by Tai M. Yip
Contrary to some popular teaching, spiritual mapping does not depend on territorial spirits. By definition, proper spiritual mapping looks at the world with spiritual eyes to see spiritual realities.
Contrary to some popular teaching, spiritual mapping does not depend on territorial spirits. By definition, proper spiritual mapping looks at the world with spiritual eyes to see spiritual realities. We acknowledge that spiritual phenomena are not caused by personal and social factors alone, but also by the work of spirits (both good and evil). Therefore, I propose that we focus on the work of demonic spirits rather than on their names. We must combine research with spiritual discernment. Since the work of spirits produces observable phenomena, we can research them in a more objective way. At the same time, the interpretation of phenomena depends on spiritual discernment. This approach does not exclude the naming of spirits, but it does not depend on it.
Since spiritual mapping is concerned about social groups rather than individuals, the strongholds we want to study are not individual strongholds, such as habitual sins, but societal strongholds. While individuals can be under the captivity of demonic strongholds, how can we describe the demonic captivity of a society? Pennoyer says there are four levels of collective captivity: distraction, deception, dependency, and domination. Demons work on distracting people through the details of life and their desire for power and prestige. At the next level, demons work on deceiving people into accepting false beliefs. As deception advances people become dependent on the false beliefs to cope with life. The highest form of dependence is domination, when the false beliefs control people’s lives and they become demonized.1 Therefore, in detecting strongholds we need to look first for deception.
DISCERNING DEMONIC STRONGHOLDS
Ephesians 2:1-3 gives us a clue about discerning demonic strongholds. Three factors bind people to spiritual death. They behave according to “the ways of this world” and according to “the ruler of the kingdom of the air.” The third is their sinful nature, the flesh. Understanding this triad gives insight into the nature of demonic strongholds.
“The ruler of the kingdom of the air” is “the chief or leader among the angelic powers,” i.e., the devil.2 Satan is a spirit who works in those who are disobedient. Satan exercises “effective and compelling power in his work of inspiring disobedience among humanity.”3 There are three significant implications.
The first is that the other two factors, the world and the flesh, are nonpersonal, while Satan only is personal. In anthropology there is a danger of reifying culture (culture becomes some kind of mystical entity operating independently of people). In spiritual warfare there is a similar danger of making the flesh and the world operate independently of persons. For example, when a city is characterized by the sin of immorality, there is a danger of personalizing immorality, when in fact it is the people who commit immorality who are personal.
The second implication is that the realm of satanic (and hence demonic) operation is the human realm, not social structure, cultural values, history, or geography. Satan uses these means to work in human beings; but he does not work in these means apart from human beings.4 The third is that on the societal level Satan and demons work through the flesh and the world to enslave people.5
The flesh in its ethical use means humanity in opposition to God, i.e., fallen, sinful human beings. Our concern here is not with individual sins but with societal strongholds. When certain sins become the behavioral patterns of a significant portion of the population, then those sins become demonic strongholds.
What is the meaning of “the world”? It is “the life-context dominated by sin and finding its determination in sin.”6 According to Arnold, the meaning corresponds “most closely with what many modern interpreters describe as structural evil.”7 Arnold continues,
When Paul spoke of “the world” in a moral sense, he was thinking of the totality of people, social systems, values and traditions in terms of its opposition to God and his redemptivepurposes. . . . The powers exert their influence to corrupt the various social orders of the world as a further means of drawing humanity away from God.8
A further investigation into these structural evils can yield significant insight into demonic strongholds. Structural strongholds can be divided into the following types: social structure, cultural values, and beliefs.
1. Social structure. In every society there are five basic functions with the corresponding institutions. The institution of government maintains law and order. The economic institution produces and distributes goods and services. The educational institution disseminates knowledge and skills. The family institution procreates and nurtures the young. The religious or ideological institution provides a rationale for group cohesion.9 Power is invested in each institution; and demonic spirits can take hold of each to oppose the gospel.
(a) Government. In a state the government may be used by demonic powers to propagate anti-Christian values and hinder the progress of the gospel; therefore the Bible is concerned with whether a government is anti-Christian or not (1 Tim. 2:1-4).
(b) Economics. Economic institutions may promote social injustice, which is contrary to the kingdom of God. They may contribute towards strong class consciousness that forms a hindrance to the advance of the gospel and results in unreached people groups.
(c) Education. Educational institutions may disseminate anti-Christian philosophies and values that hinder the gospel. They may also use power to keep a significant portion of the population from having access to the gospel.
(d) Family. There are different types of kinship and family systems in the world. For each type the issues of authority vary, and with them different types of sins emerge as a result of demonic corruption. For example, in an individualistic society there is usually a lack of moral standards, and self-fulfillment becomes the primary goal in life; and in a corporate society some typical sins are the abuse of parental authority and ancestor worship.10
(e) Religion. As a social institution religion serves to define the nature of transcendence and the nature of the society, and to provide explanations concerning the nature of the world.l1 Perversion of these functions leads to collective captivity.
2. Cultural values and beliefs. Strongholds that come from cultural beliefs are generally easy to detect; but there are a large number of values that are implicit to a culture, and even the people of the culture may not be able to articulate them. These values can be discovered through a study of the world view.
3. Religious beliefs. Usually the occultic aspect of religion is emphasized in spiritual mapping. This is not the whole picture, and we need to study both the high religion and the folk religion to gain a better understanding of the religious strongholds.
Two other sources have been used to discover strongholds.
1. Ethnohistory. To find meaning from historical events is a very difficult task. The problem of oversimplification in attributing causes to historical events has been documented by Tippett.12 To interpret history in terms of spiritual warfare is even trickier than interpreting ethnohistory because there are no accepted criteria of validation. When Wagner links the recent economic decline of Japan to the celebration of Daijosai (the Shinto ceremony of coronation), one is at a loss as to the validity of such a claim.13
One way of interpreting history in terms of spiritual warfare is to find out the past sins and traumas of the society. In deliverance ministry it is sometimes necessary to deal with generational sin. This concept is based on the Old Testament warning of God’s punishing the children for the sins of the fathers to the third and fourth generation (Exod. 20:5; 34:7). Usually this warning is interpreted in terms of dysfunctional behavior passed on from the family of origin. White suggests that there is also a possibility of“familial” spirits that gain legal right to accuse and oppress descendants of people who committed certain sins without repen-tance.14 Using this as an analogy, one can propose that the sins of the ancestors continue to exert demonic influence on the present society.
Such a rationale is open to serious questioning. For one thing, even on the individual level the postulate of familial spirits’ oppression because of ancestral sins can be substantiated only by clinical data and not by biblical data.15 Even granting such a possibility, one is not led to accept the visitation of past sins on a society, for the warning in the Old Testament is only relevant within family relationships. A large society is made up of many unrelated families, and some might not even have been present when those sins occurred. It is therefore not applicable to such societies.
To what extent, then, is history important to spiritual mapping? I want to suggest that historical events can become strongholds only when people today are aware of and accept them. The reason is that demonic spirits work in human beings rather than in nonpersonal events or things. They cannot attack people through things that those people are not aware of. When there is such awareness, the cycle of deception, dependence, and domination may set in according to Pennoyer’s model of collective captivity.
2. Geography. To find the significance of physical sites in spiritual mapping is even more difficult than examining history. The concept of demonic attachment to a certain object or site (e.g., a haunted house) is more intense than that of the control of spirits over an area. It cannot be denied that such demonic attachment exists; but this is due to the sins (especially pagan worship) of the people associated with those objects or sites. It is the history of sins associated with a site rather than its physical feature that results in demonic attachment. Therefore, history is more important than geography in spiritual mapping; and we need to guard against accepting pagan beliefs.
For example, Japanese believe the northeast corner of a building is the entrance of demons. The Edo castle (the present palace) was built with the Kanda Shrine on the northeast and the Hie Shrine on the southwest (the supposed backdoor) to guard against the entrance of demons. There is nothing demonic about the northeast direction; but popular belief can make it a stronghold because of deception. The people’s acceptance of such beliefs is a determining factor in spiritual mapping.
I have suggested a framework for spiritual mapping that focuses on the works rather than the names of demons. I hope that with this framework spiritual mapping will become a more vigorous and objective methodology for world evangelization.
1. F. Douglas Pennoyer, “In dark dungeons of collective captivity,” Wrestling with Dark Angels (Ventura, Calif: Regal, 1990), pp. 266-268.
2. Clinton E. Arnold, Ephesians: Power and Magic (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1989), p.60.
3. Ibid., p.61.
4. Clinton E. Arnold, Powers of Darkness (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1992), p.202.
5. Ibid., p.188.
6. Herman Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of His Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975), p.91.
7. Clinton E. Arnold, Powers of Darkness , op. cit., p. 203.
8. Ibid., pp.203-204.
9. David Filbeck, Social Context and Proclamation (Pasadena: William Carey Library, 1985), pp.25-33.
10. Sherwood G. Lingenfelter, Transforming Culture (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992), pp. ll6-121.
11. David Filbeck, op. cit., p.32.
12. Alan Tippett, Introduction to Missiology (Pasadena: William Carey Library, 1987), pp.264-269.
13. C. Peter Wagner, Breaking Strongholds in Your City (Ventura, Calif: Regal, 1993), p.69.
14. Thomas White, The Believer’s Guide to Spiritual Warfare (Ann Arbor: Vine/Servant, 1990), pp.61-63.
15. Ibid., p. 63.
EMQ, Vol. 31, No. 2, pp. 166-170. Copyright © 1995 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.