Transforming the Powers: Peace, Justice, and the Domination System
ed. Ray Gingerich and Ted Grimsrud. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2006. 277 pages.
The book is part of a larger and growing interdisciplinary conversation that began in the 1950s about the biblical meaning of the “principalities and powers” and the implications of these concepts for the modern world. This collection of essays, growing out of a conference at Eastern Mennonite University in 2001, responds to Walter Wink’s landmark trilogy on the powers. Wink’s third volume, Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination (1993), is the most important and comprehensive work on “the powers” to date. Because the authors of these essays presuppose Wink’s work, the reader would be best served to read Engaging the Powers first.
Part one opens with an essay by Wink which expands on the concept of “worldviews” with which he opened Engaging the Powers. He elaborates on his “integral” or “panentheist” worldview, in which the idea of God or Spirit is present in everything and everything in God. He believes this worldview makes the biblical data more intelligible for people today than the traditional worldview of the Bible which views angels or demons behind everything that takes place on earth. Nancey Murphy argues that many modern social scientific analyses are not simply neutral descriptions but embody a “spirituality” or “interiority” that are counter theologies. Daniel Liechty shows how Ernst Becker’s denial of death thesis contributes to our understanding of the powers. Ted Grimsrud concludes the section by arguing for a holistic “pacifist epistemology,” a correction to the narrow focus on the post-Enlightenment subject-object rationality that separates humans from the natural world and leads to dire ecological consequences.
In part two, on understanding the powers, Wink contributes a second essay on his recent thinking about providence and the powers, the most interesting essay in the book. Murphy’s essay draws on the thought of Alasdair MacIntyre, yet goes beyond him in arguing for a more socially embodied way of knowing that characterizes the “Christian epistemic practices” of the Radical Reformation. Willard Swartley’s essay is compatible with Wink in his description of the powers language in the New Testament, though unlike Wink he does not engage the hermeneutic issue of how the language of the Bible relates to people today. Ray Gingerich shows how “the powers” concept opens our eyes to the covert violence of economic systems.
In the final section, on “engaging the powers,” Glen Stassen connects Wink’s idea of “Jesus’ third way” to the ten practices of just peacemaking theory. Swartley argues that Mennonite nonresistance must be expanded to include Jesus’ concern for justice, though he prefers the term nonretaliation rather than nonviolent resistance. In his second essay Stassen describes the kind of justice Jesus cares about that should be normative for Christians. Since justice is about larger social systems that involve all people in a society, Stassen also finds the Jewish political philosopher, Michael Walzer, compatible with Jesus’ approach to justice.
Grimsrud and Gingerich have brought together a helpful collection of provocative essays that expand our understanding of Wink’s pivotal work on “the powers.” Wink’s original work and this collection are readable for upper-level college students. The book shows that “the powers” conceptual system is a compelling analytical tool to aid Christians in understanding their responsibility to bring healing in a world of powerful destructive systems.