January 14, 2009

Book Review: Free Indeed From Sorcery Bondage

Marvin S. Wolford, Free Indeed from Sorcery Bondage. San Rafael, CA: Pathway Press, 1999.

Free Indeed From Sorcery Bondage
"Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God" (Galatians 5:19-21). The Apostle Paul warns followers of Christ about the works of the flesh. In the West, we are familiar with most of these sins. But sorcery? What should we think of this evil?
For people living throughout Africa, this is not an abstract question. Sorcery is a part of their daily lives, and it does not simply disappear when one becomes a Christian. Marvin S. Wolford should know--he served as a missionary for 42 years in the Republic of Congo. And he brings the light of Scripture to bear on his experience and ministry in Free Indeed from Sorcery Bondage.
His book is divided into three parts. To begin, Wolford explains the reality of sorcery in Africa. For many throughout the continent, sorcery is more than a reality. It is a way of life. Next, the author turns to the Word of God. What does the Bible have to say about sorcery? Quite a bit, actually. But too many of us have never really taken the time to recognize the numerous passages dealing with sorcery or connected beliefs and practices. Wolford leaves no stone unturned, thoroughly explaining what God's truth has to say about this overlooked issue. Finally, he seeks to bring his insights down to a practical level. How can believers minister to sorcery-bound people? Practical steps and guidance is given to those seeking to work with individuals involved in sorcery.
I really appreciate Wolford's work. His explanation of sorcery in animistic contexts was enlightening. He also includes numerous examples of people throughout Africa, showing how central the sorcery cycle is to different cultures and people groups. Most importantly, he turns to Scripture for a true assessment of sorcery. This is the book's key strength. One may consult various anthropological or sociological materials to learn about sorcery. But only the Bible provides the examination necessary for faithful and fruitful ministry among those who live with sorcery. I enthusiastically agree with the author when he observes:
Preaching based on the scriptural facts, plus teaching the meaning and pertinence of the Scriptures, are the means of delivering people bound by sorcery. There is no human strength nor human wisdom that can deal with the situation. Spirit filled evangelistic preaching from the Bible, which regards sorcery as a sin, but a forgiveable sin, should direct people to a definite time of confession and repentance that will make a definite break with their past beliefs and practices. This is precisely the first work of the Holy Spirit in those who are in bondage (81).
At the same time, I must admit that Wolford and I come from different perspectives. He is a Wesleyan Arminian. Hence, in his rejection of fatalism, I have difficulties with his defense of personal free choices. He says, "Consequently, it is God's will for everyone to choose life; but the choice is up to each person" (134). Or, "When Jesus urges: 'Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness,' he is admonishing his hearers to make the choice to seek God's kingdom first before all other things, but he leaves that decision up to them" (137). Biblically, we simply do not have this kind of freedom. Our hearts, our minds, our wills, every part of us is depraved. We would never choose God if left to ourselves. It is only through God's sovereign work of grace that we repent, believe, and obey Him.
Additionally, I would disagree with his belief in a second work of grace. Wolford writes "there is a distinct experience of filling that is separate from the initial salvation which Christ accomplishes in the repentant sinner's heart. The Holy Spirit is sent by Christ himself (see John 15:26), and his work in the believer is to glorify Christ (see v. 14), to guide him into all truth, and to give power to his life" (179). Thus, he divides Christians into two groups: victorious Christians and nominal Christians. However, this is an artificial separation. All believers are filled with the Holy Spirit when we are saved. Our lives are a slow process of spiritual maturity as we become more like Christ.
Regardless, I would not let these differences stop a Christian from being richly blessed through the reading of Free Indeed From Sorcery Bondage. Wolford provides such a wealth of insight and biblical application that I believe all missionaries serving where sorcery is a challenge should read this book. As I prepare to serve my Savior in Africa, I am sure that I will be regularly referring back to Wolford's work.
Unfortunately, his book is no longer in print. However, you can still purchase copies through sending a check for $10 each plus $2 shipping per book to:
Jean Wolford
125 Lowry Lane
Wilmore, KY 40390
For those desiring to learn more about this vital subject, make sure to pick up a copy while you can.