Another Book You’ll See Around Here: Jesus and Money: A Guide for Times of Financial Crisis

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I believe that if we are to be a Christian-anything, we should do our best to base that anything on the New Testament. Maybe you don’t. That’s okay, I guess. But, in building up to maybe teach a (non-Sunday School related) class on the Economics of Jesus in the Gospel According to St. Luke the Physician, I’ve decided to purchase a few more books to broaden my understanding and to solidify my view on this topic.

By the way, I love the Kindle.

This book is by noted biblical scholar, Ben Witherington III. He is from the Wesleyan Tradition so I thought it might be fitting to first hear what he has to say about the matter. So far, I’ve only read the prequel. This book is published by Brazos Press.

From the description:

Widespread unemployment. Record home foreclosures. A vulnerable stock market. Government bailouts. In the wake of a sobering global recession, many Christians realize they need to rethink their approach to money. Here respected New Testament scholar Ben Witherington III explores what the Bible does–and doesn’t–say about money. He clearly and concisely examines what Jesus and his earliest followers taught about wealth and poverty, money and debt, and tithing and sacrificial giving to help readers understand the proper role of money in modern Christian life. Along the way, he critiques the faith promise and health-and-wealth approaches to these issues, showing what good stewardship of God’s possessions really looks like. Church study groups, pastors, church leaders, students, and all who are concerned about making sense of money in a world of economic uncertainty will value this book.

Look, I know that there is the usual rush to judgment on such things. You know that I am generally Progressive, although in some areas, I agree with Libertarians (think foreign policy and the rush to give away the store for corporate welfare). But, I want to find the way which is actually biblical. Maybe I won’t change, but maybe my opinions will, or perhaps, after some light reading on the Gospel of Luke, they already have. But, many will assume I see Jesus as the Great Marxist. (Although people generally have no clue about the philosophical underpinnings of Marx and confuse it with the War Communism of the Soviet Union or the Socialism of recent Europe.) But, that is why we read books, right? Especially books which we preconceive to have a different opinion than our own. I don’t know to expect with this book, but so far…

So, BW3 seems to promise a balanced take. Look, I’ll be honest. If I can find a third way between two extremes, that’ll be the one I choose. Some people are contrarian by nature; I am a reconciliationist. The author begins by noting all the issues with our overly materialistic society and how it has brought about the economic woes of 2008 (he’s writing in 2010), noting our change from saving to splurging. He calls this a “self-centered sense of entitlement. (8)” Couldn’t agree more, and I say this as I sit typing this post on my self-hosted blog on my 2-year old laptop, with an eye to getting another one (perhaps one of those deals from Amazon where I buy a laptop and get the XBox for free, although I already have a Wii and of course, if I get the XBox, I’ll need more games and the motion detector and a bigger tv), while reading BW3’s book my iPad2, surrounded by three phones. It is difficult not to believe this assessment according to the materialism and the damage it has done to my generation, but more than that, it is the way we get these gadgets. He notes, as I have and others have, that the “link between work and reward” has been severed. That is easy to see. Further, there is the issue of gambling, which takes on different forms, many of which have not been mentioned in this prequel. When our “work” produces only money, and that is seen as the highest form of “work”, we soon become alienated not only from our Work, but so too from our Reward. Granted, we need investment bankers, and other capitalists, but that is, it seems, as one of the highest professions, with those often untalented going to the ‘business’ with the only goal to produce more money in order to get more material with no longer term goals (this is not a slight to those who actually know what they are doing, as I have said, just now, a few lines up, that we need these types of people). But, in the end, we no longer make things. We buy things or produce money from other money, but what have I made?

BW3 is correct in noting that passages cannot be applied universally at all times, or it might leave us poor and destitute, with that seen as a path to righteousness. It is this context of Scripture which is often missed by both sides of the economic debate (when the economy is actually debated from Scripture), that it is harsh to take one command of Scripture out of context and use it to beat another person into economic submission. No doubt, this will alienate those who believe that “the poor will always be with us” is a divine allowance to make the poor.

The argument of the book seems to be based on ]]’s work regarding wealth and possessions from a biblical perspective. I think just examining these passages, under Wheeler’s heading would create a series of posts. Or a book… Anyway, In the Old Testament, Wheeler notes four views on wealth. Two deal with sin while two deal with reward. In the New Testament, Wealth is given four headings by Wheeler, with one being positive and three being negative. BW3 cites especially the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Revelation for the evidence of wealth as a symptom of economic injustice which is fitting, especially given the view in the latter book of Roman society as a place of wealth which has in part produce moral decadence and religious persecution against the poor. These headings are interesting in of themselves, and I might come back to it, but it is clear, as BW3 notes, that there is a variety of responses to wealth in Scripture. In my opinion, wealth is fine, but it depends on several things (how did you get it, what do you do with it, and does it come between you and God) before it is judged either good of bad.

Finally, our author is correct, in my opinion, that the New Testament calls us to a higher standard than the economics of the Old. Perhaps, I believe, it is because of the changing socio-economic systems, classes, and the such in which the New Testament was created. This book will detail some of that, it promises, by exploring Judaism and various sects  (such as Qumran) along with the New Testament. Personally, the only fault so far is the cover art. It is deplorable and makes it look like a prosperity preacher’s work.

I’ll give this attention when I can and post accordingly.

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Clearly teaches? Plain Sense?

Well, at least I feel like we have the author of Matthew’s Gospel on our side:

There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.”

I guess he “abandoned” Sola Scriptura too because I don’t know of any prophet who plainly or clearly said that.

Of course, I’m kidding. Even if I was to concede Jim’s point in his last post, I don’t think that pointing out examples where Catholics potentially violate the clear teaching or plain sense of scripture makes his case any stronger.

I could easily enough look at the Protestant world and say the same sorts of things … Grape juice for communion anyone?  Do we abandon Sola Scriptura any more than self-professed Protestants do?

What I think Jim fails to do is recognize is that Pentacostalism and Emergent-ism are a product of certain communities applying Sola Scriptura.  It would be nice if we could all just not claim those within our communities that we disagree with.  There are certainly enough Catholics that I’d like not to claim.  But, I can’t just say they’re not Catholic.

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Essays on John and Hebrews – Evaluation

This is the third in a series of posts in which I am reviewing Essays on John and Hebrews by Harold Attridge from Mohr Siebeck.  The previous two posts have dealt with the author and contents.

As a doctoral student who has focused on Biblical Hebrew and Applied Linguistics, I am an expert on neither the Gospel of John nor the Epistle to the Hebrews.  However, as someone whose masters work was in Biblical Studies more generally, I am well-versed enough to be acquainted with some of the more important issues within the scholarly study of those two books and to be able to recognize a high quality work when I see one.  In my estimation, Essays on John and Hebrews is a well-balanced and expertly written text that any scholar should very much like to have as a part of their library.

The text is clearly well-balanced throughout, and a couple of easy examples spring to mind from the essays dealing with the relationship between the Dead the Scrolls and early Christianity.  Whereas more sensationalist authors often attempt to show some kind of direct link between the Qumran community and early Christianity, most of the more sober scholarship that one reads suggests otherwise.  Attridge fits squarely within the sphere of this well-balanced scholarship.  Rather than suggesting a direct link, Attridge surveys the Qumran material concluding that it sheds light on Judaism in the first century.  Thus, the Qumran material sheds light on early Christianity in the sense that Christianity emerged in a first century Jewish context, yet he does not propose a direct link.  This balanced approach is representative of the approach taken throughout the rest of the essays.

In addition, the text is quite clearly expertly written.  This is obvious enough from reading the essays themselves; however, the easiest illustration of this for the purposes of this review comes in the extensive bibliography and wealth of material in the footnotes.  The bibliography is 36 pages long and consists of primary and secondary sources in a variety of different languages.  Thus, the author’s perspective is not limited by the sort of English language bias that hampers some works.  In addition, one could gain a great deal of information about John’s Gospel and the Epistle to the Hebrews just from the footnotes, though it could also be easy enough to get bogged down there.  As one example, page 142 of the text consists of only 6 lines of main body text, whereas a good 4/5 of the pages actually consists of footnotes.  This is truly the stuff of an expertly written scholarly text.

If I had to pick out essays that I thought most helpful in my context, I would say that “Johannine Christianity,” “The Restless Quest for the Beloved Disciple,” and “The Gospel of John and the Dead Sea Scrolls” are good candidates.  Incidentally, these are the essays on introductory issues, which serve to help me, since in the area of New Testament studies I would only deal with general issues.  In terms of sheer interest, I found the essays “‘Seeking’ and ‘Asking’ in Q, Thomas, and John” and “An ‘Emotional’ Jesus and the Stoic Tradition” to be enlightening.  My only study of Thomas and stoics came in the form brief treatments in New Testament survey.  So, getting to take a deeper look was beneficial.  Some of the other essays did not capture my own particular interest so much, for example reading about “The Cubist Principle in Johannine Imagery” didn’t do that much for me.  But, I cannot say that there was any particular essay I read that seemed poorly written or poorly researched.

The bottom-line here is that this is, at least in my mind, the kind of book that any serious scholar on John’s Gospel or the Epistle to the Hebrews would love to have in their library.  But, this does bring me to the one fairly serious downside of the text.  Though this is a text any scholar might love to have, the cost of the text would put it out of the reach of many, at least in terms of having it in one’s personal library.  The lowest price on Amazon is right around $170, and Amazon’s own price is $257.50.  Thus, for many scholars, this might be the kind of book that you would want to request that your university or seminary library purchase.  However, if you can afford it, I highly recommend purchasing it for your own collection.

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Can Christianity Inspire Culture Today?

Maybe so. Maybe, like the Christians of long ago Rome, we can live the Gospel’s social component and reach the world spiritually, without compromise. We know from history the value of Christians to the cities and towns where they resided. From taking in orphaned infants, the sick, the poor, to feeding the hungry, Christians helped to wrest something good for the Kingdom in the empire.

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