Monday, April 22, 2013

Review of Jerry Rankin's Spiritual Warfare

            For the average person outside of the Southern Baptist Convention, the name Dr. Jerry A Rankin probably does not mean much. However, for those in that denomination and involved with international missions he is a big deal. Jerry Rankin was born on March 16, 1942 in Tupelo, Mississippi; he would later earn his bachelor’s degree from Mississippi College, in Clinton. He also holds an MDiv from Southwestern Baptist Seminary and two honorary doctorates. He is married to his long time sweetheart Bobbye and they have two children; who either have been or are currently missionaries. He has authored or co-authored up to seven books in his tenure and is currently president emeritus of the International Mission Board for the SBC.[1]
            Rankin’s book is not one that is extremely long or hard to read, it is written in a very conversational style. It weighs in at ten chapters which fill 281 pages. In those ten chapters he covers a vast range of aspects concerning spiritual warfare, he starts chapter one by giving us examples of the reality of spiritual warfare.  As “rational” Christians we do not always believe the truth of spiritual warfare because we have become desensitized to it and have written it off as myth. Rankin tells us that “it wasn’t long until we began to learn that where the gospel has not been proclaimed in Jesus is not known, Satan has considerable dominion and power. Demon possession is not uncommon in such places; and we had, indeed, ventured into Satan’s territory.”[2] Like many of us, before entering the mission field Rankin’s spiritual sensitivity was low; however, after some time it developed in leaps and bounds. According to Rankin his understanding of spiritual warfare or lack thereof was evident in his preaching. He says, “my understanding of the struggle with sin, even as expressed in my preaching, had more to do with personal resolve and human effort than a battle that was going on in the spiritual realm of life.”[3]
            Often when spiritual warfare is spoken of the primary focus is placed upon Satan. Rankin believes that that’s not the case however, he says, “in fact, we have a Trinitarian enemy. The devil is opposing us. The world around us is distracting us. The flesh – that all, sinful nature – is within us, seeking to defile us. They are all conspiring to defeat us, collaborating and working together to rob God of His glory in our life.”[4] Without a proper understanding of who seem truly is and what he is capable of, it is easy to attribute things to him that were beyond his reach. According to Rankin, “we are often deceived even in our distorted understanding of the warfare. Persuaded that Satan has a power that, in fact, he does not have, we readily gave into our selfish nature, and inclination to sin and embrace Carnal, worldly values. That Satan has such a power is an illusion fade by his deception.”[5]
            Rankin spends chapters two and three discussing the nature of our enemy. Ultimately what God wants from us is to glorify him and to advance his kingdom; “however, it seems that Satan has another strategy to oppose the advancement of God’s kingdom and his being glorified among the nations. This may be the most effective of all-- convincing Christians that missions is optional.”[6] Christian should understand that missions are not optional because the last thing Christ told his disciples to do was to go into all the nations and make disciples (Matt 28:19). Just as Romans 8:28 comforts a believer that all things will be used for good, God allow evil and suffering to be perpetrated against Job because of the greater glory that would accrue from his faithfulness.[7] Something this author did not know that Rankin defines is the word devil it come from the Greek word diabolos, which means “to oppose.”[8]
            What makes the devil so crafty is that his oppression is not always blatant, it can be very subtle. Rankin informs us, “Those who are lost are blind. They cannot see and understand the truth of the gospel in spite of frequent and clear communication. That doesn’t just happen. Satan, the god of this world, is blinding their understanding.”[9] This author on multiple occasions and in diverse ways has presented the gospel to certain people to see no reaction what so ever, further driving the truth of this statement home.
            Not only does Satan blind them but he also lies and distorts the truth of the gospel, by speaking to their minds using cultural and social barriers to keep them from accepting Christ and bringing glory to God.[10] While life is not easy God wants to use those difficult situations to draw us closer to Him, even using painful experiences, criticism and opposition, as a opportunities to experience His grace.[11] How often do people try to say “the devil made me do it?” Probably more often than what is true, according to Rankin, “Although Satan is behind every temptation, blaming him does not absolve us of any responsibility for sin and doing that which is contrary to God’s will. In Christ we have been given power over sin, and Satan cannot make us do anything we do not choose to do!”[12]  
One reason it is so easy for Satan to take advantage of people is because they are not in fellowship with God and sensitive to His leadings. Rankin emphasizes that, “…if one is locked into obedience to God’s Word, Satan cannot readily deceive and lead one astray.”[13] But if one can be lead astray are there any specific areas it can take place in? According to Rankin, “the Bible reveals three basic categories of temptation…the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride in one’s lifestyle….”[14] Once a person is able to understand the categories of temptation does that make it easier to resist? Rankin’s answer to this question is not easily categorized as a yes or no; he says, “resisting temptation is not a passive exercise; we must be on the alert to recognize Satan’s temptations, praying for God’s intervention and strength, for only in His grace in power do we avoid indulging in that which is evil and contrary to God’s will.”[15]
In chapter four Rankin begins to describe the struggle Christians will face against the world.  As Christians, we understand that we have certain liberties and freedoms. However, Rankin believes “to think that we can feed our minds to all of the garbage and filth of the world and believe it doesn’t affect us, our attitudes, and our thinking is as foolish as the Hindu pilgrims who think the Ganges River cannot be polluted. It demonstrates the effectiveness of Satan’s deception.”[16] Satan is constantly at work seeking to make us more and more worldly, by appealing to our selfish gratifications and depriving God of His holiness in our lives.[17]
Chapter five is one that every believer should grapple with and take to heart because it deals with the battle between the flesh and the spirit. Rankin points out, “the Bible has a lot to say about the battle between the flesh and the Spirit. Every reference affirms the victory we have already been given, but Satan distorts our understanding of God’s Word, causing us to see the struggle as futile and embrace defeat.”[18] It is amazing how powerful the human mind is and Satan know that, he knows that “when we truly believe something, it’s amazing how it becomes a reality. Doubt is one of Satan’s favorite fiery darts. He erodes our faith through constant failure so that we become skeptical about what God has said because that’s not the pattern of our experience.”[19]
            Rankin moves from the battle between the flesh and the spirit to the suffering a believer encounters from denying the flesh. A common mistake is to assume that the flesh is just the body, “but the flesh is not just our natural, physical body; it is also our ego, our self-centered nature.”[20] It is going to be difficult to avoid temptations and at times it may even be painful, because “when temptation comes, it grows in intensity until a person yields.”[21] Chapter seven list Satan’s favorite fiery darts: of unforgiveness, anger, doubt, pride, unholy living, and creating dissention. Chapter eight talks of Satan’s most effective weapon: Adversity. No one wants to suffer, that would be pure insanity if they did, but, “…when people see us suffering and experiencing adversity, when they see us with a debilitating illness or reacting to the loss of a loved one, it is an opportunity for them to see the reality of our faith and the victory we have in Jesus Christ.”[22] For some people they are able to handle the big challenges extremely well with much grace and poise, Rankin points out that “…it is not necessarily the major catastrophes that defeat us. Rather the constant trials, disappointments, infirmities, and conflicts seems to defeat us.”[23] The last two chapters discuss how we lay the foundations for victory and the gain the ultimate victory for God’s glory.
Evaluation and Critique
In all honesty there was not much written in this book that this author found as points of contention. In chapter one Rankin makes a statement that most Christians either never learn or easily forget when he says, “Too often we think of becoming a Christian as just being saved from sin. But God’s ultimate purpose is to conform us to the image of His Son; He has to redeem us from sin in order for that to happen. God’s desire in your life—every day, all the time, in every behavior and attitude – is to be glorified. And that is His purpose in al that he does and allows to happen to us.”[24]
In chapter two, Rankin says
The Scripture also defines Satan as a deceiver and a liar. He is clever and can convince us that wrong is right and right is wrong. The Bible describes him as being disguised as an angel or messenger of light. As such, he can deceive us into justifying sinful, carnal attitudes and actions, thinking they are acceptable behavior. He can influence us to criticize and attack others, to create dissension and conflict, under the guise of serving God. He delights in getting us busy doing good things that actually divert us from God’s will. He can also cause us to waste hours and days in carnal entertainment and activity without a word of thankfulness and praise. He plants unclean thoughts in our minds and makes us believe they are of no consequence since we are under grace.

The question that comes to mind for this author is “Don’t we have to give him access to our minds?” And what about God, doesn’t he have to go before God for permission? One thing this author truly enjoyed about this work was the emphasis Rankin placed on the absolute sovereignty of God in all things.
            Rankin does make a comment that I am not sure whether or not I fully agree with at this point, he says, “We never think of the busyness of daily demands as spiritual warfare, but anything that hinders us and diverts us from God’s will and what we should be doing for His glory is an aspect of the battle.”[25] While understanding that every aspect of life should be undergirded with prayer, are the mundane tasks of chores around the house battlegrounds of spiritual warfare? At this point I am not sure. Rankin counters that understanding with, “If we recognized it was Satan, we would readily repel his efforts, so he allows us to see it as just the normal, demanding circumstances of life.”[26] While no one would want to admit it, believers allow “those closest to us are the ones Satan uses to hinder us from doing God’s will.” Because we love them and care about how they feel and do not want to hurt them and Satan will use that to manipulate people.
            A good point that he makes is that we need to value love, “focusing our life on others in love makes it difficult for Satan to appeal to our self-centered fleshly nature.”[27] To truly love another person involves sacrifice so therefore a person is not able to think about themselves and love others. In chapter six Rankin covers an area some people do not venture into which is fasting and he handles it with a wisdom that is sometimes lacking. He exclaims “Fasting is not a legalistic commitment; that’s not what brings spiritual results but simply having a heart for God more than a desire for food. It is a matter of having a heartfelt desire for God and following Him in what He leads you to do.”[28] This is important to understand because there are some who may teach fasting like and ATM you do this and God will do that and that understanding is wrong.
Personal Application
            At first this seemed like just another book on prayer, but as I delved into it it turned out to be so much more. Not only does it emphasize prayer like many other books, but it teaches you more about the attributes of Satan and his schemes. I will look at life in a more spiritual manner. Life is not just mundane anymore, but is in a constant state of warfare. The second I let down my defenses I offer Satan the opportunity to attack me and those I love and have charge over.
            Satan wants me to think he has more power than he actually does, and to live a life of defeat when in reality I have already received the victory in the death of Christ on the cross. I am not defeated but victorious and the only way I can lose is to surrender myself to the enemy.

[1] All of this information and more can be located on his website :
[2] Jerry Rankin, Spiritual Warfare: The Battle for God's Glory. (Nashville: B&H Publishing, 2009)3.

[3] Ibid., 4.
[4] Ibid., 20.
[5] Ibid., 21.
[6] Ibid., 27.
[7] Ibid., 32.
 [8]Ibid., 33.
[9] Ibid., 37.
[10] Ibid., 42.
[11] Ibid., 54.
[12] Ibid., 57.
[13] Ibid., 53.
[14] Ibid., 58.
[15] Ibid., 61.
[16] Ibid., 83.
[17] Ibid., 90-91.
[18] Ibid., 108-109.
[19] Ibid., 127.
[20] Ibid., 143.
[21] Ibid., 146.
[22] Ibid., 202.
[23] Ibid., 206.
[24] Ibid., 9.
[25] Ibid., 75.
[26] Ibid., 76.
[27] Ibid., 130.
[28] Ibid., 161.

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