Haven’t posted here in a while . . . May – August tend to be a bit slow on the posting front, I guess that’s when I actually get some work done 🙂 I wanted to provide a short book review of Walter Wink’s Unmasking the Powers. It is the second volume of his trilogy on the powers. For a more accessible and shorter treatment of Wink’s work he summarizes the trilogy in his more recent The Powers that Be.
Over the past ten years, I’ve read several books that have made an impact on me and have challenged me. However, most provide gentle prods and slight nudges forward in my thinking. Whereas those books can be likened to the aftershocks of an earthquake, there have been a handful that have proved to be the actual earthquake. Brian McLaren’s A New Kind of Christian, Stanely Grenz & John Franke’s Beyond Foundationalism, Shane Claiborne’s Irresistible Revolution, John Howard Yoder’s The Potlics of Jesus . . . these all would fall into that category. Wink is one of those authors who is quoted over and over again in the books I have read to the point that I said to myself, “I need to read this guy!”
I found Unmasking the Powers at Half Price books for six bucks, so I bought it and read it first even though it is actually the second book in the trilogy. Even though the entire book fell apart while I read it, it still proved to be one of those “can’t put down” kind of books. The book “unmasks” seven of the powers: the devil, demons, the angels of the churches, the angels of the nations, the gods, the elements of the universe, and the angels of nature. Wink challenges so much of what we think we know about the world around us. He forces us to wrestle with texts that we simply disregard, writing them off as a product of pre-intellectualism and pre-scientific age.
Wink profoundly, and cautiously, deals with issues that are often left to science fiction and esoteric spirituality asking more questions than giving answers and providing fascinating perspective on the difficult topic of “the spiritual realm.” In reflecting on my first exposure to Walter Wink, I think there are two things that set him apart from others who spend time in the area of angels and demons.
First of all, Wink resists the temptation most authors cannot of limiting the powers interation to the personal level. One of the better known works among Churches of Christ in this area is Joe Beam’s Seeing the Unseen. I haven’t actually read the book myself, so I can’t make any firsthand impressions, but the rhetoric it has spawned among the people I know who have read it seems largely limited to personal interaction with the spirits/powers. Just about anything you find on the matter on the shelves of a Christian bookstore share this. Wink, while acknowledging the personal dimension of the powers, emphasizes, instead, the powers at work in the world.
Secondly, Wink is academically respected and rooted. So often studies of the devil and angels get lost in fanaticalism and extremism born more out of Hollywood than history and the Bible. Here, Wink excells providing examples throughout church history, again asking more questions bore out of the halls of history than brought from the movies.
Wink provides a vocabulary and structure to discuss the unseen in a way that remains open to new revelations (he leaves open theology to enter the discovery of a new dimension) that is at the same time exciting and humbling.)
I would quickly recommend this book for anyone who is open to discovering new ways of thinking and new possibilities. It promises to stretch even the most open-minded theologian, but patient reflection on this work will provide a whole new door of discovery . . . one that is both exciting and frightening!