Here is one scientist's view on evolution published at the Discovery Institue.
(Don't shoot me Carol. More to come.)
In case you hadn’t noticed, there is a difference of opinion on how to interpret the early chapters of Genesis, especially the creation stories. Some believe that the Genesis accounts are historical narratives of actual events. They insist that the world was created in six twenty-four hour days.
Others believe that the creation story is a myth written to communicate higher truths. There is no historical merit to the story. In fact, the story itself is contradictory. I happened upon a piece by Doug Linder, a law professor at the University of Missouri at Kansas City, in relation to the Scopes Monkey trial. It gives an excellent summary of how some scholars interpret the authorship of the Genesis creation accounts and the contradictions they see:
“How could anyone not see the contradictions? Most obviously, the order of creation is different in the two stories. In the six-day creation story, the order of creation is plants, birds and fish, mammals and reptiles, and finally man to reign over all created before him, while in the Adam and Eve story, the creation order is reversed, with man coming first, then plants and animals. The two creation stories also have different narrative rhythms, different settings, and different names for God. In the six-day story, the creation of humanity occurs through a single act and the creator, seeming more cosmic than human-like, is present only through a series of commands. In the Adam and Eve story, on the other hand, man and woman are created through two separate acts and God is present in a hands-on, intimate way. The pre-creation setting in the six-day story is a watery chaos, while in the Adam and Eve version, the setting before creation is a dry dessert. Finally, in the six-day story, the creator is called “Elohim,” while in the other version of events, the creator is “the Lord God” (“Yahweh”).”
I have found few scholars of any stripe who do not acknowledge the poetic structure and style of the Genesis 1 account. But is it completely metaphorical?
I grew up believing that the Genesis stories were more or less factual. As I became an adult, I concluded that the stories must be mostly metaphorical. Then, a few years ago, I came across work done by astronomer Hugh Ross, Ph.D. I would characterize Ross’ perspective as an old earth creationist. His view on evolution is not what concerns me here. What I do want to focus on is the correspondence he sees between current scientific knowledge and the creation story in the Bible.
I used his book The Genesis Question: Scientific Advances and the Accuracy of Genesis in a men’s study at church which included an MIT trained astronomer. He essentially confirmed Ross’s scientific claims made about the earth’s formation and development, as well as the sequence and timing of appearances for various life forms. I have personally double checked some of Ross’ claims and have found them to be quite accurate.
To be sure, the Genesis accounts are not science or pure history. Still, over the next few posts I want to review the Genesis account of creation along side our present scientific understanding of how the world and life came to be. I will rely heavily on Ross’s work but I take responsibility for all the claims made. Tell me what you think.
I flew to Louisville last night and I have spent all day in a meeting of the GAC Mission Work Plan taskforce. We are refining the objectives but more importantly we are making headway on improvements for how the GAC determines objectives and sets priorities. There are other task forces at work here with us. We have some joint meetings tomorrow with these folks who are working on other aspects of the total GAC governance. There are still too many details to say much specifically about what is coming out of all this. I will say that the energy level is high but the challenge is big. Please keep us all in your prayers. I will see where things stand after meeting tomorrow to see if there is anything I can really report.
Posted at 07:01 PM in Presbyterian Church, USA, Presbyterian Mission Agency (formerly General Assembly Mission Council) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Charles Darwin (1809-1882) published “On The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life,” in 1859. It was a watershed moment in scientific history. Darwin’s impact is still very much with us today.
Darwin’s father and grandfather were physicians. His grandfather Erasmus Darwin was a an adamant deist who believed in the nonintervention of God in nature and human affairs. Darwin grew up studying biology in this environment. He later opted to study theology but abandoned that and returned to biology.
One of his professors secured a position for him on a naturalist expedition aboard the HMS Beagle from 1831-1836. Shortly after returning, Darwin began formulating his ideas of evolution through natural selection. By the mid-1840s, he had written up many of his ideas although they were not published. Darwin struggled with illness and a number of other obstacles through his life and it wasn’t until 1859 that he published his revolutionary findings.
I showed in my last post that many of the elements that fed into Darwin’s model had been around for years before his publication. But it was Darwin who brought them into a coherent model. Three essential features of the model included:
• Origin of all life from one source.
• Evolution of one species into another by natural selection.
• Expansive eons of time.
All of this was directly contrary to the traditional understanding of the church at the time.
• Each species was created as it now is.
• God involved himself in the natural world and created the species, especially humanity.
• The earth was maybe 6,000 years old.
Darwin’s theory was not the first to raise a direct challenge to traditional Christianity nor would it be the last. Galileo’s insights were very unsettling and later quantum physics and Einstein’s theory of relativity would send shock waves. Still, when we look at the focal point of friction between science and Christianity it seems often to center on the issues of origins and creation. We also have to remember that the Church's understanding of its own story was fractured at this time.
The two major challenges for me are about the participation of God in the natural world and why a loving God would create a world with such violence and destruction. For others, Darwin’s model raises issues about the authority and reliability of scripture. There is also the issue of evolution as a model for scientific research versus Darwinism as an ideology for interpreting all physical and metaphysical issues. Many Christian scientists have little problem embracing the former without the latter.
I want to start my relfections by first asking what the Genesis 1 creation story actually says.
I wrote a bit about Foundationalism in some of my posts last week. This is a book Review by Douglas Groothuis of Denver Seminary. He writes
"Contrary to McLaren, the Bible is our theological foundation because..."
"There are many other objectionable items in this small but dangerous book, including its flippant advocacy of evolution (155), its unorthodox speculations on heaven and hell as not being separate places (91), its uncritical endorsement of computer technologies to replace libraries and classrooms in seminary education (162), and much more. There is just enough truth mixed in to make the errors seem more attractive; however, the wise reader will note every questionable claim and then examine the arguments given by McLaren to support it. In this way, one is less likely to be swept along by the force of the narrative and more likely to see the deficiencies of this book’s ideas for what they are — harmful to the cause of Christ in the postmodern world."
It is a great critique from a conservative foundationalist perspective.
This is an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal was written by Alan Wolfe about Rick Warren's efforts to save Rwanda. Wolfe comments:
"My single greatest fear is that Mr. Warren and his followers will draw huge and enthusiastic crowds to their rallies, convert numerous souls to Christ and then leave when they discover that, for all their efforts, a country like Rwanda faces political and social problems beyond the reach of even the most earnest and popular humanitarian efforts. In short, there is a limit to the good that can be done until such countries alter the basic structure of their societies, eliminating corruption, curbing the abuse of power, setting up an independent judiciary and allowing a free press."
The ever present blind spot for Evangelicals is the power of social structures. Yet I agree that altering social structures alone will not lead to lasting change. I hope Warren's efforts have an impact for good but I too share Wolfe's concerns.
At the beginning of the Enlightenment, the Genesis record was considered factual. Living creatures existed today pretty much as they had when they were created a few thousand years earlier. Science was still influenced by Thomas Aquinas who believed that discovery of a purpose for a given object or phenomena was an intergral part of studying he physical world. Several things were about to change.
David Hume (1711-1776) was responsible for one of the most important changes toward modern science. He believed it was inappropriate to attribute purpose to anything that could be studied by the scientific method. This challenged the religious schema of science and opened up the possibility of natural selection and naturalism
One of the most important books of the early 19th Century was William Paley’s “Natural Theology,” published in 1802. Paley’s study made the case that we can learn about God by studying the natural world. Part of his thesis was the adaptation of various species depending on God’s purposes.
During 17 and 18th Century, biologist were discovering species at an overwhelming rate. Taxonomies were constantly changing as scientists sought to make sense of the new data. Even so, fixity of species remained the assumption of the day. When Zoologist Jean-Baptiste Antoine de Monte, Chevalier de Lamarck, published his “Zoological Philosophy,” in 1809, he made the case that there was a continual drive by life toward complexity, improvement and progress, thus challenging the notion of fixity. One scientist who shared this opposition to fixity was Erasmus Darwin, grandfather of Charles Darwin.
At the end of the 18th Century, and especially in the early 19th Century, a number of geologist (many of them clergy) were coming to the conclusion that the Earth was significantly older than anyone previously had believed. The realization that the distribution of fossils in different geological strata had a consistent pattern based on species began to raise a number of questions. Most geologists at the time believed in catastrophism, which, for them, meant that earth had been altered by a catastrophic flood. As scientists begin to find and catalog fossils, particularly at high elevations, some anti-Church types downplayed the discoveries fearing it would give credence to a universal flood perspective. A major change to geology came when Charles Lyell published his “Principles of Geology” in 1830, he made a case for an uniformitarian perspective versus a catastrophic perspective. This is the idea that the material world functions the same now as it did all through out the past.
Then, in 1851, Herbert Spencer wrote his “Social Statics” which argued that every biological form of life, including human systems, followed evolutionary rules. Spencer was more a social theorist than a scientist. Nevertheless, his writing both reflected and inculcated an evolutionary line of thinking.
Therefore, by 1851, science had moved away from the Genesis record as traditionally understood. The earth was believed to be millions of years old. Science had become focused on finding only natural causes for physical events. Fixity was being abandoned and the possibility of specie adaptation was being considered. A belief that there was some innate sense of progress “programmed” into life was taking root. Uniformitarian perspectives were winning the day. An evolutionary model was perceived by some to be at work in a myriad of ways even in human behavior.
All that remained was for someone to bring this all together.
Just in case you were planning on a Mars viewing this evening, you might want to think again. I heard about this a couple of times in casual conversation but never saw the e-mail. Mars will look pretty much as it always has.
From: Ronald J. Sider, The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2005. pp. 90-91
The pastor of an Evangelical Covenant congregation shared with me a few years ago one of the most striking illustrations of how society’s relativism is invading the minds of evangelical youth. For the previous six years, at the end of a multiweek catechetical class preparing his teenagers for church membership, my friend had conducted a fascinating experiment.
First, he placed a jar of marbles in from of the class. “How many marbles are in the jar?” he asked. The youngsters responded with different guesses: 150, 143, 177, and so on. He responded, “Well, I counted them and there are exactly 157 marbles in the jar. Now, which of your answers was closest to being right?” And they agreed it was the answer closest to 157. “Of course,” he concluded, “the quantity of marbles is a matter of fact, not personal opinion.”
Then he asked what their favorite songs were. As different persons named different songs, he wrote them on the blackboard. He then asked, “Which is the right song?” As expected, everyone said this was an unfair question because each person’s preference was right for him – or herself. “Exactly,” he concluded, “the right song has to do with a person’s musical tastes. It is a matter of personal opinion, not fact.”
He concluded the experiment by talking about the deity of Jesus Christ and resurrection on the third day, reminding them that some people doubt both. He then said to them, “Now, are the deity of Jesus Christ and his resurrection matters of fact, or are they matters of personal opinion? Are they like the question about the number of marbles or like the question of which music you prefer?” Sadly, he told me, every youngster for six years said the deity and resurrection of Christ are like the question about the music – mere matters of opinion.
"Too many of us do not approach God, theology, or preaching with the humility that is necessary, and that was demonstated to us in the life of Jesus Christ (Phil. 2:5-11). We instead push for perfectionism, and believe with a lack of humility that we have the correct answer for everything. And with a lack of humility we believe that only if we, were given the chance to preach, we would change this church around. Humility is something that is often lacking in ministry, and we are all vulnerable to it."
This is a excerpt from a post by Rhett Smith who is at Bel Air Presbyterian Church in sunny California. I thought his quotes of Karl Barth were really interesting. Makes me what to curl up with a nicely worn version of Dogamatics.
"Reformed theology is consistent, logical, and nearly irrefutable. True seekers find it attractive, even seductive in its intellectual beauty. And therein lies its biggest flaw: Perfection."
This is a great post by Jim Gilbert. He anchors the truth in the person of Jesus rather than theological facts. I think he may overstate his case a little, but nevertheless, it is a very thought provoking piece.
The Theological Task Force on Peace Unity an Purity of the Church has issued a final draft of their report. Here is a link to the report:
The task force website has a page that gives an overview of the implications:
Don't know what I think of the recommendations yet. I haven't really had time to digest it all. Any one have thoughts on what they have read or heard so far?
The Enlightenment had a profound impact on the Church. Its impact is felt today. It is impossible to cover each and every nuance in a blog format. What I want to do is focus the overall impact it has had on Protestantism.
The 16th Century Reformation came in response to a Roman Catholic Church that had become corrupt and ineffectual. As Luther, Calvin and other reformers emerged from the struggles of the day, they questioned the emphasis that had been placed on Church tradition for past centuries. They wanted to ground authority in something else? Sola Scriptura, scripture only.
It didn’t take long to realize that consensus on scriptural teaching was an elusive effort. What would be the core determinative principals that would inform how scripture is understood? What was foundational to the Christian living?
As the Enlightenment flourished in the in the 18th Century, there became a growing dichotomy between natural religion and revealed religion. The first related to religion that could be demonstrated by reason and the latter to doctrines taught by various religious factions. Hostility increased toward revealed religion and lead to deism and ultimately to an impasse. The two choices left were to be to abandon reason and accept the doctrines of the Church or embrace skeptical rationalism.
The 19th Century saw yet another twist develop as theologians began looking for a way through the impasse. Some theologians worked to identify religious experience that was common to all humanity. They postulated that there is a God consciousness in each of us. By tapping into that consciousness we gain insight and doctrine emerges out of those insights. Jesus was the greatest example of the path toward the God consciousness. The human mind in search of foundational experience became exalted over the scripture. Scripture was demythologized and reinterpreted to meet what ever God consciousness direction theologians were going, always in search of the foundational reality. This became the liberal trajectory over the past two centuries.
The conservative theologians chose to respond to the impasse differently. The fully embraced rationalism and determined to demonstrate the truth of scripture by reason . The project became one of creating the unassailably logical Bible. Theology become less the study of God and more the science of doctrine. Theologians labored to identify the key propositions that would rationnally explain the whole Bible and incorporate any anomalies. The inerrant Bible would then offer a perfect "system" for addressing all issues.
As the Twentieth Century unfolded, the liberal wing of Christianity was in its glory. The Christian Century Magazine started in 1900 as a witness to the fact that this was the century that would usher in the "Kingdom of God." The exercise of science would be one of the primary means for creating this new age. Conservatives, on the other hand, rejected the “godless” science of the liberals, for their “holy” science that reinforced the inerrancy of scripture. They too had the optimism that they could prevail with their rational inerrancy and usher in a new age.
As it turned out, the conservative agenda lost the public relations war three decades into the century. The conservative agenda became increasingly gloomy and isolationist with regard to culture. The Great Depression sandwiched between two world wars disillusioned many liberal Christians and eventually led to the “God is Dead” movement in the 1960s. While the liberal movement did carry some currency in the civil rights arena for a time, it soon became a fragmented mix of various ideology driven theologies (e.g. liberation, feminist, etc.) There was a re-engagement with the culture by the more conservative Christian wing beginning in the late 1970s but ultimately it showed little influence in moving the culture to a Christian mindset. It too has been fading of late.
The irony is that both liberal and conservative Christians neutered the transformative power of the Word of God, and thereby the Church, with their foundational approaches. The liberals reduced scripture to little more than supplemental material on the way to discovering God. So complex and nuanced did scripture become, that only a specialized class of Christians (scholars and clergy) could be trusted with appropriate interpretations. Meanwhile, conservatives turned the Bible into a complex collection of data that could only be deciphered by systematic theologies and/or clergy who could help you link all the pieces together into an approved, rationally coherent, system.
In either case, why read the scripture for yourself? What transformative power can scripture have when it is merely a collection of highly complex ancient documents that "might" point you to a path, or it is just a collection of theological data to be used in a theological erector set? That is where we are at today.
(I highly recommend “Beyond Foundationalism,” by Grenz and Frank on this topic.)
If you have poked around much in the Emerging church conversation you will notice that most of the people look a lot like me: White and middle class. There are many theories about this. Below is a post by Andre Daley at Mosaic Life in Grand Rapids, MI, where he clipped some quotes about the topic from other discussions.
“What is the paradigm?” “We need a new paradigm.” “The emerging paradigm.” Ever heard these phrases before? Paradigm is one of the most well worn words in politics, business management, education, and a host of other areas, not to mention science. I don’t know if the word originated with him, but the one who certainly gave life to the term was Thomas S. Kuhn in his, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, first published in 1962. I first encountered this work in a sociological theory class more than twenty years ago and I still count it one of the most important books I have ever read.
Kuhn demonstrates that a paradigm, in science, is a model for how some aspect of the physical world operates. The paradigm guides assumptions scientists make about the interrelatedness of various phenomena. Paradigms often start out as loosely defined models with many loose ends. Scientists test theories informed by the paradigm in order to verify accuracy and further refine the details.
Over time, anomalies begin to emerge. Scientists struggle to understand what these anomalies mean. Sometimes it simply means making adjustments to an existing paradigm. Other times, the anomalies just will not fit.
Eventually, some scientist, or group of scientists, will get a vision for a different paradigm. They begin to test hypotheses. As the new paradigm emerges and shows greater ability to predict results and account for past anomalies, more scientist come on board. However, old paradigms do not die easily and often there is an extended period of dueling paradigms before one prevails. Even when one does prevail, there is often an ever decreasing minority that holds to the old paradigm for an extended period.
One of the key points of Kuhn’s work is that science is a distinctly human enterprise. Yes, scientists do (and should) make every effort to be objective in their research. But true objectivity is never fully achievable. This is especially true in the human sciences but it is true in the physical sciences as well. For instance, the scientist that has invested decades of his or her life in one paradigm may find it hard to surrender to emergence of a new paradigm. It is possible for the leaders of a scientific community whose prestige has been based on the success of an old paradigm, will unite to oppose new paradigms. Personal or philosophical reasons may deter a scientist from embracing certain paradigms. Many scientific endeavors require significant outside funding and the contributors may have agendas that militate against the acceptance of new paradigms. In such cases, the researcher could stand to lose his or her livelihood, reputation, and, in some extreme cases, life.
Furthermore, the impression often given of scientific work is the picture of the diligent researcher, recording data, and methodically assembling theoretical models through deduction. Kuhn doesn’t discount the use of deductive reasoning but maintains that much more is going on. Deduction is reasoning from general observations to a specific event. Induction is reasoning from specific events to broader reality. Kuhn shows that a big part of science is what he calls abduction.
In psychology, there is the idea of a gestalt. One sees pieces of picture and suddenly a complete picture bursts on the mind that fills in the missing pieces. This is essentially abductive reasoning. Kuhn would argue that this is precisely the way many scientific discoveries are made. The scientist will go back and test the missing pieces for validity, of course, but it does not change that fact that most new understanding comes through the highly creative use of abduction.
All of this is to say that science is not a magical high priestly phenomenon that the Modernist era often portrayed and some scientists sought to foster. It is a fallible human enterprise. It has also been one the most transforming enterprises in the history of humanity over the few centuries and especially in the last hundred years.
So what does all this mean for Christianity?
The scientific method and science emerged out the European Renaissance beginning in the late 15th Century. A number of factors gave rise to science, not the least of which was the infusion of ancient Greek culture into European society. (See yesterday’s post) Most European scholars who ventured into science where firm believers in the God of Christianity. In fact, they believed they could learn of God’s character by studying the way God had ordered the universe. Many early scientists were clergy.
The watershed event was a scientific revolution set in motion 16th Century by Nicholas Copernicus and brought to full flower by Giordono Bruno and Galileo Galilei. The Church, thoroughly invested in an earth centered model, believed these revolutionary thinkers to be a direct threat to the authority of the Church. Bruno was burned at the stake for his contributions. Inquisitions were used to halt the sweeping changes under way but to no avail.
As science become more refined and its ability to make sense of the physical world rapidly grew, scientific thinking began to expand into the study of human behavior. Christian institutions had shown themselves to be resistant new understandings and were perceived to be reactionary and archaic by many leading age scholars of the day. Thomas Hobbes, Rene Descartes, and John Locke, became the first of the Enlightenment thinkers.
The Enlightenment set the stage for Romanticism (19th Century) and Modernism (20th Century). I am not going to try to trace all the various threads of the movements going forward. I do want to highlight some of the values that emerged that have largely prevailed from the 18th Century on:
• The universe is rational and can be understood through the use of reason alone.
• Truth can be arrived at through empirical observation, the use of reason, and systematic doubt.
• Human experience is the foundation of human understanding of truth.
• Just as the natural world can be understand, manipulated and engineered, so can human life, both social and individual.
• Human history is a history of progress.
• Religious doctrines and religious authority have no place in the understanding of the physical and human worlds.
One of the profound impacts was the acceleration in the rate of change. Unmoored from traditional authority, new and competing ideas vied for dominance. How ideas rose and fell in dominance within science is instructive for seeing how ideas rise and fall throughout culture.
(PS: The circumstances of Rene Descartes death are not widely known. Seems he was dining with a friend. When his host asked if he would like more coffee, he responded "Oh, I think not." PUFF. He disappeared.)
Well, I started this thread on Science and Christianity and the New York Times has to try to get in on the action. *grin* Denis sent me an NYT article and now at Presbyweb I see there is another article.
Jason Clark got an advanced copy of a new Barna book. He reviewed it at the Emergent Blog, Revolutions - Barna Review. Here is one quote from Jason:
"He [Brana] claims there is a revolution going on in he church universal, outside the organised congregation based church, that we are all going to have to respond to. Of his own admission the book is short, a 'fast' read and not 'theologically dense'. He also expects people to be either 'excited' or 'angered' by his suggestions and research."
I just came across a paper Mediahood of All Receivers: Blogging as an extension of the Reformation Concept of the Priesthood of All Believers by a Ph.D. Student at the University of South Carolina named Bryan Murley.
This paper is great! Those of you who know me know how passionate I am about the priesthood of all believers. I am going to chew on this t-bone a while. Here is the abstract:
Much academic attention has been focused on the phenomenon of blogging and politics. Relatively little attention has been paid to the intersection of blogging and religion among laypeople and ministers. This research project will examine blogs that focus on issues of faith through Stuart Hall’s cultural studies theory and the theological framework of the priesthood of all believers.
The paper will begin with an overview of religious blogging and focus specific attention on four blogs that operate through the paradigm of the emerging church movement.
The emerging church movement is of special interest because it is a cross-denominational, cross-national movement of Christian believers that has grown up in the postmodern age and has specifically come into prominence through new media like the Internet. It is still in its beginning stages, with many discussing its outlines but few actually putting the philosophy into practice.
The theological perspective of the priesthood of all believers is particularly apt because of its implication that all Christians have direct access to the throne of God. The relative ease of creating and continuing to publish a weblog provides an opportunity for individual believers to express their views on faith and practice without the screen of the minister. Likewise, ministers can propagate their views on issues of contemporary import to the entire world, much as Martin Luther expressed himself through the 95 theses nailed to the door of the Whittenburg church. There are obvious dangers inherent in this new frontier, but the positives related to increased outlets for communication far outweigh the negatives.
This phenomenon works to short-circuit the organizational tendency to restrict debate on issues, even when those organizations claim to foster debate and constructive discussion.
Before I launch into a discussion about science, I think it is important to clarify what I am talking about. There are at least three ways we use the word “science.”
1. Science can refer to a method of investigating the physical world. The scientific method starts with a question about a particular phenomenon. A hypothesis is formed about what caused the phenomena. A hypothesis is a tentative explanation. Using deductive reason, an outcome is predicted about the interaction of variables. Finally, experiments are conducted in controlled circumstances to test the hypothesis’ ability to predict results. Other scientists then examine the hypothesis, examine the methodology and the controls used, and attempt to replicate the results. When the hypothesis is shown to have at least limited viability, it becomes a scientific model. As more models are tested they may be integrated into a scientific theory. It is this method of inquiry that makes science uniquely science.
2. Science can refer to a particular field of study. Biology, chemistry, physics, astronomy, and geology are some examples of the physical sciences. Social sciences would include economics, sociology, demography, and psychology. Others may span both realms like geography or archeology.
3. Science can also refer to the systematic body of knowledge collected through the scientific method and the community of scientist amassing the knowledge.
I have in mind the third connotation for this discussion, although I will make reference to the other two. Hopefully context will be sufficient to clarify.
As described, there is nothing here that seems to be particularly controversial, at least for most of us today. However, at its inception, science was understood as threat to Church authority by both the Church and by some scientists themselves. By the 17th Century it was clear that some scientists and thinkers embraced science as a way to discredit religion. They way various factions of Christianity chose to address these issues has had a great impact on us to this day.
Presbyweb linked a book review about a new book called Pornified: How Pornography Is Transforming Our Lives, Our Relationships, and Our Families. Amazon says the book is not out until September 8, 2005.
My pastor is finishing his doctrate. His subject area has been pornography and the Church. This is an issue we all need to address. I hope to read the book as soon as I can get a copy.
Those of you who have been hanging out here for a while will remember an article I linked back on June 8, called An Unworkable Theology, by Philip Turner. One of the points he wrote about dealt with the tendency in the church to us the claim of "being prophetic" to justify about any action. PCUSA Pastor Rob Harrison wrote a Viewpoint for Presbyweb today called Speaking Prophetically. I am not sure I endorse all that he says here but I do share his annoyance with the use of "being prophetic" as a synonym for Demorcat party plaform. That is called posturing not prophecy.
(Presbyweb is a subscription site although the amount subscritption contribution is up to you.)
I found a post at Dave Hackett's Frontier Blog, about correcting the Lord's Prayer for the less mission mined. Good food for thought.
Disasters often lead to some of the most unpredictable changes in human culture. The bubonic plague struck Europe in the Fourteenth Century, killing about one-third of the population. Vicitms would notice rosy red boils that on their skin with circular discolorations around them. Eventually the disease would lead to sneezing and coughing as the body tried to fight of the disease. Many people believed the disease was airborne through vapors and odors. Fragrant flowers were thought to ward off the the disease, so people filled their homes and the pockets of their clothes with fragrant flowers. The poesy was a frequent choice.
In England, children developed a game that came to memorialize this time in history. They would gather around in a circle, join hands, and begin skipping to a little ditty that went like this: “Ring around the rosy, ring around the rosy, achu achu, we all fall down!” Then they would drop to the ground. This sounds incredibly morbid to us today but it is hard to imagine how difficult it must have been for European cultures to make sense of this disaster. Centuries later, we still see the impact of these events.
A by-product of the plague in England was a radically reduced labor force. Land went unattended because there were not enough workers to care for the land. Peasants were in demand. Landowners had to bargain with peasants to retain there services. It virtually bankrupted many former manor owners. Some peasants became squatters on unused land. The land owning class tried to prohibit them from squatting but it was impractical. Over time, the distribution of wealth became wider giving birth to an English middle class. Similar events happened elsewhere in Europe.
Meanwhile, a trend began to emerge 200 years before this plague. Alfred Crosby in his Measurement of Reality shows that, by the Fourteenth Century, scholars were becoming virtually obsessed with the categorization and quantification of everything. Anselm and the rise of Scholasticism in the 11th and 12th Centuries surely played a major role in this. St. Thomas Aquinas’ Aristotelian influence in the 13th Century fueled the phenomenon. The plague seemed to give greater urgency to learning as scholars sought wisdom and understanding concerning their changing times.
Then, one hundred years after the plague, two things happened almost simultaneously: The invention of the printing press by Guttenberg (1452) and the fall of Constantinople (1453).
Considerable scholarship had been developing in Europe over past centuries but it was highly fragmented. It was very difficult for scholars to share information back and forth. There was no way to broadly circulate scholarly learning and most people were illiterate.
The printing press meant that information could be widely disseminated. It also dramatically improved literacy. The supply of reading material motivated many to become literate. With a rising middle class in many parts of Europe, there were a growing number of people who had the means to become literate and access information.
As for Constantinople, it was a treasure trove of ancient art and literature. Many scholars of Greek language and culture lived there. When the city was captured by the Ottoman Turks in 1453, many of these scholars fled to Europe. The confluence of Scholastic thought, the rising middle class, the invention of the printing press, and the infusion of Greek scholarship (among other things) gave rise to the European Renaissance. This period gave birth to many great things, but the advent of science has to be at the top of the list.
Over the next few centuries, science supplanted the church as the final arbiter of truth claims. The white lab coat and microscope replaced the white collar and robe as the accoutrements of priestly authority. The hubris of the Church rendered it unable to adapt to the times. New ways of being and thinking relegated the church to subordinate status. Over the centuries, the major challenge for the Church was its relationship to science. Theological liberalism and conservatism both emerged as tandem partners to scientific-rational approaches to life and culture.
At the end of the 20th Century, the sacrosanct status of science began to crumble. The scientific world is experiencing the consequences of its own hubristic impulses. Ironically, it is taking theological liberalism and conservatism with it. I am not saying science is going away altogether. Christianity did not go away with the rise of science. What I am suggesting is that science will become a more marginalized players in the cultural milieu.
All that said, science is still very much a driving force in our time. As I reflect on the theological and social issues that are the most volatile in the public square, it is remarkable how many of them hinge on scientific understandings: Global warming, creation and origins, end and beginning of life questions, sexual orientation, and a host of economic and social issues.
I am going to spend the next few posts considering what science is, particularly from a sociological perspective. I will look at the issues of origins and global warming as two examples of how science and Christianity interplay. Then I will reflect on what this means for the church in the 21st Century. Strange as it may seem, I expect this to lead back to the “economics in the context globalization” thread I departed from last week.
Well, they went to the brink. My beloved Royals nearly tied the American League record for consecutive losses at 20. Things had gotten really bad. Owner David Glass was storing his classic cars in Royals’ batting cages because nothing got hit there. Also, do you know what the Royals and Michael Jackson have in common? They have both been known to wear a glove on one hand for no apparent reason.
Anyway, disaster was averted. They won 2-1 tonight. Of course, come to think about it... there are more than twenty games left.
I read this post by PCUSA Pastor Neil Craigan a couple of days ago. I find I keep thinking about it over and over. Good stuff! Here is the link Questions???
He also posted a quote by Brennan Manning.
"The institutional church has become a wounder of healers rather than a healer of the wounded."
Man, that will preach!
(PS: I don't know Neil Craigan. Hope I haven't tarnished him by linking his website.)
I have a breakfast Bible study every Friday with a group of men from my church. Today we were studying Matthew 8. As I read my portion of the chapter aloud, I found myself asking, as I often do, how did Jesus say this? For instance is verse 22 Jesus said “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.” Did Jesus say this in a somber profound voice? Did he say it with exasperation? Did he say it with a mischievous grin and the wink of an eye? I kind of like the possibility of the last option. It fits my template of Jesus as a captivating winsome person.
I raised this issue and the conversation around the table turned to the question of whether or not Jesus used humor. Granted, we don’t find any quotes from Jesus that start with, “Okay, two Rabbis walk into bar, and the first Rabbi says…” We are looking at a different culture. What would Jesus’ humor look like if we saw it? We know Jesus was always hanging out at weddings and parties. In Matthew 11:19, Jesus said he was being accused of being a party animal. “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” His first miracle was changing the water in to wine to keep the party going.
Years ago, I read a little book called The Humor of Christ by Elton Trueblood, which I believe has been out of print for a few years. He gives several examples of ironic statements Jesus made, and parables he told, that would have been quite humorous to his audience. I was especially drawn to Trueblood’s analysis of the following passage:
Matt 15:21-28 NRSV
21 Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, "Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon." 23 But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, "Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us." 24 He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, "Lord, help me." 26 He answered, "It is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs." 27 She said, "Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table." 28 Then Jesus answered her, "Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish." And her daughter was healed instantly.
If we take Jesus’ demeanor to be in earnest, it raises troubling questions. It would be in stark contrast to the way he had dealt with similar situations throughout the gospels. Was Jesus truly contemptuous of this gentile woman in need?
A common method of teaching by Rabbi’s involved bantering back and forth with a student. The Rabbi would make a false or misleading statement. This was to test the student to see if he understood the situation well enough to give a corrective comeback. Trueblood suggests that this is precisely what Jesus was doing here. If so, it makes this passage truly remarkable because he was teaching a woman, and a gentile woman at that!
Imagine Jesus striking an exaggerated pose, looking down his nose at this woman. Then in an exaggerated tone of voice meant to mimic an exalted Rabbi he said “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” The woman doesn’t miss a step with her witty comeback. Then Jesus responds, possibly chuckling with satisfaction, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” If the reality was something like this, then Jesus was far from expressing contempt. Not only did he heal the woman’s daughter, but he elevated the woman’s status above the cultural standard for her ethnicity and gender. I don’t suppose there is any way to know for certain what happened here but the explanations I have heard seem to raise more questions to answer. Why are we so reluctant to believe that Jesus may have been a funny guy?
I have not taken the time to really look into the humor of Jesus the way I want to. So I have ordered two books by Earl F. Palmer, The Humor of Jesus: Sources of Laughter in the Bible and Laughter In Heaven: Understanding The Parables Of Jesus. If anyone else has some suggestions I would love to hear about it.
While doing research this week I came across this article from January, 2005. It is a speech given by Susan R. Garrett, a professor at Louisville Presbyterian Seminary. It is the perspective of what one liberal (her words, not mine) Presbyterian educator thinks needs to happen in the church. Here is a quote:
"Specifically, I am going to name three changes that I see as necessary for our churches to be revitalized and for us to gain a stronger voice in the public realm. First, we need to renew our commitment to teaching and fostering reflection on the Bible and on our doctrinal commitments, at all levels of congregational life. Second, we need to articulate those doctrinal commitments in a way that engages fundamentalist assaults on progressive or liberal Christianity. Third, we need to make sure that Jesus is living in our midst."
You can find the whole lecture at Bold and Biblical: A Vision for the Mainline.
When I researched the article I linked in yesterday's post about "The Wide Wide Circle of Divine Love," I did a quick look for book reviews on-line but failed to locate any. Yesterday I got a post drawing my attention to an article at the Voices of Orthodox Women website. Viola Larson reivewed a recent issue of Horizons Magazine and her review touched on the book in the context of an article Dr. March had written for the magazine. Here is a link if you would like another view:
I have just completed a ten page article about an issue of deep concern to me. Below is the introduction follwed by a link to the article.
"The General Assembly Council (GAC), PCUSA, started something new in 2004. We set aside time at each Council meeting to reflect on issues confronting the church. Each member receives a book to read a month in advance of the meeting. We come prepared to hear the author and participate in discussion. First we talked about church growth. We read Beyond the Ordinary: Ten Strengths of U.S. Congregations. At the next meeting, we talked about leadership and read To Walk in Integrity: Spiritual Leadership in Times of Crisis. Both contributed to helpful reflection on our work.
When the GAC gathers in Sacramento next month, our next topic will be pluralism. Last Saturday, I found a packet arrived containing the book, The Wide, Wide Circle Of Divine Love: A Biblical Case For Religious Diversity, by W. Eugene March. I have read the book and I have much I want to say about it. I know when I get to GAC there will be no forum where I will be able to express all the concerns I have. Furthermore, since the purpose of these events is to foster discussion around critical issues facing the church, I thought I might begin by having a discussion with the broader church. I also think it worthy to discuss whether this material is appropriate for the context.
I have written an overview of the book with extensive quotes. Next, I have provided some quotes from The Confession of 1967 and official statements of the General Assembly over the past four decades. I end with my observations and conclusions. I hope that this will add a different perspective to the dialog."
I have found that one of the most influential people of the Twentieth Century is virtually unknown to the world. His name is Ezekiel Bulver. I learned of him first in the writings of C. S. Lewis but I now see his influence everywhere.
Here are three paragraphs from “God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics,” by C. S. Lewis. This passage is from his Essay on “Bulverism.” The story picks ups with Lewis addressing the claim by Freudians and Marxists that all thought is tainted by complexes and ideologies.
If we say that all thoughts are thus tainted, then, of course we must remind them that Freudianism and Marxism are as much systems of thought as Christian theology or philosophical idealism. The Freudian and Marxian are in the same boat with all the rest of us, and cannot criticize us from outside. They have sawn off the branch they were sitting on. If, on the other hand, they say that the taint need not invalidate their thinking, then neither need it invalidate ours. In which case they have saved their own branch, but also saved ours along with it.
The only line they [Freudians and Marxians] can really take is to say that some thoughts are tainted and others are not – which has the advantage (if Freudians and Marxians regard it as an advantage) of being what every sane man has always believed. But if that is so, we must then ask how you find out which are tainted and which are not. It is no earthly use saying that those are tainted which agree with the secret wishes of the thinker. Some of the things I should like to believe must in fact be true; it is impossible to arrange a universe which contradicts everyone’s wishes, in every aspect, at every moment. Suppose I think, after doing my accounts, that I have a large balance at the bank. And suppose you want to find out whether this belief of mine is ‘wishful thinking’. You can never come to any conclusion by examining my psychological condition. Your only chance of finding out is to sit down and work through the sum yourself. When you have checked my figures, then, and only then, will you know whether I have that balance or not. If you find my arithmetic wrong, then it may be relevant to explain psychologically how I came to be so bad at my arithmetic, and the doctrine of the concealed wish will become relevant – but only after you have yourself done the sum and discovered me to be wrong on purely arithmetical grounds. It is the same with all thinking and all systems of thought. If you try to find out which are tainted by speculating about the wishes of the thinkers, you are merely making a fool of yourself. You must first find out on purely logical grounds which of them do, in fact, break down as arguments. Afterwards, if you like, go on and discover the psychological causes of the error.
In other words, you must show that a man is wrong before you start explaining why he is wrong. The modern method is to assume without discussion that he is wrong and then distract attention from this (the only real issue) by busily explaining how he became so silly. In the course of the last fifteen years I have found this vice so common that I have had to invent a name for it. I call it Bulverism. Someday I am going to write the biography of its imaginary inventor, Ezekiel Bulver, whose destiny was determined at the age of five when he heard his mother say to his father – who had been maintaining that two sides of a triangle were together greater than the third – ‘Oh you say that because you are a man.’ ‘At that moment’, E. Bulver assures us, ‘there flashed across my opening mind the great truth that refutation is no necessary part of argument. Assume that your opponent is wrong, and then explain his error, and the world will be at your feet. Attempt to prove that he is wrong or right, and the national dynamism our age will thrust you to the wall.’ That is how Bulver became one of the makers of the Twentieth Century.
A common example of Bulverism is the whole “phobic” phenomenon. I classify my opponent as phobic. Then I move on to examine how she became so phobic. Maybe it was her toilet training at the age of two. Maybe she was trapped within an ideological prison of the religious system of her youth. Maybe she has a chemical imbalance. All this, while bypassing any discussion as to the merits of her position. It is in actuality a tautology. How do you know she is phobic? She holds X position. How do you know X position is wrong? Only phobic people hold X position.
The fact is, you can’t turn on cable news, read the internet, or even have dinner conversation without being inundated with Bulverism. Ezekiel Bulver owns the public square. The true discussion of ideas is almost viewed as a pathology. Love him or hate him, Ezekiel Bulver's leagacy is every where.
For the past few days I have written about economic justice as we find it in the Bible (Distributive, Commutative, and Remedial.) As we look at the world at Israel's birth, we find cultures that were full of economic oppression. Slavery was wide spread. The poor were of little consequence. Court justice was skewed toward those with power.
As we have seen, God entered the picture by calling out the nation of Israel and establishing a code of behavior that would set them apart from other nations. Slavery was abolished among Israelites as was interest on loans made to the poor. The Jubilee Code eliminated perpetual servitude by restoring each person’s land and labor every 49 years. Instructions like the ones about letting the poor glean the edge of the fields sought to address poverty at the expense of economic efficiency. Provisions were made that would create just economic transactions and remedial standards were set for those who suffered criminal loss.
The New Testament was much a different time. Israel was under the thumb of the Roman Empire and had little say in many of the issues addressed. Jesus and the New Testament writers said little about commutative or remedial justice as much of that was not within their control. They did however repeatedly warn against favoritism for the wealthy and oppression of the poor. Jesus taught his followers not to be anxious about material needs and seek first the kingdom. Jesus kept pointing to a higher vision that included but went beyond the prescriptive rules of the Old Testament. He spoke of the Kingdom of God as present on earth but he pointed toward a future date in which everything would be reordered.
With all that said, what is the answer to economic injustice today, especially among the poorest of the poor who make up half our planet? Those of a more liberal view are likely to advocate for wealth redistribution through debt cancellation and aid. The more conservative types are more inclined to suggest that stable governments with sound fiscal policies and democratic institutions are the place to start. There can be reasonable cases made from the Bible for both these avenues and I suspect in most cases both are required. But there is still an essential ingredient that has not been mentioned.
There is a story of an experiment involving a fish in a fish tank. A glass partition was placed in the tank separating into two halves. Food was dropped into the side of the tank opposite the fish. The fish would swim at the food and encounter the glass. It would try again. After several episodes of this the fish would not even try for the food even after the barrier was removed. In fact, the fish would just sit at the bottom of the tank with the food falling around it. It had become hopeless.
Hope is the key to economic transformation. Somehow people have to come to believe that tomorrow can be better than today. Delayed gratification, so essential to investing, is based firmly on the ability to hope for a future reward. Hope is what is needed to believe that time invested in education and training will make any difference. Without hope, all the debt cancellations and redistributions combined with political and governmental reforms are just so much food falling around the fish in the fish tank. These are not approaches that incarnate hope.
Hope is the unspoken theme of the passages I have been writing about. Sabbath rest required the regular exercise of hope. Jubilee gave hope that at some future date there would be a new chance. Jesus encouraged us not to be anxious about our future and material needs. He pointed to a vision of a coming Kingdom where there would be complete shalom. He incarnated that message. Yes, we are called to push for just debt arrangements, as well as for political and governmental reform. But it is also the mission of the Church to be the incarnate presence of Christ giving witness to hope.
Hope is the economic catalyst. The Church can contribute to economic justice in a way no government or corporation can. It begins with these simple words among the poor:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."
Luke 4:18-19 NRSV
The Presbyterian News Service had an article Friday that reported on the PCUSA Communicators meeting in Louisville. Stated Clerk Clifton Kirkpatrick spoke to the group and gave several observations about the state of the church. You can find the story at:
One of the really fun things about doing a blog is that every so often someone you have been out of touch with finds you. (Fortunately for me, that hasn't yet happend yet with the IRS, but that is another story.) I guy I knew while in graduate school at Kansas State University found me last week. Denis Hancock and I attended First Presby. Manhattan. We have been catching up some and he has just started his own blog called The Reformed Angler. Just wanted to invite y'all to check it out.
In addition to distributive justice and commutative justice, there is also the issue of remedial justice. Remedial justice addresses just compensation and punitive action when there has been malicious or careless damage done to life, liberty or property. It is necessary for someone to have a reasonable certainty that the fruits of their labor will not be taken by capricious or malevolent behavior if we expect them to invest their resources in producing goods and services. Otherwise, why take the risk? It stifles the role God intends for us as co-creators and renders the idea of private property meaningless. Here are just a couple passages addressing remedial justice in the Old Testament:
Lev 19:15 NRSV
You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor.>
Deut 16:19-20 NRSV
19 You must not distort justice; you must not show partiality; and you must not accept bribes, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of those who are in the right. 20 Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue, so that you may live and occupy the land that the LORD your God is giving you.
There are even specific penalties listed for various crimes:
Ex 22:1-2 NRSV
1 When someone steals an ox or a sheep, and slaughters it or sells it, the thief shall pay five oxen for an ox, and four sheep for a sheep. The thief shall make restitution, but if unable to do so, shall be sold for the theft. 2 When the animal, whether ox or donkey or sheep, is found alive in the thief's possession, the thief shall pay double.
Ex 22:7-8 NRSV
7 When someone delivers to a neighbor money or goods for safekeeping, and they are stolen from the neighbor's house, then the thief, if caught, shall pay double. 8 If the thief is not caught, the owner of the house shall be brought before God, to determine whether or not the owner had laid hands on the neighbor's goods.
Ex 22:14-15 NRSV
14 When someone borrows an animal from another and it is injured or dies, the owner not being present, full restitution shall be made. 15 If the owner was present, there shall be no restitution; if it was hired, only the hiring fee is due.
These are just a few examples of the laws God prescribed for Israel illustrating his concern for remedial justice.
The lack of justice in Israel was a constant refrain with the prophets. Amos had one of the most eloquent pronouncements:
Amos 5:12-15 NRSV
12 For I know how many are your transgressions, and how great are your sins--you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and push aside the needy in the gate. 13 Therefore the prudent will keep silent in such a time; for it is an evil time. 14 Seek good and not evil, that you may live; and so the LORD, the God of hosts, will be with you, just as you have said. 15 Hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the LORD, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.
Amos 5:21-24 NRSV
21 I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. 22 Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. 23 Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. 24 But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
Jesus and the New Testament spent little time addressing governmental structures. Instead, Jesus encouraged us to go beyond simple justice equations like “…an eye for and eye and a tooth for a tooth.” Jesus instructed us to love our enemies which would include respect for their possessions and health. If this ethic were widely shared, there would be no theft and violence, and no need for remedial action in the first place. When Jesus met Zacchaeus, Zacchaeus seemed instantly to understand that he must make restitution for what he had stolen if he wanted to follow Jesus. When Jesus announced his ministry at Nazareth, he announced the Jubilee; the ultimate in remedial economic action to prevent permanent economic bondage.
Commutative Justice is about honest and just economic transactions. It is a major theme in both Testaments of the Bible. From the Old Testament:
Lev 19:11 NRSV
You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; and you shall not lie to one another.
Lev 19:13 NRSV
You shall not defraud your neighbor; you shall not steal; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a laborer until morning.
Lev 19:35-36 NRSV
You shall not cheat in measuring length, weight, or quantity. You shall have honest balances, honest weights, an honest ephah, and an honest hin: I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.
Deut 25:13-16 NRSV
13 You shall not have in your bag two kinds of weights, large and small. 14 You shall not have in your house two kinds of measures, large and small. 15 You shall have only a full and honest weight; you shall have only a full and honest measure, so that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you. 16 For all who do such things, all who act dishonestly, are abhorrent to the LORD your God.
Economic transactions of the time often involved grain, ointments, food, and precious metals. A scale consisting of a beam balanced on a stem, with trays of equal weight on each side, was used to determine weight and price. Weights were placed on one side and the substance to be weighed was placed on the other side. Standardized weights were removed one by one until the two trays were in balance. Then a price was rendered. A dishonest merchant would use weights that would misrepresent quantities to his advantage.
Proverbs frequently warns against dishonest behavior and use of false scales and measures. The prophet Micah wrote:
Micah 6:11-12 NRSV
Can I tolerate wicked scales and a bag of dishonest weights? Your wealthy are full of violence; your inhabitants speak lies, with tongues of deceit in their mouths.
In the New Testament, Jesus said, “Let your word be 'Yes, Yes' or 'No, No'; anything more than this comes from the evil one.” (Matthew 5:37) Upon meeting Jesus, Zacchaeus decided to refund anything he had overcharged people. (Luke 19:8) Paul, referring to the Old Testament, instructs, “…for the scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,’ and, "The laborer deserves to be paid." (1 Tim 5:18) James warns the rich, “4 Listen! The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.” (James 5:4-5)
Our culture operates in a much more complex economic environment and many of the issues we face were not addressed specifically in scripture. For instance, discrimination in hiring and promotion would clearly fall under commutative justice. Nevertheless, honest and just economic transactions were a central concern of biblical ethics and must be a central part of any Christian economic ethic.
I began my discussion on economic justice as a gateway to talking about globalization. Reading Presbyweb today, I see Chuck Colson has been thinking about some of the same issues. They had a link to his Christianity Today article, What is Justice? Good stuff! He stole most of my thunder. That's okay. It is nice to see your thoughts confirmed by someone else.
Reading the legal codes in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, it is clear that private property was taken for granted. One of the Ten Commandments was “Thou shall not steal.” There are numerous references about appropriate restitution when someone’s property has been taken or damaged. Private property was central to Old Testament economic life.
However, ownership of private property was not absolute.
Deut 15:4-5 NRSV
4 There will, however, be no one in need among you, because the LORD is sure to bless you in the land that the LORD your God is giving you as a possession to occupy, 5 if only you will obey the LORD your God by diligently observing this entire commandment that I command you today.
The law required that farmers not harvest all the way to the edge of the field. (Leviticus 23:22) The Jubilee placed restrictions on the permanent transfer of land. (Leviticus 25) Also, the Israelites were required to make contributions for care of the Levites and certain governmental activities. There were communal issues that took precedence over property rights.
No where in Scripture do we see a mandate for an equal distribution of income. Some argue that the Jubilee Code in Leviticus 25 was wealth redistribution but, as I showed on Monday, it was no such thing. Some have used Acts 2:45 to suggest that the Early church intended communal ownership of property:
Acts 2:44-45 NRSV
44 All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.
These actions were done under extraordinary circumstances. The church was exploding. Many new believers would have been disowned by their families. Christians voluntarily pooled their resources to meet the need. This was not a model for ongoing church community. Even Jesus parables seem to endorse the idea of investing and earning according to the resources that have been entrusted to us. (Matthew 25:14-46)
Seemingly, God desires to have billions of Adams working their own “gardens.” He created all of us to be stewards of his resources. When all goods are held in common, the productivity and creativity tends to drop to the level of the laziest and most incompetent. There is no incentive to work harder. Any increased productivity merely accrues to the slackers. Private property encourages conscientious use of resources to their maximum benefit. Therefore, the most economically productive arraignment is private property. Still, God’s mandate that there “be no one in need among you” trumps productivity.
Before we can talk about globalization, debt cancellation, or any of another topics related to economics, we have to come to some understanding of what constitutes economic justice. The term means different things to different people. I believe there are three aspects to economic justice:
1. Distributive Justice – This addresses how capital and goods are distributed throughout the society.
2. Commutative Justice – This addresses the truthfulness of parties to an economic exchange.
3. Remedial Justice – This addresses just compensation and punitive action when there has been malicious or careless damage done to life, liberty or property.
I want to visit the biblical implications for these three over the next few posts, but first I think it would be good to make explicit three underlying assumptions:
1. God is owner of all there is and we are but stewards of God’s resources. This takes economics out of the realm of the purely human and puts in eternal perspective.
2. Humanity was made for co-creative work. Work is good! God created each person with a set of gifts and gives them a passion for certain kinds of work. God gets immense joy out of our work.
3. God wants economic bondage for no one. The curse pronounced on Adam was that he would earn his living by the sweat of his brow. This was not God’s plan. Humanity exacerbates the problem through a combination of individual sinfulness and corrupt social structures.
With all this in mind, what does the Bible have to say about economic justice?
My mother-in-law sent the following today. Don't now the origin.
"Question: What is the truest definition of Globalization? Answer: Princess Diana's death. Question: How come? Answer: An English princess with an Egyptian boyfriend crashes in a French tunnel, driving a German car with a Dutch engine, driven by a Belgian who was drunk on Scottish whisky, (check the bottle before you change the spelling) followed closely by Italian Paparazzi, on Japanese motorcycles; treated by an American doctor, using Brazilian medicines. This is sent to you by an American, using Bill Gate's technology, and you're probably reading this on your computer, that use Taiwanese chips, and a Korean monitor, assembled by Bangladeshi workers in a Singapore plant, transported by Indian lorry- drivers, hijacked by Indonesians, unloaded by Sicilian longshoremen, and trucked to you by Mexican illegals..... That, my friends, is Globalization."
Presbyweb had a link to a blog entry by Doug Groothuis called "The Doctrine of Calling." I have read some of his wife's work but not his. He wrote a book called Truth Decay which I have, but I have not read (along with about 1,000 others.) I sense he may not be keen on the whole Emergent thing. Nevertheless, I really like what he says in his post. Especially:
"First, Christian calling brooks no separation between the secular and the sacred. All of life is to be lived under the comprehensive Lordship of Christ (Matthew 28:18). One does not don a spiritual self for religious activities and another self for entertainment or one’s profession. All of our actions should be unified in obedience to God and for God’s glory (1 Cor 10:31; Col 3:17). Similarly, neither are church-related work nor missions is more spiritual than other professions such as law, business, education, journalism, or politics. The Kingdom of God bears on every dimension of life, and agents of that Kingdom serve as salt and light wherever the Spirit leads them."
I guess now I will have to move his book up the reading list (from about 500 up to about 50 maybe *grin*).
Gen 1:27-28 NRSV
27 So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. 28 God blessed them, and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth."
Gen 2:15 NRSV
15 The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.
Gen 9:1-2 NRSV
God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.”
God called humanity to be co-creators with him. He placed Adam in the garden to be steward over it. God told Adam, and later Noah, to “fill the earth.” Certainly “fill” means to expand over the earth and populate it, but it means much more. Humanity is the glory of God. By filling the earth with co-creators in loving relationship to God, the earth becomes filled with God’s glory!
Unfortunately, Adam rebelled and then Cain. Instead of expanding and glorifying God, Cain entrenched in a city and glorified himself. After Noah came the people of Babel. Instead of expanding and glorifying God, they entrenched in a city and glorified themselves. God brought the Israelites into existence to be a light unto the world but they turned inward and glorified themselves as well. Even today, the Church is told to go into the world and fill it with God’s glory but how many of us have huddled in our worship communities and placed our comfort ahead of glorifying God? History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes.
Additionally, humanity has not proven to be reliable partners as co-creators with God. Instead of using the resources God has entrusted to us toward for ends that glorify and honor him, humanity has used resources to oppress others and create autonomy. Economic injustice has been the norm throughout all of human history.
When we answer the call to co-creator stewardship, we do ministry. Ministry is simply defined as acting in response to God. Ministry is not defined by what we do. It is defined by who we are doing for. The call to co-creator stewardship has not expired or been superseded. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12:4-6:
4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. NRSV
This is a basic Trinitarian call to ministry. Exercise of spiritual “gifts” for building up the body of Christ is the call of the “Spirit.” Kingdom “services,” or carrying on the works of Christ, are the call from the Son. Doing varieties of “activities” or “working” is the call of God the Father. We all are called to all three, but most of us will find our energies concentrated in creation stewardship.
We are called to be stewards of creation in a world of economic injustice and rapid globalization. What should our response be? It seems a good place to start might be to ask what we mean by economic justice.
I loved watching ventriloquists when I was a kid. They seemed to be every where. I saw them at school, at church, at parties, and on television. I don’t see them much any more but I know they are still out there because I found a list of some at the International Ventriloquists’ Association. There have been some good ventriloquists and some bad ventriloquists, but the king of them all had to be Edgar Bergen and his dummy Charlie McCarthy.
I can remember my parents and grandparents stories about listening to these two (actually one). You know how good Bergen was because the programs were on radio. Not only did Bergen get you to imagine the dummy was speaking but he got you to imagine the dummy!
My understanding is that modern ventriloquism using a dummy got its start in the 1800s. However, I suspect its origins were much earlier. I found one website called Dumbstruck that traced the art of throwing the voice to another object back to ancient Semitic people. This doesn’t surprise because we have several instances of it throughout the Bible. It started out as a communal activity. People would make an idol (often out of wood) and then throw their communal voice into the idol. They were so good at it that they actually believed their own dummy.
When the nation of Israel rebelled, God sent them prophets. What did the people do? They tried to play ventriloquist, using the prophets as their dummies.
Isaiah 30:9-11 NRSV
9 For they are a rebellious people,
children who will not hear
the instruction of the LORD;
10 who say to the seers, "Do not see";
and to the prophets, "Do not prophesy to us what is right;
speak to us smooth things,
11 leave the way, turn aside from the path,
let us hear no more about the Holy One of Israel."
It didn’t stop there. There have been ventriloquists throughout the ages. I take a stab at it every now and then. I pick up a Bible, I read it, and then I try to make it say something that sounds more appealing to me. I suspect we all do. In fact, entire movements do it. I wonder if maybe we need to establish a Charlie McCarthy Theology Award. Hollywood has Oscars. We could have the Charlies.
Such an award would likely require a number of different categories. For instance, Life Time Achievement Awards could be given to Joseph Smith, Charles Taze Russell, and Mary Baker Eddy. An award for political movements like the Spanish Inquisition or the ideas of Manifest Destiny and Slavery in the United States might be good. The Ku Klux Klan would surely merit consideration. There could be cultural accommodation awards like the “Health and Wealth Gospel” folks or the “Justice Love” advocates preaching consensual sex between two or more persons of any age race or creed is just what God is telling us in Scripture. You get the idea.
Yes, the Charlie McCarthy Theology Awards. The possibilities are endless. I am thinking I could probably nominate myself for one or two.
Any way, the floor is now open for nominations. Nominations anyone? Anyone?
Ask most people about “Jubilee” and they will say they have never heard of it. If they have heard of it, it is often because of the Jubilee 2000 organization, now known as Jubilee Research. This organization has lobbied for debt cancellation for the poorest of the lesser developed countries (LDCs). They have had the backing of a number of celebrities including Bono of U2. Last month they sponsored a big rally called Live 8. Jubilee USA Network is the American partner in these efforts.
“Jubilee” is used by the movement as biblical support to insist on “debt forgiveness” for the poorest nations on the planet. Typical of the rationale statements is this one from Jubilee USA Network:
“In the Jubilee Year as quoted in Leviticus, those enslaved because of debts are freed, lands lost because of debt are returned, and community torn by inequality is restored.”
Advocates often say that lenders have an obligation to cancel debt because of the Jubilee code. But was this what the Jubilee code truly taught? I want to be unmistakably clear about what I am addressing here. One can make a case for debt cancellation on a variety of economic and moral grounds. But is Jubilee a legitimate rationale for debt cancellation? I think the answer is largely no.
Leviticus 25 is the passage containing the Jubilee code. Every seven years the Israelites were to let their land lie fallow. Debts were suspended for the Sabbath year. Every seventh Sabbath, there was to be a “Jubilee.” (Some say this was fifty years and others say forty-nine years depending on how they calculate.) During this year, all land leases and terms of indentured servitude were to expire. Notice I did not say “debts forgiven” and “slaves freed.” Nor was there any restoration of a community “torn by inequality.” The whole point of the code was that it kept inequality (with regard to land and labor) from emerging in the first place!
Leviticus 25:14-16 NRSV
14 When you make a sale to your neighbor or buy from your neighbor, you shall not cheat one another. 15 When you buy from your neighbor, you shall pay only for the number of years since the jubilee; the seller shall charge you only for the remaining crop years. 16 If the years are more, you shall increase the price, and if the years are fewer, you shall diminish the price; for it is a certain number of harvests that are being sold to you.
If an Israelite came on hard times, then he could “sell” the land to another. Although, if we look with any scrutiny at this passage, we see that a better contemporary characterization of the transaction would be “leasing,” not “selling.” The land could be leased based on a price equal to the number of crops from the time of the transaction to the start of the next Jubilee Year. The same was true of indentured servitude. One could lease labor for a period of years from the time of the transaction until the Jubilee Year. (Leviticus 25:39-40.) The passage explicitly says that these laborers were not to be considered slaves. There was no “debt” to cancel nor were there “slaves” to set free!
Old Testament culture was largely without the concept of commercial debt financing. Economics was a zero-sum game. Debt was established because an individual needed help. The Old Testament forbids charging interest on debt because the only concept of debt was of helping needy people. The Hebrew word nashak is the word translated interest and it means “to bite, to strike with a sting (like a snake.)” Not pretty.
With the advent of Pax Romana, secure trade routes developed and debt financing began to appear among merchants. The issue of debt for personal need was still very much present but commercial debt had also become a reality. Jesus makes direct reference to this in his parable about the talents in Matthew 25:27. The Greek word interpreted interest here was tokos which at its root meant “to bear or bring forth.” It was a word with positive connotations and commercial debt with interest was not condemned in scripture.
There is nothing immoral about wealthy nations making commercial loans to poorer nations. The very term “debt forgiveness” inappropriately conjures up the image of the Lord’s Prayer. There is no forgiveness needed, just a decision about cancellation of a contract. (For an interesting article on this topic see Debt Forgiveness: Plain Speaking Please.) There is nothing immoral about commercial debt. Since the Jubilee Code doesn’t even address debt, much less debt cancellation, it can not be marshaled as an injunction to cancel debt today.
There is plenty of material in Scripture to challenge our thinking about debts owed by LDCs without using Scripture like a ventriloquist dummy for our agendas. The general theme of the Leviticus Code seems to be that God did not want the Israelites in economic bondage and wanted all the Israelites to participate in God's plans by owning their own land and labor. Jubilee could be instructive about the ulitmate purposes of lending and aid, but to suggest that there is a mandate for unconditional debt cancellation based on the Jubilee Code is nonsense.
I want to reiterate again that all of the above says nothing either way about the appropriateness of the debt cancellation the Jubilee movement is seeking. Some of the loans lenders made were irresponsible. On the other hand, debt cancellation, in some instances, will remove any leverage of control over corrupt governments and put millions of dollars in the coffers of autocratic thugs. These are just a couple of variables in a very complex mix of problems. Simplistic solutions backed by proof-texting from the Bible may make a lot of idealists feel good but it will likely leave countless millions in their suffering.
One of the common topics in Emergent circles is the reasons why Emergent people are overwhelmingly White. Lots of theories about that but rarely from someone who isn't White.
I recently came across a blog by Anthony Smith a few days ago called "Musings of an Emergent Postmodern Negro." Anthony is Black and writes about his Emergent church experience. In yesterday's post, Anthony said his next few posts will focus on "What kind of church would a postmodernegro feel at home with?" Should be good. Just wanted to invite you to check it out.