N.T. Wright Rides a Pale Horse

Peter Enns asks N.T. Wright a question here, and I would like to kibbitz about the answer for a little bit. After I weary of that, I shall lay myself down to rest a while, and then rise up again for some fresh kibbitzing in the morning.

In his answer, Wright says that in America the conservative/liberal spectrum in politics generally matches up with the conservative/liberal spectrum in theology, and he points out, quite accurately, that it is not this way in other countries,  but rather far otherwise. From the way he framed the answer, it appeared to me that he was talking in this instance about economics, so I shall take it that way in what follows. He makes the point that those who are conservative theologically across the pond are often passionately in the forefront of causes that we would here call left wing. I think this is true as well. I also think it is good that we are saved by grace, and not by works. If it were by works, our economic incompetence would leave a bunch of us hosed.

What I mean is this — many who claim to love Jesus with their theology hate the poor with their economics, and I think we should stop being okay with that. I frankly think we should knock it off — the gospel is not some airy fairy thing that fails to apply to how people have to live out their actual lives. When Jesus taught us to feed the poor, instead of turning their place of habitation into a desolation, this necessarily excludes every form of Keynesianism.

Now I also admit that the previous paragraph has a case of the cutes, but I also want to maintain — in deadly earnest — that leftism of every stripe is a poisonous and lying cheat. This being the case, it does not matter how many vibrant Christians, conservative in their theology, sign on board. How many robust Christians would have to believe in it before water would start flowing uphill?

Think back a couple centuries, and I will speak to you in a parable. There was a doctor who traveled all over his region, and he was fully trained in the best science of his day. Unfortunately, this included the doctrine of the bodily humors, and so wherever he went, he would bleed many of his patients — some a half pint, some a pint, and some a quart. Because he was a diligent man, this regimen would be applied daily. He was compassionate, he was vibrant in his faith, he was a Trinitarian, and he believed in the resurrection of Jesus. He also rode a pale horse.

Think carefully about how Wright answered this question. He says that the conservative match-up between theology and politics is an American thing, and where he comes from we find a different match-up entirely.

Now there are different directions we can go with this. We might conclude, for example, that Jesus doesn’t care what our economic policies are, so long as we love Him. Or we might decide that those who are conservative in their economics need to quit it, and become progressive, because that’s what Jesus wants. Or we might go the other way, and say that the progressives ought to become conservatives, also in the name of Jesus. The correct answer, boys and girls, is the last one.

The first one is out because we are told to seek the good of the city where we dwell (Jer. 29:7). We are instructed to do good to all men (1 Thess. 5:15). Apathy and indifference are therefore out. The second option is excluded for the same reason, only more so. If we are told to do good to all men, not only does it exclude leaving them alone in their misery, it also excludes doing bad things to them, creating misery for them. Keynesianism destroys jobs, wages, families, neighborhoods, education, opportunity, and more. How is it seeking the good of the city to saddle them with sub-standard schools? How is it seeking the good of the city to start subsidizing waste, fraud and abuse? All such meddling is economic stupidity, and God did not tell His people to fan out over the globe, doing stupid things to people.

Incidentally, while we are here, in the midst of my robust defense of true free markets, which only the Spirit of God can bring about through the gospel by setting men free from their envy and their covetousness gimmes, I anticipate a misleading challenge from the hipster left, alleging that I am simply defending our current system of crony capitalism, and worse, doing it all in the name of Jesus. To this I will simply reply that I was fighting crony capitalism (what I call crapitalism) when they were still in short pants, and observe, in addition, that if the world’s poor could be fed with leftist ignorance of economics, the world would have been satiated generations ago. If leftist nostrums were Joseph’s fat cows, what a fine world this would be!

When Wright says that there are a bunch of Christians in other places who are leftist in their economic politics, he is not telling us anything new. But what is his implication? He doesn’t state it outright, but the clear hint is that American Christians have spent too much time on the farm, and they need to visit the big Keynesian city sometime, and gaze at all the bright lights. Our facile identification of conservative theology and conservative politics is way too American and provincial, he would say.

Now if this is right, then it is right, and we should do as he says. But if it is wrong . . . and it is wrong . . . we shouldn’t. But our response should not be to simply bonk heads over it. We need to have a debate. Does the gospel of Christ, in setting men free, bring in free markets or not? I would be happy to take the affirmative.

Jesus is not a Keynesian, any more than Coriakin was a tall Dufflepud.

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78 comments on “N.T. Wright Rides a Pale Horse

  1. It seems that we are presuming the “feed the poor” command must be carried out through the economic policies of the government and therefore that being conservative theologically and conservative economically are incompatable.

    The simple fact is that the Biblical command to feed the poor should be taken in the context of the command to make disciples. Therefore giving a drink of water to the thirsty should be accompanied by the opportunity to add: “by the way, let me tell you about this other cup of living water that will quench your thirst for ever.” Unfortunately, our laws have been interpreted in a way that prohibits our government from offering the latter cup, making the efforts of the economically liberal commendable but irreperably incompatable with any theology that recognizes the more important need of the poor. The Bible never suggests we should use the government to feed the poor – that’s the job of the church.

    All this to say that calling out the theologically conservative for not obeying the “feed the poor” command due to their economic conservatism presumes, in error, that being against the government feeding the poor is the same as being against feeding the poor altogether.

  2. There are some other things going on here as well.

    American Christians tend to treat the constitution the same way they exegete the Bible.

    Second, the term “liberal” and “conservative” doesn’t have a nice lineal spectrum because in those terms is conflated both economics and social values. So, for instance, you have libertarians who are economically conservative and socially liberal. The Christians in Great Britain tend to be economically liberal but socially conservative.

  3. Doug, I’ don’t think Keynesianism means what you think it means. The followers of Keynes, the followers of the Austrian school, and the followers of the Freiburg school all have the same goal, but different methodologies.

  4. Oh, and for the record, I’m no follower of Keynes. My sympathies lie with the Freiburg school.

  5. Doug, I think you protest too much. Or maybe overact a little too much. I am torn. I get your point. I do. And I get the dangers of the Bio Logos Foundation. The likes of Peter Jones have more than adequately pointed out their flirting paganism… but I also would have a hard tie being sold into believing that Wright even as a colleague of Collins and Enns would hold to version of “Fristianity”. He knows better an dhas demonstrated as much many times over. My concern though are the free market ideals… no truely free markets exist… esp in America… I would dare say none have… the Law always functioned as a boundary (a a government) to keep us “accountable”… Too I am concerned with the conservative camps which both you and Wright address, like the “libs” they are whores too… victims (or agents) in the idolatry of man and man made systems… What I really don’t get though, is why the uncharacteristic shrill of your piece today over something so small and passing… What am I missing?!

  6. The notion that the poor are to be ministered to by the State is an idea that needs to die a horrible death before the poor do. The magistrate is God’s appointed minister of wrath, not of mercy. The sword that it bears makes a lousy soup spoon. Is there a more powerful recipe for unintended consequences, envy and bitterness? As the U.S. slides further from a republic toward a democracy (against which there is no check or balance), our government’s power base rests, increasingly, with those whose votes can be most cheaply bought with promises and with other people’s money. Namely the poor and dependent. The State is not motivated to destroy its power base, but to grow fresh dependents with each election cycle. Currently, in the U.S., one in seven people receives government food assistance. Ponder that for a moment.

    Those who hate the Church’s God-given role with regard to the truly needy have stood in the way long enough. The Church is already in such a weak condition (see NT Wright’s own house in his own country) that the burden of the truly poor easily overwhelms it today. That needs to change quickly. The socialist States are unsustainable, and a vacuum is forming. We may be headed for a very painful lesson. Someone needs to start thinking about the poor and stop experimenting on them. Let the Church be the agent of compassion that she is most suited to be. Stop resisting the created gender roles.

  7. Not that I’m a Keynesian, but “Jesus is not a Keynesian . . .” Could you point me to some resources and evidence that, you know, proves this?

  8. Unjust Weights and Measures are a feature of Keynesian thought.

  9. Sorry, I should rather say that Unjust Weights and Measures are a feature of Keynesian practice.

  10. L Butler, could you please support that assertion? For instance, to keep it on a popular level, could you demonstrate where in the Wikipedia discussion of Keynesian Economics unjust weights are a necessary component of the system?

  11. Bro Roger: search “Jesus is Libertarian” for lots of stuff, pro and con, on that topic (“Jesus is Libertarian Lohr” will find mine, tho I barely get to economics).

    http://www.garynorth.com/freebooks/sidefrm2.htm links, I think, to a book called Productive Christians in an Age of Guilt Maniplators, by David Chilton (or go to http://www.garynorth.com/freebooks and look for it.) A response to Ronald Sider’s Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger. I found Chilton fun to read. Someone in his line of fire might not. North’s own Unconditional Surrender is a short, readable systematic theology that includes something on economics and politics.

    I like to cite I Sam 8, God’s small-government advice to Israel’s constitutional convention; also Romans 13 and I Timothy 2 with very short lists of jobs for government to do. In Luke 22:25 Jesus said (paraphrased), The rulers of the unbelievers exercise lordship over them, and those who tell them what to do call themselves benefactors–hinting, I think, that He could find something else to call them. In the context He’s calling for a different kind of greatness. Lev iticus 19:15 and Exodus 23:3 warn against the sin of favoritism to the poor. The opposite sin, more popular, is more warned against, but this is sin too.

    The US economy grew faster A.D. 1840-1860, when the cabinet had about six departments and banks printed their own money, than it has grown in any 20-year-period since. (My source for that is a friendly communist professor’s syllabus for a course on, as I recall, the “robber barons.”)

    FWIW. Yours in Christ Jesus, from Andrew

  12. Weren’t most White Southern Christians part of the Democratic party during the Depression, when Keynesian economics first took off under FDR?

    For the most part, White Christians in general (and White Southern Christians in particular) didn’t start lining up behind the Republican party until after 1955, and not in full until the Nixon/Ford/Reagan era. And I’m pretty sure that a rejection of Keynesian economics wasn’t the driving force that brought them there.

    I agree with the basic premise that good theologians don’t tend to make great economists. But it does seem that the alignment of American conservatives with the Republican party and Republican economics has far more to do with race, abortion, and homosexual rights than it does with some deeper American knowledge of Jesus’s anti-Keynesian nature.

  13. Everybody should read Jonathan Haidt, including Bishop Wright.

    First of all we have to get a few things straight: there are essentially three political orientations, not two:

    1. Left wing liberalism/socialism
    2. Right wing liberalism/classical liberalism/libertarianism/neoconservatism
    3. Traditionalist conservatism

    The first two are variations on each other. They share the same moral basis, but disagree on technique. They agree that morality boils down to happiness, suffering and how to divide those things up. Bentham + Rawls. Libertarians are a little more cold blooded and rational, and so they can understand the economics of how to actually deliver the utility in utilitarianism.

    Traditionalist conservatives are something altogether different. They agree that happiness, suffering and how to divide those things up are important moral questions, but they also think that holiness/purity/sanctity, ingroup loyalty, and respect for authority are also important moral considerations in themselves.

    What’s a bit weird is that in the modern world, libertarians, traditionalist conservatives and, let’s be honest, a bunch of crony capitalists have joined together in an unwieldly coalition to oppose the dominant left liberal establishment. The coalition has worked for awhile because libertarians and conservatives do have a fair bit in common, such as a preference for decentralization and a strong support for law and order. There was also the threat of communism, which helped paper over quite a few differences. The problem is that they do not share a common moral outlook, and while they may arrive at many of the same conclusions, they do so through a different route. Furthermore, the traditionalist conservatives have seen very little of their agenda implemented because the voting public are largely liberal, whether of the right wing or left wing variety, and, as such, have no taste for social conservative policy at any but the most anodyne of levels.

    Many Christians, who might otherwise look favourably on a traditionalist conservative politics, take a look at this often utterly incoherent coalition, see that it is only the crony capitalists and the libertarians whose policies actually get implemented and, not entirely without reason, want to wash themselves of the whole thing. (They also tend to see that libertarians are often such radical individualists that they hate religion and community even on a local and informal level.) This is doubly true of Christian academics and wannabe academics who want to get along with their secular left liberal colleagues in the intelligentsia. Doesn’t hurt if you are also economically illiterate and can’t see that the libertarians are actually right about a few things.

    One thing that Wright is wrong about: religious people everywhere (including Christians in Britain) tend to be right wing and support right wing political parties. The right wing parties in Britain and Europe may be even more secularized than in the U.S., so they may not support them with as much fervour as in the States, but the trend is still there. Again the stats don’t lie and Haidt has the stats. Wright does not.

  14. In the real world, how these moral foundations get applied to voting etc. is not always 100% straightforward. Many black Christians in the U.S. are traditionalist conservatives who vote Democrat out of ethnic loyalty, a conservative moral foundation. They put up with the abortion and gay stuff, but aren’t happy about it. In the end it’s because they don’t trust whitey. Unions and such too used to rely a lot on the conservative moral foundations (http://bigthink.com/the-moral-sciences-club/why-re-unionization-wont-happen). As the left wing parties have become more and more thoroughly liberal in their moral sentiments, they haven’t been able to muster much of the group loyalty necessary to make unions effective.

  15. Jonathan:

    Take a look at that Will Wilkinson article. Explains a lot.

  16. We really have to agree on a definition of conservative.
    As a person living in one of these other countries (Australia) let me tell you that there are a lot of people who are hanging onto “conservative” doctrines as cultural heirlooms but not as thought out biblical convictions. Yes they believe in the resurrection, but they haven’t been pushed on that one yet. They wear grandma’s engagement ring, “It’s so beautiful and, you know, meaningful.” but have also moved in with the boyfriend.
    In fact, whenever the world has pushed them they have listened to the world’s wisdom and not the Word. A generation or two ago the liberals were attacking theology, this was where the worldly capitulated. Incarnation, Resurrection. These days worldliness enters the church through these sentimental issues like poverty, equity, and a woman’s right to keep her 17 year old body.
    If you define conservative as listening to God through his Word then Wright’s conclusion falls apart. An honest look discovers that conservatives care about the poor, wow, that conservatives care about human rights, yes, but they’re not left very often and not for long.
    Those who are on the left bandwagons are often shaped by the world and not the Word and when they take on that orientation their conservatism becomes very thin and brittle very quickly.
    Just an outsiders perspective.

  17. Golly Mr. Wilslon,
    Looks like you touched a nerve. Who knew people cared so deeply about stuff they’ll never *really* do anything about – except maybe for a handful of us being arrogant enough *not* to help those in need.

  18. Michael:

    Being a conservative is a moral orientation, not an attitude towards change. Again see Haidt. Many supposed Christians are only Christians out of inertia/cultural nostalgia. (You might want to check out the Willie Nelson song Family Bible as a particularly grand example, but there are many others in the country and gospel music worlds.)

  19. Don’t care what N.T. Wright thinks…

    …just sayin…

  20. Wright is a wishy-washy Anglican who plays the political card too often. He backed Rowan Williams, whose term as Archbishop of Canterbury was a disaster. He has never taken a stand against the erosion of Christian doctrine and discipline in the Church of England.

  21. If I may stick my head into this dark paneled room filled with cigar smoke and billiards for just a second, I’d like to say that your opening paragraph, Mr. Wilson, has had me chuckling all day. Loved it!

  22. [...] admitted this was the case as an historical fact, but took issue with whether this meant that the American alliance is wrong. Obviously, as a good libertarian, [...]

  23. [...] admitted this was the case as an historical fact, but took issue with whether this meant that the American alliance is wrong. Obviously, as a good libertarian, [...]

  24. I’m sorry, but there is no command to “feed the poor”. There is a command to become poor, follow me, and escape the wrath that is to come, but hardly anything so quaint as the dull humanitarianism splashed all over this post.

  25. Just to say — thanks for the free publicity, Doug, but too bad I simply don’t recognise myself either in your portrait or in some of what’s said below. Not least Alice Linsley . . . you might want to try reading the things I was writing and saying throughout my time in Durham. . .
    My only real point was that as a Brit who spends a fair amount of time in America I find the American debates — including those reflected in this blog — to work with a completely different set of assumptions to those elsewhere, including Europe. This doesn’t mean Americans are wrong in the way they line things up and the rest of us are right, but it ought to give us all some critical distance on all of our polarizations.
    I don’t normally look at blogsites but a friend suggested I should glance at this one. I’m just a tad sorry I took his advice.
    Good wishes to one and all, though
    Tom Wright

    Prof N T Wright
    St Andrews

  26. Dr. Wright, you might be a “tad sorry” you came by, but I am not. Thanks much for the response, and good wishes back at you. We agree on the need for “critical distance,” and I hope to have more to say about that anon.

  27. Doug,

    Again, I think you over reacted in your post (a “pale” horse, really??). It all seemed a bit excessive especially with your exegesis of the “subtext”… but even now, as gracious and candid as Prof Wright was to you – you start off with, “you might be a “tad sorry” you came by, but I am not.”

    It all sounds so adolescent. Truthfully, you (along with Leithart, Sumpter and your son, save a few others) are the remaining handful of sane people in the reformed American tradition. I have been personally edified by your ministry for over a decade and a half now… I read your blog daily – and this series was the first I ever commented on. I don’t now, for someone who more often than not seems to clearly walk with God, who has insights into may hearts of the matter, who is a brilliant communicator, etc, etc. – you seemed like an “f”ing re-re in this post and your last comment.

    Almost like a home schooled kid (the older dorky kind from last generation) who became and RCUS pastor who is , shal we say, socially “awkward”

    I expected more from you – I hope you. More class, more integrity, more pastoral discretion. That typical and becoming someone of your life experience and training – not that of the surrounding reformed immarture ass-hats

  28. [...] sentiments expressed in R.J. Moeller’s recent Acton Commentary, Douglas Wilson offers a sharp critique of Wright’s response, pointing out that “many who claim to love Jesus with their theology hate [...]

  29. sorry lots of typos – but i think you get the point nontheless

  30. Huh, and this whole time we thought you were just falling on deaf ears ;-)

  31. Uh, George – you do realize that Doug was quoting Wright in his “tad sorry” comment, right?

  32. Can you clarify what you are saying John? I can’t actually tell if you are saying that God is not asking to feed the hungry, or if you’re saying that God asks us to feed the hungry in a far more profound way than the caricature here.

  33. One of the chief reasons that minorities have an opposition to truly free markets is that free markets have been used to promote economic racial discrimination. Since the Civil Rights Movement, Blacks, Mexicans Americans (not talking about illegals or their children) and every other minority group has seen significant inroads into economic opportunity within out current system. Why should they want a truly free economy?

  34. Is it silly to poke my head out from behind my GK Chesterton books and offer it up for sniping in order to throw Distributism into the conversation?

  35. I really don’t care to comment about the tone and such, or what Wright said or didn’t say. But I do want to comment on what this post tries to do, which is establish a Biblical argument for free enterprise, and counter any support Christians might give to statist solutions to economic issues. I have a book somewhere in my stacks called “Is Capitalism Christian?” which I haven’t read in a very long time and which unfortunately is by the now lefty Frank Schaeffer. I think that is the wrong question. The question should rather be which economic system or economic arrangements ought Christians to support, which way of structuring our economic and political interactions is most faithful to the Christian worldview. Between primarily statist driven solutions and primarily free market ones, it’s not even close. Christians who support any variation of progressivism are either duped or ignorant. “Wealth and Poverty” by George Gilder would be a good start for shining the light of truth on such ignorance.

  36. On Mike’s point above, another great book is “Money, Greed, and God” by Jay Richards.

  37. It seems to me, the Brits are as usual, overtly condescending to us western Yankee’s. Like you know, “dumb hicks” cannot clearly understand the rest of the world. Our capitalism is wrong, our foreign policies are wrong, we are wrong, we are too conservative, even our liberals, according to their astute aged learnedness. Well, In my opinion, they still have not recovered from their dismal defeat by us rogue patriots. We have major flaws and blind spots to our issues too be sure. Yet, wasn’t it our ingenuity and tenacity that has brought the world pretty much every major advancement in human history in the last two hundred years or so?

  38. Thanks, Darius. It’s been on my Amazon wish list for too long, so just bought it!

  39. N.T. Wright is a frustrating character in God’s Kingdom. He is not edgy enough for the American consumer audience. He has the intellectual credentials, and the ear of the radical liberal theologizers and intelligentsia (he seems to work hard to maintain access to their circles), but he moves like a snail in the wake of their agenda. I would give him credit for breaking ranks to take an unpopular position on the homosexual agenda, for example. That surely cost him something. But again, it was really too little, too late, particularly in light of his capitulation to the feminist agenda inside the Church. I can’t picture a gentleman like Wright getting rowdy in a debate. If there was a wound that called for a tourniquet, I would expect to see N.T. Wright dabbing at it gently. Is it just a British thing? Can’t be, given his alter ego, Piers Morgan. So is it just a personality thing? Wright doesn’t come across as especially timid either.

    As Wilson has observed before, as someone who has studied Paul as intensely as N.T. Wright clearly has done, it seems that Paul’s (or Christ’s) scrappy demeanor and debating tactics have had little shaping influence on Wright’s methods. That is truly sad because N.T. Wright has an overwhelming amount of horsepower for such a pale horse. Paul’s love for the sheep looked a certain way when the sheep were being scattered.

    One could assume that Wright is being crafty and subversive. Operating deep under cover. I would give him the benefit of the doubt that he has a long term vision, but I wonder if all of the opportunities to have struck are behind him now. Perhaps he has eaten too much of the king’s meat. I think it’s really about discerning the time, and letting that inform our tactics. The Anglican Church in England really is in shambles, even relative to modern evangelicalism. I don’t say that in spite, but just look at it. Major identity crisis. Diagnosis is the first step, but Wright doesn’t seem to want to name the liberalism that caused it to unwind. It’s staring him in the face.

    I believe Wilson’s conferences still feature several of Wright’s books at the book table, and that’s mainly how I was introduced to him. (That and the FV controversy.) N.T. Wright has definitely shaped and clarified my views of justification and imputation in a positive way (in certain aspects I find him more persuasive than Doug Wilson), and Wright’s “…for Everyone” series of books alone have probably done more, practically, to serve the Kingdom than all of us put together. God is pleased to write His servants into the story as He sees fit, but it sure seems to me that N.T. Wright has a lot of potential that has gone unrealized. I think this is what Doug is getting at as well. Will history remember Wright as one who stood at the anvil and never struck the iron?

  40. Here is a paper I wrote on these issues: “Poverty, Economics, and Greed: A Christian Perspective”:

    http://www.scribd.com/doc/37063377/Poverty-Economics-And-Greed-A-Christian-Perspective-Nick-Hill

  41. (Part, relevant here, of a response to the pingback on failures of capitalism)
    :
    When Christians say “capitalism” or “libertarianism” we may not agree with everything that goes by those names (how can we?), or with every jot and tittle of some system using those names; we may agree with the drift–government should be a lot smaller–and be willing to qualify details as needed. When Pastor Wilson mentioned N. T. Wright and then slammed Keynes, I suspect Wilson meant that Wright favors liberal (big government) politics, not that Wright agrees with every jot and tittle of Keynesianism; and I suspect Professor Wright may have taken this more personally than it was meant, instead of accepting Wilson’s invitation to reconsider whether God favors big-government-ism or disfavors it.

    Since God is practical–the Word became flesh–God favors what is really logical and what really works; so the [overstated] von Mises logical approach and an empirical approach should, and I think do, tend to confirm the wisdom of the economics that are Biblical.

  42. Jonathan,

    Sure, but I’ll probably regret it.

    There is no command to “feed the poor”, as if this somehow was Jesus’ intention for your “Christian” life. He never imagined your “Christian” life in the first place. He did imagine God’s Kingdom coming, and coming so suddenly there wasn’t much time to prepare for it, and with it the judgment of the world. He imagined relief for the poor in his own time, to the extent there would be any, coming primarily from the wealth divestiture of the repentant, but never imagined their poverty would be eradicated in any final sense, for the simple reason that the coming of the kingdom would pre-empt the process. And besides, if his followers gave all to the poor and followed him as he commanded, they would become the new poor, so, as he said, the poor you have always with you.

    Needless to say he was mistaken about the coming of the final judgment. Like the subsequent Jerusalem community, we have a humanitarian Christianity which grows in part because it is generous to the poor, but along comes a famine and they need a St. Paul to collect money from the Gentile capitalists to bail them out, or they need rich members of the congregation, now often little old widow ladies, who have deep pockets to build a new wing on the building which will pretend to be the glory of God but will sit vacant and unused most of the time, gobbling up electricity, natural gas, water and time.

    By all means feed the poor. Just remember that if we really believed in the teaching of Jesus, we’d become them.

  43. John, maybe Jonathan understands you after your explanation, but I sure don’t. Are you denouncing Christ as not knowing how things would and will shake down?

    It seems, and I can be mistaken, that you’re slighting Christ in favor of those “Gentile capitalists” who have to bail out the “true” Christians.

    Is that what you’re saying?

  44. Oh, man, Mark, I am sorry, I missed that… thanks for pointing that out… I am not sure how I even got the quotation marks right from his quote. Thank providence.

    My point is that it seemed to me (granted completely subjective here), that Doug’s reply was short, not too hospitable and somewhat “immature”. My point stands, “Uh” even though Doug is quoting Tom.

    I can’t believe the emotions that this post has brought out in people – absolutely fascinating, and might just in some kind of a way, give credence to the very thing Tom was trying to hint at before his generalizations and sub text were diagramed and parsed out

  45. because he is quoting Tom

  46. George, I was trying to be entirely gracious to Wright. He said he was a “tad sorry” he came by, and I was trying to say, no, please don’t be a tad sorry you came by. I am glad he came by, and not so I could try to pop him one. I was trying to let him have the last word (in the comments thread).

    But that said, I will post something else on his point about “critical distance” shortly.

  47. Wesley,

    Well, yes, technically speaking, I am denouncing Christ because he was mistaken about the Kingdom of God, but maybe more to the point I’m denouncing Christians because they do not obey him, nor have the character to admit it.

    “No one can be my disciple who does not bid farewell to everything that he has.”

    Still, one has to admire Jesus for his moral vision, his faith in God and in God’s justice, and his courage in attacking the religious authorities who perverted it all. As for St. Paul, at least he earned his own keep, paid his own way, and financed his own operation, which is more than can be said for most of you.

    “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”

  48. John seems to have traded in one error for another. He recognizes (like few Christians seem to) that Jesus’ Kingdom plans were immanent, not deferred for some distant century. Jesus said that if He casts out demons in the name of the Father, then the Kingdom had come upon them. Jesus then proceeded to cast out demons.

    But somehow John reaches the blasphemous conclusion that Jesus was mistaken about the Kingdom and the coming judgment. John needs to consider that the world (“cosmos”, “order”) that consisted of the Judaic Temple system of types and shadows did, in fact, come to a dramatic end with God’s judgment on the generation that cried out to Pilate saying, “His blood be on us and our children”. Jesus’ prophecy concerning not one stone left on another was fulfilled with precision.

    John appears to have a notion that the Kingdom is supposed to descend, fully-formed, and since John can’t see that, then it must not have started. This simply ignores Jesus’ comparison of the arrival of the Kingdom to a mustard seed, or to leaven, which must grow and spread. We are to labor in the Kingdom, and to pray that it continue to come as God’s will is increasingly done on earth as in Heaven. We should not lose sight that the faith has grown, in fits and starts, from around 120 disciples at Christ’s ascension, to the dominant faith on the planet in our day. This is the general trend of the Kingdom, as in Ezekiel’s vision.

  49. Regarding John’s statement about feeding the poor, Lev 25:35 says “Now in case a countryman of yours becomes poor and falters with regard to you, then you are to sustain him, like a stranger or a sojourner, that he may live.”

    That sounds remarkably like a command to feed the poor, although if a man does not work, neither will he eat, so, outside of emergencies, this generally looks like staying out of their way and not hindering the poor, as in Lev 19:9-10:

    “Now when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. Nor shall you glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger. I am the LORD your God.”

    There is no mandate for God’s minister of wrath (the civic magistrate) to take up the cause of the poor. Rather the Church cares for the widow and orphan out of God’s tithe, and only then with certain qualifications. Where we go wrong is in thinking that the State is God’s agent of charity. It is not. It bears the sword as agent of God’s wrath.

  50. [...] the comments section of my recent post N.T. Wright Rides a Pale Horse, Tom Wright was kind enough to come by and leave a contribution to the [...]

  51. Katecho,

    You should know better.

    “But he spake of the temple of his body”, not of Herod’s.

    Even near to certain death Jesus believed the kingdom would come fully formed, and that the high priest himself would see it.

    “Again the high priest asked him, and said unto him, Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed? And Jesus said, I am: and ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.”

  52. Katecho,

    “Only then with certain qualifications”? What, the widow and the orphan aren’t qualified already? I suppose you expect them to work.

    “Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life . . . Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?”

  53. John<

    The way you are writing seems to imply that you don't believe that Jesus is God. You speak of Him as though He were merely a prophet or wise man.

    It may help you to better understand if you correct that error in your belief.

  54. John wrote:
    You should know better.

    “But he spake of the temple of his body”, not of Herod’s.

    This seems like a great place for a Bible lesson, so that we can all know better. Mablog John (not to be confused with the Apostle John) seems to have gotten his wires badly crossed regarding the reference to Christ’s prophecy concerning the destruction of the temple with “not one stone left on another”. When Jesus spoke of “the temple of His body” that was early in His ministry after having cleansed the temple with a whip. The jews confronted Jesus about what authority He drove out the money changers. Jesus cleansed the leprous house according to Levitic law, and by His priestly authority. God was still identified with His house and Jesus was consumed by zeal for that house (John 2:17). But after following the full ritual cleansing (see Lev 14:33-45), the house was still found to be leprous and unclean on final inspection. The Levitic prescription was that the contaminated house must therefore be destroyed by pulling apart all the stones. In regard to the temple, where once Christ would have identified it with His body, zealously, there would come a point where Herod’s temple would have to be condemned as unclean.

    In Luke 19:41-44 we see Christ’s prediction about the desolation of Jerusalem itself. Note how it cannot be made to refer metaphorically to Christ’s body, as Mablog John suggests:

    When He approached Jerusalem, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, “If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you when your enemies will throw up a barricade against you, and surround you and hem you in on every side, and they will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.”

    Christ is clearly not referring to His own body in that context, or when later speaking with His disciples about no stone being left on another. Jesus told the disciples that the timing of this destruction would be signaled by Jerusalem being surrounded by armies. This is precisely what happened within the generation standing there when He spoke.

    Mablog John continues:
    Even near to certain death Jesus believed the kingdom would come fully formed, and that the high priest himself would see it.

    “Again the high priest asked him, and said unto him, Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed? And Jesus said, I am: and ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.”

    Unfortunately, this quotation is not a description of the nature of the expansion of the Kingdom, which Jesus elsewhere likens to a growing mustard seed, and spreading leaven. Instead this is a description of the coming of the Son of Man into His power (which does happen all at once at the Ascension!). In other words, it is not describing the Kingdom coming down, but the Son of Man going up, up on the clouds of heaven, up to the Ancient of Days to be coronated as King at the right hand throne of power (see Daniel’s vision of the Son of Man in chapter 7:13-14 and note the direction is up to the Ancient of Days, not down). This is what Jesus was referring to, and it offended the high priest enough to tear his robe.

    The vindication and coronation of Christ was swift, but what does the rule and dominion of the Son of Man look like? Does it look like instant gratification without gospel labor? Does it look like a jack boot on the neck of an unwilling people? Or does it look like a gospel victory with nations being inherited and discipled and baptized into Christ in history? What does God’s Word say:

    but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, “sat down at the right hand of God”, waiting from that time onward “until His enemies be made a footstool for His feet”.

    Waiting? Waiting for victory. God is patient. That passage is Hebrews 10:12-13, quoting from Psalm 110 (the Lord speaking to my Lord). Mercy is found only at the footstool of Christ, but Christ is patient upon His throne. Look at what He has accomplished so far. He knew what He was talking about.

    Finally, we have Daniel’s vision of the kingdom of God, described as a small stone, that grows over time (like the mustard seed) until it becomes a mountain that covers the whole earth and consumes the other kingdoms of the earth progressively.

    “In the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever. Inasmuch as you saw that a stone was cut out of the mountain without hands and that it crushed the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold, the great God has made known to the king what will take place in the future; so the dream is true and its interpretation is trustworthy.” From Daniel 2:44-45.

    This is a trustworthy prophecy.

  55. John wrote:
    “What, the widow and the orphan aren’t qualified already? I suppose you expect them to work.”

    Mablog John seems to be unfamiliar with Scripture, and prone to sentimentalism.

    Honor widows who are widows indeed; but if any widow has children or grandchildren, they must first learn to practice piety in regard to their own family and to make some return to their parents; for this is acceptable in the sight of God. Now she who is a widow indeed and who has been left alone, has fixed her hope on God and continues in entreaties and prayers night and day. But she who gives herself to wanton pleasure is dead even while she lives.

    A widow is to be put on the list only if she is not less than sixty years old, the wife of one man, having a reputation for good works; and if she has brought up children, if she has shown hospitality to strangers, if she has washed the saints’ feet, if she has assisted those in distress, and if she has devoted herself to every good work. But refuse to put younger widows on the list, for when they feel sensual desires in disregard of Christ, they want to get married, thus incurring condemnation, because they have set aside their previous pledge. At the same time they also learn to be idle, as they go around from house to house; and not merely idle, but also gossips and busybodies, talking about things not proper to mention. Therefore, I want younger widows to get married, bear children, keep house, and give the enemy no occasion for reproach; for some have already turned aside to follow Satan.
    If any woman who is a believer has dependent widows, she must assist them and the church must not be burdened, so that it may assist those who are widows indeed.

    That’s from 1Timothy 5:3-16, and it does contain several qualifications, conditions and principles before the Church would take on the support of the widow.

    The sentimental socialist State seems perpetually unable to learn the lesson that you get more of what you subsidize, and that includes laziness.

    Christianity is the one faith that addresses and confronts the fact of our sinful hearts, with a solution, rather than paper over it.

  56. katecho

    The Old Testament is quite clear about not allowing people to mess with a widow’s and orphan’s propterty rights. That is a legal issue as well as a ecclesiastical one.

  57. Indeed. My point was not that the State has no role with regard to widows and orphans. The civil magistrate is charged with defending and securing justice for them, of course. This is distinct from responsibility for acts of charity. This falls first to the extended family of the widow and orphan, and then to the Church.

  58. John, I see where you are getting your ideas about Jesus, but I would suggest that there are interpretations which fit the truth better. I would highly recommend reading N.T. Wright’s “Jesus and the Victory of God” for an explanation of Jesus’s apocalyptic language and its fulfillment.

    As far what you say about the poor, I will admit there is a little bit of truth within what you’ve said. Jesus’s calls for us to practice charity towards the poor are indeed primary stated within passages focused on our own divesting of our wealth, and I agree that in some senses that is the primary reason behind charity passages. However, there are many, many other passages which do focus on the needs of the poor and our responsibility to respond to those needs for the sake of the poor themselves, and not merely for our own sake.

    A quick rundown of both the justice passages and the charity passages can be found here:

    http://totrustingod.blogspot.com/2012/09/charity-and-justice-in-bible.html

  59. As I often do, I missed a sentence in the middle there.

    What I meant to include was:

    “The passages that focus on the needs of the poor are primarily ‘justice’ passages, while the passages that focus on our own need to give are primarily ‘charity’ passages. So we are indeed called to ensure that even the poor are fed, but the principle means through which we are asked to do that is by ensuring justice, not just by practicing charity.”

  60. Arwen B

    You are right, I don’t believe that he is God. But that is not the point of this discussion, although I understand why the readers here want to make it about that and ignore the topic of feeding the poor. That topic caught my attention because it seems to me you Christians wring your hands over it if you are “liberal” and ignore it if you are “conservative”, all the while ignoring the necessity of poverty for your own personal discipleship. That hardly any Christians anywhere renounce the world as Jesus required of his followers seems not to matter to either side, yet you both claim to worship him and be his followers. That I do not worship him is beside the point. Christians do not obey him.

  61. Katecho,

    You are entitled to follow John against the Synoptics. That’s why it was written, after all. Matthew, however, who, like Mark and Luke, puts the Temple cleansing in the week before Jesus’ death, not at the beginning of the ministry, records the saying against the Temple but deems it a false testimony, without remark, when it comes up at Jesus’ trial:

    “At the last came two false witnesses, And said, This [fellow] said, I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to build it in three days.”

    Matthew is already under the influence of the interpretation put forth in John.

    It’s this looseness of interpretation manifest in the tradition, I suppose, which then gives you the liberty to twist a coming son of Man into a going victorious Savior.

    Some of us just don’t find that way of proceeding very convincing, however.

    “Thy kingdom come.”

  62. Katecho,

    I am familiar with the Pastoral Epistles, and find them interesting and valuable, it’s just that their world is a world apart from the teaching of Jesus.

    Were it not for “sentimentality”, we should hardly have anything left of what Jesus said.

    “Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you.”

    ‘He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”‘

  63. Johnon Thursday, June 13, 2013 at 4:30 am said:

    “You are right, I don’t believe that he is God. ”

    Then you are not our brother.

    What business do you have rebuking us as if you were?

  64. Arwen,

    Perhaps the proprietor of this blog can explain that. He’s the one who left it open for public comment.

    I can feel the dark side of the force in you all the way from here.

  65. John on Thursday, June 13, 2013 at 8:46 am said:

    “I can feel the dark side of the force in you all the way from here.”

    XD

    And you speak with the serpent’s tongue.

  66. The sentimental Jesus is perhaps the only Jesus that Mablog John has ever known. So he assumes that this must be all that we are clinging to ourselves. But a sentimental Jesus-as-guru theory doesn’t begin to explain the purposeful actions of Christ from the very beginning of His ministry, and woven tightly into the devoted actions and motivations of the disciples recorded in the epistles. History is all balanced on Christ’s sacrifice and defeat of Satan and glorification and coronation as King of kings and Lord of lords, inheriting the nations. This is the scandal that makes Mablog John show up on this blog even though he supposedly doesn’t care about Jesus any more. The desperation to blunt and recast our story is an eagerness that is proportional with his betrayal of Christ. Perhaps there can be some relief if others betray Christ too?

    Our God is merciful, even after Israel betrayed Him. He was powerful to forgive even betrayal and adultery. So there is still time for John to bow the knee again and come back to the table of fellowship and communion.

  67. OK Arwen, I’ll bite.

    “XD” you write. I’m afraid I don’t know what that means.

    Is that the gang symbol you flash up there in Moscow, Idaho, or some secret code message of your gnostic religion which everybody else knows but me?

    Or could it be, perhaps, that I’ve just been the target of an online exorcism? Or worse, a curse?

  68. John

    “XD” is an emoticon indicating amusement so hearty that it causes one to squint one’s eyes (that’s the X) and part one’s lips in an open-mouthed grin (that’s the D)

    Rather boring, I admit. Would you prefer to have been cursed?

  69. Well, Arwen, I am a little let down, seeing that we’re going to end this thread on such an anti-climactic note.

    But thanks all for the experience of whatever it is which just passed between us. Moscow, Idaho and you are now inseparable in my memory, esp. “he who holds fast”. At least he holds out hope for me.

    I’ll just slither off now to the warmth of another altar in Athens, maybe the one to the unknown god, and shake my rattle there.

  70. *Salutes*

    God speed you on your way, sir.

    And may He someday open your mind to the inescapable truth that His Son, the one known as Jesus the Anointed, is the only way into salvation.

    I look forward to full fellowship with you on that day.

  71. Rob Kennedy: And you wonder why we are condescending?!

  72. [...] What I mean is this — many who claim to love Jesus with their theology hate the poor with their economics, and I think we should stop being okay with that. I frankly think we should knock it off — the gospel is not some airy fairy thing that fails to apply to how people have to live out their actual lives. When Jesus taught us to feed the poor, instead of turning their place of habitation into a desolation, this necessarily excludes every form of Keynesianism. Now I also admit that the previous paragraph has a case of the cutes, but I also want to maintain — in deadly earnest — that leftism of every stripe is a poisonous and lying cheat. This being the case, it does not matter how many vibrant Christians, conservative in their theology, sign on board. How many robust Christians would have to believe in it before water would start flowing uphill? -Blog and Mablog [...]

  73. John, you (and Bertrand Russell) disbelieve(d) in Messiah Jesus on the grounds that He and the apostles expected the Kingdom SOON and it didn’t come, but, bluntly, He predicted the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple within a generation, and it DID come to pass, A.D. 70. (David Chilton’s book “Paradise Restored” opened my eyes to this; I think it’s online at garynorth.com/freebooks.) Read the first few verses of Mt 24, Luke 21, and Mk 13: Jesus was plainly talking about this. (And since none of the gospels says it had happened, they were all written before it happened, so we can trust them, and please repent and follow Jesus. If you don’t want to become poor, or chaste, can your wealth buy His Kingdom, the only Kingdom, or screw your way into it? Mortimer Adler at one point rejected Christianity not because he doubted but because he preferred fornication.) As I recall, the atheistic book “A Physicist’s Guide to Skepticism” said prophecy is not possible. But Jesus A.D. 30 prophesied about A.D. 70. So atheism is false. (Besides, my wife and her mother have experienced miracles. Be scientific, dude: the atheistic theory has been falsified.)

  74. [...] TWO Now we turn to another Bible-reading man. Doug Wilson is famous for being full of provocation. I am very fond of him, in his strangeness. [...]

  75. To Dr. Wright I would respond that setting aside politics to gain objectivity isn’t something that Americans or Brits do very well. Both like politics though in the arena of faith, it will express itself in diverse ways.

    N.T. Wright ought not to target Americans for wrong interpretation of the Bible. Wright says that Americans have more difficulty interpreting Genesis than people in England because Americans tend to bundle biblical literalism with conservative social values. This makes it difficult to speak with precision about what the text actually says. On this point I fully agree. Young-Earth Creationism, for example. is neither biblical nor scientific.

    That said, Wright needs to face the fact that his own Church of England has been far from faithful to the text. The 1922 Commission on Doctrine wasn’t willing to do the hard work of sorting out the threads of Genesis 1-3, opting instead for the briefest treatment on the question of Creation (not even 2 full pages) and the dismissal of the material with these words:

    “No objection to a theory of evolution can be drawn from the two Creation narratives in Gen. i and ii., since it is generally agreed among educated Christians that these are mythological in origin, and that their value for us is symbolic rather than historical.”

    I recognize that Wright’s area of expertise is the New Testament, and his writings are worth reading and often have been helpful to me. But he and I are not on the same page when it comes to catholicity and the dangers of modernism. His influence within Evangelical circles in America would have made him a credible voice to speak against the debacle of The Episcopal Church and the ever eroding foundations of the Church of England.

  76. Who are the poor? Drug addicts who want us to supplement their income so they can devote more of it to buying drugs while we pay for their food and housing? No. Those are just bums. But that’s who the US government decides to help, not the real poor. And the damn Democrats refuse to allow mandatory drug testing for those who live off the government teat.

    We must follow the dictum of Ben Sira (Anglicans have the Apocrypha in their Bible, so N. T. Wright would instantly know what I mean) that “Hold back your bread from the wicked lest he overmaster you thereby.” The poor are not the bums who want to destroy society. Help the poor, help not the bums. Or as the book of Sirach puts it, “Help not the wicked. The Lord will punish you double for whatever assistance you give him.”

  77. Doug…I was attending a conservative Calvinist seminary in London, England during the period that Obama was re-elected.  I was shocked and appalled that my professors and fellow seminarians, with literally only a couple of exceptions, were pleased with the election result.  When I pointed out his horrific record on abortion and same sex marriage (things which they firmly oppose) they merely shrugged their shoulders and said, well, it’s better than having a Republican in office.  I have no explanation for this attitude.  The seminary was racially very diverse, and a wide spectrum of socio-economic privilege was present.    Most of the seminarians were from the UK, but some were from other countries.  Apart from myself and a Polish seminarian who appreciated the abortion issue, everyone, even the most theologically conservative, was for Obama.  

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