Walter Wink, theologian and nonviolent activist, dies at 76

By staff writers
May 11, 2012

Walter Wink, a leading Christian theologian, biblical scholar and advocate of nonviolent resistance, died yesterday (10 May 2012) at his home in the US. He was aged 76.

Wink delivering training on nonviolent resistance in the Philippines, Latin America and apartheid South Africa, as well as in the US and Europe. His work on biblical scholarship and theology inspired Christians and others around the world.

At the time of his death, he was Professor Emeritus of Biblical Interpretation at Auburn Theological Seminary in New York. He was ordained as a Methodist minister in 1961. He developed nuanced biblical arguments in favour of pacifism, anti-capitalism and the acceptance of same-sex relationships.

He built on Gandhi’s understanding of nonviolence as a more effective and more radical option than both violence and passivity. Although he was a pacifist, he was sharply critical of pacifists who seem more concerned with being personally virtuous than with serving the needs of the world.

Much of Wink’s theology concerned “the principalities and powers” mentioned in the New Testament. He wrote of their contemporary manifestation in institutions through which humans dominate each other and the rest of creation. He saw capitalism as just one manifestation of this “domination system”, in conflict with the freedom and justice of God’s kingdom.

His most famous published works are perhaps the three books in the “powers” trilogy, published between 1984 and 1992: Naming the Powers, Unmasking the Powers and Engaging the Powers.

His much shorter book, Jesus and Nonviolence introduced many readers to ideas of active nonviolence for the first time, and many others to a new appreciation of Jesus' life and teachings.

Wink was described as “one of the most creative and influential scholars of our day” by Richard Deats of the Fellowship of Reconciliation in the US. He said, “Although sorrowful that he was taken from us too soon, we rejoice in the life he lived and the legacy he left. Thanks be to God.”

Stuart Masters, senior programme leader at the Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre in the UK, said today, “Walter Wink has been a real inspiration to those who wish to seriously engage with the Bible as a narrative of God's peace, liberation and justice”.

He added, “His work on the powers in particular succeeded in gaining the respect of both liberals and evangelicals. Not many people can achieve that breadth of influence.”

* On Ekklesia by Walter Wink: Facing the Myth of Redemptive Violence -


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