Reflection on Money and Power by Jacques Ellul

I just finished reading Money and Power by Jacques Ellul, the late French sociologist and Christian theologian. Although you can see Ellul’s sociological prowess in the background of his work, I appreciate that throughout the work he thinks primarily from Scripture, with copious quotation of and reflection on biblical texts.

I find Ellul to have a very refreshing and challenging perspective on money. Even though I didn’t always find myself in agreement with his conclusions and argumentation, I consider many of his opinions at least loosely in line with Scripture as a whole, the early church as seen in the New Testament, and the Church Fathers and Mothers.

In the first chapter, Ellul discusses the contemporary monetary and economic paradigms and considers how to approach them from a Christian perspective.

Ellul (writing in the 1950s) sees all the economic systems, the -isms, as problematic. The main issue is that they abstract the money problem. For him, the problem is a matter of the human heart in relation to money. When we abstract money into a global economic system, we lost sight of personal relationship and responsibility.

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Taking Pride

Their land is filled with idols; they bow down to the work of their hands, to what their own fingers have made.

Isaiah 2:8

And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Colossians 3:17

I take my writing and research very seriously. I still remember my very first grad school research paper. After spending scores and scores of hours working on it, I received a pretty good grade for it, and I got a lot of praise from my professor. I even got praise from friends who read my paper. I was very proud of my work.

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Remarkable Generosity

We want you to know, brothers and sisters, about the grace of God that has been granted to the churches of Macedonia; for during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For, as I can testify, they voluntarily gave according to their means, begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints—and this not merely as we expected.

2 Corinthians 8:1-5

I bought my first electric guitar when I was fourteen years old. I had spent the entire summer working and saving up for it, and when I had a few hundred dollars saved up, my dad took me over to a music store while we were traveling in San Diego. It was a black Fender Stratocaster I picked out, double humbucker with a brushed metal pickguard. I loved that guitar. Much of my teenage years would consist in practicing for years locked up in my room or jamming out with my friends (note: it’s a good idea to jam at the drummer’s house because their parents are used to the noise).

That guitar was an important part of my life for many years, but as time passed on, I didn’t play it as much as I had used to. My interests had changed, and I was more likely to be playing my acoustic Taylor or learning classical pieces on the nylon string I bought from my friend’s dad for a hundred bucks. More and more that Stratocaster just sat in the closet.

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Waiting on the Lord

Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
   The Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
   his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint,
   and strengthens the powerless.
Even youths will faint and be weary,
   and the young will fall exhausted;
but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
   they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
   they shall walk and not faint. 
                                           -Isaiah 40:28-31

Isaiah says to wait for the Lord. Frankly, I don’t know if I like the advice. Do you? I want to prepare, strike out on my path, excel, succeed. Don’t you?  When I face a challenge, I want to overcome it. I want to be smart enough, fast enough, strong enough. When I fall down, I want to pick myself up by my own bootstraps. Don’t you?

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With Jesus, I Have Found Myself

Recently during a devotional time, I was meditating on the incarnation of Jesus Christ, and during this time I was overwhelmed by my beauty in Jesus Christ. Perhaps this sounds like a strange thing to say. It’s common for Christians to emphasize how wretched, awful, and ugly people can be (some traditions take this further than others)—and I think it is important to spend time reflecting on the darkness and evil that exists within each of us. Part of God’s purposes with Israel was to make human sin fully known, as Paul says in Romans 7:13, “In order that sin might be recognized as sin, it [the Law/Torah] used what is good to bring about my death, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful.” But, whatever else he did, Jesus Christ also came to show us just how beautiful we really are.

It is not unusual to hear Jesus described as “true humanity” or being “truly human.” (I think I first came across something like this from N. T. Wright, one of my favorite Biblical scholars and one of my inspirations for choosing to pursue theology and Biblical scholarship in seminary.) I think this language expresses a concept found in the Bible. It’s what I think Paul is alluding to when he calls Jesus Christ the “final Adam” in 1 Corinthians 15:45, or when he says in Romans 5:19, “just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.” It is what I think Christians mean when they say that Jesus lived a perfect, sinless life or that he kept Torah perfectly. I think this concept is also evident in some of the early Christian theologians, for example Irenaeus with his concept of “recapitulation,” by which he means that Jesus “redid” human life and succeeded in every place that we failed. Jesus redeemed what Adam destroyed.

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Looking at the Story of the Demonized Man at Gergesa in Mark’s Gospel, Part 1

For Part 2, click here

Today I’ve been looking at the story of the demon-possessed man at Gergasa (or Gerasa, or Gadara) in Mark’s Gospel.1 This story features in my first graduate-school research paper, in which I analyzed Mark’s use of the sea as a theme and metaphor in his narrative. I’m also planning on featuring this story in a video series that I’m currently putting together—hence my interest in the text today. As I was researching, I came across one intertextaul and two intratextual aspects of the story that I had never before realized, and which I’d like to share here.2 

After beginning writing, I realized that I had far too much material for one post. I’m imagining that I can get everything out in two parts. This first one will deal with one of the intratextual features (though, in so doing we’ll touch on a bit of intertextuality yet still). Even still, this first post is far too long. Perhaps I’ll be able to conclude in my next post, yet we’ll see how long it goes, and perhaps I’ll have to split it in half again.

Let’s get started then.  

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A Reading and Analysis of Temper (I) by George Herbert

Often I find that poetry helps me to learn about and understand deep topics better than anything else can. One of my favorite poets is George Herbert, a 17th-century Anglican priest. Here are some of my thoughts and reflections on his poem “Temper (i).”

First, the poem itself. Read it slowly and take it in before moving on.

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The World Is a Poem and God Is Speaking It

 

Some while ago I wrote this allegory for the atonement as part of a class assignment. My interests at the time were, however, broader than just the atonement. I also attempted to contemplate the relationship between Creator and Creation: a challenging and mysterious topic throughout history. I wanted to understand the world in a way that doesn’t make God an all-determining Absolute Cause, as certain traditions do, because I cannot see how that route maintains God’s goodness or benevolence. However, I am also troubled by the open theisms, which I think open a floodgate of issues surrounding God’s nature and relationship to creation. My approach was an attempt to explore Austin Farrer’s (an acquaintance of C.S. Lewis), concept of “double agency.”

I had hoped that story and allegory would help open up new routes of thinking for me. I believe it did.

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Divine Omnipotence, the Threat to the Self, and Love

I spent the weekend in the wonderful state of Oregon, flying into Portland, spending the evenings and mornings in Newburg, and visiting Lake Oswego Sunday afternoon for a dear friend’s wedding. The flora was incredibly lush and beautiful and green, and it’s difficult to not be overwhelmed by Oregon’s vibrant, mossy forest. The sun didn’t come out once the entire weekend, and the rain hardly let up; it was all very beautiful.

I killed almost all my travel time—waiting in the terminal, during layover in San Francisco International Airport, and on the plane—absorbed in Katherine Sonderegger’s Systematic Theology: Volume 1, The Doctrine of God. So far, I have not been one to appreciate systematic theology, but this is a rewarding, intriguing, challenging, labyrinthine work. I can’t get enough of it.

While waiting in San Francisco for my flight to Portland, I immersed myself in Sonderegger’s chapter on God’s omnipotence. As she surveys, and is well-known to any theologian who has dabbled in contemporary theology, omnipotence has come under attack as a divine attribute in the recent decades. In the most extreme form, in process theology, God’s is utterly denied omnipotence and therefore has no power to act in creation. Rather, according to the process theologians, God merely is a sympathetic and loving presence to human sufferers and suffering. God only woos us towards virtue, but has no ability or power in the world otherwise.

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A Sermon on 2 Cor 5 and Forgiveness

What is reconciliation? What is forgiveness? What does any of it have to do with Jesus? And why in the world should it matter to any of you?

In a letter to one of the earliest Christian communities, the theologian Paul writes:

From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

I

Paul is writing here to a group of Christ-followers located in the ancient city of Corinth. He had an intimate and at times conflict-laden relationship with this motley crew of Christians. Right now is one of those times of conflict. The Corinthians have brought into question Paul’s authenticity and authority regarding what has happened to the world on account of Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. Here in this letter Paul is making his appeal to the Corinthians.

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