Sunday, October 30, 2005

week 5 analysis

I want to speak to the question about what practices we can encourage that will move us forward.

But before I get into that, I wanted to include Richard B. Hays’ summary points on embodying the message of the New Testament teaching on economics:

1. The New Testament’s direct commands and general rules about possessions are embedded in a canonical context that complicates simple literal application.
2. Very little direct appeal is made in the New Testament texts to principles of equality and justice . . . For the most part, the texts call the church to acts of sacrificial service far beyond what simple justice would require.
3. The New Testament texts address us on this issue primarily through the medium of narrative. . . . On this matter, then, [our application] of the New Testament will involve retelling these stories in such a way that we find our place within them.
4. To ask such questions (as how can we be the type of people who embody the message of these texts) in a serious sustained way will require of us not only imaginative reflection but also costly change.

Hays emphasizes economic sharing as being at the heart of New Testament economic practices, assuming the central importance of community (as opposed to an individualistic mindset) and imaginative conversation—we need to be creative in our application of these sharing principles.

It seems to me that a great starting point in terms of practices is to get people talking about these issues. Many churches already have conversation-centered outlets (small groups, “bible studies”, affinity groups, etc.) that could easily be channeled in these directions. For starters, we could give people a list of NT passages about money (the stories Hays mentions). It would be wise to provide some guidance to those who will be leading these groups (basic hermeneutics, how to handle probable defensive responses, etc), but then we could just let them talk. We could also have them talk through possible ideas for implementation, such as the list Foster provides on “simplifying.”

1. Buy things for their usefulness rather than their status.
2. Reject anything that is producing an addiction in you.
3. Develop a habit of giving things away.
4. Refuse to be propagandized by the custodians of modern gadgetry.
5. Learn to enjoy things without owning them.
6. Develop a deeper appreciation for creation.
7. Look with a healthy skepticism at all “buy now, pay later” schemes.
8. Obey Jesus’ instructions about plain, honest speech.
9. Reject anything that breeds the oppression of others.
10. Shun anything that distracts you from seeking first the kingdom of God.

Some of these are obviously better than others, and the whole list is directed more to individuals, but we could easily communitize the list, turn the statements into series of conversational questions, and see where people take them.

I know it seems small, but if change is to actually happen in the church it will at some level have to be from the ground up, and getting people talking about these issues seems to be a great place to begin. If all this seems unclear, I am basically saying that an excellent place to start dealing with these issues practically is to facilitate conversation among followers of Jesus.

week 5 resources

N.T. Wright –The New Testament and the State -- a great article by Wright on many issues that relate to the way the kingdom of God interfaces with the forces of this world. I will do more commenting on some of this later, but I strongly recommend this article, as it will provide a solid foundation for thinking about Christian economics.

Richard Bauckham, “The Economic Critique of Rome in Revelation 18.” This is chapter 10 of The Climax of Prophecy, Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1993 (ISBN#0.567.08625.9). A very intriguing and important look at Revelation 18.

Richard Foster, “Simplicity.” Celebration of Discipline. Rev. Ed. New York: Harper, 1998. On pages 90-95 he lists ten practical steps for simplifying our lifestyles. Very practical (more anon).

Richard B. Hays, “Sharing Possessions: A Challenge to the Church.” This is in the last section of his The Moral Vision of the New Testament (pp. 464-470). New York: Harper Collins, 1996. This is a short conclusion to his whole book, summarizing some of his thoughts and focusing on the New Testament’s teaching on money. This contains the best short summary of New Testament teaching on this topic that I’ve ever seen. This book is in our library.

US census cite on US economics contains many statistics on imports, exports, payrolls of businesses, etc..

Hundreds of tables and charts containing detailed analysis of poverty in the US. See especially poverty rates from 1959-2004 and poverty rates by age and rates by states.

Poverty tables for 2004, see especially the table on 2004 poverty thresholds (to see how the US gov’t measures poverty).

Statistics on US poverty over the past few decades.