What Is the Difference Between Spiritual Warfare and Culture War?

What Is the Difference Between Spiritual Warfare and Culture War?

Written on 05/16/2024
Justin Bailey

The language of “spiritual warfare” comes from biblical passages that use martial metaphors to describe the struggle against the forces of evil and death. This is often understood primarily in terms of spiritual powers, as in Ephesians 6:12: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

The language of “culture war” is more recent and usually has to do with the place of Christian ideals within a pluralistic culture. The process of negotiating the common good as Christians—seeking space for all to flourish—is complicated. The complexity can be exhausting, and some are concerned that due to shifting societal norms, Christians might lose the freedom to practice their faith.

There are real forces of evil at work in the world, so it can be tempting to conflate spiritual warfare and culture war. But it is also dangerous. One danger is that we can begin to see our neighbors as agents of evil and use this as an excuse to deny their dignity (Matt. 5:44-45). Another danger is that in our desire to win we will simply “wage war as the world does” (2 Cor. 10:3) instead of seeking the slower, peacemaking way of Jesus (Matt. 5:9).

Resistance to evil will look different as it plays out across various spheres. But in all cases, resistance must be set within the larger context of our creational calling. Genesis shows us that we were gardeners before we were warriors, and gardening requires so much more than destroying all the weeds. It requires the active planting of beautiful things. To use language from artist Makoto Fujimura, if culture is less like a battlefield and more like a polluted ecosystem, then the skills of culture care are more essential than those of culture war.