Bill Wylie-Kellermann is a nonviolent community activist, retired pastor, and author living in Detroit. His most recent books are: Dying Well: The Resurrected Life of Jeanie Wylie-Kellermann (Case Community, 2018), Principalities in Particular: A Practical Theology of the Powers that Be, and Where the Waters Go Around: Beloved Detroit.
Posts By This Author
False Gods and the Power of Love
Corporate dominance of world affairs seems almost god-like.
A Word of Hope in the Rubble
Our broken hearts are indeed the proper place to begin theological reflection. Wounded hearts, the tears of suffering and death, however, can lead divergent ways.
Self-Interest, Solidarity, and Power
God Is My Palm Pilot
Is technology the tool of the devil? The primrose path to a better life? Or something in between?
God is My Palm Pilot
Extended content available only online.
Healing People for the Struggle
There is a key spiritual gift that the church may bring to labor struggle: pastoral care.
The Power of Alliance
Exorcising an American Demon
More Than a Coin Toss
Resisting Death Incarnate
Readers Before Profits
We could not, so help us God, do otherwise
Jacques Ellul: A Hopeful Pessimist
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Jacques Ellul died on May 19. The Washington Post noted his passing in a few scant paragraphs. It went unnoticed here in Detroit. Sojourners could readily devote an issue to him—and did just that in June 1977, acknowledging a debt to his thought and witness. He tutored many of us in theology and social history.
Personally, I was introduced to Ellul’s writing as a seminarian through Dan Berrigan, who was then reading the signs of the time with the Book of Revelation in one hand and Jacques Ellul’s Presence of the Kingdom (1948) in the other. Presence was Ellul’s postwar manifesto—and nearly five decades later it still rings true with an uncanny discerning prescience.
Removed as a professor of law by the Vichy government in 1940, he spent World War II in the French Resistance, spiriting Jews to safety. His postwar take on the times? Hitler won the war. The Nazi spirit triumphed. The atom bomb was emblem of the necessary "fact," the apotheosis of technique—of means overwhelming and supplanting ends.
Faithful to the Word
The Spirit's Call of Freedom
The remaining gospels of eastertide play out Jesus farewell discourse in the latter chapters of John.
An Easter Cliffhanger
There is no more brilliant literary surprise, I think, in all of scripture than the shocking cliffhanger abruptness of Marks resurrection account.
God's Downward Mobility
Prior to Constantine, when the church was outlawed and, with some regularity, systematically persecuted, the reception of members was a rigorous and risky proposition.
Called by the Light
This season begins and ends in light.
A Countercultural Season
Advent couldn't be more out of step with the doings of the dominant culture.
Shadow, Mirror, and Mime
For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness. —Ephesians 6:12
William Stringfellow, the theologian who may be justly credited with reviving in this country a theology of the principalities and powers, claimed to be first put onto them by his friends and legal clients in Harlem who experienced, among other things, the mafia and its network of dealers as a predatory force invading their families and neighborhoods. His years of lucid reflection began in a certain sense with their intuitive theological street wisdom.
It is thereby all the more remarkable that in the churches' struggle against drugs there has been such meager theological reflection. Indeed the notorious frustration and substantial failure of the church in confronting the drug problem, so-called, may be partially rooted in this fundamental shortcoming: the failure to comprehend drugs biblically; that is, as numbered among the principalities and powers.
The officially sponsored "Just Say No" approach—and its churchly equivalents—effectively masks the character of the drug powers. While intimating resistance ("say no"), it first reduces the struggle to ("just") an individual exchange, an illegal street-level deal. The principality in its economic, political, cultural, and above all spiritual aspects remains hidden and is given a free hand to go about its deadly business.
Because the church's approach is firstly (and rightly) pastoral, the individualist temptation predominates. It is, however, especially pastoral care that requires the fullest comprehension of the powers.
A principality, whatever its particular form and variety, is a living reality, distinguishable from human and other organic life. —William Stringfellow, Free in Obedience