Tuesday, July 22, 2014

"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Preface

This week I am beginning a new series blogging through the excellent book Seeking the City: Wealth, Poverty, and Political Economy in Christian Perspective by Chad Brand and Tom Pratt. First, full disclosure, Dr. Brand was a professor of mine at both Boyce College and the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Secondly, this massive volume was given to me by Kregel Publishers for the purpose of a review (you can read that review here).

With that said, shortly after readings its first few pages, it became clear to me it deserves a fuller treatment than what a simple review can awful. In addition, I believe the book handles an issue that Christians rarely address. All Christians have personal views on politics, economics, taxes, and the progressive state we now live under, but few Christians have seriously evaluated and developed a robust theology of a political economy. This is a real weakness of evangelicalism. One powerful voice that progressive theologians and Christians have over orthodox believers stands at this point. They are deeply engaged not just in the political process, but appear to be more compassionate, caring, and, well, Christian.

I want us to begin with the authors for this first post. At the end of their preface, the authors write:
A nineteen-year old student of mine . . . who is from the part of eastern Kentucky where I am now serving my church, related to me how years ago before he was born during the "Great Society" buildup of Lyndon Johnson, the president came to his county and gave a famous speech about his new program, photos were taken and are famously displayed in that county, but the county has never recovered financially from Johnson's program. It is worse off today than it ever was in 1963, the year Johnson took the presidency.

What we are engaging in here is a dialogue that has in recent years taken on the name of "theo-politics" and "theo-economics." We are entering the field of dialogue known as the "political economy," and we are dealing with it from the standpoint of the Christian Bible, the Christian theological heritage, and biblical Christian ethics. But we are playing on the field of political economy. So, if there are times in reading this volume that you are not sure whether you are wrestling with political science, with economics, or with theology, then you are right with us! Neither Tom nor I pretend to be political science experts or experts in economics. Tom is a pastor and a businessman, and I am a pastor and a theologian by training. But someone has to speak to the interface between these issues, and if the people who have more credentials are not doing it, then we will take our shot and at least open a side of the conversation that has not yet really been broached.

Tom and I believe that for our nation's well-being, and for the church's spiritual vitality, there needs to be a new look at the issues of work, wealth, and stewardship, and it is in hope and expectation that we might do some good, that we offer this book. We realize that the volume you hold in your hand (or are looking at on your screen) is weighty. We make no apology for that in terms of the ground to be covered. We became convinced in the midst of the construction of this book that there was a body of information that needed to be presented, and that without all of it, the story could not be told. Here is our story. It is ours in the sense that we have lived it, and it is ours in the sense that we have assembled it. (14-15)
In the weeks that follow, we will explore with the authors how Christians should contemplate and address issues of politics and economics theologically. It is crucial to note at the beginning that this series and this book, is not a partisan attack on this or that party. Rather it is a work of systematic, historic, and practical theology. Christians, I have found, are quick to make political and economic arguments but are woefully unprepared to defend their positions theologically.

For more:
"Flourishing Faith" by Chad Brand: A Review
Brand on Coveting and Class Warfare
The Secular vs the Sacred: Brand on the Influence of Luther

"Seeking the City" by Chad Brand and Tom Pratt: A Review

They who will not rise to defend the good and innocent are doomed to be enslaved and consumed by evil. (690)
Changing the world sounds grand until you consider how poorly we do even at changing our own little lives (823)

The latest shibboleth of egalitarian distributional advocacy is "save-the-planet" talk.

Who should and can do the best job [at caring for the poor?] Government cannot give compassion, nurture, or personal consideration - the things the Bible associations with love. It can [only] give money and services. The government does not make a good mother or father, and it does not build a home.

Without the foundation of the sanctity of familial relations there can be no lasting basis for a stable society. (83)
The one permanent earthly structure Jesus did authorize was his church. (185)

While in college and seminary, my favorite Bible passage was Ecclesiastes 12:11-12, The words of wise men are like goads, and masters of these collections are like well-driven nails; they are given by one Shepherd. But beyond this, my son, be warned: the writing of many books is endless, and excessive devotion to books is wearying to the body. I can concur! One cannot graduate from my alma mater without a real love and appreciation for books. Yet at the same time, it is humbling to know that, especially in a digital age, the writing and publishing of books knows no ends.

Yet there is one other proverb Solomon does not give us worth our attention when it comes to reading: Not all books are created equal. Some books are worth brief attention while others are worth a serious study. Some books rehash old ground while others birth a movement. There is a clear difference, for example, between Your Best Life Now and Mere Christianity

Recently I was given a complimentary copy of Dr. Chad Owen Brand and Thom Pratt's masterful book Seeking the City: Wealth, Poverty, and Political Economy in Christian Perspective (Kregel, 2013). The book numbers over 900 pages and took over a decade to write and publish. The authors have served in the pastorate, business world, and academia and bring those experiences and expertise to this insightful book of theology, politics, and market economics. 

In my experience as a pastor, Christians are often opinionated in matters of politics and the economy but rarely have a wholesome, robust theological and Christian perspective on the subject. The authors seek, in this volume, to provide the reader with a theological treatment and exegesis on these difficult issues. A brief review cannot do justice to the major arguments and themes of the book but I offer the following.

First, the book's thesis. Near the end of the introduction, the authors write:
We believe that though the Bible does not spell out an economic or political philosophy as such, that a free-market system of economics accompanied by a political system that elevates human freedom, classically conceived, is most consistent with the teaching of Scripture. We recognize that, since humans are sinners, a system of checks and balances in such a system will be necessary for its success and that the political structure should be concerned to provide an environment that promotes a maximum of equal opportunity for all. We believe that such convictions are implicit in Scripture and find their highest point of historical development in the founding and refounding of the American experiment. We further believe that this structure is under assault in our day and may not survive the distant future. That is a main part of our concern. (38)
In order to defend this thesis, the authors explore three areas: the biblical theology, historic theology, and practical theology (my terms). In the first part, the authors provide an extremely helpful and thorough survey of the biblical narrative with special attention to creation, the fall, the decalogue, the prophets, the ministry of Jesus (especially the Sermon on the Mount), and the apostles. Regarding the role of Scripture in their study, the authors write, The Bible is the true metanarrative and foundational document for human understanding of the world, the way it "works," its past rightly interpreted, its present rightly comprehended, and its future fully anticipated (47-48).

From there, the authors provide the same insight into how history, with special emphasis on the Christian Church, has dealt with the issues of politics and the economy. The survey especially highlights Christian thinkers like Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, and John Calvin. By the time the authors arrive at the American experiment the narrative slows down. One important figure here is John Smith whose Wealth of Nations defines laissez faire economics and the authors develop his thoughts and how Christian thinkers like Calvin influenced him.

Finally, the authors tackle contemporary challenges and issues (this is an oversimplification) in light of the biblical and history perspective. The political and economic challenges of climate change (global warming today, global cooling four decades ago), Keynesian economics, progressive policies, ecology, the creation of wealth, charity, social justice, egalitarian government solutions (824), etc. Here, the authors apply the principles developed to the challenges today.

Because I will later blog through the book I will refrain from exploring its major arguments. In the mean time, I want to highlight a number of a few key points and strengths of the book. First, the authors have served Christianity by writing a theological work focused on political economy. Most popular books on the subject attack the so-called culture wars or defend free markets without any serious treatment of theology. Likewise, other works of theology fail to apply Christian doctrine to the public square. This makes this volume worth the investment and careful study.

Secondly, the book is well-written. I will resist the real temptation of providing a number of examples. Though the book limits its audience to those with some biblical and theological background and education, the authors have not simply thrown a textbook together, but rather articulate their views extremely well. 

Thirdly, if I could summarize one major point of the book in one sentence it would be, No government can love my neighbor for me (760). Government, at best, can enforce what the authors call coercive neighbor-love (761) while the Bible calls on the Christian to love their neighbor out of love for God. This is, at least to me, a major, underlying argument of the authors. God created us to work, build, cultivate, and contribute to society and the economy. Prosperity is often the result of hard work, but prosperity is not our goal, doxology. Therefore, the God who loves our neighbor has commissioned us to equally love and serve our neighbor. 

Government can never and will never accomplish this. Therefore, claiming that raising the minimum wage or taxing cigarettes is "the moral thing to do," is not consistent with Christianity. Demanding redistribution rarely motivates the individual, made in the image of God, to sacrifice and serve other image bearers. Love is not a by product of legislation, but of the cross. While Christ suffers on the behalf of sinners, progressive applaud themselves for passing legislation. These two are not morally equivalent.

I highly recommend this volume and consider it a book that is worth one's time and investment. At first I hesitated to consider its pages mostly due to its length, but, like all great works, quickly discovered I should have picked it up sooner. 

In the end, the authors make a compelling case for limited government and a free market not based on Republicanism, but theological principles. The authors avoid the dangers of advocacy (vote Republican!) and oversimplified fault-finding (blame Democrats!) prevalent in most books of this nature.  
I will conclude as the authors do:
C. S. Lewis years ago seemed to be warning of a terrible time and place where perpetual winter prevailed at the behest of the white Witch, her Imperial Majesty Jadis, Queen of Narnia (or so she imagined herself), who deplored Christmas and was defeated only when the sacrificial Aslan returned from the among the dead to defeat her. His Chronicles of Narnia, couched int he guise of children's stories, teach far more than fairy-tale lessons. In our opinion, if the real world of ruling-class, czarist fantasies continues to set the agenda, a long winter threatens the political economy and constitutional liberties of an enervated and supposedly secure populace with no Christmas in sight. Lewis was prescient: "Of all the tyrannies, tyranny sincerely expressed for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent oral busybodies." We must concur. (877-878)

And I too.

This book was given to me courtesy of Kregel Publications for the purpose of this review.

For more:
"Flourishing Faith" by Chad Brand: A Review
Brand on Coveting and Classwarfare
The Secular vs the Sacred: Brand on the Influence of Luther
Why Capitalism is More Progressive Than Progressive Socialism
Poverty and the Breakdown of the Family: Santorum Raises an Important Point
Economic Freedom Is Better: A Video Worth Considering
The Gospel and the National Debt:  Why Only the Cross Can Save Us From Ourselves - Part 1 
The Gospel and the National Debt:  Why Only the Cross Can Save Us From Ourselves - Part 2 
The Economics of Greed:  What Economics Can Teach Us About the Gospel
Occupy Wal-Mart?: So This is What the Kingdom of Heaven Looks Like  

All Around the Web - July 22, 2014

Andrew Dyer - Campbellsville University has Not Changed…and THAT is the Problem
Over the past week a long-percolating, yet mostly quiet, rift between the leadership of Campbellsville University (CU) and the Kentucky Baptist Convention (KBC) boiled over into a very loud & public divorce. It takes two to tango, but I am very disappointed with the CU leadership who publicly, frequently, and recently stated they were committed to maintaining the partnership with the KBC, while privately working hard to do the exact opposite of what they were saying. (Something about let your “yes be yes and your no be no” comes to mind.) The end result is a unilateral decision, without dialogue, by CU Trustees to turn their backs on the Convention who elected & entrusted them to hold the University in trust;  and to jettison all accountability to the churches to which the school owes its present strength.  The average CU alum, Kentucky Baptist pastor or church member is left with many questions. Chief among those questions is “Why?”

Campbellsville President Michael Carter and Board of Trustee Chairman Joseph Owens released a statement on Wednesday explaining the Board’s decision to break covenant with the KBC which stated it was to “avoid both undue influence and imposition of theological and doctrinal control.” They also said repeatedly that Campbellsville University has not changed. In my opinion, that is correct…and that is the problem.

CU leadership has tried to make the problems between them and the KBC sound like differences between two camps of conservative, evangelical orthodoxy. Campbellsville leadership has repeatedly tried to convince its Board of Trustees, the KBC Mission Board, and the churches of Kentucky she stands doctrinally for/with the majority of Baptists in Kentucky. The flip side of the argument is that KBC is trying to promote some fringe doctrine, which is out of step with the majority of Baptists. Both of these things, however, are far from the truth. From my vantage point, there are real, substantive, and deep doctrinal divides that are at the heart of this dispute. The real issues concerning KBC leaders about CU are not mere preferences or secondary or tertiary issues, but issues at the heart of the gospel.

I am a member of the CU family. I loved my time at CU. I grew in my faith. God allowed me to establish many friendships which continue to this day and will continue into eternity because of the work of Christ. In numerous ways, I was equipped for life & ministry while at CU. I am grateful to God for my time there. While I am going to mention several significant issues, I want it known that this is far from an overarching indictment of each individual professor or administrator. It is also not saying that CU is a bad place.  That is not at all my point, nor my heart.

I am a member of the KBC family. I have been a member of KBC churches since 1984. I pastor a church that is proud to cooperate and serve alongside other Kentucky Baptists as well as our state mission board staff. I have had opportunities to serve on the Mission Board and the Administrative Committee (although the views expressed in this blog are mine alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of anyone else).

The Blaze - ESPN Sportscaster Battling Cancer Just Gave What’s Being Called One of the ‘Best Speeches Ever’

Thom Rainer - Five Pleas from Pastors to Search Committees
  1. “Consider carefully how you first contact me.” It can be highly disruptive to my present ministry if you just show up at my church. And remember that if you send an email to me at my church, others may read it.
  2. “Please stay in touch with me.” I can feel like I am in limbo if I don’t hear anything from you for a long time. I would rather be told that you are moving in another direction than not to hear anything.
  3. “If I am called to your church, please let the congregation know the issues you and I agreed upon.” For example, if you are letting me hire my own staff rather than it going through a personnel committee, please let the church know this change is taking place before you present me.
  4. “Clarify both the strengths and the challenges of the church before I come.” Do your best so I will not be surprised by the major struggles and challenges. I can deal with them better if I know about them in advance.
  5. “Understand that if I come to the church, my entire family will be a part of the transition.” So please talk to my spouse about the issues, challenges, and opportunities. Include the entire family, not just me.

John StonestreetMacroevolution Has No Clothes
Professor James Tour of Rice University, one of the ten most cited chemists in the world, engineers molecules for a living, but says he’s got “no idea” how macroevolution—the common descent of all life from a single ancestor by natural processes—is supposed to work on a molecular level.

Tour says he’s asked National Academy of Sciences members and Nobel Prize recipients to explain the chemical details of the origin of life and the evolution of new organisms.

“Every time that I have [asked], ‘Do you understand this? How do you get DNA without a cell membrane? And how do you get a cell membrane without a DNA?’…they just stare at me.”

Tour goes on to note that anyone who admits this endangers their careers. He’s even advised students to keep their doubts about evolutionary theory to themselves.

LA Times - Big jump in number of millennials living with parents reported
More Americans than ever live in multigenerational households, and the number of millennials who live with their parents is rising sharply, according to a study released Thursday.

A record 57 million Americans, or 18.1% of the population, lived in multigenerational arrangements in 2012, according to the Pew Research Center. That's more than double the 28 million people who lived in such households in 1980, the center said.

A multigenerational family is defined as one with two or more generations of adults living together.

Monday, July 21, 2014

How to Preach the Last Twelve Verses of Mark

Earlier today I posted a review of the book Perspectives on the Ending of Mark: 4 Views edited by Dr. David Alan Black. One question I often ask myself with considering Mark 16 and John 8 regards what the preacher should do. If a pastor is preaching verse-by-verse through either Gospel, do they preach these passages or skip them? In light of that question, I offer the following pastors who did preach them. It is fascinating to see how they preached them.

John MacArthur - "The Fitting End to Mark's Gospel"

Alistair Begg - "An Unusual Ending"

Gary Inrig - "The Rest of the Story"

"Perspectives on the Ending of Mark": A Review

Inevitably every few months a member of my congregation or someone I have known for some time will ask me a question regarding textual criticism. Although they rarely, if ever, use the words "textual criticism," that is precisely the world they are engaging. Why does the NIV put seemingly random verses in the footnotes? What is the deal with the brackets in John 8 and 1 John and Mark 16?

Ultimately I believe that textual criticism has enhanced our understanding of Scripture and strengthen orthodox views on the Bible. With that said, however, no doubt there are a few places in Scripture that are problematic and cause difficulties. The ending of Mark is perhaps the leading example of that. All modern translations inform the reader that the last twelve verses of Mark are not found in the earliest manuscripts and thus its authenticity cannot be validated. So what do we do with this? How do we handle these twelve verses?

In his edited book Perspectives on the Ending of Mark: Four Views (Broadman and Holman, 2008), Dr. David Alan Black engages the questions above by presenting to the reader a variety of perspectives from some of Christedom's best thinkers on the subject.

The book is straightforward and I am sure the reader will gain a basic understanding of the arguments presented just by glancing at the book's table of contents. For the sake of space, I want to highlight what I believe to be the best and most convincing argument found in the first chapter written by Dr. Daniel B. Wallace. In essence, Wallace suggests that the last twelve verses were not original. I offer a few of his most compelling reasons why below.

First, the external evidence. Although Wallace admits that at least 95% of the Greek manuscripts contain the longer ending, that does not mean that it is original. In fact, the oldest and best manuscripts do not contain these verses. In this context, Wallace asks Which is more likely, that scribes would intentionally omit vv. 9-20 or that they would add these verses? (10) Unless that question is answered, the authenticity of the last twelve verses of Mark remain questionable.

In addition, a number of manuscripts contains what scholars call an Intermediate Ending. In fact, one scholar (David Parker) highlighted by Wallace, David Parker pointed out six different endings for Mark, along with multiple variations within them (27). This, of course, leads naturally to the question, why are there so many differences in the [manuscripts] here? (27)

Secondly, the internal evidence. Wallace writes:
It is not just vocabulary, but syntax, style, and contextual flow that must be taken into consideration. As well, source criticism plays a role: Mark 16:9-20 deviates strongly from the pattern we see everywhere else in the Gospel when it comes to synoptic parallels. By far the best explanation for the Matthean and Lukan Resurrection accounts looking so different from each other is that they had lost their template because Mark ended his Gospel at vs. 8. (31)
Although critics, like myself, of the long ending of Mark highlight the many problems of the internal evidence, Wallace introduces us to another problem with the long ending. Assuming that Mark was written first, it is striking that neither Matthew nor Luke follow Mark in the resurrection appearances. This can be easily explained if their copies of Mark did not contain the last twelve verses.

Third is the problem with the genre of Gospel. Wallace addresses the often asserted argument that no ancient story or history ends like Mark. The last word of verse 8 is the English "for." Furthermore, that verse concludes with the women in fear. There is no satisfying ending. Therefore, some assert, either the long ending is authentic or the original ending has been lost. Wallace responds:
J. Lee Magness, . . . demonstrates that suspended endings - that is, endings that leave the reader hanging - can be found in Graeco-Roman literature, in the Old Testament, and in the New Testament. In other words, he shows that such a literary approach is not due to a Kafka-like existentialism, but is rooted in ancient culture. (34)
One example of this is the conclusion of Acts. Wallace then writes:
I can't help but wonder if Luke at least caught what Mark was doing literarily and consciously emulated his style in the book of Acts - intentionally leaving the book open-ended to bring his readers into the narrative. If so, Luke used and respected Mark - both for its content and for its literary technique. (35)
As it regards to ending an ancient book with "for," Wallace points out that in 1972 an actual book ending with ["for"] was found. The discovery was made by P. W. van der Horst, who concluded his article by the observation, "The proof was really not necessary for common sense alone could argue that, if a sentence or paragraph can end with ["for"], a book can too." He then adds Coupled with the increasing popularity of narrative criticism, more and more scholars have come to embrace the notion that Mark intended to end his book as he did. (36)

I believe Wallace presents a compelling case that is difficult to contradict at this time. It seems likely to me that the last twelve verses are not original and in this one chapter Wallace provides us with a number of reasons for embracing that view. Nonetheless, the entire book and all of its "perspectives" is worth considering. This is an important issue and not just for academics. Black has provided Christendem with a helpful source in considering the options.

For more:
"Has God Spoken?" by Hank Hanegraaf
"Dead Sea Scrolls Mystery" Documentary
Repost | "God's Word in Human Words": A Detailed Critique - Part 1
Repost | "God's Word in Human Words": A Detailed Critique - Part 2
Repost | "God's Word in Human Words": A Detailed Critique - Part 4

All Around the Web - July 21, 2014

Marc Cortez - A Common (But Bad) Reason for Rejecting Penal Substitution
As a theology professor, I routinely hear people claim that Anselm invented the penal substitution view of the atonement. This is the idea that Jesus bore the punishment that we rightly deserved because of our sin, and that this was necessary for us to be reconciled to God.

Before Anselm, the church had a view that focused almost exclusively on ideas like victory—i.e. on the cross Jesus defeated the enemies of humanity like Satan, death, and sin—and healing—i.e. the entirety of his incarnate life healed our broken humanity and made it possible for us to resume the path to godlikeness. (If you’d like some examples, see here and here.)

And people often use the relative newness of the theory as a reason for rejecting it. If the early church didn't think of the cross as some kind of vicarious punishment, if that was just a medieval invention, let's get rid of it.

There's just one problem with this: it's wrong. And it's wrong for two important reasons.

Denny Burk - Are religious liberty and pluralism at odds?
John Inazu has a fascinating piece at Christianity Today about religious liberty vs. LGBT rights. I encourage you to read this so you can understand how we’ve landed in the pickle we’re in right now. Inazu also offers three predictions about where things are going in the very near future:

Prediction #1: Only religious groups (by no means all of them) will impose restrictions based on sexual conduct.

Prediction #2: Only religious groups will accept a distinction between “sexual conduct” and “sexual orientation,” and those groups will almost certainly lose the legal effort to maintain that distinction.

Prediction #3: Fewer and fewer people will value religious freedom.

Canon and Culture - How to Support Religious Liberty  
Gordon College, a Christian college on the North Shore of Boston, is the latest Christian institution to come under attack for its commitment to live biblically. Numerous stories and opinion pieces in the Boston Globe have vilified the College for seeking a religious liberty to discriminate against homosexuals. Civic organizations and municipalities, public intellectuals, and even the governing accreditation agency are attacking the College’s conduct and hiring policies, which require members of the College community to reserve expressions of sexual intimacy for marriage, defined consistent with the Bible, Christian teaching, and Western tradition as the monogamous union of a man and a woman.

The administrators and board of Gordon College deserve approbation for standing firm amidst this firestorm. At a time when leadership is in short supply, their moral courage is inspiring. Many friends of Gordon College have rallied in support. They also deserve praise for their courageous words on behalf of the College and its religious freedom. Yet those of us who support Gordon College should be careful that our words do more good than harm.

To explain why Gordon College should enjoy religious liberty we must explain why its religious exercise deserves protection. Obedience to conscience and the exercise of faith are valuable exercises in themselves. But in this case, a claim for religious liberty without more can actually strengthen the case against Gordon College by bolstering the critics’ premise that Gordon College seeks a religious liberty to discriminate unjustly. From the perspective of the Boston Globe and other cultural elites, discrimination on the basis of sexual preference is the same as racial discrimination. In their view, defenders of Gordon College’s policy are indistinguishable from church-going racists in the Jim Crow era.

Trevin Wax - Know Your Southern Baptists: Kevin Ezell
Why you’ve heard of him: Ezell leads the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Position: Ezell is the president of NAMB, the SBC mission agency tasked with reaching North America with the gospel through evangelism and church planting.

Previous: For 14 years, Ezell was the senior pastor at Highview Baptist in Louisville, KY. He also pastored churches in Illinois, Tennessee, and Texas.

Wall Street Journal - The 10 Most Endangered Jobs (Or, Why You Are Reading This Online)
Want some job security in the future? Avoid any career involving paper — and that includes newspapers.

A new study released Tuesday by job-search site CareerCast.com, lists the 10 top endangered jobs in the U.S. Using data on 200 jobs from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, CareerCast projected the least promising career paths in terms of future employment growth, income potential and existing unemployment in the job field.

Word crimes