I would argue that the best summation of Christian ethics is found in the sermon on the plain in Luke 6:20–49. What I love about the sermon on the plain is just how radical it seems on the surface, it seems almost impossible; however, when you think about what it’s saying, and think about it deeply—it makes sense. Probably my favorite example of this is found in Luke 6:34–35 (NRSV):
If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.
Continue reading “Jesus against Hillel on Usury”
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.
Continue reading “The Eye of a Needle”
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:
Continue reading “Capitalism is Secularism”
Continuing from the last post, dealing with Jeff Durbin’s terrible sermon on socialism, comes the worst offense, he says:
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.
Continue reading “A Terrible Sermon on Economics – Part 2”
Whenever an American conservative Calvinist decides to preach on politics you can be sure you’re going to get as much shallow and cheap theology as you’ll get when listening to a liberal Episcopalian talking about homosexuality. Jeff Durbin, a few months ago, put out a sermon on the topic of “socialism” and “biblical economics.” Just as expected, it was full of misapplication of scriptures, full of shallow and fallacious theology and really beneath anyone who takes biblical theology seriously.
Most of his argument comes from the commandment not to steal. To make that argument apply to questions of Economic institutions or legal arrangements he tries to derive a defense of private property as foundational from scripture. After reading the story of Ananias and Saphira in Acts 5 he says:
Continue reading “A Terrible Sermon on Economics – Part 1”