We all know what the uh oh point is in various situations. The person you thought might be a new good friend invites you over for a business opportunity presentation. Uh oh. The church gets in a financial jam and “stewardship Sunday” seems to come round more and more frequently. Uh oh. But the point of writing about finances is not so that we would be able to accomplish what we have undertaken, but rather so that we would do it right. “But [the Israelites] lusted exceedingly in the wilderness, and tested God in the desert. And He gave them their request, but sent leanness into their soul” (Ps. 106:14-15).
“For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him” (2 Chron. 16:9).
In the context, Asa the king had been rebuked for his “political realism.” He had relied on the king of Syria when the Lord had previously shown that He was able to save apart from such fleshly support. Because of this folly, the Lord promised Asa the trouble of wars. Asa then compounded his sin by refusing to accept the rebuke.
So God’s eyes run to and fro through the entire earth. God is omniscient. He knows everything, and as this figure of speech shows, He knows everything actively. He does not simply register the information—He seeks it out, He knows everything because He has sought out everything. He is our Father, not an impersonal computer with all knowledge passively resident in His memory. He knows. God’s omniscience does not simply mean that He could successfully answer any question put to Him— pass any test. Rather it means that He immediately knows all things regardless of whether we pose the question.
This is the God who intervenes in our lives. God delights to manifest His strength in the earth. His omnipotence is not a closely guarded heavenly secret. His interventions are on behalf of some people, and not others. Some churches are blessed, and others not, based upon God’s actions, which in turn are fully consistent with His infinite and inexhaustible knowledge.
He does what He does on the basis of heart loyalty. Why blessings in this place, and not in that place? His knowledge is perfect—there is no nook or cranny in the universe in which God and all His knowledge is not fully present. Because we have material bodies, extended in space, there are parts of us (i.e. our feet) which are quite ignorant. But God is not like this; He is omnipresent, and everywhere He is, all His knowledge resides. These doctrines do not mean you must always reckon with at least a part of God. No man ever reckoned with anything less than His full and triune majesty. This is the God who intervenes in our lives on the basis of heart loyalty.
So what does this have to do with financial basics?
“Jesus tells us to rejoice when we are slandered, because, He says, our reward is great in Heaven. But there is another reason to rejoice. There are many times, particularly with the issues that swirl around in our culture wars, when these slanders arise, not from our enemy’s malice, but from their fears. Instead of being indignant, we should think about how we can use that sort of thing” (Rules, p. 49).
“In other words, The Holy Spirit produces uppity speech” (Willimon, Proclamation and Theology, p. 27).
I would like to get my observations in now because as soon as anything real — anything beyond media speculation — starts happening, the massive Republican field of contenders will be much smaller, yay, and yet it will then be too late to make some of these observations. The silent primary, going on now, has to do with raising money. That will result in the first wave of cuts, coming soon. Then the debates and elections will start, and that will be the second wave of cuts.
Mitt Romney: if Romney had won in 2012, there is a high likelihood that Obamacare would have been made permanent. With Obama’s re-election, there is a real possibility that the whole thing will come out a smoldering ruin. Let this be a lesson to us, children. And Romney is just now climbing onto the climate change bandwagon. Nothing to do but gesture helplessly to the silent sky, which answereth not. Where do we get these people?
Rand Paul: a Paul presidency would do a lot of good things, and a handful of very, very bad things. I think we would probably come out to the good, but that is by no means certain. His odds in a general election would be much better than his chances in primaries. But that is like saying that someone’s chances of passing their thesis at Harvard are much better than their chances of admission to Harvard.
Ted Cruz: this is a man who should not be underestimated. He is very smart, and he knows that pretty much the only thing Washington needs is combative confrontation. He has been a faithful senator that way, and I like him a lot. At the same time, his personal demeanor is too unctuous for me. What makes for a good president is not necessarily what makes for a good candidate.
Mike Huckabee: this is a man whose appeal is to readers of The Saturday Evening Post, circa 1985. That is a strong demographic in some primaries like Iowa, but it is not exactly the wave of the future. His aw shucks persona is enough to make the back teeth ache.
Jeb Bush: he is near the front of the pack now because he is a plausible candidate on behalf of the Republican establishment, and because of his last name. But at the same time, he is winsome, articulate and razor sharp. Once the debates start, look for him to start winning people over. His stances on immigration and common core will be a real challenge in the primaries, but I do think he has the capacity to persuade conservatives that other issues are more important.
“At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Ps. 16: 11)
The Basket Case Chronicles #178
“Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain” (1 Cor. 15:12–14).
Given that the fundamental Christian proclamation is that Jesus came out of the tomb on the third day, how is it that some people in a Christian congregation were maintaining that there is no resurrection of the dead. They appear to be maintaining this about a future general resurrection, but Paul pushes the logic of their position out to the end. If there is no resurrection of the dead at the end of history, then there certainly was no resurrection of the dead in Jesus in the middle of history. And if Jesus was not raised in the middle of history, then our preaching is as vain as that of an Episcopalian bishop, and our faith is as futile as that of a congregation of mainline Presbyterians who got their liberal on.
The goal here is not to get into household finances, but rather the financing of the work of the kingdom of God. This relates to household finances at some point, obviously, but the purpose here is to address finances at the kingdom level. The amount of material on this subject in the Bible is simply immense, but many of the passages are neglected in our common preaching and teaching on the subject. This can be the result of fear, or ignorance, or self-pity, but the end result is the same. When God’s Word is squeezed out, for whatever reason, the methods and words of men will always come in to take its place. And when it comes to money, men do have their traditions.
“You then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”” (Romans 2:21–24, ESV)
When disobedience is common, there are usually excuses for that disobedience. What are some of them? It is important to note by the way that the excuses, while remaining excuses, are not necessarily false. Excuse makers frequently have a point.
First, the leaders of the church provoke the people:
“And we have sent with him the brother, whose praise is in the gospel throughout all the churches; And not that only, but who was also chosen of the churches to travel with us with this grace, which is administered by us to the glory of the same Lord, and declaration of your ready mind: Avoiding this, that no man should blame us in this abundance which is administered by us: Providing for honest things, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men” (2 Cor. 8:18–21).
Paul knew how easy an accusation of financial mismanagement is to make. He also knew the importance of being prepared in advance to rebut such slanders. When this does not happen, Christian leaders positively create reasons to avoid giving.
Second, the people in the church provoke their leaders:
“Prophets are those who have unusual gifts for discernment into the purposes of God and who are unusually bold in bringing those purposes to speech” (Willimon, Proclamation and Theology, p. 22)
1. Our starting point for all discussions of biblical authority should begin with an affirmation of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. More needs to said on this subject than was said there, but not less. Fruitful discussion can take place only among those who can honestly sign that statement. With those who cannot sign it, our duty is that of charitable debate and refutation.
2. Obedience is a key element in exegetical understanding. Obedience is the opener of eyes. Without obedient application, the text is not really being studied.
3. Affirmations of biblical authority are worthless unless we understand that the contemporary secular challenges to biblical authority create enormous pressure on those affirming inerrancy to develop interpretive workarounds, such that inerrancy can be formally affirmed while being practically denied. Examples of such pressures today would include biblical teaching on sexuality and human origins.
4. Scripture is given to us as seed, and is therefore intended to grow and flower down through history. The Word of God is living and active and this extends to more than just the personal conversion of individuals. The living Word is intended by its growth to shape and govern all of human history. The development of unbelief in history has no authority to dictate the contents of the seed.
5. The spirit of liberalism wants to detach this life and growth from the seed, in order to shape an autonomous direction for that life and growth. The spirit of blinkered conservatism wants to keep things orthodox by keeping the seed deep frozen in the shape of a seed. But the nature of the plant depends upon absolute allegiance to the seed, and the nature of the seed requires growth and development that is fully in line with the intention of the one who gave the seed.
6. This growth means that in addition to the autographic meaning of the text, there may also be additional (non-contradictory) canonical meanings to the text. The original Masoretic text says “my ear you have opened” (Ps. 40:6), while the New Testament citation of this passage, using the LXX, says “a body you have prepared for me” (Heb. 10:5). This latter meaning is a canonical meaning, fully consistent with the autographic meaning, while plainly not meaning the same thing.
7. While no “normative revelation has been given since the completion of the New Testament writings,” canonical meanings can be expected to develop in post-apostolic history as well. Examples would be the development of the Table of Contents of Scripture itself, the growth of Trinitarian understanding, and the gracious God-given knowledge that justification is by faith alone.
8. Dealing with such issues honestly and with theological and intellectual integrity is necessary to prevent young biblical scholars from coming to believe that they must choose between inerrancy and personal honesty. Presented with this false choice, too many have discovered that choosing “personal honesty” leads them straight into professional and personal dishonesty.
9. We must therefore reject a biblicist primitivism that regards it a higher way, for example, to “get back” to chanting psalms in Hebrew. If God had been all that enamored of Hebrew, He wouldn’t have switched to Greek for the New Testament. If you had two buttons in front of you, one which would make everyone in your congregation a superb Hebraist, able to chant the psalms just the way David chanted them, and the other button giving you a congregation that contained several Greek and Hebrew scholars to help keep things honest, but the congregation was acquainted with and well-versed in the history of Christian psalms and hymns, along with other songs from around the world, in various styles, and was also a congregation engaged in composing new music for the psalter that would make David go hmmmmm, which button would you push? And, just as an aside, which one did God push?
10. The Bible itself gives us the standards of truth and accuracy that we must use in judging all things. A false precisionist approach, in which words are believed to have decimal points, seeks to judge Scripture with a set of idolatrous standards. But the Enlightenment does not judge the Bible — rather the Bible judges the Enlightenment, in part by growing right past it.
11. The Word of God is absolute truth, the breath of God, silver that has been refined seven times.