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The Powers That Be: Theology for a New Millennium

4.21 of 5 stars 4.21  ·  rating details  ·  781 ratings  ·  77 reviews
In The Powers That Be, theologian and biblical scholar Walter Wink helps us reformulate our ancient concepts - such as God and Satan, angels and demons, principalities and powers - in light of what we now know. Wink's theology is shaped as much by his study of the Bible as by his involvement in the civil rights movement and the fight against apartheid in South Africa. The ...more
Paperback, 240 pages
Published March 16th 1999 by Harmony (first published January 1st 1998)
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23rd out of 101 books — 12 voters
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Community Reviews

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Allen O'Brien
Insightful and powerful, even if some might disagree with his theological conclusions.

A previous review spoke highly of Wink's book, with the caveat that the reviewer wasn't impressed with certain aspects of Wink's theology. I'd agree. Even though I disagree with Wink's uderstanding of the atonement and God's soveriegnty, I recognize that there is something powerful and important coming across in this work. His exploration of the "Powers" behind the plethora of the world's systems and casting th
Andrew Barlow
I found Walter Wink's treatment of the principalities and the powers intriguing and his understanding of The Domination System, where the myth of redemptive violence is the overarching meta-narrative, extremely insightful. I thought that the best part of this book, however, is the discussion on how Jesus's death and atonement has broken the spiral of violence once and for all, and how those who follow Jesus are called to pacifism - and to taking a stand against systems of injustice through non-v ...more
Matt Ely
The core ideas have a lot of merit, unfortunately this short book shouldn't be as long as it is. This is built to be a long essay on non-violent resistance as a Christian imperative. The extra space, though, leads Wink to be redundant, producing eminently-skimmable passages. In addition, his final chapter on the limits of prayer is pretty dubious. Overall it's fine but if you only read the chapter on the Third Way, you'll have gotten most of what this book has to offer.
Can’t write enough - replaces non-violent resistance as the meaning of the cross instead of substitution atonement. Allows us to stop seeing God as needing to be appeased with blood. Challenges the Christian to stop allowing violence to be perpetrated by the state or other powers. Reaffirms the value of prayer. Says that institutions have a spirit and that evil is when this spirit no longer conforms to God’s plan for it. Instead of casting out this spirit which has temporarily become demonic, th ...more
If one book is read all year long, I would highly suggest that it be this book. I have seen this book referenced in so many other works, so I thought it must be a book that needs to be read. I was wrong. It isn't a book that needs to be read, it is a book that needs to be read, reflected on, shared, and read again (and again).

How does Jesus call us to live in the world specifically as it relates to violence and the use or non-use of it? And what are exactly the "Powers that Be" that we struggle
May 13, 2014 Pete added it
Great read
Dave Minor
I was forrunate to pick this book up at Bookmans in Flagstaff. Very important read for the disciple of Jesus. Sadly, most I know will not. Too far outside the ev box. Nonetheless, it is an eye opener to understanding in a new way what drives the world around us and how to pray with patience and live with acute focus. The idea that each of the ways our world is structured, not only our national and local governments, but our non governmental powers, corporations and businesses for example, indust ...more
1. On traditional theology: "In a world inundated with scientific data and discoveries, [theologians] simply have not been interested in science. The price paid for this schizoid view of reality was a loss of the sense of a whole and the unity of the heavenly and earthly aspects of existence. The earth reveals the glory of God and scientists uncover God's majesty. Science and religion cannot be separated."

2. "Fallen does not mean depraved. It simply refers to the fact that our existence is not o
James R
Other posted reviews of this book do a good job of summarizing the book's main points. I found it a fascinating articulation of the centrality of nonviolent resistance to power-based domination of humans over other humans, which he believes to be at the heart of the teachings of Jesus and the earliest Christians. Those readers who dismiss his views because they are contrary to orthodoxy, miss the point that Wink is a Biblical scholar whose depth of understanding of Christian thought is much deep ...more
Wink’s breakdown of the principalities and powers of the world is a strong contribution to practical theology. I can easily see arguments that Wink’s view of the powers is not the whole story. But I find it difficult to look at the world today and not realize that Wink has, at the very least, contributed an important piece of the picture. Structural evil is real, in the 20th and 21st centuries as much as ever, and it exerts a force that appears to entrap even well-intentioned people. If we are c ...more
Katie Kent
Aug 17, 2008 Katie Kent rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: All Christians and those interested in Christianity
Recommended to Katie by: My Pastor
We're reading this in our church book group - I think it's an important, powerful book for all Christians in America... Helping us to be less self-serving and to work for compassion and justice for those who are persecuted the most in our society. What I find amazing about it is that although Wink wrote it more than 10 years ago, he accurately describes the problems Christians and our society are facing now politically and in our day-to-day lives. Some of the theology can be difficult for people ...more
I didn't agree with everything Wink suggests. First off, he is far more "Christian" than I. However, I like his Progressive Christianity. If all Christians saw Christianity in this light, I very sincierly might consider calling myself Christian again. I don't know how I feel about the Powers limiting God. I thought the first chapter and the last chapter were by far the weakest - which were the two chapters dealing directly with the concept of "the Powers." It is a concept that I need to think a ...more
Michael Bischoff
Brad B. challenged me to step into this web site by asking me to comment on this book. Wink is one of those authors whose ideas I love, but whose books I don't always like reading. However, this book is his most read-able, I think. He starts the book by saying, "there is a spiritual reality at the heart of everything, from photons to supernovas, from a Little League baseball team to Boening Aircraft." The implications of this idea to institutional and social changes are what drawn me in the most ...more
Darren Briggs
Walter Wink’s book reflects an “open view” of God’s ongoing role with humankind and creation. Believing that the “classical view” of God’s providence over the affairs of humankind does not explain the problem of evil in individuals, nations, institutions and other areas of social reality. Wink proposes that the Powers are inherently fixed into God’s system, whose human face is Jesus, but that God has self-limited himself (herself) by giving us freewill.

Wink believes power relationships between
Rick Dugan
This book gets five stars in spite of my disagreement with Wink concerning the atonement and the existence of personal demons. His discussion of principalities and powers as spiritual forces of evil that work through systems, institutions, and hierarchical community structures is insightful for understanding that we war "not against flesh and blood." It helps us understand the spiritual nature to human institutions. God ordains institutions to serve the common good, but in our fallenness these i ...more
I don't necessarily agree with everything written in this book but as a whole its aim is, I think, spot on. Here are some highlights worthy of discussion:

1) In general, the author defines the powers as the structures that we find ourselves in that influence the choices we make whether they be government, business, church, etc. He views the powers as a part of God's good creation that, like humanity, is fallen and in need of redemption. The powers are, like humanity, acting against and moving awa
May 04, 2010 Charles rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Christians who support war
Among other things, this book is a fascinating refutation of the myth of redemptive violence. Sure any decent person will tell you that might doesn't make right, but what about the Nazis?

The tragedy is that even though nonviolence did work when used agains the Nazis, it was used too seldom. The Jews themselves did not use it, but continued to rely in the main on the passive nonresistance that had carried them through so many pogroms in the past. And the churches as a whole were too docile or an
Jan 19, 2015 Melanie rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Melanie by: Brian McLaren - TSMJ
Oddly enough, I didn't realize until I had finished the book that I've never before seriously explored ideas about Christian non-violence--perhaps because I already assumed I knew what it was. For Wink, the pursuit of creative alternatives to violence in resisting oppression and injustice is not at all akin to passivity in the face of evil, even a God-trusting kind of passivity. It is what he calls "Jesus' Third Way"--refusing to perpetuate systems of violence and domination by refusing to buy i ...more
Gary Patton
Professor Wink's book "rocked my world".

In 30 years of reading hundreds of Christian books and thousands of articles, few have positively impacted me more ...except for the Bible!

Here's a sample of one of hundreds of passages I'm ruminating on, prayerfully:
"If Jesus had never lived, we would not have been able to invent Him!" ~ Walter Wink (1935 – 2012) U.S. Christian scholar. (From "The Powers That Be", p.81)

Might our failure, I wonder,relate to how, even Jesus' own Followers including me, are
John Lussier
Wink present a synopsis of his previous trilogy on principalities and powers. He begins by describing the nature of the powers, embodied spiritual forces/beliefs. These are created entities that God meant for good, but have now fallen and collectively have become a system of domination in rebellion against God. The primary expression of this domination system today is the myth of redemptive violence. The Scriptures and especially Jesus point to a breaking of this myth as Jesus' nonviolently live ...more
David Gwartney
I picked up this book because another author referenced a concept I wanted to learn more about. The concept was what author Walter Wink labelled as the Ancient Domination System. The Ancient Domination System describes the institutions and economies that most ancient cultures employed: power was held in the hands of a few at the expense of the masses. As much as I was enjoying the author’s description of the fallenness and redemption of power structures and institutions, I was somewhat disappoin ...more
An excellent discussion of how organizations can affect society. The text is very accessible, although a bit repetitive. I especially enjoyed his interpretation of some of the most perplexing parables. His description of the cross as the ultimate in non-violent response to oppression is profound.
Jan 31, 2010 Michael rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Anyone willing to look deeper into religion and in particular Christianity
This was a terrific book. It was recommended to Jan and me by our Religions of the World teacher. I can honestly say after reading this book I will not look at any religion or person the same way I did before. It questions the way Christianity has been taught from the very beginning. The author challenges most Christian religions on some of the most basic of Jesus' teachings. A remarkable presence to bring to light a perspective on his ministries based on the era he lived and some inspiring cons ...more
Walter Wink puts Jesus' words and actions in the context of the time, before St Augustine or Emperor Constantine or even the Apostle Paul and discovers esentially the same gospel that was revealed to the early Quakers in reading an early translation of the Bible (before King James revised it). It is a theology of non-violent resistance to systems of domination. It is a theology of transformation rather than conquest. It is a praxis which is being re-discovered by peoples in the present time (not ...more
Very inspiring book even though I often times wouldn't agree with his rather "liberal" view of things. But he surely is (was) a great writer and theologian. Anybody interested in the subject of theology of power and politics, this is probably one you want to look at.
Charlie Byers
If you don't do religion, skip the first and last chapters, but by all means, dig into this book if you want passionate, actionable, well-researched criticism of the world system we live under. Wink's theology goes a few places I can't quite follow, but I'm very warm on his argument that there is exactly one world religion, today, and it is violence. This one might go into the stack of books I'd hand people who ask why I like to read theology.
Jul 05, 2007 Jordan rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone
Walter Wink lays out a powerful conception of what a nonviolent theology based on the life and example of Jesus Christ would look like. Powerful stuff, walking through his Powers series (Engaging the Powers, Unmasking the Powers, Naming the Powers, and When the Powers Fall) in one volume. Wink starts by naming the domination system and the spiraling cycle that the violence (not just physical) that this system creates. He then shows Jesus' response to the system, being one not of violent uprising ...more
In many ways a moving and inspiring book. His work in South Africa is impressive. In other ways it's a bit depressing: he keeps saying various things on the order of "and today, in the early years of the nineteen-nineties, we can clearly see that the world is moving more and more into an era of nonviolence..." And, being a compressed version of a whole trilogy he wrote in the eighties, some of the book feels rushed or sketched-in.

His central insight into nonviolent resistance as active and trans
Glen Gersmehl
the best medium length intro to the central place of nonviolence in Christian ethics
I found his ideas interesting, even though I know I disagree with him in many ways. This book gave me some things to think about. I do feel the author picks and chooses which parts of the Bible are valid and which parts can be disregarded. It is hard to tell from reading this his exact views on the historical accuracy and truth of the Bible as a whole. If you are interested in non-violent activism from a religious perspective, this would be something you should consider reading. I found parts I ...more
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Dr. Walter Wink is Professor Emeritus of Biblical Interpretation at Auburn Theological Seminary in New York City. Previously, he was a parish minister and taught at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. In 1989-1990 he was a Peace Fellow at the United States Institute of Peace.

His newer works include:

The Human Being: Jesus and the Enigma of the Son of the Man
(Fortress Press, 2001.)

More about Walter Wink...
Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination (Powers, #3) Naming the Powers: The Language of Power in the New Testament (Powers, #1) Unmasking the Powers: The Invisible Forces That Determine Human Existence (Powers, # 2) Homosexuality and Christian Faith: Questions of Conscience for the Churches

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