When wanting to examine the topic of Satan, demons and the dark world, finding material isn’t a challenge. The world offers plenty of commentary. Simply type “satan” or “devil” into the IMDB and you’ll find a broad spectrum. There are comedies and satires, which turn Satan into a joke; a simple mythology carried over from ignorant, distant cultures. Others present him as a conquering adversary, destroying everything in sight. You have no defense. Ultimately, he will consume you.
Both extremes are obviously wrong. But the answer to viewing Satan properly is not “balance.” The problem with pursuing balance is that it’s always full of over-corrections. People need to take Satan seriously, but then you have to remind them not to take him too seriously. People need to have confidence over him as a defeated foe, but not become too confident. Corrections become over-corrections. Reactions become over-reactions.
While Anderson never lands at either extreme position, reading through the book gives one the impression that he’s constantly leaning toward one extreme or the other; sometimes within the same paragraph:
In Christ, we are important, we are qualified, we are loved. Satan can do absolutely nothing to alter our position in Christ and our worth to God. But he can render us virtually inoperative if he can deceive us into listening to and believing his insidious lies accusing us of being of little value to God or other people. (151)
Relax, you’re safe in Christ. But don’t relax too much because if you somehow fall for Satan’s subtle lies, you’ll be rendered ineffective. Is either statement above incorrect? No. However, he’s mixing the topics of position and power. His first statement speaks to your eternal security in Christ. His second statement speaks to your continual growth in Christ. In the end, this produces a process that doesn’t feel like “balance” or even a well-rounded approach, but actually comes across feeling like contradiction.
Anderson has a great quote when he says, “Finally, people in conflict often have a distorted concept of two kingdoms. They think they are caught between two equal but opposite powers: “bad old Satan” on one side, “good old God” on the other, and “poor me” caught in the middle. This of course is not the truth, and such people are defeated if that is what they believe. The truth is, God is omnipresent, omnipotent, and omniscient. Satan is a defeated foe—and we are in Christ, seated with Him in the heavenlies.” (264)
The quote comes near the very back of the book. And as I read it, I was thankful for Anderson’s perspective, yet I felt like the rest of the book presents methods that contradict. As I read through the book, I couldn’t help but feel the following:
While he says Satan is not omnipresent, much of his book indirectly speaks like he is. Anderson has a bad habit of turning passages that speak about the world or the flesh into discussions about Satan (139). The book regularly presents your battle as against Satan. If 1,300,000 people (number of copies sold) have read the book, is Satan simultaneously attacking all of us? Obviously, he can’t. Yet, Anderson often says he is attacking the reader. This leads to one of two conclusions: 1) Satan is so powerful he attacking everyone in the world at once, or 2) You’re so important, that out of all the people in the world, Satan has specifically chosen to put all his efforts into attacking you.
While it seems that Anderson’s effort is to call Christians to see and believe in the reality of Satan, by naming Satan as the culprit in nearly every problem and behind every conflict, it seems that Anderson actually makes him out to be legend.
Satan is also not all knowing. He is a created being with limitations. However, Anderson presents Satan in such a way where he is penetrating our minds. He’s so closely watching us that he can come close. Anderson says: “Why is it so important to speak God’s Word, in addition to believing it and thinking it? Because Satan is not omniscient, and he doesn’t perfectly know what you’re thinking. By observing you, he can pretty well tell what you are thinking, just as any student of human behavior can…It is not hard for him to tell what you are thinking if he has given you the thought.” (100)
Such a perspective of Satan’s knowledge goes so far, that on the next page he states: “Paul says, “With the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation” (Romans 10:10). Since you know your own thoughts and God also knows them, they why does verbal confession result in salvation? Paul could be saying that saving faith is not complete until the will is exercised, but he could also be implying the need for the god of this world to hear our commitment.” (101)
Anderson’s perspective seems to have Satan constantly in your head planting thoughts, but unsure of what you’re thinking. So if you are focusing on Christ, Satan needs you to tell him you are focusing on Christ. But such an approach gives Satan some of your attention, thus making it impossible to fully focus on Christ.
Satan is not all-powerful. While Anderson affirms this point regularly, he often puts Satan in the driver’s seat. He doesn’t present Satan as more powerful than God, but often presents God as waiting until after you’ve dealt with Satan. “Once you choose to forgive, Satan will have lost his power over you in that area, and God’s healing touch will be free to move.” (224)
Anderson’s perspective presents Satan waiting to step in and take control when we sin in ways that open that door for him (185). This attack can feel overwhelming. As you realize the attack is strong you may cry out to God, however Anderson provides God’s answer: “And God responds, “I’ve done all I’m going to do. I defeated and disarmed Satan at the cross. I conferred all authority on you in Christ. Now open your eyes. Realize who you are and start living accordingly.” (85).
The above quote does not say Satan is more powerful than God, but it does present him as more active. Satan is actively pursuing you. However, God has done what He’s going to do, he’s sitting back and expecting us to take care of the problem.
In the end, this creates a very unhealthy perspective on Satan. He becomes the force behind every sin, temptation and accusation. He is listening in on every conversation. And so, even in our times of fellowship with God, our focus is always split between God and Satan.
Satan, demons and spiritual warfare ultimately dominate Anderson’s theology. I was excited to find an eleven-part “Statement of Truth” by Anderson (219-221). However, as you look at the statements, Anderson regularly turns his attention back to Satan. A large degree of attention is paid to Christ’s work on the cross freeing us from the power of Satan, but only illusion is made to His substitutionary atonement. One entire point of his statement of faith is directed toward spiritual warfare (a very interesting choice for a Statement of Truth). One of his statements even begins with “I renounce,” indicating that even when he wants to focus on the truth, his eyes are too often on falsehood. Over half (6/11), of his statements of truth deal with “Satan” or the “domain of darkness.”
This preoccupation with Satan plays into his Steps to Freedom in Christ. Anderson makes it very clear that God can hear our hearts (102). It is not necessary to speak aloud to God, for part of his omniscient ability involves knowing our thoughts. However, in Anderson’s Steps to Freedom, he regularly encourages the person to pray to God aloud. Why would it need to be aloud if God is the One listening?
Reading through the suggested prayers reveals that God is never intended as the only audience. Though Anderson advises not addressing Satan or demons directly (258), his methods have you addressing them indirectly as you talk to God. In the end, you’re still talking to Satan and/or demons. It is similar to when one of my children says, “Dad, please inform (name of sibling) that I am not speaking them any longer,” while that sibling is within earshot. I’m not really the intended audience. The child is talking to his brother, but is using me as a conduit. So even as Anderson has a person praying, their attention is rarely focused on the Mediator who makes prayer possible, but is at best, split between focusing on God and on Satan.
I am fully aware that this specific critique of TBB will cause some to accuse me of being to rationalistic or call me a modernist. They will claim that I am saying Satan is not real, is not a foe, or shouldn’t be resisted. I want to be very clear. I believe Satan is real. I believe he is our adversary. I believe he wants to destroy. I believe he should be resisted. (1 Peter 5:8-9) However, when Anderson employs a methodology for “resisting” that is not found in Scripture, his methodology seems to contradict his theology. While I believe it is necessary and biblical to be aware of Satan, I believe Anderson’s book leads to an overwhelming preoccupation with Satan. At its best, Anderson’s methods seem to keep one eye on God while keeping the other on the devil. I do not believe this approach is healthy for the believer.