I have been a fan of Walter Wink‘s writing for many years. I had stumbled onto his writing on the Powers sometime before I entered seminary, but I had never really given it much attention. I knew Wink’s work fit in the theological spectrum among the host of others who have greatly influenced me, like William Stringfellow or Ched Myers. After finishing seminary last year, I decided to pick up the Powers Trilogy–Naming the Powers (1984), Unmasking the Powers (1986), and Engaging the Powers (1992)–and give it a thorough reading. Now, after really digging in the last few months, I just cannot get over how clear and forceful his argument is. Sure, there are some places where I think his politics gives in a little, but the thoroughness of his overall argument is hard to deny.
At the risk of copyright infringement, I thought the following excerpt from Engaging the Powers (p. 217) might not only encourage others to read his work, but also allow me to use his words to provide an explanation for those who still cannot get why I think nonviolence is so important.
In his nonviolent teaching, life, and death, Jesus revealed a God of nonviolence. The God who delivered an enslaved people in the exodus was now seen as the deliverer of all humanity from oppression. The violence associated with God in the exodus tradition was centrifuged away, leaving as its precipitate the image of God as loving parent. The violence of the Powers was exposed, along with their blasphemous misappropriation of God as legitimator of their oppression.
But when the church that stood up nonviolently to the brutal repression of the Roman Empire found itself strangely victorious, it naively assumed the role of court chaplain to an empire eager for its support. It is as if Satan, unable to defeat the church by violence, surrendered to the church and became its ward. The price the church paid, however, was embracing violence as the means of preserving empire. But the removal of nonviolence from the gospel blasted the keystone from the arch, and Christianity collapsed into a religion of personal salvation in an afterlife jealously guarded by a wrathful and terrifying God–the whole system carefully managed by an elite corps of priests with direct backing from the secular rulers now regarded as the elect agents of God’s working in history.
The church is called to nonviolence not in order to preserve its purity, but to express its fidelity. It is not a law but a gift. Even if it were possible to impose it, such compulsion would in itself be a negation of its essence. It is simply offered to those who seek what God has in store for the world. Those who today renounce the kingdom of death do so not because they are trying to please a deity who demands obedience, but because they have committed themselves to the realm of life. They refrain from killing, not because they are ordered to, but because they recognize something of God in everyone, and realize that what we do to the least of these–our enemies–we do to God.
Nonviolence is not a matter of legalism but of discipleship. It is the way God has chosen to overthrow evil in the world. It is the praxis of God’s system. Christians are to be nonviolent, not simply because it “works,” but because it reflects the very nature of God (Matt 5:45//Luke 6:35). Nonviolence is not a fringe concern. It is of the essence of the gospel. Therefore Jesus’ nonviolent followers should not be called pacifists, but simply Christians.