Thursday, September 23, 2010

Gospel or Baloney?

I'm usually pretty laid-back. I like to diffuse tense situations with humor. But I can definitely get irritated if the things that are really important to me are dissed or misrepresented.

So, here's what happened to me this past week. I was listening to a sermon where the preacher was talking about the prosperity gospel. Don't worry, he was talking about how much he hates it. He showed this video from John Piper, which is a little intense but still pretty on-point about the whole issue. He warned the congregation against being taken in by the prosperity gospel.

Then he went to make a point which, in essence, I agree with (and which I'll talk more about in a minute), but I was actually almost hurt by how he set it up. What he said was that there's a "gospel" on the other end of the spectrum that reacts to the prosperity gospel and insists that all material possessions are bad. This, he said, is especially big among young Christians today, who live in community and voluntary poverty, which seems nice but, and I quote, is "baloney."

For those of you who don't know, I have been profoundly influenced by Shane Claiborne's book The Irresistible Revolution and the ministry of Rutba House/Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Isaiah House, the Pathways program, New Monasticism and more, all of which focus on intentional Christian community; St. Francis, the champion of voluntary poverty, is a personal hero of mine; I have made 3 trips to Christ in the Desert Monastery, where one of the monks' vows is conversion of life, or poverty; and I currently live in a house with 5 other people where we commit to daily prayer, weekly meals, retreats and more (and our house mentors are the folks at Isaiah House).

So I didn't react well to having all of that called "baloney."

Pause. The point this pastor was trying to make was legitimate. Poverty cannot and should not be glorified or romanticized. Those who choose to live simply defeat their purpose if they are self-righteous about it. Not everyone is called to live in a poor neighborhood and make their own clothes. My housemates and I by no means live in poverty--each of us has our own computer, though the fact that we don't have a TV is sometimes a source of pride for me, which is ridiculous, and I need reminders like this to stay humble. I mean, come on, I didn't even wake up for prayer this morning. I have no moral high ground on which to stand.

But in Matthew 19:21, Jesus says to the young ruler, "sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor." I hate doing exegesis on this passage. I feel like I either have to compromise the integrity of Jesus' own words or out myself as a complete hypocrite. Mamby-pamby interpretations like "Well, Jesus really just meant that we need to be willing to give up our possessions" just don't do it for me (though I can't unilaterally deny them).

A major reason St. Francis was such a revolutionary character is that he read those words in Matthew and thought he was actually supposed to do what Jesus said. Any good Christian these days knows that's taking things too far. "Baloney," even.

Of course, the church needs rich people. My dad's church in Charlotte is able to do phenomenal missions work thanks to the generosity of a number of wealthy members. But the point of things like the Simple Way (ideally) is that if everyone lived a little more simply, maybe we could distribute wealth more justly. It's like that bumper sticker I see sometimes: "Live simply so that others may simply live."

I genuinely struggle with the question of whether it is sinful to be wealthy. Of course, I'm sitting here on my Macbook wearing a new outfit and zoning out of a graduate course at Duke. I don't have the answers.

3 comments:

Robert Fischer said...

Yeah, calling it "baloney" is just harsh. Did he even attempt to back it up, or did he just dismiss it?

That said, I wonder about how much new monasticism and this disdain of wealth is simply another kind of young adult rebellion and a new schismaticism. Will it persist when people start getting married and having kids, or will we end up selling out like the hippies did?

Re: the rich young ruler: I also hate the "you have to be willing to..." line. Especially when I hear that in churches that are struggling financially when the parishioners aren't. Or, worse, when the church is struggling for volunteers!

As far as I can tell, the most solid 'out' seems to be keying off of "When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was a man of great wealth" (Luke's account, NIV). So then you argue in a very notably Buddhist way, "Really, the parable is about attachment to things of this world, and so you won't sacrifice everything to get eternal life." Ironically, that actually makes the situation worse, because it's no longer about money: it's about anything that you want to hang onto. So the most justifiable "escape" for people with money actually lands you in a place where you're called on to surrender not just money, but everything you treasure.

Sarah said...

Nah he just dismissed it. Urgh.

The thing is, the people I know in new monasticism who are my heroes are married and have kids. Maybe it's a fad, but I'm not convinced. And I don't know that it's necessarily a disdain of wealth but a push to use it properly. I mean, one woman I know who lives in intentional community (with a husband and 2 kids) is a physical therapist at Duke. I'm sure she makes good money, and I don't know what all she uses it for, but it certainly isn't to provide herself with a cushy lifestyle. To me, it's not about refusing to earn or take money, but about using it to help others.

Robert Fischer said...

When that kind of stuff happens, then you really have a hope for this being a long-term transformational movement. Which is cool.

There's a lot of Christian localism and agrarianism that's kinda digging at the same spot. The whole "less [stuff] is more [godly]" movement is heading this way, and I really hope we can keep it up!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Gospel or Baloney?

I'm usually pretty laid-back. I like to diffuse tense situations with humor. But I can definitely get irritated if the things that are really important to me are dissed or misrepresented.

So, here's what happened to me this past week. I was listening to a sermon where the preacher was talking about the prosperity gospel. Don't worry, he was talking about how much he hates it. He showed this video from John Piper, which is a little intense but still pretty on-point about the whole issue. He warned the congregation against being taken in by the prosperity gospel.

Then he went to make a point which, in essence, I agree with (and which I'll talk more about in a minute), but I was actually almost hurt by how he set it up. What he said was that there's a "gospel" on the other end of the spectrum that reacts to the prosperity gospel and insists that all material possessions are bad. This, he said, is especially big among young Christians today, who live in community and voluntary poverty, which seems nice but, and I quote, is "baloney."

For those of you who don't know, I have been profoundly influenced by Shane Claiborne's book The Irresistible Revolution and the ministry of Rutba House/Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Isaiah House, the Pathways program, New Monasticism and more, all of which focus on intentional Christian community; St. Francis, the champion of voluntary poverty, is a personal hero of mine; I have made 3 trips to Christ in the Desert Monastery, where one of the monks' vows is conversion of life, or poverty; and I currently live in a house with 5 other people where we commit to daily prayer, weekly meals, retreats and more (and our house mentors are the folks at Isaiah House).

So I didn't react well to having all of that called "baloney."

Pause. The point this pastor was trying to make was legitimate. Poverty cannot and should not be glorified or romanticized. Those who choose to live simply defeat their purpose if they are self-righteous about it. Not everyone is called to live in a poor neighborhood and make their own clothes. My housemates and I by no means live in poverty--each of us has our own computer, though the fact that we don't have a TV is sometimes a source of pride for me, which is ridiculous, and I need reminders like this to stay humble. I mean, come on, I didn't even wake up for prayer this morning. I have no moral high ground on which to stand.

But in Matthew 19:21, Jesus says to the young ruler, "sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor." I hate doing exegesis on this passage. I feel like I either have to compromise the integrity of Jesus' own words or out myself as a complete hypocrite. Mamby-pamby interpretations like "Well, Jesus really just meant that we need to be willing to give up our possessions" just don't do it for me (though I can't unilaterally deny them).

A major reason St. Francis was such a revolutionary character is that he read those words in Matthew and thought he was actually supposed to do what Jesus said. Any good Christian these days knows that's taking things too far. "Baloney," even.

Of course, the church needs rich people. My dad's church in Charlotte is able to do phenomenal missions work thanks to the generosity of a number of wealthy members. But the point of things like the Simple Way (ideally) is that if everyone lived a little more simply, maybe we could distribute wealth more justly. It's like that bumper sticker I see sometimes: "Live simply so that others may simply live."

I genuinely struggle with the question of whether it is sinful to be wealthy. Of course, I'm sitting here on my Macbook wearing a new outfit and zoning out of a graduate course at Duke. I don't have the answers.

3 comments:

Robert Fischer said...

Yeah, calling it "baloney" is just harsh. Did he even attempt to back it up, or did he just dismiss it?

That said, I wonder about how much new monasticism and this disdain of wealth is simply another kind of young adult rebellion and a new schismaticism. Will it persist when people start getting married and having kids, or will we end up selling out like the hippies did?

Re: the rich young ruler: I also hate the "you have to be willing to..." line. Especially when I hear that in churches that are struggling financially when the parishioners aren't. Or, worse, when the church is struggling for volunteers!

As far as I can tell, the most solid 'out' seems to be keying off of "When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was a man of great wealth" (Luke's account, NIV). So then you argue in a very notably Buddhist way, "Really, the parable is about attachment to things of this world, and so you won't sacrifice everything to get eternal life." Ironically, that actually makes the situation worse, because it's no longer about money: it's about anything that you want to hang onto. So the most justifiable "escape" for people with money actually lands you in a place where you're called on to surrender not just money, but everything you treasure.

Sarah said...

Nah he just dismissed it. Urgh.

The thing is, the people I know in new monasticism who are my heroes are married and have kids. Maybe it's a fad, but I'm not convinced. And I don't know that it's necessarily a disdain of wealth but a push to use it properly. I mean, one woman I know who lives in intentional community (with a husband and 2 kids) is a physical therapist at Duke. I'm sure she makes good money, and I don't know what all she uses it for, but it certainly isn't to provide herself with a cushy lifestyle. To me, it's not about refusing to earn or take money, but about using it to help others.

Robert Fischer said...

When that kind of stuff happens, then you really have a hope for this being a long-term transformational movement. Which is cool.

There's a lot of Christian localism and agrarianism that's kinda digging at the same spot. The whole "less [stuff] is more [godly]" movement is heading this way, and I really hope we can keep it up!

 

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