I saw the film War Room not long after it debuted in theaters. The premise–that broken families need to turn to God for repentance and change–was one I supported wholeheartedly. And while certain aspects of the movie were good and enjoyable to watch, major theological problems still dominated the screen. Among those issues: a wrong or ineffective view of repentance, prayer, Satan, and the effects of sin.
But this isn’t a review of War Room. It’s a review of Fervent… which is written by the main character of the film and bears much resemblance to the movie, especially in its falsehoods.
In this fairly new and increasingly popular book, Priscilla Shirer seeks to give women instruction and a “battle plan” for how to pray. To be honest, reviewing it has proven to be my greatest challenge so far. Much of what Shirer writes, I agree with. Her errors are subtle, often surrounded by doctrinally correct teachings and statements.
And that’s what makes the book even more dangerous.
The following is a closer look at Fervent through the lens of the truth of Scripture.
IN THE RING WITH SATAN?
The main emphasis of the book is that we are living in a battle zone, and prayer is our weapon. That’s pretty simple and doesn’t contradict Scripture. But what gets trickier is who we are fighting against, and how.
According to Shirer, when we pray, we are directly engaging with the enemy: Satan himself. Our number one goal is not spending time communing with Christ, but defeating Satan in his schemes against us with “devil-busting prayer” (19). One of the reasons we pray is supposedly to send the devil and his work “back to the hell where they came from” (3). Never mind the fact that Satan didn’t come from hell… but originally came from heaven. He hasn’t even been to hell yet. Earth is his domain until the final judgment when he is cast into the fiery pit (Revelation 20:10).
That brings us to a huge issue in Fervent: an unbiblical view of Satan and how we relate to him.
Each chapter describes different areas of our lives in which we need to pray: our passion, focus, relationships, purity, fears, etc. Shirer vividly describes the chaos and sin that can take over these areas (though she doesn’t always call it sin). Since we are all living in a broken world with broken, sinful people, we should find ourselves at home in her depictions of the struggles in our lives. At least, I did. I’m no stranger to family conflicts, worry, and a drained passion for God.
But I started to get uncomfortable when, as she unfolds these sins and obstacles in our lives, Shirer makes it clear that Satan is the one to blame, the one behind every problem we have. And we have to constantly fight against him in prayer until everything gets back to how God intends it to be.
Now don’t get me wrong. I totally agree that Satan is our adversary, our enemy. The Word makes it clear that he “walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). He hates the saints and wants them to suffer, to lose their faith. And he does operate behind the scenes, tempting, sowing discord, spurring on persecution.
Yet his power is limited–a fact that Shirer gives mouth service to, but contradicts when she continually goes back to the Devil as the number one actor behind the problems in our lives. Though she admits that we can sometimes bring them about ourselves through our sin, “mistakes,” or “wrong choices,” it’s still Satan who is the grand orchestrator of it all.
Here’s a shocking statement near the end of the book that encapsulates Shirer’s view:
I realize how easy some of these habits and attitudes can be to fall into. But each time you detect them taking shape, both in yourself as well as in others, realize you’re being taunted by an opposing batter…. Because if it weren’t for him [Satan] trying to get in there and cause trouble, would any of us be feeling the need to nurse hurt feelings, harbor unforgiveness, belabor the gossip, or (for goodness sake) find a whole new set of friends? He’s the reason our team doesn’t always want to play like one.” (176-177)
I had to reread the paragraph a few times to make sure she actually wrote that. So if Satan wasn’t around tempting us, we wouldn’t sin against each other? Are we really that good?
No, we’re not. Romans 3 is one of many passages that makes it clear that we are not good, but very sinful by nature:
There is none righteous, no, not one;
There is none who understands;
There is none who seeks after God.
They have all turned aside;
They have together become unprofitable;
There is none who does good, no, not one. (Romans 3:10-12)
Later in this chapter, the Word teaches us that “whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God” (v. 19). Each of us is responsible for our own sin, and we are guilty in God’s sight. We can’t point fingers and try to blame anyone else–including Satan–for our wrongdoing.
Satan is a tempter… but he can’t force a Christian to sin. He merely exploits our own natures by presenting us with opportunities to transgress God’s law. He does not “brainwash” (66) believers!
Believe me: this is more than nuance. The devil certainly doesn’t mind it if we blame him–that’s exactly what he wants. What he hates is a Christian who knows he needs to wage war against his own flesh.
Because our task is not to fight against Satan. It’s to stand against him, in the Lord’s power–to be prepared for when he attacks us, unmovable in our obedience to God:
Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil…. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. (Ephesians 6:10-11, 13)
Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. (James 4:7)
He shoots his arrows at us, and we defend ourselves through faith, truth, and yes, prayer. We resist him by submitting to God. But we don’t rebuke him (99) or try to “send him to hell.” That job belongs to Jesus–the one in authority over Satan. We are not the devil’s “worse nightmare,” (8) as Shirer says. Jesus is.
As believers, we should feel comforted by this truth. While Fervent may scare us into thinking that Satan is wreaking havoc on our lives and keeping us from God’s plans, we can rest, knowing that our suffering is ordained for us by the Lord for our good and His glory. We can know that our sin is our fault, 100%, but that there is hope through Christ and His redemptive work on the cross. We’re given power by the Holy Spirit, not to kick Satan out, but to kick sin out of our lives.
As long as we are clinging to Christ and refusing to disobey, Satan has nothing else to do but flee.
A BROKEN AND CONTRITE HEART
Throughout the book, Shirer brings up the concept of repentance as a necessary element of our prayers, along with praise, petition, and recognizing that God will fulfill His promises.
Now you see what I meant earlier: there are some good things here.
That’s why we need to look more closely. In her description of repentance, Shirer explains that when we pray, we should see not only where we are “resisting His commands,” but also “the manifold blessings and benefits He gives to those who follow.” To repent we need “the courage to trust, and turn, and walk His way” (22).
Her language is vague and misleading. What does it mean to resist His blessings, and why is that emphasized over disobeying (a word she avoids) His commands? Who or what are we trusting? What are we turning from? What does it mean to “walk His way”?
Repentance is about confessing our sins, grieving over them, trusting in Christ to forgive and cleanse us of them, and refusing to commit them again. This kind of clarity is not found in the book.
Whenever she discusses sin, Shirer focuses more on overcoming its consequences than on mourning over what we’ve done. Though the way it affects our relationship with God is explained, the heinous nature of sin is missing. Our lack of passion for God, for instance, should grieve our hearts–but instead, Shirer suggests we blame Satan. Worst of all, she neglects the fact that God’s glory is at stake every time we disobey.
In the chapter, “Strategy 5: Your Past, Ending the Reign of Guilt, Shame, and Regret,” she brings up how remembering our past sins (which she often erroneously calls mistakes) can make us feel bad. To her, the fact that we feel bad is, of course, a ploy of Satan that we need to fight against–rather than a natural reaction to mourn over the transgressions we’ve committed.
But being forgiven doesn’t mean we shouldn’t regret our sin!
Furthermore, the Gospel is neither emphasized nor clearly described. On several occasions, such as when Shirer brings up who we are as Christians, only certain elements of the gospel are included. She mentions how we are forgiven of our sins (67), and once or twice acknowledges the cross, but never says exactly what happened there–that Jesus Christ paid the penalty for the sin of all those who repent and believe in Him.
HOW AND WHY WE CHANGE
Fervent shows us the importance of prayer, prioritizing meeting with God daily. No believer could disagree with this element of the book. Yet the purpose of prayer is muddled because of Shirer’s off-centered view of sanctification (how we become holy).
For instance, her remedy for our lack of passion for God is to pray. And certainly, prayer is a means we use to commune with the Lord and grow in grace.
But prayer, in and of itself, will not make us more passionate for God.
Only a greater view of Christ and His beauty can increase our desire for Him. That is because Jesus should be the object of our passion, our hope. In Him we find our identity and healing after hurt. Prayer enables us to meet with Christ and experience His love, but prayer itself is not the goal.
I wish Shirer had included the beauty of Christ in this book. I wish she had opened to us the Scriptures and shown us how magnificent He is: His love, mercy, patience, justice, power, displayed in His life, death, and resurrection. I wish she had pointed to Christ as the One great blessing we receive through prayer. The One who changes our lives, and the true reason we want to change in the first place.
Prayer without Christ is an empty, fruitless exercise. It won’t fix anything. But prayer with Christ is powerful because it brings us to Him.
In chapter 4 on the family, Shirer tells the story of a time when her young son was afraid of a “man” in his room. Clearly this is a childhood imagination-gone-wild, but she is convinced that this must be an evil spirit tormenting her son.
What is her response? Rather than praying for God to comfort her son and reminding him of the gospel, she began to “command this spirit of fear to leave [her] son alone” and “laid hands on the doorposts and window ledges” (82). Why is that necessary? We’re not told, but nowhere in Scripture does the Lord tell us to practice these things. They originate not from the Bible, but from superstition.
Later on, Shirer talks about “sensing the voice of God” and goes on to quote Him as though He were speaking to her (97). We know that the Word alone is the way we hear from the Lord. God doesn’t “whisper” in our ears, telling us things that are not in the Bible. We should be suspicious of anyone who claims, “Thus saith the Lord”–even if they soften that phrase by using euphemisms.
Likewise, the last chapter, “Amen,” is troubling. Shirer describes a time when she met with a group of Christians who were praying in the same room for hours, not together, but individually. In the background was emotional worship music that hyped up the atmosphere. Then, something happened that Shirer said changed her life forever: she received a prophecy.
She doesn’t call it that, but don’t be fooled–that’s exactly what it is. A man approaches her and tells her that he “sensed [she] would have the privilege of calling many people to prayer during [her] lifetime.” In case there’s any confusion on what that means, Shirer clarifies that she “knew [it] to be God’s very word for [her] life that morning” (186).
To support her theory, we have this book on prayer. But could this not be a case of self-fulfilling prophecy? The Bible has come in all its fulness; the canon is closed. It alone is “God’s very word.” We are warned not to add to His Word or to claim things that He has not promised.
In order to live a godly life, we don’t need to be superstitious or to “sense” what God wants to tell us. We can be confident in the truth of Scripture, truth which endures for all ages.
Often, we can learn important information about an author by looking outside of the book. Here is an informative article on Priscilla Shirer, from a website I highly recommend.
It is true that we must be constant in prayer, ready to resist Satan’s schemes against us and move forward in holiness. But the critical errors in Fervent outweigh the truths. And that is why I have rated it: CHAFF.