What I’m Reading: The Powers That Be

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.  Many today mistakenly believe that this domination system is essentially the same thing modern Western economies employ.  Lumping today’s Western economies together with that of ancient Rome or even ancient Israel can lead to many a flawed conclusion regarding what the Bible teaches about economics, though there are some similarities and overarching principles.  But I digress.

As I read the first couple of chapters, I was intrigued by Wink’s description of these domination systems.  These systems rely primarily on coercion to keep people under their power.  Yet, these systems were not inherently evil.  Being part of God’s creation, the powers and the institutions that support them were originally created as good, but they are also fallen, and stand in need of being reclaimed and redeemed. It is these institutions that the Bible identifies as principalities and powers.  Part of what we are called to do is to identify the fallenness of these power structures and redeem them as part of God’s kingdom, as opposed to casting the people within these power structures as our enemy or dismissing these institutions as inherently evil.

As much as I was enjoying the author’s description of the fallenness and redemption of power structures and institutions, I was equally disappointed in the author’s underlying theology upholding his main premise.  The author is a strong advocate of non-violent resistance, which is fine.  However, in my estimation, he makes the mistake of interpreting the whole of scripture to support his agenda, rather than submitting his agenda to the whole of scripture.  Because of this, the author makes Jesus’ primary aim to spread the gospel of non-violence.  The Old Testament, and even the writings of the apostles John and Paul are often contrasted to the teachings of Jesus.  His interpretation of some of the teachings of Jesus, such as turning the other cheek and walking the extra mile, are interpretations that I have not encountered elsewhere.

Overall, I have enjoyed some of the ideas Wink talks about in the book.  I even enjoy reading different perspectives that challenge my own thinking.  I can affirm much of what the author is trying to convey.  But I am also reminded of the danger of using God and the Bible to affirm my beliefs, rather than using God and the Bible to shape them.