Book Review: Transforming Power, by Robert Linthicum. Intervarsity Press

October 16, 2006

Any honest look at the complexity of structural evil besieging our communities leaves the average Christian or congregation overwhelmed and unable to imagine how to initiate action that would make a difference. Linthicum, relying on biblical evidence and his own experience with effective community organizing efforts, suggests that social transformation is possible when Christians, congregations and community members unite and utilize power in a biblically sound manner. 


Linthicum’s first section of the book seeks to establish an understanding of God’s intentions for how communities should function ideally and examines the biblical theology of power.  The book of Deuteronomy, according to Linthicum provides insight into God’s hope for people to work together to ensure society’s welfare through the right functioning of political, economic, religious systems. He refers to this optimal level of societal well-being as a “shalom community” and suggests that it arises when people are faithful to evidence their love for God by loving others, seeking justice for all, and practicing the redistribution of wealth in order to end poverty.  Linthicum goes as far as saying that the story of the rich young ruler in Luke communicates that “Jesus links the gaining of eternal life with the handling of money,” which is a bit of theological stretch in light of the limited amount of time he gives to developing this idea (p.65). However, Linthicum’s writing provides an unquestionable amount of biblical evidence conveying God’s desire for humanity to experience redemption on not just a personal level, but in all spheres of community life.  The book of Nehemiah in particular, is an example of how engaging those in positions of authority as well as the ordinary community member can bring about social transformation when people unite and utilize relational power.   

In the second part of the book, titled “The Practice of Power,” Linthicum provides the reader with the practical application of the biblical foundation for harnessing of relational power. He emphasizes that “all truly transforming change must be built upon the creation and maintenance of strong relationships” (p134). Linthicum encourages the use of one-on-one meetings with others to discover the perceived needs and problems of a community and to organize people together around these concerns in order that they can bring about change without depending on the programs of others.  Once this occurs, Linthicum suggest that it is time for united action of this relational network to sway community systems. He outlines a number of biblically-based tactics to go about doing this while sharing a number of compelling stories from his own personal experience of successful community organization initiatives.

Overall, Linthicum’s writing provided hope for the possibility of a “shalom community” during my lifetime and exposed false ideologies and cynicism that so easily undermine attempts to change structural systems of oppression.  I was most impressed with Linthicum’s emphasis on conducting ministry with the community versus to it. This line of thought resembled some of Shane Claiborne’s emphasis in Irresistible Revolution on building mutual relationships with others when envisioning God’s plan for redemption in a community.  The concept that Linthicum developed regarding the importance of treating people with dignity and not doing “for others what they can do for themselves” was one of the most valuable in the book (p110).  Some of Linthicum’s ways of linking biblical theology with community organization principles were somewhat questionable or unclear at times, but overall I found the book quite inspiring.


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