SPREAD THE WEALTH: A BIBLICAL LOOK AT ECONOMIC INEQUALITY AND REDISTRIBUTION

SPREAD THE WEALTH: A BIBLICAL LOOK AT ECONOMIC MoneyINEQUALITY AND REDISTRIBUTION

Economic inequality and redistribution in recent years have become a hot topic in part thanks to the presidential election of Barack Obama. On October 12, 2008 at a campaign stop in Ohio, then senator, Barack Obama famously said, “I think when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody.”1 The focus on economic inequality and the redistribution of wealth is not limited to presidential elections2 but is important to think about when discussing Christian views on the role of government and the ethics of economics. This paper will be an attempt to look at the issue of economic inequality and the solutions that are often proposed to change it. Turning to the Bible, we will find that the inequality of wealth and income can be attributed to three things: God’s sovereignty, human responsibility, and sin. A biblical understanding of wealth inequality exposes the faulty foundation for governmental redistribution of wealth.

One does not have to be an economist to be aware that some people make more money or have more material belongings than others. A Pew Research Center analysis of data released by the US Census Bureau shows that “the upper 7% of households saw their aggregate share of the nation’s overall household wealth pie rise to 63% in 2011, up from 56% in 2009.”3 Forbes’ Deborah Jacobs explains this a little clearer by saying that “the top one percent of the country owns 34.6% of the wealth in total net worth; the next 19% owns 50.5%; the bottom 80% owns 15%.”4 This data reveals that a small number of people own the majority of wealth in the United States and that number has grown smaller.5

This issue of economic inequality has led many to conclude that something has to be done. Philosophers, religious leaders, and politicians have proposed solutions ranging from full-blown rejection of capitalism to a modification of the economy through strict regulation and high taxation. These are all forms of redistribution. Stanford Encyclopedia offers a rather lengthy definition of redistribution but it can simply be defined as the taking of wealth from one group of people and giving it to another.6

In 1816, Welshman Robert Owen wrote A New View of Society in which he called for the formation of groups or societies that would reject capitalist ideas. He was highly critical of private property and the free market, on which he blamed inequality and crime. He said, “For it is now obvious that such a system must be destructive of the happiness of the excluded, by their seeing others enjoy what they are not permitted to possess; and also that it tends, by creating opposition from the justly injured feelings of the excluded, in proportion to the extent of the exclusion, to diminish the happiness even of the privileged.”7 He proposed that people could form societies, similar to hippie communes in the 1960s, in which everyone would have joint ownership over all assets and property. The democratically elected leaders of these societies would oversee the management of the communally owned property and assets.8

In the 1840’s, Karl Marx would transform Robert Owen’s idea by applying Darwinian evolution and class warfare. Marx taught that “the history of all hitherto existing societies is the history of class struggles.”9 It was these class struggles that he proposed would cause the formation of Communism. He believed capitalism was run by the wealthy classes for their own benefit. He predicted that capitalism due to class warfare would self-destruct and be replaced by a new system: Socialism. Marx in The Communist Manifesto wrote, “the theory of the Communists may be summed up in the single sentence: Abolition of private property.”10 This climatic revolution would result in the complete redistribution of wealth.

Marx and Owen’s ideas, though initially opposed to religion, would find some acceptance in liberal Christianity in the 19th and 20th Century. In November 1914, Episcopal bishop Franklin Spalding stated:

The Christian Church exists for the sole purpose of saving the human race. So far she has failed, but I think that Socialism shows her how she may succeed. It insists that men cannot be made right until the material conditions be made right. Although man cannot live by bread alone, he must have bread. Therefore the Church must destroy a system of society which inevitably creates and perpetuates unequal and unfair conditions of life. These unequal and unfair conditions have been created by competition. Therefore competition must cease and cooperation take its place.11

The idea the church exists to liberate people from a capitalist society and all its trappings is called Liberation Theology.

Liberation Theology never became main stream in the U.S., though it did catch on in some Latin American countries. In 2006, the President of Venezuela Hugo Chavez was quoted as saying, “Capitalism is the way of the devil and exploitation. If you really want to look at things through the eyes of Jesus Christ—who I think was the first socialist—only socialism can really create a genuine society.”12 Liberation theology also has found adherents in some black churches.13

In the early 1900’s, Liberal Christianity melded with politics to form Progressivism. Progressive Presidents like Woodrow Wilson and FDR would use the government to increasingly regulate the economy and to begin redistributing wealth. One way this was accomplished was by a progressive income tax in which the wealthy pay a larger percentage of their income than those of the poor.14 

In recent years, some Christians have called for the wealthy to pay an even larger share of the income tax. Jim Wallace, a religious advisor to President Obama and founder of Sojourners, has been a proponent of economic redistribution. Wallace argues in his book, On God’s Side, that economic inequality is unjust and that Christians should be working for the common good.15 William O’Brien in a recent article for the Huffington Post argued that redistributing wealth is a biblical mandate. O’Brien writes, “God’s holy people are clearly and undeniably commanded to redistribute their holdings, to ensure that inequities of wealth and poverty do not corrode their community, to make sure that none of God’s precious children have less than they need or more than they need.”16 Does the Bible really mandate the redistribution of wealth? We will turn now to the Bible to lay a foundation for better understanding the issue.

Francis A. Schaeffer wrote in A Christian Manifesto that “True spirituality covers all of reality.”17 Thus while the Bible is not an economic manual18, it has quite a lot to say about wealth and the acquisition thereof. Most people will be familiar with 1st Timothy 6:10, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” This verse alongside others provides a warning about greediness and materialism. The Bible ,however, does not condemn wealth altogether. Instead it presents three reasons for economic inequality.

One of Jesus’ parables, the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30), provides a structure for understanding economic inequality. The primary purpose of this parable is to remind Christians to use their talents and abilities wisely in preparation of the Kingdom to come but the parable also provides some understanding of economic inequality. In this parable, three different causes naturally result in economic inequality. The parable begins with a man preparing for a journey by leaving some of his belongings behind for different servants to oversee. It is clear from this passage that this man symbolically represents God. Economic inequality in this parable is a condition that begins at the beginning when the man gives his servants differing amounts. Therefore, the first principle in understanding economic inequality is God’s sovereignty.

All wealth comes from God. Being creator (Gen. 1:1), God has complete ownership and control of all things. Deuteronomy 10:14 says, “Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it.” The Bible consistently teaches that everything everywhere belongs to God (Ps. 50:12). His ownership includes all of the world’s gold (Hag. 2:8) and livestock (Ps. 50:10). Not only does God have complete ownership over everything, he is in total control of it. God raises up kings and rulers and also humbles the mighty. In 1 Samuel 2:7, God is the one who makes people rich or poor. The Bible also teaches that riches and wealth are gifts of God (Ecc. 5:19).

God’s sovereignty and creative power is on display in his creation of mankind. People are created with different abilities and talents. Some people are given the ability to be neurosurgeons, professional football players, or business leaders. Some are given natural talents to work with numbers or abstract principles while others enjoy working with their hands. Some people have higher IQ’s or may be more inclined to musical talent. This does not mean that some people are of greater eternal worth or due less respect. In our world, however, it will mean that people will naturally have different levels of wealth. Dr. Anne Bradley explains “Because gifts are different and value in the market place is subjective, incomes will be different. . . Income inequality is a natural part of the human condition. We are created uniquely and that means that there is no universal Biblical standard for income equality”19

This first principle of God’s sovereignty goes hand in hand with the next principle, man’s responsibility. Man is given responsibility by God just as the servants in the parable are entrusted with the talents. The responsibility for taking care of the creation is given to Adam and Eve (Gen. 2:8, 15). Dr. Chad Brand explains that “Men and women were created, in part, to work … they were intended to employ their creative genius in understanding the world they were placed in, they were intended to mirror God’s eternal triuneness in enjoying one another’s fellowship, and they were intended to worship the One who had made them and placed them there.”20 The book of Proverbs speaks often about responsibility. Possessions or property can be gained by industriousness (Prov. 13:4, 14:23), wisdom (3:16; 24:3), or by development of insight (14:15).21 Work is a gift from God and for His people to be blessed (Ps. 104:1-35; 127:1-5; Ecc. 3:12-13, 5:18-20; Prov. 14:23).

This responsibility of man coupled with God’s sovereignty gives dignity to career choices. This also means that people will vary in their material wealth. Wayne Grudem explains that:

In a free society, with no government confiscation of wealth, the amount of money that people earn will vary widely. This is because people have different abilities, different interests, and different levels of economic ambition. . . Therefore, if people are free from government intervention, some will become very wealthy, others will have a comfortable level of income, and some will remain relatively poor.22

Thus income inequality is a natural result of man’s responsibility to work.

Sin is third contributor to economic inequality. Two of the servants put their talents to good use and earned a return on their investment (Matt. 25:14, 16). They were reward by their master while the third servant out of fear did not earn a return on his investment and thus lost all he had (25:18, 28). Sin keeps this servant from using his talents. There are several sins that can contribute to economic inequality. In this parable it is fear and laziness. The Bible is firm in its condemnation of laziness (Prov. 18:9). Paul makes the Christian work ethic abundantly clear: “If anyone does not provide for his own, and especially those of his own household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5:8).

Greed and jealousy also lead to inequality. In Luke 12:15, Jesus warned a man who asked him to force his brother to share his inheritance that he should “take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” The last of the Ten Commandments forbids coveting our neighbor’s belongings. These sins are not limited by the amount of money one has. Both rich and poor can be greedy and jealous. Dr. Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Theological Baptist Seminary, wrote “those given to comparisons of personal wealth can always find someone with a larger fortune,”23 when describing millionaires in California who have been complaining about having a hard time maintaining their lifestyles.

The Bible is abundantly clear about theft and unjust gain. James condemns poignantly those who have gained riches by not paying their workers (James 5:1-6). Stealing is forbidden in the Ten Commandments thus protecting the right to private property. The Bible condemns those who abuse others to gain wealth whether through fraudulent business deals or theft (Prov. 15:27 & 22:16-17). Thus some levels of economic inequality can be attributed to man’s wickedness.

Having now laid a biblical foundation, the redistributionist view does not adequately take into account the three biblical reasons for economic inequality. The redistributionist position does not acknowledge God’s sovereignty nor does it account for the positive contribution of human responsibility. This would leave one to think that the problem for redistributionism is that it places too much emphasis on sin. However as Francis Schaeffer explains these views are:

(B)uilt on the concept of Man being basically good, linked with the idea that all people need is to be released from their economic chains. The Perfectibility of Man was the basis of much of the Enlightenment and of the French Revolution. Theoretically it was a basis of the Marxist-Lenin revolution in Russia. Each place this concept of the Perfectibility of Man has been acted on it has led to tragedy, to political chains, and to the loss of humanness. Every attempt to put this utopian concept into practice has led to failure because it is false to what Man as he now is, really is. Man is not intrinsically unselfish, corrupted only by outward circumstances. He is fallen; he is not what he was created to be.24

John Humphrey Noyes, a socialist in the 19th century, wrote a book entitled A History of American Socialisms in which he surveyed the various attempts to form socialist communities in the US. Over and over again, he recounts the formation of communities that start off enthusiastically using socialist concepts and in the course of just a year or two succumb to failure because of infighting and other problems. In his analysis, he comes up just shy of renouncing socialism and communism instead concludes that it must be the upbringing of those involved.25Instead of understanding that the problem is human nature, redistributionists blame the system. They believe that if just the right leaders can get elected then the government can lead the world into economic equality.

Lacking this understanding of human nature and God’s sovereignty, redistribution has another fatal flaw, the problem of unintended consequences. When the state or government heavily imposes itself in the economic system there are often unintended and disastrous outcomes. The problem occurs when a complex organization tries to control an even more complex system. Adam Smith in his book The Wealth of the Nations noted that the division of labor in modern countries has led to many great contributions for civilization. This division of labor is one of the reasons that markets are extremely complex. Smith while observing the making of a woolen coat notes that even “the woollen coat . . . as coarse and rough as it may appear, is the produce of the joint labour of a great multitude of workmen.”26 He then lists all of the different workers and supplies needed to make a single coat. While the technology of 1776 has since become out-dated, the concept has not. The economy has become even more complex with an almost infinite number of variables.

The governmental system is almost as complex. It operates through a bureaucracy that takes many steps to accomplish even the smallest of tasks. Add in the political process and one can see how complicated things can be. No wonder it often seems like the government moves at a snail’s pace. There is nothing necessarily wrong with government operating this way because the complexity and slow process should help prevent one person from making large sweeping changes that would be detrimental to the entire nation. Of course, if the constitutional limits to government are not followed then it can become easier to make these changes.

Noting the complexity of both government and the economy, we can then see why it becomes impossible for government to be able to adequately account for all of the variables. The history of the 20th century has shown that this complexity has not prevented the government from trying to assert a controlling influence on the economy. To be fair, there are some legitimate economic areas in which government should be involved such as punishing theft and immoral business practices. However in central planning and attempting to redistribute wealth from one group to another, the government has often caused additional problems.

One consequence is that in taking money from the wealthy and giving it to those who did not earn it, the government ends up punishing hard work and creativity while rewarding slothfulness. It is not fair to say that all people who have received government benefits have been lazy bums mooching the system. There are some people who are truly in need of help. However, the governmental programs often cannot distinguish between those who are truly in need and those who are slothful. Dr. Brand notes that a similar situation happened in Solomon’s kingdom, “There is a clear link between Solomon’s extraction of wealth from fruitful people to use in building his empire and the moral weakness, decay, and corruption that resulted in his life and the life of his sons. Here are people, living on other people’s money, and all it does is drive them into moral decay.”27

Another unintended consequence is that redistributionism often creates more inequality. It works by two methods. One, it often makes it hard for people to move from one class to another. Instead of raising all people it often limits success. Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary professor Craig Mitchell notes that “Class warfare, wealth redistribution, and socialism can, at best, make people only equally miserable.”28 The second way it creates more inequality is through abuses of the governmental system. This can lead either to tyranny as warned by F.A. Hayek29 or to what is often called crony capitalism. Crony capitalism is what happens when certain businesses or people work to get preferential government treatment. This leads to even more economic inequality.  In the last century as the US government has grown larger and extended more control over the economy, economic inequality has increased.

Redistribution of wealth has many other problems including the questionable moral nature of taking from one person to give to another.30 Its fatal flaw is that it does not have a biblical understanding of the reasons for inequality. What should Christians do? The Bible gives us a clear picture of the attitudes we should have regarding wealth. Money and wealth are tools to be used by Christians to bless others. We are commanded to help our neighbor and to use our wealth for others. We are not however given the option to outsource that duty to the government. We should use our influence in the political realm to ensure that government is operating in a way that gives people the freedom to be able to use the talents and gifts that God has given them.

In the book of Acts, we are given a picture of Christians of various economic standing caring and giving to each other voluntarily. As Christians, we should be known for our charity. Charity is not only a monetary donation but an investment of our lives into the lives of others. Andrew Carnegie, a wealthy business man in the early 20th century once said that ““The man who dies thus rich dies disgraced.”31 He did not believe in governmental redistribution of wealth but believed that people should work to gain wealth so as to be able to help others. He set up many charities and worked to give away much of his wealth before his death. This is the attitude we should have as Christians.

In God’s wisdom, he has given us each talents, gifts, and resources. We should be wary of systems or proposals that may sound good on the surface but ultimately do not conform to what the whole Bible teaches on the reasons for inequality. In some way, economic inequality exists to give us an opportunity to use our resources to help others. Economic inequality instead of being a great evil may be a gift to the church that will encourage us to trust in God’s provision, and to enable us to be a blessing to the world around us. We should be a people who use our resources to enrich the lives of others. In that way, we may not all die materially rich but we can die wealthy in the kingdom.

1Natalie Gewargis, “‘Spread the Wealth’?,” ABC News Blogs, last modified October 14, 2008, accessed November 13, 2013, http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2008/10/spread-the-weal/.

2During his 2012 re-election campaign a video surfaced from 1998 in which Mr. Obama was filmed saying, “I actually believe in redistribution, at least at a certain level, to make sure that everybody’s got a shot.Peter Grier, “Romney, Obama, and ‘Redistribution’: How Much Do US Taxes Reallocate Wealth? (+video),” CSM Blog: Decoder Wire, September 21, 2012, accessed November 13, 2013, http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/DC-Decoder/Decoder-Wire/2012/0921/Romney-Obama-and-redistribution-How-much-do-US-taxes-reallocate-wealth-video.

3 Richard Fry and Paul Taylor, “A Rise in Wealth for the Wealthy; Declines for the Lower 93%,” Pew Social & Demographic Trends, accessed November 13, 2013, http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2013/04/23/a-rise-in-wealth-for-the-wealthydeclines-for-the-lower-93/.

4 Deborah L. Jacobs, “Occupy Wall Street And The Rhetoric of Equality,” Forbes, accessed November 13, 2013, http://www.forbes.com/sites/deborahljacobs/2011/11/01/occupy-wall-street-and-the-rhetoric-of-equality/.

5 This data does not take into account the fluidity of movement among people from one grouping to another.

6 Christian Barry, “Redistribution (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy),” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, accessed November 19, 2013, http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/redistribution/.

7 Robert Owen, A New View of Society (Prism Key Press, 2013), Kindle.

8 Ibid.

9Karl Marx, The Communist Manifesto (Point Blank Classics, 2013),Kindle.

10 Ibid.

11Berman, David (2007). Radicalism in the Mountain West 1890-1920. University Press of Colorado. pp. 11–12.

12 Tim Padgett, “Chavez: ‘Bush Has Called Me Worse Things,’” Time, September 22, 2006, accessed November 13, 2013, http://content.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1538296,00.html.

13 Anthony Bradley, “The Marxist Roots of Black Liberation Theology,” Acton Institute, last modified August 18, 2010, accessed November 19, 2013, http://www.acton.org/pub/commentary/2008/04/02/marxist-roots-black-liberation-theology.

14 Thomas G. West and William A. Schambra, “The Progressive Movement and the Transformation of American Politics,” The Heritage Foundation, accessed November 19, 2013, http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2007/07/the-progressive-movement-and-the-transformation-of-american-politics.

15 Jim Wallis, On God’s Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned about Serving the Common Good (Brazos Press, 2013), 201.

16 William O’Brien, “Memo to Presidential Candidates: Redistribution of Wealth Is a Divine Commandment,” Huffington Post, March 8, 2012, accessed November 13, 2013, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/william-obrien/redistribution-of-wealth-is-a-divine-commandment_b_1322365.html.

17 Francis A. Schaeffer, A Christian Manifesto (Crossway, 1982), Kindle.

18 Aryeh Spero, “What the Bible Teaches About Capitalism,” The Wall Street Journal, last modified January 30, 2012, accessed November 13, 2013, http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052970203806504577179303330474134.

19 Anne Bradley, “Why Does Income Inequality Exist? | Institute for Faith, Work & Economics,” Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, last modified May 18, 2012, accessed November 13, 2013, http://tifwe.org/research/income-inequality/.

20 Chad Brand, Flourishing Faith: A Baptist Primer on Work, Economics, and Civic Stewardship (Christian’s Library Press, 2013), Kindle.

21 Bradley, “Why Does Income Inequality Exist?”

22 Wayne A Grudem, Politics according to the Bible: A Comprehensive Resource for Understanding Modern Political Issues in Light of Scripture (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2010). 281-282

23 Albert Mohler, “How Much Is Enough?,” AlbertMohler.com, last modified August 7, 2007, accessed November 13, 2013, http://www.albertmohler.com/2007/08/07/how-much-is-enough-2/.

24 Schaeffer, A Christian Manifest.

25 John Humphrey Noyes, History of American Socialisms (HardPress Publishing, 2013), Kindle.

26 Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations (Simon & Brown, 2013), Kindle.

27 Brand, Flourishing Faith.

28David Roach, “Bible Doesn’t Command Wealth Redistribution, Presenters Say at Theological Meeting,” Baptist Press, last modified December 13, 2012, accessed November 13, 2013, http://www.bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?ID=39349.

29 F. A. Hayek and Bruce Caldwell, The Road to Serfdom: Text and Documents–The Definitive Edition (The Collected Works of F. A. Hayek, Volume 2) (University of Chicago Press, 2010), Kindle.

30 John Calvin saw this kind of tax as theft and perverted form of charity. John Calvin, “Commentary on Isaiah – Volume 4 – Christian Classics Ethereal Library,” accessed November 13, 2013, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/calcom16.xi.i.html.

31 Andrew Carnegie and Andrew Carnegie, The Autobiography of Andrew Carnegie; And, The Gospel of Wealth ([S.l.]: Renaissance Classics, 2012), Kindle.

Ideas have Consequences

The other day I posted on my Facebook page a link to a blog that was pointing out the dangers of the “Prosperity Gospel” and of a few false teachers.  You can check out that blog here.      The purpose of my posting the blog on my Facebook was to point out that the “Prosperity Gospel” is really no Gospel at all and Christians should stay away from this teaching.   The Apostle Peter said in 2 Peter 2:

“But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.”

There is much information on the danger of the “Prosperity Gospel” available.  Shai Linne a Christian Rapper does a thorough job of explaining it in his song “Fal$e Teacher$.” As bad at the “Prosperity Gospel” is, that is not my primary purpose in writing this post.  Instead it is the responses to my Facebook post that have inspired this writing.  One person responded to my FB post with this comment:

I preached part time for almost 10 years. The last thing that would occur to me, was to claim that MINE was the true interpreatation of the scriptures. . .
Remember: Muslimes are convinced enough that THEIRS is the truth, that they blow themselves up

This response is not really out of the ordinary and if you look at the comments on the blog itself, they all say similar things.  There seems to be a spirit today among the culture that views anyone who makes a truth claim with suspicion.   It is this post-modern philosophy that has invaded every aspect of culture and discussion.  As bad as the “Prosperity Gospel” is , it is post-modern philosophy that is far worse and that actually allows preachers like Joel Osteen to flourish.

So what is post-modernism? Here is a video that takes a quick look at it.     The video is really too brief but does make a good point that a definition of postmodernism is hard to nail down.   Dr, Henry F. Shaefer, a 5 time Noble prize nominee and renowned physical scientist with specialization in quantum mechanics,  gives a simple definition and addresses the problem of Postmodernism:

Postmodernism is one of the more influential forces in universities in North America and  Western Europe in the early years of the twenty-first century. . . Without the time to discus ts historic and cultural origins (e.g., Jacques Derrida), suffice to say that postmodernism hold to an epistemology of skepticism.  Postmodernism believes that humans are hopelessly subjective and unable to say anything meaningful about reality. . .  Postmodernists maintain that our senses cannot be trusted to accurately represent reality; and reason is a Western cultural construct that gives little insight into the actual nature of things. Given these presuppositions; such scholars hold that insistence upon any version of reality is an effort to subjugate and marginalize others. All assertions of so-called truth are thinly veiled efforts to dominate others.

This explains why people react so harshly when someone makes a truth claim.   The same person on my FB post also made this comment comparing the calling out of false teachers with the incorrect popular understanding of Galileo and the inquisition:

“But, you must be right: Your interpretation (whatever that is) is the TRUE one. . . the other 400 plus denominations are just blind idiots!
Being certain of something, does not make it the truth. There have been many splats from people who just didn’t believe in gravity. Galileo was almost burned at the stake because of people who were certain.

It seems that claiming the one is correct or knows the truth about a particular instance is the same as wanting to burn others at the stake.  It does seem to be as Shai Linne says in the rap above, “The only heresy today is to say that there is heresy.”

Jerram Barrs, professor of Covenant Theological Seminary summarizes the 4 ingredients of Postmodernism:

1. Postmodernism says that nothing can be known by reason. Reason is inadequate.  There is no objective truth.  this concept, of course, dovetails with the popular opinion, held long before the introduction of the term “postmodernism,” namely “You have your truth and I have my truth, and that is all that matters.

2. One logical consequence of postmodernism is the rejection of authority.  Postmodernism believes there is no book, no idea, and no social structure that could command or deserve respect.  If there is no authority which engenders respect, then all styles are equally valid.  No art is better than other art; there is no high culture.  This follows the conviction that there is no measure against which we can evaluate such things.

3.  For Postmodernists there can be no transcendent or binding commandments.  No one has the right to tell another person what to do.  The individual becomes the moral authority.  Again, this resonates with the popular idea that long preceded postmodernism, namely “Who are you to give me instructions for my life?”

4.  A fourth consequence of postmodernism may be practical idolatry.  Though persons no longer have truth to provide meaning, they sometimes hunger what me be called, “Idols of the mind.”  Certain individuals may thus be inclined to believe almost anything, no matter how irrational it might appear.  In fact, some may not even ask the question, “Is it reasonable?”  If people have no objective values to direct their lives, they often demand idols for their wills.  People usually live for something, whether it be achieving respect, making money, or being successful; and it may control their lives.

 

These four aspects explain a lot of the problems in the western world and especially America today.  Since there is no objective truth and no sense of authority the culture begins to unravel.   Things that were once considered perverse and immoral have become the norm.  In California, a recent law passed that allows students to use what ever gender bathroom, changing room, and shower they decide that they want to use.  In past decades, this would have been deemed unthinkable but in a world where there is no such thing as truth, anything goes.  The abandonment of truth leads to the abandonment of authority.  This rears its head as the president and congress increasingly overstep their constitutional bounds or in the case of illegal immigration they refuse to do their duty to execute the laws of the land.

Postmodernism eventually leads the way for the prosperity gospel to thrive.  As reason and authority are thrown out the window, the pseudo-spiritual preaching of the prosperity gospel can thrive as an “idol of the mind.”  Joyce Meyers can talk about receiving direct revelation from God that supersedes the bible and people will not bat an eye.   Joel Osteen can be wishy-washy about Jesus as the only way to God on a national news program because people do not want an exclusive truth claim.  It is why people who do not even listen or follow the prosperity gospel get upset when it is criticized.   Postmodernism is the Zeitgeist of America.

It then becomes imperative on Christians to find a way to stand for truth in a world that hates truth.  In world similar to the book of Judges in which is was said of the people that they did what was right in their own eyes, it is imperative that Christians stand firm in the truth and only seek to do what is right in the eyes of God.   Dr. Barrs gave a lecture on evangelism in a postmodern world.  In conclusion, I will post his lecture here.    May God give us eyes to see the truth and courage to stand for it.

 

An early socialist community

socialism

The following is a description by a socialist historian in the 1800’s of an attempt at a socialist community in Cincinnati OH in 1823 founded by the father of socialism Robert Owen:

“The Community, as finally organized consisted of seventy-five or one hundred families; and included professional men, teachers, merchants, mechanics, farmers, and a few common laborers. Its economy was nearly as follows: “The property was held in trust forever, in behalf of the members of the Community, by the original purchasers, and their chosen successors, to be designated from time to time by the voice of the Community. All additional property thereafter to be acquired, by labor, purchase, or otherwise, was to be added to the common stock, for the benefit of each and all. Schools were to be established, to teach all things useful (except religion). Opinion upon all subjects was free; and the present good of the whole Community was the standard of morals. The Sabbath was a day of rest and recreation, to be improved by walks, rides, plays, and pleasing exercises; and by public lectures. Dancing was instituted as a most valuable means of physical and social culture; and the ten-pin alley and other sources of amusement were open to all. “But although Christianity was wholly ignored in the system, there was no free-loveism or other looseness of morals allowed. In short, this Community began its career under the most favorable auspices; and if any men and women in the world could have succeeded, these should have done so. How they did succeed, and how they did not, will now be shown. “For the first few weeks, all entered into the new system with a will. Service was the order of the day. Men who seldom or never before labored with their hands, devoted themselves to agriculture and the mechanic arts, with a zeal which was at least commendable, though not always according to knowledge. Ministers of the gospel guided the plough; called the swine to their corn, instead of sinners to repentance; and let patience have her perfect work over an unruly yoke of oxen. Merchants exchanged the yard-stick for the rake or pitch-fork. All appeared to labor cheerfully for the common weal. Among the women there was even more apparent self-sacrifice. Ladies who had seldom seen the inside of their own kitchens, went into that of the common eating-house (formerly a hotel), and made themselves useful among pots and kettles: and refined young ladies, who had all their lives been waited upon, took their turns in waiting upon others at the table. And several times a week all parties who chose mingled in the social dance, in the great dining-hall.” But notwithstanding the apparent heartiness and cordiality of this auspicious opening, it was in the social atmosphere of the Community that the first cloud arose. Self-love was a spirit which would not be exorcised. It whispered to the lowly maidens, whose former position in society had cultivated the spirit of meekness—”You are as good as the formerly rich and fortunate; insist upon your equality.” It reminded the favorites of former society of their lost superiority; and in spite of all rules, tinctured their words and actions with the love of self. Similar thoughts and feelings soon arose among the men; and though not so soon exhibited, they were none the less deep and strong. It is unnecessary to descend to details: suffice it to say, that at the end of three months—three months!—the leading minds in the Community were compelled to acknowledge to each other that the social life of the Community could not be bounded by a single circle. They therefore acquiesced, but reluctantly, in its division into many little circles. Still they hoped and many of them no doubt believed, that though social equality was a failure, community of property was not. But whether the law of mine and thine is natural or incidental in human character, it soon began to develop its sway. The industrious, the skillful and the strong, saw the products of their labor enjoyed by the indolent, the unskilled, and the improvident; and self-love rose against benevolence. A band of musicians insisted that their brassy harmony was as necessary to the common happiness as bread and meat; and declined to enter the harvest field or the work-shop. A lecturer upon natural science insisted upon talking only, while others worked. Mechanics, whose day’s labor brought two dollars into the common stock, insisted that they should, in justice, work only half as long as the agriculturist, whose day’s work brought but one. “For a while, of course, these jealousies were only felt; but they soon began to be spoken also. It was useless to remind all parties that the common labor of all ministered to the prosperity of the Community. Individual happiness was the law of nature, and it could not be obliterated; and before a single year had passed, this law had scattered the members of that society, which had come together so earnestly and under such favorable circumstances, back into the selfish world from which they came. “The writer of this sketch has since heard the history of that eventful year reviewed with honesty and earnestness by the best men and most intelligent parties of that unfortunate social experiment. They admitted the favorable circumstances which surrounded its commencement; the intelligence, devotion, and earnestness which were brought to the cause by its projectors; and its final, total failure. And they rested ever after in the belief that man, though disposed to philanthropy, is essentially selfish; and that a community of social equality and common property is impossible.”   – History of American Socialism by John Humphrey Noyes (1870)

The faulty philosophy of socialism is on display right in this description. Socialism is based upon a fundamentally flawed belief that human nature is basically good and if only society could be changed then social problems and ills would go away. As you can tell from the description above this belief is flawed.

The Bible tells a different story about human nature.   The book of Romans explains that all are sinners and that no one is good.

What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; as it is written,

“There is none righteous, not even one;
 There is none who understands,
There is none who seeks for God;
All have turned aside, together they have become useless;
There is none who does good,
There is not even one.”
 “Their throat is an open grave,
With their tongues they keep deceiving,”
“The poison of asps is under their lips”;
 “Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness”;
 “Their feet are swift to shed blood,
 Destruction and misery are in their paths,
 And the path of peace they have not known.”
 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”  – Romans 3: 9-18

The Bible says that man has a sinful nature.   Because of the fall of Adam, we are all born with a sinful nature that longs for sin and a heart that rebels against God. The Great King of Israel David laments the fact and confesses that he was born with a sinful nature.

Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. – Psalm 51:5

The heart of each one of us is sinful.

For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. – Matthew 15:19

The truth of this sinful nature is all around us.  Turn on the nightly news and watch it unfold before you.  Watch this video compilation of black friday shopping to see how this selfish nature is not limited to gangs and  hardened criminals.
(Warning it may contain some foul language)

The Bible lets none of us off the hook, we are all sinful.  And this sinfulness is deserving of hell and death.

For the wages of sin is death. . . Romans 6:23

This is and was the fate of everyone but God saw us in our state and had mercy on us and gave us grace.  He sent Jesus to die in our place for us and to pay our penalty of sin.   By Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection we can get a new nature.

 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”

 “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”

Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” – John 3:3-8

Because our natural birth brings us into the world with a sinful nature then in order for us to enter the kingdom of God we must be born again by the Spirit into a new nature.  A prophet in the Old Testament said that God would change our nature.

And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. – Ezekiel 36:26  NLT

How is one born again?  How does one gain a new heart.   The Bible tells us it is not by our effort to do good but instead it is by faith in Jesus that one is saved.

That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  – Romans 10:9

If God gives you this faith and you accept him, then you will receive a new nature.  This nature will work inside you to transform you by the work of the Holy Spirit.  You will be a new creation.   The evil human nature will still combat you through your life but the Holy Spirit working in your new nature will over come.  At the end of your life or when Jesus returns, he will complete the transformation he began in you  and your selfish rebellious nature will be finally cast aside once and for all.  You will then be filled with virtue, love, and compassion because it will be your only nature to do so.

But until that time, the bible warns us not to fall prey to false philosophies and ideas that will lead us nowhere.   Don’t fall into the trap of socialist thinking, no governmental system* can fix all the social ills caused by our human nature.  That is something only Jesus can do.

*(Good government takes into account human nature and works to protect freedom and liberty against this human nature by a system of checks and balances while keeping power separated and decentralized so that no one person or group of people can control everyone.)

Jesus had a wife?

Did Jesus have a wife? Last week, the news was a buzz with headlines claiming that Jesus did have a wife. What was the source of all this controversy? Harvard professor and researcher Karen King unveiled an ancient papyrus fragment with the supposed phrase, “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife.’” Of course like happens every few years, the media latches on to a new controversial claim about Jesus and spreads it like it is the Gospel. Unfortunately, for the media, once one takes a moment to read the claims, the whole issue is really more TV script than scripture. For the sake of those who don’t have the time to research the issue on their own, we will lay out the issue starting with looking at the papyrus itself and then moving on to look at the person by behind the controversy Karen King.

What you need to know, first of all, is that the whole news story relies on a recent “discovery” of a fragment of worn papyrus reportedly from the 4th century. The fragment is smaller than a business card, and appears to have been torn from the middle of a page in a primitive book, written in a southern Coptic dialect. Its owner, who does not want to be made known publicly, does not know where it was found. It contains just eight broken lines, scrawled in a crude Coptic hand. Much of it is ineligible. However, Harvard Professor Karen King could translate a couple of fragments of sentences in which they are alleged to say, “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife`” and later “she will be able to be my disciple.” Several scholars have debated as to whether the writing itself is a forgery.  In fact, two out of three authorities originally consulted by the editors of the Harvard Theological Review expressed doubts on its authenticity.

There are many issues for one to consider when looking at this discovery. First of all, the background on how the fragment was first discovered is unknown. This does not mean right away that the artifact is not certain because many original archeological artifacts have had similar histories, but it does lend some doubt to the origins of the document and makes it hard to place the document in context. Speaking of context, this might be the real crux of the situation. Without knowing where the document comes from, there is no way of knowing exactly what the fragment is saying. So much of translating documents from ancient languages into English is knowing the context of the writing. Unfortunately, eight broken lines are not nearly enough to go on. We will never know the purpose behind the writing. We cannot even be sure that the text is talking about the Jesus of Christianity. Jesus was a common name at that time akin to the name Joshua. To have a fragment of a sentence on a fragment of a paper referring to the name Jesus once does not give us any evidence to go on.

Much of what will be said of the document is speculation. Even if the papyrus is speaking about the biblical Jesus it is still impossible to know the context of the phrase “my wife.” Some have speculated including Karen King that the text is itself a translation of a Greek text from the second century which was possibly a gnostic text. How King could know that it is a translation from an earlier text which we do not have any evidence for is anyone’s guess, but supposing it is authentic and from a second century gnostic text, what does that tell us? Not much that we do not already know about gnostic texts. Gnosticism was an ancient religion born out of Platonist and paganism ideas. Gnostics were not uniform in belief but consisted of different sects. However, most gnostics taught that matter and the material world are evil and that only through a secret knowledge (gnosis is the Greek word for knowledge) that one can find their inner divinity and escape this material world. Because Gnostics had no real historical tradition of their own, they latched on to the histories of other religions, including Judaism and Christianity. Teaching that they had a secret knowledge, Gnostics sought to find approval in their teachings by writing books in which they claimed authorship from the Disciples and other known religious authorities. The early Christian church was very concerned over the confusion this would bring to the world and therefor many of the very early church fathers wrote arguments against the gnostic heresies. Even the apostles Paul and John wrote against some of the proto-gnostics in their epistles, which are now a part of the Bible. Paul was especially worried about people going around presuming to teach a different message than the true Gospel of Jesus. Paul warns in the letter to the Galatians that “even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!” The early church worked hard to make sure it was known that the Gnostic writings were not scripture and were not written by the disciples. The church was right because, for instance, the Gospel of Thomas was not written until at least a hundred years or more after Thomas the disciple was already dead. If this brand new fragment were to be a gnostic text, then it too would not be considered true by the first Christians and would be another example of gnostics trying to leach onto the Christian religion. Once again, there is no way of really knowing if this new text is from a gnostic source or not without more research into the origins of the text.

Suppose though for an instance that this fragment of a fragment is not gnostic and is from an authentic source on the Biblical Jesus, what does that mean to us? It actually means very little. Jesus himself taught in the Bible about his wife. That’s right, Jesus has a wife, and he talked about her.

“And Jesus said unto them, Can the friends of the bridegroom fast, as long as the bridegroom is with them? but the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast.” – Mark 2:19

Jesus often referred to himself as the bridegroom. John the Baptist also spoke of Jesus as a groom to be married.

 “He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled.” – John 3:29

So who is this bride of Christ? The book of Revelation reveals this bride.

“And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. … And there came unto me one of the seven angels which had the seven vials full of the seven last plagues, and talked with me, saying, Come hither, I will shew thee the bride, the Lamb’s wife. And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and shewed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God” – Revelation 21:9-10.

The bride of Jesus is none other than the Church. Paul explains this best when Paul gives his instructions for how husbands and wives should live.

“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.” – Ephesians 5:22-33

Marriage itself is a picture then of the love that Jesus has for his Church. This is why the definition of marriage between one man and one woman is so important. This is why divorce, sexual immorality, adultery, and homosexuality are incredibly evil. Marriage is meant to be an example of sacrificial love and when marriage is not honored, it reflects poorly on the sacrifice of Jesus. Divorce is not just the tragic ending of a love story here on earth, but it is direct blasphemy against the cross of Christ. Christ’s love for the church is a marriage covenant that will last forever and ever. Therefor, if this papyrus is, in fact, a true document, then it really is not saying anything different than what Jesus has already said in the scriptures.

Lastly, we will look quickly at the person behind the discovery and controversy, Karen King. King is the holder of the oldest endowed chair in America, the Hollis Chair of Divinity. It was established in 1721by Thomas Hollis, a Baptist and wealthy Englishman. The position was originally established to be for a theologian with sound principles. “That he should be a man of solid learning in divinity, of sound, or orthodox principles, one well gifted to teach, of a sober and pious life, and of a grave conversation.” This meant that the person should hold to official Christian principles which according to Hollis were Reformed Protestant principles. The chair’s first occupant, Edward Wigglesworth, had to swear allegiance to the Medulla Theologiae, a Calvinist theological manual by William Ames. However, just as Harvard would leave behind its puritan founding, this chair too would be given to those who did not hold the principles in which it was established. Karen King is the current occupant of this professorship, and she also does not hold to orthodox Christianity. She has spent most of her career focused on gnosticism and feminism. Among her writings are:

Gnostic studies: Revelation of the Unknowable God (1995)

Revelation of the Unknowable God: With Text, Translation, and Notes to NHC XI, 3 Allogenes (1995)

Images of the Feminine in Gnosticism (Studies in Antiquity & Christianity) (2000)

What is Gnosticism? (2003)

The Gospel of Mary of Magdala (2003)

The Gospel of Mary of Magdala: Jesus and the First Woman Apostle (2003)

What Is Gnosticism? (2003)

The Secret Revelation of John (2008)

Albert Mohler in a recent blog explains best that the reason for King’s interest in this new fragment is her desire for heterodox gnosticism.

“King . . . reject(s) traditional Christianity, and (she) clearly prefer the voices of the heretics. (She) argue(s)s for the superiority of heterodoxy over orthodoxy. In the Smithsonian article, King’s scholarship is described as “a kind of sustained critique of what she called the ‘master story’ of Christianity.””

King ,like others liberals, has an ax to grind and will look to any source she can to try to overturn Christianity. Many people want to get rid of Christianity and turn to gnosticism for several reasons. Some hope to find a more feminist centered message there. Others like the teaching of gnostics which says that since the body is evil but the soul is good, then anything we do with our bodies does not really matter. Therefore according to gnosticism we are free to behave sexually anyway we want. Whatever the reason that most want to tear down Christianity, the core reason is rebellion against God. This rebellion has so clouded their eyes that someone who holds one of the most prestigious chairs in the academic world, will put out shoddy academic and research work if it will further her agenda.

In conclusion, the news media’s sensationalist controversial news story is really nothing to get worked up about. The controversy is over a piece of paper that may or may not be from the fourth century that may or may not have writing that is authentic and may or may not mention Jesus of the Bible and may or may not be an original teaching on Jesus. While this is certainly interesting for an archeological and historical perspective, it is not the least big troubling theologically. What we can be sure of however, is the Gospel message delivered to us from those who knew and lived with Jesus. The Bible is the most well attested and historically verifiable document on Jesus. When it comes to the four gospels in the Bible and the epistles to the Churches in the Bible, we do not have to rely on fragments of fragments. “Significantly, in comparison with other ancient documents, the New Testament materials are embarrassingly rich. There are almost five thousand manuscripts of part or all of the Greek New Testament, eight thousand manuscripts in Latin, and a thousand additional manuscripts in other ancient versions.” In addition to these manuscripts of the New Testament, there are countless quotations of Scripture in the writings of the early church fathers. “In fact, it has been said that if all the New Testament manuscripts were destroyed, the text of the New Testament could still be restored from the quotations made by the church fathers.” We can be sure that we have the authentic teachings of Jesus Christ. Will there be more hooplas in the future over more supposed discoveries? Yes, those who have an ax to grind will constantly try to find some way to overturn the rich biblical record on Jesus. However, if we pay attention and do good scholarly work, we will find that the Bible is always true and trustworthy. Don’t be fooled by fragments of truth and lies, read the Bible to find the complete truth on Jesus the savior and his wife.

Civil War of Ideas – (A new purpose)

For years, the Christian community has drawn a line between the sacred and the secular.  Christians have been encouraged to focus only on sacred activities and avoid involvement with secular activities such as politics, culture, science, and philosophy.  In reality, no such distinction exists.  Years ago, Francis Schaeffer astutely noted that Christians were beginning to view the world in “bits and pieces instead of totals.”  In the twentieth century, Christians rather abruptly lost sight of their responsibilities in society, and gradually lost the ability to discern good from evil.  Christianity entered a downward spiral in which we quickly lost the capacity to stand for righteousness and justice.  Before long, complicated “issues” seemed so overwhelming that most Christians numbly retreated from their societal responsibilities into a comfort zone of self.  Generally speaking, Christianity ceased to reflect God’s love and character to the unbelieving world.  Today, many Christians are more concerned with their personal faith, personal growth, and personal church than with the world at large that they are called to love and serve.
There is now “nothing short of a great Civil War of Ideas” raging throughout North America today.  Two sides with vastly differing and incompatible world-views are locked in a bitter conflict that permeates every level of society.  That struggle is for the hearts and minds of the people.  It is a war over ideas. A war between good and evil, and the way in which it impacts every area of life and culture — the distorted sexual mores, the rewriting of History to exclude god, and the attempt to impose a humanistic utopian vision on the world.  It is time for Christian’s to open their eyes to this struggle.  It is time to seek a biblical world view that affects everything we do.

To this end, The Sword and the Trowel, will focus on exposing false worldviews, giving a strong defense for the Biblical worldview, and to help Christian’s become engaged in the “Civil War of Ideas.”