Posts Tagged Gospel

Don’t Cry Over Spilled Perfume: Overcoming Judas Syndrome in Our Economic Thinking

Mary, Lazarus, Judas, perfume, ointmentMuch of my focus on this blog has been on pursuing an economics that pushes beyond earthbound thinking.

Over at the Acton Institute PowerBlog, I attempt to lay out a basic baseline of this approach, using Judas’ harsh response to Mary’s outpouring of expensive perfume as a starting point:

Much like Judas Iscariot, who reacted harshly to Mary’s outpouring of expensive ointment on Jesus’s feet, we are prone to react only to the material implications, ignoring altogether whether God might prefer us to do something so peculiar as “keep it for the day of [Jesus’s] burial,” as was the case for Mary.

It is for this reason that the Apostle Paul urged us to present our bodies as a “living sacrifice” — to not be “conformed to this world,” but be “transformed by the renewal of your mind.” Such a life, Paul explains, demands a transcendent perspective made up by constant “testing” of the world as we naturally see it, that we might “discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” This is a life consisting of far more than surface-level observations of the physical world, requiring us to submit our reasoning about everything from material prosperity to human happiness to the ultimate will of the Supreme Creator.

Leveraging a striking Whittaker Chambers quote, I point to some extremes that such thinking can lead us to (e.g. Soviet Communism). But as I go on to note, such a tendency is typically far more tricky to discern:

The same temptations Chambers indicates — of earthbound thinking and intellectual arrogance — can easily sneak into our personal plans for achieving God’s ends. We may, for instance, openly recognize that God has called us to meet the needs of the poor and alleviate poverty, but far too often we attempt to resolve the “God question” here, moving quickly and comfortably to our own personal plans and designs for how might get there (e.g. foreign aid, fair trade, a higher minimum wage, etc.). Rather than continuing to push toward the heart of God — toward a life full of transcendent reasoning and discernment — we look instead to the spilled ointment on the floor, frustrated and not bothering to ask, “Lord, what would you have me do?”

This is the most basic question, and we must ask it with sincerity and a heart of sacrifice. It is crucial that we observe the physical world, and it is necessary for us to ask sincere questions about why and how resources are used, but these questions need to be asked in conversation with our Creator, not in humanistic isolation.

God meets us in the here and now. He cares about the earthbound needs of the sparrow and human alike, and his eternal purposes are already in Read the rest of this entry »

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Corresponding the Shape of Good Economics to the Shape of the Gospel

Shape of EconomicsOver at the Acton Institute PowerBlog, I piggy-back on a recent Michael Bull post to offer a reminder that we needn’t give all the credit to the market when we reap the benefits of market exchange, free trade and globalization.

For Christians in particular, we should view capitalism as a launching pad for spiritual and social transformation, not a mere means to materialistic ends:

Capitalism is, after all, a mere framework for human engagement. Although the constraints it imposes (“thou shalt not steal”) and the features it elevates (ownership, stewardship, risk, and sacrifice) may fit well within a broader Christian context, it says more about what we can and can’t do than what we might or might not imagine or accomplish…

… For the Christian, then, capitalism provides a simple baseline from which we can launch, holding the potential to lead us toward a broader, deeper network through which we can more freely and fully obey the callings of the Holy Spirit in our lives as we proclaim good news to the poor. In allowing for this free-flow of individual callings, we are given opportunities and choices that many other systems would assume on our behalf.

As Bull writes, we as Christians are called to reach beyond the bare minimum—a truth I’ve emphasized routinely here on the blog:

The final step of Covenant is that you, the risk taker, become a shelter, a house, for the helpless. The final step is generosity. Capitalism only works in a moral society. This is why we can correspond the shape of good economics to the shape of the Gospel. Jesus gave His life to give abundant life to us all. He believed in the promise made to Him by the Father, the promise of resurrection—a new body. Poverty was not something to be embraced eternally. Christian socialists forget that Jesus now owns everything. All the great saints were rich people who risked their wealth for even greater wealth, a wealth that included a legacy of other people—a household. The “glory that was set before Him” was also the glory of the Church, a new body that includes every believer. Jesus Himself is our covering. We are only saved because of His atonement, His “covering.” He, the king of kings, the great Land Lord, is our shelter. Read the rest of this entry »

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How Conservatives Can Win Every Person of Every Creed from Every Corner of the Planet

No. Not really. But putting our best foot forward shouldn’t be all that complicated. Thus, here are four basic steps conservatives can take to get back on track in the fight over political ideals.

  1. Love people. All people. Love your neighbor violently and sincerely. If you think you can check this box, try harder.
  2. Pursue truth. And not just narrow, political, “conservative” truth. Believe in something beyond politics. Start there, or your political ideology will quickly subvert the very life that government was meant to protect.
  3. Care about how you articulate the truth. “Speaking the truth in love” doesn’t just mean speaking the truth (surprise, surprise). It means putting every effort imaginable into expressing love alongside the truth. Good news should sound like good news. If you continue to have trouble with this, revisit numbers 1 and 2.
  4. Stop reading articles on what conservatives need to do to win Ethnic Group X, Age Group Y, and Economic Class Z. Just stop. Move along now.

The truth already belongs to all people. If we’re truly loving, truly honest, truly sincere, truly conservative, and truly correct, we will win a majority of those willing to listen and can stop blaming ourselves for those who don’t care and never will.

Now, please, can we get back to loving our families and eating hot dogs?

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Free Markets as a Fruit of the Gospel

fruit merchantIn our discussions of the pros and cons of various socio-economic models, Christians have a common tendency to forget what should be our more fundamental aim: spreading the message of salvation through Jesus Christ and living as Christ would have us live.

In a recent post, Doug Wilson helps us remember (HT), noting that we should stop critiquing such systems in and of themselves—i.e. separated from the reality of sin and the project of salvation—and focus instead on how they impact each individual when it comes to realizing the life-giving freedom Christ has made possible.

As Wilson explains it:

I have written many times that free markets are for a free people, and that only a free people can sustain them. But slaves to sin cannot be a free people. And the only way to be liberated from slavery to sin is through the gospel that brings new life.

Another problem is that when slaves to sin spiral down into the civic slavery that is their natural civic condition, their masters will also be slaves to sin, albeit usually somewhat shrewder — at least for a short while. At some point the whole thing blows up for everybody, but the bottom line is that sin is the fundamental set of chains. You cannot hope to be enslaved by them, and yet be free in any sense that matters anywhere else.

Hayek, Friedman, and von Mises cannot keep people loving the freedom of markets any more than the wisest geologist who ever lived could have kept Cain from hitting Abel with that rock. Knowledge of the world is not the same thing as knowledge of the human heart.

…Other foolish observers within the Christian tradition have seen that this is true, and concluded that the problem lies with Hayek, et al. “We need to have values other than free market values, etc.” This is to say that since sinners cannot produce the fruit of the Spirit, we need to haul out the chains of compassionate statism. Make ‘em do compassionate stuff and everything….

There is no salvation without a savior, and Jesus is the only savior. And how will they hear without a preacher? What we need is the gospel, what we need is a reformation, what we need is revival.

But although our political systems and economic models can’t produce revival by themselves, they do make a difference in how we interact and what we pursue. This is where our discussions need to begin.

The damaging impacts of top-down control are a bit easier for Christians to understand when we observe various governments shutting down churches and persecuting Christians in the streets on the basis of their faith, but what about when the government shuts down, redirects, or prohibits a variety of our day-to-day economic activities? When the government seizes an industry or moves money around to fund Entrepreneur X instead of Entrepreneur Y, What might such a government be preventing or distorting in terms of Christian initiative, creativity, and collaboration? Are we always to assume the Bureaucrat Z is the preferred oracle of Jehovah?

Fundamentally, we must reject the materialistic, deterministic worldviews of self-anointed economic planners of all varieties. If Christians are serious about spreading the truth, we should go about offering the Read the rest of this entry »

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Christian Values Are the Problem: Sacred Truth vs. Cultural Moralism

valuesIn a response to a mother whose 16-year-old daughter has “given up believing in God,” Albert Mohler provides a marvelous critique of the mother’s initial premise: that she had tried to raise her family “under the same strong Christian values that [she] grew up with.”

Mohler’s most basic point: “Christian values” will never be enough:

Christian values are the problem. Hell will be filled with people who were avidly committed to Christian values. Christian values cannot save anyone and never will. The gospel of Jesus Christ is not a Christian value, and a comfortability with Christian values can blind sinners to their need for the gospel.

This one sentence may not accurately communicate this mother’s understanding, but it appears to be perfectly consistent with the larger context of her question and the source of the advice she sought.

Parents who raise their children with nothing more than Christian values should not be surprised when their children abandon those values. If the child or young person does not have a firm commitment to Christ and to the truth of the Christian faith, values will have no binding authority, and we should not expect that they would. Most of our neighbors have some commitment to Christian values, but what they desperately need is salvation from their sins. This does not come by Christian values, no matter how fervently held. Salvation comes only by the gospel of Jesus Christ…

… Human beings are natural-born moralists, and moralism is the most potent of all the false gospels. The language of “values” is the language of moralism and cultural Protestantism — what the Germans called Kulturprotestantismus. This is the religion that produces cultural Christians, and cultural Christianity soon dissipates into atheism, agnosticism, and other forms of non-belief. Cultural Christianity is the great denomination of moralism, and far too many church folk fail to recognize that their own religion is only cultural Christianity — not the genuine Christian faith.

This connects quite well with James Davison Hunter’s thesis in his book, The Death of Character: Moral Education in an Age Without Good or Evil, albeit toward slightly broader ends.

For Hunter, focusing on sacred truths — or, in Mohler’s case, salvation through Christ — is the best approach not just for retaining belief in God, but for achieving a moral and virtuous society filled with individuals of strong character:

The social and cultural conditions that make character possible are no longer present and no amount of political rhetoric, legal maneuvering, educational policy making, or money can change that reality. Its time has passed…

This destruction occurs simultaneously with the rise of “values.” Values are truths that have been deprived of their commanding character. They are substitutes for revelation, imperatives that have dissolved into a range of possibilities. The very word “value” signifies the reduction of truth to utility, taboo to fashion, conviction to mere preference; all provisional, all exchangeable. Both values and “lifestyle”—a way of living that reflects the accumulation of one’s values—bespeak a world in which nothing is sacred. Neither word carries the weight of conviction; the commitment to truths made sacred…

…Whatever benefits such a fluid and temporary moral universe may offer, they fail to lessen our dismay when we witness random and senseless violence; our outrage when we see open displays of corruption; our indignation when we observe a flouting of basic standards of decency; and our sadness as we watch callousness when compassion and mercy cry out. But why should we be surprised? When the self is stripped of moral anchoring, there is nothing to which the will is bound to submit, nothing innate to keep it in check. There is no compelling reason to be Read the rest of this entry »

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Get Personal: Restoring Individualism to Gospel-Worthy Conduct

Word versus Deed: Resetting the Scales to a Biblical Balance, Duane LitfinIn his new book, Word versus Deed, Duane Litfin contemplates how Christians are to be Christians at a time when the church seems bent toward what I might call representation without proclamation (and vice versa, though to a lesser extent, methinks). “Today some are emphasizing deeds at the expense of words, while others hold fast to ‘talking’ and forsake the doing,” Litfin writes. “This is an imbalance that must be righted.”

The book covers a range of topics, but for the moment I want to focus on an interrelated “imbalance” that Litfin briefly notes in his chapter on “gospel-worthy conduct” (i.e. the “doing” piece). Litfin encourages us to think of such conduct as being “lived out in five distinguishable circles of application”: personal life, family, God’s people, society at large, and the natural world.

These are all good “circles” for us to think about, yet we must also take care to order them properly. For example, as Litfin duly notes, the church has, as of late, begun to shift its focus directly to the social realm, ignoring the “personal life” or “private dimension” altogether—a faulty either-or approach that will not bode well if the church has any hopes of transforming the social sphere toward the heart of God.

According to Litfin, this switch has happened for the following reasons (quoted directly from the book):

  1. Our time and place in history is stamped with the radical individualism of the Enlightenment. In reacting against this imbalance some may be inclined to move directly, and perhaps too quickly, to the social and corporate implications of the gospel, bypassing the individual realm entirely.
  2. In certain Christian circles the personal dimensions of Christian living—issues of sexual morality, personal honesty, worldliness, etc.—seem to be as far as the demands of the gospel ever reach. These issues are stressed constantly but little is heard of the social implications of the gospel. Such a perceived imbalance undoubtedly prompts others to leapfrog these “overworked” private matters on their way to broader social concerns.
  3. Any emphasis on issues of personal holiness in the Christian life appears for some to be an embarrassment. They tend to write off such concerns as the unwarranted obsession of pietists.

These realities have largely shaped the focus of Remnant Culture (thus my focus on “Radical Individualism”). From Shane Claiborne to David Platt (in varying degrees, to be sure) we are consistently sold on the idea that misaligned, Enlightenment-style individualism is the only kind there is, and the only way the American church will get past it is by bloodying itself on a self-constructed altar to abstract social goods. Under this perspective, anything that might result in individual advancement or recognition, regardless of what is driving it, must be too individual-oriented, and thus we are told to compensate by injecting our actions with impulsive socially conscious do-gooderism. We may still be trying to push Christians toward obedience to God (Platt certainly is), but we will continuously miss the mark if we “leapfrog” past the messy, complicated subject of (1) what this all means at a personal, individual level, and (2) how that translates into the social dimension holistically (i.e. encompassing all of the circles Litfin mentions).

The fundamental problem with the American church is not that we are too focused on our private lives and need to go on more mission trips or curb our incomes at a certain level. It’s that we are not recognizing that our private lives need to be broken by God’s grace and our social responsibilities need to be rightly ordered in turn. We want a quick-fix answer for everything—as nearly every observer of the West will recognize—but such an orientation does not stop at the electronic store check-out line; it drags itself into every element of our vocation-building and world-changing, prodding us to skip pass complicated questions of individual purity and purpose and jump straight to easy-and-convenient “social” arguments, whether we’re talking about sexuality, mega-church management, or global poverty.

We need to take a step back and make sure our hearts and our deeds are on the right path, and that means doing a lot of difficult work at the individual level. We need to cry out, as David did, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” We need to pause and pray, asking Read the rest of this entry »

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A Lack of Self-Denial: In Sex, Economics, and Everything Else

President Obama’s recent “coming out” on the issue of same-sex marriage has led to a renewed discussion of the issue. Obama’s explanation for his “evolution” (which, in reality, is unlikely an evolution at all) is that his Christian beliefs require it:

When we think about our faith, the thing at root that we think about is, not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it’s also the Golden Rule, you know, treat others the way you would want to be treated.

Now, I have no issues with the Golden Rule properly applied, but I resent that it’s come to be used not as an imperative for disinterested compassion, but as a bludgeoning tool for legitimizing particular behaviors and supporting an anything-goes moral outlook. At a fundamental level, such a view of “equal treatment” requires us to rid words of meaning and rip truth out of justice, should that particular truth be so awful as to offend so-and-so’s individual choices.

Through this understanding, the President’s refrain goes something like this: “Want to change the definition of an age-old institution? Well, if I wanted to do that, I would certainly want to be appeased.”

And there’s the biggie: I. I. I.

When the Golden Rule is contorted as such, it illuminates how much we’ve come to elevate self-satisfaction and self-affirmation in our society-wide contemplations about morality and justice. Rather than look to things like history, experience, science, or God himself (gasp), we base our actions and outlooks around what we might prefer. And alas, even when we do choose to look at the right sources—as Obama so keenly attempts with his “faith”—we tend to limit their value only insofar as it allows us to throw they’re broader purpose out the window.

The mindset is captured well in Collin Hansen’s analysis of the recent goings on, in which he sums up our current cultural outlook as follows:

  1. God made me this way.
  2. He wouldn’t deny my natural desires.
  3. And I don’t have to explain myself to you or anyone else.

Yet such cultural erosion is by no means epitomized or even made clearest by this frequent battle over whether homosexuality is right or wrong. The push toward homosexual marriage is just one logical step in what has been a decades-long journey down a road of obsessive me-centered self-affirmation, and it certainly won’t be the last. That we’ve come to view homosexuality as the primary issue in the larger debate is unfortunate, yet it is perhaps due to the fact that many Christians don’t seem to think there is a “larger debate.” As Hansen puts it, “The pursuit of self-fulfillment covers a multitude of adultery, divorce, and pornography in our churches. Why shouldn’t it also cover homosexuality?”

Yet there is just as big of a need to re-re-re-(re?)-emphasize the former: Why shouldn’t it also cover the rest?

When we look beyond the issue of homosexual marriage to issues of heterosexual sex, whether we’re talking pre-marital sex/contraception, pre-marital cohabitation, pornography, adultery, or whatever, we see the church becoming more and more comfortable with a version of “love” and “covenant” centered around Individual X’s abstract personal desires and less and less attached to (or interested in) the truth of the Bible and the Gospel. It should come as no surprise that Christians who are fine and dandy with sinful heterosexual lifestyles feel the need to affirm homosexual ones. By their own framework of “truth” and set beside their own moral outlook, such a move does indeed constitute “justice” and “equality.”

Thus, while the question of whether one favors homosexual marriage is indeed an important one for public debate, for the Christian in particular, such popular calls have a deeper Read the rest of this entry »

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“Anti-Poor!” – More Demagoguery from the Evangelical Left

In a recent post at the Washington Post, Rev. Richard Cizik joins a growing chorus of progressive evangelicals in accusing conservative Christians of showing little concern for the poor.

This week at AEI’s Values and Capitalism, I offer my critique, noting that Cizik relies on the same demagogic straw-man argument that progressive evangelicals utilize time and time again: that conservative Christians oppose progressive policies not because we find them ineffective or counterproductive, but because we hate the poor and love corporations.

First, I try to examine the false assumptions underlying Cizik’s approach to socio-economic engagement:

What Cizik so clearly misses is that a proper view of collective responsibility cannot exist without a proper view of individual responsibility. It’s not about “embracing” one and “rejecting” the other, as most conservatives well understand. It’s about starting in the right place and achieving collective virtue authentically rather than forcibly.

If you doubt the need for such an integrated approach, look no further than the “Occupy” movement, in which masses of unproductive, self-absorbed blame-shifters assume radical, collective-centric poses so narrow that the “community” has become nothing more than a means for avoiding individual duties and fulfilling a lust for material security. Without a grasp of where responsibility begins, “promoting the common good” quickly diminishes into a short-sighted pig-out at the communal feeding trough.

Next, I move on to Cizik’s claims that conservative Christians are apathetic toward the poor (and the Bible?), as well as calculating political power-grabbers:

It’s not that we think supply side economics create strong economies and benefit everyone across the economic spectrum (including, ahem, the poor). It’s not that we think free exchange and accurate prices create opportunities for real, sustainable growth and economy recovery. It’s not that we think the modern public education system hurts the poor and minimum wage laws lead to poverty traps. It’s not that we think most progressive social programs lead to dehumanization, dependency and economic slavery.

No. It’s because we have a fetish for fat cats and we’re brainwashed by clever marketing. Obviously.

If Cizik is truly interested in a constructive conversation, he should recognize that it gets him nowhere to sideline our concerns about his “pro-poor” policies and elevate his progressive approach as the obvious fulfillment of the Sermon on the Mount. If he is really interested in persuading us toward his supposedly Christian outlook, he should start by explaining why and how these programs are, in fact, “pro-poor,” and how a proper Christian anthropology starts with coercion and manipulation. Instead of claiming our reasons to be purely political, he should explain how exactly his blatant desire to increase political power is somehow less so.

Read the full post here.

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The Scope of the Gospel: Balancing the Spiritual and the Social

Wedding at Cana, Paolo VeroneseI have written numerous times about the tendency within human nature to embrace the Love of Man rather than pursue the Love of God. Even in our striving for compassion and through our attempts to help the needy, we tend to execute a Godly imperative according to our own debased ways.

As Russell Moore explains it in a recent piece, the tension often plays out as being between evangelism and “public justice” — spiritual transformation vs. social reconciliation. Yet this tension, Moore argues, need not be a conflict, and in turn, cannot be resolved through an “either-or” solution.

As Moore explains:

[The mission of the church] is summed up in the gospel as a message of reconciliation that is both vertical and horizontal, establishing peace with both God and neighbor. The Scripture tells us to love neighbor “as yourself” (Lk. 10:27-28).

Sound familiar?

Indeed, the call of the church is not to be founded on some gnostic, dualistic divorce of the spiritual and material – whether or not one prefers one or the other. Jesus didn’t spend all of his time praying on the hillside for soul-winning, yet he also didn’t perform physical miracles and wonders without transcendent, spiritual demands and implications.

This is not simply a “spiritual” ministry, as the example Jesus gives us is of a holistic caring for physical and economic needs of a wounded person, not to mention the transcending of steep ethnic hostilities. As theologian Carl F.H. Henry reminded evangelicals a generation ago, one does not love oneself simply in “spiritual ways” but holistically.

Of course, Jesus’ ministry would be about such things. After all, the Bible shows us, from the beginning, that the scope of the curse is holistic in its destruction—personal, cosmic, social, vocational (Gen. 3-11) and that the gospel is holistic in its restoration—personal, cosmic, social, vocational (Rev. 21-22). (emphasis added)

Moore then points to a similar(/interrelated) tension in the church as an example of Read the rest of this entry »

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Divine Generosity: Making “Good Intentions” Good

God So Loved, He Gave, Divine Generosity, Kelly Kapic, Justin BorgerI have previously written on the importance of the Holy Spirit in aligning our lives to God’s perfect will and have also noted the limits of a spiritually dead worldview as it relates to generosity. What I haven’t done, however, is examined what will emerge — and how it will emerge — if we get all of our ducks in a row.

What might it look like if we were to actually succeed in avoiding the desires of the flesh, producing the fruits of the Spirit, and leveraging the subsequent alignment toward reaching the Lost, healing the sick, and helping the needy? What might it look like if our actions were guided by the Love of God rather than the Love of Man?

My friend Robby Moeller recently wrote eloquently about having a “head for the poor,” but while this is an important point, I am also concerned that our hearts might be further off than we think (hint: we’re sinners). Like anyone else, Christians are prone to what the Apostle Paul calls “futile thinking” and “foolish hearts.” We are constantly struggling to overcome a debased, idolatry-prone worldview.

In short, I fear that we often give our “good intentions” the benefit of the doubt.

What is “good” in the first place, and according to whom? Does it have anything to do with truth, and if so, how does that impact our view of love? What does “effective” mean under such a framework, or what about “compassion”? Are there any intentions worth esteeming if they fail to orient themselves correctly?

We need to correct our brains, yes, but more fundamentally, we need a spiritual revival that aligns our hearts and minds accordingly. This will certainly impact our perspectives on loftier political and philosophical levels, but more importantly, it will transform the way we approach our most mundane of day-to-day tasks and choices. Unbeknownst to many, God actually speaks, and we have the amazing opportunity to listen. Sound “radical” yet?

As Kelly Kapic argues in his recent book, God So Loved, He Gave, we have been called into a movement of divine generosity — one in which we reject bondage of this world and embrace God’s absolute ownership over our lives. “When captured by the depths of God’s gifts in the gospel,” Kapic states, “we discover that he frees us to participate in his work of grace, hope, righteousness, and love. This is the generous life: this is what belonging to God is all about.”

Sin is all around us, and although we are typically good at talking about it in church (or at least we used to be), we seem to forget that it’s a constant competing force in our fundamental decisionmaking. “No human relationship is free from this corrosive power,” as Kapic states, yet in our attempts to build relationships and community we seem to think that “good intentions” are all Read the rest of this entry »

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