An inspiration to those who wish to seriously engage with the Bible as a narrative of God’s peace, liberation and justice ☀
He built on Gandhi’s understanding of nonviolence as a more effective and more radical option than both violence and passivity. Although he was a pacifist, he was sharply critical of pacifists who seem more concerned with being personally virtuous than with serving the needs of the world.
Much of Wink’s theology concerned “the principalities and powers” mentioned in the New Testament. He wrote of their contemporary manifestation in institutions through which humans dominate each other and the rest of creation. He saw capitalism as just one manifestation of this “domination system”, in conflict with the freedom and justice of God’s kingdom.
His most famous published works are perhaps the three books in the “powers” trilogy, published between 1984 and 1992: Naming the Powers, Unmasking the Powers and Engaging the Powers.
I cannot recall exactly how I stumbled upon the writings of Walter Wink — perhaps it was from a reference in one of Shane Claiborne’s books. But reading them profoundly altered my view about the “Kingdom” Jesus told followers that was “at hand”. It served as the zenith in my study and contemplation of how Jesus modeled and taught “power under” in lieu of “power over” (or to phrase it differently, as Robert Farrar Capon declares, “left-handed power” v. “right-handed power”).
The Powers That Be I heartily recommend for all. It is, in ways, a layperson accessible summation of his “Powers” trilogy, and will change the way you view the world’s entanglement of human relationships. If you want to tackle the series in greater depth, Wink recommends that you go backward, starting with Engaging the Powers (a book that I have reread and will read again). If you go backwards in this course, the content does get denser, and is intended for the palette of true theology nerds, especially with Naming the Powers, where Wink dissects the Greek words describing power in the Bible. Instead of bumbling to properly cast the brilliance of Wink, I will instead opt for the lazy blogger alternative and clip an excellent review:
So the book is hard to read, but is necessary if you fully want to grasp the argument that Wink makes.
And what is that argument? It is this: The Powers, which are referred to in many different ways throughout the Scriptures, are the spirituality of institutions, the “within” of corporate structures and systems, the inner essence of outer organizations of power (p. 5, 107).
The idea requires much unpacking and explanation, but once understood, I think his definition fits quite well with our experience in life and with what we read in Scripture.
The bottom line is that every organization and institution—whether political, economic, or religious, from large corporations and entire nations to small country churches and individual households—have a “tenor” or a “way of doing things” that define, characterize, guide, and even justify the actions and attitudes of that particular structure. This spiritual dimension of a physical entity is “The Power” of that organization.
We cannot encounter these “spirits” apart from the physical entities in which they exist.
Think of it as the “mob spirit” or the “team spirit” or the “corporate spirit.” All three of these organizations have very different “spirits,” but none of them can be experienced apart from the group in which they exist.
This is not to say that these spirits do not exist. They do. They are very real. More real, in fact, than the disembodied, invisible, and undetectable spirits of much modern theology. To the contrary, these spirits are so real, they are incarnated within the organizations and institutions of everyday life. “The satanic is not an abstract force distributed equally throughout the cosmos like a gas. It is the concentrated inner spirituality of idolatrous human structures. And it is as real as they are” (p. 139).
So, over the weekend, over the course of the coming days, you, dear reader, are going to be “bombed” with Walter Wink quotes. ;(