The Walking Stick Problem

If you say, as Bacon once did, that knowledge is power, you will find yourself arraigned pretty quickly on charges of wanting to rape the earth. But knowledge is power, and knowledge cannot be applied in this world without exercising authoritative dominion. This axiom needs to be defended and it needs to be defended without appearing to be a mindless defense of strip mining. For all his virtues, Tolkien has unfortunately contributed to our confusion on this issue. "Now goblins are cruel, wicked, and bad-hearted. They make no beautiful things, but they make many clever ones . . . Hammers, axes, swords, daggers, pickaxes, tongs, and also instruments of torture, they make very well" " (The Hobbit, p. 60). We have this sturdy mythology that makes us assume that elves get everything done by purity of mind, while goblins are down in the forge heating up the metal in order to bang on it. And of course, when we do this we know better, because we do know that elves actually make things. … [Read more...]

The Politics of the Tithe

I think it was Luther who said that a man required two conversions, the first of his heart and the second of his wallet. Have you ever noticed how some people are preeminently quotable, such that all sorts of pithy sayings get attributed to them whether or not they said it? So Luther, or maybe Chesterton, or Churchill, or maybe Oscar Wilde. It fits best with Luther though, so let's run with that. I want to begin by summarizing in a paragraph what I understand our obligations with regard to tithing to be, and then to briefly expand on each one of those points. The tithe is a continuing moral obligation for the people of God (1 Cor. 9:13-14). The lawful recipients of the tithe are those who labor in the ministry (1 Cor. 9:14), the poor (Dt. 14:29), and the merchants who supply the goods for your thanksgiving feasts (Dt. 14:23-29). The tithe is owed on the increase of wealth (Dt. 14:22), not on the wealth itself. The tithe is to be paid on the increase that is brought into your … [Read more...]

Guilt and Glory

Mankind was made for glory, and naturally hungers after glory. There is therefore nothing wrong with seeking glory, provided we seek it where the true glory may be found. “Therefore let no man glory in men. For all things are yours” (1 Cor. 3:21). Paul is saying that when glory is offered us in Christ (all things are yours), it is high folly to try to glory in men apart from Christ. Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord (Ps. 34:2) -- and when we boast in God, the humble hear it and are glad. Sin is not seeking after glory, but rather falling short of it. “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). When God renders judgment in accordance with our deeds, one of the things He will evaluate is the way in which we sought after glory. “Who will render to every man according to his deeds: To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life” (Rom. 2:6–7). As a race, we were created to be glory bearers. We … [Read more...]

Piketty’s Point

Thomas Piketty has a detailed response to the "number-cooking" criticisms leveled at his book by the Financial Times, which you can read here. Now my point is not to run get my hip-waders on in order to get into the stats and numbers. I am afraid I would catch very few mountain trout that way, and thus would not be in a position to say if there were any of them in there. So if I am not a numbers wonk, what defensible basis might I have for being so hostile to Piketty's message? For he does have one -- here is what he says what it is: "The main message coming from my book is . . . that we need more democratic transparency about wealth dynamics, so that we are able to adjust our institutions and policies to whatever we observe." Let me reduce this to its essentials: "We want to be able to see what everyone has, so that we can take it if we want." … [Read more...]

Saved By the Bell

I didn't want to read Piketty's book Capital, and probably wouldn't have, but now comes a development that removes every trace of all my guilt and shame. I didn't want to read it because he believes in way-progressive tax rates, which is grabby, grabby, grabby, and grabby, grabby, grabby is contrary to the spirit of the gospel. You know. Second, he wants a global tax, which means a global tax collector. Ick. Poo. Gakk. But now, I am saved by the bell. No need to worry about it. It appears that the numbers were cooked. Postscript: But . . . since we are talking about economic numbers for the whole world, it should not be surprising that there is room for some discussion. You can read more here and a response from Piketty here. So maybe the numbers aren't cooked. Maybe they are just half baked. … [Read more...]

Jabba the Catt

In a sinful and fallen world, any blessing can be abused. The temptation to lord it over others is a constant one, and the human heart will use whatever materials are ready to hand -- intelligence, looks, education, money, age, strength, and so on. This means that inequity in the distribution of wealth does present temptations -- most certainly, and welcome to earth. But Scripture teaches us to deal with sin where the sin is, which is under our own sternum. The cause of our faults is not to be located elsewhere. Lust is not caused by beautiful women, covetousness is not caused by other people owning things, and dishonoring parents is not caused by them asking you to do something. If a man has five million dollars and I have five, then he will no doubt be tempted to believe he is better than I am. This is often and easily noted. What is almost never noted is my temptation to believe I am better than he is. If we both succumb to the temptation, we both commit the same sin . . . but … [Read more...]

Envy Crackles

I recently raised a question in a Facebook thread that I wanted to expand on here. It has to do with the increasingly common idea that "inequality of income" is inherently a moral problem. So here's the question: If you had a magic button in front of you which, if you pressed it, would result in all the poor people in the world being 5X better off than they are now, in real terms, but the price would be that the top 1% would be 100X times better off, would you press the button? Pressing the button would increase the inequality, but it would decrease everyone's day-to-day income problems. Is the mere fact of the inequality a moral problem? Is the size of the gulf between rich and poor a moral problem? There is another way of asking the question, only this way highlights the darkness of envy a little bit better. If you had a button in front of you that would cut the standard of living that poor people have by 50%, but would also cut the standard of living that the top 1% had by … [Read more...]

Parable of the Ten Investment Portfolios

Given the emphasis that the president placed on "income inequality" in his 2014 SOTU speech, I thought it necessary for us to review a few things from the Bible. We have wandered so far off from the teaching of Jesus that some of this pandering seems compelling and/or compassionate to us. It is actually evil. Allow me to say a few things in this second paragraph that will seem outrageous to some, while doing so in the hope that you will then allow me to explain myself. I have argued repeatedly that free grace creates free men, and that free men are the only ones who can create free markets. Free markets are God's design for us. If you don't love the idea of free markets, you don't love Jesus rightly. Christian discipleship requires an understanding of, and deep love for, economic liberty. So why invoke Jesus by name? Why bring Him into it? First, He is the Lord of all things, including what we do with our money. So there's that. Second, in his fine book Friends of Unrighteous … [Read more...]

Honors, Stats, and Other Trifles

Like many bloggers, I track my stats and such. Not only that, but I labor to improve them. Computers make this kind of knowledge easy, and in some cases you might find out your Klout ranking whether you want to know it or not. So how should we respond when we get recognition for our labors? We should begin by acknowledging that there is a kind of hunger for honors that is death for a Christian leader. "I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not" (3 John 9). "But what I do, that I will do, that I may cut off occasion from them which desire occasion; that wherein they glory, they may be found even as we. For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ" (2 Cor. 11:12-13). "And he came to Capernaum: and being in the house he asked them, What was it that ye disputed among yourselves by the way? But they held their peace: for by the way they had disputed among themselves, … [Read more...]

A Five Gallon Bucket of Lamesauce

In my previous post, I said that the great idol of modernity is the state. One perceptive reader on Facebook suggested that rather we should think of the great idol as being that of the individual self -- freedom and liberty for me, me, me. I don't know how to link to a Facebook thread, but try this as a sample of my guessing. Now this observation is quite true in one narrow sense, and if we have our wits about us, it should immediately show us the limits (and treacherous nature) of secularism. The secular state dispenses freedoms (it would be better to call them privileges) like they were party favors. They function as bribes. They serve as . . . bread . . . or circuses. As Chesterton points out somewhere, sexual license is the first and most obvious bribe to be offered to a slave. For many in our era, that was the bribe that ushered them into their bondage to the state. This is why secular conservatism, and secular libertarianism are both impotent against the collectivist … [Read more...]

Honoring His Stuff

A friend pointed me to an important truth about property and giving that is found in Deuteronomy 26. "And now, behold, I have brought the firstfruits of the land, which thou, O Lord, hast given me. And thou shalt set it before the Lord thy God, and worship before the Lord thy God: And thou shalt rejoice in every good thing which the Lord thy God hath given unto thee, and unto thine house, thou, and the Levite, and the stranger that is among you" (Dt. 26:10-11). Note that the worshiper is told that he must include the Levite and the stranger in his worship of God -- he must share as he worships with his tithe -- but that the foundation of this sharing is the fact of property ownership. He is called to share "every good thing" which the Lord his God "hath given" unto him. God gave every good thing to him, and to his house. This is the answer to those who think that any assertion of robust property rights is to absolutize them. The only absolute property ownership is God -- the earth … [Read more...]

Book of the Month/August

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I owe a lot to George Gilder, and with his release of Knowledge and Power, that debt has increased significantly. Decades ago, I first read Sexual Suicide, a book that later became Men and Marriage, and which I have read again several times in that form. I was greatly influenced by Wealth and Poverty when it first came out, and have enjoyed other books as well, the most recent example being The Israel Test. This book is a worthy companion to the others in a long line of worthy companions. There are three things I want to say about this book, and then I will leave you to get your own copy. The first is that Gilder is a contrarian, but a sane one. He is what any sane person would look like in an insane world, provided that sane person had the guts to say what he thought out loud. The book provides kind of a grab bag of examples. He has a delightful chapter on the need for insider trading, for instance. By outlawing insider trading, we are requiring people to trade stupidly, … [Read more...]

Managing Mammon

Jesus set up a fundamental antipathy between God and Mammon. One way or the other, He said (Matt. 6:24). In another place, He said quite plainly that whoever does not give away all His possession cannot be His disciple (Luke 14:33). Look at your possessions, Jesus says, and if you want to be a disciple, kiss them good-bye. Say farewell. Now here we are, gathered as a congregation of disciples. That is what our baptism declares, and that is what we profess to be. Are we making this profession in the teeth of the Lord who called us? Is stewardship of possessions disobedience? Not at all. As we seek to understand this, and to obey it, what we must not do is dilute in any way the force of the Lord’s requirement. He is the revelation of the Father to us, and so we must not add to His words, and we must not take away from them. Whatever Jesus meant, we must do—all of us. Jesus uses the word Mammon four times. Once is in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 6:24). Right before this, He had … [Read more...]

In the Sunlight of Our Deliverance

One of things we should notice about the drive for "social justice" is that the theory of the thing contains a soteriological contradiction right at the heart of it. This is what I mean. In true evangelism, the unbeliever is being called from a state of condemnation into a state of no condemnation. This is why the message that accomplishes this is unambiguously good news -- Jesus was crucified and is risen, and the sinner who believes in Him is set free. This is a true evangel. But in the world of social justice, what is the task? What is the mission? It is precisely the reverse of this. It is to get the weak and oppressed from a condition where God identifies with them into a state where they come under His judgment. Advocates of missional social justice identify with the poor and they sneer at middle class values. But this is like a lifeguard identifying with the drowning and sneering at the beach. We are supposed to minister to the poor, but what does that mean? Does it … [Read more...]

Mammon Is Like Gravity

Many years ago, somewhere in the seventies, I was working for a Christian bookstore called Crossroads. One day we were visited by a young and zealous member of a group called the Children of God, and I vividly remember our conversation on the sidewalk outside the store. He asked if I had a job, a car, etc. I said that I did. He told me that I was not a real Christian because Jesus said that whoever did not give up absolutely everything could not be His disciple (Luke 14:33). Instead of arguing the exegesis with him, I reached over and tugged on his sweater (for he was clothed, contrary to what he had just said Jesus required), and asked, "Whose is this?" He was startled, not expecting any questions of that nature. I asked again. "Who does this belong to?" He said nothing because he didn't know what to say, and so I helped him out. I said, "This belongs to Jesus, right? And He is letting you borrow it? Is that how it works?" He was greatly relieved, and said yes, he was borrowing it. … [Read more...]