How much power does Satan have in the world?

I was rather surprised by a reaction I received to my post Lance Wallnau’s Apocalyptic Vision of the Kingdom. Rod of Alexandria, who usually posts at Political Jesus, chose Joel Watts’ blog Unsettled Christianity for his post, addressed to me, Thanks, Peter! More Evidence Dominionists Reject Christus Victor.

Rod of AlexandriaIn this post Rod looks at an issue which was not at all in focus in Lance Wallnau’s video or in my post about it, and jumps to an unjustified conclusion about Wallnau’s view of the Atonement. He then compounds his error by generalising this view to “Dominionists”, that extremely ill-defined group who, if Wallnau is to be included, must include anyone who accepts that some Christians should be involved in politics. I wrote more about this in comments on Rod’s post.

My main point here is rather different. It springs from what Rod wrote in his post and his own comments on it. In the post he expounds his own Christus Victor view of the Atonement. He writes that in this model

The Devil is defeated, he has no ground to stand on … Satan is defeated and is stuck here, with only the ability to lie. … Satan is in retreat—this is the message of hope of CV atonement; he cannot hide, he has been exposed.

I would totally agree, although I am not as committed to a specific model of the Atonement as Rod seems to be. And I am almost sure that Lance Wallnau would agree. Although I summarised part of his teaching as “Satan taking his last stand on earth”, I did not mean to suggest that Satan has firm ground on earth on which to take this stand.

But Rod claims that Wallnau’s “views of Satan … contradict the claims of Christus Victor”. When I objected he responded by linking, indirectly, to a YouTube video of Wallnau saying something like “Satan Hand Picks Our Government Leaders”:

Here are some of Wallnau’s actual words in this video (length 2:34):

Satan determines which ones he is going to get the most out of and promotes them to the top (1:10). … And the false prophets and counterfeit priesthood of Satan isn’t necessarily wearing clerical robes. They’re dressed in suits and they have Gucci briefcases, but they are his priests in many cases, because they were hand picked for that assignment at the top of the mind moulders, because he gives it to whom he wills (1:53).

“Right Wing Watch” who posted this seem to expect viewers to be shocked by it. But to me it looks as if Wallnau is hinting at much the same as the Occupy protesters, attributing the ills of our society to a few people “dressed in suits and they have Gucci briefcases”.

Rod seriously misunderstands Wallnau here:

Wallnau also believes Satan has the power to determine who is in power: … he totally is anti-everything Christus Victor, if not a dominionist. No CV affirming Christian believes the Devil has that sort of power.

But Wallnau says nothing about “power to determine” anything at all. Yes, he uses the word “determines”, but in the context he is clearly using it in the sense “decides, chooses”. He clarifies this later with “hand picked”. In other words, he is teaching that Satan chooses which of his followers, his “priests”, are fit for promotion to the top of one of the “seven mountains”, of which, we must remember, government is only one.

Rod clarifies his objection to this teaching of Wallnau by denying that Satan has “the power of election, to choose who is in control of the world”. But he accepts that Satan has “the ability to lie”, and this is the only power that the evil one needs to put his chosen people on the mountain tops – if his followers are in the majority, or even if they are a minority but the others keep out of politics or retreat into monasteries. This is because Satan, the great deceiver, is also the great persuader. He only needs to get a few key people behind him to persuade those who pull the strings of power in our world, or even a whole electorate, to choose his candidates for the highest offices. By the way, here I don’t want to imply that any specific office holders, or potential ones, are Satan’s candidates.

To support his claim that Satan’s power is limited, Rod quotes Hebrews 2:14, in an anonymous version which reads, in part,

so that through death [Jesus] might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil.

This reads rather differently in NIV:

so that by his death [Jesus] might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil.

Hebrews 2:14 (NIV)

The Greek verb katargeo, rendered “destroy” in Rod’s version, is probably better understood as “make powerless”, hence NIV’s “break the power”. But if it does mean “destroy”, it is clear from other Bible passages that this destruction was not already accomplished when Jesus died and rose again. The cross may have made Satan’s final annihilation inevitable, but it is apparently only at the very end that it will actually happen, when he is thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:10).

Meanwhile, as the apostles specifically teach and as I commented on Rod’s post, Satan is alive and active in the world, in our current “church age” after the Resurrection and Pentecost:

Peter: Satan can fill apparent Christians’ hearts (Acts 5:3);

Paul: Satan can scheme and might outwit Christians (2 Corinthians 2:11);

Paul: Satan can block Christians’ way (1 Thessalonians 2:18);

Peter: The devil prowls around and might devour Christians (1 Peter 5:8);

John: The evil one controls the world (1 John 5:19).

Now Rod is correct that Satan has

a power to deceive and over the lives who believe his lies, but nothing more.

But he doesn’t need anything more to exercise his control over the world.

However, the situation is not quite as bleak as I have painted it, because we Christians are in the world. The apostle John writes to us that

the whole world is under the control of the evil one

1 John 5:19 (NIV)

but also that

the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.

1 John 4:4 (NIV)

Indeed Satan has no power over us, because he can only tell lies and we know the truth. We need to recognise his lies, but we have no reason to be afraid of him. By the power of the Holy Spirit we can proclaim this truth, refute Satan’s lies, and expose his deception. But we can’t do this by hiding in holes in fear. Instead, like Jonathan and his armour bearer in 1 Samuel 14:1-23, we need to boldly climb the mountain, confront the enemy, and take back the world for God.

Is this “dominionism”? Maybe. But surely it is better than letting Satan rule the world through his chosen candidates.

0 thoughts on “How much power does Satan have in the world?

  1. I grow increasingly convinced that defining Satan as a Mephistopheles-like power is a valid view. That is, an agent whose power is not creative in the sense that he could bring anything new about of his own accord, but instead who’s power lays completely in the ability to pervert and twist existing creation into forms that entice and corrupt humanity. As Christ redeems and reclaims Creation as his own, Satan has increasingly little material to work with, making his power appear even more potent and concentrated, but ultimately destined to draw its last breath.

  2. Thank you, ElShaddai. I’m not sure Satan has even that much power over creation, except through those he can entice to do his will. But I guess there is an issue to resolve concerning impersonal evil e.g. natural disasters – does Satan have a role in them?

  3. Holding to a Christus Victor view of the atonement does not mean that you nhave to abandone all other views of the atonement (it is a multi-faceted subject), neither does it mean that you have to believe that Satan is completely impotent. I am probably regarded as a “dominionist” by some because I believe that the kingdoms of this world are destined – in time and history – to become the Kingdom of our God, that all nations will be discipled, and not just a few people from each nation, but I have no interest in setting up a governemnt that forces people to accept the Christian faith – and I know of no n”dominionist” sho does believe that (despite all the anti-dominion propoganda to the contrary). I believe that Satan has been dealt a defining blow by Christs death and ressurection, but he is still here, up to no good, and wont be finally removed until Christ returns – as Calvin said: Satan is bound, but bound on a long leash. So, I beleive that Satan has been defeated and is being defeated and will be finally defeated (though I am wary of extreme spiritual warfare teaching). Also, I believe in both the Christus Victor and Penal Substituionary views of the atonement – which I see as complimentary and compatible. I don’t get this “he’s a dominionist – oppose everything he says” attitude. I want to learn something from everyone.

    Unless Rod is suggesting either that Satan has no influence in government and society (which he seesm to imply – which leaves a lot of explaining to do); or if he does we should just leave him in charge there and not “take back dominion”??

  4. @Peter,

    Let’s look at where you agree with me first, shall we?

    “I would totally agree, although I am not as committed to a specific model of the Atonement as Rod seems to be.”

    Okay, we are good on the Cross and Resurrection, for now.

    “Now Rod is correct that Satan has

    a power to deceive and over the lives who believe his lies, but nothing more.”

    Good, we are all on one accord that the Satan’s primary power is to deceive.


    My arguments that you did not address is Paul’s arguments from texts such as Romans, that because of Christ the Logos and revelation of God, human beings can know about God’s existence in nature and history (chapter 1) and therefore we have no excuse. Peter, my point is this, your and Wallnau’s views ignore human choice in sinning, and in choosing to turn away from sin. Genesis chapters 1 (pre-fall) and 9 (postfall) declare that humanity is made in the image of God. Whatever that may mean, it does not mean that that image is lost, and that human beings are hopeless. God had never given up this world to Satan. That is an other worldly, utopian view of the universe. YHWH never left us to our own devices, and even with the Law, the Torah, God set forth a tutor –from the greek,(Galatians, anyone?) before he sent the Teacher.

    This line of reasoning is consistent with the apostles and “THE CHURCH,” particularly in persons like Clement of Alexandria. What dominionist political theology fails to take account is the imago dei, as well as pneumatology, God’s Spirit working OUTSIDE the Church to accomplish God’s will. Of course, this calls for an affirmation of natural revelation (in traditional theological terms) as well as a pneumatology that recognizes that God can use non-Christians to do His will, since he is that free. However, even a glance at Isaiah, where God used “pagans” and praised pagan kings in Ezra (Persia) tells us that God is radically free NOT TO USE Christians if he sees fit.

    There is no way Wallnau can affirm what I just said, and neither can you. Peter, a few comments of yours are quite telling about your concerns. First, your fear that Christians will either “others keep out of politics or retreat into monasteries” means that you think Christians have no choice but to be leaders/engage the public sphere. I argue that Christians are radically free to choose to participate or not to participate. Being on top is not the only way to win, my friend. In fact, going back to Christus Victor, and why it is important to me, it is this. Dominionists come up with social programs and political agendas, while a CV affirming Christian pacifist myself believes that God did have a social program: it’s called the Cross and Resurrection, ala John Howard Yoder. This Victory in Christ frees us from seeing any strategy as NECESSARY (notice Peter I keep bringing up this word, necessity and freedom is the issue ).

    Sometimes Christians hiding in monasteries can effect social change through their example, Peter, ever consider that? Or how about in the United States during slavery, the slaves went to their monasteries called “the brush arbor” to escape having to participate, lead, or revolt against their false prophet/Christian masters. Being leaders was IMPOSSIBLE in that context. So, Peter, what I am saying is this: Dominionism, apart from the political idea put forth by some Christians that Christian domination is necessary, it is also sustained by liberals and conservatives, by the idea that Christians are obligated to be part of society, when we are free to choose and discern the best approach. Part of the problem with Christians now is that they want to participate too much, be a part of the “world” with their CCM and Christian polls for President, but not want to DISCERN.

    In essence, Domininionists give too much credit to Satan and put less of their faith in the Crucified God of the Resurrection. Jesus’ Dead and Risen is the Christian’s political agenda first and foremost, and not some backward turn toward a reactionary utopia.

    Peter, seems like you have a problem with people who believe Dominionists exist only on the right. No problem. I disagree with liberal and right-wing Christian dominionists, for the reasons I gave above. I am all about participation, but discernment should always come first.


    Your views do not make you a dominionist, unless you believe that Christians HAVE to be involved in politics, etc. I am a very politicized Christian, and I feel I am being open minded about the possibility of withdrawal. Peter is saying that no, withdrawal is bad, and only engagement is good. That’s a dominionist, whether it is liberal or conservative, approach.

    Doc, what I am saying about the government is quite simple. Humanity is made in the image of God. We can choose good to do good, we have no excuses about that (Romans 1), so in effect, God reigns sovereign and supreme over satan because of that fact. Things are NOT bleak but hopeful because Christ, the Image of God dared to teach us about the human capacity for radical change and our invaluable worth to YHWH.

  5. Thank you, Martin. I agree with you. I am attracted to Christus Victor as a balance to those who see Penal Substitutionary Atonement as the beginning and the end of the gospel, but I would never say one is true and the other is false – although some exaggerated presentations of either might be false.

  6. Rod, thank you for your response.

    Yes, you are right that I didn’t address every argument that you had made. I agree with you that humans can see something of God in creation, in the Torah, and in the gospel. Nevertheless each one, apart from Jesus, has at some stage, at least in part, accepted Satan’s lies and denied God’s truth. Many, not all, have believed and followed so many of the lies that they have in effect become Satan’s disciples. Here is not the place to go into details, but I agree that that is a free choice of each person, so no one has an excuse.

    I’m not sure I agree about the Holy Spirit working outside of Christians. Yes, God can and sometimes does work in the world apart from his people. But his primary means of working is through those people. When they refuse to work, his work is often not done. Yes, “God is radically free NOT TO USE Christians if he sees fit”, but he doesn’t usually see fit.

    I don’t say that “Christians have no choice but to be leaders/engage the public sphere.” I agree that “Christians are radically free to choose to participate or not to participate.” But I do say that many are called to participate and take leading roles. Lance Wallnau has not come up with “social programs and political agendas”. He is simply urging people to participate, in whatever way they believe God is calling them to.

    I am not saying that there is never a place for monasteries. At times, and if seen in the right way, they have their place. I am arguing against the strategy some put forward of Christians retreating from the world and allowing it to fall into chaos. I do think that “Christians are obligated to be part of society”, but are also “free to choose and discern the best approach”. We are called to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth, not to hide with our lamps under bowls. A Christian community which is a light to the nation around it is a good thing. One which hides away in fear is not.

    In principle I agree with your “I am all about participation, but discernment should always come first.” I am just concerned about the kind of discernment involved.

    In your reply to Martin, you misrepresent me. I am not saying that every Christian must be involved in politics. Nor is Lance Wallnau – remember he has seven mountains, of which each person is encouraged to climb one, and politics and government is only one of the seven. I agree with your final sentence “Things are NOT bleak but hopeful …”, but would add the proviso that, because God has chosen to limit himself this way, the hope at least in the short term depends on humans making use of their “capacity for radical change” to change the world for the better.

  7. A comment I posted in response to Rod’s post (with comments disabled) Dominionists’ Problem with Christus Victor Atonement:

    I know this is off topic for this thread, but I am demanding the right to reply to what you have published about me.

    Rod, if you are going to tell lies about me, in your post following this one, then please have the common decency to give me the right to reply to it. I have NEVER accused you of being a tool of Satan. Where on earth did you get that nonsense from? You are my Christian brother, or at least I thought you were until you started attacking me. The words of mine you quote “on sites like this one” do not refer to any of the sites you contribute to, but to a heresy hunter site. And I have said nothing about the church triumphant as the way God works, but only that individual Christians, sent by God, should be doing God’s work. Also, for information, I BY NO MEANS “exclude the imago dei, the goodness of creation, and human free will in [my] political theology”. And Lance Wallnau’s alleged “dominionism” is nothing at all about “dreading and fretting Satan” and all about living in our victory over him.

    OK, I know you didn’t mention me by name. But as I am the only person you interacted with in “this conversation” I can only assume that you are responding to me.

  8. Some background to my previous comment:

    I thought I was having a civil conversation with Rod of Alexandria. We were discussing whether Lance Wallnau could rightly be described as a “dominionist”, and whether Satan could be active in any way in the world today. I thought we were coming close to agreement on most of the points, while agreeing to differ on a few of them.

    Then suddenly Rod has responded with a new post on his own blog, with comments disabled, in which he shows a completely different side to himself. He shows himself as a fundamentalist for the Christus Victor model of the atonement, boasting about being as exclusively committed to it as others are to Penal Substitutionary Atonement. And he renews his attempts to discredit “dominionists” by telling lies about their theology.

    Now previously I might have given him the benefit of the doubt for ignorance. But it became clear during our conversations that he does actually know what people like Lance Wallnau teach. That means that when he now misrepresents that teaching he is doing so knowingly and deliberately.

    I had never previously come close to suggesting that Rod is “a tool for satan”. But now I am beginning to think that he is, to the extent that he is allowing Satan to deceive him and prompt him to tell lies.

    But don’t worry, Rod, Jesus Christ has won the victory over Satan. So you can repent and be forgiven and free from that deception – and free to tell the truth on your blog.

  9. A further clarification to the above: Rod has apologised for misunderstanding my words “on sites like this one”. I have accepted his apology and apologised for my part in this little dispute. I accept that he was not misrepresenting me “knowingly and deliberately”. There are still some matters on which we disagree, but I hope any further discussions can remain civil.

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