Monthly Archives: March 2012

Abandon

Can I put this world in proper place,

To seek and find and see Your face?

Can I prevail over ego and id,

And walk with God as Jesus did?

This dying  world would offer much,

But can I ever be satisfied with such?

And when I hear the mystery calling,

Can I keep myself from falling?

Can I let lose what little I know,

And follow where You would have me go?

Can I abandon all that I hold dear,

So Your voice I more clearly hear?

Help me, Lord, let go of fear,

Let Your Word my heart so sear

To renew in me the heart of stone,

With Your great love and life alone.

Forgive me, Lord, my halting way

And draw me closer day by day,

Shine through me Your Light divine

So the world can see you’re mine.

My only hope, the Love of Life

Put to rest the endless strife.

I abandon all for this one thing

So that praises I might sing.

Give to me none else but You

And into me heart healed and true,

That I might live as You did die

Humbly before the God Most High.

Can I put this world in proper place?

To seek and find and see Your face?

Can I prevail over ego and id?

And walk with God as Jesus did?

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On Doctrine and Unity

I have been blessed that my research and networking has put me into contact with conversations and writings from a wide range of Christian thought, from Pentecostalism to Roman Catholicism to Calvinism to Wesleyan-Arminianism. What has struck me is the kaleidoscopic array of doctrine and the questions it poses about being right or wrong and what we do with such a spectrum of thought as a divided and, in many unfortunate ways, dysfunctional Church.

It fascinates me that so many highly intelligent people can reach such different conclusions from reading Scripture. There are surely cultural influences and assumptions gleaned from our formational church traditions and surrounding culture. I commend those who defend doctrines of their denomination or tradition but more for their zeal in the pursuit of truth than for their unflappability in adhering to what they hold true. The big divider there is “the pursuit of truth.”

I have come to think that the Church probably holds 95% or more of truly critical doctrinal beliefs in common–the Incarnation, the Virgin Birth, the divinity of Christ, the atonement for sin of the Cross, the Resurrection, and so on. We hold these things as truth and should. Sadly, the other 5% that divides us tends to be where our conversations break down and we go our separate ways in frustration or even in anger.

What is troublesome is that we hold so tightly to doctrine we are willing to sacrifice relationships for the sake of “knowing” that we are right. That flies in the face of the Bible’s consistent message of reconciliation. Of course it would be absurd to cling to doctrines we did not believe. So how do we handle these differences? How do we live with the tensions of not knowing which is right?

Much of the conundrum is created by our propensity toward stating our claims in either / or format. Two problems can arise from such an argument. One, it is possible that the two are not actually contradictory but only contrary. The either / or positions presents them, however, as contradictory and so we assume we must believe one or the other carte blanche. The second problem is that we end up with all or nothing propositions, that is, statements or stands that allow no shades of gray or nuances. Ultimately these propositions are the seeds of legalism.

The origins of holding too strongly to one’s positions are pride and fear. We want to trust in what is “seen,” that is, in propositions we can clearly define, or nailed down, if a very graphic reminder can be allowed. We like black and white because they give us a clear perception of reality. But let us consider what we are discussing here. To follow God we try to know God then formulate our opinions of how to act based on that knowledge. In many cases the appropriate actions are clear enough. But here again, a couple of problems arise.

The first problem is that we create rules. We often hear teachers and preachers talk about how Israel (and we) could not / cannot keep even the Ten Commandments…just ten little rules. The sad thing is, Adam and Eve could not keep even just one! What makes us think we can keep the rules we can state clearly, to live by standards we create from our limited understanding? Or, that we can state enough clearly to be righteous before God? The New Testament is clear…rules divide, the Law kills. In our failing to keep all the rules, we are separated from God. At stake here is living in vital relationship with God, just as we live daily in vital relationship with our sisters and brothers in Christ, with our children and parents and spouses and co-workers and church. Circumstances change and our reactions to these folk ebb and flow depending on how they are acting or responding or based on the circumstances of the situation itself.

Notice that Joshua says that he and his household will serve the Lord (24:15). He frames his religion in terms of availability and obedience based on historic interaction (vv. 2–13), not doctrine. He understands that God commands, leads, and intervenes situationally. Joshua will serve as a response to all that God has done for the patriarchs and the nation Israel. It is about a dynamic relationship. And Jesus lifted David up as a righteous rule breaker (Matthew 12:3–4) in denouncing the legalism of Israel’s religious leaders.

The second problem occurs in our relationship with God. In effect, when we carve our doctrines in stone, we are killing the relationship with God. Rules-making is, in effect, trying to keep God in a box. We reduce God to our control. However, if we were to quantify what we know specifically before the presence of God, it can be defined mathematically as 10-∞, that is, ten to the negative infinity. God is infinite and His knowledge is infinite. Ours can only be expressed in the negative by comparison. Science bears out that we have achieved virtually nothing in trying to understand all of physics and human physiology, let alone trying to comprehend the mysteries of God. We should take to heart 1 Corinthians 3:18-21:

Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become foolish that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness before God. For it is written, “He is the one who catches the wise in their craftiness”; and again, “The Lord knows the reasonings of the wise, that they are useless.” So then let no one boast in men.

To me, “to become foolish” is to recognize my own limitations and, in so doing, to recognize the limitations of others.  Andrew Murray makes the claim in his small book, Humility, that we will be humbled when we recognize God as God, for Who and What He is, and recognize ourselves in light of God. I am a fallen creature redeemed by the blood of Christ. But my flesh, that dwelling place of my pride and fear, would try to convince me that I have attained far more than I have. If I do not make myself aware of my lowly state, of body and mind, then I am truly a fool. If I choose to “become foolish,” I can more easily submit to God and be honest in saying “I don’t know” when it is appropriate, or listening intently for God’s voice when others present ideas or thoughts contrary to my own. That is iron sharpening iron (Proverbs 27:17).

I like Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. This passage sets us up to see that we are faced throughout life with changing circumstances and possibilities of response.

1 There is an appointed time for everything.

And there is a time for every event under heaven– 

2 A time to give birth, and a time to die;

A time to plant, and a time to uproot what is planted. 

3 A time to kill, and a time to heal;

A time to tear down, and a time to build up. 

4 A time to weep, and a time to laugh;

A time to mourn, and a time to dance. 

5 A time to throw stones, and a time to gather stones;

A time to embrace, and a time to shun embracing. 

6 A time to search, and a time to give up as lost;

A time to keep, and a time to throw away. 

7 A time to tear apart, and a time to sew together;

A time to be silent, and a time to speak. 

8 A time to love, and a time to hate;

A time for war, and a time for peace.

The whole point of this essay is that we should humble ourselves and, I think, most especially where it comes to points of doctrine. We are all operating with incomplete knowledge and our pride (thinking we know more than we do) and fear (not trusting those of other doctrine and traditions to the oversight of God) compel us to discount the opinions of others, and even to divide the Church over our opinions. Though we claim to know that we see as through a glass darkly (1 Corinthians 13:12), we are quick to offhandedly dismiss everything someone from an “opposing” camp has to say.

Who among us can say that our understanding of the Bible is the right one? The cartoon below has shown up on Facebook, posted a couple of times by my friends. The absurdity of the cartoon would be funny if it were not so sadly true. Paul wrote, in Philippians 2:3: Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself.”

We must not place our trust in those doctrines that consistently divide. Satan knows the Scriptures better than any of us. He also knows us better than we know ourselves. We must be on constant guard to assess what is happening relationally when we find ourselves vexed by various opinions, or more importantly when those opinions start pushing our blood pressure toward the roof.

To justify our positions and our “righteous anger,” we even go so far as to convince ourselves that we have the discernment that Christ had when He became angry in the Temple or called out the Pharisees for their legalism. To appropriate (and adapt) a famous line once delivered during a political debate: “I know Jesus Christ…and I am no Jesus.”

Ultimately, holding our doctrines loosely honors God in the humble recognition that His ways are far above ours (Isaiah 55:8). Do we want to worship a God that we can understand to the nth degree? Our God is far more than we are, beyond our comprehension…able to save us from ourselves when we cannot. Allow God to be mysterious. Love people, even sinners, more than doctrine. Jesus did.

The life of the Church and of the world is at stake here. That is, our spiritual well-being hangs in the balance as we are the Church and the agency of Christ sharing life with the world. What witness is it to the world when within our own body we are afflicted, disjointed, and broken without healing? What value are we to the Kingdom when we stand on being right before we kneel in humility before God?

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Returning from Exile: A Wise and Understanding People

From before creation, God knew the desperate situation of exile that the Adamic race would face. Thank God, by the power of redemption empowered by Jesus’ obedience, even unto the Cross, that desperate situation shall not endure forever!

I can do nothing apart from the Vine and today, this particular essay must (as should they all, and hopefully do) begin in celebration of the Life, Death, and Resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Father God, hear our cry from the desert of our exile. Thank you Lord Jesus for being the Way of reconciliation. Give us ears to hear and eyes to see your glorious leading that brings us home, more than individuals but as your whole Church, to your bosom. Embrace us, Lord, even now as we seek to know You, to see your face, to understand your ways, and to learn humility such that we would worship you aright, in our work, which is service to your Kingdom. We are broken but know that we are being restored by your Holy Spirit within us. All to your glory, Lord, in the precious name above all names, that of our Lord and King, Jesus Christ. Amen.

We are struck by the contrast between the desperation of the world as it is and the biblical story of redemptive promise. That contrast reminds and challenges us to recall God’s promise of a future, that our hope will not be cut off (Proverbs 23:18). There is wisdom for our souls and if we find it, there will be a future, and our hope will not be cut off (Proverbs 24:14).

God says: “‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope’” (Jeremiah 29:11), that all God’s children shall return to their territory (Jeremiah 31:17).

How will this future come? How will we prosper, overcoming the calamity of this world? How do we get from the disorder of our world today to the order and hope of that future?

The first step toward re-ordering the world is evangelistic, sharing the good news of the Gospel. So why and how does the Gospel re-order the world? and, How does marketplace evangelism contribute to that endeavor?

God did not choose Israel for their particular righteousness. Abraham was chosen for God’s particular purposes from among other contemporary God-fearers (like Melchizedeck) as a man of faith. Abraham trusted God to fulfill His promise of a son. He chose to walk not according to his own understanding . . . he just believed God.

Through Abraham, God chose Israel and gave them His Law (the Torah). An outcome of obedience to Torah is prosperity, insofar as it can be achieved in the fallen state of the Adamic exile. God’s plans for Israel reached beyond the redemption of this particular people. By the witness of their worship as a society, by their good works and service to God, they would glorify and make his name known to the surrounding nations. By coming to know the God of Israel, the Abrahamic promise, the blessing of all the families of the earth (Genesis 12:3), would come to pass.

What was to be the impact of such a social witness? It would meet the hearts of the surrounding nations right where they were. They would take note of the contrast between the life of Israel and their own. That contrast could only be attributed to the God of Israel dwelling in their midst.

What would that social witness look like? It would be seen in the welfare of the whole of Hebrew society. The aim of shalom is far more than simply peace as the absence of conflict. Shalom includes safety, security, contentment, provision, well-being, as general welfare, even prosperity, that surpasses that of the nations of this world.

How can such a social witness be achieved? Only by the transforming Word of God, as it changes hearts and character, and produces behavioral change. Israel would be a strange people in the context of their surrounding world. Their behavior would create a situation so different it would compel the surrounding nations to come to God:

Now it will come about that In the last days, The mountain of the house of the LORD Will be established as the chief of the mountains, And will be raised above the hills; And all the nations will stream to it. And many peoples will come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, To the house of the God of Jacob; That He may teach us concerning His ways, And that we may walk in His paths.’ For the law will go forth from Zion, And the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.” – Isaiah 2:2-3

Again, how was such a state of things to come about?

“See, I have taught you statutes and judgments just as the LORD my God commanded me, that you should do thus in the land where you are entering to possess it.” – Deuteronomy 4:5

By seeking to know God and living obediently in His ways, Israel would become that witness, revealing God’s glory. The manifest evidence would appear to the other nations in the Israelite society:

“So keep and do [My statues and judgements], for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’” – Deuteronomy 4:6

Before we jump too far too fast, we must keep Jesus’ debate with the Pharisees concerning the Sabbath in mind (Matthew 12:1–13). It is easy to create a list of Do’s and Don’t’s though it will never be easy to keep them. And even if we are able, it is ultimately a false piety. But we are endowed with the Spirit behind the Law and, as Jesus makes clear in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:17–48), our expectation is too actually live to a ethical level and accountability higher than the Law. We are released from the Law but serve God in the newness of the Spirit (Romans 7:6), living an even better way.

There is much to be gleaned from the Law and Prophets, and the discerning wisdom emanating from the Spirit as it communes with our own leads us toward that better way. Let us take the Law seriously, as it was grace upon grace for those to whom it was given and informs us still today as we seek to know God and understand and follow His ways.

We hear the echoing of Israel’s call in the words of James 3:13: “Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom.”

The witness we bring to the marketplace is a witness of righteousness lived out in wisdom from above. There may be time and place for the conversational sharing of our faith and the Way of salvation with co-workers, customers, employees, or vendors, but our greatest witness is in the transformed character of our day-to-day work, with integrity and diligence, creating goodness and balance (shalom), bearing fruit in keeping with James’ conclusion in 3:17–18:

“But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”

Our return from exile is only by the Way of the Cross, in submission to Christ, sacrificially and humbly serving the interests of all (Philippians 2:4).

There are two effective levels–personal and systemic–at which the redemption of the marketplace occurs. There are many who are doing the first well but considerably fewer achieving the second. That is understandable as the second, systemic reform, is far more difficult.

The first is in bringing respect for others, and even concern for their financial well-being, into play with customers, employees, vendors, and the surrounding community. To treat all people with which we interact with dignity and grace seems to be a given. If we are ill-tempered or demeaning toward others we, for the most part, would perceive that as being a poor witness of the gentleness and meekness of Christ. Even as we act charitably, we relish the warm feeling inside from having done well by another who was in need of our help.

There are likely three cases where, even among many of those who minister to these constituencies fairly well, may fall short. The first is charity of the purse. That is, there comes a point where we begin to assess the level of our giving attitude on expeditious lines. We like to be charitable but seldom do we actually do it sacrificially, that is, in such a way that it costs us more than a slight discomfort in our own lifestyles. It is great when we give but it must be balanced even further against the desire for bigger homes, new and fancier cars, lavish dining out, expensive entertainments, and golf weekends on the coast.

The second case is in charity of the Spirit. In personal contact relationships, we are often expeditious in drawing the line at taking a shot at forgiveness. But the Way of the Cross, that is the laying down of one’s life for another, goes beyond forgiveness in seeking the way of reconciliation and restoration. Many believe it expeditious to fire an employee if there is any indiscretion or moral lapse found in their behavior. But has not much more been found in our own, though perhaps unseen by others or even ourselves, buried by our blind denial? This is a sacrifice that can be costly but more in the sense of our own growing in righteousness and grace than in any economic way. It also likely holds a greater eternal value for the one forgiven, reconciled, and restored. Trust is fragile but one held accountable and restored to trust will most often cherish and honor their duty to uphold the integrity of the relationship going forward. This manner of forgiveness is that which has ultimately redeemed all of creation.

The third case, moving from a more personal to systemic orientation, where we often fall short, and a very understandable one, is in awareness, fostering a lack of focus and intention. In our busyness, we often are isolated from those beyond our personal spheres. While we in the West enjoy the highest standards of living in world history, there are yet those who languish. It is estimated that 15,000 die every day around the world simply because they are too poor to stay alive. That is one person every six seconds. In the time of our enduring another annoying television commercial for products of which we have no need, ten people have succumbed to the lack of basic nutrition and healthcare. In the eight to ten minutes required to read this essay, the number of fatalities has grown to nearly one hundred.

There are a myriad of ways we can join ourselves to the causes of eradicating political and economic injustice. There are investments of time, such as through advocacy, strategic intervention, job and business training, mentoring, and so on. There are also then investments of resources in efforts of charitable giving and investing in the poor through social venture and the like.

As I have purveyed the growth of marketplace ministries they tend to fall into three categories: spiritual care (discipleship, workplace chaplaincy, Bible study, prayer groups, etc.), economic care (employment transition support, business and economic development, community renewal, social venture and investment funding, and job and skills training) and theological development (research and publishing). These all require a great deal of time and money. The first category is seeing widespread growth. The second and third categories, for now, are still wanting but offer terrific opportunities for the Church to “love another” and, by our good works, reveal the glory of God to the world.

The road returning from the exile from Eden is a long and arduous way. But increased mobilization offers opportunity to make that road more tolerable and the distance home ever shorter. The witness of economic justice for all, that is, working toward achieving global shalom, will reveal that Christ’s body, the Church, is a wise and understanding people.

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Work, Environmentalism, and Human DNA

“Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.” – Genesis 2:15

There is a fundamental misunderstanding about Adam’s role in the Garden of Eden, which is, for us, the earth. The Garden, our ecosystem, provides for all of our physical needs. In fact, it provides abundantly…except where sin has so corrupted the human heart that the abundance is not shared but hoarded or spent on self-indulgent or self-aggrandizing opulence. But I digress.

The misunderstanding comes from not paying careful attention when we read the Bible, which is another essay unto itself still waiting to be written. We may not have heard many sermons on the theology of work or stewardship based on Genesis 2:15 but I have yet to hear one (insofar as I can recall) that got it quite right. Since this is a field very connected to my focus on the integration of Judeo-Christian faith and economics, I spend a fair amount of time reading or listening to what others have to say about this pivotal verse in the Garden narrative of Genesis 1–2.

To date, every reading or teaching I have come across will say something about God commanding Adam to work and till the Garden. That’s the problem: that command never happened, at least it is not explicitly recorded in the text. The text simply says that God put the man in the Garden to fulfill two roles: to work and to tend. He did not tell Adam to work and to tend. All that is to say that working and tending were not so much choices that Adam made . . . as much as they were designed into what he was, his function and purpose amidst creation and vitally central to his humanity.

What this boils down to is significant. To be human means that work and environmentalism (creation care) are critical components of being true to what we are. We cannot be fully human without acknowledging and fulfilling these aspects of our created status. How then should that affect our views of consumption, waste, and conservatism?

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For the Love of Drill Bits, or Tool Box Economics

Imagine if you will, a society foreign to our own, where money has been banished from daily life. There is no medium of exchange and the populous is removed from working in a once thriving economy to one of simple barter. That is until someone discovers that, for whatever reason you can imagine, since from the inception of this story you have already been imagining things, that drill bits have been found to be of particular value in this now overly simplified economy.

But drill bits, though valued as highly as they are, are not necessary for daily use in whatever process it is that makes them of such sublime value. But necessary, more generally, they are. Some certain persons began to worry that, at some particular point in the future, they might be in need a of drill bits and find themselves without. They began to be more diligent in the pursuit of drill bits, even resorting to drill bit hoarding, and hence a new currency economy emerged, revolving around (and around and around…pun fully intended) around drill bits.

It absolutely must be shared also that in an adjoining province, the necessity of drill bits was all but nonexistent. Seeking after drill bits and especially hoarding them would have been utterly nonsensical. However, in that adjoining culture, hammers…yes, hammers…were the cat’s meow. If one were, over time, able to collect a multitudinous collection of hammers, that one was not only believed to be secure, in this second tool-based economy, for life, but was generally also widely considered wise and to be admired. Some even began to have their higher quality hammers plated in silver and gold (which were oddly overly abundant) and the handles bedecked with the emeralds, diamonds, and rubies that could be found lying about the fields.

Needless to say, the pursuit of drill bits and hammers took on a life of its own. Some even believed that somehow, mystically, drill bits and hammers, obviously in each respective province, bestowed favor on their possessors. Drill bits and hammers became objects of great desire,…pursuing them, owning them an obsession…to the degree that one might even call it worship, in that many individuals, and whole classes of citizens, committed themselves entirely to the pursuit and exchange of drill bits and hammers. Special storage facilities were created with heavy vaults to keep these precious tools secure and the practice instituted of lending drill bits and hammers to those who might find themselves in need of them but also finding themselves, in that particular moment, without any drill bits or hammers.

The obsession with drill bits and hammers grew enormously popular, to the point that some found themselves unable even to borrow drill bits or hammers because some few in society hoarded so many. For those without, life became a struggle again since drill bits and hammers had become the currency of choice, and the society began to be divided, between those with drill bits or hammers and those without drill bits or hammers, due to the obsession of the With’s. Bitterness ensued and society became less and less congenial and more and more disillusioned and all manner of accusation and divisiveness and muttering was heard daily at the too often barren hardware stores.

Ludicrous as this story may be, I hope it has become obvious that the love of drill bits or hammers supplanted not only a balanced, enjoyable society but unbalanced the minds of the With’s as their obsession overtook social sense.

We are wise to remember that money is just a tool that, like drill bits or hammers, can be used to good purpose for the interest of society or ill-abused to hedge against the fear of falling into poverty or to serve the self-aggrandizement and ego of its possessors. But how odd that we find it ludicrous, the idea of, in effect, serving, that is worshiping, the cause of drill bits or hammers, simple tools, while spending our lives, our relationships, and too often even our health, in the pursuit of money above living in righteous community the way God desires.

“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” – Matthew 6:24

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Game Theory and Moral Economics

I have become a fan of game theory. Since I believe I am physically allergic to mathematics (it makes my brain hurt real bad), it is not the application of formulaic minutiae that intrigues me so much as some of the defining concepts and understanding how to apply them to questions of moral importance. But before we get to far, let’s chat about what game theory is. I think the title of Roger Myerson’s book, Game Theory: Analysis of Conflict (Harvard University Press, 1991), goes very far. Game theory is a scientific approach to understanding the past and predicting future performance. It is a powerful tool to help overcome the downfall that besets those who refuse to understand history as it informs how to live into the future, i.e., informing wise decision-making.

Since I am much more interested in the moral issues of decision-making (which only sometimes make my brain hurt) than the migraine inducing wrath of higher mathematics, I engage game theory only as a framework for the discussion because, as said, its logic includes terminology that has enormous moral implications. I will not go deep into that terminology since derivations within the constructs of game theory introduce ideas that require proofs and theorems, which are precursive symptoms of my migraines and untowardly involve actually indulging in calculations and odd symbols that need too much explaining, so much that I refuse to have them explained to me. Frankly, proofs and theorems have no place in genteel discourse as they necessarily require at least everyone other than the speaker in most social settings being left feeling the fool and afraid to ask the detailed questions, nor take the years of additional education, necessary to grasp whatever it is the speaker seems to be rambling on about. I always nod, think of other things, and take her or his word for it.

However, all that rambling behind, there are some baseline concepts that are useful: there are two types of games (we all understand games, right?) which are actually three (and see already it is starting to involve mathematics so I will tread very lightly). The two types of games are zero-sum games and…wait for it, non-zero-sum games, the opposite of zero sum games…but not so much. Non-zero-sum games can be either negative sum games or positive sum games. Allow me to illustrate each simply.

A zero-sum game is one in which whatever reward one player achieves cannot be achieved by another player and the outcomes are of a fixed amount. For example, in a poker game, the sum total of all the bets are no more or less than the sum total of all the bets. The outcomes are simply a matter of who goes home with other folks money and who eats Ramen noodles until payday. If $100 comes to the table, that amount is exactly what leaves the table. If one person gains, another person loses. That’s the way we expect most games to be played…but it ain’t so!

There are games which result in negative sums. The classic example is war. While conquest may be yield tribute or immediate gain through loot, the downside is incalculable simply due to the long term lost productivity of those killed in the war and the productivity of all of their progeny into the unforeseeable future. The immediate loss of life in a war is only a small measure of the ultimate accumulation of losses. A lot of criminal activity is also negative sum, especially if it results in loss of life (same progeny issues as war) or physical harm (whether to limb or property), but also in the overall costs to society for legislative expenses, policing, jailing, courts, etc. A large portion of the costs of the legal system include the housing and attempts at rehabilitation of criminals. The accumulated losses of such games outweigh any measurable positive that may have resulted, though in war and crime it is difficult to justify that there is much in the way of positive gain other than some forms of immediate gratification (though the establishment of freedom and the removal of economic and political oppression can throw a monkey wrench into the calculations).

BUT! There is one type of game, the positive sum game, which holds real promise. In fact, throughout biological and cultural evolution, the proliferation of plant and animal life, as well as the advancement of creature comfort and security for humankind, it is the accumulation of positive sum games far outweighing the negative or zero sum games that delivers us to this day wherein, despite an increasing global population, material wealth is accumulating more quickly than population…and the world is getting better off.

The fundamental principle of God introducing Eve into the Garden of Eden as helpmate (before He called her Adam’s wife) is cooperation. The greater the cooperation (and the incumbent collaboration – the sharing of information, whether data, processes, or creative ideas), the greater the productive efficiency and economic growth and prosperity.

So, here the logic of game theory meets morality: we can choose how we play the game! That is, we can intentionally avoid zero and negative sum games, if we can muster up the will power, and focus entirely on how to craft positive sum games. Jeffrey Sachs, the author of The End of Poverty, makes clear that there is now more than enough wealth in the world to end abject poverty. Thus far, we (the human race) have not demonstrated the political will to make it happen.

In addition to the abundance that already exists, there is an upside potential among the global poor, of some two billion people, that remains largely untapped. The productivity of these folk, once unleashed, will enhance global economics to levels only dreamed of before. Now, for the first time in human history, we have the resources (beyond the purely financial, especially in information and communications) to make that change happen. Will we choose to do so?

I invite conversation on possible strategies that can far surpass the failed beliefs and practices of of central planning, trickle-down economics (which has lent itself to deeper levels of wealth distribution inequity), and dependency-creating aid models. What is most encouraging is that game theory models can prove that the upside of investing in small enterprises, especially among the poor and marginalized, creates a more decentralized system, which even creation bears out (look into the diverse, decentralized complexity of the global ecosystem) as holding the greatest potential, that will bear the much more fruit.

The inequitable distribution of global wealth is THE moral issue of our day. Poverty lends itself to the proliferation of numerous evils, including crime, revolution, abortion, and so on. Much of the impact of these travesties can be mitigated by economic empowerment. I believe that changing how we do things economically is the standard by which this generation will decide if we see the next major movement in advancing God’s Kingdom in hearts, as the witness of economic justice, intentionally carried out by Christians, will gloriously demonstrate the love of God for all creation.

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The Value of Reading Broadly (even Outside Christian Literature)

This essay is an open challenge for the Church to step up intellectually. We are commanded to “’love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’  This is the great and foremost commandment” – Matthew 22:37-38 (Jesus reciting Deuteronomy 6:5, emphasis mine).

I was jolted to think once again about my habit of reading broadly when I realized that the last three books on my reading list were authored by three men, unrelated insofar as I know, with the same last name: Wright. I do not know that that coincidence has any meaning but I found it intriguing. The first was The Mission of God by Christopher Wright, then Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny by Robert Wright, and finally, Simply Christian by N.T. Wright. The first and last are without question Christian literature. While Robert Wright touches on questions of divinity, his approach is definitely not from any particular faith point of view, in fact, quite the opposite.

This “event” in my reading got me to thinking. If one were to read through the “Suggested Reading” and “Cited Bibliography” of Eden’s Bridge: The Marketplace in Creation and Mission (about nine pages total) they would discover a significant number of non-Christian entries. The Christian literature listed includes material from several different Christian traditions as well, including authors from perspectives of the Reformed, Roman Catholic, Evangelical, and so on. My book shelves are lined with many books on a variety of topics, including psychology, marketing, philosophy, leadership, fiction, game theory, social and cultural development, Bible commentary, church history, theology, and the list goes on and on. (I even have one on the history of the flush toilet, Flushed with Pride, that was a gift from my sister-in-law.)

There are, I think, several advantages to reading broadly and, as the title above suggests, even significantly outside Christian literature. I will address those which seem most relevant and apparent to me: perspective, tunnel vision, and wisdom.

First is a matter of perspective. Thomas Friedman, in his seminal work on globalization, The Lexus and the Olive Tree, elucidates the advantage of having a “globalistic” view of the world. That is, he encourages the idea of becoming generalists in a world running swiftly down the paths of specialization. If one invests themselves in a narrow discipline, it is easy to lose perspective of the broader realities of the kaleidoscope of life. Our world is complex and we can quickly lose sight of how a variety of disciplines and concerns are ultimately all of one integrated whole. When it came time for me to decide whether to pursue a PhD or simply write Eden’s Bridge, I realized that I would have to give up my pursuit of the broad perspective for three or four years while narrowing my focus to the specific topic at hand. Three or four years of continuing panoramic observation amidst the fast-paced change dynamic of our hyper-speed world was simply too expensive to let go.

A significant point that Friedman touches on, and one I find especially poignant, parallels the argument for liberal arts education. If we specialize in a technical field, it is easy to get a handle on the “how” particular things work but quite possible to miss or lose real insight as to the “why” and how they relate to one another. My older brother is a world class electrical engineer, a chip designer. I also know, however, he reads a great deal other than technical journals and thus has a broader perspective on life. He may not delve as deeply or broadly as I into other materials but does so, at least in my thinking, more than most professional “technologists,” as many of those folk, especially at the bleeding edges of technology, are pressed to stay abreast of all the new developments that might inform their next moves at work. Specialization is a good thing for career development and economic progress but can create silos in which practitioners, albeit unwittingly, move away from full social integration.

The second advantage (though stated in a negative sense) is related to the first: Those who read only Christian literature (perhaps outside their professional pursuits) can end up with blinders not unlike those of a technologist in a particular specialization. We are missing too much of what is happening around us if we are effectively withdrawn from the world to which we are trying to minister. We cannot minister adequately if we have no real notion of who these people are, how they think, and the ends they are pursuing. How can we show them a better way if we do not thoroughly understand the way they are going? Jesus critiqued the critical thinking skills of “godly” people in the Parable of the Unjust Steward (Luke 16) by saying the children of the world are wiser than the sons of light (v. 8). His next statement was the command that we should “make friends for yourselves by means of the mammon (MONEY!) of unrighteousness” (v. 9).

Do not think that I want to discourage reading Christian literature. A great deal of my seminary studies focused on the content of a wide range of Christian literature. I do want Christians to read outside Christian literature simply because we tend toward that which, while expanding our understanding of our faith, might lead us into tunnel vision. If we are to affect change in the world, we must engage it, at least initially, somewhat on its own terms, just as Jesus went into the streets and marketplace of Jerusalem to teach.

For reading in Christian literature, I would encourage reading across the boundaries of denominations and traditions to engage ideas that may challenge presuppositions. There are Christians offering well documented and Scriptural arguments on both sides of most critical social issues. It is easy to become comfortable if everything we engage is “preaching to the choir,” because it can lead to rationalizing a narrowed view of reality, even Christian reality, reinforcing the point of view we already have. Also, read things that are not the pulp fiction of the Christian world. Seek out writings from recognized and critically acclaimed authors, not just the book of the month from popular leaders. I have to read more slowly with deep authors but the material leads me into a much greaterunderstanding of Scripture and Church history than most things written for the broader Christian audience.

To close: do not fear being exposed to worldly ideas but be wise as serpents amidst the wolves (Matthew 10:16). The God who is in you is greater than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4). Do not hesitate to carefully consider what may be revealed to and through those outside the Church. Even Nebuchadnezzar became an agent of God in protecting and providing for the revitalization of Israel. We should glean whatever good fruit we can from the world’s fields then prepare an open feast seasoned by our being the salt of the earth.

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