Jesus Assumptions?

by on December 9th, 2010

In last week’s blog, Was Jesus into Social Justice? Jonathan raised to assumptions that would seem to, as Jonathan put it, “are indeed hiding behind the furniture at Sojourners.” We had some great responses to the blog but I thought I would revisit the assumptions as we look at the politically incorrect Jesus.

1) Jesus would approve of redistributing wealth to create fairness.

2) The second assumption I find hiding in social conscience of the Evangelical left is that government is a neutral tool for securing social goods.

On the first assumption, we don’t really find Jesus being overly concerned with financial or material fairness. His concern seems to primarily be about man’s (and woman’s) heart for God. “YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND” (Matt. 22:37) is the Great Commandment and from it flows the next, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.”

Our love for and devotion to God informs our actions toward others. Money and material stuff fade to being a means to an end not an end in itself. This comes out perhaps most clearly in Luke 12:13-24. One young man asked Jesus to “tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” Here we have redistribution of wealth as the focus of the discussion. Jesus response was to tell a story of a man who vested his hope in and focus on his wealth, ultimately to his destruction. He concludes His discussion with “where your treasure is, there is where your heart will be also.” Fairness, social justice, redistribution of wealth were not of real concern to Jesus but a proper focus on God and our life with Him new and eternity was what He spent His time addressing.

This places the responsibility on the individual to use their earthly treasures in a way that would glorify God and that will vary from individual to individual. Some will be more focused on the poor, others will be more focused on the lost (evangelism), still others will be more focused on growing disciples, serving and supporting the church. As God gives each one a love for something or someone that is dear to His heart it happens that there is suddenly no amount of money, material possessions or time they won’t invest to reach or serve in that calling. The key here is that it is the individual’s choice with no command or expectation that others decide to take from them and redistribute their property. We see this played out in early Acts where none of the believers “had need.” In Acts 5 we see that Barnabas, a wealthy land owner, sold a piece of property for the benefit of those who needed assistance. It was his choice and he kept his wealth apart from what he chose to donate. Another couple sold a piece of property and gave a portion of the proceeds. They lied about how much they gave and when Peter confronted them he said,

While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.

Notice, there was no compulsion of expectation. It was theirs to do with before it was sold. The proceeds were theirs and could be used in any way they chose after the sale. The issue was their heart toward God and on that count they chose to lie. The result was quick, they both died. This will be kingdom judgment when that time comes by the way. We don’t find anywhere that Jesus approves or commands redistributing the wealth for fairness.

The Apostle Paul weighs on the question of giving in 2 Corinthians 9:7, “Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” Notice, it is to be done as the individual decides not under pressure from others or taken from them. However, it should be noted that you can tell more about someone’s true belief by where there money goes than nearly anything else.

What about the second assumption of the Evangelical Left that government is a neutral tool for securing social goods. While it is true that all governments which exist are set up by God (Romans 8), it is not true that all, most or even any governments are benevolent and or neutral tools for social change or securing social goods. Sometimes God sets up governments to punish or correct His people. Other times to protect or reward His people. For example, Joseph served Pharaoh which resulted in the preservation and protection of God’s chosen people in time of severe famine and yet the government wasn’t a neutral tool. The government took grain each of the seven years of plenty and then sold it back to the people during the seven years of famine. The result was the population sold themselves into slavery to the government. This is decidedly not neutral.

Jesus did tell His followers to pay their taxes. He told them that if they were compelled to go 1 mile to go two (Matt. 5:41). This had to do with Romans soldiers (the government) and the right they had to force a non-Roman to carry their gear for a mile. Jesus told His followers to serve the oppressor twice what they are legally required to do. So far from shaking off the oppressor and demanding equal treatment from the government Jesus assumes the government is not neutral, is unfair and we serve in spite of those issues. We actually address a fair amount of the issues between government and the church in The Rise of the Evangelical Left.

Secondarily, from Scripture that charity extended from individuals to others in the family or in the faith first and outsiders who came to them and were open to knowledge of the true God. One of the commenter’s on last week’s blog pointed this concept out as well and are absolutely right. We are under no obligation to feed and care for unbelievers who are opposed to the faith. I am not saying we can’t, some may feel called to that very thing. I am saying there is no biblical mandate requiring us to make such provision. Government taking and redistributing if forcing believers to do something, by theft, which they are under no obligation to do. In addition, trying to use the government to be the tool to carry out some concept of Christian social justice would be forcing non-Christians to carry out or fund a supposed Christian mandate. Again we find no biblical warrant for that and it is clear that governments are not neutral tools. They are run by fallen men and women. Some are altruistic but most are caught up in the power and use it in evil ways. Neutrality is not something which comes to mind regarding the government.

Both of the above assumption are false and demonstrate something else. Jim Wallis and others on the rising Evangelical Left seem to be biblically illiterate and use the Scripture in an attempt to give credibility for their Marxism.

3 responses to “Jesus Assumptions? ”

  1. smijer says:

    I’m not sure #1 is a basic assumption, and I’m pretty sure #2 is not a basic assumption, but rather (as I said in my comment on the previous post) could easily be re-stated as a principle embraced nearly universally across the ideological and theological spectrum.

    On the first – yes this notion or something like it underlies Wallis’ position. He believes that God or Jesus wants us to be fair and just in our dealings with other people – and likely this includes correcting injustice in the distribution of wealth, perhaps including by means of redistributing it. (Like you, I’m in a position of trying to state someone else’s view here, so I’m sure neither of us have it 100% right).

    Personally, I’m not a big fan of redistributive schemes as such – I would like to see the an economy that functions justly without the help of redistribution – something closer to a distributist economy as envisioned by GK Chesterson.

    But, since we are arguing other people’s positions, we need to try to state them one way or another. So, yes – we guess that Wallis believes that God would approve of redistribution.

    This is very similar to the view that many Christians hold that God would not approve of abortion. The Bible speaks very little about abortion. It’s a very interpretive issue. The principle of charity says that we should assume that Christians don’t just “assume” that God would not approve of abortion, but have scriptural reasons for believing this to be true. In fact, they rely on scripture that indicates God doesn’t approve of non-legal killing of people. From this, they generalize that God doesn’t approve of the killing of innocent people. Together with some proof-texts that can be intepreted to mean babies in the womb are people covered by God’s prohibition, many Christians create a line of reasoning to conclude that God would not approve of abortion.

    It is reasoning along similar lines from scripture that suggest to Jim Wallis & his ilk that God would not approve of unjust distribution of wealth with no effort to correct through redistribution. Not a basic assumption. It isn’t hard to find plausible support for such reasoning in the Bible.

    Luke 12:13-14 does not actually tell against this view. First, it is not clear that the brother who was making the petition was acting justly. It’s possible that the father had divided the wealth justly and the brother was asking Jesus to leverage him more than his fair share. In that case, Jesus’ rebuke shows that he values fairness over greed. Second, even if the father did divide the wealth unfairly, it does not show that Jesus did not care about this fact. Instead, it shows that it was more important to Jesus in this one instance to teach a lesson to the son about valuing earthly wealth over heavenly treasures. And, it might be pointed out as well, that this was the distribution of an inheritance, not earnings and not grocery money. So, it’s an interpretive stretch to say that this passage means that Jesus was A-OK with unfair distribution of property. In fact, I don’t get the impression that Jesus had given much thought to that issue – unfair distribution of property was simply a fact of life in the first century, as it has been throughout history.

    The one element of your argument that might tell against Wallis’ view is your interpretation of the pericope of Ananias & Sapphira from Acts. Peter does indicate that their property was “theirs” and they were free to dispose of it as they “wished”. However, I doubt your interpretation – that Peter meant to endorse their right to this property and their right to dispose of it. He might have said the same things to them very easily even if the property in question had been a slave. It seems obvious to me that Peter’s statements were descriptive of the rights Ananias & Sapphira had under Roman law – not the rights they were justly entitled to by God.

    The point of all of this is to show that we are not talking about an assumption, here, but an exegetical result: one which is tenuous, but no more so than your alternatives.

    On point 2… the Bible did not anticipate a pro forma democracy. Most Christians, however, see participation in a pro forma democracy as an important avenue of interaction with others, and expect such participation to be bound by the same rules as all other areas of life.

    An “assumption” that the government is a “neutral tool for securing” anything at all is certainly unjustified.

    But if we accept that we are each a part of the government when we engage the political process, and we accept that we are obligated to behave morally while effectively governing, then our governing actions must be consistent with our moral principles at least as much as our other, private, actions. It’s for this reason that many Christians argue vehemently for legislation to prohibit abortion, for instance. The Bible certainly never says we should think of the government as a “neutral tool for securing the lives of the unborn”. Nevertheless, Christian members of Democracy often do not feel that they are therefore un-obligated to vote “pro-life”.

    So, point 2 isn’t an assumption as much as it is a deduction from the structure of modern government. And without it, there is no reason for Christians to consider their religious obligations when going out to vote at all.

  2. smijer says:

    Jim Wallis and others on the rising Evangelical Left seem to be biblically illiterate and use the Scripture in an attempt to give credibility for their Marxism.

    About this… I guess you are using “Marxism” the same way talk-radio uses it, so I’ll let that pass. I do agree with you that most Americans, including those who try to lend religious credibility to naive political positions are sadly Biblically illiterate. But that’s not just on the “left” side of the ideological spectrum. Just look at how many on the right manage to take the likes of Hal Lindsey, Jerry Falwell, or Pat Robertson seriously. This would be impossible for someone who had even a basic understanding of the Bible.

  3. Don Veinot says:

    I appreciate your comments smijer. Sorry for the delay but as it happens I am a bi-vocational minister which somewhat limits my available time to interact. You are of course correct on Luke 12. We do not have much information on the circumstances. Was the older brother holding back on the younger brothers’ rightful inheritance or was the younger brother asking for a bigger share? We are not told. What does come out is that Jesus has little interest in the question of stuff (in this case wealth distribution) and focuses on the matter of the heart. Where is our focus? It also is a reminder for each of us to focus on our personal relationship with God. Is He first or is our desire for stuff first? We do see this in a number of other places, for example in His discussion about the “lilies of the field,” who we are serving, food and clothes (Matthew 6). As far as Ananias & Sapphira, the gospels and early Acts (chapter 1-8 at least) are within a Jewish context. A Jewish messiah, to a Jewish nation, according to Jewish prophecy with regard to the coming kingdom. The issue for these two was not whether or not they owned property of profited from its sale but that they lied about how much of the increase they gave to the community kitty. Barnabas was a person of property and there are other business people mentioned in Acts, and we find to demand that they redistribute their wealth. This is a theme we have revisited from time to time. In one of my previous blogs, The Rise of the Evangelical Left, I looked at one of Tony Campolo’s favorite questions, “Would Jesus Wear a Rolex?” The short answer is, it depends. The descriptions of the New Jerusalem are very extravagant. In the Old Testament the tabernacle and later the temple, was constructed of the most expensive materials. Some of the Old Testament saints were very wealthy and enriched by God. We don’t really find God being opposed to wealth or redistributing it to “be fair.” His emphasis was and continues to be our heart condition. Is God and his purposes our priority or our accumulation of stuff or, (another option), does someone else have more stuff than I do and how can I make them give it up and even things out? The focus here is again on stuff, not on God and is reminiscent of Matthew 6. When you write:

    But if we accept that we are each a part of the government when we engage the political process, and we accept that we are obligated to behave morally while effectively governing, then our governing actions must be consistent with our moral principles at least as much as our other, private, actions. It’s for this reason that many Christians argue vehemently for legislation to prohibit abortion, for instance. The Bible certainly never says we should think of the government as a “neutral tool for securing the lives of the unborn”. Nevertheless, Christian members of Democracy often do not feel that they are therefore un-obligated to vote “pro-life”.

    We actually live in a Republic but I understand and agree with your meaning. In this form of government each citizen and group has the right, and I would suggest, the responsibility, to argue for legislation favorable to their position in matters where the government (Federal, State or local) has jurisdiction. Sadly, the Federal government has over stepped the powers enumerated for it in the Constitution but that is another discussion for another day.

    You are also right about the biblical illiteracy within the church, sadly.

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