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Theology and Power

In his article, “Ethics and Eschatology,” John Howard Yoder makes some helpful observations about the nature of power and weakness in theological perspective. In particular he seeks to break down the common opposition of “power” and “powerlessness.” He notes that “It is not false when people who call themselves ‘realists,’ from Machiavelli to Klausewitz to Reinhold Neibuhr, tell us that power comes from the barrel of a gun. That is one kind of power; but the alternative is not weakness but other kinds of power.”

He also notes that “Two semantic mistakes regularly cause confusion in this realm. One is to assume that ‘power’ is qualitatively univocal; the only differentiation being between more and less of it. The other is to claim that it is morally ‘neutral,’ with its moral value depending on what it is used for.”

Thus, Yoder argues that the question of “power” is not one of whether or not Christians are supposed to wield it; the question is what sort of powerfulness is appropriate to those who believe that the cross and resurrection reveal the truth of the cosmos. The mode of power appropriate to those who follow the Crucified Lord is one that sets the church in conflict with the mode of power as violation which places the church in a situation of apocalyptic conflict. Thus, as Yoder claims “to be disarmed after the mode of Christ is to be endowed with the power of truth-telling” and “community building, for which the metaphors of cosmic conflict are most apt because they break the frame of normalcy.”

Thus as Paul proclaimed, the situation is not that our weapons are not powerful but weak. Rather it is that “the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.” (1 Cor 10:4)


  1. Doug Harink wrote:


    Tuesday, October 28, 2008 at 11:50 am | Permalink
  2. Derrick wrote:

    I wrote a paper on the theme of violence and judgment in the book of revelation and its relation to the Lamb Christology developed there, and how God’s “conquering power,” in the Book of Revelation is absolutely not, as it is often depicted in popular literature, simply the victory of a “greater force,” or a “greater violence,” enacted against those who deny God and persecute the church, but is intrinsically related to the sacrifice of the Lamb and Christ’s kenotic love in the name of furthering the kingdom and Yoder was a huge help. Bauckham had some great things to say too:

    “John has forged a new symbol of conquest by sacrificial death. The messianic hopes evoked in 5:5 are not repudiated: Jesus really is the expected Messiah of David (22:16). But insofar as the latter was associated with military violence and narrow nationalism, it is reinterpreted by the image of the Lamb. The Messiah has certainly won a victory, but he has done so by sacrifice and for the benefit of people from all nations (5:9). Thus the means by which the Davidic Messiah has won his victory is explained by the image of the Lamb, while the significance of the image of the Lamb is now seen to lie in the fact that his sacrificial death was a victory over evil. ” (Theology of the Book of Revelation, p.74)

    Tuesday, October 28, 2008 at 4:47 pm | Permalink
  3. Mike Bull wrote:

    The power of our weakness is that it exposes and shames the lie of ‘might is right’ as a very public spectacle, and in this way creates a new culture, and eventually a new world. This is the difference between amillennial and postmillennial views of suffering.

    I wrote an article here:

    Tuesday, October 28, 2008 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

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