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Monday, October 3, 2011

Wagner’s NAR 101: The Demonic World

I will be providing basic information and links about C. Peter Wagner’s New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) in light of the major interview that he has given to Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air. There is a great deal of confusion and denial about what Wagner believes and the impact of NAR on the global Christian movement generally and American evangelicalism particularly. At the very least, it is worth knowing the basics of this man’s beliefs and his organization’s vision whatever one might think about its significance. I will be providing excerpts here from the Fresh Air interview (FA), his book Dominion! (D,) and his book Spiritual Warfare Strategy (SWS). The page numbers for Dominion! refer to the 2008 hardcover edition by Chosen/Baker Books. The page numbers of Spiritual Warfare Strategy refer to the ibook edition of his 1996 book with Destiny Image Publishers.

Wagner regularly says and writes that he thinks the most controversy NAR has faced within the Christian community has been from its apostolic structure. If that has been the case up until now, it is only because Christians have not known the full range of his beliefs and practices concerning spiritual warfare. As these beliefs are more widely known I expect that they will be met with widespread shock and considerable rebuke. Those who have chosen to associate themselves with Wagner and these practices will have a lot more explaining to do than they have up until now.

While most traditional Christians of whatever denomination or theology affirm the reality of spiritually forces of evil, and might well see themselves involved at some level in spiritual warfare, the particular beliefs and practices of NAR in this area reach way beyond traditional Christianity. Though dated, this 1998 piece in Christianity Today shows how widespread some of these practices were even then. More than a decade later, and in light of the direction Wagner has taken some of these idea, it is time for sustained examination and analysis of the beliefs and practices outlined below.


Wagner speaks and writes regularly with a certain of matter of fact tone about the identity and personality of demons, and the spheres over which they have influence.

On the tsunami and nuclear meltdown in Japan being connected to the emperor of Japan having sex with the sun goddess "That happened many, many years ago, and that created a spiritual atmosphere over Japan which was an atmosphere ruled by the powers of darkness. The sun goddess is not a very nice lady. The sun goddess is a power of darkness, which is headed up by the kingdom of Satan. And so the sun goddess wants natural disasters to come to Japan. Sometimes the hand of God, which is more powerful, will prevent them. And when he decides to prevent them and when he doesn't is far beyond anything that we can predict…But in this case, God could have prevented that tsunami and the destruction, but he didn't. He just took his hand off and allowed these natural forces to work. And one of the background pieces of information is Japan is under control of the sun goddess." (FA) For more on Wagner’s beliefs about the Japanese sun goddess, see here 
“When you talk about demons over cities, we're talking about what — sometimes what we refer to as territorial spirits, and they're more high-ranking spirits in the hierarchy of darkness and they're more powerful and they require different approaches, and it's not as easy as commanding them to leave in the name of Jesus… There are certain individuals in our whole movement that have special gifts for doing that, and they're helping lead the way in weakening the power of the spirits.” (FA)

"Sometimes they know. Sometimes the demon has identified itself to the person. Sometimes you can tell by manifestations of superhuman, un-human behavior. Sometimes you can tell by skilled deliverance ministers. My wife has a five-page questionnaire that she has people fill out before she ministers to them. So she asks the kind of questions that a medical doctor would ask to find out, to diagnose an illness. So she actually does diagnostic work on people to discover not only if they have demons, but what those demons might be.” (FA)
“Very few of us, particularly in the United States and other nations of the western world, had even so much as heard [terms]…such as spiritual warfare, territorial spirits…spiritual mapping, warfare prayer, tearing down strongholds…during our seminary or Bible school days. Many of these terms were coined in the 1990s. It is understandable, therefore, that such innovative concepts would require considerable processing, especially among those of more conservative temperaments.” (SWS, 12)

Ground-level spiritual warfare involves casting demons out of people…Occult-level spiritual warfare deals with demonic forces released through activities related to Satanism, witchcraft, Freemasonry, Eastern religions, New Age, shamanism, astrology, and many other forms of structured occultism.” (SWS, 19)

“Strategic-level spiritual warfare describes confrontation with high-ranking principalities and powers…These enemy forces are frequently called ‘territorial spirits’ because they attempt to keep large numbers of humans networked through cities, nations, neighborhoods, people groups, religious allegiance, industries, or any other form of human society in spiritual captivity.” (SWS, 19)

“We must target our prayers: spiritual mapping. We know that when praying for individuals, the more specific and pointed our prayers can be, the more effective they are. The same applies to our communities, and our prayers now can be more precisely targeted through skillful spiritual mapping.” (SWS, 26-27)

Individuals exist today with a gift of prophetic espionage. Certain people…have been given a hunting instinct to track down the enemy’s manipulations.” (Quoting Sjoberg on 27 of SWS)

Wagner says it was these kinds of beliefs that got him called before the Fuller Seminary Faculty Senate in 1990. (D, 121) He elsewhere claims he would have been fired if he had not had tenure. This conflict seems like a significant moment in the development of his ideas about spiritual warfare. (page 114 of this link)

In addition to these beliefs about spiritual mapping, Wagner has also faced serious questions in the past about his extraordinary practice of, or at least claims to have been, learning about specific characteristics and personalities of demons through interviews with people “about the reality of the spirit world in which they have gained considerable experience” because of their interaction with the demonic world. He believes “we can indeed get valid information form the world of darkness.” Here are two key quotes about this:

“These non-Christian sources, of course, must be evaluated with much prayerful scrutiny and caution. Still, we must keep in mind that the spirit world to which they are dedicated is a real world, not the figment of their ‘heathen’ imaginations. Therefore, some things about it can be accurately known. A particularly important source of credible information may be those occult practitioners who have been born again and filled with the Holy Spirit.” (SWS, 61)

“Some have raised the question of whether we can receive valid information from demons themselves. Demons are portrayed in the Bible as beings who have personalities and intelligence, and as beings who can and do speak. They are also portrayed as deceivers. It must therefore be concluded that they do possess some valid information. The question then becomes, ‘Does any of this valid information get communicated to us when they speak?’ Obviously so, but discernment is needed to process whatever we hear from them in order to separate truth from falsehood. I once heard Ed Murphy point out this very interesting fact: Every time the words of a demon are recorded in the New Testament, they speak the truth! Is this not biblical evidence that we can indeed get valid information from the world of darkness?” (SWS, 61)


Wagner’s efforts to defend these ideas is at times weak, but at other times he does show a level of sophistication and historical knowledge that raises interesting questions. Most notable is his attempt in chapter 4 of SWS to show historical precedent in the history of Christianity for his concept of strategic-level spiritual warfare. He utilizes Ramsay MacMullen of Yale’s highly regarded book with Oxford University Press, Christianizing the Roman Empire, to make a provocative case that the types of practices he is encouraging were a part of the early Church’s evangelization of Rome. Wagner makes an interesting, if ultimately unpersuasive, case that important figures like Gregory the Wonderworker, Martin of Tours, Boniface and Saint Benedict were doing what he is now encouraging everyone to do in terms of spiritual warfare with territorial spirits. I mention this because one of the most striking things I have seen in my research and conversation about Wagner is the degree to which he is underestimated and dismissed as a nut that no one serious would take seriously. I think his ideas can be and must be refuted, but I do think they are serious ideas that demand sustained attention and engagement. People like me who write about their concern about Wagner are often thought to have a low view of the intelligence of evangelicals if we think large numbers of evangelicals would actually believe the concepts Wagner is teaching. That is not the case for me at all. There is a certain pseudo-intellectualism running through Wagner’s work that sets it apart from the influence of a Jimmy Swaggart or Oral Roberts of days past. Intellectuals and scholars who have avoided engaging with Wagner because they think it at some level unnecessary or beneath them would do well to spend some time reading at least one of his many recent books. They will see ideas being presented, not mere emotions being manipulated, and it is to those ideas that we must pay more careful attention.


  1. Your statement, "I think his ideas can be and must be refuted, but I do think they are serious ideas that demand sustained attention and engagement," speaks volumes. As a local church pastor this engagement occurs on a life on life level with those in our congregations that may have heard these views and begun to take them on board. It is good to be informed on the views and be able to balance them biblically, in an effort to keep folks "on-track" with their growth in Christ.

  2. “Individuals exist today with a gift of prophetic espionage. Certain people…have been given a hunting instinct to track down the enemy’s manipulations.” (Quoting Sjoberg on 27 of SWS)

    They have witchfinders, huh?

    “Still, we must keep in mind that the spirit world to which they are dedicated is a real world, not the figment of their ‘heathen’ imaginations."

    Hey we agree on something, I believe that the spirit world is real too...

    I must be doubly scary to them, as a pagan and a Freemason :)