War on the Saints by Jessie Penn-Lewis

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I have read much that is negative about War on the Saints, and so, was pleasantly surprised that it contained more helpful information than I would have expected. Unfortunately, there is also much to raise our concern.

It needs to be remembered that Penn-Lewis wrote her famous book in the wake of the Welsh Revival of 1904-06. That revival, which is still seen by many as a great work of God, spanned numerous extreme spiritual movements that have done great harm to the cause of Christ over the last century. The book was also written in collaboration with Evan Roberts, the early leader of the Welsh Revival, who for whatever reason, suffered an emotional breakdown in the midst of it and ended up hibernating for the rest of his life in a bedroom in Penn-Lewis’ house.

It is important to know these things because War on the Saints is largely a reaction to the excesses unleashed during the Welsh Revival. What Penn-Lewis and Roberts ultimately understood was that experiences had taken the upper hand over the Scriptures. Theology and Christian living had become subservient to the emotionalism, visions, dreams, prophecies, false wonders (that had become the dominant feature of the revival) and music, as it has today in the extreme wing of the charismatic movement. It was Penn-Lewis’ and Roberts’ final evaluation that what had happened was demonic infiltration (p. 53). The revival, they reasoned, was a genuine work of God that was hijacked by Satan and his demons. Whether this is the proper analysis or not would take a book to discuss, one I would like to write but never will. Nevertheless, Penn-Lewis writes to draw her readers back to the authority of Scripture and away from the authority of experience. In that effort she strikes many a good blow, but she cannot free herself from the same flaw. Time and again she corrects the experiences of the extreme revivalists with her more moderate experiences. Far too often the final arbitrator is not Scripture but experience.

Of particular concern is Penn-Lewis’ identifying the cause of the excesses rooted in demonic infiltration or possession. The publishers of the edition I read, Christian Literature Crusade, had edited out the most indefensible elements of Penn-Lewis’ theology: demon possession of Christians; erroneous teachings on the baptism of the Holy Spirit; and aggressive warfare against the powers of darkness. But still there is plenty of evidence within War on the Saints that her theology on spiritual warfare was developed more from experiences than from Scripture.

Overall then, while this work could have some benefit in giving those caught up in experiential excesses reason to pause and think, there remains far too much unbiblical teaching, even in the edited version, to recommend anyone read it.

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