Some more reading, particularly into the thought of William Stringfellow, a predecessor of Walter Wink, turns all of the thoughts of my previous post on their head. Check out this quote from McCutchan:
“William Stringfellow examines the concept of “Principalities and Powers” and suggests that in contemporary times we give the “Powers” such names as institutions, ideologies, images, movements, causes, corporations, bureaucracies, routines, races, nations, idols, etc. It is important to remember that Paul did not see such “Powers” as evil in themselves. Thus we are not talking about an anti-institutional stance. “The Powers” are the fixed points by which we bring order and sense to the world. “For by him God created everything in heaven and on earth, the seen and the unseen things, including spiritual powers, lords, rulers, and authorities . . . and in union with him all things have their proper place” (Col. 1:16-17 TEV). They became demonic when they lost their sense of vocation and their role in God’s world. In biblical terms that is known as the “condition of the Fall.” It is in light of our full realization of their fallen state, that we must examine the interplay of some of the “Powers” in the development of some of the major themes of our culture.” – Stephen McCutchan, “Church, State, Principalities, Powers” in Theology Today, 33 no 3 O 1976, p 245
Specifically, the point that the powers are not evil in themselves, but created by God and fallen along with the rest of creation (which, I’m inclined to point out again, is pictured biblically as the result of human sin, not the rebellion of the powers – with the possible exception of Satan). Scholars in this camp seem to be divided over whether or not there exist good powers; Ellul sees all powers as being in a state of rebellion against God, while Stringfellow and Wink stress the need for the powers to be redeemed, which of course leaves room for powers that are functioning as they are supposed to. I’m having trouble articulating the notion, but there seems to be a mutually reinforcing corruption in the powers and in human beings, the interplay of world (powers) and flesh (human sin) that leads to Death (Satan, the evil one behind it all, the source and destination of all rebellion against God).
Here’s a quote about Stringfellow’s view, in an article about the uneasy alliance of powers of Church and State in America:
The objection might be raised here that no evidence has been presented that anyone in these various “Principalities and Powers” ever made a conscious decision to ally with this or that “Power.” This is to fail to recognize, however, “the creaturely status” of the “Principalities.” “Human beings are reluctant to acknowledge institutions—or any of the other principalities, as creatures having their own existence, personality, and mode of life . . . the illusion of human beings [is] that they make or create and, hence, control institutions and that institutions are no more than groups of human beings duly organized.”The truth is that “Powers” make their own decisions to enter alliances for their own purposes. – Stephen McCutchan, “Church, State, Principalities, Powers” in Theology Today, 33 no 3 O 1976, p 246-247
So it is precisely the creatureliness, a status shared by human beings and powers and principalities, that defines our relationship. Though we believe ourselves to be the makers and sustainers of institutions, we do not act alone – or even of our own initiative, if we take McCutchan and Stringfellow to their ultimate end on this (though Jacques Ellul, a friend of Stringfellow and another major inspiration for Wink, would probably disagree somewhat on this point). Created purpose governs all creatures: we have the purpose of ruling over creation, and the powers have the purpose of organizing our society for our benefit. But at the very least this implies some sort of partnership, some overlapping of domains and the agencies involved in maintaining them: even if powers influence us to ‘create’ and become involved in the institutions that govern our society, they themselves do so on the basis of the agency given them by God, and we ourselves still possess that same agency. We exercise rule over the earth, the powers exercise rule over us, but God is sovereign over all and gives us the authority through Christ to exercise our own agency over the powers themselves; there’s opportunity for human agency to work against the powers, and a higher authority supports us in this. So in a sense, we have the ability to participate in the dominion and redemption of the powers, even though they technically rule over us! Of course, we cannot ever, ever forget that any and every dominion or authority that we hold is only in our role as representatives of God, and therefore in our submission to Him. Just as when principalities rebel against God they lose their legitimacy and thus their authority over us, human beings who use their position as ambassadors and representatives of God for their own ends cease to have any authority over creation or the powers, and instead are participating in the rebellion and system of the powers. Even in exercising our authority over the powers, we must recognize that we have no inherent authority: we intercede, and God acts. A good example is in exorcism itself: when we pray, demons are cast out; but when we name and command demons, utilising particular formulas or techniques, we are in fact performing Christian magic – we’re actually participating in the powers, or as the pharisees put it, “casting out demons by the prince of demons.” Jesus slapped this notion down, hard.
This clears things up somewhat, and I hope overthrows any notions that might be peeking through my previous post that human beings have any sort of creative power or ruling authority apart from participation in the work and rule of God in Jesus Christ. Even so, how amazing is it to think that we can participate in the redemption not only of worldly institutions but of the powers and principalities behind them! But this raises another question entirely:
If the whole creation is being redeemed by Christ, and through him is reconciled to God, does this truly include spiritual beings? We often think of them as being outside of creation, but this is only because of our spirit/material dichotomy, a separation that is not very evident in scripture. Wink says that the powers and principalities must be redeemed, and this would be implied by the redemption of creation, but how does this relate to Jesus’ ministry of exorcism? What happens to demons that are cast out? Jesus says that they roam around, looking for another host to live in/off of. Can they be reformed? Is deliverance ministry/exorcism combative, or reformative? It’s easy to apply this notion of redemption and reformation to “powers and principalities” as Wink defines them, but not so easy when we’re talking about personal spirits. Thoughts?