Sunday, May 13, 2012

A mighty totara tree has fallen: death of Walter Wink

Kua hinga he totara i te wao nui a Tane. A totara has fallen in the forest of Tane.
A totara is a huge tree that grows for hundreds of years. For one of them to fall is a great tragedy. This proverb is said when someone of importance passes away. The Totara is a native tree of New Zealand. (Ref here)

Sad news overnight, with the death of Walter Wink. His trilogy on the powers – Naming the Powers: The Language of Power in the New Testament; Unmasking the Powers; Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination – was hugely helpful to me while training for ministry.

I had come from a charismatic background and was struggling with the intellectualism of theological training. Wink helped me find a way to integrate my charismatic roots with an intelligent justice and to pursue a spirituality that was neither all head, nor all heart, but an integration of mind, body, spirit.

No ivory tower this man and his writings. His was a deeply rigorous scholarship, yet remaining attentive to the world beyond what is seen and constantly engaged with a real world of violence.

It helped to open me to the work of Te Whiti, at Parihaka, and to appreciate his spirituality of non-violence (for more on what I’ve written, see here and here.

It also began to shape much of my thinking about change and leadership. Before Wink, I had often seen change as individual – one person holding back an idea. After Wink, I began to appreciate change as an organisational and systemic, that you need to introduce practices that destabilise a system, and nourish the conversations that then occur around the resultant anxiety. That conversion is not simply a reference to an individual, but can be to a group, a church, a community, a movement, a society.

It gives a neglected dimension to the work of the Spirit. Not a Spirit as privatised and individualised. But a Spirit in the world, the Spirit of surprise who redeems groups and institutions, who offers to each generation gifts new and fresh, not for their sake but for the sake of mission as radical justice-making.

Last year I was back reading Wink again – Transforming Bible Study – in research for conference paper on sensegesis.

Walter Wink is more abrupt, arguing that historical Biblical criticism is bankrupt, incapable of interpreting the Scriptures in ways “that the past becomes alive and illumines our present with new possibilities for personal and social transformation.”

Walter Wink. Thankyou.

Posted by steve at 12:32 PM


  1. Hi Steve. A great tribute to a wonderfull mind.
    Did you ever meet him ?

    Comment by TonyM — May 16, 2012 @ 8:35 am

  2. No I didn’t. Which is partly why I wrote it. I was struck by how a person can influence another, without ever meeting, just with written words,


    Comment by steve — May 16, 2012 @ 10:39 am

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