The biblical authors are not naive to the realities of sin, hostility, and even persecution. Yet no matter the magnitude, complexity, or frequency of the spiritual opposition, we are reminded of the promise of God in Romans:
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 8:38–39)
neither denial nor obsession
Luke suggests in Acts 19 that among those who brought their books of magic arts to burn were many who were already Christians: “Also many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices” (v. 18). If some either academically or practically deny the spiritual realm and the spirits, there are others who, while taking the spiritual powers seriously incorporate extrabiblical assumptions and practices about the spiritual world. Be it belief in oneness with an impersonal power or “force,” ancestor worship, or superstitious belief in rituals or astrology, believers unhelpfully and at times unknowingly marry the teachings of the Bible with prevailing culture and spiritual practices, creating a syncretistic faith and practice that undermines the gospel’s witness and jeopardizes one’s faith. Some believers become preoccupied with spiritual dimensions, angels and demons, and powers of darkness, finding the work of demons in every event. It certainly does not help that all of us are catechized daily by social media and popular culture from astrology to zombies.
Our approach should begin with and be bounded by the teachings of Scripture. John Calvin states, “Let us willingly remain enclosed within these bounds to which God has willed to confine us, and as it were, to pen up our minds that they may not, through their very freedom to wander, go stray.” Even as Paul emphatically teaches the reality of the spiritual world and spiritual warfare, he does not attempt to include and explain much about the spiritual world, such as the history and fall of the angels, the hierarchy among the angels, the unique and special powers of angels or demons, the ways that demons operate, and the places that demons occupy. Instead, Paul repeatedly reminds the believers that even if all principalities, powers, and demons gather against believers and the church, they will ultimately prove powerless because Jesus wins.
In his entertaining yet insightful book The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis writes: “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence, and the other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.” On this point, his advice is sound.