Contemp Culture, MP520, Ramblings

Book Review #3 – Transforming Power (Intervarsity Press, 2003)

Author: Robert Linthicum has done extensive work on urban ministry, and is the president of Partners in Urban Transformation.

OutlineTransforming Power is subtitled “Biblical Strategies for Making a Difference in Your Community.”  Linthicum has divided the book into two major sections, “A Theology of Power” and “The Practice of Power.”  The first section analyzes several biblical stories/characters through the lens of power, and how power was understood, approached, and wielded in order to benefit the Kingdom. 

Throughout the first section, Linthicum seeks to find Biblical models of addressing the Powers of society and government.  He reads Deuteronomy as a model from God of a culture that distributes economic and political power fairly in an effort to enter into a “shalom community” with your land, family, and neighbors.  By “shalom community”, he refers to “the kind of society that seeks to live out God’s intention” (36).  This, rather than large ministries or church subcultures, is what Linthicum believes the church is called to do in our world – create and be involved in efforts within our community to affect change economically, socially, politically, and through those, spiritually. 

Linthicum exegetes the book of Nehemiah (who ushered in the Second Temple period of Israel through the use of power), as well as looks in depth at the character of Jesus’ (who radically confronted the powers with nonviolence) and the theology of Paul (who encouraged a people who would continue to face persecution by the powers) to see how God wants his people to use power.  Through each of these stories, Linthicum comes away with a series of guidelines for biblically addressing the issue of power – all with the hope that we might help our communities usher in shalom. 

The second portion, focusing on the practice of using power, begins with an explanation of the kind of power that Linthicum finds most effective – relational power, rather than unilateral power.  He lays out a theory of how to be effective within your community (mostly in your neighborhood, though he briefly describes how this can be used in churches as well) through individual meetings with key people in the community and organizing house meetings around various interests and concerns. 

Reactions:  I was really excited to read this book.  The subtitle (“Biblical Strategies for Making a Difference in Your Community”) sounded great, and I thought it would describe practical ways that Christians can (and should) be active in our surroundings.  After reading Transforming the Powers, which was centered more on the academic/intellectual plain rather than the practice, I was excited to get a more hands-on and interactive text, but that’s not what I found in Transforming Power.

Instead, the book focused heavily (~130 pages of 190 page book) on justifying through scripture that God has called us to live certain kinds of lives in certain kinds of societies.  Then, in the 60 pages that are left, after spending 2/3 of the book explaining the powers, he gives only several actual applications of how to use power: individual meetings (he spends an awkward 13 pages giving every nuance you can imagine about meeting with someone one on one), house meetings, research, and then spends a whopping 6 paragraphs actually talking about the importance of action

So…while the book does contain some useful principles and encouragement for Christians wondering if they should use power, it seemed Linthicum failed to actually empower the church to really do anything with it. 

Slight Revision: Rereading this, I realized that I may have come across a little harsh…I do realize that Linthicum had some great ideas that he presented through his analysis of Nehemiah, Christ, and Paul…I think I was just looking for more connection between the dots and some more practical application of the points he raised…but I’ll think about it some more.


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