World Systems Model

One of the New Testament scholars who has captured both an academic reputation and a spirituality/church reputation is Walter Wink. Wink’s focus was on the powers, that is, on the principalities and powers. So his theory of spiritual warfare, the first discussed in Beilby and Eddy’s Understanding Spiritual Warfare, is all about the powers — it is a “world systems model.” It is about what Wink calls the “Domination System.” This is an impressive chp and a summary of Wink’s life work on the powers.

Satan, Wink contends, has nothing to commend himself to the modern world; he is evil; our culture thinks in terms of systemic problems; Satan has been whittled down “to the stature of a personal being whose sole obsessions seem to be with sexuality, adolescent rebellion, crime, passion and greed” (47). Evil is so large that this other portrait of Satan doesn’t own up to the problems.

Satan, for Wink, is the way of speak of an experience.

Wink traces Satan in the Bible as a servant of God, the accusing side of God, which speaks not so much about metaphysics and ontology but of our individual and collective guilt and self-accusations that rob us from being what God made us to be. Satan appears three times in the Old Testament: 2 Sam 24:1 and Zechariah 3:1-5 and Job 1–2. Here Satan is a servant of God, someone who sifts and tests and tempts on God’s behalf. Satan, Wink is arguing, is not unlike the earlier themes of YHWH testing (as in Exod 4:24-26a). In the Old Testament, he says, “Satan is clearly not demonic” (50). Satan is the accusing dimension of God. That is, “the inner or collective accusations of guilt or inferiority” (50).

Wink sees a similar approach to Satan in other New Testament texts: Luke 22:31-34 and 1 Cor 5:1-5 and 1 Timothy 1:20 and Matthew 4:1-11 (where Jesus is sifted about being the Mosaic prophet, the priestly Messiah, and the Davidic king).

Thus, “Satan is the real interiority of a society that idolatrously pursues its own enhancement as the highest good” (57). The “archetypal image of the universal human experience of evil and is capable of an infinite variety of representations” (58). Without the experience of accusation Satan is nothing. He sees Satan as real today — in the erosion of traditional religions, in treating humans as robots, a world that denies the inner world, in seeing money as the ultimate, and in exploitative economic systems.

History, Wink argues, belongs to the intercessors. Prayer is battling and haggling with God; it is genuinely a protest. Prayer is believing the future world of the kingdom into the present. This is the politics of hope.

He contends prayers are not answers simply because either we don’t believe or God says No. Some prayers are not answered because the powers thwart the will of God in this world. Our intercessions will ultimately and finally prevail.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • http://lisadelay.com/blog Lisa Colón DeLay

    This sounds like a fairly large distinction from Evil (or evil), and Satan (accuser or personification of evil or great Serpent (in Revelations). NT Wright draws on a bit of this (Evil and the Justice of God) saying that labeling Satan and Evil as something we can put a finger on belittles it (dangerously so). In our interaction with evil we become subhuman. And too, we may stupidly say, “There it is…Evil” and think we can distance ourselves from it and more easily identify it, or gain power over it that way….(meanwhile it lurks even within us, further disregarded).

    To me, the bit of trouble with going to far Wink’s way is that great suffering at the hands and powers that seem quite beyond us aren’t so satisfied with settling on the notion that “Satan” is the accusing side of God, and so forth. It seems more amorphous than that….and perhaps Wink acknowledges that (I have yet to read him on this).

    Does Wink think that prayer has its main efficacy (in overcoming evil) in that it aligns us with God’s will?

  • Brian S

    “Satan is the accusing dimension of God.” Statements like this are nothing but blasphemy. Satan is a fallen angel, the most evil being in creation. I cannot help but think that Wink himself was inspired by him to say these things…. garbage.

  • Jeff Stewart

    The language structure of Luke 4:8 would indicate Jesus talking directly to Peter when he calls him Σατανᾶ.

  • Jeff Stewart

    @ Brian. Are you basing this systematic notion on the belief that the proverb in Isaiah 14 is *not* a proverb at all, but applies to an angelic being? Just a simple, yet critical question.

  • Brian S

    Jeff Stewart – I am not sure what you mean by saying that Satan is a proverb. Satan entered Judas. Could a proverbial concept do that? Only a demon or angel qualifies. Satan is a created being, not an aspect of God, and he is clearly not a physical being. That narrows it down to angel. Looking at any one passage regarding Satan may lead us in one direction or another. We must take the totality of the evidence. With that the conclusion is what the church has taught for 200 years. Satan is a fallen angel, the first rebel against God.

  • Brian S

    2000 years

  • Jeff Stewart

    One passage at a time, please – as we consider the totality of the evidence. “Satan is a fallen angel” you say. Do you base that on 200 years of teaching or on your interpretation of Isaiah 14? You are the one using “blasphemy” and “garbage” and I’m curious as to why you would use those terms.
    Thank you.

  • Samuel

    2 Sam 24:1 in my NIV has no mention of Satan. It’s the LORD who incites David. Can you please explain for me? Thanks

  • Stephen W

    Brian S – I too am curious as to how you reach the conclusion you do and why you are so, erm, “passionate” about it.

    I have always thought of Satan as a personal being, but I recognise that I was brought up with that theological point of view. I have read Walter Wink and find his position fascinating. There is much to commend it, and if it turns out to be true I have no issue with that.

    Personally I still think of Satan (or “The Satan” as Tom Wright would have it, rightly so imo) as a personal being but I’m not adamant on the point nor do I think I can successfully defend it as an absolute theological truth. Nor am I convinced that much ultimately hangs on whether I’m right or wrong!

  • Angela Kantola

    I, too, paused at “Satan in the Bible as… the accusing side of God.” As one of the non-theologians who reads Scot’s blog, I’m hoping Scot revisits this post (which looks to have been rather hastily written) and expands on some of what’s written here. That said, I very much appreciated “History, Wink argues, belongs to the intercessors. Prayer is battling and haggling with God; it is genuinely a protest. Prayer is believing the future world of the kingdom into the present. This is the politics of hope.”

  • Jeff Stewart

    Exactly, Stephen. To hang your proverbial hat on what the Church has taught for 2000 years – there are 2 sharp edges there. Many inspiring, yet many diabolical things have resulted over this time span. This really forces the point at hand.

    I have studied the subject of adversary and still have unresolved questions that systematic theology does not address. Can they be answered as “totality of evidence?”

    -Evil preexisted the creation of human beings, yet chaos and brokenness did not commence until the human beings fell.
    -Jesus calls Peter “Satan.” Jesus calls us “evil.”
    -James says the source of darkness comes from within us, not outside.
    -Jesus said that the self-righteous Pharisees had the devil as their father.
    -Jesus said that the habitual sinful man who could not look up and begged for mercy was justified and not the person who taught and enforced what was Godly.

    Recalling that Jesus had “much more to say” and “knowing in part” requires that we press on so that we glorify God as his truth continues to progress in the Church.

  • scotmcknight

    Angela, it’s a summary — a brief one to be sure — of Wink’s ideas in the chp in this book I’m working through. Not a full discussion of Wink.

  • Brian S

    Stephen W – “Passion” describes a feeling, but not one that I have regarding this subject. My analysis is purely coldblooded. I use the word ‘blasphemy’ to any comment that calls God the author of evil (calling Satan, who is evil, an aspect of God)
    Samuel – compare the parallel passage in Chronicles. By doing this we see that “the anger of the Lord” is Satan. (This does not support Wink since revelation is progressive.) Samuel was written before the Israelites knew who Satan was. If they had, they no doubt would have worshiped him. Chronicles was written after the Israelites had finally abandoned idolatry. Then Satan was revealed to them and they understood who was trying to destroy them.
    Jeff – Fine. I thought it was clear that I take Isaiah 14 literally and not as a metaphor or parable or proverb. This is the first time Satan is shown to Israel although it was before the Captivity and Israel know doubt did not understand what Isaiah said if they listened to him at all.

  • Jeff Stewart

    Thank you for that answer, Brian. How then do you treat Isa. 14:4? I’m not able to change its meaning.

  • Tim Atwater

    The 2 Sam 24 reference should probably be actually 1 Chronicles 21:1
    the chronicler reworks the Samuel tradition — or clarifies?
    Read if you can the whole chapter on Satan in vol 2 of Wink’s Powers trilogy.
    It is more nuanced than a short summary allows.
    He does if i remember rightly allow for a darker version of Satan in the NT
    (which does read back into Gen 3 and see Satan there, somewhere in Rev…)

    think parallel time sequences and parallel realities (intersecting in time eternal…)
    hope this is not trying to say too much too quickly if so pardons pls

    grace and peace be with this discussion

  • Jeff Y

    “… the accusing side of God.” Would like to know, as with others, exactly what is meant by that. It is too a-contextual and esoteric, it seems to me; I don’t get the meaning exactly.

    While I think there is much to be commended with Wink in the above material (many in the evangelical world really don’t see the “powers” as we should; as Revelation brings out more fully). But, at the same time, I think Wink (if that’s a correct summary) is wrong in saying Satan appears only three times in the OT. Perhaps by name, this is the case. But, Jesus clearly sees him in Genesis 3-4 (John 8:44 “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”). Yes, Satan is not mentioned by name there but he is connected with the devil in other places – e.g., Rev. 12:9 And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.”

    It is difficult to see a) how Satan is not seen in other OT texts even though not mentioned by name – if we are going for a full theological perspective of this character; b) how he cannot be viewed as a distinct personality – unless Jesus is completely speaking accommodatively in John 8; and c) how Satan is the “accusing side of God” in light of these texts in the NT that shed light on Satan. But, perhaps the “accusing side of God” phrase can be unpacked in a way that does make sense of the whole picture.

  • Jeff Stewart

    @Jeff Y: Was Jesus speaking directly to Peter, or another personality in the room?

  • mason

    not to throw gasoline on an already burning fire, BUT in the context of Isaiah 14 one could argue exegetically that the “day star” is not SATAN, but the King of Babylon. Is 14.4 makes it fairly clear that the following verses area about taunting the king of Babylon who would dare equate himself to the one true God. in the context, Is 14 is about the future humbling of Babylon. this is also confirmed by 14.24 and 14.29 and chapter 15 with the Oracles against Assyria, Philisita and Moab.

  • John I.

    Also, there is no statement in the Bible that actually says that Satan is a created being. Nor is there a statement that all uses of “the satan / the adversary” are referring to the same thing / entity.

  • ScottW

    Even though I do be believe in Evil, Winks larger point is dead on about the suprapersonal nature of Evil, which in more traditional parlance is termed the World. The World, the flesh and the Devil are linked. It is no accident that Evil like justification and salvation is individualized that the cosmic anf institutional manifestations are suppressed, unlike the NT.

  • Marshall

    The powers model is at least good in explaining how all humans inherit Original Sin.

    I think when you push on it, the question of whether The Accuser/Tempter/Frustrater is personal or not dissolves. That is, should a corporation be considered a “person”? It has no activity of its own, independent of humanity, but it has activity/desires/motives that are not due to any individual human, and it is not particularly responsive to individual humans. It is necessarily sociopathic, “evil”, in that it has no morality except towards itself.

  • Brian S

    Jeff Stewart – Isaiah 14:4 refers to the king of Babylon. Beginning in verse 12, the subject is now Satan. Why are they put in the same passage? Because Satan and the king of Babylon are alike. The same thing is in Ezekiel 28 where the prophet prophesies against the prince of Tyre, an earthly ruler, and then against the “king of Tyre”, a spiritual being who has ‘fallen from heaven’, a cherub (angel). He was in Eden. This cannot be the earthly prince.
    John I. – Ezekiel 28:15 specifically says that Satan is a created being as are all angels.
    Back to Jeff – We can look at one or two passages and reach a certain conclusion. Our task is to look at all the scriptures see how they all fit together, not take one and use it to interpret everything.

  • Jeff Stewart

    I agree about the task with scripture. What in verse 12 causes you to think that the writer is not still addressing this as a parable? Isaiah is calling the King a “Shining Star” and does not use the term “Satan. הֵילֵל

    If the adversary is a mere created angel, do other angels have such influence and power?

    I really believe that you are not basing this on scriptural study, but on handed down conventional notions.

  • Brian S

    Not all “conventional notions” are wrong; my conclusions are based on scripture study. But those conclusions are not reliant on Isaiah 14, which you, not I, brought up in the first place. It is true that the term “satan” or “the satan” is not used here or in many other places – either OT or NT. But if you look at OT prophecy, you find that the term “messiah” is only found a couple of times, but it becomes the common term referring to the coming redeemer. Likewise, with “Satan” or “the Devil”. There are many references to both Satan and Christ, but they do not always, or even usually, contain these specific terms.
    I am betting some angels might be a bit miffed at being referred to as “mere angels” when they are depicted in scripture as excelling in strength and wisdom. Note the angel who defeated an army of 85,000 attacking Hezekiah’s Jerusalem.
    To me, Is. 14:12ff refers to Satan because of references, when taken literally, could not refer to a man. ‘Fallen from heaven’, ‘cast to the earth’, ‘ascend to heaven’, et al., seem to imply a supernatural being of some sort. (Note that Jesus told the disciples that he saw Satan fall from heaven like lightning.) But even if you are right about Isaiah and I am wrong, my theology is not changed one bit, because there is plenty of scripture to back it.

  • Jeff Stewart

    Everyone’s theology *should* change, Brian – in line with our daily transformation. I know in part as do you.

  • http://www.createdtobelikegod.com theophilus.dr

    Wink’s use of Satan as an adversary of God is interesting and forms an apparent paradox since God allows Satan to operate. Satan can’t be the evil side of God, because God is the definition of righteousness and holiness. An approach blending physics with theology isn’t often taken, but, since the physical and spiritual realms have a common creator, one should expect analogous principles between the two (Rom. 1:20). Jesus used science in His parables to illustrate spiritual principles about the kingdom. Taking a more “macro-cosmic approach,” there is a blog discussion that relates the physical aspects of Newton’s Laws of Motion with the spiritual aspects of God allowing Satan to test His people (Israelites or the church) so that the human parts of the “structure” will fail, leaving only the parts maintained out of the power of the Spirit. Only that part (purified gold) overcomes the world. The premise for the discussion is that God created the physical and spiritual realms to function using analogous laws which can be compared to help understanding of both. It’s just another imperfect way of looking at a subject that is difficult to understand. Other examples of analogies are the Laws of Thermodynamics, the life cycle of an isolated bacterial colony, and the laws behind cycles.

    https://sites.google.com/a/createdtobelikegod.com/intruerighteousnessandholiness/home/newton-s-law-of-motion-the-equal-opposite-reaction-in-the-spiritual-realm

  • Percival

    No wonder Jesus could cast out demons. He got his power from Satan (the accusing aspect of God himself) the prince of demons. Wink, wink.

  • Patrick

    John I,

    Context makes these determinations.

    Cyrus is called “My Messiah” by God, yet there is no evidence Cyrus worshipped Yahweh or is “The Anointed One” since he isn’t a Jew of the tribe of Judah.
    Ha satan is the same. Lots of stuff is like that in the bible, ancient Jews used different context to use the same verbiage for different ideas.

    The way Jesus used the term, He saw satan as an adversary of His , not as part of His character.

    Whether satan is one bad “top fallen” angel, “the serpent”, a representative of a lot of them or a title for an angelic adversary of another name I don’t know, I do know based on Christ’s commentary alone, Wink’s view here is heresy and thoughtless nonsense.


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