The Powers That Be | Walter Wink

The Powers that Be is a digest of Wink’s Trilogy on the Principalities and Powers. After years of seeing Wink’s name curiously sprinkled through the footnotes of other books I’ve read, I finally decided to read him for myself.

His big idea is this: spiritual evil does not consist of fallen angels named demons who, as individual entities, drag things south. Instead, every entity on earth—people, churches, corporations, nations—has a spiritual identity. These principalities and powers often turn from their God-subjected role and need to be redeemed. This redemption happens through non-violent but often confrontational means.

His description of spiritual evil reminded me of Ellul’s view in The Subversion of Christianity where evil is not a distinct entity on its own, but only has power as it aligns itself with humanity.

Wink’s theory of Principalities and Powers resonates with our world quite accurately. He often fails, however, on basic exegetical grounds. For instance, in order to encourage people to stand up for themselves non-violently, he interprets the Sermon on the Mount’s “turn the other cheek” passage to mean people should proudly assert their defiance to the Powers.

The most disturbing part of the book was the last chapter. In it he used the Daniel account of an angel being delayed to state that God is often powerless to intervene and that it is our job to wake him up! Here are a couple relevant passages:

We will recognize that God, too, is hemmed in by forces that cannot simply be overruled. … Prayer in the face of the Powers is a spiritual war of attrition. When we fail to pray, God’s hands are effectively tied.

In our prayer we are ordering God to bring the kingdom near. … Prayer is rattling God’s cage and waking God up and setting God free and giving this famished God water and this starved God food and cutting the ropes off God’s hands and the manacles off God’s feet and washing the caked sweat from God’s eyes and then watching God swell with life and vitality and energy and following God wherever God goes.

In the last chapter in particular (“Prayer and the Powers”), Wink’s deity sounds a lot more like Baal than YHWH.

This book is an easy read, and I would encourage you to give it a try if you’re interested in this topic. Just make sure (as with any work) to leave your critical apparatus engaged.

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