This week I’ve read a couple short books on prayer and the church’s battle against Satanic forces. I can recommend one.
The first I read (which I don’t commend to you) is Paul E. Billheimer’s Destined for the Throne. It’s been an influential book over the last 25 years or so, especially among those with more charismatic leanings. I’ve actually been helped by it, secondhand, so I was eager to finally read it for myself. I was disappointed, and I don’t recommend it. In the Foreword, Billy Graham commends Billheimer for his “fresh interpretations.” That’s usually a bad sign. My marginal notes alternate between “Agree” and “Yikes” or “?” or “X”.
I’d describe the book as exquisite truth surrounded by exquisite error. At times, Billheimer is so very right about the power of prayer and the glory of Christ. But when he’s off, he’s really off. He views God as frustrated by the church’s prayerlessness and Satan’s opposition—desperately wanting to work, but unable. (One heading reads “God Is ‘Helpless’ Without a Man.”) He says the “balance of power” in the universe rests with the church. He sees prayer as “on the job training” for our coming reign (which apparently will include overcoming evil foes in eternity). He sees God essentially transferring His sovereignty to the church, even in matters of salvation. So if the church would pray as she should, she could guarantee the conversion of individuals—whether they want it or not. It’s an Arminianism that ends up with a church-driven irresistible grace. Strange. Along the way, Billheimer exalts the church to unbiblical heights, almost blurring the lines between the church and the Savior. He makes praise utilitarian (“It works!” seems to motivate praise more than “God is worthy!”). He says we, like Enoch, might walk so closely with God that we’re translated(!). He unfortunately ends up with a typical prosperity gospel:
“If we are held in bondage to demons of fear, sickness, disease, or limitation of any kind, it is only through ignorance of what Christ has done for us, or by forgetting who we are in Him.” (p. 91) [And TBN said, "Amen."]
Far better is E. M. Bounds’ little book Winning the Invisible War. (My copy is a cheap paperback from the 80’s; I think the only way to obtain it now is to find it used.) Much of the book addresses the Bible’s description of Satan and his minions. Bounds avoids the sensationalism that too often accompanies the topic of spiritual warfare. But he also points out from Scripture after Scripture after Scripture (and there are more than you probably think) that the enemy of our soul is real and active.
Especially helpful, though a bit afield from the topic at hand, were chapter 5 (“Satan’s Main Target”) and chapter 6 (“Satan’s Subversion of the Church”). Both chapters remind the church of its unique responsibilities of holiness, evangelism, and discipleship. They call the church away from reliance on worldly treasures and means. I noted that portions of the book could have been ghost written by Dave Doran (warnings against distractions like social activism) or A. W. Tozer (warnings against debasing worship to accommodate our culture). Here’s an example of each:
“The Church is like the net cast into the sea. The purpose is not to change the sea but to catch the fishes out of the sea.” (p. 53)
“It is said we cannot get church people to attend distinctly spiritual meetings. What is the problem? Are the institutions worn out and no longer of value to the humble, pious soul? Who will dare affirm this? They say the desires of the people are low and perverted. Should we then change the methods to suit unsanctified appetites? No, instead let us tone up their appetites for spiritual things and elevate the tastes of our people.” (p. 58) [And Scott Aniol said, "Amen."]
It’s a sobering, inspiring read. In fact, I so profited from it that I’ve ordered (or, rather, scrounged up) copies for my fellow leaders at TCBC. I commend it to you.