Book review by Chad Ashby
It was pitch black as I rode in the back of a safari vehicle, the headlights trying their best to cast a beam down the rocky path through the African bush. In the driver’s seat, a soft-spoken missionary was opening up about difficulties in his marriage: “Sometimes I’d be talking with my wife from another room, and she would burst out in tears. When I came around the corner and asked her face-to-face why she was upset, she said she had heard me say something deeply insulting. The problem was the words she had heard weren’t even close to the words I’d said. After it happened several times, we realized something demonic was going on.” As I listened, a question dawned on me that I’d never entertained before: Do demons actively work to destroy marriages?
We read in the Gospels that Jesus spent much of his ministry fending off evil spirits, and in the Epistles we find sober warnings about the prowling lion seeking to devour us. Despite this, Tim Muehlhoff identifies with many modern Christians in his latest book, Defending Your Marriage: The Reality of Spiritual Battle, when he admits, “To be honest, spiritual battle is simply not on my radar.” In Ephesians 5 and 6, the apostle Paul calls Christians to suit up for spiritual war just after explaining God’s beautiful design for marriage. In Defending Your Marriage, Muehlhoff seeks to do the same.
Muehlhoff begins with a biblical exploration of Satan. Mixing Scriptural data with a bit of plausible speculation, he presents an interesting case that Satan’s hatred of mankind is primarily fueled by jealousy. God uniquely bestowed his grace on humanity by fashioning them in his own image and giving them an earthly kingdom to rule. What is more, he foreordained his own Son to die in the place of fallen sinners, a salvation that angels—fallen or not—can only gaze upon as outsiders (1 Pet. 1:12). Muehlhoff explains that Satan’s envy manifests itself in his maniacal endeavor to wrest dominion over this earth from us by force, particularly by undermining our marriages.
He describes the clash of Christ’s kingdom with the powers of darkness: “If Satan’s purpose is to help create cultural terrain that reflects his priorities, then a purpose of your marriage is to counter his priorities by modeling values rooted in God’s kingdom.” In other words, we have to see the spiritual skirmishes in our own marriages in view of the great cosmic battle: “In a world where the fingerprints of Satan are everywhere, we offer marriages that reclaim enemy-occupied territory by being outposts for a different kingdom.” Evangelicals often think of individuals belonging to the kingdom of God, but it is interesting to imagine relationships as kingdom spaces, or outposts, as Muehlhoff does.
Perhaps the most intriguing chapter centers on the question that plagued my mind since page one: “How can I tell if this is spiritual warfare?” What signs indicate that my marriage hasn’t just hit a few bumps in the road but may be a specific target of demonic spirits? Drawing from 1 John 4:1, Muehlhoff lays out this guiding principle: Does the influence of a spirit move a believer toward the fruit of the Spirit or toward the deeds of the flesh? He goes on to mention his top five indicators of spiritual warfare, including inappropriate anger, a strong sense of indefinable dread, and intense feelings of shame. Curiously, the chapter does not survey any of the accounts of demon oppression from the Scriptures.
Using a double-edged-sword approach, Muehlhoff then instructs couples on how to defend against Satan’s temptations and advance in the battle together. He includes some helpful psychological insights about the complex nature of conflict while doing a bit of exegetical gymnastics through Genesis 3. I have to admit, though, that I was a bit disappointed with his treatment of the Armor of God in Ephesians 6. It is long on personal reflection and historical illustrations about Roman soldiers but short on the call to march forth in the finished work of Christ.
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Source: Christianity Today