One of the purposes of the Roberta Winter Institute is further exploration and advocacy of what is known as the “Warfare Worldview,” coined by pastor and theologian Gregory Boyd in his book God at War. The Warfare Worldview builds on the premise that God valued authentic love so highly, that he designed the universe to function on the principle of free will, even though it included the possibility of unmitigated evil. In Boyd’s words, The Warfare Worldview refers to the angels “who refuse to submit to God’s rule as a rebel kingdom (Matt. 12:26; Col. 1:13; Rev. 11:15), and identifies the head of this rebellion as a profoundly sinister, non-human being named Satan. It is clear that God shall someday vanquish this rebel kingdom, but it is equally clear that in the meantime, he genuinely wars against it.” [1]

This perspective is found throughout scripture.

  • God is described some 261 times in the Old Testament as the “Lord of Hosts,” which literally translates to “Lord of the Angel Armies.”
  • Outside of the book of Job, Satan is rarely mentioned in the Old Testament. However there are multiple examples of God battling cosmic monsters to bring creation into existence, such as Hostile Waters (Ps. 74:10, 13), Rahab (Isa 51:9-11), and Leviathan (Ps. 74:10-17).
  • Paul describes the necessity of the Armor of God (Eph. 6:10-18) in this war, which is not a war between flesh and blood, but against “the cosmic powers over this present darkness and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12 - ESV).
  • Jesus repeatedly calls Satan "the ruler of this world" (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11 - ESV), Luke suggests that Satan owns all the authority of all the kingdoms of the world (Luke 4:5-7), Paul calls Satan "the god of this world" (2 Cor. 4:4 - ESV) and "the prince of the power of the air" (Eph. 2:2 - ESV), and John says “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one." (1 John 5:19 - ESV) This awareness of Satan’s hideous strength sheds light on Christ’s parable of tying up the strong man (Mark 3:27). This, Luke adds, can only be done when “one stronger attacks him and overpowers him” and thus “takes away his armor in which the man trusted” and then “divides his plunder” (Luke 11:22 - NIV). This is what Jesus came to do. His entire ministry was about overpowering the “fully armed” strong man who guarded “his house” (Luke 11:21 - NIV), namely, human beings and ultimately all of creation.
  • Similarly, John explains, “the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8 - ESV). And Paul confirms that the death of Christ was meant to “break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil” (Heb. 2:14 - NIV).

Understanding Suffering

These scriptures and many others that undergird the Warfare Worldview can be brought to bear on the problem of evil. In this view, evil is not from God but instead due to the fact that we are surrounded on all sides by rampaging warfare against God and against all of creation. Applying this perspective can help us make sense of the constant tragedies we encounter and it can enhance or restore our belief that God is love (1 John 4:8 - NIV) and in him there is no darkness (1 John 1:5 - NIV). In the Warfare Worldview, casualties and accidents are expected and very likely. In a war, suffering is not an intellectual puzzle to solve, needing books and devotionals to parse out its meaning. As Ralph Winter once wrote:

Once Satan is in the picture—if we believe he is—no amount or kind of harsh or heartless evil should be unexpected. When we reinstate his existence as an evil intelligence loose in God’s creation, only then do a lot of things become clear and reasonable. Suffering, in a perverse way, starts to make sense. [2]  

Said another way, when we’re in the trenches and our comrade gets gunned down, do we raise our fist to the sky and ask, “Why General? Why?” No. We don’t blame the general. We blame the enemy, and our resolve to defeat him is intensified. The general’s will is not for us to suffer or die. The general’s will is to win the war. 

Oblivious to the War

However, for much of Christian history there has been a sweeping obliviousness to our battlefield situation—one in which we are not deliberately at war, but mostly unaware of it. We have more often fixated on church attendance, good manners and “getting man right with God” to ensure safe passage to heaven. This plays out when we experience the effects of the war—suffering, death, disease—and we attribute them to God. We piously endure these hardships assuming our acceptance brings God greater glory. This resignation, while noble, distracts us from turning bravely and resolutely against Satan, and working to overcome the effects of his depravity. Winter hammered away at this point, “It is not God that is inflicting the casualties, but the enemy. Let’s not be confused about that and inactive in that war!” [3] In other words, God is not just seeking to list us in a Book of Life, but to re-enlist us in this conflict, to participate all-out in an offensive counter attack against the pestilent powers of the fallen angels.

A Word of Caution about The Warfare Worldview

In a sense “Warfare Worldview” is an unfortunate term, as this view has almost nothing to do with our normal associations with war. We as an organization worry about people being needlessly put off by this phrase because without context, it has connotations of ruthless and greedy governments indifferent to the suffering and anguish their wars cause, not least the inevitable and endless cycles of vengeance. Others will associate the term spiritually with supernatural horror films like The Exorcist, or with the controversies over Christian groups who have used the concept of spiritual warfare as a justification to persecute others.

In short, what we mean by the Warfare Worldview has very little to do with any of these associations and instead refers to Christ overcoming evil with good through self-sacrificial love. God fights and wins this war by non-violently sacrificing himself, loving his enemies and doing good to those who hate him.  

Martin Luther King Jr. at the St. Paul Campus of the University of Minnesota on October 16, 1959

Martin Luther King Jr. at the St. Paul Campus of the University of Minnesota on October 16, 1959

As Martin Luther King Jr. so eloquently said:

Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. [4]

As followers of Jesus, in this war our “weapons” are not nationalism, coercive domination, military force, or religiously fueled discrimination. On the contrary, our “weapons” are love, non-violence, self-sacrifice, and a collective goal of bringing shalom to this broken, diseased, war-torn world as a foretaste of God's kingdom coming in its fullness.