Q&R: Repenting of Our Will to Power?

Here’s the Question:

Many of us realise that we have tried to control God through our right theology and moral efforts but it has essentially been about self-determination. When we find ourselves embraced by the God who chooses to love us (and has a place for us in the new-creation plan), how can we articulate this is a way which helps wary evangelicals to grasp the radical nature of this ‘repentance’, transformation and hope-full future?

Or is Brian’s Greco-Roman hypothesis richer and more nuanced than many evangelicals would believe?, or Can we still repent of our will to power?

Here’s the Response:

As for helping wary Christians (whether Evangelical, Catholic, or whatever), I think some people don’t feel they need to be “helped.” They see attempts to help them in this way as a temptation to lower their standards, compromise with “the world,” etc. Often, though, things change later in life, often due to the influence of their children and grandchildren who feel less pressure to conform to the religious status quo.

I think your insight about “will to power” is quite significant. I doubt that many people consciously presume to “control God” (although certain features of “word of faith” or “prosperity theology” sound very much like this – quoting the Bible as a kind of magic talisman that forces God to comply to our “positive confession”).

However, I think, we humans are quick to use God to control others. In this way, we “control God” as we do a hammer or screwdriver – by rendering God a tool in our will to power over others. This happens in all religions, I think, from Christianity to Islam to Hinduism to Buddhism to Judaism, etc. Whether parents over children, men over women, one race over another, one party over another, one ideological gang over another, or one nation over another … we find “God” is a convenient tool to make others fearful, compliant, submissive, and cooperative.

The great irony of this for Christians, I think, is that Jesus is best understood as the opposite of will to power. He represents “will to love” or “will to self-giving.” Caesar’s kingdom (which lives by what I called the Greco-Roman narrative in A New Kind of Christianity) brings peace through a will to power (aka domination). The kingdom of God – the very opposite.

This is one reason that the traditional penal substitutionary theory of atonement is so problematic for many of us: in it, Jesus becomes the sacrifice to uphold, appease, and mollify God’s “will to power.” How different when we see Jesus as imaging God in a radically new way: a God who suffers for and with us … a God who identifies not with those willing themselves to power, but with those suffering under their will to power …

This all became more clear to me than ever as I was writing my new book, We Make the Road by Walking. You’ll see this understanding reflected especially in Chapters 4, 32A, B, and C, 46, and 51.

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