Review and Response to “The Powers that be” by Walter Wink

Pastor Matthew Best
5 min readSep 9, 2021

I had been looking forward to reading this book for some time now. I’ve read Wink’s essay on the Myth of Redemptive Violence and wanted to read more of his writings. This book did not disappoint.

“The Powers That Be are more than just the people who run things. They are the systems themselves, the institutions and structures that weave society into an intricate fabric of power and reslationships.” (pg. 1). And with that main summary, we were off.

Wink’s my argument is that the Powers that Be are spiritual “forces” that we encounter. Think of it as a type of spirit. In Wink’s explanation, he uses the Book of Revelation and talks about John’s introduction of the letter. It is written to seven congregations, but really it is written to the “congregation’s angel.” (Pg. 3). “The congregation was not addressed directly but through the angel. The angel seems to be the corporate personality of the church, its ethos or spirit or essence.” (Pg. 3).

I think this has relevance today still. There are many “spirits” at work in the world in this same sense.

Wink’s argument then conflicts with the popular notion that there is only the material world. For Wink, there is both a physical and spiritual aspect. How else can we describe the non-material aspects of organizations and systems?

This is the set up for the remainder of Wink’s book and leads us to the core — how do we deal with these powers? Wink argues for non-violence. This is not a passive subjugated stance. It is about being in opposition to domination through justice and peace.

Wink spends time identifying the powers and uses a variety of worldview to talk about how that happens. Worldviews are important because they either restrict or open us to seeing perspectives. For Wink, so much of this leads to whether we are willing to identify the Domination Systems that exist in the world.

“As the soul of systems, the Powers in their spiritual aspect are everywhere around us. Their presence is inescapable. The issue is not whether we ‘believe’ in them but whether we can learn to identify them in our actual everyday encounters…When a particular Power becomes idolatrous — that is, when it pursues a vocation other than the one for which God…

Pastor Matthew Best

My name is Matthew Best. I’m an ELCA (Lutheran) pastor who attempts to translate church and churchy stuff into everyday language.