RIP Walter Wink

I have just recently read a book by Walter Wink and am still processing some of my thoughts, when I read yesterday that he passed away.  One thing that could be said for his writing is that he definitely challenged the reader, whether or not you agreed with everything he had to say.  And for that he will be missed.

His bio at Amazon reads:

Walter Wink (May 21, 1935 – May 10, 2012) was a professor emeritus at Auburn Theological Seminary in New York City. His faculty discipline is Biblical interpretation. Wink earned his 1959 Master of Divinity and his 1963 Ph.D. from Union Theological Seminary in New York City. Ordained a Methodist minister in 1961, he served as Pastor of First United Methodist Church, in Hitchcock, Texas from 1962–67. He then returned to Union Seminary as first Assistant, then Associate Professor of New Testament. In 1989–1990, he was a Peace Fellow at the United States Institute of Peace.

He is known for his work on power structures, with a progressive Christianity view on current political and cultural matters. He coined the phrase “the myth of redemptive violence”, and has contributed to discourse on homosexuality and religion, pacifism, psychology and Biblical Studies, and Jesus as a historical figure. Neal Stephenson likens some of Wink’s ideas to “an epidemiology of power disorders”, a phenomenology of oppression.  Author Philip Yancey references Wink frequently in his work.

One of Wink’s major avenues for teaching has been his leadership of workshops to church and other groups, based on his method of Bible study (The Bible in Human Transformation, 1973), and incorporating meditation, artwork, and movement. These workshops are often presented jointly with his second wife, June Keener-Wink, a dancer and potter.

One of Walter Wink’s sons—Chris Wink—is known as a founding member of the Blue Man Group.

Props to son Chris for Blue Man Group!  It may sound odd, but I’m glad I read some of his books while he was still alive.  I’m sure I’ll continue to wrestle with the ideas he left behind.

Worldviews, Greek Mythology, and Job

I always enjoy when two or three ideas converge to reveal a perspective I had not previously considered.  It is why I tend to read a couple books at a time, often on very different topics.  I just finished reading a book – The Powers That Be – on which I previously shared my thoughts.  One of the ideas that I enjoyed the most was Wink’s breakdown of worldviews.  To summarize:

  • The Ancient Worldview held that everything earthly has its heavenly counterpart and every spiritual reality has physical consequenses.
  • The Materialist Worldview claims that there is no spiritual world, only reason and what can be known through the five senses.
  • The Spiritualist Worldview simply holds that spirit is good and matter is evil.  Gnosticism arises out of this worldview.
  • The Theological Worldview acknowledges both a spiritual world and a material world, but compartmentalize the two, allowing only minimal interaction between them.

From here Wink argues for an Integral Worldview, where it is acknowledged that the spiritual and the material realm interact and what happens in one can affect the other.  Ironically, it seems to me that many Christians unwittingly still hold to the Ancient (fatalistic pre determinism), Spiritualist (the material world doesn’t matter), or Theological (there is a heaven, but it has little bearing on what is happening on earth) worldview.

This brief summary of worldviews helped me greatly as I picked up a book on Greek mythology.  I am only moderately aware of the more well-known Greek gods and the stories behind them.  But reading these stories armed with a better understanding of the ancient worldview has placed Greek mythology in an entirely new setting for me.  These stories are an attempt to make sense of what was happening in the material realm by positing what must have been taking place in the spiritual realm, since the spiritual realm was the real impetus behind temporal events.  Thus when a battle was won or lost, or an empire or individual rose to power, this was only a manifestation of what was happening among the gods.  It was fate!

All this brings me to my reading of the biblical book of Job.  I have read Job many times and it is always a challenge to know where this book fits theologically.  Is it fiction?  Is it a parable?  Is it describing actual events?  Any commentary on Job will wrestle with these questions.  But armed with a fresh perspective on worldviews, I am now convinced that Job falls in the genre of ancient mythology.  Now before anyone gets too fired up, please understand: mythology does not mean that the story being told is a fictional story.  It was long held that the stories of the Trojan wars never really took place until discoveries confirmed that they were actually grounded in real events.  So it can be said that Job took actual events and, through the lens of the ancient worldview, tried to make sense of what must have been driving these events in the spiritual realm.

Which makes the person of Job all the more remarkable.  It is often pointed out that Job was challenging the predominant perspective of his day that good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people.  This is why Job’s friends throughout the book insist that, given the calamities that befall Job, he must have done something wrong.  But I believe that Job was also challenging a much deeper held belief grounded in the ancient worldview: that what was happening to him was being driven by events in the spiritual realm and that it was pointless for him to fight them.  It was fate!  It is at this point that Job does the unthinkable.  Job not only believes that he can argue his case before God, upending the notion that bad things happen to bad people, but that in doing so he can actually intervene in the spiritual realm, bucking the notion of fate.  And it is here that his friends are utterly incensed at Job’s words.

It could be read that in the end God condemns Job for asking for his day in court, but I don’t believe that is what takes place.  In the end it is Job’s friends that are soundly rebuked, while Job is the one interacting with the Almighty.  And in the end, he is rewarded for it.

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.