01 November 2005

More about the weaponry of spiritual warfare

Before we move to a completely different topic, look again at what Paul says about the weaponry for spiritual warfare:

"For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds" (2 Corinthians 10:4).

What are "carnal weapons"? Is Paul thinking of swords and knives and other military weapons? Certainly he would include those things among the carnal weapons he rejects. But it's more than that. "Carnal weapons" would include carnal wisdom, human philosophy, worldly gimmickery, psychological manipulation, political clout, doctrinal compromise, and every other method or strategy adopted for sheerly pragmatic reasons.

Listen to Paul himself from 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 "And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. . . . my speech and my preaching [were] not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God."

He's saying essentially the same thing here. "The weapons of our warfare are not carnal"; that is, they are not of human origin at all. They are not manmade military machines; they are not ideas spawned in the minds of human philosophers; they are not clever programs invented by imaginative innovators; they are not the techniques of material success borrowed from secular business.

And (can I say this without stirring Jus Divinum from hibernation?) the weapons by which the truth of God will ultimately prevail in this battle are not tied to the political apparatus of American democracy. The future of the kingdom of God doesn't ultimately hinge on the outcome of the next election or judicial appointment.

What are the true weapons in the spiritual warfare? At least one well-known charismatic commentator suggests that Paul was speaking of the apostolic sign-gifts—miraculous gifts of healing, prophecies, and various signs and wonders.

But that seems quite out of context here. Paul was not going to battle false apostles by staging a contest to see who could do the best miracles; he was going to answer their false teaching with the truth.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I think the weapons Paul has in mind here are the stuff of truth itself—the very kind of weaponry he had already outlined in chapter 6, verses 6-7, where he says we wage this warfare "by pureness, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Ghost, by love unfeigned, by the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left."

I have no doubt that Paul is also thinking of the full panoply of Christian weaponry, just as he outlines it in Ephesians 6:13-18. That passage includes a complete array of defensive armor and one simple offensive weapon. All of them are inextricably linked to the concept of truth. Here is the whole armor of God: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, feet shod with the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, "and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God."

Notice: there is nothing novel or innovative about those weapons. They are old weapons. If you're waging a military fight (a warfare against literal flesh and blood), it is important to have the most modern, up-to-date weapons. Technology and innovation have always been important in conventional warfare. You don't want to show up at a gunfight with a knife. You can't go up against a modern army with nothing but slings and arrows.

But things are different in the spiritual realm. Our weapons are not carnal. We don't have any earthly military firepower. It may even seem to the carnal eye as if we are unarmed. But, Paul says, our weapons are "mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds."

These weapons are powerful because they are the instruments of God's power. They are "mighty through God." Their effectiveness does not ultimately depend on the skill of the swordsmen or the cleverness of our strategies. These weapons are always effectual because they unleash the power of God.

Don't distrust those weapons. They trump every kind of fleshly weapon for spiritual warfare.

Phil's signature


centuri0n said...

This, paired with Doug Wilson's continuing series against the milksops who would banish all sarcasm and biting humor from apologetic/christian discourse, it good stuff.

I'm glad the mug is having the effect on you, Phil.

John Rush said...

The spiritual warfare is in the conclusions of the mind. However, the sparring--offense and defense lands in the realm of communication. Communication with one another in an atmosphere of grace, mercy, and Christlike love.

I tried to deal with this issue a while ago in a post entitled "Christian War."

We are definitely at war.


Frank Martens said...

Isn't this also talked about in MacArthur's book "Our Sufficiency in Christ"?

LeeC said...


I can say throgh grim experience that there is nothing more subtley damaging in the church than a spirit of pragmatism.

If spiritual warfare hinged upon temporal victories these guys must be real losers!

1Co 4:9 For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men.
1Co 4:10 We are fools for Christ's sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute.
1Co 4:11 To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless,
1Co 4:12 and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure;
1Co 4:13 when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.

David & Rose Ann said...

Sinclair Ferguson has aptly noted that this section of Scripture dealing with spiritual armour concludes the teaching on the Christian family that immediately precedes it. Perhaps it's no surprise the Enemy's main attacks are often launched inside that realm.

Timothy Smith said...

Amen Phil.

Let's re-read Bunyan's "Pilgrim's Progress" and "The Holy War", or at least CS Lewis' "Screwtape Letters."

Bobby Grow said...

Phil said,

". . . "The weapons of our warfare are not carnal"; that is, they are not of human origin at all. They are not manmade military machines; they are not ideas spawned in the minds of human philosophers;. . ."

Phil I am curious, given this quote above, on what you think about people like J.P. Moreland and the philosophy department at Talbot. Do you believe that engagement of philosophy (Aristotelian or Platonic, for example)has any legitimacy in providing a conceptual framework for articulating the Christian faith?

Phil Johnson said...

Bobby: Depends on what you mean by "engagement." If the goal (or the actual result) is integration, then no, I don't think that's legitimate. I think it's dangerous.

In fact, what disturbs me about every brand of evangelicalism that is obsessed with being "contemporary" is precisely that. All of them (from the seeker-sensitive market-driven shallow kinds to the post-modern pseudo-intellectual emergent types) represent various attempts to blend worldly ideas and values with the message of Scripture. They are trying to fight the spiritual battle with carnal weapons.

Far from suggesting that human philosophies might be valid weapons with which we can wage spiritual warfare, Paul is making the point that those are the very strongholds we are supposed to be tearing down.

LeeC said...

"Phil said,

". . . "The weapons of our warfare are not carnal"; that is, they are not of human origin at all. They are not manmade military machines; they are not ideas spawned in the minds of human philosophers;. . ."

Phil I am curious, given this quote above, on what you think about people like J.P. Moreland and the philosophy department at Talbot. Do you believe that engagement of philosophy (Aristotelian or Platonic, for example)has any legitimacy in providing a conceptual framework for articulating the Christian faith? "

I would say that of course there are some valid stances that come from such schools of thought,if you stumble around in the dark long enough you can get some valid ideas about the layout of a room.

But overall, can man understand man apart from Gods revelation about him?

To do so seems epstemelogicaly unsound. Especialy in light of God's view of man's own wisdom.

I'm not saying it's heretical or anything like that secular philosophy is not as profitable as it should be, and is prone to error as opposed to the wisdom of the Creator of man, and the sufficency of His Word.

I was enthralled by Aristotle, and Plato for some time, but insofar as mans needs what can they really give me that God's Word does not supply? Andif Gods Word does sufficiently supply those needs is not my time better spent studying and conforming to that Word?

LeeC said...

Ooops That quote is from Bobby quoting Phil.

And Phil has more than adequately replied I see.

Bobby Grow said...

Thanks Phil! And I did mean integration (for engagement). I tend to agree with you. I suppose the problem I have, though, is that many of the Christian creeds, or decisions of Church Councils (such as Chalcedon) used philosophical categories to articulate concepts such as, i.e. the hypostatic union, etc. Beyond that, language like omnipotence, impassibility, immutable, etc.; are philosophical concepts that "we" have integrated with Christian teaching about God.

This is the tension I see, at least for me, with the historical integration of philosophy with Christian theology to establish the orthodoxy we stand on today; and now that we have "arrived" at such articulations, using philosophy, it seems, by some standards, we are now to jettison all philosophical constructs--and rest on scripture alone (which I of course agree it is scripture alone).

Anyway this all seems a bit circular to me; and indeed dangerous, if we don't at least recognize that we all have embraced perspectives (conscious or not), or have pre-understandings, that have been formed and shaped by various philosophies. I think until we recognize that, and realize the inevitability of this, we won't really get at the purity of the scriptures that you speak of in this post (and thus experience the power available and needed in the realm of spiritual warfare).

Rob Steele said...

[...] unleash the power of God?

You might want to come up with a different metaphor.


TheBlueRaja said...


I think the trouble you might run into in opposing integration of philosophy with theology is that they're already interrelated enterprises, whether we want them to be or not. Theologians convservative and liberal draw on logic, linguistic theory, metaphysics, and epistemology in ways that are impossible to cite "chapter and verse". Traditional evangelicals favor and defend correspondance theories of truth within a very specific, technical philosophical framework. Notions of warrant, epistemic justification, validity and invalidity that you use in your argumentation in order to be considered coherent all stand on a long history of philosophical thought. Hermeneutical theory of every kind rests on philosophical foundations. All of that to say the claim that "Christians should reject philosophy" requires some disambiguation. For instance, what should a Christian say if someone accuses her of using "human philosophies" for engaging in textual criticism? What if someone accuses us of resorting to human philosophy in our explanation of the Trinity? Or in our presuppositional apologetics? How should Christians think about fields such as physics, medicine, engineering, mathematics and economics? Are these sub-Christian realms of inquiry? Can they yield truth, and if so, are there different categories of truth? And, perhaps most importantly, is even thinking about an answer to any of that engaging in "philosophy"?

TheBlueRaja said...

Incidentally, Check out the article on Jonathan Edwards in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. His arguments are pregnant with philosophical terms moored in philosophical historiography.

Jeremy Weaver said...

What's wrong with the metaphor, 'Unleash' the power of God?

Word verification
Muzux: Whut them sangers made when thay came to the churchhouse.

Rob Steele said...

What's wrong with "unleash..." is that it casts the Holy Spirit in the role of a dog waiting to do our bidding. That kind of reverses things, don't you think?

Jeremy Weaver said...

Not really, if you understand the Holy Spirit's role in relationship to the proclaimed Word. The Bible is inspired whether we read it or not. But I don't think there is anyone who would say that the Bible is effective in our lives unless we hear or read it.
Consider the role of the Holy Spirit in relationship to the preaching of the Gospel. It pleased God through the proclamation of the Word to save those who would believe. And the Gospel is the power of God that brings salvation. And again, Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.
the Holy Spirit is 'unleashed' inthis context by the preaching of the Word.
In the same way the Spirit is 'unleashed' when the Word of Truth is read, preached, and heard.
This isn't me putting the Holy Spirit on a leash, (IT'S A METAPHOR), it is God working through the means He has appointed, namely truth.

Phil Johnson said...

TheBlueRaja of the Jargonauts: "All of that to say the claim that 'Christians should reject philosophy' requires some disambiguation."

Raja, you have a nasty habit of stating things in a way that conveys your own spin on an issue, but putting your words in quotation marks, as if that's actually something I said.

1. I didn't say Christians should "reject philosophy"—as if we should avoid the discipline itself, or burn all our copies of Plato's Republic and Thales to Dewey. I said "human philosophies"--i.e., manmade, humanistic, philosophical, religious, and value systems "are the very strongholds we are supposed to be tearing down." The context and explicit sense of 2 Corinthians 10:4-5 itself is sufficient to establish that.

2. Now, I realize if we just leave it at that, we're missing an opportunity to host a real barney about many difficult questions regarding the validity (or not) of Aristotelianism, Aquinas, natural theology, and empiricism as an epistemology. We'll also have to forego some stimulating arguments over Platonism, Gordon Clark, and two dozen other popular fine points surrounding the penetrating question of what Athens has to do with Jerusalem.

3. But it's really not necessary to follow all those questions into the stratosphere of gnostic enlightenment in order to make sense of the simple point I'm trying to make in this post—which, after all, is the same point Paul makes in the text I'm dealing with, as well as the cross-references I cited. Here is the point again:

The weapons that will tear down the strongholds of "arguments and lofty speculations that exalt themselves against the knowledge of God" are not "fleshly." That is, they are not weapons forged by human hands or human minds. They are certainly not tenets and ideologies cobbled together by "integrating" the truth of Scripture with the same "arguments and lofty speculations" we're trying to tear down.

4. The long-range implications of that are admittedly complex, but the point itself is still worth making without pre-loading all the baggage of philosophical debate. The arguments usually floated, for example, include the claim that our understanding of the Trinity, our notion of divine impassibility, and a host of other things like that owe much to Greek philosophy—plus the ridiculous argument (which I categorically reject) that logic itself is equivalent to "philosophy."

We could argue those points individually ad infinitum, but do we have to do it here and now? To derail this point with that kind of discussion obscures the simplicity of the main point of this clear text of God's Word (and dozens of others like it—where we are told that God has made foolish the wisdom of this world, and that the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men).

The debate would also empty my blog of readers. Still worse, it would also exacerbate the pernicious notion spawned by the proliferation of such debates: that the Word of God itself isn't sufficiently clear to speak on its own terms.

That, after all, is precisely what this thread is arguing against.

PS: Rob Steele: The point is that the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation. There is a true sense in which we are instrumental in unleashing that power when we proclaim the truth.

Rob Steele said...

Granted, it is a metaphor. It's a bad one though because it confuses more than it enlightens. The Spirit blows where He wishes--that's a good metaphor since we have it on the highest authority (John 3:8). I think it implies that effective preaching originates in Him and not in us and so goes against the unleash idea.

I take the point and totally agree that God uses us--but we should be able to discuss it without sounding like we're using Him. Paul seems to think the more broken the preacher the better so that the power can be clearly seen to come from elsewhere. I wish I could think of a metaphor that pointed that way. I mean, just think of one--not find out the hard way! Yikes.

TheBlueRaja said...

Jargomaniac, Lord of the stratosphere of gnostic enlightenment . . .

. . . switch to decaf.

I didn't say that the point of your post wasn't worth making. I think it was quite good. My comments were made in light of your reply to Bobby about the Christian philosophy pursued at Talbot. Pretty great stuff coming out of there - some of the most robust analytic apologetics against postmodernism around. But what are we to make of its union with secular philosophical methodology? The difference between "humanistic systems" you tried to distinguish from philosophy as a discipline is a tangled mess to separate, and I'm genuinely rather puzzled about it. I supposed you might have some thoughts on it. Sorry I asked!

And I don't know anyone who argues that logic is equivalent to philosophy, but it is certainly a field of study within that discipline.

These aren't off topic questions or attempts at debate, Phil - I just brought it up because it's an issue of application that every Christian in secular college wrestles through, and I've wrestled through it myself. Any thoughts? In order to prove I'm not a pomo smarty pants, I promise not to reply if you'll share them.

marc said...

err, I believe the term your looking for Raja is "pomo smarty turban"

TheBlueRaja said...

Good point, Marc - but me wearing a turban like a pair of pants borders on the lewd (or the erotic, depending on who you're talking to). Maybe "pomo smarty pajami"?

TheBlueRaja said...

I guess there's nothing more to say about what constitutes human philosophy and what level of philosophical integration is allowed in Christian thought.

Rule number 1 strikes again!

Here's one Christian philosopher's thoughts on the matter.