Category: Bible and Theology

gerrit-van-honthorst-king-david-harpWe live amid unprecedented economic prosperity, and with the promise of globalization and the continued expansion of opportunity and exchange, such prosperity is bound to grow.

Yet if we’re to retain and share these blessings, such gifts need to be received and responded to with a heart of service, sacrifice, and obedience to God. “Man is not the owner,” write Lester DeKoster and Gerard Berghoef. “He is the overseer…Each of us is steward over those talents and those pounds allotted us by divine providence.”

I was reminded of this while reading King David’s powerful prayer at the end of 1 Chronicles. David had called on Israel to give generously for the construction of the template, and God’s people responded in turn. David gave his “personal treasures of gold and silver,” and the people “gave freely and wholeheartedly to the Lord.”

The story provides a basic lesson in generosity and obedience, but David’s subsequent prayer demonstrates something deeper about the heart of Christian stewardship, offering a fine portrait of how our overarching attitudes and allegiances ought to be aligned: (more…)

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” –Jeremiah 29:11

jeremiah29

Jeremiah 29:11 is a popular verse among many of today’s Christians, as Evan Koons humorously points out in a new article at Q Ideas.

Christians love this verse,” he writes. “It has all the ideas and values we crave: prosperity, safety, security, hope, longevity. It’s the verse we most associate with the book of Jeremiah.”

Yet, as Koons is quick to remind us, the “bigger picture” of Jeremiah 29 is far less rosy. Jeremiah is writing to a displaced people living in a strange land, struggling to understand how they might live peacefully and fruitfully in the here and now while keeping their sights and spirits focused on the not yet.

“Somehow, we’ve forgotten that Jeremiah 29:11 is written in the midst of unspeakable calamity,” Koons writes, and perhaps it’s because “we fail to recognize that all of Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles, not just Jeremiah 29:11, still applies to us today.” (more…)

Selfsmall“Christian discipleship is nothing less than conformity to Christ—as individual believers and as local communities,” writes Charlie Self in Flourishing Churches and Communities, CLP’s Pentecostal primer on faith, work, and economics. “The very life of God is in us.”

Most of us have heard the Great Commandment and the Great Commission in their basic forms, but understanding the relationship between the two and living out that combined imperative can be difficult to wrap our minds around.

How do we love the Lord with all our heart, soul, and mind? How do we love our neighbor as ourselves? How do we love ourselves without descending into selfishness?

Self argues that “all of these ‘loves’ grow together,” and thus, we should be wary of drawing unhealthy divides, focusing on one area or group of areas to the detriment of the other(s). Fruitful stewardship depends on a healthy and holistic focus not just on who we ought to be serving, what we ought to be doing, and how we ought to be doing it, but first and foremost, from where such activities are sourced and directed.  (more…)

The following flowchart comes from “Theology That Works,” a 60-page manifesto on discipleship and economic work written by Greg Forster and published by the Oikonomia Network.

Given our tendency to veer too far in either direction (stewardship or economics), and to confine our Christian duties to this or that sphere of life, the diagram is particularly helpful in demonstrating the overall interconnectedness of things.

Oikonomia flowchart, diagram, faith, work, economics

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Jacopo_Tintoretto_-_Moses_Receiving_the_Tables_of_the_Law_(detail)“Are there then no laws in the legal sense in the law of Moses?” asks Cornelis Vonk, the Dutch Reformed pastor and preacher.

“Of course there are, but there is much more besides.”

This, and what follows, comes from Vonk’s newly translated Exodus, the second primer in CLP’s growing Opening the Scriptures series:

Through his law, the Lord also taught Israel what sorts of social measures did and did not please him… Neither did the Lord forget to teach his people through the torah how they could please him through wise and generous economic measures…

…In the torah the voice of a Father is heard. God was teaching his chosen people what life is really all about so that they would follow his example and model themselves after his image.

He wanted them to be friendly and merciful, righteous and wise in daily life. Time and again the torah tells the Israelites, “You shall furnish him liberally out of your flock, out of your threshing floor, and out of your winepress. As the Lord your God has blessed you, you shall give to him. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this today” (Deut. 15:14–15). The Lord’s commands to Israel often had such a reason or motive attached to them. The torah had its basis in the deliverance from Egypt, which was the liberation of life. That’s why the various social, economic, and legal measures all contain a hearty echo of the gospel. (more…)

Lorde LikenessAt Reason Thaddeus Russell argues that Macklemore and Lorde embody a kind of progressive cultural critique of capitalism, captured in the attack on “conspicuous consumption” made famous by Thorstein Veblen. Russell traces the “progressive lineage” of this critique: “Their songs continue a long tradition, rooted in progressivism, of protests against the pleasures of the poor.”

Having never listened to him, I have no opinion about Macklemore. Russell’s piece makes me want to take a moment to hear “Thrift Shop.” But over at Q Ideas today, I argue that in Lorde we find some cultural resources to inoculate us against the corrosive effects of envy.

The Christian tradition has long recognized that the poor can be just as materialistic and greedy as the rich. The poor just don’t usually have the same resources to bring those vices to such “conspicuous” manifestation. And it really is a stewardship problem to spend money on luxury goods when basic necessities are given short shrift.
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Forgotten FaithToday at Ethika Politika, I review Fr. Philip LeMasters’ recent book The Forgotten Faith: Ancient Insights from Contemporary Believers from Eastern Christianity.

With regards to the book’s last chapter, “Constantine and the Culture Wars,” I write,

… LeMasters does a good job in acknowledging the line between principles of faith and morality on the one hand, and prudential judgments that may not be as clear-cut on the other. He does not give the impression of advocating any specific political program; indeed, he explicitly disavows such a project:

Religious groups that are strongly identified with politics risk becoming so entangled in debates shaped by interest groups that their distinctive witness is obscured. To give the impression of being merely a political party at prayer is a good way to make people think that the church has little to say to the world that the world does not already know on its own terms.

He does not use this as an excuse, however, to disengage from political life.  He only highlights that in applying the teachings of the Church to our present, political context, we ought not to expect any concrete embodiment of our ideals, and we should be wary of any person or group that makes such a claim.

This is a point, I believe, worth dwelling on. (more…)

DSPTcolloquiumGraphicI am looking forward to presenting a paper at an upcoming colloquium in Berekely on July 16-20: “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem: Dialogue between Philosophy and Theology in the 21st Century.”

From the colloquium press release:

The Province of the Most Holy Name of Jesus (Western U.S.A.) and its center of studies, the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology, will host a colloquium to discuss the intersection of philosophy and theology, titled: “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem? Dialogue between Philosophy and Theology in the 21st Century.” Scheduled for July 16-20, 2014, in Berkeley, California, the event will gather scholars from academia and from the Dominican Order throughout the world. Philosophers and theologians will explore the theological implications of current work in philosophy, as well as philosophical questions that arise in theology today. This is to be the first of a triennial series on the intersection between philosophy and theology.

Plenary session presenters include John Searle from the University of California at Berkeley and Michael Dodds, OP, from the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology, as well as many others from around the world, including Edward Feser (Pasadena City College, Pasadena, California), Alfred Freddoso (University of Notre Dame), John O’Callaghan (University of Notre Dame), Michał Paluch, OP (Dominican House of Studies, Krakow, Poland), Robert Sokolowski (Catholic University of America), and Linda Zagzebski (University of Oklahoma). Details, including registration information, may be found at www.dspt.edu/conversation2014. (more…)

Saul Reproved by Samuel, John Singleton Copley, 1798When decrying instances of do-gooder activism gone wrong, it’s become rather routine for critics to respond by saying, “good intentions aren’t enough” — and to a great extent, rightly so.

Yet, as I’ve argued before, in addition to critiquing the outcomes of our actions, we should also pause and ask whether our “good intentions” are all that good to begin with. If we are responding to some blurry impulse to “do something,” and that certain something ends up harming the very people we’re trying to help, what does that say about the origins of our actions? What does it say about the nature of the voices we’re heeding?

As Christians, we are called to help those in need. But from where does our direction come, and to whom does the glory ultimately go? As Peter Greer and Chris Horst explain, we outght to reach beyond humanitarianism, stretching for a level of whole-life transformation not easily comprehended by our earthbound categories and metrics. Such transformation will surely be “of this world” in many of its methods and effects, but it will necessarily correspond with a supernatural order — one that often runs contrary to our own plans and designs.

Far too often, we embrace God’s message even as we ignore his method. Each requires our close attention, of course, but the latter demands a closer level of prudence, prayer, and discernment than we typically acknowledge. (more…)

twinots_front1Buried in a note in my book about the economic teachings of the ecumenical movement is this insight from Richard A. Wynia: “The Lord does not ask for success in our work for Him; He asks for faithfulness.”

This captures the central claim of Tyler Wigg-Stevenson’s book, The World is Not Ours to Save: Finding the Freedom to Do Good (IVP, 2013), which I review over at Canon & Culture. As Wigg-Stevenson puts it, “Our job is not to win the victory, but to expose through our lives the victory that has been won on our behalf.”

The wrong way of understanding this insight would be to conclude that what we do on this earth really doesn’t matter. All we have to do is be “faithful,” especially in terms of our mental orientations, and that’s sufficient. But as Gilson would remind us, “Piety is no substitute for technique.” The reality that the world is not ours to save is no excuse for pursuing good irresolutely or amateurishly.
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