The Socio-Political Context: Powers and Principalities

Knud Jørgensen


As I work on this paper, the media tell me:

  • That today we remember the fifth anniversary of the massacres of Screbrenica in Bosnia where 7000 Muslims were killed in an act of ethnic cleansing.
  • That today a major slide from the man-made garbage hills in Manila has drowned a whole block in human waste and killed more than 150 people.
  • That statistics at the opening of the global AIDS-conference in South Africa reveal that 34 million people are sick with AIDS, most of them in Sub-Saharan Africa.
  • That a Norwegian bishop-friend of mine charges all Christians and congregations to lift up the Lord of History the Middle East peace negotiators at Camp David.

For most of my life I have worked for the media and for humanitarian organisations.

There is an anger and a grief within me – an anger that has followed me for many years, since the first time I as a young radio reporter was sent to Wollo and Tigre in Ethiopia in 1974 to report on a famine that killed more than one million – a famine caused by human greed and ignored by the celebration of the OAU tenth anniversary in Addis, less than 100 kilo meters away. An anger that has overwhelmed me and made me cry out in the midst of the genocide of Southern Sudan and Rwanda. An anger that has travelled with me to the poverty-stricken metropolises of Bangladesh and India and Peru and Ecuador. Or got a grip of me in the midst of ethnic terrorism in Ethiopia and the white prisons of apartheid in Johannesburg. And then followed me to the “ignorance” and indifference of Western globalisation, be it in Scandinavia, America or Hong Kong. This anger lies underneath the following pages.

My brief is to focus on evil and Satan as they are manifested in the socio-political realm, both collectively and individually, in such evils as injustice, exploitation, oppression, materialism, war, ethnic hatred, persecution, destruction of humans and of creation. How can sin, the evil one be identified and fought in this realm?

1. Kingdoms in Conflict

Evangelical theology usually views the conflict between Jesus and his adversary as a conflict between two kingdoms. Casting our evil spirits was part of the conflict, but so was also preaching in the synagogues (Mark 1.39). Preaching the Good News, healing, exorcism were all signs of the presence of the kingdom of God (cf. Matt 12.28; Luke 11.20 where exorcism is viewed as a sign of the kingdom). In Evangelical theology this usually points to the reality of a hostile realm in conflict with the kingdom of God (see e.g. Arnold 1998:20ff). This hostile realm has several dimensions or fronts, including what Scott Moreau (1997:18f) calls the systemic front where the agenda is warfare against the domination systems that make up our cultures and societies. We shall later discuss and explain the term domination system as it is used by Walter Wink. Suffice it to say in this connection that these systems (cultural, economic, political, religious) are manifestations of what John calls “the world” (kosmos: “..the whole world is under the control of the evil one” (1 John 5.19); cf. John 12.31 and 14.30 where Jesus talks about Satan as “the prince of this world”). This concept of kingdoms in conflict is also illustrated by Satan’s claim of dominion when he offered Jesus the kingdoms of the world (Matt 4.8-9). The point is clearly that even though God ultimately is the sovereign king of heaven and earth, Satan does exercise significant influence over kosmos and its power structures.

The conflict is evidenced in a tension between the two, often overlapping kingdoms. Our allegiance is to the kingdom of God and as citizens of this kingdom we are part of the new creation. Nevertheless we see the impact of evil all around us, in the form of violence, poverty, crime, racism, ethnic strife, betrayal and brokenness.

This way of looking at the kingdoms in conflict was also central to the Reformation. Try to sing the battle hymn of the Reformation “A mighty fortress is our God” and one will realise that the leitmotif is the battle between God’s kingdom and Satan, not just in an internal, personal manner, but on a cosmic scale and in the midst of life in society and as an attack on the church. For Martin Luther the truth that “God is for us” implies that “the devil is against us”. One may therefore claim, as Heiko Oberman does, that if this Reformation understanding of the powers hostile to God is left out, the entire Gospel of incarnation, justification and forgiveness is reduced to vague ideas rather than experiences of faith (Oberman 1992: 104f).

It is therefore essential that we perceive of evil and spiritual warfare in a broad way. It has to do with the common struggle as Christians and it touches every area of our lives – family, relationships, neighbours, communities, work. All these areas of life are battle grounds for the kingdoms in conflict. And we no longer need the Bible to tell us: At different levels we have been forced to recognise that the biblical worldview corresponds to a reality of Auschwitz, Rwanda, Cambodia, Bosnia, Kosovo – or even closer, the reality of a drug culture, a divorce culture, a culture of ethnic and racist strife, and the devastating effects of a globalised culture marginalising major parts of the world.

As we pursue this topic, we need to bring along a balanced view of evil influences: the biblical perspective highlights the interconnectedness of flesh, world and devil. In this context we use the term world to signify the ungodly aspects of culture, values and traditions, i.e. the prevailing worldview assumptions that stand contrary to the biblical understanding. Satan attempts to exert influence on the societal and cultural levels. This influence may come through idolatry and occult practises and beliefs (e.g. Acts 13 about the magician Elymas). Or it may come through what Sherwood Lingenfelter calls “prisons of disobedience” found in all cultures (Lingenfelter 1992). In a sense every culture and system may be used by the evil one to hold us in bondage by entangling us into a life of conformity to shared values and beliefs that are fundamentally contrary to God’s purpose and will for humanity. Thus Satan has worked on a corporate level, says Lingenfelter, to blind people to the Gospel. We shall come back to this topic when we look at Walter Wink and his assertions that we need to be “reborn” from our primary socialisation in a culture, e.g. a culture that has “convinced” us of the need for violence as a solution (redemptive violence; Wink 1992).

This link between culture/society and bondage illustrates and emphasises by the same token that how that bondage is experienced will vary greatly from culture to culture. In some parts of the world there is great fear of the spirits, and the gospel is heard as the good news of deliverance from these spirits. In other places there is evidence of powerful occult undercurrents with overt demonic activity. In some Latin American countries major parts of the population are caught up in witchcraft, voodoo and magic. Likewise in Hindu cultures there is a pervasive fear of the spirit world. In the West, discarding Christianity has taken off the lid of the ancient jungle of religiosity. As the animals of the jungle re-appear we call them new (New Age) even though they are as old as the fall of man. However, the main bondage most Westerners – or should we say “the westernised/globalised world” – experience is still the desire for affluence. The globalised culture has allowed the pursuit of the good life to shape their perspective, values, and psychology so profoundly that Leslie Newbigin (Foolishness to the Greek) is right in viewing the Western culture as the most non-Christian culture ever.

In the kingdom conflict we are, Paul says (Ephesians 6.10-20), confronted by principalities (archai), authorities (exousiai), world rulers (kosmokratores) and spiritual forces (pneumatika). Among Evangelicals these terms are usually understood to refer to satanic forces (e.g. Wells 1987: 76ff; Greig & Springer 1993; Arnold 1992). Paul’s focus is here on the day-to-day struggle of the believer in the midst of culture and society, not on territorial spirits. Neither do the terms seem to describe a hierarchy of spirits. As Arnold says: “The terms appear to come from a large reservoir of terminology used in the first century when people spoke of demonic spirits” (Arnold 1998: 39). As we in the next section focus particularly on the works of Walter Wink, we shall meet a theologian who looks at these powers in a different way – namely as created, fallen, but redeemable.

2. Engaging the Powers

“Engaging the Powers” is the title of the third volume in Walter Wink’s trilogy on the Powers. The trilogy includes: “Naming the Powers: The Language of Power in the New Testament” (1984), “Unmasking the Powers: The Invisible Forces that Determine Human Existence” (1986), and “Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Dominion” (1992). In addition Wink has published a condensed and popularised version of the trilogy under the title “The Powers That Be” (1998). Wink’s aim, particularly in the condensed version, is to help us reformulate ancient concepts, such as God and Satan, angels and demons, principalities and powers, in light of the world today. Thus the theological thinking is clearly shaped as much by his involvement in the civil rights movement and the fight against apartheid in South Africa as by the study of Scripture. This combination becomes even more evident in his 1998 analysis of the Powers as they appear on the global scene: “When the Powers Fall. Reconciliation in the Healing of Nations”. The refreshing and provocative aspect of Wink is his contextualisation of Powers and Principalities in the midst of our contemporary social institutions. Wink is as concerned with salvation as with justice.

His point of departure is that everything has both a physical and a spiritual aspect. Therefore the Powers are not simply people and their institutions; they also include the spirituality at the core of those institutions. If we want to change those systems – social, economic, cultural, political – we must address not only the outer form, but the inner spirit as well. In the likeness of those management experts who highlight organisational culture, Wink claims that every business, corporation, school, bureaucracy is a combination of visible and invisible, outer and inner, physical and spiritual. However, this spirituality is not always benign. The sole purpose of the institutions is to serve the general welfare; when they refuse to do so, their spirituality becomes diseased = demonic. Against this background Wink views our time as a time of hope and of despair:

We live in a remarkable time, when entire nations have been liberated by non-violent struggle; when miracles are openly declared, such as the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of communism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc, and the transformation of South Africa….Yet these are also times of endemic violence, ethnic hatred, genocide, and economic privation around the world, as the super-rich hoard increasing shares of the world’s wealth and the poor drown in poverty….I believe that even these rebellious Powers can be transformed in the crucible of God’s love (Wink 1998: 10).

Wink advocates, as already indicated, an integral view of reality that sees everything as having an outer and an inner aspect. In this worldview God is within everything (panentheism – God in everything = all creatures are potential revealers of God). This view opens up the spiritual reality. Latin American liberation theology made good efforts to reinterpret the powers and principalities, not as disembodied spirits, but as institutions, structures and systems. But it did not see the spiritual dimension – that the Powers at the same time are visible and invisible, spiritual and institutional (Col 1.15-20). Furthermore, we must reverse the process of projecting these spiritual dimensions onto the screen of the universe. Rather the spiritual force that we experience in a system emanates from that actual system. In other words, the demons are not up there but over here, in the socio-spiritual structures and political systems (cf. the demonised pigs of Mark 5 and the political systems of Rev 12-13). And when these powers (which may be personal or impersonal) network around idolatrous values, we get what Wink calls “the Domination System” whose master is Satan. In this way the powers are everywhere around us and their presence is inescapable. The primary issue is therefore to learn to identify them (Paul’s gift of discerning the spirits): When a power pursues a vocation other than the one for which God created it and makes its own interests the highest good, then that power becomes demonic. The task is to unmask this idolatry and recall the powers to their created purposes in the world. This, however, requires the ministry of the church (Eph 3.10) and not just an individual. Wink lifts up as an illustration how corporations ignore God’s humanising purposes by making profit the bottom line. This is a capitalist heresy to which not even Adam Smith would agree. It is therefore the task of the church to remind corporations that as creatures of God they have as their divine vocation the achievement of human well-being (Eph 3.10).

On the one hand Wink views evil as profoundly systemic; on the other hand the powers are not intrinsically evil in his view. Rather, they are at once good and evil, though to varying degrees, and they are capable of improvement. He therefore works on the basis of three theses as his theological framework:

  • The Powers are good: They are good by virtue of their creation to serve the humanising purposes of God.
  • The Powers are fallen because they put their own interests above the interests of the whole.
  • The Powers can be redeemed because what fell in time can be redeemed in time.

This applies in a temporal sense: the Powers were created, they are fallen, and they shall be redeemed. But it is also to be viewed as something simultaneous: God at one and the same time upholds a given system, since we need some such system to support human life; condemns that system in so far as it is destructive of human life; and presses for its transformation into a more humane order (Wink 1998:32f).

This view sets us free from demonising those who do evil. We can love our enemies or nation or culture – critically, yes, calling them back to their purposes. The view also implies that God does not endorse any particular power. He did not create capitalism or socialism, but human life requires some sort of economic system. Thirdly, some institutions and ideologies can only be transformed by being abandoned or destroyed or replaced (sic!). Against this background Wink sees us as being involved in a threefold activity:

Naming the Powers identifies our experiences of these pervasive forces that dominate our lives. Unmasking the Powers takes away their invisibility, and thus their capacity to coerce us unconsciously into doing their bidding. Engaging the Powers involves joining in God’s endeavor to bend them back to their divine purposes (Wink 1998: 34-35).

So the evil is not intrinsic, but the result of idolatry, and therefore the Powers can be redeemed. This in turn means that the task of redemption is not restricted to changing individuals, but also to changing the fallen institutions. And Wink takes even one more step: the Gospel is not the message about the salvation of individuals from the world, but news about a world transfigured, right down to its basic structures. This cosmic salvation will take place when God will gather up all things in Christ (Eph 1.10).

It is not difficult to question some of Wink’s assumptions and views: How does he understand the fall? As a structural aspect of all personal and social existence and/or as a temporal myth? What then does he mean by saying that the Fall affirms the radicality of evil (Wink 1992: 59)? He may describe evil with terrible “human” examples, but one wonders whether evil really stands in contrast and absolute opposition to the living God : “Fallenness does not touch our essence, but it characterises our existence” (Wink 1992. 72). In the same way as one is left uncertain as to whether the human being after the fall, in Wink’s theology, is totally alienated from God. True, he talks clearly about the need for the individual to be changed: Human misery is caused by institutions, but these institutions are maintained by human beings, i.e. the institutions are made evil by us. Yet, I lack a more clear understanding and description of the gulf between God and man, caused by disobedience and sin.

At the same time his view of the Powers as created, fallen and redeemable may help us negotiate a truce between the Anabaptist and the Calvinist traditions. The first one may argue that all social and cultural systems are intrinsically evil (though capable of doing some limited good). The other position may insist that governments and public institutions are intrinsic elements of God’s creation and therefore capable of being “christianised”. The first position may abandon the Powers to secularity while the other installs a sort of theocracy. Wink’s view does neither. Instead it leaves open the door for running for political office or to work to overthrow the political system, depending on the state of disobedience of the system. Furthermore his thinking challenges us to bring together evangelism and social struggle and to include in our evangelistic task the proclamation to the Principalities and Powers of the manifold wisdom of God.

When an entire network of Powers integrates around idolatrous values, we get a Domination System. Thus the Domination System is the system of the Powers. In this way the Domination System is equivalent to what the Bible often means by the terms “world”, “aeon” and “flesh”. Examples: A farming family in Bangladesh loosing everything to crafty lawyers and hired guns, being forced into the city slums of no labour, crime, prostitution and starvation. And it is actually true that around 16 million people die to starvation and poverty-related diseases every year. Or blacks struggling against apartheid, or rather the apartheid system, because that was how it was perceived – as a demonic system. Or the consumer sickness of wealthy societies, fuelled by belief in endless progress and by a commercialised information society saying less and less to more and more. Or the sick combination of violence and sexual perversion available for all ages on Internet and video and crippling the minds of old and young. The Domination System is characterised by unjust economic relations, oppressive political relations, biased race relations, patriarchal gender relations, hierarchical power relations, and the use of violence to maintain them all (Wink 1998: 59). The basic structure of this system has persisted since the rise of the great conquest states of Mesopotamia around 3000 BC. At that time the horse and the wheel together made conquest lucrative, and the plunder and conquest included females as slaves, concubines, wives, resulting in female subordination and a system of patriarchy. Wife-beating and child-beating develop as a male right. Evil is blamed on women. In addition plunder and conquest give rise to new classes of aristocrats and priests – people producing nothing, but dominating others through a spiral of violence.

And to uphold the Domination System a myth of redemptive violence comes into being, a myth that lifts high the belief that violence saves, that war brings peace, that might makes right. Violence in this way becomes the nature of things. It becomes inevitable, the last and increasingly through history the first resort in conflicts. This myth is the Babylonian creation story (Enuma Elish from around 1250 BC) where the young god Marduk kills the mother god Tiamat in a terrible manner and then splits her skull and stretches out her corpse and from it creates the cosmos. In this way, and in stark contrast to the Bible, creation is an act of violence. The world is created from the cadaver of a woman. Chaos is prior to order, and evil precedes good. The gods themselves are violent. In contrast, the Bible portrays a good God who creates a good creation where good is prior to evil and where neither evil nor violence is a part of creation, but enter later as a result of the serpent and human sin (Gen. 3).

It is, however, the Babylonian myth that has dominated much of history and has spread everywhere: Human beings are created from the blood af a murdered god, our origin is violence, killing is in our genes, life is combat, peace through war, security through strength, and the common people live to perpetuate the advantage that the gods have conferred upon the kings, aristocrats and priests – because religion exists to legitimate power and privilege. Here are the core values of the Domination System as it is found in every society.

It is not difficult to see the traces of the myth in contemporary Western media, sports, nationalism, militarism, foreign policy, etc. The TV cartoons and comic books of the Western world can be stark illustrations of the violence, anger and scapegoating. In a similar way the American western makes the law suspect and weak compared to the hero with the gun. Rambo and James Bond become the Messiahs in a world where justice is lodged in the gun. And the reason why we swallow this is that the myth of redemptive violence is the simplest, laziest, most exciting, uncomplicated, irrational, and primitive depiction of evil the world has ever known. It strikes the cords of original sin and opens the door for the demons of hell into a culture that has lost its point of departure. Both in a Western culture and to some extent also and increasingly in other cultures we socialise our children through this myth, by making violence pleasurable, fascinating, and entertaining. In this way the Powers are able to delude people into compliance with a system that keeps them in bondage – the Domination System. One illustration: an average child in the US is reported to see 36.000 hours of television by age eighteen, viewing some 15.000 murders. Just think what this does to an entire civilisation. Not to speak of the sadistic combinations of sex and violence available on videos – and available everywhere and in all major cities, also in Africa and Asia. The youngsters in Addis Ababa watch the same demonic stuff as the youngsters in New York. There are boys who receive their first introduction to sex by watching on video women being raped, decapitated, dismembered and cannibalised. Even the devil seems to have abandoned sophistication!

It is the same myth of redemptive violence that we make use of in international conflicts, be they in Bosnia and Serebnica or on the border between Ethiopia and Eritrea where teenager soldiers last year were being used as a shield against the tanks of the opponent. The myth gives divine sanction to the nation’s imperialism. In this way the Cold War was a satanic trick to make both sides believe religiously in the terror balance of violence. I think Wink is right in claiming that “the myth of redemptive violence serves as the inner spirituality of the national security state. It provides divine legitimisation for the suppression of poor people everywhere, and the extraction of wealth from the poorer nations” (Wink 1998: 57). The result is that nationalism becomes idolatry and ethnicity becomes demonic.

The myth of redemptive violence…speaks for God; it does not listen for God to speak…It misappropriates the language, symbols, and scriptures of Christianity. It does not seek God in order to change; it embraces God in order to prevent change. Its God…is a tribal god worshipped as an idol. Its metaphor is not the journey, but the fortress. Its symbol is not the cross but the crosshairs of a gun. Its offer is not forgiveness but victory. Its good news is not the unconditional love of enemies but their final elimination. Its salvation is not a new heart but a successful foreign policy. It usurps the revelation of God’s purposes for humanity in Jesus. It is blasphemous. It is idolatrous (Wink 1998: 61-62).

Based on Revelation 12-13 Wink outlines the delusional apparatus of the Powers and the Domination System (1992: 87ff). If it had not been for the powerful delusions, why would people, why would we all, tolerate the Powers and the Domination System? Therefore, exposing this system of delusion must be a central task in the discernment of the Powers, for the Powers are never more powerful than when they can act from concealment (cf. the imagery in Scripture of wolf in sheep clothing). True, the system may use violence, but even more effective is to drop out of sight, to masquerade as the permanent furniture of the universe, to make oppressive structures appear to be of divine construction. This is illustrated when John strips off the mask of Roman imperial benevolence and reveals the true spirit of Rome: It looks like a prosperous peace-maker, but conceals a monstrous deformity aiming at supplanting God or a harlot inviting intercourse with the kings she has intoxicated with power (Rev 17). At the centre of the delusions John sees that the Dragon creates another Beast (Rev 13.11) – a beast that imitates the lamb. A beast that proselytises by means of a civil religion that declares the state and its leaders divine. This element of power worship is central in John’s vision – because it represents the manufacture of idolatry. So deception and propaganda are not enough for the Evil one. Misinforming people about the nature of the System may not last. But if you can cause people to worship the Beast, you have created a public immune to truth, Wink claims (1992: 94).

Since the beginnings of the Domination System some five thousand years ago, it has deceived people by means of a series of delusional assumptions; these assumptions are what Col. 2 calls the stoicheia tou kosmou, in Wink’s opinion. They may come and go, but continually they have reasserted themselves:

  • The need to control society and prevent chaos requires some to dominate others.
  • Men are better equipped by nature to be dominant than women, and some races are naturally suited to dominate others.
  • Violence is redemptive, the only language enemies understand.
  • Ruling is the most important of all social functions.
  • Rulers should therefore be rewarded by extra privileges and greater wealth.
  • Money is the most important value.
  • The production of material goods is more important than the production of healthy and normal people and of sound human relationships.
  • Property is sacred.
  • Institutions are more important than people.
  • There is no higher value or being or power than the state. God is the protector of the state.
  • God is not revealed to all, but only to select individuals or nations and their rulers and priesthood.

May it not be claimed that for Christians and the church to expose these delusionary assumptions is a central part of spiritual warfare in society and culture? The trouble is, however, that we do not have much training in so doing.

But also at a personal level we remain responsible for what we do with the demonic delusions and propaganda. Telling the truth and living the truth remain the most forceful danger to any system of falsehood. The fundamental threat to a system of lies is the threat that just one is living the truth; we know this from the recent history of Nazi and Communist domination. We even know it from a fairy tale where a single child cried out, “The emperor is naked!”.

Along the same lines a sense of powerlessness may hide a spiritual disease deliberately induced by the Powers to keep us afraid. The sense of political powerlessness in some of our countries represents in my view a demonic deception to keep us believing that politics are dirty and that we do not make any difference. Could it be that the victory of faith over the Powers lies, not in being immune to them, but in being set free from their delusions. And to break the spell of lies and delusions we need a vision of God’s domination-free order.

3. Fighting the Powers

The fight against the Powers has already been under way a good long time by our engaging them and diagnosing their strategies and delusions. We may take one step further by adding the vision of God’s domination-free order, to show the clear distinction between a domination system and a partnership society, between the myth of redemptive violence and the story of Jesus. Rather than doing this in a general way, let me show the contextual chart Wink has developed to clarify the differences between the Domination System and God’s domination-free order (1992: 46-47).

Societal Mode
The Domination System
God’s Domination-free Order
Gender differences Patriarchal; superiority/inferiority Equality of sexes; differences in
Power Power over; power to take life, control Power with, to give, support
Politics Conquest, autocracy, authoritarian Diplomacy, democracy, enabling
Economics Exploitation, greed, privilege, inequality Sharing, sufficiency, responsibility
Religion Male God-jealous, wrathful, punishing Inclusive God-images, loving/judging;
Compassionate/severe, merciful/demanding
Relationships Ranking, Domination hierarchies,
Slavery, classism, racism
Linking, Equality of opportunity
Transformative mode Violence, force, war;
Suppression of conflict
Non-violent confrontation, negotiation;
Non-violent conflict resolution
Ecological stance Exploitation, control, contempt Harmony, co-operation, respect
Role of ego Self-centred Affiliation-oriented
Education Indoctrinating Enabling
Sexual responsibility Subordination of women’s reproductive
Capacities and sexual expression to male
Control of sexuality by individuals in the light of community values
Eschatology Status quo, holding and keeping power, Preoccupied with this world Cultural transformation, the reign of God, the coming
Aeon Eternity in the future, injustice in the present Eternity in the present, justice in the future

We may disagree on several accounts with Wink’s interpretation of God’s reign – at least I do; but there is for us Evangelicals a serious challenge in his attempt to place God’s reign in a socio-political and cultural setting. Without such daring contextualisations we run the risk of transforming the Gospel into a timeless, placeless, eternal nowhere. The same may then happen to the Powers. The challenge for us as we fight the Powers is to proclaim the Gospel as a context-specific remedy for the evils of a society and a culture dominated by the Powers.

The primary weapon against the Powers has always been and will always remain the liberating message of Jesus. That small word or testimony is sufficient to bring down the whole army of Powers and Principalities. The Gospel is the most powerful antidote for domination that the world has ever known. It was that antidote that inspired the abolition of slavery, the women’s movement, the non-violence movement, the civil rights movement, the human rights movement, the fall of Nazism, Fascism and Communism, the break-up of apartheid.

In our fight against the Domination System, we shall lift up the biblical focus on servanthood and servant leadership (Luke 22.22-27), not just as a principle, but because the central core of the Gospel is the slave or servant of the Lord who took upon himself our transgressions. The consequence of this gospel truth is the repudiation of the right of some to lord it over others by means of power, wealth, shaming, or titles. The man on a donkey is the master of God’s people in their fight against Powers and Principalities in this world.

Does this challenge not also include a call for equity? Breaking with domination means ending the economic exploitation of the many by the few, in a local social setting and at a global level. Is not the growing gulf between rich and poor a satanic abomination in the eyes of the Lord? Are we not challenged to change the economic order and to shout to our consumer cultures, “Enough is enough!”

And what about the redemptive violence surrounding us, even after the demise of the Cold War? True, a society with an unfair distribution of goods requires violence. And violence is the only way some are able to deprive others of what is justly theirs. And do we not need means of violence to keep the rest of the world away from our meat pots in the rich world? All these heathen immigrants….Jesus rejects violence as far as I can read, not resistance, but violence. And Paul tells us that the weapons we use in our fight are not the weapons of the Domination System (kosmos) but God’s powerful weapons which we use to destroy strongholds (2 Cor 10.4).

My intention is not to make Jesus a reformer or revolutionary, attempting to replace one oppressive power with another. Rather we may view his ministry as a struggle against the basic presuppositions and structures of oppression, against the Domination System itself, against Satan himself.

The first serious lessons in spiritual warfare I received as a young Scandinavian missionary derived from the East African Revival. These lessons changed my life and they still follow me, also in relation to fighting the Powers:

  • Do not become too preoccupied with analysing demons and the tricks of Satan. With the occult people do their utmost to catalogue demons, their name, colour, smell, origin, taste, etc. When people come to faith in Jesus, they refrain from this. Jesus has conquered the demons, and we do not need to study their activities to gain control over them.
  • Lift up Jesus and him crucified. All spiritual gifts are to be used to lift up the cross – also signs and wonders.
  • The decisive mark of the power of the Holy Spirit is a contrite heart, and not speaking in tongues or mighty deeds; they may appear, but the central sign of God’s power is repentance.
  • The only way to break the power of Satan in everyday life, in society and in culture is by walking in the light with all of your life so that Satan may not get a chance to bind you in the darkness. And to walk in the light means to live in openness with others, in small groups where intercession and healing are central.
  • The gifts of grace belong in relations and contexts that are cleansed by the blood of Christ. The power of the Lord is the blood that cleanses from all sin.
  • The person who is cleansed and walks in the light, renounces the devil and all his works absolutely and totally.
  • Out of cleansing and walking in the light in close communion with sisters and brothers, the testimony grows and the gifts needed on the way out with the word about Jesus.

Notice how central the cross is in this East African understanding of spiritual warfare. In the same way Paul claims that it was not primarily through the resurrection that the Powers were unmasked, but on and through the cross: “Unmasking the Principalities and Powers, God publicly shamed them, exposing them in Christ’s triumphal procession by means of the cross” (Col. 2.13-15). Jesus died because he challenged the Powers. But something went wrong for the Powers. Their use of violence exposed their own illegitimacy. Their nailing him to the cross meant the end of the Domination System. The Powers that led him out to Golgatha are led in God’s triumphal procession. When they tried to destroy him, they stepped into a divine trap, as Luther says somewhere: “The devil saw Jesus as his prize, snapped at the bait, and was pulled out of the water for all to see”. Therefore on the cross the Powers themselves are paraded and made captive. And so the cross marks their failure and the failure of violence. The power of God is here hidden under seeming powerlessness (sub contrarie specie).

And so the cross continues to challenge the entire Domination System. Because the cross reveals the delusions and deceptions, because the cross reveals that death does not have the final word. Jesus entered darkness and death and made it the darkness of God: It is now possible to enter any darkness and trust God to wrest from it resurrection. And the cross proves that truth cannot be killed. The mighty forces of deception and lie cannot ever kill the truth anymore. After Good Friday it will continue to survive, even in a single Chinese student standing alone before a column of tanks in Tianamen Square.

“Killing Jesus was like trying to destroy a dandelion seed-head by blowing on it. It was like shattering a sun into a million fragments of light” (Wink 1992: 143).

So let us continue to lift up the cross of Christ because we know that where the cross is lifted high, the Powers are losing strength. And this I mean in a very literal sense: Proclaim the cross to the leaders of this world, whisper the name of the crucified in the dark prisons, shout it out in the midst of our modern consumer temples, walk into the battle zones of Ethiopia and Eritrea with the cross of reconciliation, challenge the ethnic fighting in Easter Europe in the name of Christus Victor.

And then let us die with Christ to the fundamental assumptions of the Domination System – the stoicheia tou kosmou that Paul talks about in Col 2.20: “Why do you let yourselves be dictated to as if your lives were still controlled by the kosmos?” I sense in my own life and ministry a need for understanding better what Jesus meant by losing my life: “Those who try to make their life secure will lose it, but those who lose their life will keep it” (Luke 17.33). Does it also have something to do with my bondage under social and cultural values invented by the Powers? I know that I need to die to my private egocentricity, but is there also a call here to die to the hybris of Western culture? Do we Evangelicals need to be more radically social-oriented when we talk about dying with Christ?

And let us build bridges from our daily lives to him who has all power and honour, through praying in the name of the crucified and risen Lord – because we know that the act of praying is itself one of the primary means by which we engage the Powers. Here their secret spell over us is broken. Intercession can affect the shape the future takes. Therefore the gift of intercession must be encouraged and given room. In Scripture we see that intercession changes the world and it changes what is possible to God. It creates islands of freedom in a world in the grip of the Powers. And it rattles God’s cage and wakes God up and sets him free. Praying is joining God on the battlefield in the conflict between the kingdoms. The drastic and unexplainable changes in the former Soviet Union or in South Africa or the Philippines would not have happened, had it not been for people praying so that God found an opening and was able to bring about change. The answer to prayer may take time, maybe because the Powers are blocking God’s response. But when we fail to pray, God’s hands are tied.


The primary task of the Church with reference to the Powers and Principalities is to unmask their idolatrous pretensions, to identify their dehumanising values, to strip from them the mantle and credibility and to set free their victims. This includes the testimony to the crucified – to the rulers and powers. It does not include a commission to create a new society; rather we are, in the midst of society, to call the Powers’ bluff, to de-legitimate and ridicule the Domination System.

Central in calling the Powers’ bluff , our offer of praise and worship to the one true God stands. Because in and through that praising of the one true God, the bluff of all idols is revealed. So as we fight the Powers, we shall ascribe to God glory and strength.


Arnold, Clinton E.

3 Crucial Questions about Spiritual Warfare. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1998

Powers of Darkness: Powers and Principalities in Paul’s Letters. Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1992

Greig, Gary S. & Kevin N. Springer (eds.)

The Kingdom and the Power. Ventura: Regal Books, 1993

Kraft, Charles H.

Christianity with Power: Your Worldview and Your Experience of the Supernatural. Ann Arbor: Vine Books, 1989

Lingenfelter, Sherwood

Transforming Culture: A Challenge for Christian Mission. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992

Millett, Kate

The politics of Cruelty. New York: Norton & Company, 1994

Moreau, A. Scott

Essentials of Spiritual Warfare. Wheaton: Harold Shaw Publishers, 1997

Oberman, Heiko A

L.uther: Man between God and the Devil. New York: Doubleday, 1992

Wells, David F.

God the Evangelist. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987

Wink, Walter

Naming the Powers: The Language of Power in the New Testament. Philadelphia: Fortress press, 1984

Unmasking the Powers: The Invisible Forces that Determine Human Existence. Philadelphia: fortress Press, 1986

Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Dominion. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1992

When the Powers Fall: Reconciliation in the Healing of Nations. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1998

The Powers that Be: Theology for a New Millennium. New York: Doubleday

Date: 22 Aug 2000

Gathering: 2000 Nairobi


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