Books, Contemp Culture, MP520, Reading Reflections

Book Review #2 – Transforming the Powers (Fortress, 2006)

Author:  This book is edited by Ray Gingerich and Ted Grimsrud, professors at Eastern Mennonite University.  Others contributing chapters include Daniel Liechty, Nancey Murphy, Glen Stassen, Willard Swartley, and Walter Wink. 

Outline: Transforming the Powers works from the groundwork provided by Walter Wink in a trilogy of books analyzing “the powers” (as in the “principalities and powers” referenced many times in the New Testament).  Wink’s argument, and subsequently the argument that the authors of Transforming take, is that the Powers are the societal/governmental factors that influence and control everyday life (though he does not seem to deny that there are supernatural powers at work as well).  These powers are good, but fallen.  Therefore, the powers must be redeemed, or ‘transformed.’  (40)

The book is divided into three parts: Worldviews and Powers, Understanding the Powers, and Engaging the Powers.  The first seeks to argue that there is a great deal of theology needed to understand the way our culture is structured and run.  Wink argues that much of the American culture is now works from what he calls the “Integral Worldview” (21).

In the integral worldview, everyone will be a mystic… As this new worldview penetrates society, people will simply recognize the reality of the spiritual world.  They may not believe in God.  They may not perceive themselves to be religion or belong to any kind of church… But they will have absorbed by osmosis the Integral Worldview and they will be willy-nilly spiritual.  This has already begun to happen. (26)

In the second section of the book, the authors seek to understand what the Powers are and how they have been understood through history.  Ray Gingerich argues that if left on their own, the Powers “go amok” (116).  He speaks of a paradigm shift that must occur in order to understand the Powers and our role in redeeming them (121).  In the past, we have attempted to use violence in order to control the Powers, but instead, through the paradigm of Christ with a focus on non-violence the Powers may begin to be transformed. 

Finally, the book ends with several theories on how Christians and the Church should engage the Powers.  Glen Stassen argues that for too long Christians have gotten caught up in the “vicious cycle” of interpreting Jesus’ words as merely prohibitions on our actions, instead of understanding the “transforming initiatives” taught by Christ (129-130).  This understanding and reading of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount gives Christians proactive measures that will allow us to pursue non-violent and peacemaking efforts that directly engage and subvert the Powers.

Reactions:  This book has some great insights and applications into what it means to understand and engage the Powers.  I love what Walter Wink says about the early church.  “The early Christians expected to be assaulted by the Powers that Be… It would have been unthinkable for them to ask, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” (70).  Wink says the early Church did not always ask the Why questions but instead asked ‘How?’.  As in, “How has God used this evil for good?  How has God turned sin into salvation?  How has God unmasked the Powers through the cross?” (70)

I was challenged to wonder what would happen if Christians began using How more than Why.    In our individualistic age, we love to ask why me…?, but what if that become how can I…?  How can I participate in the work of the Kingdom of God as heirs to that Kingdom?  How can I as a Christian, as a member of the Church, interact and engage the Powers in transformative ways? 

This is the second in a series of book reviews for a class that I, David Kludt, am taking (Transforming Contemporary Culture) at Fuller

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