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“Principalities and Powers”

July 19, 2011

Principalities and Powers: A New Look at the World of the Occult” by John Warwick Montgomery.  Bethany Fellowship: Minneapolis, Minnesota.  1973

Review by Steve Hyde

Unfortunately, this book is now out of print.  Bethany Fellowship became Bethany House Publishers, which was bought by Baker Books.  Nowadays, Bethany House focuses on fiction novels, so a book like this was lucky to come out!  I have heard my good friend Pastor Dave Bryan talk about this book numerous times and one day I saw a used copy and picked it up.  Some scholars consider this book an essential treatise on demonology.  As the author, a well renown apologist named John Warwick Montgomery, has four doctorate degrees, you can expect that this book is not going to be a simple dumbed-down “self-help” style book that most Christian books are today.  I had to pull out my dictionary several times to understand the specific meanings of some words.

I was a little apprehensive about books on “Ghost stories” though.  I have read some authors who when dealing with the demonic seem to want to bring out the most extreme stories just to shock the reader.  I personally do not watch horror movies; I avoid any book, game or otherwise which deals with the demonic and always avoid demonic symbols (dragons, wicca symbols, etc.) as well.  This is not because I am superstitious, but because I don’t want to dabble in the ways of satan.  Eve tried that, and mankind is still paying for it today. My only interest in the demonic is to destroy it.  Montgomery, fortunately, is not trying to shock readers, but to enlighten them.  Being a lawyer and professor, he only introduces a few stories which have sound observations from reputable sources.  Part of the book is indeed autobiographical.   Few want to talk about the demonic, especially when they hear insensitive leaders make foolish comments like “the demonic is just superstition” or “demons don’t really exist, it is only a figment of your imagination”.   Montgomery highlights that an essential part of Christology (the doctrine of Christ) is demonology (the doctrine of demons and satan).  It is because of satan and his demons that we needed to have Christ come to earth in the first place!

This book covers many great topics in the occult.  It also is demonstrating, from an Evangelical perspective, how many occultic practices have found their way into the church and into the lives of church members.  This is deeply worrying.   Mind you, this book was written in 1973 (I was 2 years old) and when people were readily experimenting with many previous taboos (like the occult, drugs, immorality. . . ).  Yet, still today this is a significant work.  As a result of the 1960’s and 1970’s experimentation, the 21st century has created experts in occult practice and many things have been assimilated into the mainstream life of people, including Christians.

It discusses the Cabala (Kabbalah) mystical religion and shows how aspects of this have infiltrated the church.  It also addresses Eastern religions, especially Buddhism and its relation to the occult.  It also addresses the history of the occult and its ties to alchemy, secret societies and astrology.  It gives warnings on avoiding secret groups and shows historically how many secret societies are fronts for occultic practices.  It includes important details about the origins of secret societies which come out of Scotland specifically.  When referencing Luke 12:2-3 Montgomery states, “He was suggesting that concealment is very often a cloak for evil.” Secret societies and secret religious orders tend to conceal evil.

In regards to Buddhism, Montgomery gives the best evangelical description of Buddhism which I have seen.  He states, “Buddhism is incompatible with orthodox Christianity on at least three counts:  whereas Christianity ‘teaches dependence upon an outside power or saviour, Buddhism teaches dependence on self-exertion alone if one is to gain salvation’;  Buddhism holds to reincarnation whereby one’s sin (karma) is expiated by oneself through a series of existences leading ultimately to separation from the world of illusion in the nirvana state; and Buddhism neither denies nor affirms the existence of God, for ‘neither believing nor not believing in a Supreme God, but self-exertion in right-doing, is essential to comprehending the true nature of life.” (p. 51)  Living in a majority Buddhist country I appreciated his clear perspective on the essential nature and teachings of Buddhism and is indeed accurate.

Many Ghost stories are true.  Haunting is very real.  Sure, there are fakes and those who which just to scare people, but the demonic often reveals itself in ghosts and poltergeists.  Many like to dabble in this.  Whether they are horror movies, Ouija boards, fortune-telling, sorcery or séances, they are demonic in origin and power.  Montgomery warns, “The tragedy of most sorcery, invocation of demons, and related practices is that those who carry on these activities refuse to face the fact that they always turn out for the worst.” (p. 149)

It also shows the history and background of Tarot cards, fairies, and the lust for the demonic.  It even has a section of how LSD and drug use opens up the mind to the spiritual, and often demonic.   I found this section extremely helpful and challenging.  I have always been bothered by the fact that many “prophetic types” in the church today clearly are a product of extensive drug use in their “pre-Christ” lives.  If these people were hearing from our Lord Jesus, that would seem to glorify and promote their drug use, however, Montgomery points out that biblically, the demonic has always tried to mimic the divine to sway others away from Jesus’ purposes.  It affirms to me that warning flags among many of today’s prophetic voices are indeed just.  In regards to drug use and heightened spiritual awareness, he states in his chapter titled “The Gospel According to LSD”: “Karl Marx religiously believed that religion is the opiate of the people.  Now the conviction is growing in avant-garde circles that an opiate can become the religion of the people.” (p. 188)

I would highly recommend this book for anyone who has struggled with the demonic personally and does not have answers for it.   From the time of Jesus to the Reformation of Martin Luther to the lives of many believers today, satan has continued to attack believers to sway them away from Christ.

Why do I recommend this book so highly? Montgomery sums up the occults influence on the Evangelical church.  His description of the church was right on in 1973 and in 2011 remains ever so true.  There are significant numbers of orthodox evangelicals experimenting or leaving the faith to gain a ‘spiritual experience’ of some sorts.  He challenges, “Why do evangelicals prefer revivalistic conversions to conversions of any other type? Why are ‘testimony meetings’ so important in evangelical church life? Why is there such a ‘cult of personality’ surrounding charismatic fundamentalist leaders? Evangelicalism, with its roots in the open-air 18th century English preaching and the 19th century American frontier, centers not on Scripture, church, doctrine, or sacraments, but on personal experience.  Having the right kind of conversion, second-blessing, ‘peace’, etc. becomes all important, and without it all else may be suspect.”   (p.169) The church today is driven by seeking an “experience”.  Believers will travel across oceans and continents, not to share the good news or acts of service, but for the hopes of a new spiritual experience.  Montgomery contends that this is very dangerous.  He continues by saying, “according to scripture, experience itself must be tested from the outside for divine origin. . . the evangelicals who refuses to test the spirits in his own experience courts disaster.” (p. 169)

If you are a believer who thinks you have been affected or influenced by the demonic then this book is for you.  There are still a few left in places like amazon.com, but even old church libraries may have a copy.  Go find the key to that church storage room and go digging around for a dusty copy of this book and lets its carefully formed words, under the piercing sword of the Holy Spirit, probe your heart and mind.  1 John 4:1-3 appeals to us to follow the scriptures and test the spirits that are around you, your soul is too valuable to lose.

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