Christians and Wealth: An Argument for Downward Mobility

Great news! If you only have a minute to read about wealth, here’s my argument in a nutshell:


Outline of My Argument

  • Main Claim: American Christians should reduce their standards of living to what is necessary for human flourishing and give their excess resources beyond this standard to the poor and oppressed.
    1. God is the firmest advocate for human flourishing.
    2. The pursuit of wealth is spiritually dangerous and crippling.
    3. Our culture’s inclinations toward upward financial mobility go against the message of the New Testament and the life of Christ.
    4. God is revealed in Scripture to have a special concern for the poor and the oppressed.
    5. Christians will be held accountable for how they treat the poor and the oppressed.
  • Objections:
    1. This line of reasoning is advocating asceticism and is unbiblical.
    2. Christians have every right to keep what they have earned and to do what they wish with their excess funds.
    3. Because the poor are lazy, Christians should not feel pressured to give, in case their generosity is taken advantage of.
  • Warrant:
    1. Christians want to remain true to Scripture and submit to God’s way of life in order to find satisfaction.

(For more on Christianity, wealth, and poverty, see my topical study on what the book of Proverbs has to teach us about poverty.)

Still interested in reading about this contentious topic? Continue below.


Introduction

In our current context of wealth and poverty existing side by side in a milieu of materialistic consumerism, the Christian gospel of denying ourselves and making much of God is being abandoned for the American gospel of denying others and making much of ourselves.

American Christians have become content to live a baptized version of the American dream, a hollow faith that is about maximizing your earthly portfolio once your salvation is secured.

My main contention is that Christians in the United States should lower their standards of living to what is necessary for human flourishing and give their excess resources beyond this standard to the poor. In doing so, they will remain faithful to Scripture and discover a more satisfactory way of life.

Isn’t That Asceticism?

At this point, some may claim that I am trying to advocate for a form of asceticism. Continue reading “Christians and Wealth: An Argument for Downward Mobility”

Following Jesus Beyond the Bandwagon

(A chapel message in a Christian school.)

There are a few things you should know about me:

  • I am a student at a Christian seminary.
  • Before that, I went to a Christian college.
  • Before that, I went to a Christian high school, and a Christian middle school.
  • Before that, I was home-schooled, and I grew up in a Christian home.

Oh, also: I’m the world’s worst sports fan.

I’m serious. The students in my youth group give me a hard time about it. Every week, they’re like, “Josh, did you see the game?!” “Josh, are you going to watch the game?”

And I’m like, “Game? What game? I don’t even know which sport’s season it is!”

World’s. worst. sports fan. I’m telling you.

The one redeeming quality about my sports fandom is that I’ve stuck with one team through thick and thin: the University of Michigan Wolverines. Go Blue!

Now, I know that the rivalry between the Wolverines and the Ohio State Buckeyes is but a pale imitation of the rivalry between Alabama and Auburn down here. But up North, this rivalry was and is a big deal.

And it was really interesting, back when I was in middle school and high school, to observe what would happen each year in November when the Wolverines and the Buckeyes went at it.

I’m from Toledo, OH, which is on the border with Michigan, so the fan split was about 50/50 – Wolverines on one side, Buckeyes on the other.

And each year, on the day after the big game, you could tell who the true fans were…

It was the people still cheering for the team that lost. Continue reading “Following Jesus Beyond the Bandwagon”

Barth, Bonhoeffer, & The Theological Critique of Religion: My Reading List This Fall

This semester — my final one at Beeson Divinity School — I’m doing a directed study with Piotr Malysz on the topic of “Religion” in Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

The impetus for this study was a discussion question in Dr. Malysz’s Spring 2015 20th Century History and Doctrine course. On March 24, our third class period on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, our second question for discussion read as follows:

“What is religion for Bonhoeffer? What are its anthropological manifestations (in Bonhoeffer’s day)? In what ways is Bonhoeffer’s understanding of religion similar to, and different from, that of Barth?”

Having taken Malysz’s Fall 2014 seminar on Karl Barth, I was intrigued by the question. We only spent a few minutes on the topic in class, focusing on how Bonhoeffer’s definition of religion focuses on a “necessary God of the gaps,” but I wrote down the following questions for further consideration:

  1. Is there a tension in how Barth and Bonhoeffer describe “religion,” or an underlying harmony?
  2. Barth speaks of boundary, Bonhoeffer of finding God at the center. Are they getting at the same thing?
  3. What is the relationship between Barth’s “No-God” and Bonhoeffer’s God as “stopgap”?

It has been over a year since that class discussion, but these questions are still on my mind. I’m convinced that Barth’s and Bonhoeffer’s theological critiques of religion can provide resources for the Church today.

In addition to that class discussion question, Tom Greggs‘ Theology Against Religion: Constructive Dialogues with Bonhoeffer and Barth [affiliate links throughout] has been an enormous catalyst for this project.

After graduating from Beeson in December, I plan to pursue a Ph.D. in historical/systematic theology. If all goes well, I’d like to expand my Barth/Bonhoeffer project this semester into a doctoral project – perhaps focusing on the relationship between Barth’s “No-God” and Bonhoeffer’s “God-as-stopgap,” or on the relationship between Barth’s and Bonhoeffer’s theological interpretation[s] of Scripture and their theological critiques of religion.

My Reading List

Anyway, with the help of Michael DeJonge, Clifford Green, Garrett Green, Tom Greggs, and Paul Dafydd Jones, I have developed the following reading list for this semester’s directed study:

Primary Sources: 

Secondary Sources:

If you’re interested in Barth and Bonhoeffer, I’m interested in starting up a conversation! Based on what I’ve written above, do you:

Have any suggestions on how to improve this reading list?

Have any suggestions on who might be interested in supervising doctoral work in this area?

If so, let me know in the comments!

A Ridiculously Helpful Markdown Tutorial

I’ve been dragging my heels on learning Markdown for awhile now.

If you don’t know, Markdown is:

lightweight markup language with plain text formatting syntax designed so that it can be converted to HTML and many other formats using a tool by the same name.[8] Markdown is often used to format readme files, for writing messages in online discussion forums, and to create rich text using a plain text editor. [Source: Wikipedia]

That is, get the benefits of HTML and/or rich text, without [as steep of] a learning curve!

To make things even easier, I suggest starting with this Markdown Tutorial. Should this tutorial prove too basic, it even links to other, more in-depth guides at the end!

I plan to start implementing Markdown in my workflow for this blog, and also for Rookie Anglican.

Cheers!

The Feast of St. James the Apostle: A Homily for Ministers

Readings: Psalm 34; Jeremiah 16:14-21; Mark 1:14-20

Like so many other feast days – scheduled, as they are, on the days of the namesakes’ deaths – the feast day of St. James the Apostle is a strong rebuke to our aspirations. To our aspirations as human beings, and especially to our aspirations as ministers of Christ’s Church.

Saint James the Greater *oil on canvas *92.1 x 74.9 cm *signed b.r.: Rembrandt f. 1661
Saint James the Greater, by Rembrandt

James & John: Fishermen No More?

You see, James started off as a mere fisherman. An admirable one, to be sure, because he and his brother John answered Jesus’ call in Mark 1. They left behind their father, their family, and – they grew to hope! – their family’s fishing profession.

James was off on a new adventure, hopeful and headstrong. So much so that, along with his brother John, he earned the nickname “Son of Thunder”! Coming from the Son of Man, that’s no small compliment!

But their headstrong passion proved to be a weakness as well. In Luke 9, after getting rejected in Samaria, the Sons of Thunder offer to call fire down from heaven to consume the Samaritan village! This earns them a stern rebuke from Jesus.

And, even more famously, they approached Jesus with the following request in Mark 10:37:

Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.

Princes? Or Fishermen?

Now, their request is, in effect: “O King Jesus, would you please make us princes?”

And, granted, this is Apocryphal, but I imagine Jesus putting his arms around them and saying the following:

“Princes? Princes?! Boys, if I had wanted princes, I would have called princes! But, I don’t need princes!

No, no, no. What I need are new fishermen! And that’s why I’ve called you!”

You see, James had been hoping for a new position. And instead he received his old professiontransformed!

James was no longer to be a mere fisherman, but a fisher of men.

And not even just a fisher of men like Jeremiah 16 spoke of – for there the fishermen and hunters are instruments of judgment and exile.

No! Instead, James was to go fishing with, go fishing for Jesus, to bring people back from exile.

Now, undoubtedly, this is a step up from fishing for literal fish.

Or is it?

Not necessarily. At least, not in the world’s eyes.

The Death of St. James the Apostle

Here’s Jesus’ actual answer to the “prince” request:

Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”

And they said to him, “We are able.”

And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”

Now, granted, this isn’t one of the assigned lectionary passages for today, but I’d like us to look at the beginning of Acts 12:

About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword, and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also.

Swept aside, in just one verse! I doubt that sort of an abrupt, violent end awaited most of the fishermen working for Zebedee’s family business.

Was it worth it?

Was it worth it? Did James receive any sort of a promotion, after all?

Of course, we know the right answer. But do we live it out?

Are we thankful, are we satisfied with our roles as servants within Christ’s Church?

Are we willing to be “just” fishermen, even if it costs us our ambitions? Even if it costs us our lives?

Guido_Reni_-_Saint_James_the_Greater_-_Google_Art_ProjectBy God’s grace, I hope so.

By God’s grace, may we – with the Apostle James – be able to confess the final words of Psalm 34 with open eyes, and open hearts. Perhaps it will help to imagine the following words on the dying Apostle’s lips:

Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
but the Lord delivers him out of them all.
He keeps all his bones;
not one of them is broken.
Affliction will slay the wicked,
and those who hate the righteous will be condemned.
The Lord redeems the life of his servants;
none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.

Amen.

Frustrated with Church? You’re the Problem!

Yesterday, I asked you to join the Church if you, like me, are frustrated with the Church. The strongest critiques of religion come from within, not without, the Christian community. Plus, your frustrations are likely shared by many others within the Church!

However, it’s not enough to point the finger at others from your pew, instead of doing so from the public square. Yes, that’s a good first step, but another one is necessary.

You – and I – need to be willing to take ownership for the Church’s failures.

Continue reading “Frustrated with Church? You’re the Problem!”

Frustrated with Church? Join the Club…

…and by “club” I of course mean “Church”!

What am I getting at? Am I calling the Church a mere “club”?

No. Although, unfortunately, it often feels that way, doesn’t it?

  • A club full of hypocrisy, idolatry, indifference, and platitudes.
  • A club full of power-plays, fear-mongering, and Bible-thumping.
  • A club full of saints too afraid to admit that they are sinners.

Perhaps you’re sick of this “club,” and you’re ready to leave, if you haven’t left already.

I’m asking you to stay. To come back. To join for the first time.

Why?

Because the Church must be composed of people who realize the Church’s shortcomings and failures.

Otherwise, it is just a club.

I’m asking you to stay, because most leaders within the Church share your frustrations.

Because the strongest critiques of religion come from within, not without, the Christian community.

And because, as I’ll talk about tomorrow, you’re part of the problems. And so am I.

So, let’s work toward solving them together. Within the Church.

 

Thank God, I Went to Cedarville

As I prepare for my final semester at Beeson Divinity School, it strikes me just how well I was prepared for my seminary education by my undergraduate professors at Cedarville University.

All things considered, my time at CU exposed me to the riches of biblical and theological studies, and it left me hungry for more.

College gave me a love for Christ’s gospel and Christ’s Church – which has only increased since I arrived at Beeson.

Plus, I met my wife there! 🙂

pablo (10)

And yet, college also left a bad taste in my mouth.

See, in the year before I graduated, some crazy things went down at my alma mater.

Between my original blogpost and my “final farewell,” I tried to take a pretty active role in the student protests against what was going on at CU.

I’d like to think we made a bit of a difference – perhaps in slowing things down enough to let professors find jobs elsewhere before they got fired. Heck, we even made it into The New York Times. (Although, I will say: I’m embarrassed of the picture they chose for the article.)

However, in the long run, we failed.

Cedarville is now a much different place than when I arrived. What’s more, I became so entangled in the mess that I arrived to seminary with some burn wounds – from a prophetic fire that burnt a bit too hot.

I’m thankful for my time at Cedarville, however.

God has been healing those wounds. Beeson Divinity School and Anglicanism have both been balms to my spirit. And, with the healing has come the realization that I would not be who I am today were it not for my four years in Cedarville, Ohio.

Many of the lessons I learned there were sealed with blood, sweat, and tears – as it were. However, those kinds of lessons are often the most important and enduring.

By God’s grace, I hope to carry forward into my future ministry a combination of prophetic fire and patient faithfulness in the face of injustice and suffering.

Here’s the thing, though: I’m worried about the other members of the “Cedarville Diaspora.”

“Cedarville ex-pats”? Take your pick of terms.

No, not so much the professors who were pushed out. They’ve miraculously landed on their feet, and I’ve witnessed God’s powerful work of redemption through them in their current careers and ministries.

No, I’m talking about the alumni who got burned by fundamentalism and may have already thrown out the Christian baby with the fundamentalist bathwater. Or perhaps they’re seriously considering doing so.

See, God has blessed me with a wonderful seminary and church community in which to grow and heal after Cedarville. Without those things, I don’t know where I’d be after the awful ending to my Christian college experience.

Others, however, may be feeling very lonely and angry right now.

If that’s you, or if you know someone to whom this applies, would you let me know if there’s any way I can help you?

I’ll gladly listen to you vent. I’d love to pray for you specifically, and perhaps to share what I’ve found helpful along the journey.

~Josh (@joshuapsteele)

How Do You Want To Be Remembered?

Do you know what the worst thing about death is?

It’s not the dying itself – its the separation.

That is, we don’t suffer the most from our own deaths (a one-time occurrence), but from suffering the deaths of others (repeatedly). Instead of living relationships, we are left with distant memories.

A sad reality, to be sure.

What if, however, we could use death to our own advantage?

I’m convinced this is the truth behind Ecclesiastes 7:2 –

It is better to go to a house of mourning
    than to go to a house of feasting,
for death is the destiny of everyone;
    the living should take this to heart.

Now, obviously, simply taking death to heart isn’t enough to defeat our most ancient enemy. For that, we need (and have been given) a resurrection.

But, have you taken your own death to heart? I believe there’s something to be gained by considering how you’d like to be remembered by others after you die.

How do you want to be remembered:

  • by God?

  • by your spouse?

  • by your children?

  • by your parents?

  • by your family and friends?

  • by your colleagues?

For me, I’d like to be remembered:

  • …as God’s faithful servant.
  • …as my wife’s best friend.
  • …as my children’s most important teacher.
  • …as my parents’ legacy.
  • …as my family and friends’ loyal brother.
  • …as my colleagues inspiring teammate.

…which sounds great, right? But here’s the rub:

What changes do you and I need to make in our lives, to start making those hypothetical memories more realistic each day?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this in the comments below, as I consider how taking death to heart should impact one’s entire life.

~Josh (@joshuapsteele)

 

Let’s Take Seth Godin to Church

 

I’m not going to lie. My first reaction when I saw the cover of this book? 

No! Of course you’re not indispensable. What use could this crap possibly be to the Church, or to me – simultaneously a pastor and a pastor-in-training.

Then, however, I read the book. And I suggest you do, too!

(Note: affiliate link. I get paid if you make a purchase.)

Seth Godin, bald marketing extraordinaire, is convinced that a paradigm shift has taken place. I’ll quote from his annotated table of contents (which, by the way, I wish all books had):

We have gone from two teams (management and labor) to a third team, the linchpins. These are people who own their own means of production, who can make a difference, lead us, and connect us. The death of the factory means that the entire system we have built our lives around is now upside down. This is either a huge opportunity or a giant threat. Revolutions are frightening because the new benefits sometimes lag behind the old pain. This time, the opportunity is to bring your best self to the marketplace and be rewarded for it (vii).

For the past few generations, we’ve grown used to the implicit deal: If you go to school, learn how to follow instructions, work hard, and show up on time, we’ll take care of you.

But, at least in many sectors, the bargain has fallen apart.

So, Godin advises us to become linchpins in whatever industry we find ourselves. We must treat our work as art, and combine a variety of skills to address complex situations.

We must be able to figure out what to do next, without it being spelled out for us in an instruction manual.

OK, great. But what does this have to do with CHURCH?

I believe pastors are uniquely situated to be linchpins.

They are the leaders of a largely volunteer organization. And, Pastoral Epistles notwithstanding, there is no instruction manual (God forbid we treat the Bible like an instruction manual!).

So they must treat their work as art. If they just phone it in and serve their time, they’ll be left with only the people who phone it in and serve their time as church members!

I believe Christians are uniquely situated to be linchpins in their workplaces.

I plan to write more about this in future posts, but it’s ridiculous how much of the self-help advice out there these days aligns with the things Christians should be the very best at!

A bunch of Godin’s advice centers around treating other people as full human beings, and on giving freely without the expectation of debt or compensation (See chapters “The Powerful Culture of Gifts” and “The Culture of Connection”).

I don’t know about you, but that sounds familiar.

As pastors focus on leading by example – by being linchpins themselves – they could start explicit conversations about the connections between worship on Sunday and work (which should also be worship) on the other six days.

Finally, I believe that each church is uniquely situated to be a linchpin in its community.

What if churches were known for showing artful, personal, and prodigal love to their communities, without expectation of increased attendance on a Sunday morning?

What if we were seeker-sensitive, without selling out to the “latest” corporate and marketing strategies (which, often enough, rely upon the old paradigm)?

What if, especially in North America, we stopped complaining about “persecution,” and started creatively taking advantage of the situations in which we find ourselves?

I don’t have all the answers to these questions, but I’m convinced they’re worth asking!

Godin is convinced that people are starving for personal connection in a world filled with faceless factories and multinational corporations.
I’m convinced that the Church – the Body of Christ – has just the food to feed those starving.

~Josh (@joshuapsteele)


(Note: affiliate link. I get paid if you make a purchase.)