Power in Christianity

power-of-christToday I attended a presentation by Bill Loader, a professor emeritus at Murdoch University in which he presented a combination of social psychology, theology and personal psychology of power applied to spirituality. At least that is how I saw it through my student lens.

Intrigued by the light in which he chose to present it and the comments of some attendees I looked around the net to see where I might find references to power in the Old and New Testaments. I found this by Gary T. Meadors in Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary:

…the biblical deity is a God of history, not just nature. Therefore, this God brings the world into existence ( Jer 27:5 ; 32:17 ) and distributes power to people to fulfill his historical purposes (cf. Exodus 15:6 Exodus 15:13 ; Deut 3:24 ; Psalm 46:1 ; 86:16 ).

The biblical description of power relates primarily to God and people. Power is an inherent characteristic of God ( Rom 1:20 ). It is the result of his nature. God’s kind of power is seen in his creation ( Psalm 19 ; 150:1 ; Jer 10:12 ). His inexplicable power is the only explanation for the virgin birth of Jesus ( Luke 1:35 ). Power is always a derived characteristic for people, who receive power from God ( Deut 8:18 ; Isa 40:29 ; Micah 3:8 ; Matt 22:29 ; 1 Cor 2:4 ; Eph 3:7 ), from political position ( Esther 1:3 ; Luke 20:20 ), from armies ( 1 Chron 20:1 ), and from other structures that provide advantage over others. When humans perceive that their power is intrinsic to themselves, they are self-deceived ( Lev 26:19 ; Deut 8:17-18 ; Hosea 2:7-9 ; John 19:10-11 ).

Jesus as the God-Man demonstrated both the intrinsic and derived aspects of power. He proclaimed his power and authority as derived from the Father ( John 5:27 ; 17:2 ; 5:16-23 ). He also demonstrated that his power was derived from his authority as the Son of Man and that the two were an inseparable testimony to his divine nature ( Matt 9:6-7 ; Luke 4:36 ; 9:1 ).

Power in the New Testament is used to describe the unseen world. The angelic realm is described as “powers” or “authorities” ( Rom 8:38 ; Eph 3:10 ; 6:12 ; Col 1:16 ; Colossians 2:10 Colossians 2:16 ). Jesus exercised power over the unseen world through his exorcism of demons ( Mark 6:7 ; Luke 9:1 ).

Paul especially images the living of the Christian life as an empowerment from God. The believer’s union with Christ delivers him or her from the power of sin (cf. Rom. 6-8) and introduces him or her to the “power of [Christ’s] resurrection” ( Php 3:10 ). Salvation and holy living provide the Christian with a “spirit of power” for witness ( 2 Tim 1:7-8 ). Paul’s view of the gospel itself is imaged as power ( Rom 1:16 ). “Power” in Romans 1:16 renders the Greek word dunamis. It is often noted that the gospel is the “dynamite of God” because the English word “dynamite” is derived from dunamis. Such an observation, however, is not a valid use of etymology. Dynamite was not in existence during Paul’s time. He had no such image in his mind. For Paul, the gospel dunamis was the dynamic of God’s power conveyed through God’s message. When presented to the world, the gospel dynamically works salvation in those who believe. Paul develops the motif of divine power as the key to Christian living by noting that unless the believer is empowered, it is impossible to please God (Rom. 6-8; 1 Cor 15:56-57 ).

Peter also utilises the concept of power to image the Christian life as an empowerment from God. Second Peter 1:3 states that “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness.” The context views this power as channeled through knowledge and virtue. Peter does not view this power as passive, but as the foundation and motivation to pursue a circle of virtues ( 1:5-9 ) that produce and evidence productive Christian living.

In the following is an interesting passage on which I propose to reflect:

Major Revisions to Chapter 4 of God, Reason, and the Evangelicals (University Press of America, 1987). Copyright held by N. F. Gier. Published as “Three Types of Divine Power,” Process Studies 20:4 (Winter, 1991), pp. 221-232.

“I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.” The initial words of the Apostles’ Creed testify to the prominence of divine power in Christian theology. Placing omnipotence first, even before divine goodness and wisdom, is the preference not only of Christianity but also Judaism and Islam. Anna Case‑Winters observes that in Judaism “power becomes a paraphrase of the divine names, a kind of euphemism for God.”1 In these Abrahamic religions, more so than in the Asian, divine power has been conceived in terms of political power. In Islam, Judaism, and Chris­tianity God is seen as a cosmic king, exerting absolute and uncontested rule over the universe and everything in it. Political terms such as pantokrator (“all‑ruling”), sovereignty, and kingship dominate western descriptions of God. In his book Kingship of God Martin Buber argues that Yahweh is different from the other middle eastern gods in that he demanded control in all areas of human life, not just the religious.


Confessions, revelations and discourse welcome here

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