Monthly Archives: February 2012

The Mystery of Walking in the Spirit

We tend to fixate on material reality: where will I live, what will I eat, where will I work? But even when we are unaware, our walk on earth is simultaneously a walk in the heavenlies.

God has equipped us with His Spirit. That has far deeper meaning than we can understand. Jesus performed miracles and we often think “Yeah, but He was God.” But Peter and Paul and others performed miracles. Do we see miracles in our own lives?

Our walk with God is shrouded in mystery and the busyness of life is noisy, overwhelming God’s “still small voice” (1 Kings 19:12). We have to quiet our spirit to hear His Spirit. That is why Jesus went to the desert and into the Garden at Gethsemane to pray, alone, in a quiet place.

It is a challenge to find that space amidst the scurry of our world but God is speaking to each of us every day. Can you hear Him? What is He saying? Many times it may be nothing more than “I love you” but all His words are eternal. Everything He has ever said to us, He is still saying and will always say.

God is always speaking, leading, comforting, reassuring, healing: “This is the way, walk in it” (Isaiah 30:21b). Galatians 5:25 says that “if we live by the Spirit,” focusing on God and drawing direction from Him, “let us walk by the Spirit,” motivated by divine character.

When spiritual and earthly realities align, we see the glory of God, even if the miraculous is only in the fundamentals: the changing of our perspectives, values, and actions.

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Step-by-Step

We live in a culture that most mornings would prefer to microwave its instant coffee. We want everything done at least by right now and preferably the day before. We rush to complete projects, race to meetings and activities, and exhaust ourselves choosing between too many priorities. This flies in the face of “entering into rest” (Matthew 11:28–29) and creates undue anxiety (Matthew 6:25–34). God was explicit: “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10a).

But taking life step-by-step is designed into creation and evident in God’s pattern in His mission in the world. We race right past God when we try to take too much control over a process now more than 4,000 years old. Abram became Abraham and through him the Christ would come. Many generations have passed and the world has inched its way toward God’s ultimate goal of the redemption of all creation.

The “stepping” process is also characteristic of our growth in Christ. We get anxious when we stumble, not living up to the holy standard. We strive after acceptance by our performance. But our flesh fights us along the way. “But we all . . . are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18, emphasis mine).

And perhaps a bit at a time we come to understand the depth and breadth and the width of God’s love for us as He forgives and encourages us onward. Take a time-out today . . . just to rest, commune with God, or hang out with friends or family. We are all on the way. God will get us to where we are going (Philippians 2:13) in His way and in His time, step-by-step.

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Overcoming Sweat: A Possible Future

(This essay is a close adaptation excerpted from the book Eden’s Bridge: The Marketplace in Creation and Mission, © David B. Doty, 2011, available from the author or from Wipf & Stock Publishers. This essay should be read with the thesis of Eden’s Bridge—the marketplace is an institution of God, implicit in the creation narrative of Genesis 1–2 and vital to God’s mission in the world—in full view.)

The consequences of Adam’s sin (taking Eve’s curses separately) were guilt, shame, spiritual isolation, banishment from the Garden, the curs­ing of the ground, toil (`itstsabown), and sweat. While Adam did work in the Garden before the Fall, the ease of access to its abundant resources apparently made for easy work, at least by comparison to how we see work afterward.

Creation outside the Garden took on a contentious nature after the Fall, producing weeds that corrupted the fields, stealing essential nu­trients from Adam’s produce, and adding to the actual work needed to produce food. `Itstsabown (Strong’s 6093) is interpreted as pain, labor, hardship, sorrow, or toil. It is easy to picture Adam sowing seed, weed­ing, and harvesting under the heat of the sun, sweating, and groaning from muscle aches. `Itstsabown is also one of the terms used to describe Eve’s pain in childbirth in Genesis 3:16.

Through the ages work has remained tedious and physically de­manding, but there have been dramatic reductions in the monotony and physical difficulty of work in developed economies. The creation and ac­cumulation of new wealth has empowered the development of new tech­nologies that have eased the burden and increased the productivity of work. Labor saving and productivity tools and systems are everywhere, from indoor plumbing to the Internet, from hand tools to earthmoving machinery.

There is a hierarchy to making work easier. The foundation is the essential cooperative element of the marketplace—the division of labor. While this was instituted in the Garden with the introduction of Eve as ezer (one who aids), the Bible reveals the second key, derived from the division of labor, in the very next generation: specialization. Abel was a keeper of flocks and Cain was a tiller of the ground (Genesis 4:2b). It is likely that they each brought different products, of their individual efforts and expertise, to the well-being of the family community.

Specialization fosters the third key: innovation. Practitioners en­hance productive efficiencies through creating innovative processes and technologies. The creative impulse of God, apparent in our inheritance of the imago Dei, enhances human critical and imaginative thinking, such that that which is unseen might be envisioned and brought into reality. Andy Stanley calls this practice visioneering . . . “the [intellectual and action] process[es] whereby ideas and convictions take on substance.”[i]  Innovation invites the fourth key: collaboration. This development moves the marketplace from its basic operations in the exchange of goods and services to include the exchange of ideas. All these—the divi­sion of labor, specialization, innovation, and collaboration—along with the right moral mindset and favorable circumstances, contribute to an upward cycle of increasing human productivity.

World religions have historically spread along trade routes, such as the roadways of the Roman Empire or along the Silk Road, and with mil­itary and colonizing conquests as invaders brought their own religions with them. Despite cultural resistance to the philosophic ideas brought by dominating powers, acceptance by elite groups in conquered societ­ies is often a pragmatic decision as a means to bring higher social order to the receiving culture.[ii]

After the initial spread in the Middle East in its first four centuries, Christianity spread predominantly to the west into Europe and the Americas. In the last two centuries it has continued to spread and is growing dramatically in Asia and Africa.[iii]

A democratizing influence has spread to the West more or less concurrently with Christianity, especially after the Reformation under­mined the centralized political power of the Roman Catholic Church. The underlying principles of the democratic movement have been ap­propriated from liberal Greek philosophy and conjoined to Christian personal and political ethics, especially thought development on indi­vidual liberty of conscience and responsibility. There are, however, argu­ments demonstrating a fair degree of formative liberal government and economic thought derived from the Jesus teachings,[iv] now evident in Roman Catholic social teaching and emerging Protestant literature.[v]

Classical liberal governance and economics have encouraged the pursuit of free enterprise and individual wealth as reactions opposing the oppression of the masses in the history of feudalism and the enslave­ment of monarchical tyranny. Labor and capital consolidated around individuals, households, guilds, and communities to establish their own economic engines and leave the economic fate of others to themselves.

In The Wealth and Poverty of Nations, David Landes examines the influence of the Judeo-Christian value system in social and economic de­velopment, especially its views on private property, freedom, decentral­ization, egalitarianism, accountability, transparency, legal institutions, and so on.[vi] Orthodox Christian eschatology anticipates the re-ordering of human society, compelling it toward ever higher levels of cooperation and collaboration and furthering the institutionalization of accountabil­ity. In short, Christianity promotes economic and governmental systems based on trust, not necessarily of individuals but of the social contract and corresponding systems for avoiding or resolving conflict.[vii]

Trust creates environments conducive to complex economic activi­ties, e.g., the emergence of sophisticated capitalism. Though its founda­tions may be traced even to ancient times and was somewhat developed in Medieval monastic orders, capitalism is a pursuit that has come into its own, so to speak, in the last two hundred years.[viii]

The expansion of global wealth through capitalism has brought the human family to the economic capacity to eradicate extreme hunger. But wealth tends to concentrate in high growth and complex economies rather than being distributed evenly universally. The growth of the economies of India and China in the last quarter century have accounted for the percentage reduction in global poverty. Poverty rates in other places have remained stagnant and some have actually increased.

Two opposing approaches to the alleviation of poverty, or at least economic and political inequality, seem to have reached their polar ze­niths in the last century. One extreme seems right for leveling the playing field for all members of a society. Collectivism and social engineering, top-down efforts, have obviously failed in real ways but still draw the support of a broad audience as the shortest route to the equitable re­distribution of resources and wealth. The political left in democratic societies, while not always collectivists per se, favor coerced redistribu­tion through government interventions of taxation and social programs. These interventions are intended to offset the apparent evils (in their minds) of greed and economic oppression inherent in concentrations of wealth in free market economies. They make a good point that money corrupts political power.

There is a downside, however, to the interventionists’ approach. Free societies designed to protect religious, political, and philosophic freedoms and populated by a broad mix of sub-cultures and ideologies bring a wide variety of views and beliefs to the table. To honor the rights of all value systems governance is forced to become theologically neu­tral. Interventionist idealism is motivated by compassion and moral zeal but moral oversight in a pluralistic, free society must ultimately descend to the lowest common denominator allowing all parties to pursue what “is right in their own eyes” (Prov 21:2).

All that is not to say, however, that the motivations of any political leaders are ideologically neutral. Philosophically-based value systems always have guiding hands in the mix. “Theologically neutral” simply removes God’s Word, along with the sacred texts of other religions, from the public conversation on moral guidance.

The other pole, libertarianism, focuses on liberty as uncoerced personal and corporate responsibility and tends to favor unfettered free markets. Libertarianism would remove all but essential government functions and regulation from bureaucratic hands and leave each person to pursue what “is right in their own eyes”. Sound familiar?

Libertarianism relies on personal character and motivation to supply the needs of society and encourages each individual to optimize their lives according to their wits and resources without the hindrance of overly burdensome regulation or taxes. But like interventionism, liber­tarianism also has serious failings. For one, it discounts the fallen nature of the human heart. Without reasonable legal or cultural restraint cor­ruption abounds. It also offers less protection for those who cannot pro­vide for or protect themselves. Libertarianism undermines recourse to hold abusive wealth and its power to manipulate economies to account.

Both systems stand on moral ground. The left expresses a ready willingness toward personal sacrifice for the greater good. The right favors individual liberty and opportunity. Both have merit on moral grounds, as said, but fail in application.

Within the same time frames which exposed the political and economic failings of socialism, free trade has enhanced the creature comfort of human experience. Newly created wealth does trickle down, but does so slowly. Two problems present themselves in open market systems. One is the current trends in wealth concentration. The other is libertarianism’s willingness to forego government protection against predatory business practices and ensuring reasonable provision for the economically vulnerable. Pervasive sin demonstrates the need for social protection of “the least of these” (Matthew 25:40; 25:45).

The political left has demonstrated a particular righteousness in protecting the economically vulnerable from falling through the cracks. While both sides of the political aisle advocate for government involve­ment in the public and private lives of the citizenry, the right contin­ues to argue for less government control and decreasing government bureaucracy. They favor privatization to use market competitiveness to reduce the inefficiencies inherent in non-competitive government bureaucracies.

Market advocates regularly cite government inefficiency due to the lack of price indexing as a legitimate value indicator. Judging govern­ment performance can be arbitrary subject to the assumptions of the reviewer’s agenda. The political right views the cost of government pro­grams, mostly funded by taxes on corporate and private incomes, as a drain on economic productivity. And in recent history governments and private individuals have relied on increasing debt to pay for the goods and services the public wants.

Public and private debt is overwhelming both rich and poor nations. High concentrations of wealth, which enslaves debtors, in the hands of a small elite is politically dangerous and socially unjust as interest costs drain economic strength from states and households. There is upside potential to high concentrations of wealth if it is invested to increase productivity or is disbursed philanthropically. The downside is not un­like central planning operating from the top down. Wealthy investors and donors form a virtual economic oligarchy and have inordinate say as to what is useful in society. Their decisions affect millions of people in the middle and lower classes. This concentration of economic power, and in turn, social and political power, is a real danger of trickle-down economic philosophy.

No money ever leaves the global economy and even non-pro­ductive[ix] government expenditures are repeatedly cycled through the marketplace. But the more funds are used to support administrative, non-productive work, the less ability those funds have to fuel increasing productive output, and its growth potential is diminished. Government is inefficient by its nature and especially hinders the efficiency of markets where it over-taxes incomes and over-regulates market activities.

A pervasive problem in government is the same self-centeredness (sin) of politicians and bureaucrats that affects markets. Fear motivates actors to take self-protective and self-serving measures by creating im­penetrable fiefdoms and serving their greed. Legislators have the ability to line their own pockets, as shown by the generosity of the retirement and benefits programs of the U.S. House and Senate. The growth of gov­ernment agencies, which further hinders the efficiency of the economy, allows the career entrenchment of bureaucrats. Both causes, self-service and bureaucracy, are protected and economic justice is undermined when the players in the game are allowed to make their own rules. Business is subject to government oversight but still experiences abusive practices. The oversight of government by an ill-informed, lackadaisical electorate exacerbates base human tendencies and abuse which is no less prevalent than in the business world.

Government is necessary to provide for the common good, espe­cially in defense, safety, and public works, such as managing infrastruc­ture, disbursing aid, and providing police protection. Government is also necessary to house the legal institutions that protect against abuses of power by the tyranny of both independent wealth and over-reaching government. In a republic the ultimate responsibility of government falls to the constituency and freedom tends to undermine itself due to the fallen nature of the human heart. Personal liberty requires personal responsibility which appears to be tenuous at best. Living in a “free” so­ciety, the electorate gets exactly the government it creates, and changing the system is stymied by the vested interest of those with economic and political power.

As becomes obvious, the views of the interventionists and the lib­ertarians both have legitimate concerns about the effectiveness of the other.

One way to help overcome sweat, as the laborious burdens of eco­nomic inefficiency, is to re-engineer government to perform its func­tions in efficient and accountable ways. This requires the electorate to establish new standards of performance, such as demanding balanced budgets. All parties must recognize that material scarcity limits having all that we want and demands compromise and efficiency.

Incorporating a second strategy, through the cooperation, col­laboration, and collective creativity of varied points of view working together, enormous good can be done through emerging commercial strategies like social venture. These models, funded by donations or loans, provide jobs and support charitable needs rather than new high-end subdivisions. Social venture uses market mechanisms to serve public needs without relying on government intervention and thereby reduces the need and size of non-productive bureaucracies.

Overcoming sweat requires a focus that walks in the delicate bal­ance between compassion, realistic and reasoned expectations, and a sacrificial willingness to accept delayed gratification. By enhancing just trade and the economic viability of all, even outrageous goals, like redi­recting the industrial-military complex to unleash capital and intellec­tual potential toward more favorable ends, and ecological and economic sustainability have greater chances of becoming realities.

Trade and expanding wealth, as we have seen, can contribute sig­nificantly to the development of peace. While colonialism and impe­rialism have distorted the expansion of wealth, righteous trade across cultural and political borders reduces international strife. Economic aggression, through corporations seeking to manipulate governments and governments pursuing protectionist policies, continues to perpetu­ate widespread injustice, and results in the unintended consequences of political backlash. Global business has a role to play in overcoming economic injustice and promoting peace. International trade focused on achieving equitable, win-win relationships reduces political tension and expands wealth, fostering peaceful and prosperous outcomes.

Overcoming sweat hinges on recognizing the good of cooperation and collaboration founded on trust, the necessity of free-will redistribu­tion through just investment and charitable giving, and the political will to bring them about. That vision of a hopeful eschatology rests on the choices of human will in submission to God. Given the corrupted nature of the human will, Christian vision abides patiently in grace, aligning itself with the movement of God, and encouraging human obedience. The mission of God, the missio Dei, was set on its path before creation, invigorated by Christ’s obedience to the Cross, and empowered by the presence of the Holy Spirit in the church. Changed hearts embrace co­operation, giving, and political good-will, and are changing the world toward Kingdom culmination at Christ’s return and the restoration of Edenic shalom.

Hearts transformed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ and attuned to the Kingdom of God as a functional, temporal reality are the impetus to create the groundswell for radical social change. Just as unfettered capitalism and socialism result in economic and political oligarchies, grassroots entrepreneurial and political movements, guided by the Holy Spirit, offer the greatest future hope for humankind.

This groundswell needs to occur both in the marketplace and the halls of justice to find the appropriate balance between the marketplace and governance. Then “they will hammer their swords into plow­shares” (Isa 2:4). The contrast of these instruments of competitive strife (swords) and economic productivity (plowshares) offers an encouraging vision of the peaceful, just, and life-feeding aims of the actively coming Kingdom.

[i] Stanley, Andy. Visioneering: God’s Blueprint for Developing and Maintaining Personal Vision. Sisters, OR: Multnomah Publishers, 1999, 8.

[ii] Mongomery, Robert L. The Diffusion of Religions: A Sociological Perspective. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, Inc., 1996, 156.

[iii] Jenkins, Philip. “The Future Demographics of Religion,” in The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity, 89–92. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

[iv] Such as, Wilson, Clarence True. “Jesus Christ, the Embodiment of Democratic Ideals,” in The Divine Right of Democracy, 46–62. New York: Abingdon Press, 1922.

[v] Three excellent resources: Claar, Victor V. and Robin J. Klay. Economics in Christian Perspective: Theory, Policy and Life Choices. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007; Piedra, Alberto M. Natural Law: The Foundation of an Orderly Economic System. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2004; and, Woods, Thomas E., Jr. The Church and the Market: A Catholic Defense of the Free Economy. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2005.

[vi] Landes, David S. The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some Are So Rich and Some So Poor. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1999, 33–35.

[vii] This is not to say that any particular known form of government or economic system is directly or absolutely endorsed by God or the biblical record. The church has flourished under other systems.

[viii] Novak, Michael. Business as a Calling: Work and the Examined Life. New York: The Free Press, 1996. Oxford University Press, 80.

[ix] Government is unproductive when revenues are not used efficiently to promote increasing productivity and wealth. Corporations, whether for-profit or not-for-profit, and households face the realities of living within their means. Government has limited accountability and little overt motivation to pursue efficiency

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A Prayer Poem: The Eyes of God

When I gaze into Your eyes,

I see the calm depths of the deepest oceans and to the heights of the glorious stars above.

Your eyes, the window to the very soul of God . . .

I search to see You into the depth of your heart.

The joy of being with You, Lord,

A friend to walk and laugh, to talk and cry, to care beyond all others.

Thank you, Immanuel, God with us,

Just to be together, a Friend, hearts-bound for all eternity.

Jesus, let me look into Your eyes. Amen.

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Observations on the State of the Church and Ministry in the Marketplace

Europe was the birthplace of the most significant growth of the global Church for more than 1500 years. The Roman Catholic and Protestant traditions there reached out to the world in significant missionary movements to North and South America, Africa, and Asia. Today Church observers and researchers voice concerns of the post-Christian culture of Europe and North America. The world often mocks us for being out of step with reality and relevance.

The consensus seems to be that, while Europe has slipped significantly away from its Christian heritage, the United States has remained significantly more adherent to its Christian faith, though even that adherence appears to be slipping as well. The “American Religious Identification Survey (Aris) 2008”­ reports that from 1990 to 2008 religious self-identification as Christian among U.S. citizenry dropped from 86% to 76%.[i]

“Adherence” among those 76% is also questionable as only about 40% of the U.S. population attends weekly worship services.[ii] The data suggests that of the 125 million who attend weekly services (40% of current U.S. population at 313 million[iii]), about 95 million are regularly practicing Christians (effectively just over 30% of the general population). Many suspect that these data reflect a declining interest in religion in general in recent decades (and surely there are humanistic trends that have gained favor with many) but research on historic trends suggests that the movement toward organized religion, from just 17% of the population at our nation’s birth to 62% in 1980, has generally been on a positive trajectory.[iv]

So questions arise: Why is there a perception that the church is becoming less effective in its mission? And if it is actually becoming less effective, why is it? Is the Church simply inept, given its empowerment by the Holy Spirit to transform individuals and cultures?[v]

Disunity is likely the greatest detriment to ecclesial success. More than a decade ago, there were reportedly 34,000 separate Christian groups in the world.[vi] Given the track record, there would seem to be little to encourage us that that trend has been reversed but that the splintering of the church will just as likely continue toward exponential divisiveness.

I see the disunity of the Church operating simultaneously on the spiritual plane and the functional plane. On the spiritual plane the divisions have largely come due to doctrinal differences motivated by the inability and unwillingness to “live and let live” (or in Wesleyan parlance, to think and let think) in the liberty of the Spirit we have all inherited from Christ. This inability and unwillingness is too often grounded in the politics of power. It may as likely be caused by lacking the intellectual wherewithal necessary to dig deeper in our faith and the Word to discern the spirit of Truth and then, in humility, accept where we might each be wrong or to rejoin having reached consensus that there are issues where God has chosen to not yet reveal “final” truth. Personally, I find it difficult to think that whatever nonessential doctrinal beliefs I hold are the definitive answer to theological questions. I believe what I believe while fully recognizing that I have incomplete knowledge (ignorance) and that I (can it be?) may have drawn wrong conclusions along the way to establishing those beliefs. At worst I hope that I am willing to hear “the other side” of issues but I will not separate myself from other Christians simply because we cannot agree on points that ultimately have little direct bearing on “loving God and others as myself.”

Doctrinal differences are an enormously spiritual issue because how we interpret things may or may not be wrong. But love covers a multitude of sins. If we are not gracious to brothers and sisters in our disagreements with other traditions or interpretations, how are we better, more intellectually responsible, than the humanists of the world who assume human knowledge and wisdom are the end all? Trying to relate to one another through the relationship with an infinite God means that we are each, as finite beings, ill-equipped to judge what we assume to be in the heart or understanding of another. There are times when being fruit inspectors (Matthew 7:17) may require our going separate ways but we often turn to doctrine to determine our alliances before we consider the outcomes (the fruit) of the lives of those with whom we disagree.

The practical issue manifests from the spiritual disunity, whether it be born out of the fear and pride of political and spiritual fiefdoms, ignorance of God’s desire to overwhelm the world by the inward-loving (John 13:35) and unified witness of His Church (John 17:22), or the lack of strategic initiative and intelligence required to work cooperatively and collaboratively to advance the single agenda of the Great Commission, to make disciples of all nations.

Our family owned a small business in Montgomery County, Indiana for nine years. The whole county has a total population somewhere around 35,000 people. Given the conservative and nearly homogenous nature of the community (predominantly white with a significant Hispanic influx in recent decades), one might assume that the 76% cited above (self-identification as Christian) could be closer to 90%. But if only 40% of the 90% are active churchgoers, or roughly 12,600 (a little over 1/3 of the general population), it would divide their church attendance among the more than 120 churches county-wide. Each church then would have an average weekly attendance of just over 100 people. Do you suppose there was any kind of practical organization even remotely similar to United Way operating within that county’s church community? I think you can guess the answer is “No.” There were a few churches which cooperated on a few fronts as concerned food and clothing banks, and such (and usually limited to a single digit participation of churches) but nothing suggested the churches might share building spaces for various functions, or form a cooperative to purchase goods and services at discounted prices, or even consider seriously having joint worship services (other than the Easter sunrise service) to promote unity of spirit and purpose….let alone outreach ministries or community development.

My point is that the church does not often think about the realities of operating on a business model where practicalities of revenues and expenses restrict effectiveness (scarcity in a blessed community where there should be one–Deuteronomy 8:9). While churches do operate on budgets, the one aspect of the business model we could easily leave behind, if we were to so humble ourselves, is competition. We all claim the aim is for the glory of God but any other organization with dozens of facilities and disconnection of function under the headship of a single leader (as we are under Christ) really should face scrutiny as to its worthiness to receive financial and volunteer support. The level of disservice to our witness as salt and light to the world, cause by our disjointedness, tends to overwhelm our effectiveness…and seldom with even a passing thought in our church staff or committee meetings.

Over many centuries the influence of the Church has accomplished astonishing things, like the advancement of public education, the spread of quality healthcare, and the abolition of slavery. But how much more could we do and be in mission if we simply stepped back from the fear, pride, shallow theology, or stupidity we so easily slip into to avoid confronting the challenges, the iron sharpening iron, of Church unity. Is it any wonder Jesus referred to us as His sheep?

We are living in a day of unprecedented global connectedness. We are also witnessing God empowering and releasing His people where they work. Marketplace Christians have the opportunity to advance the Gospel of the Kingdom of God in ways and with impact never before seen. Will we use the gifts and talents God has given us, of revenue generation, of marketing and communications, of logistics, of strategic planning…all these for His glory? The opportunities are right in front of us to coordinate our good works, to let our Light shine before the world in ways the institutional church and its multitude of denominations have yet to accomplish, and likely cannot.

It is right that we attend and support our local churches for fellowship, pastoral care, and teaching. But if we can come together we can “move” the church outside its own walls. Working through the mechanisms and disciplines of the marketplace and setting aside the non-essential disagreements of the teachings of man, by the Holy Spirit, we can witness to the world in unity, actively demonstrating the Gospel in new and dramatic ways. We tend the Garden in a myriad of vocational disciplines but we have been called to work together for such a time as this.


[i] Barry A. Kosmin and Ariela Keysar (2009). “American Religious Idenitification Survey (ARIS) 2008”. Hartford, Connecticut, USA: Trinity College, 2008. Available at http://commons.trincoll.edu/aris/files/2011/08/ARIS_Report_2008.pdf.

[ii] Robert D. Putnam and David E Campbell. American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us. New York: Simon & Schuster.

[iv] Roger Finke and Rodney Stark. The Churching of America, 1776-1990: Winners and Losers in Our Religious Economy. New Brunswick, Rutgers University Press, 1992.

[v] The mandate to influence culture is hotly contested within and across denominational lines. I would recommend Christopher J.H. Wright. The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2006.

[vi] David B. Barrett, et al. World Christian Encyclopedia: A Comparative Survey of Churches and Religions in the Modern World, 2nd edition. New York: Oxford University Press USA, (2001).

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Economics: Slaying the Two-Headed Beast

Morality is a form of law that governs behavior. Nothing like opening by stating the obvious. External influences, whether institutional, cultural, or spiritual, shape our morality and guide us in knowing right from wrong. We are compelled to act by external forces then shape our responses to them either according to our value systems or altering our value systems to facilitate the expeditious action, internalizing a moral modification. It is a conundrum, like the chicken and the egg, of which comes first – behavior or values. The integration of behavior and values can cloud which holds priority and the adjustments we make in either are often all but undetectable nuances. But we also sometimes deceive ourselves, claiming certain value systems of which we hold imperfect or incomplete knowledge then act discontinuously with our claims. The result is a bifurcation of reality which results in what the Bible labels as double-mindedness, a result of spiritual immaturity and ignorance misinforming faith, of which we all are guilty by varying degrees.

One example occurs in the dis-integration of faith and economics. Technicians have appropriated economics in the last century as a science, and in a strong sense, it is in so far as it is merely formulaic for interpreting data for historic analysis and predictive modeling. But economics is also a study of moral philosophy as economic decisions involve the social contract we hold with all others affected by our decisions. Hence, we tend to think of economics in these two ways and largely in isolation. This divide in our thinking gives way to making business decisions based solely on the numbers and resorting to axioms like “It isn’t personal, it’s just business,” when it comes time to lay off workers during work slowdowns. The unemployed find their status intensely personal and it affects their entire household and external relationships that depend on their spending or giving. The ripples on a pond go a long way.

We need to understand the “two natures” of economics. The scientific one is analytical, i.e., collating data for historic understanding and predictive modeling. The moral nature is applying social value to economic decision making. We will do neither particularly well if we neglect either aspect. That is to say, if we do not understand the consequences of our actions we will make poor decisions, AND making decisions devoid of creational (including not only humankind but also the whole earth) consideration we undermine economic potential.

The study of economics throws around the phrase unintended consequences. These are the things that happen that we simply did not anticipate. These are sometime hidden effects but likely as often result from shortsightedness due to a lack of due diligence in thinking our decisions through. Unintended consequences may also come from willfully not thinking about how far the ripples will reach for fear, even if subconscious, that we will run into a conflict of values. Those conflicts tend to reside on the threshold between worldly values and heavenly values. Avoiding them excuses us from having to make hard or even (seemingly) illogical choices.

Worldly values are an interesting study which leads all the way back to Genesis 3 and Adam and Eve’s fall from grace. In the Garden of Eden, their provision was growing all around them. One suspects that in every season there was low-hanging fruit, easy to reach, ripe and ready to eat at any given moment. In perfect communion with God there was no need of sweating income statements or balance sheets. It was more like a business enjoying an eternal fast growth curve. Granted there was no downside to the provision of the Garden. There were no investors and no concern over profitability, shrinkage, market fluctuations, union strikes, or other effects which are detrimental to commercial success in our time.

The difficulty of work increased substantially after the Fall due to the curse on the ground. The weeds stole precious minerals and water from Adam’s good crops. But the greater setback came in confidence, or rather its loss, in the availability of low hanging fruit, a product of God’s goodness and abundance. Adam relied on God for his daily provision before the Fall. With that direct provision compromised, Adam had to turn to his own wit and wherewithal to provide for himself.

Then there is a long passage of time to 2012. The conflicts that we encounter in our marketplace value judgments are the result of sin, whether systemic or personal. Our culture conditions us to accept that we live in a less than perfect world with no real hope of seeing it changed. Hence, we let less than ideal circumstances “force” us into making difficult and ungodly decisions. But the power of sin in the world has been broken in Christ’s submission to the Cross. That means we have the power to make hard decisions, not according to sight but, in faith according to Truth.

By the power of Christ’s blood, we undertake a revolution countering the introduction and prevalence of sin in the world. It may seem impossible but we have the power to turn the world on its ear. Many of the economic issues we face in the world today seem insurmountable but we have the assurance, poignantly from the story of the rich young man that Jesus encountered, that “with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26; Mark 10:27; Luke 18:27). Do we believe that? Will we act like we believe? How can we bring the world to an economic model of godliness? The impossible can (and will) be accomplished “‘not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the LORD of hosts” (Zechariah 4:6b).

It is time for the universal church to slay the two-headed beast of economics and re-integrate our work and stewardship (appointed to Adam–Genesis 2:15) with our relational nature, which emanates from being made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26a) and in keeping with the communal reality of Eve’s title of helpmate (Genesis 2:18). To right the economic injustice of the world’s ways will be enormously challenging, both spiritually (demanding intimidating levels of faith) and experientially (facing circumstances and decisions that challenge the culture of reason of the marketplace).

The thesis of my book, Eden’s Bridge: The Marketplace in Creation and Mission, is that the marketplace is an institution of God, implicit in the creation narrative of Genesis 1–2 and vital to the mission of God in the world. Sin has enormously corrupted God’s original economic design and the nature of righteous exchange. The hurdles that must be overcome look a lot like the giants in Canaan (Num. 13:28–31). But, “if God is for us, who is against us?” (Romans 8:31b).

Many of the assertions drawn from Scripture in this essay appear to be little more than platitudes if there is no vision of how these things may come to pass. I will discuss visioneering (to borrow gratefully from Andy Stanley) next time. Suffice it to say for now that only emboldened faith in an all-mighty and righteous God can bring the sentiment of these citations to fruition. Smith Wigglesworth, the famous Pentecostal plumber-cum-preacher, espoused a personal credo of “Just believe,” to see the miraculous of God’s power in action. Jesus did not do many miracles in His hometown due to the unbelief of the residents (Matthew 13:54–58).

The Franciscan monk, Fr. Richard Rohr wrote in his daily devotional broadcast about the lack of teaching on the transition from living under law to walking by the Spirit:

Laws serve us well at the beginning and everybody must go through this stage and internalize these values. But as Paul says, laws are only the “nursemaid” (Galatians 3:24) to get us started. The fact that we have not taught this makes me think that history, up to now, has been largely “first half of life.” (from “Living a Whole Life” daily devotional–February 4, 2012).

The fields are ripe for the harvest (Revelation 14:15e). Now is the time for our righteousness, like Father Abraham’s, arising from faith, to restore the marketplace to God’s intention, to overcome the divided minds that praise God on Sunday and worship at the altar of the world, succumbing to its deceitful intimidations, at work. The “second half” of life is at hand for the church in the marketplace. Will we step out faithfully, trusting God beyond our vision? Will we slay the two-headed economic monster? It is not a matter of “can we” but one of choosing to obey God in faith.

The research that I have conducted over the last several years leads me to believe we are about to see an outpouring of God’s Spirit in the marketplace. The next two or three decades could see a wholesale shift in how many businesses assess success. We are at the threshold of an epochal change. As Ghandi might ask, “Are you ready to be the change you want to see in the world?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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