Book Review: Truth or Territory, by Jim Osman
Osman, Jim. Truth or Territory: A Biblical Approach to Spiritual Warfare. Kootenai Community Church Publishing, 2015. 251 pages.
Most Christians have likely never heard the term “strategic-level spiritual warfare.” But through the practice of “prayer walking,” asking God to “bind Satan,” and praying “hedges of protection,” many Christians are unwittingly participating in an unbiblical form of “warfare prayer” developed by C. Peter Wagner.
What is “strategic-level spiritual warfare,” and how is it making inroads in missions and local churches today?
In his book Truth or Territory: A Biblical Approach to Spiritual Warfare, Jim Osman, a local church pastor in Idaho, identifies five unbiblical approaches to spiritual warfare that have entered the bloodstream of evangelicalism:
- Praying “hedges of protection”
- Praying to refute “generational curses”
- Praying to “bind Satan”
- Rebuking Satan
- Spiritual mapping through “prayer walks”
This review will provide a general overview of the book and then examine each of these elements in turn. In doing so, I hope that pastors and churches will be better equipped to engage in biblical spiritual warfare, rather than waste time on unbiblical alternatives.
OUR SOURCE OF AUTHORITY: GOD’S WORD OR EXPERIENCE?
Osman’s starting point is to establish Scripture as our sole authority when it comes to spiritual warfare. While Pentecostals and Neo-Pentecostals would affirm this, Osman argues that, in practice, they allow experience to trump God’s Word.
“The danger we face in the realm of spiritual warfare is not that we would deny the authority and reliability of Scripture outright, but that we would fail to apply that belief” (17).
Practically, Osman observes again and again that so-called “spiritual warfare experts” almost always develop their methods from their experiences or even the occult, rather than clear scriptural warrant. Although they profess to believe in the authority and sufficiency of Scripture, in practice, they allow experience to trump Scripture.
DEFINING SPIRITUAL WARFARE BIBLICALLY
Another crucial contribution of Osman’s book is to define spiritual warfare biblically. For many Pentecostals, spiritual warfare is conceived of as “direct interaction against demons in order to gain spiritual or physical territory” (21)—that is, praying certain prayers and adopting certain practices in order to take territory from Satan.
In contrast to this, Osman contends that “true spiritual warfare is not a battle for territory but a battle for truth” (33). Hence the title of the book, Truth or Territory.
To defend this view, Osman walks carefully through New Testament passages such as 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 to show that Paul understood the warfare he was engaged in primarily in doctrinal terms.
“For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor. 10:3-5).
Osman demonstrates that Paul is using “stronghold” to refer not to geographical territory but to “thoughts” and “arguments” raised against God—namely, the false doctrines being spread among the Corinthian church. Paul further explains that his weapons in this fight were not “fleshly” but “spiritual,” understood as the Word of God. Osman worries that in their approach to spiritual warfare, Pentecostals do exactly what this verse warns against by adopting “fleshly weapons” rather than biblical ones.
FIVE UNBIBLICAL APPROACHES TO SPIRITUAL WARFARE
The bulk of the book unpacks five specific unbiblical approaches to spiritual warfare, including praying “hedges of protection,” praying to refute “generational curses,” praying to “bind Satan,” rebuking Satan, and so-called “spiritual mapping” through “prayer walks.”
Even readers who lack first-hand experience of Pentecostal churches will likely recognize some or all of these practices, since they have steadily crept into mainstream evangelicalism. As Osman notes, “These things are not isolated to some fringe movement within Christianity. They are taught in fundamentalist, conservative, Bible-believing, and gospel-centered churches. They are not the unique property of the charismatic movement” (64).
1. “Hedges of Protection”
Praying a hedge of protection involves praying something like this:
“Lord, I pray a hedge of protection around this house in Jesus’ name. I pray a hedge of thorns around my kids in Jesus’ name. I pray a hedge around Bob, who needs salvation” (64).
It is thought that praying a hedge of protection or hedge of thorns around someone or something prevents Satan and his demons from attacking or influencing them. The passages often cited to defend this practice are Hosea 2:6 and Job 1:8-10, but Osman shows how these passages are taken out of context. Hosea uses the language of “hedge of thorns” as a picture of judgment, not protection, and Job 1 uses the language of “hedge” to refer to God’s sovereign will.
Osman concludes, rather than cherry-picking two texts that refer to “hedges” and taking them out of context, we should pray biblical prayers, following the patterns Paul lays down in Ephesians 1:15-23, Philippians 1:3-11, and Colossians 1:9-12. It is biblical to ask God to sovereignly protect someone or deliver them from the power of Satan. But to use “hedges” as an incantation with special force or power that other prayers lack is biblically unwarranted and dangerous.
2. “Generational Curses”
Another unbiblical approach to spiritual warfare involves so-called “generational curses.” By misinterpreting Exodus 20:5 (“I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me”), some teach that children, even Christians, inherit demons through their parents‘ disobedience. To quote Osman:
“Unless the Christian consciously and verbally confesses in prayer the sins of their ancestors, and renounces those sins and all their attendant curses and consequences, Satan will have a “legal hold” in the believer’s life which will keep that believer from spiritual freedom, sanctification, spiritual growth, and the blessings of God” (77).
This view has been popularized by writers like Mark Bubeck and Neil Anderson. Osman helpfully shows how this view ignores the context of Exodus 20 and undermines the sufficiency of God’s work in conversion and justification. It takes promises that God says belong to every Christian by virtue of their union with Christ (cleansing, forgiveness, adoption, freedom) and makes them contingent upon praying an unbiblical prayer.
The reality for every believer, regardless of the sins of one’s parents and ancestors, is that they have been delivered from the domain of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of God’s beloved Son (Col. 1:13). To undermine those truths is to contradict God’s Word and sow seeds of doubt in the hearts of tender believers.
3. Praying to “bind Satan”
A third unbiblical practice which has become nearly ubiquitous in the prayers of evangelical Christians is praying to “bind Satan.” This supposedly limits Satan’s sphere of activity and ability to interfere. Spiritual warfare advocates use Matthew 12:29 as a prooftext: “Or how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house.” They argue that Satan is the strongman who must be bound in order for Christian work to proceed effectively.
In context, however, Christians are never called to emulate Jesus’ metaphor in this sense. Jesus was simply using an analogy to disprove the false claims of the Pharisees that he was using demonic powers to heal people and cast out demons. While it is not wrong to pray that Satan’s work be thwarted, one should not attach special importance to the specific language of “binding” when praying.
4. Rebuking Satan
Some teach that believers have the authority to verbally command and control demons by invoking the name of Jesus. One might pray something like, “I bind you, Satan, by the blood and name of Jesus Christ” (102). It is thought by some that believers can command inanimate objects or illnesses in this manner; for instance, rebuking the demon of “cancer” or “back pain” in the name of Jesus.
But as Osman notes, “The New Testament does not provide us any examples of Christians handling the devil in this manner.” In fact, “There is not one single command or instructing on rebuking the devil” (112).
5. Spiritual Mapping Through “Prayer Walks”
Another common practice advocated by “spiritual warfare experts” is referred to as “spiritual mapping,” “strategic-level spiritual warfare,” or just “prayer walks.” Osman says “this may be the fastest-growing approach to evangelism in the church today” (115).
By “prayer walks,” Osman is not referring to praying quietly to God while walking, but to a specific manner of “spiritual warfare,” premised on the idea that territorial spirits or demons are assigned to different geographical regions. This understanding of spiritual warfare was developed by Fuller Theological Seminary missiologist C. Peter Wagner, who applied it to missions. Drawing on Ephesians 6:12 (“rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness…”), Wagner speculated that there is a hierarchy of demonic powers, and that territorial spirits are high-ranking demons which carry out Satan’s orders on a territorial level. These territorial spirits, he argues, are what Jesus refers to in the parable about binding the strongman in Matthew 12:22-29. Such spirits can occupy small territories, such as a neighborhood, or territories as large as the 10/40 window (a region Wagner argues is controlled by a particularly powerful territorial spirit called “the Queen of Heaven”).
“Spiritual mapping” through prayer walks allows believers to ascertain the precise boundaries of these spirits, in order to bind and exorcise them effectively (116). Like other approaches to spiritual warfare disputed in this book, “spiritual mapping” is not taught by Scripture, nor is the idea that demons occupy specific territories. Such teachings are not rooted in divine revelation but in non-authoritative, human experience or the occult.
Before your church sends a short-term missions team to participate in “prayer walks” overseas, they should stop to examine the Bible’s teaching on spiritual warfare and read Truth or Territory. The book is carefully researched, biblically argued, and guaranteed to benefit all who read it.
Osman’s book will equip pastors and churches to better understand what spiritual warfare is and is not. This book will be especially helpful for Christians from Pentecostal backgrounds, missionaries working in parts of the world with history of the occult, and all areas of the country and world impacted by Pentecostalism. By recovering true spiritual warfare as a conquest for truth through the study and preaching of Scripture (2 Cor. 10:3-5), pastors will be better equipped to help their congregations “put on the whole armor of God, that they may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” (Eph. 6:11).