Christ and the Powers

Hendrikus Berkhof

Book cover

It was a bit of a hassle to get this very short book (I used NYU interlibrary loan) but I’m glad I did. I got interested in it from reading Yoder’s “The Politics of Jesus”, which draws on it quite extensively. (Yoder translated this book, which is really more like a pamphlet, from the Dutch.)

In one sense I didn’t get a whole lot out of reading this book, since Yoder goes over Berkhof’s conclusions in some detail in PoJ. But I find Berkhof’s argument so interesting and compelling that I am giving it five stars anyway. In this book, Berkhof analyzes the apostle Paul’s use of terms such as “Powers”, “Thrones”, and “Principalities”. These are things that the modern reader tends to skip over because we don’t really believe in angels or demons. But Berkhof insists on looking at them carefully and shows quite convincingly that there is no consistent way of interpreting them in a completely traditional way, for example as used in other contemporary Jewish apocalyptic literature. Rather, he argues that Paul is employing this familiar language to talk about something much more subtle, namely, the structures and practices of human life that are necessary to give some shape to our lives, but that are also “fallen” to the extent that they demand fealty as ultimate values (which they in truth are not).

I really appreciate this balanced way of looking at human social structures, which neither completely embraces nor completely rejects society-as-it-is, but remains critical of it. Also, as someone who grew up playing computer RPGs such as Diablo II, I think that the language of “powers and principalities” is a cool way of depicting the issue.

My Goodreads rating: 5 stars