements on spiritual warfare in churches all across America, especially those predisposed toward dominionism. It is therefore important that we make a distinction between spiritual warfare based on reality from one based on fantasy.
As an attempt to depict spiritual warfare using fiction based on conjecture. This Present Darkness may be well-meaning and entertaining. But if taken as an accurate portrayal of spiritual warfare, it could prove extremely harmful.
An example of Peretti's warfare in his fantasy is the use of the all-too-common phrase among Christians, "I rebuke you, Satan," invoked even during prayer. Let's consider this idea of rebuking Satan from the standpoint of reality (i.e. Scriptural truth).
In the first place, Satan is not omnipresent. He is in a specific locale, most likely the heavenlies, working under the permission of God to test the hearts of men (Job 1:6-12; 2:1-6). So he probably doesn't even hear our "rebukes." We see from these same verses he is an angel, a "son of God," who rebelled and drew others (angels, demons, and men) from allegiance to God. (He continues to draw men away from God. Whether he continues to draw angels is doubtful.) He has access to earth and goes about as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour (1 Pe. 5:8).
The point of this is that spiritual warfare does not consist of shot-gunning "rebukes" in the spirit realm. To say, "I rebuke you, Satan!" is merely to say, "I admonish you, Satan!" For that is what "rebuke" means. It means "admonish," or "verbally chastise." To verbally chastise Satan does not cause him to cease in action any more than telling your car, "I rebuke you, car!" causes it to stop at every red light. In order to restrain, or hold back something (cause it to cease in action) we must take some action (such as apply the brake to stop the car) and the thing we want stopped will be stopped.
How, then, do we confront Satan's influence in our lives? God's Word is our weapon. By applying it to our life's situations we destroy the works of the devil. By holding firmly to the truth we overcome evil.
When we see or hear false teaching, we come against it with the truth. When we are tempted, we employ God's Word: "Resist the devil, and he will flee from you" (James 4:7). Jesus set the example for spiritual warfare by coming against every challenge with the retort, "it is written," or "Have you not read?". God's Word combined with prayer is the offensive weapon in our spiritual armor (Ephesians 6:11-18). Our prayer life can only be as effective as our knowledge of God's Word enables us to pray with understanding.
The mystical approach of throwing rebukes around has no basis in Scripture. Just the opposite is true. We are not to rail against principalities and authorities in the spirit realm (Jude 8-9). Jude has some rather unpleasant remarks concerning the fate of those who rail against spiritual powers. And we can see from His mention of Michael and the devil that God does not look favorably upon those who rail against any authorities including Satan's. Yet the Church is filled today with teachers who tell us how they're going to "stomp on the devil." They call him names out of spite and rail against him as if to demonstrate that they have power over him.
The fact is that we have power over Satan only as long as we believe and act in accordance with God's Word. If we are acting in the flesh, basing our actions on an erroneous concept of spiritual warfare, Satan will maintain his influence over us. We can "rebuke" and rail all we want in our attempts to engage in spiritual warfare, but we will be acting contrary to God's Word. There is no Scriptural teaching, example, or precedent for rebuking Satan. There is, however, a teaching and an example of turning believers over to Satan for correction (1 Cor. 5:5; 1 Tim. 1:20).
The only areas in which we are commanded to invoke rebukes is against men who are in sin, in error, and/or prevent the truth of God's Word (Lk. 17:3; 1 Tim. 5:20; 2 Tim. 4:2; Titus 1:13; 2:15). But this is not something we are to take pleasure in. It must be done in humility, and with fear and trembling, considering our own weaknesses.
In spite of the Word of God to the contrary, many professing Christians go on rebuking rampages against the devil while refusing to administer correction to false teachers. Yet false teachers, masquerading as ministers of righteousness (2 Cor. 11:15), comprise the single most destructive element in the Church.
I suspect that our role in spiritual warfare is more mundane than many Christians would like to believe. It's more appealing to our pride to confront satanic powers than to confront human beings. Besides, we don't have to suffer the taunts of those whom we confront with their errors if we limit our spiritual warfare to the unseen realm. It's something else again to confront teachers who spread errors, especially when those teachers have the majority of the congregation on their side.
Yet, besides Jesus' encounter with the tempter in the desert, the only Scriptural instances of confrontation with satanic powers were those who manifested themselves through human beings. Even Paul, when troubled by his "thorn in the flesh," prayed to God to have it removed. It was not removed, but Paul was admonished to trust in the sufficiency of God's grace (2 Cor. 12:7-9).
Not once in Scripture do we see the apostles confronting spirits except those who manifested themselves in human agencies. When confronting false teachers, the way in which they rebuked them (and stopped their mouths) was by challenging them with the Word of God just as Jesus did his enemies. This is our example for when we must confront false teachers. True, they may go on teaching their errors, but it won't be in our presence or with our silent permission.
Of course, besides the Word of God, we must employ prayer in our spiritual warfare. But while prayer is one of our most powerful helps in waging that warfare, it does not work in quite the manner Peretti's book suggests. According to This Present Darkness, if Christians do not pray, God's angels suffer defeats. There is no Scriptural basis for this conclusion.
Contrary to Peretti's assumption, prayer is not what gives angels strength; God's power gives them strength. This is why Michael, while contending for the body of Moses said, "The Lord rebuke thee." Satan works, believe it or not, at the behest of God. This is amply demonstrated in the book of Job.
Yet our prayers are important to demonstrate to God our recognition of the need for His power in our lives. Prayer demonstrates humility provided it is tempered with our desire for God's will to be done regardless of the consequences to us personally. Many pray for their own wills to be done thinking that, because their will is in line with some perceived "good," it is acceptable to God.
Those of the mindset reflected in Peretti's concept of prayer, credit Daniel's prayers with giving "Gabriel" his power to overcome the prince of Persia. But if we examine these passages of Scripture in Daniel 10, we'll see that Daniel's prayers were merely for an understanding of future events that would befall God's people. They were not for victory over adversity (Dan. 10:12-14).
Daniel was not praying for the defeat of the prince of Persia. But the angel, in his conflict with that prince, could not be sent to Daniel until he had completed that task, which took twenty-one days (verse 13). The angel's power to defeat the prince of Persia did not depend upon Daniel's prayers. More importantly, the purpose of that prince's defeat was to allow another prince to arise to power -- the prince of Grecia. Daniel did not pray for the prince of Grecia to be given power. He only prayed for an understanding of the future events revealed to him in visions and dreams.
There is no doubt that Satan's forces are organized into principalities and powers (Eph. 6:10-12), probably of varied strengths. But there is no evidence, as suggested by Peretti's book, that they fight among themselves. On the contrary, Jesus' answer to the Pharisees who accused Him of casting out devils by the power of Satan indicated that Satan is not so foolish as to allow his kingdom to be divided against itself (Matt. 12:20-28). Since Scripture does not indicate any infighting among Satan's forces, the best that can be said of Peretti's descriptions of such infighting is that it is amusing conjecture.
As far as satanic dominion over geographic areas is concerned, the only Scriptural reference to such dominion is in Daniel 10. There we are told only that there was a prince of Persia whom an angel (commonly believed to be Gabriel, but possibly the preincarnate Word of God [verses 5 and 6]) fought with the aid of Michael in order to make room for the coming prince of Grecia (verses 12-20). Notice from these verses that God's angels did not eliminate evil government, but merely worked to replace one world power with another according to God's will.
Evidently there are spirit princes of earthly kingdoms, at least over those predominant during their allotted time. But whether or not there are specific princes over each country, state or province, county, city, community, social institution, business, church, individual, or other entities, Scripture does not reveal. What happened to the prince of Persia after his defeat to make way for the prince of Grecia? There may be satanic forces assigned to these areas, but how many, and what their strengths are, no one can know for certain.
Other areas that mark This Present Darkness as fantasy are female angels, baby angels, pipsqueak demons, angels with wings (some may have them, we don't know that they all do), and the portrayal of demonic spirits in charge of hell. All these notions are elements of pagan mythology and have no basis in Biblical reality. If such things do exist, there is not Scriptural evidence for them. And as far as Satan and his demons ruling in hell, that's strictly out of Dante's Inferno, gleaned from pagan mythology as well. Satan in not in control of hell, God is.
Readers of This Present Darkness should keep these things in mind so they won't be misled into thinking that Peretti's concept of spiritual warfare is Scriptural. That is not to say that no elements of his writing are Scriptural; some are. But if his book must be read, keep in mind that it is a fantasy. Three hundred seventy-seven pages of fantasy. Long reading that would be better spent in the Word of God learning the true aspects of spiritual warfare.
*This material has been adapted and/or excerpted from a 6/88 Media Spotlight Special Report -- "This Present Darkness: Spiritual Warfare -- Fact or Fantasy?"; by Albert James Dager.