Everything Must Change: Introduction

In 2007, Brian McLaren published Everything Must Change: When the World’s Biggest Problems and Jesus’ Good News Collide. It was a controversial book at the time, but made little impact on evangelical teaching.

However, we are now experiencing the Occupy Wall Street movement and similar movements around the globe. People are upset with the current economic structures, and many theologians are reconsidering their unquestioning endorsement of American capitalism. And so it’s time to take a fresh look at McLaren’s book.

Shane Claiborne was recently asked what he thinks about Occupy Wall Street. He responded,

It doesn’t get much better than Luke chapter 12. Jesus begins by saying, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” And then, as per usual, he tells a story. The story is about a rich man whose business makes it big. He has so much stuff he doesn’t know where to put it all. So he decides, “This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones… and I’ll say to myself, ‘You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’” But Jesus says God looks down and is not happy.

God says to the rich man, “You fool! This very night you will die–and what will happen to all your stuff?” And Jesus ends the teaching by saying this is how things will be for folks who store up stuff for themselves.

It does make you wonder what to do about 401k’s and pensions. But it seems pretty clear that Jesus isn’t a big fan of stockpiling stuff in barns and banks, especially when folks are dying of starvation and preventable diseases. One of the constant threads of Scripture is “Give us this day our daily bread.” Nothing more, nothing less. Underneath this admonition is the assumption that the more we store up for tomorrow the less people will have for today. And in a world where 1% of the world owns half the world’s stuff, we are beginning to realize that there is enough for everyone’s need, but there is not enough for everyone’s greed. Lots of folks are beginning to say, “Maybe God has a different dream for the world than the Wall Street dream.” Maybe God’s dream is for us to live simply so that others may simply live.

Maybe God’s dream is for the bankers to empty their banks and barns so folks have enough food for today.

Now, it’s tempting to point out that many of our banks are about as penniless as Jesus was on earth. After all, all the money they lend belongs to their depositors and many banks have lost all or nearly all their equity (wealth in excess of depositor’s money) by making bad loans. It’s not as though the banks could actually distribute someone else’s money, which would be theft.

But it’s more to the point to recognize that Jesus does indeed teach simplicity as opposed to the mindless accumulation of wealth. Perhaps some of those depositors should give their wealth away? Maybe they should withdraw their fortunes and send it all to the Horn of Africa to cure starvation?

On the other-other hand, no one really knows how to use even billions of dollars to cure starvation in the Horn of Africa. It’s not as simple as sending money, since there are warlords keeping the food from going in and who steal much of the food that does make its way there. Sending a billion in food aid might just result in very well fed armies that pillage and prey on the people and may do very little for starving children — unless done very thoughtfully indeed. You see, if we’re not careful, our compassionate hearts could feed the armies of Satan. It’s a tough problem.

And so, here’s the rub: it’s much easier to give away money than to actually make a change. The institutions and structures that create poverty are more subtle than merely “we don’t give away enough money.” Indeed, if the goal is to feel better about yourself, write a check and send it to someone in need. But if you want to attack the root causes of poverty, to actually make a difference, well, you have to be much more thoughtful than that.

I had a conversation with a sincere young man whose heart has been deeply touched by the suffering in Africa. He declared, “The cause of poverty is wealth.” And that’s just not true. That logic assumes that wealth is not created but stolen and the only reason anyone is poor is that wealth has been stolen from him. And that’s sometimes true. But the 70-year experiment of Communism in Russia and Eastern Europe proves that absolute equality can result is absolutely equal poverty. Indeed, many people who are wealthy created that wealth and many who are in poverty made some really poor decisions. It’s not always someone else’s fault.

We do no one any favors by romanticizing poverty (it’s never their own fault and so they are all victims) or stereotyping wealth (all corporations are greedy and get wealthy by stealing). But neither do we help by taking the capitalist party line (corporations love bunnies and children and all poor people choose poverty). Both views are unrealistic and unhelpful.

That hardly means that the West is exempt from criticism, but we do need to learn some lessons from history. We don’t need “solutions” that have already been tried and failed. We don’t need to merely throw money at problems that might actually be helped if we loved those in poverty enough to think seriously about how to make things better.

Imagine a forest fire covering thousands of acres blazing toward you. If you see a singed animal fleeing the fire and in need of help, you would, of course, grab the poor animal and try to nurse it back to health. But if your only response was to rescue scorched animals, the fire would keep blazing and would burn up thousands more animals than you could ever reach.

I’d not at all condemn those who rescue the animals, but someone had better bring in helicopters and firetrucks and build fire breaks. Someone has to put out the fire, even if it’s less emotionally rewarding than caring for the animals that flee the fire.

Sometimes we try to fix an economic forest fire by picking up the strays, which is not so much wrong as woefully inadequate. Yes, yes, yes … help the suffering as best you can, but you’d better attack the problem at its root if you want to stop the flow of victims.

Therefore, it’s my personality, I suppose, to want to look at the large-scale problems rather than the immediate, smaller-scale problems, because they’re the harder problems to solve — but in the long run, they’re the most important problems to solve.

And this brings us to McLaren who provides some thoughtful analysis of the problems on the large scale. I don’t agree with all that he says, but at least he’s thought seriously about the questions — which is rare, in my experience. And I enjoy discussing challenges with thoughtful people, especially those who disagree with me.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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30 Responses to Everything Must Change: Introduction

  1. Adam says:

    Difficult, difficult problem indeed. So difficult, in fact, that we cannot solve it – hence Jesus statement that the poor will always be with us.

    I don’t say that as a cop out, but as a realization that we aren’t called to “solve” the problem. If we think that it is a problem to be solved, I would suggest that we are not viewing it in the way that Christ viewed it. It isn’t a problem to be solved, but people with whom we are to identify.

    Again, we aren’t to solve poverty, but to identify with the poor (and the outcast, the stranger, the widow, the orphan, etc).

    Don’t misunderstand what I am saying by thinking that I am saying we are to be poor. I can’t help but think that the reason America exists is for the creation of wealth – the greatest wealth creation society in the history of the world. I think we can still create wealth while identifying with the poor – becoming the “poor is spirit” so to speak.

    What I struggle with is going from this individual/communal concept of identification with the poor to the broader concept of “social justice” (for lack of a better term) in a way that doesn’t succumb to the Constantinian heresy.

    The best I can figure is that we are to create a different society – ie the Kingdom – where these concepts are modelled correctly, and into which the world is invited to participate. How that looks and how we build it is, obviously, the hard part.

  2. Enterprise says:

    You are spot on with your thoughts. While not claiming to have all the answers, you give a good foundation to start from. While using your analogy of the fire, there is one more thing that you would want to be sure to do….DON”T start more fires or the seeds of fires.
    Many of the biggest fires are made bigger by not weeding out the fuel that a fire (when it comes) will use.

    James talks about the tongue being a fire and it is interesting that as chapter 3 concludes, he continues into fighting over things that still include the speech of people. The desire to increase and have and spend on our own lusts is soooooooooooo contrary to the ‘simplicity’ that you mentioned and along with simplicity I would suggest contentment. So we have to start with OURSELVES. Self control.

    I cannot speak as someone who has earned over 100,000 in a year. That figure eludes me. But as someone who has earned over 25,000 and over 50,000, I can assure you that there it is no great difficult thing to spend the extra money…sit back and wonder ‘where did it go?” I would imagine that someone earning 100k might say the same thing.

    What might be needed is a concerted effort by Christians to reign in the spending on themselves so that they may have more to spend on others…and then to do so. It is not, however, for me to judge a Christian harshly but I might be able to remind Him of his first love to keep the focus on Jesus.

    Here is a thought. Francis Chan in his book “Crazy Love” suggested that maybe we should try to live on the median income. (Take everyone who earns from $1 to $5,000,000 and the median would be something like $50,000) and I might have median and average mixed up but still the point is…how much do you need? People are doing it by virtue of the fact that they DO NOT earn more, can we who earn more, reign it in so that we live at the same level and then use the rest for other pursuits?

    If every Christian just stopped buying on debt, there would still be enough consumers to keep the economy going. (Yes, I am using the narrower definition of Christian) and yet those Christians could pay off their debts, save money for retirement, and be generous in their giving both for the Gospel and the poor.

    My thought has been to reach a certain amount and then increase the giving progressively, so that you might take your contribution from 10% (if you give that much) to 20% and you might find,fund,start some charity that you can actually control. Water to Africa would be a good idea. So would food. Maybe you could start in South Africa to the north and build some means that those nearby could get it. Maybe it would grow…. (notice I am naive about all the politics over there….)

    Where are you now? (In that state remain – 1 cor 7) and see if you can improve it by earning more and spending less. Set some aside for retirement, that is smart but have faith in God first Luke 12. Set some aside for your entertainment, God does not call us to be ascetics, but set more, as you can, aside for preaching the Gospel and helping the poor.

    Anyway, excellent post

  3. Very timely – with the OWS hulabalu going on!

    Simplicity. Contentment. Generosity. All are important.

    Adam made a good point that we are not called to solve the problem of poverty, but to help poor people. One reason the problem of poverty is insolvable is that the definition of poverty is a moving target. In our nation, the level of consumption by those who are under the poverty line makes them rich by world standards.

    As Jay noted, this is a “problem” that is far beyond any one of us – or maybe even beyond many of us working in concert.

    Do we ignore it? How can we? Do we literally sacrifice all of our wealth to give to the poor? That is what Jesus called for the rich, young ruler to do. Does he expect all of us to take a vow of poverty? How then would there be any to exercise the gift of generosity and giving (Rom 12:8)?

    My philosophy is that it is not so much how much we have as what we do with what we have. Do we use it selfishly or for others?

    I know we must move away from covetousness (which is idolatry) if we will ever find contentment. It was in the middle of a discussion of his own contentment that Paul said, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (see Phil 4:10-19).

  4. Larry Cheek says:

    Do you suppose that no other country except Egypt was prosperous during the 7 years prior to the famine? We know that God was in control and had a specific goal in the events. But, there is nothing said as to whether there were poor in Egypt during the years of storing the grain, or nothing is said about the poor in other countrys, surely there was just as there has always been. Jesus, commented about the poor always being there. Yet, the whole area was benefited by the provisions that were stored for later use. Could Egypt have only stored enough grain for their own use? How could todays world benefit from examples in history?

  5. John says:

    James asks, “..is it not the rich who oppress you?” Yet, so many within the CoC, as well as other conservative denominations, say that it is different now, while trying to make the point that it is not for Christians to get caught up in a “Social Gospel”.

    Yet, the Jesus that James knew would, still today, make the poor the object of his special attention. And politics? I am a firm believer that Jesus would never support any political philosophy that says, “cut the programs, lest they who do not deserve them receive too much”. The Jesus of the gospels would rather see countless undeserving receive before one who truly needs go without.

    Adam, with due respect, while growing up I heard people use Jesus’ words about always having the poor with us to defend their objection to welfare until I was ashamed of hearing it; also, the Psalmist words about never seeing the children of the rightous begging for bread. Jesus simply meant that his children will have ample opportunity to do for the poor…which means “do it”. As far as children begging for bread, it makes no difference who or what their parents are or do, I say take some of my tax dollars that pay for parks and well manicured neighborhoods and such, and feed them.

    True progressive Christianity is something other than a bland, yet well-to-do evangelicalism. It means calling into account those who take what they can in the name of “its just business”, while calling out to those who are in need “How we want gather you together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wing”, in any way we can. They would hear; they would come.

  6. Alan says:

    The “Buy American” creed is part of the problem. Why is it morally superior to buy from the rich rather than from the poor? The same could be said for the notion that we should buy from unionized businesses rather than non-unionized.

    A few passages that pertain to the subject of 401k’s, Lazarus and the rich man:

    Pro_10:22 The blessing of the LORD brings wealth, and he adds no trouble to it.

    Pro 13:22 A good man leaves an inheritance for his children’s children, but a sinner’s wealth is stored up for the righteous.

    Pro_21:20 In the house of the wise are stores of choice food and oil, but a foolish man devours all he has.

    Ecc 5:19 Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work—this is a gift of God.

    Luk 12:20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’
    Luk 12:21 “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”

    So it was not Lazarus’ accumulation of wealth that was evil. Rather it was his lack of compassion for the needy one at his gate.

    The envy of the poor toward the rich is also sin.

    Wealth is not a zero sum game. It is not necessary for some to lose in order for others to gain. There are no limits to God’s storehouse, and he can bless as many as he chooses.

  7. Jeff B. says:

    Christ was about changing hearts, not making laws that required righteousness. The current political discussions among Christians are all about making laws to force “righteousness.” This is true of the conservative side that thinks the answer to homosexuality, drug use, etc. is to have laws against them. This is also true of the liberal side that thinks the answer to greed/poverty is to have laws requiring generosity. At the threat of life and liberty, conservatives and liberals would both force people modify their behavior irrespective of the condition of their hearts. This forced behavior modification may make us feel good (because of our conquest in the name of “Christianity”) but it does nothing to further the cause of God’s Kingdom.

    As naturalized citizens of God’s kingdom living as expatriots in a foreign nation, our concern should not be with what laws our host nation enacts. Rather we should concern ourselves with living according to the laws of the kingdom that holds our allegiance. Those laws certainly require that we be generos and compassionate towards the poor. They also require that we seek to spread the borders of that kingdom by inviting others into citizenship and allegiance.

    Forced “righteousness” is not righteousness but legalism. Trying to bring about righteousness by the force of law is forgetting where our true citizenship and allegiance lies. It is time we remembered that Christ’s way of affecting societal change was not by enacting laws but by changing hearts.

  8. Adam says:

    John – I think you misunderstand my point. I am simply saying that poverty is unsolvable, not that we don’t have a responsibility in regards to it. In fact, I think our responsibility is so much deeper than most Christians would be willing to admit – that is, we are to align our lives with the poor.

    I mean that literally. Live like they live. Live where they live. Shop where they shop. Drive what they drive. This doesn’t mean that we don’t create wealth – get a job that pays as much money as you can, but, most assuredly, don’t use it on yourself.

    Where I live, there are 4 basic options for groceries – Publix. Winn Dixie, Walmart, and Piggly Wiggly. The poor shop at Walmart and the Pig – as does my family. Interestingly, the poor black shop at the Pig more so than at Walmart, so my family shops more at the Pig than at Walmart – not because we are black (we’re not – we are white), but because in my society the poor black are marginalized more than the poor white, and Jesus calls us to stand with those on the margins.

    Where I live the average house size for those in poverty is around 1400 square feet, so my family of 4 lives in a house that is around that size (1600 square feet).

    Where I live the poor tend to drive cars that are at least 10 years old, so my family drives cars that are around that old (a 2006 accord and a 2001 Jetta).

    I am not suggesting, though, that we take on the negative aspects of poverty, or the “worse” side of poverty (complacency, victim mentality, addiction, etc.), but if we want to relate to those on the margin I think that, when those on the margin look at us, they should see something similar and relatable.

    Of course none of this addresses bigger issues – societal and Kingdom level issues of how to stand in a more deliberate way against the powers of this world that create marginalized people, but if we don’t include the personal level in the conversation, we run the risk of alienating those to whom we are called to identify with the most – the outcast, the stranger, the window, the orphan, the powerless.

    What we do with our extra money, our extra time

  9. Charles McLean says:

    One thing I note from Adam’s post– what is defined as poverty in American is unlike poverty anywhere else. A family of four with a 10 year old car lives in a small two-bedroom apartment and and hot water and air conditioning. They have a refrigerator, a microwave, a 19″ TV w/DVD player and a cell phone. They eat meat at least five times a week and send their warmly-dressed children to school every day. After they pay their basic living expenses, they are fortunate to have $100 left at the end of the month for “discretionary spending”. That family would be considered PROSPEROUS in most corners of our planet. Here, this scene is often associated with those in poverty.

    I think this reality blurs our vision of those who really do need help with basic needs. Our local food pantries are running historically low on food to hand out. We tend to think of ourselves as the auxiliary line of help, while the government is the primary source.

    It also keeps us from seeing the level of our own wealth. We say that we “barely make it to the end of the month”, but this is because we are encumbered with paying for a lifestyle undreamed-of by most of the seven billion in our neighborhood. Our assumption is that we should have everything our peers have, more or less. This is what I call MCD or “middle class disorder”, in which we feel we MUST take the money we can earn (and often all we can borrow) and use it to buy a lifestyle superior to those who earn less. The man who earns more but does not spend it on his home or family is considered at the least odd, or more likely miserly.

    The scriptures teach us that God gives bread to eat and seed to sow. But we eat all we can and if there is anything left, we sow it. If we go so far as to sow even a tenth of what we are given, we quietly wonder why someone has not yet asked us to pose for a statue to honor our selflessness and piety.

    Okay, this is shifting from unpleasant reality to a rant, so I better hit the brakes and cool off. At least for a minute.

  10. Charles McLean says:

    Oh, I know this last post sounds quite critical… mainly because it is… but I am finding that the emperor will never choose to pull on a bathrobe until he is convinced that indeed, he has no clothes.

  11. Alabama John says:

    1 Timothy 6:17-19 says it very well.

    Nothing wrong with being rich as most of here are.

    What is wrong is what we do with our riches.
    Also what is right is what we do with our riches.

    In order to feed toe poor or create jobs for them and also for most Americans, someone had to come up with the businesses needed to provide those jobs.

    What I have seen in this world many times and its obvious in many countries today is the get up and go is gone.

    When folks are given a living wage regardless of how hard they work, or ideas they have, most by far fight to see who can do less and not think and still receive that living wage.

    The more you do the more you make always is best.

    Interestingly those in the OT we see were blessed by God were those God also made rich in things of this world. Sometimes richer than we can imagine. When they were made rich, think how that benefited those around them.

    Same thing today!

  12. Charles McLean says:

    I have heard it said that the problem with the rich fool was not that he was rich. It was the other part. The part that did not realize that when a farmer is given a bumper crop, the wisest way to store it is to plant it.

  13. Adam says:

    In Matthew 5:38-42, Jesus stipulates an ethic of helping others. It is so difficult to accept what Jesus says at face value we simply refuse to, or create mental structures to soften it.

    Jesus doesn’t put limitations on who we are to help, other then that they ask. At some level, the very act of giving (even when we think the one asking is undeserving) is how we participate in the divine nature of Christ. As Jay says in this post, it is about moving beyond effectiveness and towards faithfulness. allowing God to be God and creating a new, counter-cultural society into which the other is invited.

    I think part of why Jesus doesn’t put limitations on this is because he knows that, so often, asking (even when not truly in need materially, or when undeserving), are exhibiting spiritual poverty – the thing against which we are truly to fight.

    Like Jesus, our surrender to the other, even when underserved, is the very way of Christ – it is the very thing he did and continues to do for us.

    As Jesus has richly given to those who are completely undeserving and completely against him (that would be us – humanity), so we are to give richly to those who are completely undeserving and completely against us.

  14. Jay Guin says:


    Thanks. It’s unusual to see those verses quoted these days. Somehow, we must chart a path among the many verses that bear on the subject. As is so often true, it’s really tempting to build a theology on just the verses that suit your preferences.

  15. Jay Guin says:

    Jeff B,

    I entirely agree. It’s also true that the Bible condemns unrighteous decrees. Sometimes the poor are oppressed by the law or other powers, and when that’s true, I think the church should stand with them against oppression.

  16. Jim Neely says:

    This thread has attracted quite a bit of recent attention on this list. Since it involves the subject of Christian’s responsibility to the poor of the world, I believe the conclusions that I drew from a Bible study I conducted a couple of years ago are relevant.
    While I would have liked to pass on the entire write up, it would be too much to dump into the response section of the thread (about 100kb). I have included below the summary conclusions that I reached; I am sure many, if not most, of you will disagree with what is presented, and without the more length information developed, along with Biblical references, it is even more likely.
    If anyone would like to see the entire write up, I will be happy to send you a digital copy, if you will send me your E-mail address (mine is [email protected]). As a matter of fact, I would appreciate critical reviews of the information in order to sharpen my understanding of the subject. However, I do not have time for an extended exchange of thoughts.

    Jim Neely

    From the giving of the Law of Moses to the end of the NT record, some 1600 years, the Bible teaches that:

    1. Members of God’s family on earth are not to take advantage of other people, whether they are brothers or in the world in general.

    2. It is not wrong for God’s people to possess financial resources, Job and Abraham are examples of OT godly people who were very rich. In the NT, Joseph of Arimetha was a disciple who was apparently rich. The problem comes when we “trust in the riches” and use them selfishly.

    3. All members of God’s family, be they OT Israelites or NT Christians have a special responsibility toward others in God’s family, to care for the poor and disadvantaged, although it is not their obligation to supplant the responsibility of relatives to care for their own.

    4. As a practical application of showing our love in a physical way to those we are trying to teach the love we have for them in a spiritual way, we might extend to them the message of James 2.15-16 to meet their current needs.

    5. Although He could have done so, Jesus did not solve the problems of hunger and physical want while He was on the earth, even among the people to whom He was sent. We today have neither the resources nor the assigned obligation to try to do so to the world in general. We find no Philistine Relocation Fund in the OT or a plea in the NT to contribute to the Ephesian Diana Silversmith Benevolent Fund for the children of the silversmiths that were being put out of work by the teaching about Christ . Even within the Jewish nation Jesus recognized that the poor would always be present.

    6. A review of recent information shows that the world’s population is 7,000,000,000 and the population of the US is 300,000,000. Also, the average standard of living in the US is approximately 4 times that of the average of the entire world population. A little math says that if the standard of living of the entire US were reduced by 75% and uniformly distributed to the rest of the world (making every ones the same) the average standard of living of the entire world would be raised 13%. While that would help many people some, it would not solve the world’s problems and would destroy our ability to help anyone in the future.

    7. We do have a special obligation to fellow Christians. Even today we all can recite examples of abuses by Christians of the kindness of fellow Christians. On the other hand abuses should be much fewer and more manageable within the church than is the case with those who do not even claim to recognize or live by Christian standards.

    8. Jesus did use the power of healing and feeding to authenticate the message of the kingdom and we can and should do the same as that is not inconsistent with His parting charge to the disciples.

    9. Widows and the fatherless should have a special place in our hearts because of their limited opportunity and vulnerability to the harshness of the world.

    10. If you think I have concluded that we should not provide help or relief to anyone outside the circle of faith, you are mistaken; what I have said is that we must be aware of our God given obligations, the limits of our resources and prioritize our efforts. Efforts to broaden the assigned responsibility beyond God’s family and to meet the financial needs and wants of society in general is to take on more than we are instructed to do or capable of doing. If we strive to do it we will simply continue the frustrations currently being experienced by many. On the other hand, if we have resources and opportunity, such efforts may be undertaken as long as we keep the main thing, the main thing, and exercise a steward’s responsibility for the resources with which God has gifted us.

    11. As a practical matter, God’s children will always be in the minority and do not have the time or financial resources to support the abuses of the world with it’s vicious national leaders, dictators, power hungry politicians, roving bands of murderers, and mismanagement. These problems are in addition to the personal selfish desires and habits of Godless individual citizens.

    12. The takeaway bottom-line is that we must prioritize our efforts to most effectively use our finite resources of time and money in the pursuit of Christ’s mission of saving the lost. To that end, in the priority of our personal benevolence:
    a.) We first take care of our own family.
    b.) We see that the family of God is taken care of (fellow Christians, with a special emphasis on widows and the fatherless.)
    c.) After that, we should show kindness to our neighbor (equivalent to “the strangers among us”, and includes prospects for the gospel).
    d.) The Biblical language does not include a command for broadening the above imperatives of benevolence to include the needs and wants of the world outside the kingdom except as we have additional resources of time and finances we should do so, since “…as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith” and “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels.”.

    13. Is it possible that I am mistaken in the conclusions I have drawn? Absolutely; and it would neither be the first or the last time that it has, or will, occur. Is it probable that I have drawn the wrong conclusion? I don’t think so, but if you think so, I welcome your indication of where I have misunderstood and/or misapplied Scripture.


  17. Jeff B. says:


    1. There is no way to have a consistent Christian witness if we focus on repealing unrighteous decrees. The minute we start to try to define (a) which laws are unrighteous, and (b) what we should do about them, we enter into the divisive realm of politics, which is the arena in which the kingdoms of this world operate. The kingdom of God is impotent when it tries to play by the rules of the kingdoms of this world.

    2. I don’t see Christ or the apostles focusing on changing oppression at the systemic/national/macro level. Such things as slavery, oppression of women, poverty, etc were prevalent in New Testament times, but you don’t see the early Christians seeking to strike down laws or governments. Rather, you see Christ and the apostles entering into relationship with both the oppressed and the oppressors. They hoped to change the hearts of the oppressors so that they would see the oppressed as fellow image-bearers of God. They hoped to change the hearts of the oppressed by showing them how to lead a life of peace-filled contentment in Christ, even in the midst of their oppression. Jude and Onesimus are prime examples of this.

    I’m undecided on whether it is right for a Christian to vote. However, I am fully convinced that voting and political involvement are not Christ’s way of combating oppression.

  18. Jeff B. says:

    Correction … I obviously meant Philemon and Onesimus. That’s what I get for typing when I should be sleeping!

  19. Adam says:

    Jim Neely,

    I think I’m with you on most of this stuff, except for your conclusion 12.a. Jesus makes it clear that our first responsibility is to the Kingdom, not our biological family, so where are you drawing this conclusion from?

  20. Jim Neely says:

    Thanks for your question.
    1 Timothy 5:8

    8 But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.
    1 Timothy 5:7-9 (in Context) 1 Timothy 5 (Whole Chapter)

    8 But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. 1 Timothy 5:8

    8 Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

  21. Adam says:

    And how do you synthesize that with the words/example of Jesus?

    Jesus didn’t provide for his mom except by giving the responsibility to care for her to another member of the body. Jesus actively encouraged his followers to abandon (sorry, but he did) their families, without even going to tell them goodbye.

    I’m not saying that that is our model, exactly, but how are are the two ideas synthesized?

  22. Didn’t Jesus also say, “He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me”?

    But think of it this way: A person who ignores the honor that he should give to his parents (or wife and children) is not really putting the kingdom of heaven first. You see, loving God means loving your family as well. If you do not love your family (whom you have seen), how can you love God (whom you have not seen)?

    To love God more is not to love family less. The preacher’s family who never sees him because he is always doing church work is little different from the family of the business executive who never sees him because he is always working.

  23. Jay Guin says:

    Jeff B.,

    Consider these condemnations through the prophets —

    (Isa 1:23-26 ESV) 23 Your princes are rebels and companions of thieves. Everyone loves a bribe and runs after gifts. They do not bring justice to the fatherless, and the widow’s cause does not come to them. 24 Therefore the Lord declares, the LORD of hosts, the Mighty One of Israel: “Ah, I will get relief from my enemies and avenge myself on my foes. 25 I will turn my hand against you and will smelt away your dross as with lye and remove all your alloy. 26 And I will restore your judges as at the first, and your counselors as at the beginning. Afterward you shall be called the city of righteousness, the faithful city.”

    (Isa 10:1-3 ESV) Woe to those who decree iniquitous decrees, and the writers who keep writing oppression, 2 to turn aside the needy from justice and to rob the poor of my people of their right, that widows may be their spoil, and that they may make the fatherless their prey! 3 What will you do on the day of punishment, in the ruin that will come from afar? To whom will you flee for help, and where will you leave your wealth?

    (Isa 29:20-21 ESV) 20 For the ruthless shall come to nothing and the scoffer cease, and all who watch to do evil shall be cut off, 21 who by a word make a man out to be an offender, and lay a snare for him who reproves in the gate, and with an empty plea turn aside him who is in the right.

    (Eze 22:27 ESV) 27 Her princes in her midst are like wolves tearing the prey, shedding blood, destroying lives to get dishonest gain.

    (Amo 5:11-12 ESV) 11 Therefore because you trample on the poor and you exact taxes of grain from him, you have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not dwell in them; you have planted pleasant vineyards, but you shall not drink their wine. 12 For I know how many are your transgressions and how great are your sins– you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and turn aside the needy in the gate.

    The prophets were killed for condemning princes, kings, and judges who abused governmental power to oppress the poor, and yet they cried out.

    It was a monarchy, and the prophets had no power to vote and no one to lobby, and yet they cried out.

    And they sometimes failed to change a thing, and yet they cried out.

    My question is: How can people who love the poor, the orphan, the widow, and the sojourner not cry out, too?

    I’m not saying that we therefore affiliate with a political party (we shouldn’t) or hire lobbyist (I get shivers at the thought). I’m just saying we should call sin sin — loudly. Even if the government treats us as the prophets were treated.

    Now, part of the difficulty we face is that we don’t agree on what is right and wrong when it comes to governmental policy. And part of this is because we are so entrenched in the American political system we can’t see beyond Rush or the NY Times editorial page. Worse yet, the church’s leaders are often uneducated in economics and the law and so incompetent to evaluate the justice of the law. But it’s not beyond our ability to do this — and do it well. We just have to be very disciplined and thoughtful — and take the time and trouble to know what we’re talking about. And if the answer isn’t clear, be quiet. We don’t need to have opinionso on all governmental issues. That’s not the church’s place.

    We aren’t called to figure out the best zoning laws for economic growth. Rather, all we need to do is know enough to recognize sin when we see and announce God’s judgment on sin.

  24. Jeff B. says:

    Good points, Jay. A few thoughts in response:

    1. We have to be careful when we use OT Israel to as an example for how Christians are to relate to the state because the OT was written when the kingdom of God was manifest as a nation-state. Christ fulfilled all that the prophets spoke of, and his kingdom fulfilled the promises and hopes of Israel. One thing that Israel’s story shows us is that the kingdom of God does not operate by the same rules as the kingdoms of man. When Israel tried to do what seemed perfectly reasonable for other nation-states, it always ended disastrously (whether it be in governmental structure, military tactics, foreign policy, etc). With the advent of Jesus came a new conception of the kingdom of God (no longer a nation-state); and with that new conception came a new way of operating (not as a nation-state would). I believe Christ-followers should render laws, politics, governments and nation-states, unto Ceasar, as we render our hearts, relationships, commitments, and yes, voices unto God.

    2. Even in the passages you quoted, the prophets rarely pointed out specific policy changes that they would make. Amos 5 may be an exception, as it seems to refer to a specific grain tax). If I recall correctly, the prophets usually spoke broadly about the presence of injustice in a nation (a practice which I encourage). Conversely, I don’t recall them often entreating God’s people to enact specific laws, but to give their hearts back to Him.

    3. I agree that we need to cry out against injustice when we see it. But we combat injustice using different tools from the world. Christians can have a unified voice in condemning poverty (for example) and the forces that create it. Christians can take unified action in reaching out to the impoverished with charitable giving and sacrificial living.

    However, we enter into a realm that operates in ways that are foreign to the kingdom of God when we start trying to combat poverty by advocating that taxes be raised to better provide for the impoverished, or that taxes be cut to create a better economic environment for them to find jobs, or that social programs be created/expanded to alleviate their suffering, or that social programs to be cut to remove a disincentive to self-responsibility. These discussions rightfully fall into the realm of political philosophy.

    When we allow our living and active Christian witness to be side-tracked into political wrangling, our voice/witness becomes divided and our well-intentioned actions (voting, campaigning, etc) end up nullifying each other. As a result, we accomplish very little (if anything) to combat the evils that we have correctly identified and desired to cure. When we confused our political action with kingdom work, we turn a living and active witness of Christian faith into a divided and ineffective self-condemnation.

  25. eric says:

    This I hope seems related to the topic. I invite criticism. I’ve noticed in the news recently this obsession with the divide between the wealthy and the poor. The statistic used is something like the wealthy have seen their incomes rise 250% while the rest have only seen a 40% rise. This used in a way to create envy. Though I’ve seen something like this first hand, and in my case it’s a good thing. My father owns a small company that at times has scraped by over the years and at times has done very well. I’ve worked for him at times for room and board and at times for a great deal more. Over time he has seen his income rise at least 250% and I in turn I have seen at least a 40% income rise. He carries the main risk and when we are slow he continues to allow people to work to feed their families as much as he can. With this in mind if I ask myself would I feel better if he were making less It really seems ungrateful. Would we feel better or worse if the rich had a 500% gain while everyone else gained only 80%. Surely we are losing sight of the fact that the poor have seen a 40% increase in income. I’m no economist but on a micro scale I can tell you it’s been my experience the better the wealthy do the better everyone does. I know there are abuses, and I know there are exceptions but lets face it, If the boss is broke the check will bounce. Envy is every bit as evil as greed. It leads to division even when everyone is winning. Thankfully I’m not an NBA fan because after seeing people with multimillion dollar salaries go on strike over small percentages of the over all take while people selling hotdogs for a living have to find new employment I’m sure I wouldn’t watch it again. Not to give the owners a pass I really don’t know all the nuances. It just blows my mind to think I could make a million dollars in a year playing basketball and go on strike. Maybe they should start a reality show where intercity kids put teams together and compete in place of the NBA.

  26. Alan says:

    Eric, good points. Statistics can be used to support a lie. Static comparisons that are being thrown around in the media about “the poor” to “the rich” ignore some pretty obvious and basic factors. For example, people move from one economic group to another several times during their lives. A young high school graduate is probably one of the “poor.” If he goes to college, he probably still is numbered among the poor. When he graduates and gets a job, he may move into the lower middle class. As his career continues, he advances and may reach upper middle class. Then he retires and becomes poor again.

    If a person marries, their household income typically increases. If they divorce, it decreases, and they often become “poor.”

    I think that when opportunities for career advancement improve, it’s a good thing. It makes it possible for people to earn higher salaries in their peak earning years. But in static economic analysis, it increases the gap between the “rich” and the “poor.” So statistics can be used to make improved career opportunities look like a bad thing.

    When unemployment is high, there are more who are “poor.” So whatever hinders reduction in unemployment hurts the poor. Those who advocate for the poor need to rally behind businesses so they can prosper and grow and add jobs.

  27. The figures being used to show the disparity over a number of years are using cherry-picked years. Beginning with the recession of the 1970’s and ending before the financial melt-down in 2007 – 8. During that time, the wealthy improved greatly. However, similar figures for comparable times in the economic cycle would likely show much less percentage increase for the wealthy while the poor would likely have increased by about the same amount as in the figures being currently thrown around in the media.

    As Jesus said, we will always have poor people, regardless of economic cycles – or of how wealthy the nation is. Since “poor” and “rich” are relative terms, the “poor” may be much better off now than they were at some point in the past – but still be “poor” because the “rich” have also increased their wealth – or vice versa. An average household living below the “poverty line” in the USA (an arbitrary income level established by government) is still “rich” compared to the average person of all economic levels in most other countries.

    This does not mean that we have no responsibility to the poor though. It is through such care for those “less fortunate” (or sometimes who work less hard) that we show the love and grace of God to all of us. If we only help “the deserving poor,” we reflect a god who only forgives deserving sinners – and that is not the God I worship.


  28. Jay Guin says:

    Jeff B wrote,

    However, we enter into a realm that operates in ways that are foreign to the kingdom of God when we start trying to combat poverty by advocating that taxes be raised to better provide for the impoverished, or that taxes be cut to create a better economic environment for them to find jobs, or that social programs be created/expanded to alleviate their suffering, or that social programs to be cut to remove a disincentive to self-responsibility. These discussions rightfully fall into the realm of political philosophy.

    Hmm … I agree that a given law is not necessarily righteous or evil. Most laws, in fact, are an imperfect effort to do good, based on Congress’s theories, which are sometimes sound and sometimes not sound at all. But we can declare out of bounds arguments that are purely selfish or intended to keep the poor poor. We can advocate for the voiceless.

    When a state has budgetary problems and so cuts care for orphans and foster children (again), who speaks for the orphans if not the church? Why are foster care programs routinely underfunded and mismanaged if not because of the church’s silence? If we were intimately involved in orphan care, as commanded by the scriptures, we would know about the problems and care about them. But we aren’t and we don’t.

    When prisons are overcrowded and prisoners subjected to inhuman conditions because prisoners can’t vote and receive no sympathy in the legislature, who speaks for the prisoners — some of whom are Christians?

    (Mat 25:39 ESV) 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

    When we allow our living and active Christian witness to be side-tracked into political wrangling, our voice/witness becomes divided and our well-intentioned actions (voting, campaigning, etc) end up nullifying each other. As a result, we accomplish very little (if anything) to combat the evils that we have correctly identified and desired to cure. When we confused our political action with kingdom work, we turn a living and active witness of Christian faith into a divided and ineffective self-condemnation.

    I entirely agree. I just want to avoid the either-or notion that politics is never kingdom business. Having some churches campaign for Republicans and others campaign for Democrats is an embarrassment and makes the church look divided and manipulatable (because it is). But surely we can unite for the sake of the poor, the orphan, the widow, and the sojourner.

    I wish I could think of a brightline test, so it would be easy to avoid getting overly entangled in politics. I do think churches have no business endorsing individual candidates. On the other hand, I think we can call sinful legislation sinful. The difficulty is that we often fail to see sin where sin is and often call good laws sin because we are not very thoughtful about these things or turn over our decision making to theologians and activists who have a very shallow understanding of politics and law.

    These problems aren’t easily solved. I guess maybe the solution is for the church to actually be on the frontline of serving orphans and sojourners, and then we’ll know what impact the laws have on real people — and we’ll have the credibility so that when we cry out against evil laws the state will listen.

  29. Jay Guin says:


    Excellent thoughts — and I love that you present them from a personal perspective. One reason I picked McLaren’s book is that he deals with question well in advance of Occupy Wall Street — and I disagree with his analysis. We’ll get there in a few posts.

  30. Jeff B. says:

    I appreciate your thoughts, Jay, and I think that we are largely in agreement. There is still something about your response that doesn’t completely jibe with me, but I can’t put my finger on what it is. But this little exchange has challenged my thinking and I appreciate it, along with all of your writings. (I read a lot of your stuff, but rarely comment.)

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