Clash of the Titans


SwordsmanBefore I begin this post, I want to point something out. Call it a disclaimer, but here it is:

  1. What follows is not based on any scientific assessment, merely my general impressions after surfing through many blogs, talking with folks from both sides, and my history from being in both camps.
  2. As general impressions, they do not represent all individuals in either camp.

Now, onto the observation….

This struck me just this weekend and it shows an intriguing divide in the Christians blogosphere and in our churches. What I noticed was this:

  1. On the issue of Halloween, Calvinists were regularly FOR Halloween participation, while Charismatics were regularly AGAINST it.
  2. On the issue of the appropriateness of Christians reading Harry Potter books, Calvinists were routinely FOR reading the Potter books, while Charismatics were routinely AGAINST the books.
  3. On the issue of spiritual warfare, what constitutes spiritual warfare for Calvinists becomes more an issue of waging war against falsehood (conceptual), while Charismatics consider spiritual warfare to be waging war against the demonic (personal).
  4. That differing perspectives on spiritual warfare may be the reasons why Calvinists and Charismatics are on opposite sides of the Halloween and Harry Potter issues.

Is this merely C.S. Lewis's assertion about the demonic fully realized? (That two errors exist on demons: too much attention and too little.)


22 thoughts on “Clash of the Titans

  1. Ben

    “Is this merely C.S. Lewis’s assertion about the demonic fully realized? (That two errors exist on demons: too much attention and too little.)”

    Totally correct. We must keep a biblical balance between too much attention and too little.

  2. Scott

    I’m an Arminian Baptist so I guess we’re in the middle! 🙂

    Seriously, I think Ben said it right. Both sides tend to overemphasize their points of view and somewhere is the middle ground where we should take it seriously but not obsess about it.

    Scott Cheatham

  3. I’d say a large percentage of the Christian blogosphere spends all its time “overemphasizing their points of view” 🙂

    Seriously, though, I think this is a pretty astute observation you have made, Dan.

  4. Caleb W

    What do you think is the right balance, then?

    I subscribe more to the view that spiritual warfare is about truth, not territory. In the spiritual battle “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. And we will be ready to punish every act of disobedience, once your obedience is complete.” We fight against deception, against falsehood, against wilful ignorance of God, against disobedience. Lurking behind this is the spiritual reality of demons, of course, but it seems to me that sin leads to people enabling dark spiritual forces to have a hold on them, rather than the dark forces being to blame for sin.

    I also think there are other theological issues at play in relation to Christian’s attitudes to popular culture, such as their view of common grace, and how much they grasp the fulness of both fall and redemption as affecting every area of life. Over on Ransom Fellowship there’s a good article Reflecting Theologically on Popular Culture as Meaningful: The Role of Sin, Grace, and General Revelation which I highly recommend.

  5. Dan: “Thoughts?”

    Considering that the long Eurabian Civil War is now beginning, that the loony mullahs of Iran are on the verge of going nuclear (and are screaming “Israel off the map!”), that the demoncrat party and their allies in the MSM and the CIA are trying to engineer a slow motion coup d’etat, that China is stealing our critical military secrets right and left from under our noses, that at all levels our country is hopelessly, dangerously addicted to foreign oil, and that big corporations are completely ruining our country with their short sighted greed and stupidity, I have no thoughts other than thinking “this whole discussion is a colossal waste of time”.

  6. CJR

    I picked up and read Caleb’s recommendation at Ransom Fellowship – and recommend others do the same – it’s a great article.

    I’ve just finished reading Jim Wallis’s God’s Politics and recommend it as well. In it, Wallis points out that one of the failures of the “left-leaning” portion of Christendom is an inadequate characterization of evil. That is, that evil is not taken seriously enough – belying remnants of the failed Humanist (not Humean!) belief in the ultimate goodness of humanity and its eventual, unavoidable moral triumph.

    As a corollary, I think, Dan, you’re on to something, but I wonder if the divide is more along the lines of education and affluence and less along the lines of core theology? Most ostensible Calvinists I know (those from denominations with clear Reformed theology) are actually practicing Arminians in their individual viewpoints.

    It seems that the more affluent and well-educated folks tend to be less concerned about occult references and cultural trends than those less affluent or with less formal education.

    I’m not saying this is appropriate or correct, just that my experience has been a divide less along denominational lines and more along demographic ones – sometimes right down the middle of a particular denomination.

  7. In Australia we don’t have Halloween so I spose we don’t have any Charos and Calvos fighting over it.

    Personally, I wouldn’t support it even if I could. But I do like pumpkin pie.

    I wonder what charos and calvos think about pumkin pie? If there was a face on the pumpkin pie would it turn into a pie fight?

    A curious post of yours, Dan. In all seriousness there has to be a PhD in that one for someone somewhere, with an important outcome for discussion for all.

    Peter Peter the unknowhat eater.

  8. A few more thoughts:

    This isn’t a fluff piece. I think it’s important because it demonstrates worldview differences on the issue of identifying and confronting evil. The Halloween and Harry Potter part of this highlights the differences in dealing with popular cultural expressions of what some might (or might not) consider evil. That has ramifications for the Church as we get closer to the End of All Things.

  9. CJR (et al.),

    You ABSOLUTELY open up the other can of worms related to this in your observation about education and wealth.

    I’ve blogged on this before that one of the reasons you see such a disproportionately high number of people with a strong Reformed background blogging is that folks with that background ARE wealthier and better educated. They are more in step with trends in computing, too, blogging being one of those trends. I also believe that their educational status and wealth free them up more than their less educated, less wealthy counterparts to do things such as blog.

    Those that are less sophisticated in their computing skills, the ones less likely to blog or spend a lot of time on the Internet ARE often more in the Arminian or charismatic camps. The lament about the disproportionate lack of those folks blogging is a common one.

    I also think that even when you look at the set of all people who blog, the folks who consider themselves Reformed are better connected to each other than their non-Reformed counterparts. It’s kind of funny when you think about it, but just how many Reformed blogrolls ARE there? You don’t see that same number out of the non-Reformed (or even the cooperation it takes to construct a blogroll listing charismatics, Pentecostals, and so forth.)

    My personal position is that I consider my own theology to cling to the Lutheran branch of Reformation thought (I’m more likely to allow some wiggle room for “mystery” and “there’s some things we don’t know” than a lot of my Reformation brethren in the 5-point Calvinist camps) but I am a charismatic. I think that if there were a Sovereign Grace Church somewhere near me, that would probably be where we would attend, though I might even bother a few people in that church because I’m not perfectly settled on all things Calvinistic.

    Our church is a Pentecostal church. It’s an odd blend of farm folks and tech folks. We’ve got aeronautic engineers, artificial intelligence guys, and a few P&G people, plus folks who are most likely in October not to be in church because they’ve got harvesting to deal with. I’d say the incomes are all over the place. The church was actually a Pentecostal church and a Church of Christ that merged (!!!) but somehow it all works. We’ve got a pretty equal representation of both camps there.

    Some of my most formative years were spent at a church that R.C. Sproul once pastored, yet was on the cutting edge of the charismatic movement later in its existence. I think one of the Sovereign Grace churches would probably look a lot like it did—very wealthy, highly educated, strongly Reformed, but also charismatic.

    One of the odd ways that I see the two sides operating is in their responses to my novel. The Reformed folks I meet online and in person are very much into fantasy and science fiction, the true “High Fantasy” crowd who would answer the question “Have you ever read any Frank Herbert?” by correctly discerning that Herbert wasn’t writing theology books. I think that the high skills in computer-related things also correlates to those folks having crossed over from the fantasy/sf camp into the Reformed one or vice versa. I get the exact opposite response to fantasy/sf when I talk to folks from a charismatic background, especially if their educations and incomes are on the lower side. In lieu of this, I believe you are far more likely to see the Calvinist/Reformed folks defending fantasy as a means of Christian expression, even if the themes in fantasy/sf run very dark (then it takes on a cautionary tale aspect that would give the charismatics pause.) If you don’t believe this, just think back to the utter fawning that WORLD Magazine gave to the Lord of the Rings movies and the fact that so few non-Reformed folks have read those books or something along the lines of C.S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy.


    So as far as my own thoughts on this, I think I fall into both camps. Evil does have personification, but that personification can operate via conceptual expression. I think we have to attack both sides of that equation. If you’ve read Cerulean Sanctum long enough, you’ll know that I’m troubled by Halloween and Harry Potter, blogging against them. But I see both sides of the argument. I lean toward attacking the personification of evil more though, since the conceptual portion flows out of the entities behind the concepts. I’ll admit that the blind spot in my thinking is that I am less likely to attribute evil to the mere fact that we live in a fallen world and that fallenness in itself results in its own form of evil.

  10. CJR

    Dan –

    It seems to me that there are also dangers in either the non-/personification of evil.

    I think you see many of those in the “personification” camp less likely to support social movements based on peace, justice and the irradication of poverty and instead focusing on cultural issues like gay marriage, abortion, the teaching of evolution, the violence, sexuality and occultism in modern media.

    Again, we are clearly speaking in broad generalities. But it seems fair to say that the “personification” viewpoint more readily defines things in terms of “us/them” and with characterizing groups or movements as “evil” and “good”. Whereas the “non-personification” folks tend to be more sensitive (overly so?) to the division of good and evil in every person – choosing never to divide into “us/them”, but always to seek a commonality between those who they disagree with – sometimes breaching the bounds of reason to do so.

    I think this leads the “personification” folks into a tendency to adopt a war motif and to assign people/groups/movements to sides in this war – sometimes justifiably, often times not. Further, it tends to result in a blindness to the “evil within” ourselves and our “groups”.

    As I said earlier, the “non-personification” folks often fall short of calling evil “evil” – being too “sensitive” (hypercorrection) about “pigeon-holing”, stereotyping and categorizing for fear of making a judgement.

    I suppose I fall more readily into the “non-personification” camp and, therefore, am not too bothered by Halloween, Harry Potter, or the teaching of biological evolution and am more bothered by injustice, the marginalization of the poor, and the elitism of the wealthy and powerful.

    While there are certainly theological undercurrents to all of this, it seems less about the theology and more about the personality or the emphasis within the theological framework that becomes the deciding factor.

  11. Jim from

    I was a Charismatic (both AoG and Four Square) for nearly two decades, and have been a Calvinist for the past several years.

    I disagree with the assesment on Halloween and Harry Potter. The vast majority of the Calvinists that I know (at my church) and otherwise don’t participate or advocate either of those things. You might want to throw Christmas into the mix too. I think you’ll actually find some Calvinists who dont celebrate what some call “ChristMASS”, whereas you probably will find that all (or 99.9%) Charismatics do celebrate it.

    Other interesting comparisons between the two camps would be “bible versions”. Charismatics usually use the user friendly NIV, whereas Calvinists generally want more precise (word for word) translations. How about quantity of bible study time? How about, which camp reads more Christian books? Which camp is more prone to accepting new “fads”? Which camp is more likely to homeschool their kids.

    Lots of thought provoking contrasts and comparisons between the two camps. Ultimately, the one that’s most important is which camp has the more solid biblical basis for their beliefs.

    As far as spiritual warfare, you’d have to define more what you mean. In general, my opinion is that Calvinists tend to focus on the fact that Satan is under the full authority of God, as seen in the book of Job. Whereas Charismatics often tend to see the devil as somebody that they need to deal with directly. If a Christian’s 3 enemies are the devil, the flesh, and the world. The Calvinists that I know are more focussed on the last 2, than the Charismatics that I know. The opposite can probably be said of the first one of those three things.

    But of course, there are exceptions to everything. And there are backslidden hyper-Calvinist churches that are guilty of all sorts of bad things. So it’s important to consider the mainstream representation from each camp (Calvinist and Charismatic), and not the fringes.

  12. Gayla

    I’m in the reformed camp, but for some reason, I don’t like the labels, so I do not claim to be a ‘
    Calvinist.’ I’m sure he got some things wrong. 🙂

    I have no problem with Halloween, as in trick-or-treating. I’m no worse for the wear for doing it, nor is my 16-yr old son. Harmless fun, IMO.

    I do have a problem with the Harry Potter stuff.

    Regarding spirtual warfare, I take my cue from the Word:

    For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. (Eph 6:12)

    “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.
    (Matt 7:15)

    For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect. (Matt 24:24)

    But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. (2 Pet 2:1)

    So it appears that spiritual warfare involves both false teachings and the demonic.

    Truth is Truth.

  13. Gayla

    I’m both myself, Mikey. If it’s in the Bible, then it’s in the Bible. It’s ALL Truth, all relevant for us today. I guess the danger comes when the pendulum swings too far one way or the other.

  14. Ronni

    Well as someone who grew up thinking more Calvinistic than anything, but then got to have a face to face object lesson in demonic activity, I tend to lean toward the fact that they are real. Not only that but I’m one of those individuals who has been blessed/cursed with the ability to see things others do not. I’ve seen demons follow people, I’ve seen angels stand watch and I’ve seen demons flee when the name of Christ was spoken. I used to think, that most of what was spoken was a storytelling to give us an example of what happens, but I’ve sinced learned through my object lessons that Satan uses man and his tendancy to over think, and manipulate to take biblical truths that we need to have a firm grasp of reality on and dilute them until we no longer thing of things like Halloween and witchcraft as threatening. Moments like this make me understand the anger Jesus felt in the temple and I just want to shake some Christians and speak truth into their lives. A few times God has let me do that and those people are walking in freedom now. God is real. Demons are real. It’s not an ideology, its truth and reality. I didn’t ask to be shown this but the day I was thrown through a wall by a demon (and others saw me go 3 ft off the ground through a wall with nobody near me) was the day I knew spiritual warfare was real. I looked into the face of a demon and I am still standing because of the blood of Christ. If you doubt, I pray you ask God for an object lesson, but do so carefully and with much prayer and thought first, because it will change your life.

  15. What about Reformational Charismatics like Adrian Warnock?..LOL

    Seriously, I’d rather err slightly on the side of the demonic. If I am wrong, then what have I lost? But if I am right, and don’t believe it, I’ve lost a lot.

  16. Dan: “It’s kind of funny when you think about it, but just how many Reformed blogrolls are there?”

    Yeah, I noticed that too; there are a lot of them, and often they are very polemical, er, vocal. It is kind of odd.

    Now According to the map made by a certain hoary cartographer, there are really only two, very large large continents of xtian bloggers of the vast Blogific Ocean: (1) The Continent of Catholic bloggers, and (2) The Continent of WSFTRB (“We Still Fighting The Reformation Battles”). Everybody else comprise only islands of various sorts and sizes.

  17. I would encourage everyone to check out Oengus’s map and his post that accompanies it. Very funny stuff.

    Oengus, if I did not tell you before, I still appreciate the humor in that original piece (which I cannot locate on your site now), even a few months after you first posted it.

  18. Jim B.,

    Thanks for stopping by. I’ll answer some of your comments by noting that what follows is not a condemnation of anyone, but merely what I have observed. I read blogs in all camps and have made friends in all camps. This is not a judgment about rightness and wrongness, but just an observation.

    You raise a distinction within Calvinist ranks that I tried hard to avoid because I didn’t want to confuse the issue even further.

    I see two camps on the Calvinist side: Neo-Calvinists (NCs) and the Old School Calvinists (OSCs). The NCs tend to be younger and more willing to explore the fringes of faith issues. They also comprise the largest percentage of Calvinists blogging. When I speak of “Calvinists” in this post, I am largely speaking about NCs.

    This is not to say that there aren’t OSCs who are fine with Halloween and Harry Potter, but I would venture to guess that—like you—the majority probably aren’t. OSC folks tends to look on anything “new” in culture and ministry and automatically go the other direction.

    Your blog, Ingrid’s blog, and a few others fall into the OSC ranks as I see it. I almost tried to make an exception in my blanket comment about Calvinists, but then the whole piece kind of lost its impact. It’s not that I was forgetting about you, it’s just that I thought you were enough in the minority among Calvinist bloggers that I could say what I said and get away with it without too many people saying anything about my failure to make distinctions within the Calvinist camp.

    And of course, you caught me on it!

    The other distinctions you raise are also excellent, though I’m a bit confused about your comments about Bible translations. I personally don’t know any Reformed/Calvinist folks who use the KJV as their main source. Some use the NASB, but beyond that, I’m not sure what “more precise” translations would be in use, perhaps with the exception of the ESV, which is so new as to be a blip on the radar screen at this point (you’ll notice I quote from the ESV on this blog.)

    Who reads more books, charismatics or Calvinists, is partly a function of education, so that’s a tough one to break down. I know good readers and bad readers in both camps. I could ask which camp gets out and serves others in the name of Jesus more as a counter and would definitely have to put a check mark on the charismatic column. Like it says in Ecclesiastes: “Of the making of books there is no end.” So I’m not sure if reading is necessarily a demarcation between the “right” side and the “wrong” side.

    As to who spends more time in the Bible, that’s a tough call, too. I think that it all depends on the person and the church they attend. If the church puts a big emphasis on the Scriptures, I think the people will, too. The question then becomes one of larger scope and there you’ll have a tough time arguing that Calvinists as a whole trump charismatics as a whole. I know I wouldn’t attempt that one without some serious demographic studies on the issue.

    I think your assessment of emphases upon the three enemies of the Christian is probably pretty accurate.

    As for considering the mainstream and not the fringes within both Calvinism and charismatics, I have to agree. Sadly, both sides tend to point out each other’s fringes as being the mainstream and that doesn’t help anyone.


  19. Jim from


    You make a distinction between two Calvinist camps that I usually never see made. Can you give some examples of churches or people that fall into the “neo” camp that you are talking about? I’ve never met one, or seen one. Maybe they are there, but Im drawing a total blank on your description of them. Perhaps with a few examples, I’d recognize the distinction that you are trying to make.

    Since you write somewhat regularly about Calvinists, I might suggest an opinion of mine relating to how “mainstream” should be defined, for the sake of honesty:

    Mainstream would be any churches holding to the Westminster Confession, or the Baptist Confession of Faith. Those would be Reformed churches by definition.

    Two modern mega-churches that don’t hold to these Confessions (and therefore would not technically be considered “Reformed”), but would be considered mainstream in their Calvinism, would be John MacArthur’s church and John Piper’s church. Those would also be churches that, would compare favorably with most any Charismatic church in terms of “getting out and serving” in my opinion. Also, very missions focused, etc.

    Likewise, when I speak of Charismatics, I maintain that their mainstream representation is the Assemblies of God and Four Square churches. I do not try to lump-in “Jesus Only” United Pentecostals or the TBN crowd, and then attempt to attack those fringes. That simply would not be honest on anyone’s part. In other words, Im sure you would not want to be associated with a Benny Hinn, simply because he is also defined under the broad canopy of “Charismatic”.

    Thanks for allowing my to post my comments.

  20. Bonnie

    Dan, thanks so much for posting your observation. I had noticed that the Calvinists were saying that what was evil about Halloween was the fact that some Christians say, �Avoid it,� not the holiday�s associations nor the fact that some may be adversely affected by them (via spiritual suggestion).

    The issue is most intriguing, though, and perhaps ought to be explored further.

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