He may have sold millions of books, but its come at a cost. Dr Neil T Anderson reveals how he regularly experienced "full-frontal spiritual attack" in the early hours of the morning
Your worldview is unbiblical. That’s the contention of the bestselling author of Victory Over the Darkness (Bethany House), Dr Neil T Anderson.
The 81-year-old founder of Freedom in Christ ministries believes Westerners are guilty of dividing life into boxes. We go to the doctor for physical problems, counsellors for emotional problems and pastors for spiritual problems. Dr Anderson’s argument is that these boundaries are more blurred than we assume. He advocates a “holistic” way of thinking, meaning what looks like a medical problem could perhaps be a spiritual one.
The former aerospace engineer is keen to emphasise his respect for the medical profession, however. He doesn’t blame doctors when they misdiagnose patients, nevertheless he says it happens. “Taking a pill to heal your body is commendable. Taking a pill to heal your soul is deplorable,” he says, adding: “And God help us to know the difference.”
If this sounds contentious, it’s because it is. The ministry began in 1989 and its discipleship course has been embraced by many UK evangelical churches, with adherents praising it for helping them “get free” from depression, eating disorders, anger, fear and other issues. But Freedom in Christ has also come under criticism, something Anderson has no problems admitting. He knows his books haven’t been universally welcomed. But when I ask him about his legacy, he doesn’t brag about book sales (which are in the millions), or even promote his latest offering (Thriving Through the End Times). He just talks about kindness.
What was your experience of God as a child?
I went to a liberal church. I heard all the Christian stories and the moral message of the faith, but nobody ever told me the truth about who I really was in Christ and what it really meant to be a child of God.
How is it possible to go church and yet not encounter that truth?
Well, truth can’t set you free if you don’t know the truth! This has been a struggle throughout Church history. I used to always relate that kind of [nominalism] to Catholics, but not anymore.
Now I’m seeing an awful lot of cultural evangelical Christians who sit in church every Sunday, but haven’t really engaged God in a personal way. That is really, really sad – spending all that time going to church and missing the real thing. But it can happen. It happened to me for 20 years.
Someone invited my wife and I to the Lay Institute for Evangelism. I discovered, as I was learning to share my faith, that I didn’t have any! That was pivotal. I gave my heart to Christ in the middle of that week, then went door-to-door that Saturday and led people to Christ. Soon after that, God called me into full-time ministry.
How did Freedom in Christ develop?
I ended up being a pastor but I had people in my church who had problems I didn’t have adequate answers for. I was leading a lot of people to Christ, but they struggled with the same old issues.
I was invited to teach at Talbot School of Theology [in California], but I went more as a learner than a teacher. I started to realise we’re all in a spiritual battle. “We wrestle not against flesh and blood” (Ephesians 6:12, KJV). I began to get a holistic answer for our people. [Separate categories] had been engrained in me from an early age – do you have a spiritual problem, a psychological problem or a physical problem? The answer, of course, is “yes”. I’ve been trying to find true integration, where that’s all essentially addressed and combined.
Can you give examples of how your holistic approach has helped people?
We had a guy in church who came to me and said: “Pastor, I have this voice in my head.” The problem is, if you share that information with a secular psychologist, he’s going to put you on anti-psychotic medication. Then the doctor can say: “Well, the voices stopped.” But that hasn’t really dealt with the issue because, if you take away the medicine, the voices will be back. What if you could get rid of them entirely?
I’ve had the privilege of sitting with people who are struggling with these things and have no mental peace whatsoever. I’ve helped them submit to God, resist the devil [James 4:7] and walk away free. Many are experiencing the peace of God that “passes all understanding” [Philippians 4:7, RSV], for the first time in their life.
God brought me to the end of my resources, so I could discover his
That sounds like a spiritual problem being misdiagnosed as a mental health problem. But can it work the other way around too? Where a pastor has mistakenly tried to exorcise a demon from someone who is mentally unwell?
Oh absolutely. If a pastor uncovers a dissociative disorder, for instance, when suddenly a different personality surfaces, [and] he thinks it’s a demon and tries to cast it out, that’s just gonna feel like rejection to that person.
So how can pastors properly discern the difference?
The writer of Hebrews said we need to have our senses trained to discern good and evil [5:14].
I just help a person submit to God and resist the devil. If there’s no devil there to resist, I just helped this person submit to God. Whether the problem is 50 per cent spiritual or 90 per cent spiritual, it really doesn’t make any difference. If you’ve got a truly holistic answer, and a means by which you can bring that about, you aren’t doing any damage.
Medicine is a big part of my life. I thank God for the hospital. The combination of God working through the hospital to bring about the healing only a doctor can accomplish and the Church is the answer I’m looking for.
I experienced a full-frontal spiritual attack at three o’clock in the morning every night
What doctors are telling us is that the majority of people are sick for psychosomatic reasons. The doctors I know love what I’m doing. We have to teach [people] how they can cast their anxiety upon Christ [1 Peter 5:7], and how the joy of the Lord can overcome the problems of depression.
I think I’m as holistic as you can get, but frankly, my Bible reads: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God” [Matthew 6:33] so why not go to the church, find your freedom in Christ and then, if you’ve still got a physical problem, go see your doctor.
Often those who talk about spiritual warfare report ‘opposition’ that has come their way. Has leading Freedom in Christ come at a personal cost to you?
When I started out, I was not well-prepared to deal with the onslaught. My wife went through a period of illness for 15 months. We lost our house. And that turned out to be the birth of Freedom in Christ Ministries. What God did in my life was bring me to the end of my resources, so I could discover his.
Then my daughter was raped when she was 15. We don’t believe in abortion, so my first grandchild was a product of that. So yeah, we went through some really tough times. It’s tough to watch your family go through it for what you’re doing.
We don’t want to talk much about brokenness today, but it was a broken time in my life. God showed me how much my self-sufficient, Norwegian, stoic farm background was the greatest enemy to my sufficiency in Christ.
A guy who wrote articles about me called me the “bondage maker”. People cancelled conferences because they read his junk. I couldn’t retaliate. I just had to take it, because I was trying to follow Christ’s example who “when…reviled, [didn’t] revile in return” [1 Peter 2:23, ESV] and kept silent before his accusers. I had to trust God, and frankly, he made it right.
If you ask what affords Satan the greatest access to the Church, it’s unforgiveness
Between 1990-94 I experienced a full-frontal spiritual attack at three o’clock in the morning every night before I started a conference. The first time it happened I couldn’t say anything – it felt like a pressure on my chest, something grabbing my throat. I had to learn how to deal with that, to submit to God and resist the devil. All you have to say is: “Jesus” and it stops.
Unforgiveness is one of the major topics your ministry deals with. Why is it so important?
There’s no more important issue. If you ask what affords Satan the greatest access to the Church, it’s unforgiveness.
When you forgive another person, it is the most Christ-like thing you will ever do. If you don’t forgive, you’re still hooked to that person. You wake up at night and can’t get to sleep because of the injustice of the problem. Where’s the justice? It’s the cross. Christ died “once for all” (Romans 6:10), for my sins and your sins.
To forgive another person is to set a captive free, and realise you were the captive.
How optimistic are you about the state of the Church today?
I’m not optimistic about the established Church in America or England, but I am much more so about the Southern hemisphere. I wrote Thriving Through the End Times because I’m very concerned we’re losing people because they haven’t really grabbed onto the real thing. Jesus said: “When the Son of Man returns, will he find faith?” [see Luke 18:8]. Peter says: “Knowing these things are going to come to pass what manner of a man ought you to be?” [see 2 Peter 3:11]. If there was ever a time to clean house, it is right now. If God comes back tomorrow, do you want to be having an affair? Do you want to be out of fellowship with other people?
I’ve always been a strong believer in not putting things off. Get right with God. I don’t know if this is the end times or not. Everything sure seems to be stacking up that way.
Don’t be deceived. Deception is the major struggle of spiritual welfare. That’s why, if you want to know God’s perspective on this world right now, read John 17:15: “I [ask not] that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one”. How? “Sanctify them through thy truth, your word is truth” (v17). The Church is the pillar in support of truth. You can’t compromise what you believe or who you are.
To hear the full interview listen to Premier Christian Radio at 8pm on Saturday 12 August or download ‘The Profile’ podcast
Thriving Through the End Times (Freedom in Christ) is out next month. For more information visit ficm.org.uk