Book Review > Linthicum, Tranforming Power, 2003, IVP

Robert Linthicum lives in the Los Angeles area, where he is President of Partners in Urban Transformation and a Parish associate at La Verne Heights Presbyterian Church.

In his book, Transforming Power, Linthicum acknowledges the presence of powers in society, and encourages Christians to engage them to face injustice and evil. He says, “Whereas prayer, presence, proclamation, and the practices of social services, advocacy and community development are essential and strategic elements of the church’s ministry in today’s society, they are not sufficient. There has to be another way, and that way is clearly biblical way that is to be ignored: the intentional use of power by God’s people (81).”

Theology of Power
Linthicum uses Deuteronomy to point to a society as God intended: sharing a common wealth of economics, politics, and religion to bring a “shalom” community. Yet this keeps failing through political oppression and economical exploitation, which society imitates due to greed, and starts a downward cycle.

Redemption is brought about by “… learn[ing] to use power (80).” He defines two types of power, unilateral and relational (81-82). It’s the later, relational power, he points to throughout the book to bring about social change – with some exceptions.

He presents an example of a local bank turning down home improvement loans in an entire community to lower property value for investors to eventually buy cheap, rebuild and make profit (86-89). When the community realized what was happening, they confronted the bank president with signatures from the community and threatened to pull their accounts at the bank if the loans don’t start to come through. This is not the relational power he encourages in most of the book, but unilateral. He speaks to this discrepancy: “[This tactic] was not to close down the bank, but to begin a relationship (89).”

Personally, I have to come to Linthicum’s work with an optimistic attitude. He’s encouraging Christians to engage and wield the very powers that oppress and dominate. Yet he does strongly advocate what he calls the “Iron Rule, … to never do for others what they can do for themselves (93),” and the idea of “jubilee” (60), a biblical reversal of fortune to rebalance wealth to level out society.

The practice of power
Ironically in the push for this level society, Linthicum’s ideas for application are more relevant to middle and upper class. They assume existing clout, either politically or economically, to engage with the powers (i.e. community members who had enough wealth to be a threat to the bank by leaving). He very lightly addresses those without access to power in his description of civic disobedience, which “… works best when those who are protesting are not politically powerful enough to successfully confront (167).”

Overall, I can’t help but scratch my head at the contradiction of fighting fire with fire (or power with power) that is central to Linthicum’s thesis. Perhaps these models to mobilize the middle and upper classes are exactly what are needed to help equip the lower class with tools and resources, but I’d like to see more options for those who have no power or clout to confront injustice and evil on their own.


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