Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

“The Powers” and “Empire”: Annotated Bibliography

The theme at this year’s summer conference (“peace camp”) of the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America is “As the Powers Fall:  Sustaining Our Faith and One Another as Empire Crumbles.” [Berea College, Berea, KY 23-28 July 2007–I can’t wait!].  I was asked to prepare an annotated bibliography on the themes of “the Powers” and “Empire” as a resource for the conference, marked as to level of difficulty and/or amount of background needed.  I share my results with all of you and, since the bibliography is hardly exhaustive, invite additions as well as other feedback. (P.S., I will not be able to blog from the conference, this year, but I will be taking many notes and photos and, as with last year, will share them on this blog afterward.)

An Annotated Bibliography on “The Powers”  and “Empire” for the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America.

by Michael L. Westmoreland-White, Ph.D.

Key: Items marked with an asterisk (” *”) are introductory or for beginners in these fields of study.  Those marked with the number sign (“#”) are of intermediate difficulty.  Items marked with a plus sign (“+”) are more difficult or presume background knowledge in biblical studies, theology, and/or political theory.

 I. The Powers 

Throughout the New Testament, but especially in the Pauline epistles, there is a range of terminology referring to the spiritual dimensions of organized power, e.g., powers,authorities, principalities, thrones, dominions, angels, demons (the latter two terms may have other meanings, but when qualified as “the angel of” a church, etc. or the “demon of” a particular city or kingdom, they definitely refer to the spiritual dimensions of an organized power), aeons, etc. They are often referred to collectively as “The Powers and Authorities,” or  “The Principalities and Powers,” or simply “The Powers.” They refer to (the spiritual dimensions of) governments, economic systems, the institutional dimensions of religion, ideologies (“isms” such as capitalism, communism, communitarianism, authoritarianism, individualism, creationism, Darwinism, Marxism, Freudianism, etc. as well as democracy, theocracy, oligarchy, plutocracy, etc.), systems, culturally dominant philosophies, etc.–semi-personal forces that shape, even rule, human life.

#Arnold, Clinton E. Powers of Darkness:  Principalities and Powers in Paul’s Letters.  InterVarsity Press, 1992.  Argues, against the consensus, that the “principalities and powers” refer only to occult, demonic, beings.


#Berkhof, Hendrikus.  Christ and Power.  Trans. from the Dutch by John Howard Yoder.  Herald Press, 1962.  The Dutch original was the work which began the modern study of the Powers.


+Caird, G. B. (1917-1984) Principalities and Powers:  A Study in Pauline Theology.  Clarendon Press, 1956. This was one of the most thorough early studies.  Written by an Anglican pacifist N.T. scholar.


+Carr, Wesley.  Angels and Principalities: The Background, Meaning, and Development of the Pauline Phrase hai Archai kai hai Exousiai. Cambridge University Press, 1981.  A revision of the author’s Ph.D. dissertation, University of Sheffield, 1974.


*Davenport, Gene L. Powers and Principalities.  Pilgrim Press, 2003. A brief introduction for beginners in the field.


#Ellul, Jacques(1912-1994).  The New Demons. Translated form the French by C. Edward Hopkins.  Seabury Press, 1975.  A political theology based on the new work by Berkhof, Caird and others on The Powers.  This theme became interwoven into all Ellul’s work, but this is the most accessible account.


*Gingerich, Ray C. and Ted Grimsrud, ed., Transforming the Powers: Peace, Justice, and the Domination System.  Fortress Press, 2006.  Builds on the work especially of Walter Wink.  Includes two essays by BPFNA’s own Glen H. Stassen.


*Stringfellow, William.(1928-1985).  An Ethic for Christians and Other Aliens in a Strange Land. Word Books, 1973. A non-technical interpretation of the Book of Revelation as a political theology. Two chapters on The Powers. The “Babylon” passages of Revelation are read as applying to the U.S. scene that Stringfellow knew so well.  Walter Wink was deeply influenced by Stringfellow.


+Wink, Walter.  Cracking the Gnostic Code: The Powers in Gnosticism. Scholars’ Press, 1993.  A nice contrast between the function of “Powers” language in the Gnostic writings and the canonical NT ones. This work will make you glad that the Gnostic writings are NOT part of the N.T. canon.


+__________.   Engaging the Powers:  Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination.  Fortress Press, 1992.  The 3rd volume of Wink’s original “The Powers” series.  This is a full-blown political theology from the perspective of the work he has done on The Powers theme.


+____________.  Naming the Powers: The Language of Power in the New Testament.  Fortress Press, 1984.  This is the most serious exegetical work on this theme throughout the New Testament since Berkhof’s original work.  This is the first volume in Wink’s trilogy “The Powers.”


*___________. The Powers that Be:  Theology for a New Millennium.  Doubleday, 1998.  This is a popularizing digest of Wink’s “The Powers” trilogy designed for the non-specialist.


+___________.  Unmasking the Powers: The Invisible Forces that Determine Human Existence.  Fortress Press, 1986.  Second volume of Wink’s “The Powers” series, this begins his theological reflections on the biblical work done in the first book.


*____________.  When the Powers Fall: Reconciliation in the Healing of Nations.  Fortress Press, 1998.  A popular look at practical peacemaking that is informed by Wink’s work on The Powers.


+Yoder, John Howard(1929-1997).  The Politics of Jesus: Vicit Agnus Noster. 2nd edition. Revised and Expanded.  Eerdmans, 1994. Original edition, 1972.  Chapters 8-10, but especially chapter 8, “Christ and Power.”

 II.  Empire 

The theme of “empire” has become widespread in recent biblical and theological studies, as well as recent political studies.  Political theorists debate whether or not the U.S. is an empire (remember that Rome was called an empire in its colonies long before that language was used back in Italy, where the trappings of the earlier republic were kept for some time), whether globalized capitalism forms a new kind of empire, and related matters.  For brevity’s sake, I am including only biblical and theological works, although they may reflect on contemporary issues.  In general, the anti-imperialist tone of the biblical writings has become newly emphasized in these studies.


#Avram, Wes, ed., Anxious About Empire:  Theological Essays on the New Global Realities. Brazos, 2004.  These are collected papers from a conference held in light of the unveiling of the “Bush Doctrine” in 2002 which proclaimed that the U.S. would tolerate no military or economic rivals and would launch “preemptive wars” against any and all perceived threats.  Most of the contributors are quite critical of this doctrine, but political ethicist Jean Bethke Elshtain of the University of Chicago Divinity School, once a liberal just war theorist, has become a vocal apologist for the Bush administration and the “war on terrorism.”


*Carter, Warren.  The Roman Empire and the New Testament: An Essential Guide.  Abingdon Press, 2006.  This is an excellent place to begin exploring the recent biblical works on this theme.


#___________. Matthew and Empire:  Initial Explorations. Trinity Press International, 2001.


*Cassidy, Richard J.  Christians and Roman Rule in the New Testament: New Perspectives.  Crossroad, 2001.  A good introduction from a brilliant Catholic New Testament scholar who is also a peace and justice activist.


#___________.  Jesus, Politics, and Society:  A Study of Luke’s Gospel.  Orbis Books, 1978.


#____________.  John’s Gospel in New Perspective:  Christology and the Realities of Roman Power.  Orbis Books, 1992.


+____________.  Society and Politics in the Acts of the Apostles.  Orbis Books, 1987.


*Crossan, John Dominic.  God and Empire: Jesus Against Rome, Then and Now.  HarperSanFrancisco, 2007.  A popular-level book with rather sweeping conclusions, some of which may outrun the exegetical evidence.


#Crossan, John Dominic and Jonathan L. Reed.  In Search of Paul:  How Jesus’ Apostle Opposed Rome’s Empire with God’s Kingdom:  A New Vision of Paul’s Words and World.  HarperSanFrancisco, 2004.


#Cullmann, Oscar (1902-1999).  The State in the New Testament.  Scribner’s, 1956.  Contrasts the vision of the state as “God’s instrument to you for good” in Romans 13 with the vision of the state as demonic “beast from the sea” in Revelation 13 and says that discernment as to when the state is more in line with Romans 13 or Revelation 13 is a major Christian task.


+Griffith, Lee.  The War on Terrorism and the Terror of God. Eerdmans, 2002. This is a difficult, but very important book. Griffith had already completed much of the book prior to 9/11. That terrorist attack and the U.S. response simply reinforced most of these conclusions.


*Howard-Brook, Wes and Anthony Gwyer,  Unveiling Empire:  Reading Revelation Then and Now.  Orbis Books, 1999.  This is a serious study of the Book of Revelation, but written in the easy-to-read style of all of Howard-Brook’s works.


*Howard-Brook, Wes and Sharon Ringe, eds.  The New Testament:  Introducing the Way of Discipleship.  Orbis Books, 2002.  This is an excellent introduction to the New Testament from biblical scholars committed to radical discipleship and nonviolence.  Two chapters deal especially with our theme:  “Paul’s Letters:  God’s Justice Against Empire,” by Neil Elliott and “Revelation: Claiming the Victory Jesus Won Over Empire” by Wes Howard-Brook.


#Horsley, Richard A. Jesus and Empire: The Kingdom of God and the New World Disorder.  Fortress Press, 2003.  Glen Stassen warns that some of Horsley’s biblical exegesis in this book doesn’t seem very careful.  What is certain is that Horsley has changed his mind considerably since his earlier work, Jesus and the Spiral of Violence. Harper & Row,  1987.  In that earlier work, Horsley argued that Jesus dealt almost exclusively with Palestinian village society and that his teachings on nonviolence and enemy love did not address the question of Rome.  Horsley has had a rather large change of heart in this regard.


*____________. ed. Paul and Empire: Religion and Power in Roman Imperial Society. Trinity Press International, 1997.


*Horsley, Richard A. and Neil Asher Silberman.  The Message and the Kingdom:  How Jesus and Paul Ignited a Revolution and Transformed the Ancient World.  Putnam, 1997.


+Horsley, Richard A., ed., Paul and Politics:  Ekklesia, Israel, Imperium, Interpretation: Essays in Honor of Krister Stendahl.  Trinity Press International, 2000.  Includes several scholarly essays on the theme of empire.


+____________., ed.  Paul and the Roman Imperial Order. Trinity Press International, 2004.  A collection of very deep scholarly essays.


#Keller, Catherine.  God and Power:  Counter-Apocalyptic Journeys.  Fortress, 2005.  Keller is a feminist historical theologian who has co-written and co-edited works with the more famous Rosemary Radford Ruether.  While I share her negative attitude toward the normal idea of apocalyptic writings, I argue that the only biblical examples, Daniel and Revelation, use the genre of apocalypse to subvert the usual expectations.  I would not want to be “counter-apocalyptic” in the sense of counter-Daniel or counter-Revelation.


*Laarman, Peter, ed.  Getting on Message: Challenging the Religious Right from the Heart of the Gospel.  Beacon Press, 2006.  See the chapter, “Easter Faith and Empire: Recovering the Prophetic Tradition on the Emmaus Road.” by Ched Myers.


# Northcutt, Michael B. An Angel Directs the Storm:  Apocalyptic Religion and American Empire.  I. B. Taurus, 2004.


+Phillips, Kevin P.  American Theocracy: The Perils and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century.  Viking, 2006.  The author is a former political strategist for the U.S. Republican party who has become alarmed at the direction of his party and the nation.


+Sugirtharajah, R.S.  The Bible and Empire: Postcolonial Explorations.  Cambridge University Press, 2005.  A difficult, but rewarding, study from the viewpoint of a liberation theologian from India.


+Stringfellow, William (1928-1985).  Conscience and Obedience:  The Politics of Romans 13 and Revelation 13 in Light of the Second Coming.  Word Books, 1977.  A popularization of the work of Oscar Cullman on the state and application to the U.S. that Stringfellow knew.


#Taylor, Mark Lewis.  Religion, Politics, and the Christian Right:  Post-9/11 Powers and American Empire.  Fortress Press, 2005. Very important reflections from a contemporary theologian. Medium difficulty.


+Thompson, Leonard.  The Book of Revelation:  Apocalypse and Empire.  Oxford University Press, 1990.  Difficult, but rewarding reading.


+Wengst, Klaus K.  The Pax Romana and the Peace of Jesus Christ.  Fortress, 1987.  This is an important and very careful study of the contrast between the kind of peacemaking that Jesus taught and the “peace through strength” policies of empire.


July 14, 2007 - Posted by | Biblical exegesis, liberation, New Testament, peacemaking, theology


  1. Great bib. Thanks, Michael. I’ve made some additions to my wish list thanks to you.

    One small adjustment: Paul and Empire is only edited by Horsley. You just need to add the “, ed.”

    Comment by Thom Stark | July 15, 2007

  2. Oh, and another book of great relevance, also edited by Horsley, is Hidden Transcripts and the Arts of Resistance: Applying the Work of James C. Scott to Jesus and Paul. James C. Scott is of course the anthropologist of Southeast Asian peasant societies behind such gems as Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts, The Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance, The Moral Economy of the Peasant: Rebellion and Subsistence in Southeast Asia, and Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes To Improve the Human Condition Have Failed. Reading Jesus and Paul in light of his work has been fascinating for me, and especially of note in the Horsley book is the essay by Bill Herzog on Jesus and the taxation question. Herzog actually argues that Jesus opposed taxation, but rather than overt rebellion reinterpreted the payment of taxes as an act of purging Israel of foreign idolatry.

    Comment by Thom Stark | July 15, 2007

  3. I had read that interpretation before Bill Herzog and in his 3 writings on the historical Jesus. Herzog, an American Baptist and newly become the academic dean and recipient of an endowed chair of NT studies at Andover-Newton Theological School outside Boston, was the Bible-study leader at a BPFNA summer conference about 4 years ago. Nice guy and an excellent biblical scholar.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | July 15, 2007

  4. That’s interesting. Do you remember where it was that you read it, apart from Herzog? If not, that’s cool. But I’d be very interested.

    Comment by Thom Stark | July 15, 2007

  5. I don’t remember, but it may have been in Klaus Wengst’s book which is in this bibliography–or in Ched Myers’ commentary on Mark or in one of the sociological commentaries. I just remember seeing that Jesus opposed–not all taxation–but the Roman tax and the SIZE of the Temple tax, but used a subversive approach rather than overt resistance that would invite in the Legions.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | July 15, 2007

  6. Cool.

    I’ve read Wengst. I thought the first half of the book was great, but his treatment of Luke-Acts is unfortunately very dated and I think he rather missed the boat. I’ve got Ched Myers’ book sitting on my shelf. I’ll check it out. Thanks!

    Comment by Thom Stark | July 16, 2007

  7. I’m surprised not to see any of the work by David Ray Griffin referenced in the “empire” section of the bibliography. Given his considerable standing as a theologian and his extensive writing describing the implications of the empire mentality in our current events, I can only assume that omission was deliberate. So are theories of 9-11 that differ from the empire’s off limits. What’s with that?

    Comment by Berry Friesen | August 8, 2007

  8. Berry, the omission was not deliberate. Griffin’s book should be included, although I am not as persuaded as he is that the administration planned 9/11 (rather than just using it opportunistically). So, I will include it in any revision and expansion. Thanks for bringing this omission to my attention.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | August 8, 2007

  9. Michael, perhaps you could engage Richard A. Horsley around your questions. He may not be as prepared as David Ray Griffin to assign responsibility for the events of 9/11 but he has called for a new investigation, thereby signally his conviction that we have not been told the truth about what happened and who is responsible.

    Comment by Berry Friesen | September 18, 2007

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