Posts Tagged stewardship

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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Working and Keeping the Garden: The Human Body in Earthly Engagement

Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to Our FaithI have previously examined the ways in which sociability and strong relational bonds can impact societal health and economic prosperity. Likewise, I have persistently emphasized that spiritual transformation through Christ and subsequent obedience to God play crucial roles in strengthening such bonds.

Without recognizing and embracing such an alignment, I have argued, we will be severely impaired in identifying real value as God sees it, and will be ill-equipped to pursue our proper mission.

Yet throughout all such considerations, I have rarely (if ever) contemplated the role of the body in the spiritual and intellectual workings that drive our stewardship. This is strange, to be sure, for despite the great importance of all the other inputs to our actions, it is the body that actually does the doing.

But alas, even this basic realization does not go far enough, says Matthew Anderson, editor of Mere Orthodoxy and author of the new book, Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter To Our Faith.

For Anderson, the body is much more than some tool we use to move our spirits from here to there; it is an essential and inextricable part of what it means to be human, a truth affirmed and amplified by the reality that have we been created in the image of God. For Anderson, the connection is crucial, but has been largely ignored by an increasingly dualistic culture. For many of us, the body has become nothing more than a mere means for pleasure or a “prison for the soul.”

Yet for those of us who over-emphasize the spiritual side of man, Anderson argues that any such transformation will never be complete without a full understanding the bodies position therein:

The gift of God in Jesus Christ is a gift for and to human bodies, and as evangelicals, we need to attend carefully to the ways in which the Holy Spirit shapes our flesh. In a world where the body’s status is in question, we have an opportunity to proclaim that the God who saved our souls will also remake our bodies; that the body is nothing less than the place where God dwells on earth.

Anderson proceeds to tackle a number of issues through this approach, from tattoos to homosexuality to death (and beyond), yet throughout each revealing insight, my mind consistently flashed back to his chapter on how our bodies more simply relate to the other (Chapter 4). It’s easy to understand how an appropriate body-faith orientation might improve our marriages or our churches, but what about our larger socio-economic engagement and overarching earthly stewardship?

“We are social even in the womb,” says Anderson, and that sociability “is inextricable from the structure of our bodies.”

When we score a goal, we like to bump chests and give high-fives, the act of which is sometimes followed by hazardous, celebratory dives into a large piles of teammates. When socializing with friends and family, we often prefer to do so over a cup of coffee or a meal, sharing in the most basic bodily necessities as we relate to each other, pour out our hearts, and foster social bonds. These shared bodily pleasures and activities “not only curb our loneliness,” says Anderson, but are “a manifestation of our gratitude for the goodness of the created order that God has placed in us.”

Yet, as is the fundamental premise of the book, Anderson believes the distortion of the body’s place in such interactions has by and large distorted God’s created order in the process. Thanks to the rise of a self-absorbed, short-sighted, and materialistic culture, the social ties necessary for a healthy and flourishing society have largely vanished, and our views of the human body have corresponded accordingly. No longer are our bodies temples of the Holy Spirit, but rather, we have perverted them into serving as temples unto ourselves.

As Anderson explains:

In our late-modern world, the body’s basic dependency upon the world for both its sustenance and its pleasures has been distorted to the extent that what we consume has become central to our identity as persons. What we wear, what we eat (or don’t eat), what we endorse—these become the means by which we construct ourselves…

….In a consumerist society, the world is flattened out as everything becomes an instrument for the individual’s well-being. Things only have value when a consumer desires  them, which means that there is no order of goods to which our desires should confirm.

At the root of this, then, is a sort of “degraded” individualism, as Anderson calls it — the type of misaligned, atomic hedonism that submits to no authority other than its humanistic God of Autonomy. Edmund Burke railed against such an approach back when we Read the rest of this entry »

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No Dominion, No Stewardship: Property Rights and the Environment

This week at Common Sense Concept, I explore the essential primacy of property rights in reaching productive and sustainable environmental solutions. More specifically, I focus on the tragedy of the commons and how God has called us to dominion in order to avoid such manifestations.

As I argue, many Christians prefer a more passive and detached approach to environmental stewardship, opting for advocacy and observation rather than ownership and control. In this view, human engagement with the ecological system is most often an exploitative invasion akin to the Hexxus-possessed tear-down of Fern Gully. Thus, we tend to retreat and assume an attitude that limits productive engagement altogether.

In reality, God has called us to a form of stewardship that is interactive and transformational. Environmental stewardship is not a spectator’s sport.

Here’s an excerpt:

The fact that God calls us to dominion (as displayed “in his image”) indicates that successful stewardship will only come when we exhibit overarching sovereignty and control. God does not tell us to cohabitate with the animals and feed them butter and bread with sugar sprinkled on top. He does not tell us to merely observe his creation and then go about our normal “human” business (though observation is indeed a marvelous thing). We are not to be mere spectators, or even mere protectors. Rather, God calls us to active ownership of creation by which we can take control of it and transform it for the better.

To discuss the natural implications of such a view, I leverage some useful insights from Steven Hayward, author of the new book, Mere Environmentalism: A Biblical Perspective on Humans and the Natural World.

Here’s an excerpt from the book:

Owning parts of nature — whether habitat or actual rare species — sounds counterintuitive to the secular mind (though plainly not to the Old Testament Fathers), but Read the rest of this entry »

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Dominion: Transforming God’s Creation

Ancient of Days by William Blake, 1794Christians love to talk about stewardship — about tending to the garden, being resourceful, and managing well. But we tend to shy away from God’s more specific call of dominion. This is understandable, because for many of us dominion implies some sort of aggressive or violent destruction.

Over at The Resurgence, Justin Holcomb provides some great insights on dominion, focusing specifically on how it must mirror the dominion of our Creator.

Holcomb uses Genesis 1:26 as a starting point:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

The stereotypical “anti-greenie” view of this verse is framed aptly by Ann Coulter, who once interpreted Genesis 1:26 to mean, “Earth is yours. Take it. Rape it. It’s yours.” The obvious problem with this is that there is nothing productive (or moral) about “rape.” God does not view us as mere resources to exploit, and thus, we should not falter by viewing the rest of creation that way. In this verse, God is making us unique to the rest of creation by forming us in His image. By giving us this power, God is giving us a responsibility to recognize the value in His creation and leverage it appropriately.

As Francis Schaeffer explains (quoted by Holcomb):

Fallen man has dominion over nature, but he uses it wrongly. The Christian is called upon to exhibit this dominion, but exhibit it rightly: treating the thing as having value itself, exercising dominion without being destructive.

Holcomb goes on to say that viewing ourselves in God’s image means using Jesus as a primary example for how to dominate creation:

The lordship of Jesus should be our model for understanding how we relate to the natural order. This means that dominion should be expressed as service — sacrificial service of the others with and for whom we are responsible — rather than mastery.

I don’t disagree with this point, but I also don’t think Holcomb Read the rest of this entry »

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Jesus and the Rich Man: A Call to Radical Individualism

Christ and the Young Rich Man by Heinrich Hofmann (1889)

Christ and the Young Rich Man by Heinrich Hofmann (1889)

Discussions of earthly systems almost always come down to disagreements over the use of capital — how it is distributed, created, or managed. Therefore, if we are concerned with the heavenly implications of our earthly systems, we must come to terms with how God views our earthly wealth.

Both the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke include a story where Jesus addresses this topic directly. In the story, Jesus asks a wealthy man to give all that he has to the poor. Since plenty of people use the story as an excuse to demonize wealth and the creation of it, I wanted to clarify my thoughts on the matter.

The wealthy man begins the conversation by asking Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life, to which Jesus answers with this:

You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’

When the rich man explains that he has done these things since childhood, Jesus responds with this challenge:

One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will havetreasure in heaven; and come, follow me.

Upon hearing this, the rich man becomes very sad and turns away, effectively rejecting the call of Christ. After the man leaves, Jesus explains the situation to His disciples with this now-popular refrain:

How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.

It is here where most people end the story. The moral, they tell us, is that wealth is bad and sacrifice is good — for if it is so difficult for the rich to get into heaven, certainly Jesus would advocate Read the rest of this entry »

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Environmental Entrepreneurship: Plastic Bags in Nairobi

When the environment gets neglected, we hear that government needs to take action. When the economy goes down the tubes, we are told that bureaucrats must come to our rescue.

But for Evans Githinji, a 32-year-old entrepreneur in Kenya, achieving prosperity and exhibiting proper stewardship is simply a matter of imagination and initiative. Kenya’s economy is far from thriving, yet Githinji has found a way to both curb environmental harm and bring value to his economy despite his disadvantages.

Hear his story here:

As the video tells us, Githinji’s efforts have led to the opening of 23 collection yards, each of which employs 100 youths in collecting plastic bags.

“I feel great,” says Githinji. “And I feel I’m doing something good for this nation.”

But would it have been better if the Kenyan government had stepped in long ago? Would it have been more efficient if taxpayer money had been poured into dumptrucks and garbage collectors? Would the government have a better grasp on wage rates than Githinji does? Would it be better for Kenyans if the government banned Read the rest of this entry »

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Supported by Jehovah: Why We Named Our Son Josiah

Josiah Daniel Sunde

Our beautiful boy: Josiah Daniel SundeI’ve only been a parent for a short time, but I've already been asked the following question several times:“What does it feel like to bring a child into today’s society? The economy is crumbling, culture is deteriorating, and the End Times are upon us. Doesn’t it concern you to know that you're bringing your child into such terrible a world?”Let’s ignore for the moment that modern society is pretty great on a number of levels, because the question isn’t really about modern society but about the way we perceive humanity and its role in this world.Don’t get me wrong. There is plenty of evil in the world — indeed there always has been — but if spreading the Gospel is the solution to the world’s woes, don’t we need people to do that?After all, since the beginning of time, God ordained humans to steward and rule over His creation. Doesn’t this mean that our children can provide immense value to a dark world? I understand that we should be concerned for our children’s safety and well-being, but raising Godly people is one of the greatest ways we can maximize both earthly and heavenly potential.It was within this context that we decided to name our son Josiah.You may be thinking that name selection is a pretty frivolous way to go about changing the world, but this was an initial step toward instilling a proper foundation in our child. One day he will probably wonder why we named him Josiah, and we wanted to have an answer that would go beyond matters of mere aesthetics and social mobility. We wanted to have an answer that he could identify with and apply to his relationship with God and the world around him.Plus, throughout the Bible God shows us time and time again how our names can largely impact our identities. God changed Abram’s name (“exalted father”) to Abraham (“father of a multitude”) to signify their covenant. He changed Jacob’s name to Israel to identify Jacob’s conversion from “supplanter” to “having power with God.” He changed Simon’s name (“God has heard”) to Peter (“rock”) to remind him of his responsibility to build the Church.I am not saying that parents can replace God’s authoritative power, but we are supposed to help our children find their identities, which includes helping them find God.King Josiah rediscovers the Torah.

For those who don’t know, Josiah was the 19th king of Judah, and was unique among the other kings in the extent to which He restored God’s law in the land. On the surface this may seem like a simple story, but Josiah did not begin his reign in the best of circumstances.

Josiah’s grandfather, King Manassah, had reversed all of the spiritual gains made by his father King Hezekiah. Manassah was absorbed in idolatry and witchcraft, and eventually sacrificed his own son on an altar of fire. After Manassah’s death, his son Amon (Josiah’s father) reigned in a similar fashion — building temples to Baal, worshipping idols, and continuing to “forsake the Lord” as 2 Kings describes it. After reigning for only two years, Amon was assassinated by his own servants, leaving his son Josiah to assume the kingship at only eight years of age.

In short, the Kingdom of Judah had backslidden into 57 years of spiritual adultery. When Josiah became king, he was immediately confronted with a choice that most children aren’t faced with — he could continue to perpetuate the status quo of idolatry and human sacrifice (i.e. the easy route), or he could abandon everything he knew and return to worship of the one true God — Jehovah.

For reasons related to his fear of the Lord, Josiah chose the latter. By the age of eighteen, Josiah had commissioned the priests to restore the temple to its proper place, after which he rediscovered the Book of the Law (either the Torah or the Book of Deuteronomy). Upon hearing his secretary read it out loud, Josiah was dismayed by the implications.

2 Kings 22:11 describes the incident in detail:

When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his robes. He gave these orders to Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Acbor son of Micaiah, Shaphan the secretary and Asaiah the king’s attendant: “Go and inquire of the LORD for me and for the people and for all Judah about what is written in this book that has been found. Great is the LORD’s anger that burns against us because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book; they have not acted in accordance with all that is written there concerning us.

In other words, Josiah immediately had faith in the Word of God, and by applying it to the culture around him he realized how disobedient and profane God’s people had become. Remember that in this moment Josiah is hearing God’s Word for the first time and he simply believes it right away. Given how countercultural such stringent laws would be at that time, the audacity and immediacy of his faith is incredibly inspiring to me.

It reminds me of what Abraham talks about in Jesus’ parable of Lazureus and the Rich Man (Luke 16:19-31). When the rich man is burning in Hades, he begs Abraham to let him go back to earth and warn his family against continuing their wrongdoing. Abraham responds by saying they need no more warning than what they already have at their disposal.

“They have Moses and the Prophets,” Abraham says. “Let them listen to them.”

Josiah didn’t have the privilege of a Christian (or Jewish) upbringing. He wasn’t the recipient of “proper parenting.” He wasn’t taught to memorize Bible verses or tithe from his paycheck. He didn’t go to youth group every Sunday or attend summer camp revival services.

After all, his father was a pagan.

But when Josiah was confronted with God’s word, he simply knew it to be true. From a young age, he sought and pursued God despite his cultural disposition and “natural inclinations.” He recognized evil and realized that living righteously required faith in God and a holistic rejection of the world as he knew it.

After this realization, Josiah took many actions to reverse the wrongs of his forefathers. He restored the Temple, re-instituted the Law, destroyed the “high places” of idol worship and prostitution, and presided over the first Passover since the days of Samuel.

We can all talk the talk and say we love the Lord, but when Josiah heard God’s voice, he took immediate and extreme action. He really believed that God was true to His word.

This is what the Lord had to say to Josiah:

Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before the LORD when you heard what I have spoken against this place and its people, that they would become accursed and laid waste, and because you tore your robes and wept in my presence, I have heard you, declares the LORD. Therefore I will gather you to your fathers, and you will be buried in peace. Your eyes will not see all the disaster I am going to bring on this place.

The Hebrew translation of Josiah is “Jehovah will support,” and from the above passage it is evident God was indeed backing Josiah’s decisions. Covenants are two-way deals, and Josiah was supported by Jehovah because he made the choice to enter into relationship with God, even when the earthly systems of his day were going the opposite way.

That is what I want for my son. I don’t want him to have the fatherless childhood Josiah had, and I will try my best to protect him from the rampant idolatry of this world. But my prayer for him is that he discovers an earnest and sincere devotion for the one true God — one that perseveres the wickedness that will inevitably surround him. My son may have been born into a culture of corruption and deceit, but it can’t be any worse than the one King Josiah was confronted with.

As my wife and I continue to shepherd him toward adulthood, we will continue to pray and trust that our son will meet God intimately and realize the value that Jehovah can bring to a fallen world.

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A Rat Is a Pig Is a Dog Is a Boy: Human Exceptionalism vs. Animal Rights

A Rat Is a Pig Is a Dog Is a Boy by Wesley J. SmithIs our pork consumption comparable to the genocide in Darfur? Is our use of lab rats equivalent to the slave trade? Is our breeding and selling of dogs and cats comparable to human trafficking?

To anyone who believes in human exceptionalism, such comparisons are utterly insulting to the real victims of injustice.  However, if you are Ingrid Newark, co-founder of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), such comparisons are only logical.

“A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy,” Newark says. “We are all mammals.”

Wesley J. Smith explores such views in his new book A Rat Is a Pig Is a Dog Is a Boy: The Human Cost of the Animal Rights Movement. In the book, Smith explores everything from the philosophical backdrop of the modern animal rights movement to the terroristic acts that have been executed in its name.

Smith begins by providing an overview of the leading theorists and ideological premises behind the movement, all of which center around a critique of speciesism, which Smith describes as the notion that “treating animals as having less value than human beings is a form of discrimination just as morally odious as racism.” In other words, you are a speciest if you think a cow should belong in your burger bun rather than a little boy.

Smith notes the various problems with such critiques, resting firmly on the obvious truth that every single species on the planet is speciest to an extent.

As for how animal rights activists view the proper solution to widespread specieism, there are a variety of differing perspectives, all of which position the human as a moral equal to other animals. Such a mindset gives license to commit any number of Read the rest of this entry »

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The Kingdom of God: Building vs. Preserving

There’s a great video on kingdom building over at The Resurgence. The video features an interview with Dr. Michael Horton, a theology professor at Westminister Seminary California.




Horton is asked when humans first attempted to build God’s kingdom on this earth, and Horton’s answer is that we’ve been trying since the beginning of time. As an example, he points to the Tower of Babel. As Horton sees it, striving toward earthly kingdoms is simply part of our nature.

It’s part of our native fallenness, he says. We want to be the builders.

Horton then discusses Acts 1, where Jesus (after His resurrection) appeared to His disciples over a period of 40 days. Luke writes that during this period Jesus spoke to the disciples regarding “the things concerning the kingdom of God” and then urged them to not leave Jerusalem but to simply “wait for the gift my Father promised.” Here Jesus is talking about the Holy Spirit (which would fall on the Day of Pentecost shortly after).

There was no scheme to overtake the Romans. There was no book on how to construct a new economic system. There was no blueprint for how the Church should use multimedia and drama skits to Read the rest of this entry »

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