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-Tilting at Windmills

Tilting at Windmills

Gregory Koukl

The big question is not whether spiritual warfare exists, clearly it does. The question is, what are the spiritual disciplines that we employ to take effective part in spiritual warfare?divider

I would like to read you something from one of the greats. His name is Cervantes and the great work he produced is Don Quixote . I'd like to read a little bit from this and enjoy the narrative. In a few moments I'm going to make a particular application of this notion that I see in Don Quixote to our Christian life, to the way that we think as Christians and the way that we do spiritual warfare. Listen to what Cervantes writes here in Chapter 8, Part 1.

Just then they came in sight of thirty or forty windmills that rise from that plain. And no sooner did Don Quixote see them that he said to his squire, “Fortune is guiding our affairs better than we ourselves could have wished. Do you see over yonder, friend Sancho, thirty or forty hulking giants? I intend to do battle with them and slay them. With their spoils we shall begin to be rich for this is a righteous war and the removal of so foul a brood from off the face of the earth is a service God will bless.””What giants?” asked Sancho Patra.

“Those you see over there,” replied his master, “with their long arms. Some of them have arms well nigh two leagues in length.”

“Take care, sir,” cried Sancho. “Those over there are not giants but windmills. Those things that seem to be their arms are sails which, when they are whirled around by the wind, turn the millstone.”

“It is clear,” replied Don Quixote, “that you are not experienced in adventures. Those are giants and if you are afraid turn aside and pray whilst I enter a fierce and unequal battle with them.”

Uttering these words he clapped spurs to Rosenantes, his steed, without heeding the cries of his squire Sancho who warned him that he was not going to attack giants but windmills. But so convinced was he that they were giants that he neither heard his squire’s shouts nor did he notice what they were though he was very near them.

Instead he rushed on shouting in a loud voice, “Fly not, cowards and vile caitliffs. One knight alone attacks you.” At that moment a slight breeze arose and the great sails began to move. When Don Quixote saw this he shouted again, “Although you flourish more arms than the giant Brarias, you shall pay for it.”

Saying this and commending himself most devoutly to his lady Dulcenia whom he begged to help him in his peril, he covered himself with his buckler, couched his lance, charged at them with Rosenantes in a full gallop and rammed the first mill in his way. He ran his lance into the sail but the wind twisted it with such violence that it shivered the lance in pieces and dragged both rider and horse after it rolling them over and over on the ground sorely damaged.

“God help us!” cried Sancho. “Did I not tell you, sir, to mind what you are doing for those are only windmills? Nobody could have mistaken them unless he had windmills for brains.”

“Hold your piece, good Sancho,” replied Don Quixote. “The affairs of war are above all others subject to continual change. Moreover I am convinced that the truth is that the magician Frustalt, the one who robbed me of my study in books, has changed those giants into windmills to deprive me of the glory of victory just as the enmity he bears against me. But in the end his evil arts will be of little avail against my doty sword.”

“God’s will be done,” said Sancho. “I’ll believe all your worship says, but straighten yourself a bit in the saddle for you seem to be leaning over on one side which must be from the bruises you received in your fall.”

The next day while they were thus talking, two friars of the order of St. Benedict appeared on the road mounted on mules big enough to be dromedaries. They wore dust masks with spectacles and carried sun shades. After them came a coach accompanied by four or five horsemen and two grooms on foot. In the coach it was learned afterwards was a misgayin’ lady on her way to meet her husband in Seville.

As soon as Don Quixote saw them he said to his squire, “Either I am deceived or this will be the most famous adventure ever seen. For those black bulky objects over there must surely be enchanters who are abducting in that coach a princess. I must redress this wrong with all my might.”

“This will be worse than the windmill,” said Sancho. “Take heed, sir, that these are monks and that coach must belong to some traveler. Take heed what you are doing.”

“Don’t let the devil lead you astray. I have told you before, Sancho,” answered Don Quixote, “that you know precious little about adventures. I am telling you the truth and you will now see for yourself.”

With these words he advanced into the middle of the road by which the monks were to pass. When they had come near enough to hear him he cried out in a loud voice, “Monstrous spawn of Satan, release this instant the noble princess that you have carried away in that coach under duress. If not, prepare to meet swift death as just chatisement for your evil deeds.” The monks reigned in their mules and stood bewildered both by the appearance of Don Quixote as well as by his words.

They then answered, “Sir knight, we are neither monstrous nor satanic, but two monks of the order of St. Benedict. Why, we do not know whether there are any princesses being carried by force or not.”

“None of those soft words for me. I know you well, accursed knaves,” answered Don Quixote. Then without waiting for any further answer he spurred out Rosenantes, couched his lance and attacked the first monk with such ferocity that if the later had not let himself fall from the mule he would have toppled him on the ground against his will and would have wounded, perhaps even killed him. The second monk, when he saw the way his companion fared, clapped his spurs into the fine towering mule and began to speed away over the plain faster than the wind itself.

That is an interesting portion of Don Quixote as he attacks the windmills. This is very much like something that is being practiced in Christianity. To be very honest with you, this is the first time I’ve ever read through some of this material and it’s kind of fun, isn’t it? I’d like to read the whole thing.We laugh at Don Quixote because, on this magnificent, divine quest (at least in his own mind) he assaults windmills as if they were dragons and gets himself injured in the process. And not just injured, but he charges at monks as if they were demons. Here’s a person who is filled with godly desire, ambition, desire to do well, desire to defend the name of God and to fight his battles properly, but he’s actually jousting with chimeras, beasties that don’t exist. And consequently, he ends up wasting a lot of his time.

I’m concerned about similar kinds of things that I see in Christianity because, as I mentioned earlier and if you’ve listen to the show for any length of time, I’m deeply committed to making a credible defense for historical Christianity and the Christian world view in the marketplace of ideas. Part of my concern is that this kind of defense and this kind of representation is not often well made, not only in the marketplace to non-Christians, but to each other as well. Sometimes we end up charging off after windmills, as it were, fighting battles where there is no battle.

I’ll give you one little example to lead into the main body of what I want to share with you today. The last couple of weeks we’ve had some calls about Catholicism and the issue of Mary and her particular status in Christianity. Part of my deep concern and why it’s so important to answer this question about prayer to Mary is that if prayer to Mary or the saints is not legitimate then good prayer effort is being wasted on them instead of addressed to the One who can actually do something about the issue. If it turns out that Scripturally prayer to Mary is not efficacious, that it’s a waste of time, then what of all the time that was spent praying to Mary and the saints? It’s wasted when it could have been used to pray to the Father, in the authority of the Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit (the biblical pattern). In other words, time could be spent on prayer that could really do some good.

But Protestant evangelicalism has its own windmills too. The one that I want to talk about today revolves around the question, what is spiritual warfare? Much has been made of late about spiritual warfare. You can turn on Christian T.V. and see a lot of talk about it. There are seminars and books out that pertain to it. A lot of Christians with a hunger to grow and be more effective in the spiritual realm are pursuing education and practice in one fashion or another in this area of spiritual warfare.

The big question is not whether spiritual warfare exists, clearly it does. The Bible speaks of spiritual warfare. Clearly there are demons and demon possessed people. There is a battle going on in the heavenlies in which we take part when we enter into spiritual disciplines. The question in my mind is, what are the spiritual disciplines that we employ to take effective part in spiritual warfare?

I’m concerned that among Christians there is a windmill out there that people are tilting at and it’s a popular, appealing windmill. It sounds good and spiritual, but if it’s merely a windmill then our time is wasted on something that in fact is not an enemy. Not only that, but like Don Quixote, we may get injured in the process and not be any good for real battle. Sometimes this windmill that we’re tilting at in the area of spiritual warfare is accompanied with the same attitude that Don Quixote represents here, kind of a condescending attitude. “We are into the deeper things here. We understand the deeper realities of spiritual warfare and if you disagree with us maybe you’re into your mind too much. You haven’t seen the light. We’ll put up with you but you don’t see the inside truth and the real battle that’s going on.”

This type of battle that’s being described, more often than not, is what I call a “power encounter” with the devil. It consists of things like binding demons and Satan, or pleading the blood of Jesus over things like buildings and sound equipment and radio stuff and the things that we use, or the inculcation of the name of Jesus at imagined or real spiritual powers that may be over certain territories and buildings, or resident in certain diseases or proclivities or vices that people would have. It’s the naming of this demon and going through a binding sequence and pleading the blood that people fancy is spiritual warfare. In some circles this is almost endemic. As a matter of fact, when you mention spiritual warfare or a church offers some teaching on spiritual warfare what is usually in mind is this kind of thing. They have this idea of throwing fiery darts at the enemy, this direct challenge, this casting out of demons, this pulling down the strongholds in the spiritual realm. What they envision in their mind when they say these kinds of things is a power encounter with the demonic realm. Of course, the techniques that are encouraged in this kind of spiritual warfare have to do with certain types of prayer and phrases that are directed specifically at these powers.

Though I understand the hunger that people have for a deeper knowledge, for a more profound and dramatic spiritual technique, it strikes me as somewhat ironic that it’s a lack of true knowledge that gets us off on these kinds of tangents and what I would call “wild demon chases.” It gets us off on these tangents that are essentially “tilting at windmills.” I think this notion of spiritual warfare is an example of tilting at windmills, not fighting the enemy.

The reason that I say this is because I’ve read the New Testament very thoroughly and I’ve also been in evangelical Christianity for almost twenty years and I listen to what people say and I watch how they pray and I see what they do. Sometimes what they are praying, what they are saying and what they are doing has absolutely no kinship, as spiritual as it might sound, to the text that we all are supposed to be reading. When we do that not only do we tilt at windmills and miss the real enemy, but we are not effective in doing genuine spiritual warfare in the world. We also look a little bit kooky to the rest of the world. Do I object to looking kooky? Absolutely not, as long as we’re looking kooky for the right reasons. Christians are weird for the wrong reasons much of the time, not for the right reasons. If the truth is kooky to other people then let them be offended, but when we offend and look ridiculous not for the truth but for some theological chimera that we’re jousting with then our blood is on our own head and we have to take responsibility for that.

I am convinced that spiritual warfare has little or nothing to do with the kinds of things that pass as spiritual warfare, the binding, the loosing, the pleading of the blood, the addressing of demons, the dealing with generational demonic influence in a person’s life. Why do I say that? For a very simple reason. This is never seen in the New Testament. I’ve mentioned this before and it’s a good rule of thumb, friends, if you’re embracing or engaging something as a spiritual discipline then you ought to be able to find it taught as a spiritual discipline in the Scriptures. Sometimes what we do is take a verse which has a particular meaning to us and expand it into a complete discipline and then we enjoin people to follow this discipline. Hearing the voice of God is one thing that I’m concerned about. There is nothing in the New Testament about that yet you can go to a seminar on it. The same thing with spiritual warfare.

It is actually very easy to deal with these kinds of issues. It’s very simple if you want to know what spiritual warfare is: open your Bible and look and see what is being taught and what is being practiced.

When I was in India we had a lot of what I would consider well-meaning but overly zealous Christians from America looking for demons in India. As a matter of fact, the local Christians in India were concerned because it bothered them, to be honest with you. Certainly there is demonic activity there and it needs to be dealt with, but there isn’t a demon under every bush even in India. Some of the team would come back from the field and tell me how they cast out demons. I asked how they knew the person was demonized and they said they “could see it in their eyes.” Maybe a person is demonized, but it seems to me that it’s very difficult to know what to look for in a person’s eyes to know if there’s a demon in there. Were their eyes big? Were they wild-eyed? Is it possible to have wild eyes and big eyes without being demonized?

Now a very easy way to resolve this problem and find out what a demonized person looks like is to go through the Gospels and the book of Acts. There are a number of illustrations where we see demons being cast out. In the process we are given details of what that person looked like. Some were mutilating themselves. Others were living in a bizarre fashion, like living in the tombs. Others were speaking with strange voices or were clairvoyant and had supernatural information. Others were called unclean spirits which referred to their foul sexual references and filthy language. Others were being thrown down into the fire in epileptic fits. There was one case where one person was mute because of the demon. What you can do by simply going through the text and finding these illustrations is make a simple list of the characteristics of demon possession. I’m not suggesting that this is exhaustive, there may be other characteristics. But at least it gives you something biblical to begin working with before you start claiming that people are filled with demons.

Most of the times that people tell me that they think someone is demon possessed it usually means that this person was just basically weird so they assume that there is a demon living inside them. My appeal is to simply judge these things with biblical criteria. If we have a guideline and have listed eight or twelve things and see somebody with one of those things it may not mean that they’re demon possessed; but if we see someone with five or six or seven of these characteristics, well it’s a pretty safe call that there’s a demon in them and we’ll know what to do. My conviction is that most people who are weird are not demon possessed, they’re just weird. Christians throughout history have not dealt with spiritual warfare in this fashion.

I’m not contending that there is no spiritual warfare; there’s intense conflict in the heavenlies. The issue is how do we fulfill our soldierly duties; how dow we take part in the battle? For that we must go back to the text, to our operations manual.

It’s hard to imagine a time of history that was more demonic than the Third Reich.

During the Third Reich two Christians who stood out more than anyone else were Dietrich Bonhoffer and Martin Niemuller. These men stood in the gap and proclaimed the truth. They didn’t bind and loose. They didn’t cast out demons. They didn’t plead the blood over the nation of Germany or over the guns of the Allies. They spoke the truth.

I am convinced in my assessment of Scripture, and I’ve looked carefully through the New Testament on this issue, that spiritual warfare is not principally a power encounter but a truth encounter. I have in front of me maybe fifteen or twenty different verses that talk about the weapon that Christians wield in spiritual warfare. The principle verse as far as I’m concerned is 2 Corinthians 10:4-5 and the verse says this, “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses.” Many people read that and they look for their Holy Ghost machine gun to shoot out great balls of fire at the enemy. It’s usually accomplished by using a certain type of, what’s in my mind, an incantation. Say the right words of binding and loosing and pleading the blood of Christ and you’ve done the job.

But what does Paul describe in 2 Corinthians? He doesn’t describe that kind of thing. He says something entirely different. He continues, “We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” Paul is saying that speculations are destroyed against the knowledge of God by taking thoughts captive.

You never see Paul binding and losing. In fact, he avoids encounters in the book of Acts and when he does he deals with it in a word. But I see all through the text words about the true God. There are phrases about “true knowledge” in Colossions 2 and 3. Then in 2 Peter two references to “true knowledge.” “True grace” in 1 Peter 5. “True light” in 1 John 2. “Sound doctrine” in Titus 1 and 2. In 2 Timothy, “Retain the standard of sound words.” “Holding fast to sound doctrine,” Titus 1:9-11. In 1 Timothy 1. “sound teaching with which we have been entrusted.” Titus 1:9, “the faithful words and exhorting in sound doctrine.” Titus 2:1, “sound doctrine.” Titus 2:7, “the purity of doctrine.” Ephesians 4, “renewing in the spiritual of our mind.” Romans 12:2, “transformed by the renewing of our minds.”

Time and time again the Apostles hammer away at us that the way to do spiritual conflict is to use true knowledge. Spiritual warfare is not power encounters, my friends. It is truth encounters. It is really very easy to resolve these problem. First, what are the disciplines specifically teaching in the Scripture? Second, how do we see these disciplines actually practiced by the disciples, or do we even see them at all?

What we do see is the disciples in the process of doing effective work and teaching us sound doctrine. But do the Apostles bind and loose, pray against territorial demons, free people from generational bondage and demonic influence, plead the blood over inanimate objects, cast out demons for different maladies or sins? No. Is this possible? Sure. But is it standard? Is it a spiritual discipline? Is it necessary according to the teaching and the example of the text? The answer is no.

If you want to know, you’ve got to do the study in the text. Sound doctrine is not as easy as adopting an idea from a T.V. prophet or a charismatic, Holy Ghost revivalist and then starting to sling spiritual darts back at the devil. It involves spending time to know the truth. You’re not going to get a quick fix from a book on the rack. It’s got to be a life’s commitment. But without that kind of commitment your life will be spent tilting at windmills.

Do you want to grow? Peter says, “Long for the pure milk of the Word in order that by it you may grow with respects to salvation.”

Here’s the problem with challenging windmills. First, we fight the battle where the battle isn’t. Have you heard the joke,”What if they gave a war and nobody showed up?” We’re giving a war and nobody’s showing up for the battle. Second, we aren’t placing our forces precisely where the battle is waging: the battle for our minds over the issue of truth. Third, in the process of jousting at his imaginary dragons, Quixote got beat up by the windmill, wounded, disabled. Sometimes we get so beat up jousting at chimeras that we are unable to do real battle.

Like Quixote, and I can’t fault the sentiment, this is a divine quest; but like Quixote many of us are jousting at imagined enemies; like Quixote, and this is very unfortunate, there is often disdain or condescension for those who do not see what they think is plainly before their own eyes.

I talk like this and people say, “Poor Greg. Koukl’s great learning has driven him mad. He’s using his mind too much. He ought to get into the spiritual realm of things.” Well, friends, I will. Chapter and verse. My chapter and verse says “renew your mind.” That’s how you’ll know truth from error.

And by the way, it seems to me that the blood of Christ is for people, not for things, for fallen human beings, not for windmills.

At least that’s the way I see it.

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