Saturday, May 12, 2012

Walter Wink (1935-2012)

Walter Wink died on 10th May.  He was a great scholar of the New Testament, but more than that he helped others to read the Bible and to model their lives upon it.

I was fortunate enough to hear Walter Wink at the Greenbelt Festival in the early 1990s.  He spoke about the powers and about how Christians should read the Bible.  He offered his party piece Bible study on the sermon on the mount, involving someone stripping down to their shorts, was a powerful demonstration that the Bible has a social context and a radical meaning.  I bought the first two books on the Powers at that Greenbelt and devoured them.  Sometime later, I bought a copy of Engaging the Powers, and found a superbly written synthesis of biblical theology informed by a massive range of sources.

Wink was often misunderstood.  His audience at Greenbelt halved, once some realised that he wasn't speaking of the Powers in a way that accorded with the Frank Peretti school of demonology.  Instead, Wink took a more intellectually rigorous, more personally demanding and more prayerful approach to the subject.  It was both better Biblical theology and better Christian spirituality.  But it wasn't always popular.  Wink's refusal to shirk the hard issues meant that he had to deal with unpleasant and un-Christian opposition.

On first reading Wink, what struck me the most was the careful and even tedious way that he worked through the New Testament evidence.  If I remember correctly, Naming the Powers was written while he was in bed ill (or at least that's where the research for it was done).  It wasn't, let me be honest, the most riveting book I've ever read.  But it was a superb foundation for the excellent work that followed.

But if careful scholarship was one pillar of Wink's work, then committed Christian living was another.  Wink was a scholar of the Bible, but only in order that he might shape his life and help others to shape theirs according to its teaching. His work on nonviolence in the teaching of Jesus, fed into work in the United States, South Africa and around the world.

But perhaps I will be most grateful to Walter Wink for his insistence on the role of prayer in all of this.  "History belongs to the intercessors" he wrote in Engaging the Powers.  And this integrated approach to scholarship, Christian living and prayer has taught me a huge amount in the way I have tried to approach all three areas.

Thanks be to God for Walter Wink.  May he rest in peace and rise in glory.

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