Monday, June 27, 2011

Unions, Social Justice and the Kingdom of God

Saturday's post on "striking" got me thinking. Here's my question: are the tactics of unions as practiced today really in line with the 'way of the kingdom of God'?

Particularly, I think we should ask this questions to Christians who lean more politically leftward. So we will hear much about 'American Imperialism' and bullying. We will hear capitalism decried (FYI: I think capitalism itself is morally neutral although it can be used for evil and for good. The system needs individual liberty to flourish and said liberty is in accord with Biblical values). 

Anyways, we are often told that leftist policies will work harder to defend the innocent.

Yet, we are told (rightly in my view) that the kingdom of God does not advance by force. It is a power outside this world. The religious right is chided (rightly in some instances) for trying to grasp and seize the world's power and power systems to effect change. Kingdom thinking as it is practiced by some who lean leftward goes like this: When a nation uses force it is bad, God's kingdom advances by peace and sacrifice and nations should always reflect so conduct. (setting aside just for war theory for this arguments here). When a company or a rich person uses the force of their power, it is bad, God's kingdom advances by caring for the poor not seizing power and money (setting aside for the sake of argument the right use of capital). The message is largely: force is bad. Advancing agendas by force is contrary to the way of the kingdom. I have seen such kingdom metanarrative applied to how church leaders should lead (a point I largely agree with so long as you recognize the kingdom is not opposed to leadership hierarchy, so long as it is servant leadership).

One thing you never hear much about is whether or not when unions use force is it bad? What happens when they force people through non-violent means of coercion--but still means to conercion, sometimes even legal coercion methods.

Now getting together to collectively bargain is not bad or evil per se. 

But is it really the way of the kingdom to use 'good coercion'? To grab the world's force and power and use it even for good ends it still wrong force and coercion--or at least that's what we are told about military might and capitalism. 

Peaceful protesting maybe isn't opposed to God's kingdom. But what about when the purpose of protest is really to use power to force an opponent to cave? At what point are you collecting power from within the world's system to us it? Isn't that precisely what we are told is against the kingdom of God?

What I am asking is: is there an inconsistent way in which a Christian lefts trots out the kingdom of God and way of love narrative when it comes to issues like foreign policy, the death penalty, or capitalism--but why does this narrative fall silent when it comes to union tactics (just as 1 example)? Should they at least not apply the lens of the paradigm and see what criticism they may or may not uncover?

Let me hit the nail a little harder: we often hear that nations should never (or only extremely rarely) go to war but should always make peace. A nation showing love to another nation will win over others. [again set aside traditional just war theory that does demand that you seek peaceable solutions first and use war only as a last resort and only to stop injustice]. Yet why don't we hear Christian leftists arguing this way against union tactics: 'if the employee will just love and serve his boss in the face of injustices, the love the employee shows will win over the other party.'

I guess since prophets aren't welcome in their own towns, it is best to keep one's head down rather than, you know, speak out in your home town. That's how you can do really prophetic kingdom work. Prophetic: you keep using that word but I do not think it means what you think it means.

It's been said that inconsistency is the sign of a failed argument. What do you think? Does the 'Christian left's' inability to apply their paradigm to issues like union tactics indicate a more serious structural weakness to their thinking about the "kingdom of God"?

It seems to me largely, "kingdom of God thinking" is the way to go. However, for some "kingdom of God" has become code for leftist policies. Taken to the extreme, the kingdom becomes what we created. (fair play: just because who are politically 'right' doesn't make you morally right and justified either)

In the end, Christians should be concerned with injustice--all injustice. Christians should be concerned to see God's rule exercised in all of life. On the other hand, we recognize God's kingdom will coexist with man's kingdom and their is common grace and the proper role of the state.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

2 Samuel 5 & Psalm 2

For Sunday School, I have been working through 2 Samuel. I believe that it is important in studying the Old Testament to read it in light of redemptive history. So much of what happens to David in 2 Samuel is not just for David but serves a larger purpose in redemptive history. It teaches us about the importance of David's house or how the king of Israel serves God's kingdom either positively or in the cause of the Old Testament with failures. This failures point to the need to the inbreaking of the kingdom needed in Jesus.

This morning in studying 2 Samuel 5, I found some interesting parallels to Psalm 2 in the movement of the narrative. 

I believe it is significant that 2 Samuel 5 is one of the few places that Jerusalem is referred to as Zion. David “took the stronghold of Zion.” In the later prophets, ‘Zion’ becomes the idealized Jerusalem. God’s plan for the climax of redemptive history is always to have the Davidic King ruling in Zion.

Here are the narrative points that I think parallel Psalm 2:

2 Samuel 5 & Psalm 2

In 2 Samuel, David is the annointed King is installed over all Israel. He then establishes Himself in Zion. God has exalted His king for His people.

2 Sameul 5:10 David became greater and greater, for the LORD God of hosts was with him.  12 And David realized that the LORD had established him as king over Israel, and that He had exalted his kingdom for the sake of His people Israel. 
The installed King then inquires of the Lord and goes out to subdue the nations--they are put under his feet. It is possible that 2 Samuel 5:17ff is not in chronological order given that David "goes down to his stronghold" (you cannot easily 'go down to Zion' unless camped above it; the strong hold may be the one referred to in 1 Samuel; and 5:17 may refer to events right after the anointing before Jerusalem is taken). I'm not totally sure on where the narrative is chronological or thematic. But the order of the narrative is striking to the order of the establishment of the throne of the King in Psalm 2.

The Davidic king bears the image of God (establishing justice and righteousness) and subdues God’s rebelling creation. David is exalted over the kingdom on behalf of God--as God's vice-regent but for the sake of the people. The king reigns for the purpose of crush God's enemies his feet on behalf of God. Thus, the king exercises the power of God in total dependence upon God.

Notice that in Psalm 2:1-3 and 2 Samuel 5:6-8 we have plotting of the nations and even taunting of the king the Lord has chosen to install. In the end, because the Lord has established his king in Zion, he can inquire of the Lord and receive the nations has an inheritance. The nations rebelling against God are subdued by the hand of the king. 2 Samuel 5 climaxes with the Philistines subdued--the YHWH's king has accomplished His purposes:

2 Samuel 5:24 “It shall be, when you hear the sound of marching in the tops of the balsam trees, then you shall act promptly, for then the LORD will have gone out before you to strike the army of the Philistines.” 25 Then David did so, just as the LORD had commanded him, and struck down the Philistines from Geba as far as Gezer. 
This is thematically similar to Psalm 2:8-9--
 8 ‘Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance,  And the very ends of the earth as Your possession. 9 ‘You shall break them with a rod of iron,  You shall shatter them like earthenware.’ ” 

Even more, it is the same order of 2 Samuel 5 and Psalm 2 established in the installment of the true Son, Jesus Christ. The king is established, raised up, and exalted. It is for the sake of his people on God's behalf--God's kingdom. The whole creation is brought under the reign and rule of the king. This are brought back to order. "Nations" either flow to the king through the gospel (the nations become his inheritance in a new way) or they are crush in the end as they continue to rebel (see Revelation 19 and the use of the rod of iron).

This pattern and the viceregency of the king is echoed in the Psalms. It is no surprise though that we find it in 2 Samuel 5, is the pattern of the gospel itself and the advancement plan for the kingdom of God.

(For a use of the kingdom themes, David themes and the relationship between the Davidic narratives, Psalm 8 and the New Testament I would recommend Doug Green's essay: "Psalm 8: What Is Israel's King that You Remember Him?")

A Christian View of Striking.

I can pretty honestly say I don't ever think I've thought through what a "Christian view of Striking" might be. Thanks to Ref 21 for linking to this brief but thorough and balanced essay.

Should Christians Teacher's Strike?

Given some of the things going on in the US, especially New York, New Jersey and Wisconsin, I think Christians should think through a Christian reason for striking or not striking. 

I appreciate how the article breaks down the issues:

(1) Submission to our authorities. --Christians are supposed to submit to our bosses. 1 Peter and Ephesians tell slaves to submit to their masters. It is even in the face of cruel treatment and low pay that they were supposed to submit. This is not to say the Bible endorses owning people as human property--and while slavery in the Roman world was not ideal, it was also different from the slavery in America's past. The point is though that Christians model Christian conduct by working hard even when they are not treated fairly.

(2) Christians need to consider the issues of justice. --Christianity should be concerned with the poor and really injustice. Yet, in an American context, I find it hard to consider grave world-collapsing injustice when teachers go on strike because they might have to pay a slightly larger portion of their health care (usually something like going from paying 0% to 3-5%) but in most case are still with the proposed increase going to pay far less than than the average private sector employee.... it's tough to see how this anything but greed when it is the taxpayer footing the bill. This is hardly the equivalent of striking because your working conditions are so poor that will result in or strongly contribute to your death. 

(like the article I quote, I am in favor of paying teachers fairly and even well if we also have assurances that we are receiving quality staff and effort [which sometimes unions do shield those who have not demonstrated consistent skill])

But the issue of justice and righteousness is important to think through as it relates to striking. So we read:
"I’m not saying that Christians should never strike. There may be circumstances where that’s the right thing to do. The reason that I don’t think that loyalty to our employers is absolute is because there are situations where we need to be loyal to a greater cause. And that greater cause is justice and righteousness. There’s something godly about sticking up for the poor and the exploited. Even if we may be willing to work for an employer who treats the staff unfairly there will be times when we feel it’s appropriate to join in solidarity with our fellow workers and oppose the perpetuation of injustice."

(3) Harm to third parties. The article summarizes it well: 
"Whilst the intention of industrial action is always to harm the employer, it often ends up being misdirected towards third parties. When the employer is the Government, it’s the general public that tend to bear the brunt. When it’s the educators who withdraw their labour, it’s the kids who miss out. And so it’s worth asking what the effect of the strike will be on them and how you’d explain and justify why you’re choosing not to teach them. "

Something further to add is that strikers should conduct themselves according to the Law. Some (but not all for sure) of the action taken recently in places like Wisconsin seem to border on mob violence and intimidation by power rather than peaceable assembly and protest.

Sadly I think most Christians in America determine their view on Strikes based upon their political views. It seems to that the issue of striking from a 'Christian view' leads more naturally to: what is a Christian view of "unions" (or at least: the tactics of unions)? This question should be just as natural as: how should a Christian business owner conduct himself?

For me, I tend to be conservative so while I see the value of the historic rise of unions, I also tend to think they can today turn into a racket and a new form of bullying--I fully admit this is largely a political opinion and of course things vary on a case to case basis. 

I do have a concern that unions, (especially in the public sector, which even FDR opposed) can become a new form of thuggery. For example: trying to force Boeing from opening a plant in South Carolina because its state compel works to join union. Or denying the worker the right to a private ballet for whether he/she wants to join a union would seem to be a denial of a basic right. Don't ask me to weigh in on all the details or the letter of the law, I'm just saying if you get enough people together at some point the potential is that you become the bully even if you think you're "sticking up for the little guy."

What's more is that it is always injustice to show favoritism in deciding cases whether you show favoritism to the rich or favoritism to the poor, Ex. 23:1-3; Deut. 1:17; 26:19; Lev. 19:15; Prov. 24:19,23; 31:9 (sadly the latter is often not considered just as much an injustice but consider 'setting things back in balance' but see Ex. 23:3; Lev. 19:15). On the other hand, I can think of one person in my congregation who is in a union and I am glad that when he was the target of unfair accusations and conduct and when he filled a grievance he did have support of a union representative.

Yet, I have friends more politically liberal who see more value to unions. My take is that those more political conservative would do well to ponder point #2 of the essay cited while those leaning more to the left would do well to consider #1 and #3.

I would commend to your reading "Should Christians Teachers Strike."

Friday, June 24, 2011

Indicative Preaching

"Too many sermons are written 'in the imperative mode', whereas the religion of the Bible  'is written largely in the revealing language of the indicative mode' . . . The power of the religion of the Bible is to be found in its affirmations" (Stott, Between Two Worlds, p. 57) (HT: Doug Wilson)
It is to the point where some in the pew do not think that have actually heard preaching unless you give them a list of "to do's" or imperatives. 

We can be good little Pharisees from the pulpit, we load down the burdens, but we forget the yoke of our master is light.
Matthew 11:28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Sadly today, for too many, church is a place of religious performance. It is place not where we find a Jesus who relieves burdens but a place that adds burdens. “Do this! Be this way! Act like this!”

I once had someone tell me: “Pastor, you need to apply God’s Word by giving people 1 thing they can go home and do that week.” The idea wasn't just "give them an imperative" it was even more that we haven't faithfully applied it unless I give them something to do.

Why would I want to do that? Yes, we should be doers of the Word and not hearers--but if Jesus makes the burden light--why should I make it heavy every week by offering “ten steps” --I might as well say “here are ten burdens to make you feel like you are not good enough." And when imperatives our given, they should be grounded in the indicatives of the gospel.

While preaching should correct, rebuke and instruct, the true motive for serving Jesus comes from the wondrous release of the burdens-- I cannot motivate anybody by adding more of a burden than Jesus. If ever sermon is just a tip on how to do something, I am giving good advice for carrying your burdens not actually showing Jesus as the relief of your burden.

This is of course not to deny the need for imperatives in preaching, but as Stott puts it, the power of the gospel comes in its indicatives.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Book Review: Radical Together

David Platt's Radical Together is a short little book that follows up his bestseller Radical. In this book David Platt seeks to encourage, motivate and illustrate how the church can yield itself to the larger plan and purposes of God by giving and serving sacrificially. 

The book is full of personal stories, illustrations and examples of people who have set their life aside to serve God in radical ways. The author offers a number of challenges: from church's using their budgets in radical ways, such as foregoing building programs, foregoing building period, slashing waste in budgets, and giving radically to mission. 

Platt makes is very clear early in the book that we do not serve God because God needs us or because we need to curry favor with God. He is clear that the gospel is salvation by grace alone. He things like "you cannot do enough to be accepted before God. And the beauty of the gospel is you don't have to" and "The starting point of your radical life is your radical death--death to yourself and death to your every attempt to do enough before God" (27). He is clear that we are saved from work but when we are saved God saves us to work (28).

The book as a whole is a good but brief read. When I read this book I had not yet read Radical. One the one hand this book can stand alone but on the other hand I think I would have been better served having read the books in order.

By far the best chapter in the book is chapter 6 "The God who Exalts God." All Christian need to be reminded that God is in the business of glorifying his name and He does not need us to do so even though he freely chooses us in love for these purposes. In this chapter, as in a few others, David makes some passing quips at those who do church, are sold on mega-church for the pizzaz and even takes a respectful but Biblical dig at "seeker sensitive" quoting Romans 3:11. In all of this Platt is to the point and on target. He is respect and sensitive even while challenging the reader. This last chapter ends with a wonderful quote from A.W. Tozer speaking of people who are motivated to missions by a lofty opinion of ourselves and what we can do for God. For one who grew up in the church scene and went to Bible college, one would do well to listen to this.

As a whole David Platt's book seeks to motivate and encourage yet slice down a man-centered approach while lifting up a God-centered approach. It is often easy take an either/or approach: either I motivate people and really lay it on thick or I really emphasize God-centeredness. It is sometimes tough to do both and David Platt's book does it well.

4 out of 5 stars.

I would like to thank Waterbrook Multnomah Publishers for providing me with a complimentary copy of this book for review purposes.  A favorable review was not a condition of receiving this book.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Once More Into the Breach

Here's another argument in favor of homosexuality:

I thought I'd give a short response even though it could warrant a more thorough interaction. Sadly this type of argumentation has become par for the course for proponent of homosexuality in religious circles. One could easily begin to suspect what is driving such arguments is fiat rather than careful interaction and serious grampling with the issues. Either way, we head once more into the breach.

One would expect better from a Yale Grad. The article falls short on several levels:

(1) He misses Paul's larger point in 1 Corinthians 11 and so assumes evangelicals already ignore inconvenient parts of the Bible. The author expects a crash literalism if we were going to truly "obey" the text. This crass literalism is really the same kind of exegesis fundamentalists are accused of when they are belittled. So on the one hand fundamentalists are mocked for being crassly literal and on the other hand if we aren't being crassly literal we are ignoring the text. What hide behind this arguments is really just disdain for people who take the Bible seriously as the authoritative rule of faith and life.

(2) Two quotes from Augustine and Aquinas to through out the unanimous verdict of early church history on abortion. The author cherry picks two quotes on the issue of the soul & body and then interposes them on the modern arguments for when life begins. He misses voices of church history in their own words and in their own contexts answering the issues of their day in opposition to abortion (See Michael Gorman's work on Abortion in the Early Church). In short, he expects ancients to speak like moderns and when they don't he acts like their arguments undercut current abortion arguments. Shoddy historiography.

(3) His moral reasoning on divorce is about the equivalent of what my kids do when they get caught with their hand in the cookie jar, point to their sister and say "yesterday she wrote on the wall." Plenty of evangelicals have been vocal against divorce. And the exegetical issues for when to divorce are a little debated on the edge, for example some think 1 Cor. 7 allows for divorce of abandonment. Again the author shows little knowledge of the text and intense exegetical debates.

(4) This is almost beyond words: "On the other hand, it’s not at all difficult for a community of Christian leaders, who are almost exclusively white, heterosexual men, to advocate interpretations that can be very impractical for a historically oppressed minority to which they do not belong – homosexuals." Sure that works if you set aside the unanimous verdict of church history on the issue (church history is culturally and temporally diverse) and the fact that especially in the Anglican community the most vocal opponents to homosexual bishops and marriage is coming not from "white males" but from the global south. One cannot help but think this is the Monty Python argument "Help! Help! I'm being repressed"

Here's the crux of the argument:
Whether the topic is hair length, celibacy, when life begins, or divorce, time and again, the leaders most opposed to gay marriage have demonstrated an incredible willingness to consider nuances and complicating considerations when their own interests are at stake.
The fails on two accounts: (1) Evangelicals have spent volumes wrestling just as carefully with the homosexual texts as they have with other texts. Again the author acts like evangelicals dismiss certain texts by fiat and then basically pleads "if you do it there, do it here in these texts--abandon your interpretation of the texts on homosexuality that disagree with me." (2) He implies leaders "bend the rules" when their interests are at stake but with homosexual personal interests are not at stake. This fails to recognized that God's pattern for sexuality and marriage is very much at stake. What has driven evangelicals in all this issue has been faithfulness to the text. The argument here is a bit like saying "you cannot make moral pronouncements on murder unless you are a murderer."

The conclusion of the article is laced with irony: "Opponents of gay marriage aren’t defending the Bible’s values. They’re using the Bible to defend their own." --and what have opponents of traditional marriage and sexuality been doing?

When you boil down all the shoddy argumentation and bad historiography all you end up with the unsupported thesis 'If you oppose homosexuality you are oppressive and imposing your moral will on me--and what gives you the right to act that way?' But here is the sad little irony because of the un-nuanced argument, the flagrant generalizations, poor historiography and clear misrepresentation, the only thing this the author really has to offer us is the force of his moral will--and what makes his moral will any better?

We might just as easily say: opponents of traditional sexuality "aren’t defending the Bible’s values. They’re using the Bible to defend their own" --unfortunately space does not permit us to substantiate that claim.
"The Voyages..." Forays into Biblical studies, Biblical exegesis, theology, exposition, life, and occasionally some Star Trek...