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19 October 2015

Power: danger or opportunity?

Power: danger or opportunity?

Addressing an event for LICC (the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity) Katherine Leary Alsdorf talked about power, and whether it was a danger or an opportunity. It is, of course, both, or least, at times it can be. Power was regularly affirmed as a gift, which is given to use by God. The example given was that Jesus didn’t give up his power – he gave up his status and privilege, but not his power.

The most interesting section of a very stimulating evening came when Leary Alsdorf looked at how the gospel transforms our understanding and use of power.

There were five areas identified where the fact that we know the good news, and that it changes our life, should also affect our relationship with power.

  1. Awe. The gospel should give us a revived sense of awe, at the source of our power, and at what that power has been used to do. When we look at creation and we see what God has done, we too should be motivated to create and to use the power we have been given to contribute to creation. We are also to be in awe of the true God, and not the false gods of the world that could capture our attention. 
  2. Hope. The gospel gives us hope that the power we have is worth using. Often people have a lack of passion and a lack of clarity in what we want to do and that’s often linked to a lack of hope that it is worth doing. We need hope and the gospel is the hope that points to a future – no other worldview gives it – it points to a kingdom that while beginning to come, is yet to come in its fullness. We are in great need for a greater imagination of what could be, and without this how can we have passion? The gospel provides a vital antidote to our despair.
  3. Caution. We know that we can misuse power, and the gospel provides a caution to this potential. Sometimes we think of the bad people as those who don’t go to church, while the good people do. The gospel does not allow that kind of distinction. As Christians we are just as vulnerable to sin as anyone else, and there is plenty of evidence that Christians also misuse power they have been entrusted with. The gospel provides us with a caution as to the prevalence of sine, but it also provides a clarity of the change that can come in our life. Knowing who we are changes our assumptions of power.
  4. Faith. We have faith to use power for the sake of other people. We are empowered to do tough things because we have faith that God is with us when we take hold of the power he has given us. The gospel gives us faith to know that we don’t have to do it on our own. Too often Christians are known as people who play it safe rather than risk takers – knowing the good news enables us to take risks.
  5. Share and relinquish power. Without the ability to share and let go of power, power would drive and own us. In the Lord of the Rings, Frodo starts off with the noble aim to steward the ring, and doesn’t realise how much it has come to own him until someone else wants to own it. God chose to share his power with us – we see at the start of Genesis the mess that we made of it, but despite this God chose to give us power. If we didn’t have the power to make a choice what we do we would go crazy. Moreover, sharing power is for our own good, and letting go of power reminds us how much of our identity might be caught up in the power we are wielding. Relinquishing power forces us to detach ourselves from it – we’re not going to finish it all. There is power in passing power on and enabling other people to use it in a gospel-centred way.

Leary Alsdorf wrapped the session up with a reminder for churches to focus on Genesis 1 and 2 and developing a strong understanding of the power we have to steward. By studying Genesis and Revelation and knowing how the story starts and ends we are able to handle power well.

Watch Steve Holmes, senior lecturer in theology at the University of St Andrews and chair of the Evangelical Alliance’s theology advisory board, speak about power and public leadership at the Alliance’s council in September 2014.