It started with John Dawson's book, Taking Our Cities for God, published in 1989 by Creation House. The book's subtitle is:
"How to Break Spiritual Strongholds. "*

John Dawson, at that time, directed Youth With A Mission in Los Angeles, California. In a quest for more effective evangelism tools, he taught that demonic forces block gospel efforts. He focused particularly on geographical areas such as cities, especially cities. His thesis: the power and influence of the "principalities and powers" over a city must be broken before the gospel will significantly advance. He said that "satanic forces manifest(ing) themselves in the culture of the city," (page 19) and will prevent conversions from occurring.

"To overcome the enemy we must resist temptation ourselves and then continue in united, travailing prayer until we sense that we have gained authority and that God has broken through." (page 21) It is also necessary, insisted Dawson, that "the spiritual leaders of a city are walking in friendship and respect, then the full power of God can be released against principalities and powers." (page 100) Furthermore, Dawson concluded that faith and obedience must be "strategically" applied. (page 153)
The history of the target city must be studied and understood by the evangelist who takes spiritual mapping seriously. Certain key questions must be answered. For example, How and why did the city begin? Who were the founders and what were their intentions and spiritual condition? What presently characterizes the city, or, what is it known for? This and much more information is necessary in order to "map" the city. The latest demographic study of the city should be analyzed. The history of race relations must be studied along with any traumatic event the city had experienced like an earthquake, a flood, etc. With all in hand then, the demonic spirit(s) in control of the city will be identified and thus their power can be broken by the use of some appropriate human effort. For instance, if a city is characterized by pride, then the Christian response ought to be humility. This offsetting of spiritual traits, the spiritual mappers believe, is the key to breaking the demonic stronghold.
Now though, the seeds of Dawson's ideas have taken root in Sentinel, a ministry based in Houston, Texas and directed by George Otis Jr. And it is becoming the new, big thing, at least in the USA. The following is from the web site, Mobilizing Global prayer for Evangelism, which operates in conjunction with Sentinel.
Spiritual mapping is an attempt to see our city (or nation or neighborhood) as it really is, not as it appears to be. It is a serious effort to discern the spiritual forces of the invisible world which directly influence the visible, everyday world and prevent men and women from hearing the Gospel of Jesus Christ.


Very recently the "servant-leader" for Marinvision--the spiritual leaders who have a vision for Marin, the county where I live, filled me in on the local mapping project. He was hoping to get me "on board." George Otis Jr., he said, had great insight into Marin County and Otis, along with many Marin pastors, was working on the county's spiritual map. With the map completed and the spiritual leaders in one accord, then the demonic forces would be dismantled and stripped of their power--the gospel would prevail and we would take our whole county for God.

Unhappily I shocked this old friend and "servant-leader" for Marinvision by opting out of the mapping project; I would not be in one accord. If at all possible, I would have liked to have been included. I do not relish standing apart from my colleagues and brothers in Christ. Besides, I knew that to many I would once again be viewed as a "nay-sayer" and a spiritually outdated cynic.

It is an attractive package: evangelism is the goal, God is to be praised, Christians work in harmony, and prayer is the foundational method. All that is needed is a spiritual map. How could any Christian possibly be against it?
I wish spiritual mapping would work. Here it is, gospel preaching, praying for the lost, waging spiritual warfare and Christians uniting as well. But let us reason together.

If this were indeed the biblical pattern for evangelism we might expect to see some expression of it in the New Testament. Yes, Paul does speak of principalities, powers, strongholds, but they are not put together as Otis and Dawson have. If spiritual mapping was the means of salvation for the lost, we could expect a clear command, instruction or example of its use in Scripture. Instead, Jesus sent His disciples out to preach the gospel. Jesus did not give means other than preach, witness and disciple.

Spiritual Mapping strikes me as a magical, works centered ploy. Consider the program: the demonic powers over an area must be discerned by means of demographics, histories, etc., then prayer is used, by spiritual leaders united and in one accord in the target area to break the demonic stronghold. Whatever happened to the sovereign work of God? All that is needed apparently is knowledge, leaders in one accord and prayer. It is man centered, it is the work of man, and it is magical. Do we see this in any of the great awakenings, do we see this in the Book of Acts, did Jesus instruct His disciples along these lines, did Paul ever employ or encourage spiritual mapping or anything remotely like it? Certainly not!

Spiritual Mapping looks to be an extension of the church growth movement; it takes "evangelism" one step further. What could not be accomplished using sophisticated telemarketing strategies, spiritual mapping would. In fact, some of the same people who were instrumental in the promotion of the church growth movement are also deeply invested in spiritual mapping. C. Peter Wagner, perhaps the biggest figure in the church growth movement, has firmly entrenched himself in the spiritual mapping movement as evidenced in his books Warfare Prayer and Breaking Strongholds in Your City.
Jesus, in His death and resurrection, triumphed over Satan once and for all. We have been given authority over all the power of the devil. Any "territorial demons, principalities or powers" have no power or authority over the Christian seated with Christ at the right hand of the throne of God. It is the power of the Holy Spirit, working through the preached word of Christ that brings people to a saving faith in Jesus. This has always and always will be the only means required. It is the mysterious, miraculous work of the Spirit of God that we need and not human invention.

Spiritual mapping is an attempt to accomplish through human effort what Christ has already done, and is therefore imaginary at best and dangerous deception at worst.

Spiritual mapping: What a terrible waste of time, money and energy! What must the unconverted think of this effort? And, perhaps even more problematic, what will come next? Certainly the church growth movement has failed as statistics are now showing. Even the "mighty fire" of the Toronto Blessing and its kin is fading. Spiritual mapping has been going on for ten or more years and, apparently, the efforts of the mappers have not been paying off--What city has been "taken for God?" Yes, there are the transformational videos, which purport to document cities transformed by the implementation of spiritual mapping techniques. There are also those, however, who say the video presentations present a false picture.

There will be something new coming along soon enough. And there has already been a name change--Strategic-Level Spiritual Warfare. Sounds quite sophisticated and contemporary, high tech evangelism. But after the spiritual mapping project runs its course, there will be something else that will entice and deceive. My feeling that whatever it is will be more blatantly magical than even spiritual mapping. Evangelism and Missions--This is our Responsibility We are to preach Jesus, His cross and resurrection. We are to bring the gospel to the entire world. We proclaim the finished work of Jesus, including His triumph over the devil and the entire demonic kingdom. We can be confident that God will use His own word to bring about His desired end. He is God, and He will do it.

Perhaps the best that can be said for the Spiritual Mapping movement is that it may result in co-operation and understanding amongst churches. However, the supposed unity among churches, which is said to be necessary to defeat the forces of evil, may result in the establishment of new entities that will require leaders, funding, and so on--another level of human bureaucracy. Pastors joining together for prayer may be one of the outcomes of the movement, and if so, then that is fine, too. Let us hope for these best case scenarios. Our ultimate desire is for Jesus to be lifted up before a fallen, lost world so that God would be glorified. May it be.

* Spiritual Mapping is a new name for something I was acquainted with in the Jesus Movement, 1967 to 1975. Toward the end of the Jesus Movement, about 1974, this idea emerged though it was not called spiritual mapping. We did, at that time, pray earnestly that God would dismantle the principalities and powers over the San Francisco Bay Area. I was uncritical of the concept then and jumped right on board. It was something, however, that passed rather quickly, a fad, a gimmick, like so many that came along at that time. Frankly, I am surprised at the reemergence of such an unbiblical notion.

Kent Philpott

This is an updated version of an article written by Philpott that appeared in Evangelical Times, a publication of Evangelicap Press of Great Britain.

e-mail your comments to Kent Philpott

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