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Mission and Mammon in Dialogue and Conflict in God’s Story
The Moral Dimensions of
Brandon Rhodes Box # 679 Word count: 7,589 Problem Summary God has extraordinary expectations on how people respond to wealth -- that is, the sum of a moral agent’s land, money, assets, possessions, and workers. It’s hard to get around: how a person, household, church, business, or government deals with wealth is one of the defining priorities in God’s mission to set the creation project aright, the missio dei.1 Its consequences are historical and eternal, for it is written that all will be judged in part by what they did with what God has made (Mat 25:34-46; Rom 2:6-10; Rev 11:18). Moreover, the potential to sinfully wield wealth is one that will not go away on this side of Judgment Day. Yet for all this certainty that God cares so much about how his creatures wield wealth, there is a surprising amount that is unclear about what a biblical attitude toward wealth consists of. Consequently, along life’s journey several questions are always asked concerning how wealth should be dealt with. Is it right or wrong to enjoy wealth? Some people think enjoying wealth is always wrong. Others think it is always God’s blessing. Still others talk as if certain kinds of wealth-enjoyment are wrong. Should a member of God’s community receive all wealth as God’s blessing? Or are there certain ways of acquiring wealth which are wrong? Some excuse unjust financial gain by insisting that it is going toward great kingdom works.
David J. Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission, (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1991), 76ff.
Was God’s way of blessing His people different in Israel than in eschatological Israel (the church)? Some believe that material abundance in both epochs are signs of God’s favor, a kind of “prosperity gospel.” Others emphasize one this for one epoch more than another. And many see wealth as a millstone around every Christian’s neck which will likely destroy them. But is it always a millstone? What of the inbreaking Reign of God announced by Jesus? And what of the missio dei, God’s restorative work of turning the world rightside up in history? What impact do either of these have on Christian ethics? Is there something to be said for a spiritual discipline of simplicity? Some believe it to merely be veiled asceticism, while others rabidly profess its beauty. Should such a discipline function more for inward “heart” change, or as a way of helping set the world rightside up? What of ethical dilemmas between using wealth to end poverty and financing evangelistic efforts? Some think emphasizing the former could look like a Heaven on Earth at the cost of an emptier eternal Heaven. Others think God always wants His people to set the world aright today, and thus often include how the Christian deals with wealth as vital to authentic evangelism. How much wealth is enough wealth? Is upward mobility ever wrong? In a culture of more, an economy of constant growth, and a political climate tempered by the proverb, “It’s the economy, stupid”, Christians in America struggle to find contentment. Ethical Approach This paper will attempt to charter a system of missional ethics by hybridizing several other ethical systems together with the emerging theological themes of the missio dei, narrative and narrative truth, and the centrality of the Kingdom or Reign of God. It is very similar in form to narrative ethics, affective faith ethics, and kingdom ethics, but differs by painting it with gentle hues of eschatological realism, and by its central incorporation of the missio dei in its interpretive schema. Missional ethics is teleologically oriented toward the inbreaking eschatological Reign of God, deontologically honed by following the model and teachings of Jesus Christ, narratively
lived out in a particularly faith community partaking in the broader missio dei, and birthed out an affective response to the delivering God of the biblical accounts. Dialogically shaping the narrative framework for Missional Ethics Missional ethics begins by asking several questions about God’s story of historical redemption so as to find His followers’ roles in that drama.2 It is from that role in God’s drama, that identity in Christ, that place on God’s cosmic canvass, which the missional ethicist can begin to make ethical assessments. What are God’s intentions for the creation project? God intends to merge Heaven and Earth so that “the dwelling of God is with men” (Rev 21:3). Some day, the Reign of God will be complete, and completely encompassing. This Reign as alluded to in Isaiah is characterized by: deliverance/salvation, righteousness/justice, peace, joy, God’s presence as Spirit or light, and healing.3 These themes are echoed in John’s final vision of the New Heaven and New Earth in Revelation 21-22. It reflects a world turned rightside up, in which by grace everything is doing what it was intended to do. It is God’s dream for the world arriving at last. What has and is God doing in relation to that promised future? That future has already broken in to this sin-stained and demon-occupied world through God’s active work and presence in Israel, and in Jesus and the Church. God has ever been in the process of setting the world to rights – the missio dei – in partnership with his creatures. Since the Incarnation, He does this by restoring, recreating, and redeeming all of creation.4 The relationship between his restorative, re-creative, and redemptive work now and His robust denouement of “fast-forwarding” to the New Earth is a holy mystery. Where does humanity today fit into that drama? Humanity’s original and ongoing vocation is to be God’s image-bearers on Earth. They were to administer God’s
There is insufficient space here to explain and defend the epistemology behind this more narrative, dialogical style here used to unpack missional ethics. Its absence should not detract from the thesis. This section may feel like too much throat-clearing of Bible basics, but it is critical for building missional ethics. 3 David P. Gushee and Glen H. Stassen, Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context. (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 25.
Randy Alcorn, Heaven. (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale Press, 2004), chapter 15.
Reign over creation, and enjoy creation with justice and love. After the Fall, all creation (and so all humans) are called to be partakers in the restorative missio dei, God’s work in setting the world right side up. This means humanity should enjoy right relationship with God, and flowing out from that, right relationship with their fellow creatures. This is not only an issue of rightly-oriented hearts, but of rightly-shaped societies teeming across the surface of the Earth. That is, the missio dei includes affective reorientation and sociopolitical characteristics. Roger Hedlund identifies God’s socio-political priorities as revealed to Israel in the Torah as: concern for the poor (Deut. 15:4-5, 11), truthful court justice (Deut. 16:19), care for creation (Deut. 20:19, 22:6-7), equality through “a style of life both egalitarian and humane” (Lev. 25; Deut. 10:18-19; 15:12; 16:20; 19), and special concern for foreigners (Exodus 22:21).5 To accomplish the missio dei, God chose the descendants of Abraham to be models and agents of His dream for creation, a sort of “authentic creation in microcosm”.6 In choosing to bless the house of Abraham, God revealed his goal of a redeemed community on earth: “I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you. All the families of the earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:3). From God came a special election of Abraham’s descendants to usher in the fullness of salvation for the world. Yet Israel’s “election does not imply favoritism. Election is not for private enjoyment, but to service. God’s election of Israel does not thereby exclude anyone.”7 Although God certainly deals with nations apart from Israel,8 he chose the house of Jacob to be the thrust of his missio dei. What role does Jesus the Christ have in this? National-ethnic Israel failed terribly in their vocation (cf. Isaiah 26:18). They never got on with the business of either faithfully worshipping Yahweh or joining Him in setting the world rightside up; or not for long, anyway. So, God promised new creation. He has already begun the work of new
Roger E. Hedlund, A Biblical Theology: The Mission of the Church in the World. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1991), 76-82. Andrew Perriman, “Cracks in the pavement: an emerging story of creation”. Available at http://www.opensourcetheology.net/node/1082/.
7 6 5
Hedlund, 37. Ibid, 68-70.
creation in the person of Jesus Christ, whom N.T. Wright says “was God’s future suddenly rushing in to the present.”9 This was particularly so in his bodily resurrection, the fatal blow to evil and the final outworking of His victory on the cross. That cruciform victory was “the hinge upon which the door to God’s new world had swung open.”10 Because of those incredible events – the Cross and Resurrection – Satan has been bound, evil crushed, death defeated, the powers disarmed and shamed. So also came the New Covenant, that by God’s grace He writes the law on His peoples’ hearts (Jer. 31:33) and enables their hearts to do good works (that is, partner in the missio dei) by faith. Graceenabled faith isn’t the end, but rather is the means toward empowering and commissioning His people for authentic participation in the missio dei. How should the people of God be understood in this chapter of God’s story, as the church? God’s restorative movement in history continues through process of making new creations of those in His church. They are firstfruits guaranteeing what is to come. Guder says the church represents God’s eschatological Reign by bringing “what is hidden [God’s future] into view as sign and into experience as foretaste. At the same time, it also represents to the world the divine reign’s character, claims, demands, and gracious gifts as its agent and instrument.”11 In this sense, the church is made in Christ as God’s new humanity, a new way of being the dispersed and denationalized people of God sent in worshipful participation of the missio dei to the ends of the earth. They as eschatological Israel continue to be seeds, salt, and light of God to the Earth, authentically renewed image-bearers improvising God’s promised future reign today. Bell describes them as God’s “counter-cultural insurgency that actually believes the world can be put back together.”12 It is a community of disciples of Jesus whose love and justice bear witness to the love and justice of their King and Lord, Yahweh Almighty.
N.T. Wright, Lecture: “God’s future for the world has arrived in the person of Jesus.” The Future of the People of God series. 2004. Available at http://www.opensourcetheology.net/talks. N.T. Wright, The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions, with Marcus J. Borg. (San Francisco, CA: Harper Collins, 1999), 103. 11 Various authors, Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America. Edited by Darrell L. Guder. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 1998), 102. Rob Bell, Sermon: “Jesus Died to Save Christians VI”. Mars Hill Bible Church. 10/22/2006. Available online at www.mhbc.org.
What guides do the people of God have to partake in that reality? The church is to function differently in its partnering in the missio dei than national-ethnic Israel. While both were created for this partnership with God, how that works itself out is now considerably more dynamic and organic. Instead of cultic-political law, God’s people in this chapter of God’s story are to follow Jesus’ teachings (Mat. 7:24ff.) and follow his model of the Way. This places the Sermon on the Mount at the center of Christian living. It guides them in understanding Christ’s life, and so also in understanding how Christ’s life can be brought out in today’s redeemed faith communities. As Glen Stassen and David Gushee write, Jesus offered not hard sayings or high ideals but concrete ways to practice God’s will and be delivered from the bondage of sin. In other words, he taught his followers how to participate in God’s reign. He taught what the kingdom is like, what its characteristics are, and therefore what kinds of practices are done by those who participate in it and are ready for it. We believe that this approach to Christian ethics is most faithful to the biblical witness about what God in Christ intends to do in us and in the world.13 Jesus taught his disciples to follow the prophetically re-imagined essences of the Law and Prophets (Love and Justice) in their dispersed and (now) denationalized situation, and so how to overcome the vicious spiritual, religious, relational, and political cycles of sin and oppression which the Law itself was powerless to neuter.14 Such teachings, like narrative ethics, inspire not only what to do, but how to be.15 His teachings and life illustrate God’s creatively upside-down Way of undercutting evil. It is how humanity is to get on with their duty of partaking in God’s plan to heal the creation project. Biblically, it is simply to follow Jesus. Ethics arising from this great drama points squarely at the “incarnate Jesus, who taught the Sermon on the Mount and the kingdom of God, in the tradition of the prophets of Israel, embodied it in his practices and called us to embody it in our practices of discipleship.”16 Discipleship in the Way of Jesus is how to be God’s people called not
Stassen and Gushee, 31. Stassen and Gushee, chapter 6.
Stanley Hauerwas, The Peaceable Kingdom. (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1983), 116.
Stassen and Gushee, 58-59.
only to an eternal Heaven, but also to creatively let bits of that future break into today among them, and so contribute to flow of the missio dei in history. Missional ethics is the community consideration of how to be that kind of people at this time. Missional Ethics in contrast and conversation with other frameworks As stated earlier, missional ethics is a hybrid of several competing systems of ethics, but which insists that each system is a mixed bag of good and bad, and each needs correction from the others. Missional ethics is therefore teleologically oriented, deontologically honed, narratively embodied, and birthed out of renewed hearts. Teleological ethics proposes that “the foundation for a principle’s rightness is its ability to produce some nonmoral good.”17 It tends toward a pragmatism which advocates whatever causes the greatest good for the greatest number of persons is morally right. That is, the end justifies the means. Teleological ethics should be commended for its incorporation of a moral vision in the ethical process. Vision gives drive, mission, vocation, and hope to moral agents; all of these are sorely needed in much of today’s Christian ethical systems. Yet teleological ethics can trend toward a situational relativism in which some circumstances may make morally reprehensible acts tolerable (e.g., nuclear bombing tens of thousands of Japanese civilians in World War II). Missional ethics thus takes the Bible’s moral vision of the Reign of God as a telos to be reached toward in the church’s common life and in their individual hearts. Having read of God’s works and words through Jesus in the past, and having scriptural glimpses of God’s future Reign, they are to receive and subversively improvise that future in the present. Missional ethics is thus teleologically oriented toward the inbreaking Reign of God. It is in this living out of God’s liberating future among the Body which provides its moral vision and mission, and so helps propel it towards proactively and creatively partnering in the missio dei. Yet Jesus’ day was full of Israelites passionate about bringing about the liberation of God long prophesied in the Scriptures. But they got it wrong. The Pharisees pursued
David K. Clark and Robert V. Rakestraw, “The Nature of Ethics”, in Reading in Christian Ethics Volume 1: Theory and Method. Edited by David K. Clark and Robert V Rakestraw. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1994), 20.
cultic moral purity in order to produce the Messiah, but they were unloving and did not practice justice. And the zealots tried to achieve God’s peace over Rome through the sword. They were teleological ethicists at their most ludicrous. In contrast, the Way lived and taught by Jesus was one which claimed this longanticipated Reign of God, but which accomplished that telos without using means which will not exist in the Eschaton (cf. Isaiah 2:2-5). That is, Jesus taught to live the Eschaton, not to do what it takes to achieve it. For as Hauerwas has written, “the task of the Christian people is not to seek to control history, but to be faithful to the mode of life of the peaceable kingdom.”18 The means to the end is to incarnate the end: to be the change God will eventually make in the world. “Don’t live in such a way which schemes in man’s wisdom to set the world to rights,” Jesus seemed to say, “But rather live in such a way as to reflect what a world rightside up will look like, and the church will have done her part in partaking in the missio dei, our Father’s work,” (cf. Ex. 14:14, Pro. 3:5, Mat. 5:13-16; Eph. 6:12). That is how Israel was to resume their role as light to the nations and guarantor of global salvation: what God accomplished in Jesus Christ, Eschatological Israel is to implement.19 Therefore, as the people of God teleologically improvise God’s inbreaking Reign, it must avoid the fallacies of Jesus’ contemporaries and follow Jesus as His disciples. Their lives must be deontologically (duty- or rules-based ethics)20 honed by the model and teachings of Jesus. His teachings, particularly the Sermon on the Mount, show how to be God’s eschatological people without letting evil, the present world order, or the current status quo of principalities and powers have any say in what that looks like. Ergo to the Pharisees He teaches humility and justice (Mat. 6:1-18, 23:23-24), and the zealots He corrects with a divinely-inspired enemy-love (Mat. 5:43-48; Luke 6:27-36). The teachings and life of Jesus for deontological honing of an embodied Reign of God are not given only to individuals, but to particular communities which flesh out that story today by forming people in the Way of Jesus through those teachings. Narrative
N.T. Wright, Lecture: “Understanding and implementing Jesus’ gospel in the present”. The Future of the People of God series. 2004. Available at http://www.opensourcetheology.net/talks.
Clark and Rakestraw, 20.
ethics contributes here by insisting that the relationship between these teachings and the church is therefore not primarily about making the right decisions, but authentically being such a kind of people as this paper has argued the church is called to be, that is, the eschatological community. And as opposed to a virtue-oriented ethic typical of narrative ethicists, missional ethics finds its character-forming and community-forming pegs in the broader story of being God’s people in this chapter of God’s unfolding story of the missio dei in His good creation. This framing thus de-emphasizes decision-based ethics which use “quandaries” to find which is the most morally right decision. For the example of war and peace, decision-based ethics asks, “Should the Christian join the war effort against terrorism?” Missional ethics instead asks, “Is the eschatological community the kind of community which will use violence to stop terrorism? Do Jesus’ teachings on how to be the eschatological community have anything to say about this kind of situation?” The answer, of course, is that the Christian community is to live as samples of God’s peaceful future (Isaiah 2:4-5). It finds its ethical orientations in its missional identity. Finally, missional ethics has much affinity with what is being called affective faith ethics. This system submits that because “without faith it is impossible to please God” (Heb. 11:6), all good actions flow from faith in Yahweh, that is, out of rightly-aimed heart affections. When someone loves God above all, from that affective heart orientation comes love for humanity in ways which are in tune with the revealed will of God in scripture. Thus if decision-based ethics asks, “What shall one do?”, and narrative ethics asks, “What kind of person shall one be?”, it is affective faith ethics which asks, “Whither shall the human heart aim?”. A God-attuned heart, says the faith ethicist, makes the right kind of person, who makes the right kind of decisions. All other systems effectively put the proverbial buggy in front of the horse. This system is beautiful, biblical, innovative, and commanding. Yet it falls short in lacking a sense of mission or grander story to be found in. It lacks an historical moral vision (see the discussion of teleology’s strengths earlier). Many Christians have piously God-ward hearts, but lack any sense of mission or vocation. This leads to Christians that love the King, but do not seek the kingdom. They worship, but do not do justice (cf. Isaiah 58, Mat. 23:23-24). The wrong action with the right intention is still just as void as
the right action with the wrong motives. Medieval crusaders and witch-burners who valiantly loved God were no more pleasing to Him (or morally right) than the kingdommissing rich man and Pharisees in Jesus’ time who loved Yahweh but struggled to humbly partner in the missio dei. So, God’s gracious renewing of the repentant heart is not the totality of the missio dei, but rather a tributary which feeds into the greater river of salvation history. It is a splendid and glorious means toward enabling humanity to be authentically human, but it is not the end of it all. Christians are to seek first the kingdom (Mat. 6:33), which is done by loving God and loving people. This makes God-ward hearts inseparably central, but subordinate to the bigger story of mission, not vice-versa. Missional ethics corrects affective faith ethics by embedding the affective primacy of ‘having God-ward hearts which enable agents to be God’s authentic humanity’ as the centerpiece in God’s conforming creation to His dream for it. “The kingdom of God,” says Tricia Gates Brown, “is the motivation and the goal of Jesus’ ethics.”21 This sense of mission gives historical thrust to the faith community, and so propels it to good works, for as James warns, “faith without works is dead” (James 2:26). Application Wealth in the unfolding missio dei as witnessed in Scripture22 Act 1: Creation23 – In the beginning, God made a good creation, and commissioned humans to live as his viceroys in it; their “role within creation is to give concrete expression to God’s rule on earth and so to represent God’s original peace and delight.”24 They walked humbly with God, enjoyed just human community, and lived in merciful rule over the creation – all of which are characteristics God called His people to, and which He has declared will eventually be accomplished (cf. Micah 6:8). They were
Tricia Gates Brown, Free People: A Christian Response to Global Economics. (United States: Xlibris, 2004), 144. Patience is again asked of the reader, as a missional ethic of wealth grows out of not only finecomb exegesis and cherry-picked passages, but through the bigger story of God’s activity in his creation. The echo here of the earlier dialogical unpacking of missional ethics is a necessary one.
23 22 21
The outline of these “acts” of God’s story come from: Wright, N.T. “God’s future…”. 2004.
Norman Wirzba, The Paradise of God: Renewing Religion in an Ecological Age. (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2003), 127.
called to enjoy the fruits of creation and maintain it (Gen. 2:15). That is, central to God’s intent for the creation project and humanity’s vocation in it is right distribution and relationship with the material world. Act 2: Fall – God’s image-bearers rejected their relationship with God and His Reign, and so their status as his viceroys (a vocation which humanity is still called to). Healthy community between man and God, the land, and one another is all fractured. But God inaugurates the missio dei by promising that He will set the creation rightside up (Gen. 3:15). Act 3: Israel – Some time later, God chooses a people, Israel, to resume the role of His image-bearers, delivers them from bondage to a ruthless empire, and establishes them in Canaan. God gives his new image-bearing, priestly people the Mosaic law, a charter for how to live up to that vocation. It showed them how to live in pleasing relationship with Yahweh, with one another in relative equality, and with the soil. He will bless them if they uphold His law, and punish them if they neglect it. This legislation is built on the assumption that all “wealth belongs to God”25 because he is the creator God of all: “the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it” (Psalm 24:1). Thus, as Brown notes, The laws of the Pentateuch reveal many things about God and how God desires human wealth to be used. To summarize, the following general beliefs about God and wealth are evident: 1) The wealth for God’s people belongs to God, and God desires to use it for certain purposes. 2) Among those purposes is to ensure that the needs of the destitute are met. 3) God is compassionate and desires that God’s people act compassionately toward “the poor.” (Included in that category are vulnerable members of society…). 4) God’s people are not to profit at the expense of the poor. 5) As evident in the legislation about forgiveness of debts, God desires, at least within the community of God’s people, that those who have become economically enslaved be given a new start so that the economic domination will not be manifested among God’s people.26 Tragically, God’s people do not seem to have given much mind to these strongly justiceminded and egalitarian elements of the law.27
Jacques Ellul, Money & Power. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1954), 43. Brown, 105-106. Ibid, 112-122.
God’s people again try to opt out of God’s Reign (1 Sam. 8:4-22) by demanding a king other than Yahweh. He grants them their request, and it is not long before the dynasty became as economically oppressive, unjust, and militant as the Egyptian empire Yahweh had delivered them out of.28 They have neglected their vocation and refused to participate in the missio dei. Thus, God sends prophets consistently warning His people to stop their injustice (e.g., Isaiah 58; Amos 2:6-8, 5:7-27) or else “the Lord God is going to reverse the mighty blessing of the exodus.”29 They kill the prophets and continue in their idolatry, and their idolatry of wealth. Israel fails to model what right relationship with God, with one another, and with creation (in the form of wealth) is supposed to look like. The rich get richer and the poor, poorer; and so the Lord sends his people into exile. God returns them to Canaan, but for the next 400 years they continue to neglect justice; thus their spiritual exile continues. Act 4: Jesus – God’s Anointed One, Jesus, enters Israel’s story at a time when economic inequality was rank. The ruling theocratic class of Pharisees and Sadducees had hoarded shameful amounts of wealth even after the occupying Romans’ heavy taxes, and the common Israelite felt it. Even under the imperial boot of Rome, Israel chose to worship wealth by hoarding it, instead of worshipping God through godly use of wealth. Jesus of Nazareth echoed the Israelite prophets of old by proclaiming severe woes against the greedy powers of His time. And faithful to that role as a Jewish prophet, he warned that if they continued their ways of being God’s people (which included but was not limited to their wanton neglect of matters of justice), then God would bring Gehennalike judgment on the nation, Jerusalem, and the temple (Mat. 24 = Mark 13 = Luke 21:538; Luke 13:5). To do injustice within God’s community was to invite God’s judgment. Instead, Jesus taught a new Way to use wealth which arose out of the principles behind God’s long-neglected law. These teachings were (then-) contemporary instructions for how to live out God’s inbreaking kingdom, and so are birthed out of that reality. Central commands for how to embody that reign was that the community love God completely and their enemies (which is who Jesus defined as one’s neighbor) as themselves with total allegiance and devotion. This means sharing with those in need
Ibid, 109-112. John R. Schneider, “On New Things” in The Consuming Passion: Christianity & the Consumer Culture. Edited by Rodney Clapp. (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998), 141.
(Mat. 25:31-46), sacrificing to the point of making yourself uncomfortable (Luke 21:1-4), and living lives of Jubilee30 (4:18-21). Brown summarizes these teachings as: 1) self-sufficiency is renounced; 2) radical generosity is commended; 3) the forgiveness of debts is commended; and 4) the standards of the Kingdom of God are show to upset the norms of economics.31 In practicing such justice-ensuring love in like ways, His followers would resume Israel’s role as a light to the nations. Moreover, this right distribution and relationship with the material world was an authentic return to humanity’s broader vocation as God’s imagebearers. Jesus discussed wealth in the Sermon on the Mount by personifying wealth as Mammon, what some scholars believe to mean he considers it to be one of fallen principalities and powers written of elsewhere by Paul.32 These powers were made to “meet the needs of humanity and to honor Christ”33, but which now demand humanity’s God-due worship. So also, the biblical story tells us, does wealth. The revolutionary rabbi insists that people cannot serve both God and Mammon (Mat. 6:24), that this fallen power cannot whatsoever hold any person’s allegiance. “God as a person”, writes Jacques Ellul, “and Mammon as a person find themselves in conflict. … He [Jesus] is speaking of a power which tries to be like God, which makes itself our master and which has specific goals.”34 Ellul says the Christian must fully resist Mammon’s power claim because, “biblical love is totalitarian [and so cannot enjoy any other love.] … Love for money is not a lesser relationship. By this love, we join ourselves to money’s fate” – death and annihilation.35 Thus, the root of how to overcome injustice and reach toward the above-defined identity in Christ and vocation as the imago dei is birthed from an affective reorientation
John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus. 2nd Edition. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1994). Chapter 3 presents an interesting argument that Christ had actual Jubilee redistribution as a fairly central plank of his teachings for the people of God. 31 Brown, 136.
Ibid, chapter 6. Ibid, 172. Ellul, 76. Ibid, 83.
from Mammon to God. This affective reorientation is embodied, reified, as a discipline of minding one’s gaze away from things which cause us to lust and envy and want, and to instead choose to trust and delight in Yahweh.36 “In turning our hearts and eyes in [the direction of God in the needy]”, say Stassen and Gushee, “we ourselves enjoy the added benefit of a remarkable personal liberation that yanks us free from greed, acquisitiveness and a fruitless worry over treasures that will all too soon pass away.”37 Such is precisely Jesus’ remedy for vanquishing injustice from his community. Interestingly, Jesus did not have a uniform rule for everyone to respond to wealth. Liberating oneself and others from the tyranny of Mammon will look different for everyone. To the rich Pharisees and Sadducees, he demands that they seek and do justice (Luke 11:42). The greedy tax collector Zacchaeus sells half his possessions and repays all debts four times over (19:8). As Ron Sider notes, “Coming to Jesus meant repenting of his complicity in social injustice. It meant publicly giving reparations. And it meant a whole new lifestyle.”38 Yet of the rich man he demands the giving up of all wealth for Christ’s kingdom (18:22). The apparent requisites for the affluent to follow Jesus are to withdraw from systemically unjust systems as far as is possible, radically share wealth, be downwardly mobile, and give economic reparations to those whom your occupation and lifestyle have oppressed. These prescriptions are severe, but they reflect what the eschatological community should look like, they declare Christ’s supremacy over Mammon, and are consistent with Jesus’ warning that “it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (18:25). Withdrawing from systemic injustice, sharing wealth, practicing downward mobility, and giving reparations are fantastic indeed, but Christ shows that the people of God’s relationship with Mammon does not stop there. No: it enters the halls of power to declare that “Yahweh is Lord of all things. He is the sovereign Lord of history. Economics is not a neutral, secular sphere independent of his lordship. Economic
Stassen and Gushee, 411-413. Ibid, 414.
Ronald J. Sider, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger: A Biblical Study. (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1977), 167.
activity, like every other area of life, should be subject to his will and revelation.”39 Apropos, Jesus application of humanity’s relationship to wealth also included speaking truth to power in and out of love. His friends were mostly quite poor, his biological family was poor, and he himself was homeless. So it’s no wonder that on several occasions he denounced those who were so coldly oppressing his friends and countrymen. Lastly, Jesus’ incarnation corrects a later heresy of ascetic aversion to the material world. The incarnation of deity into materiality smashes all anti-creational dualisms which condemn the material world as somehow evil or to be escaped. Rather, the incarnation, transfiguration, and resurrection of Jesus Christ all point to an immensely positive outlook on the created order. Disciples of the partying King Jesus should be jubilant and reverent to the rest of creation, not stoic and ascetic. It is not the business of God’s image-bearers to avoid the created realm, but to enjoy it as a part of it, with Christ as their King and not Mammon. To disavow the creation would be to spit in the face of the Creator who is ever in the business of healing his creation, and who will one day come to dwell in it forever. Act 5: New Creation – After Christ’s resurrection and ascension, His followers began to implement his eschatological accomplishment on Calvary. God’s new creations declared His Reign and worked out his teachings of radical love by sharing all their possessions and giving to anyone as they had need (Acts 4:32-37). They began to reflect God’s inbreaking Future of love and justice. Their lives are little gospels attesting to Christ’s lordship. The powers of the time saw their radically inverted community as “those who have turned the world upside down” (17:6, NKJV), but from the perspective of God and His missional people, they were turning the world rightside up. Paul instructs just redistribution of resources as an appropriate outworking of godly love. One prominent example suffices. In his first letter to the Corinthian church, Paul insists that they always wait for everyone to arrive before celebrating the Lord’s Supper (11:17-34). Because the sacrament functioned then as a way of the rich Christians providing for their poor brothers and sisters in God’s family, they ought to postpone the meal until the church’s “least of these” arrive. That way, the poor were
indeed cared for by the poor. To not lovingly redistribute at the Lord’s supper profaned the unity of Christ’s Body, and indeed invited the Lord’s judgment. The early church continued to creatively implement Christ’s teachings of the Way and his accomplishment of new creation by having stern guidelines for how Christ’s lordship was expected to impact the economic and occupational lives of those in the local body. Hippolytus wrote that The professions and trades of those who are going to be accepted into the community must be examined. The nature and type of each must be established… brothel, sculptor of idols, charioteer, athlete, gladiator … give it up or be rejected. A military constable must be forbidden to kill, neither may he swear; if he is not willing to follow these instructions, he must be rejected. A proconsul or magistrate who wears the purple and governs by the sword shall give it up or be rejected. Anyone taking or already baptized who wants to become a soldier shall be sent away, for he has despised God.40 While not canonical, and indeed perhaps even smacking of legalism, this snapshot of early church life is instructive in understanding the truly subversive and commanding nature of life as part of God’s eschatological people. God’s earliest new creations in Christ knew their place in God’s story. They knew what Christ taught and accomplished, and read of what God’s future will be like, and their lives (quite messily) reflected that. Good religion to them was taking care of the disenfranchised and disabled among them, and defying principalities and powers like Mammon (James 1:27). For all their shortcomings, they did endeavor to practice justice, and so partner in the missio dei, be a light and salt of the world, assume their vocations in the imago dei, and set the world rightside up among them. Today’s context Humanity in the twenty-first century seems more worshipful of Mammon than ever before. The rich are still getting richer, and the poor are still getting poorer. The world is increasingly held captive by a global capitalistic economy which celebrates competition, thrives on thoughtless consumption, commodifies communities, looks only
Hippolytus, “Church Order in the Apostolic Tradition,” in The Early Christians in Their Own Words, ed. Eberhard Arnold (Farmington, PA: Plough, 1997), 16.
to the bottom line, and has no regard for future generations.41 Globalized capitalism has become a dreadful leviathan and hubristic Caesar which stands in commanding defiance to King Jesus. Indeed, if the church is Christ’s body, then today’s global market is Mammon’s. And this global religion, capitalism, seems hell-bent on manifesting God’s nightmare for creation instead of His dream for it. Like idolatry in biblical times leading to the gruesome atrocities of sacrificing infants into the fires of Ben Hinnom (Jeremiah 7:31-32, 32:35), today’s Mammon worship has led to similarly ludicrous evil. Consider that in today’s economy, one can easily legally profit from all sorts of sinful practices which will cease in God’s Future. Consider these three particularly gruesome examples: • People can profit off of crime.42 Corporations which specialize in the building and maintaining of prisons trade their stock publicly on Wall Street, which means it is in the stockowners’ interest for more people to be imprisoned. That is, if crime goes down, so does their net worth. • People can profit off of torture and murder. Coca Cola hires paramilitary terrorists and mercenaries to kill and kidnap labor organizers in their Latin American plants.43 This keeps their labor costs down so their profits can stay up. • People can profit off of war. Billions of dollars are made every year because of America’s propensity for war. If there isn’t an enemy to fear or a war to fight, many peoples’ (and politician’s) net worth would go down. Moreover, tens of thousands of blue collar jobs in the military industrial complex would be lost. As one former U.S. Army General wrote, “War is a racket.”44
A cursory glance from an evangelical perspective of the global economy can be found in: Brown, chapters 1 to 3. 42 Eric Schlosser, “The Prison-Industrial Complex”, The Atlantic Monthly. December 1998. Available online at http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/prem/199812/prisons.
Campaign to Stop Killer Coke. Available online at http://www.killercoke.org/.
Smedley Darlington Butler, War is a Racket. Originally published 1935. Available online at http://lexrex.com/enlightened/articles/warisaracket.htm.
People can profit off of the use of child soldiers. The diamond trade in Africa at the hands of DeBeers has been known for years as an atrocious context for human rights violations.45
Make no mistake: this is “an economy firmly founded upon the seven deadly sins and the breaking of the Ten Commandments.”46 It is the imperial Beast, the tyrannical Babylon, of today. Apropos, as Dean Ohlman says, “capitalism without Christianity is cruel.”47 Because missional ethics places such primacy on Jesus’ teachings, it is a fruitful exercise to compare His beatific blessings with global consumer capitalism’s values.
Jesus says, "Blessed are … the poor the mournful the meek those who seek justice the merciful the pure in heart the peacemakers the persecuted Mammon today says "Rewarded are… the rich the complacent the proud those who neglect justice the competitive the greedy at heart the warmongers the persecutors
Abominably, the thrones of power in the global system are planted firmly in the nations which have historically been most identified with following Jesus: Europe and the United States. This means that many of today’s Christians are leading and active participants in this system of cruel oppression, heart-callusing competition, Mammon worship, and God-defiance. That is, their lifestyles and jobs keep God’s dream for His creation at bay. Christians may often be guilty of baptizing their income as God’s blessing, when really it was acquired unjustly – by means which may have harmed, oppressed, or killed their fellow creatures. They have conformed God’s kingdom to Caesar’s empire, God’s dream to Mammon’s dream, the missio dei to the missio mammon.
Stop Blood Diamonds Campaign. Available online at http://stopblooddiamonds.org/. Wendell Berry, “Christianity and the Survival of Creation”, Cross Currents, Summer 1993, Vol. 43, Issue 2, 149. Available online at http://www.crosscurrents.org/berry.htm.
Dean Ohlman, “The Free Market and the Environment”. Available online at http://www.restoringeden.org/resources/Ohlman/FreeMarket/view.
The church seems to have largely lost its mission as God’s worshipful and eschatological counter-culture called to prophetically and evangelistically model God’s perfect love and justice among the nations. Some say this is because they have been acquiesced by a culture of consumerism, “a character-cultivating way of life that seduces and insinuates and acclimates.”48 Consumerism is an all-encompassing way of life which commodifies everything from charity to communities to the commons to Christ, and which proclaims a gospel of new and improved plastic doohickeys. It is a way of life which can never abide, never be content; it is a way which deifies dissatisfaction.49 It is in such an insecure and selfish world Christians become affectively preoccupied with finding personal consumptive satisfaction, and so neglect the weightier matters of being the eschatological people of God: sacrificial love, justice, and egalitarian unity in the local congregation. They are called to be in the world of consumerist capitalism, but not of it. Summary Missional ethics’ teleological orientation toward God’s inbreaking Reign shows that the future will be characterized by perfect justice and humane equality. They are deontologically honed by Jesus’ teachings of radical redistribution, downward mobility, power confrontation, withdrawal from unjust structures, and forming new economies which creatively reflect God’s Future. They are narratively embodied in particular faith communities who practice these and other contextual improvisations of an invading Eschaton, whose counterculture defies and neuters the hegemonic claims of worldly oppressors economic and political, and who know that God made a good creation that is to be enjoyed but also turned rightside up. And missional ethics affirms the Lord Jesus’ command to affectively reorient one’s heart and culture from illegitimate Mammon and toward God Almighty. Mammon is still alive and thrashing, and daily at its altar is being sacrificed the lives and livelihoods of millions, the habitability of creation, and even the name of Jesus Christ. Meanwhile, God has offered a peaceable, just, and beautiful future on Earth for
Rodney Clapp, “The Theology of Consumption and the Consumption of Theology: Toward a Christian Response to Consumerism” in Clapp, 1998, 171.
those who enter into His family today. Christ’s body must resume its role as a prophetic counterculture which models God’s perfect justice and generous family. Case Study The Dilemma Damon has recently found out about the dangers of our agricultural system. He read that most inorganic and non-local food is produced by businesses which have for decades worked to push out the local and adequately-paid family farmer, and so devastated local economies and communities. He read that our fertilizing and plowing methods are causing an enormous “dead zone” at the mouth of the Mississippi in which no fish can live. And he’s read that the amount of soil erosion caused by industrial farming will be an incredible crisis for future generations. He realizes that his dietary choices carry the weight of God’s concern for neighbor-love and justice, creation care, and neighbor-love for future generations. Damon would only have to spend an extra $40 a month to go 100% organic and local,50 and so be able to do his part to love poor farmers, protect creation, and support soil conservation for his children’s inheritance. Damon was ready to commit to buying only organic and local food, but then he attended an evangelism seminar. There, he was deeply moved by the speaker’s discussion of millions of folks dying without Jesus every week, condemned to hell eternally. The image of millions of people burning in eternal anguish was heartbreaking. Damon recognizes that he could keep buying unsustainably grown food and use that extra $40 a month to support a missionary or evangelist. If that missionary helped deliver even one person from the eternal fires, would that not be a fair price to pay? Surely his money would have much greater impact for the kingdom in this way, than in shifting his measly cash flow in the vast ocean of the global food economy. How should Damon use his wealth? A Missional Evaluation The dilemma is a false one because it frames two ways of using wealth which are not mutually exclusive as precisely that. Money can be given to both. Furthermore,
This is a purely speculative number.
neither are the two options – justice-minded purchases and evangelism – entirely separate because evangelism involves both demonstration and announcement of the gospel. But first, several questions are in order. Whose money is this? It is God’s, and Damon should be commended for wanting to devote it to His bigger purposes in the world. The primacy of his affection to the Lord already indicates that neither option (so bifurcated) is likely to be wholly immoral. What would eschatological agriculture look like? Regardless of whether there is farming on the New Heaven and New Earth, it is certain from Revelation and Isaiah that there will exist a significantly more harmonious creational order. This would include sustainable and waste-free uses of all resources by all creatures: the fruits of creation will be enjoyed without destroying its fruitfulness. It can then be imagined that local, organic, small-scale, bio-mimicking agriculture is much more in line with God’s dream for the world than is contemporary industrial agriculture. Does Jesus have anything to say about this? As outlined above, Jesus taught that the eschatological People of God will live in such ways as to sacrifice for the good of the whole world. This includes the health of the soil, the fish, and the economic stability and security of farmers. Would spending money in the ways Damon is thinking of therefore be consistent with his role as a partaker of the missio dei and world-flipper? Certainly! Flipping the world rightside up will outwardly begin with how humanity relates to the rest of the creation. Such spending seems is definitely within the scope of Jesus’ command to seek first God’s kingdom on Earth as it is in Heaven. What is evangelism? Biblical evangelism is the church’s modeling and announcement of the gospel – the inbreaking Reign of God begun in the person of Jesus and confirmed in His resurrection from the dead. It is the lived reality that another world is possible, with God. What kind of evangelism is Damon considering? Is there such a thing as bad evangelism? Some evangelism ignores the framework this paper has worked to establish: that God will one day set the world to rights, that God’s story does not ever leave God’s creation, and that God is even now in the process of setting the world
rightside up, the missio dei. It is a ‘rapture and retreat’ mentality which narrowly proposes a “lifeboat gospel” whereby the creation project is doomed beyond the reach of God’s grace, and Jesus’ good news is that there’s a place on the lifeboat for you after you die. Salvation has little historical, creational, or corporate import. That is a dangerous sort of evangelism. It is neither missional, nor does it account for the biblical scope of salvation. If the evangelists Damon is considering funding have such an attitude toward the gospel and evangelism – that is, one which is about preparing people to die rather than teaching them how to live under King Jesus and within the missio dei – then it does not seem consistent with a missionally ethical use of God’s wealth. Jesus seems to agree. The Pharisees neglected the weightier matters of the law (justice) but excelled in sending missionaries throughout the Roman Empire to win converts to Judaism. Yet such a hollow effort was scorned by the Lord (Mat. 23:15): “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are!” It seems that evangelism which is solely concerned with the afterlife is a terrible thing indeed. If, on the other hand, the evangelism considered includes historical, creational, and corporate import, then it would likely be an excellent use of God’s wealth. Therefore, Damon can be counseled to begin purchasing his food missionally (local, organic, from small farmers, etc.). Such justice-seeking lifestyle choices should be done regardless of the option of funding the evangelist, or any other ministry for that manner. His conviction about funding evangelism should not be neglected, though. If Damon esteems the evangelist or missionary in question to be duly missional, then such funding is Damon’s prerogative.
Final note: Please accept my apologies for the length of this paper. Creating a missional ethics system and then comparing it with other systems was an invariably weightier task than would be defending an existing ethos. Indeed, I see already that the system is grossly incomplete. But for this paper’s ridiculous length, I do believe it stayed within the assignment’s guidelines, and hope it will not be marked down for the length.
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