Review of Walter Wink on the Powers


Wink seeks to recapture the integrity of speaking about “spiritual powers” in a materialistic world.  If that is all his thesis is, he is more or less successful, albeit with some major problems. The reviewer faces a problem of a double-paradox.  In terms of the larger scope–that there are invisible forces that aid or harm us–Wink is successful. In terms of narrower focus–exegesis of texts and historical reconstruction–Wink is interesting, if not always careful.  However, when you combine the two visions his project falls apart.

If I can summarize his view of angels/demons it goes something like this:  they are personified moments of the Archetypes’ acting upon the human psyche.  This isn’t necessarily wrong but it doesn’t always square with Wink’s analysis in other places.  Some aspects of the Christian tradition did suspect that paganism’s gods and Plato’s “Forms” were probably similar to what we would call angels and demons (and it is important to keep in mind that Plato thought the Forms had causal power).

His chapters on angels engage in a unique interpretation of Revelation. Wink suggests that aggelos in Revelation 2-3 refers not to a specific bishop, nor to what we normally call “angels,” but that the church in its totality refers to an angelic manifestation.  There are some problems to this, but a case can be made for it. The “you” in these chapters is always singular, not plural. Further, if aggelos does refer to a messenger or bishop, then why does the term never refer to that afterwards?

The main problem with the view is that it seems to suggest that some of the angels are currently in sin, which would make them demons.  Yet they are never called demons.

Wink suggests that “angel and people are the inner and outer aspects of the same reality” (72). Bizarrely enough, the angel is held accountable for the church’s action.  This allows Wink to acknowledge that each church has a “spirit” that manifests the collective subconscious of the church. All psycho-jargon aside, there might be something to this.  Anyone who has dealt with church problems can usually sense the “spirit of the church in the air.”

The angel can only be confronted by Christ via a human, prophetic intermediary.  God does this, rather than speaking directly to the corporate angels, because, as Wink suggests, heaven is the realm of transcendence latent within human possibility (81). Okay, that’s just silly but he does capture an important truth:  heaven is not “up there,” but rather that which is beyond the veil.

Criticisms and Problems

~Wink acknowledges the reality of “guest spirits” via occult paraphernalia (58).  However, he defines demonic possession as “an estrangement from one’s self as imago Dei and full social being” (59).  The problem with this definition is that it doesn’t make sense of his previous acknowledged “guest spirits.” Further, he admits that “outer personal demons do possess knowledge beyond that of their hosts, albeit a meager knowledge.”  Very true, but it doesn’t fit with his definition of demonic activity.

He speaks of “this primordial power of evil” (25) as opposed to a Satan-personality (not sure why they are mutually exclusive?) yet this raises the question:  from where (who?) did this primordial power of evil originate? He wrestles with this very question (27ff), even coming across various insights and questions (e.g., does Satan gain access by our neuroses? Washington and Moscow are actually on the same side), yet dodges any real answer.

Wink has to answer this question.  If he doesn’t then he formally commits the heresy of Manicheanism.

~Is he saying that the fragmentary nature of evil (i.e., the Satan, if you will) is what prevents our realizing self-transcendence (30)?  What is this but Gnosticism?

~He defends paganism (24, 36).  Seriously, I am not kidding. Perhaps he is saying we shouldn’t demonize (oops!) the Other.  Fair enough, but has he done research on Moloch worship?

~He engages in emotional blackmail (182 n94).  He tells the story of a woman who grew up Roman Catholic, wanted to become a priest but denied access.  She got angry, became a prostitute, and joined the church of Satan (later she was redeemed). A sad story, to be sure, but what conclusion does he want us to draw?

~Wink engages in inflammatory rhetoric, as in Spanish “thugs” (74).  Mind you, I have no love for colonial Roman Catholicism, but this seems more like “sneaking in a cheap shot.”

 ~He pushes his own agenda.  Either a church is “self-engrossed or engaged in social justice” (76), which usually means the Democratic National Convention.

~Advocates a one-world government (102).  This follows upon a particularly astute discussion of nationalism and how nations are biblical.  Not sure how his two theses mesh.


He regularly engages with fresh insights and interesting exegesis.  Unfortunately, it is marred by a polemical and deeply political tone reminiscent of his era.  Also, the scholarship on angels and demons and powers has advanced light years beyond Wink’s book.  To put it charitably, Wink’s analysis, when not wrong, is always out of date.



About J. B. Aitken

Interests include patristics, the role of the soul in the human person, analytic theology, Reformed Scholasticism, Medievalism, Substance Metaphysics
This entry was posted in Book Review, church, Occult, theology and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Review of Walter Wink on the Powers

  1. Pingback: Review: Powers of Darkness (Clinton Arnold) | Blog of the Wars of the Lord

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