The fluttering of a butterflies wings can start a chain of events leading to a tsunami, this is a parable used in Chaos theory called the butterfly effect. It’s also a parable used in theology, specifically theodicy, to explain how we can never know all the factors of, and effects of, evil. It’s used especially by Calvinists who appeal to the principle found Genesis 50:20, the idea being that God pre-ordains evil because he intends to use it to bring good out of it. The same goes for non-calvinists, arminians and modalists; they will often point to the finitude of human understanding to make the point that God created a world with evil but that it is justified because there is ultimately good that will come out of it, even to the point of saying it would be logically impossible to create a world without evil.
I recently wrote up an article for the website Libcom. The article is basically a teaser for my book, as well as a very little history of early Christianity and its social framework.
Over the last few months I haven’t been posting that regularly, there’s a few reasons for that; one reason is that I’ve been working on a book. The book I’ve been working on is called All Things in Common: The Economic Practices of the Early Christians, which has just been published by Wipf and Stock.
The book is basically a historical reconstruction of the economic practices of the early Christians, as primarily described in Acts 2:42–47 and Acts 4:32–37. The basic idea is that I think the subject has often been approached using the wrong framework, many people approach these passages with the framework of twentieth-century political struggles; so the questions they ask are things like “was this socialism, or was this just charity?” or “Did they abolish private property?” or “Was this a commune?” I think these questions assume the wrong framework.
I approach the issue using a different framework, rather than questions of property or politics, I use the framework of different types of social-relationships as described by modern anthropology. Rather than asking questions of property or legal rights, I look at questions around things like obligations, moral norms, social assumptions, and economic practices. Approaching the question of the economic practices of the early Christians using this framework, I then go about examining all the evidence. This evidence ranges from the Dead Sea Scrolls to Greek Philosophy, to the writings of Josephus and Philo to the early Church fathers and early Christian documents to Roman literature.
The evidence, when examined carefully, and within the framework of categories of social relationships—we end up seeing that what was described in Acts 2:42–27 and Acts 4:32–47 was in fact, a long term, wide spread and significant shift in the economic realities of the Christian communities. These economic practices were done all over the Roman world at least up until the late second century (and probably beyond) by many Christian communities, and these practices distinguished the Christians from the surrounding Roman society and were seen by the surrounding Roman society as strange. It was not charity, or anything like that; but rather it was—in the anthropological sense of the word, meaning a situation where “from each according to his ability to each according to his need” is the primary moral framework—communism.
If this is something that interests you, and I think it should, pick up the book.
I recently finished a rather interesting book on Christianity and wealth, specifically from the periods 350 to 550. This post isn’t going to be a book review or anything like that, just some things that I learned from the book that I think are important. The author, Peter Brown, travels through the Western Roman Empire during late antiquity following various characters; from the pagan nobleman Symmachus to the North African titan of theology Augustine. In following these characters; their writings, their arguments, their biographies, their communities—Brown weaves a history of wealth, the view of wealth, the position of wealth, the power of wealth, in the west during late antiquity.
In this article, we have a great reminder by Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart of just how alien first Century Christianity was to our contemporary culture. What is and is not taken literally, or seriously, in the New Testament; or what is, or is not, read back into early Christianity often depends on the cultural and ideological framework of the reader. As Hart points out this is obviously apparent when it comes to the issue of wealth.
Modern liberal/capitalist ideology insists that property, wealth, and the maximization of profit are simply eternal laws of nature, period. The laws of the market are prior to all other law, even moral law; so when someone steeped in that ideology encounters the New Testament text, there is somewhat a dilemma. Hart puts it this way:
A Theist is someone who believes in God or a god, an atheist is someone who lacks such belief. Is it that simple? Is Atheism simply a lack of belief? Obviously there must be more to it then that, since that would mean that dogs are atheists, and babies may or may not be atheists, but generally we those we call atheists are expected to at least consider the possibility of a Deity. So how about defining an atheist as someone who might otherwise believe in God, or a god, but lacks such belief for whatever reason, and nothing else.
In first kings 21 you’re gonna see an example of a wicked king who wants to buy private property from a citizen. You know what the citizen tells him? No, and so then there’s a woman named Jezebel … who sees the king all distraught … He wants the guys property, they guy tells him No, he’s the government … But you know what she does? Jezebel actually forges something to have the State go against the guy, and they claimed and they found false witnesses to say that he actually blasphemed the king, and so then they kill him. They kill the guy, Jezebel has him murdered, so that the king can actually take his land.