Saturday, March 17, 2007

'touching down' on biblical economics

Regent’s Christian Thought & Culture course has been great! Over two terms we ‘touch-down’ briefly to see how Christian thought has developed and shaped cultures from the early church fathers right up to the 21st Century. We have ‘touched-down’ on: the spiritual practices of the church fathers; Jesus’ transforming message being met by the Greco-Roman world, the spread of Christianity throughout the world over time, the Christian influence on the arts, the good and the bad of the Reformation, the influence of philosophical movements and in the last few weeks, in the modern era, a Christian response to globalisation, ecology in the bible and an examination of tricky biblical text concerning models of marriage.

That isn’t half of it! By nature, this course touches-down on too many issues, which can be frustrating, as I want so much more on certain topics. But, our Professors know this and create the assessment around the frustration. We get to write our own research questions and we are set an additional reading assignment where we get to choose our own adventure and read 50 pages from 8 different sources from a wonderful reading list.

This week I have been reading Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger. First published in 1977, this book caused quite a stir and was embraced and rebuked accordingly. It’s now in it’s 4th edition and it is still stirring and being rebuked! In a nutshell, Ron Sider provides a biblical understanding of God’s Economy and how it can affects today’s economy and Christian & Church economic actions. For me this book brings together several areas of interest including affluenza, fair trade, poverty, simpler lifestyles and (all too briefly) environmental concerns based on economic activity.

In ending a chapter on Thinking Biblically about Property and Possessions, Snider writes:
In a consumer society that increasingly measures a person’s worth and importance by the amount of his or her material possessions, biblical Christians will reject materialism without falling into asceticism. They will delight in the splendor of the material world but not forget that things cannot ultimately satisfy. They will enjoy the good earth and celebrate its abundance without neglecting sacrificial sharing with the needy. They will distinguish between necessities and luxuries. They will enjoy possessions while recognizing their seductive danger. When forced to choose between Jesus and possessions, they will gladly forsake the ring for the Beloved.
A read worth being stirred by!

[Since posting, I have added a few more thoughts/quotes see: Comments]


Andrew & Jessica said...

There are many insights that this book has to offer, I think a key one that I had been wrestling with prior to reading the book, that the book confirmed for me is the wedge that we drive between the ‘life saving gospel’ and the ‘social gospel’. In my experience, growing up, I seem to remember the view that we aren’t all that interested in the social gospel because our main priority is the saving gospel. Snider offers an insight into why:
“In a study of 1500 ministers (presumably from the USA) researchers discovered that theologically conservative pastors spoke out on sins such as drug abuse and sexual misconduct, but failed to preach about sins of institutionalised racism and unjust economic structures that destroy just as many people.”

Is this your experience?

There certainly is a trap that people fall into of only working/emphasising the social gospel, Snider again helps: “We dare not become so preoccupied with horizontal issues of social injustice that we neglect vertical evils such as idolatry. Modern Christians seem to have an irrepressible urge to fall into one extreme or the other. But the Bible corrects our one-sidedness …”

Tom Wright helps me as well:
For generations the church has been polarized between those who see the main task being the saving of souls for heaven and the nurturing of those souls through the valley of this dark world, on the one hand, and on the other hand those who see the task of improving the lot of human being and the world, rescuing the poor from their misery… that distinction is one that we modern Westerners bring to the text rather than finding in the text. Because the great emphasis in the New Testament is that the gospel is not how to escape the world; the gospel is that the crucified and risen and risen Jesus is the Lord of the world. And that his death and resurrection transform the world, and that transformation can happen to you. You in turn can be part of the transforming work.

I hope that is helpful …

Andrew & Jessica said...

One more insightful point from Snider:
An Indian Bishop once told me a story that underlines the importance of understanding social sin. A mental institution in his country had a fascinating way of deciding whether patients were well enough to go home. They would take a person over to a water tap, place a large water bucket under the tap, and fill the bucket with water. Then, leaving the tap on, they would give the person a spoon and say, “Please empty the bucket.” If the person started dipping the water out one spoonful at a time and never turned the tap off, they knew he or she was still crazy!
Too often Christians, like the Indian mental patients, work at social problems one spoonful at a time. While working feverishly to correct symptoms, they fail to do anything to turn off the tap (e.g., change legal systems and economic policies that hurt people). And they remain confused and frustrated by how little progress they are making.

This is why I think the MicroFinace movement is key to poverty eradication. Support Opportunity International …