Monday, October 09, 2006

Book Review: Ray Gingerich and Ted Grimsrud, Eds. "Transforming the Powers," (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2006)

Ray Gingerich is Professor Emeritus of Theology and Ethics, and Ted Grimsrud is Associate Professor of Theology and Peace Studies, both at Eastern Mennonite University in Virginia. Other contributors, besides these editors, include Daniel Liechty, Nancey Murphy, Glen Stassen, Willard M. Swartley, and Walter Wink.

This book is basically part of an ongoing conversation about the Powers—referring to “all human social dynamics—institutions, belief systems, traditions, and the like”—based upon the language of the “Principalities and Powers” as found in the NT, that Walter Wink helped to popularize with his trilogy of books on the Powers—Naming the Powers (1984), Unmasking the Powers (1986), and Engaging the Powers (1992) (2). In those books he claimed that the Powers are “part of the good creation,” “fallen,” and in need of “[healing] and [transformation]” all at the same time (1). The writings that follow then are grouped according to how they interact with Wink’s ideas concerning these three characteristics—some articles focus on the level of identifying or naming, understanding, or engaging the Powers.

The first section is titled “Worldviews and the Powers.” The first article is by Wink, and here he argues that the Integral Worldview is the new worldview that is emerging which is the best at helping us understand that everything has both and inner and outer reality. Nancey Murphey claims that the social sciences instead of being completely objective in describing reality describe a reality that is anti-Christian. Daniel Liechty advocates for “nonviolent direct action” against the evil that we see, for it keeps us from defining evil to narrowly and doing evil ourselves (52). Ted Grimsrud shows how the pacifist worldview challenges the violent modern worldview in loving all of creation.

The second section is “Understanding the Powers.” Wink writes on providence and how God cannot fix the world because Powers also have power to prevent things from getting fixed. Nancey Murphy then argues that Anabaptist communities hold the key to restoring fallen powers even in the academic world. Willard Swartley argues that the early church had a more holistic approach to dealing with powers in proclaiming the victory of Christ over them. Ray Gingrich then calls for nonviolent and communal paradigms to transform the politics and economics of overt and covert violence.

The third section is “Engaging the Powers.” Glen Stassen talk about the “third way” of Jesus—“transforming initiatives” that transform the powers using nonviolent means—and how this strategy can and has been used to actively make peace (129). Willard Swartley then writes about how the Christian response to evil powers is to love and in that way evil is overcome either through “resistance” or “nonresistance” (156). Finally, Stassen, going beyond Wink, explains that understanding justice is essential to understanding “the way of Jesus” and the key to help us deal with the powers that exist in the world (175).

This reading really got me thinking about the inner and outer dimensions to the huge social forces that are around us. On an everyday basis I don’t walk around trying to see the “demons” behind every little thing, but I know that it is important to know that there are powers behind the things that we see in the world and that we need to not only be aware of, but to actively transform these social structures. And it seems that for a lot of this transformation to occur, nonviolent action is the key. But how do I go from “passive-ism” to actively making peace happen in the world? And if I don’t care enough to see this played out in my own life, how can I get others to care in a culture that values violence? Would my college students even care about this stuff?


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