The First Christmas Promise

 I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:15)

What is the meaning of Christmas? Christmas is about the birth of Jesus! The birth of Jesus Christ (what we culturally know as Christmas) is one of the most important doctrines of the Christian faith and one of the most important events in salvation history. Sceptics will ask “If the birth of Jesus is one of the most important events in history, then why is it only mentioned in the gospels, and in only two of the gospels: viz., Matthew and Luke and only in the first two chapters, never to be mentioned again? If the birth of Jesus is so important, shouldn’t it be referenced throughout Scripture?” It’s true that the birth narrative is only recorded in the first two chapters of the gospels of Matthew and Luke . However, we would be misguided to think that Matthew and Luke are the only two places that the birth of Jesus is alluded to in Scripture. Case in point is Genesis. That’s right! The first reference to Christmas is in Genesis. Genesis 3:15 is a Christmas promise of Christ’s victory at the Cross. Genesis 3:15 is the promise of a Deliverer who would be the promised offspring in the godly line of Eve.

The birth of Jesus was the partial fulfillment of Genesis 3:15. What do I mean? When Jesus was born it was a fight to the finish between Satan and Jesus. Satan knew very well, in part, the general meaning of the prophesy. He knew that Jesus came to crush his head (win the war) and that at best all he was predicted to do was to bruise Jesus’ heel (win the battle). Satan, I’m sure, said “Nonsense! I’m going to crush his head before he can crush mine.” So as soon as the eternal Son of God became a little helpless baby in the manger, Satan said, “Finally, I got him! Finally, God is within my grasp.” We all know the story of this conflict. King Herod the Great (one of the spiritual offspring of Satan) lashed out at Jesus, doing Satan’s bidding. Herod’s demonic enmity resulted in the murder of all male children ranging from the ages of two and under. God warned Mary and Joseph of Herod’s infanticide, and they were able to escape to Egypt. 

Satan came back again and again and again throughout his public ministry. Finally, Satan had whittled down Jesus’ support, so much so that the spiritual offspring of Satan was greater in number than the offspring of the godly, so great that even Jesus’ inner circle abandoned him. In fact, Satan had one of his spiritual offspring operating as a double agent: Judas Iscariot. At the right moment Satan stirred Judas to betray Jesus. And Finally, Satan had him right where he wanted him. Things unfolded according to Satan’s plan: arrested by night, trial before a kangaroo courts (one by night and the other by day). He was then flogged; he was sentenced to death. He was forced to walk to Golgotha where he would die, forced to carry his own cross (an instrument of torture and death); they nailed him to that rugged cross; and there he died. It finally looked as though Satan had won the war, that he in fact had crushed the head of Jesus. But something happened; on the third day Satan realized that he hadn’t crushed the head of Jesus (the promised deliverer). He realized that he had only bruised Jesus’ heel, that he had not defeated Jesus once and for all, crushing his head via the cross. Satan realized that the death of Jesus on the cross was just a bruising for Jesus, while it was a crushing defeat for him. John Gerstner wrote this about Satan’s momentary triumph:

“Satan was majestically triumphant in this battle. He nailed Jesus to the cross. The prime object of all his striving through all the ages was achieved. But he had failed. For the prophecy which has said that he would indeed bruise the seed of the woman has also said that his head would be crushed by Christ’s heel. Thus, while Satan was celebrating his triumph in battle over the Son of God, the full weight of the Atonement accomplished by the Crucifixion came down on him, and he realized that all this time, so far from successfully battling against the Almighty, he had actually been carrying out the purpose of an all-wise God.”

Beloved, this is the gift of the first promise of Christmas way back in the Garden of Eden. That gift was the gift of salvation secured at the cross. At the cross Jesus defeated Satan, crushing his head, while only bruising his heal: that is, at the cross Jesus won the war of redemption by losing the battle through crucifixion! 

Christmas is not about gifts, and food, and parties, and Hallmark cards and movies. Christmas is about a promise kept long ago in the Garden of Eden, a promise to save us “from Satan’s power when we were gone astray.” A promise of “glad tidings of comfort and joy.” If you have not trusted Jesus as your Lord and savior—if you have not trusted in Jesus as Adam and Eve, and as all of the other godly offspring have throughout sacred history— I bid you to do so now! Amen! 

In Christ


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Critical Race Theory: An Empty Philosophy

See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ (1 Col. 2:8 ESV).

Paul (in Col 2:8) warns us against “empty philosophies” that take people captive. Case in point, last time, I broached the subject of “structural or systemic sin” that dominates our cultural conversation from News headlines, political commentators, and political activists. I asked, as Christians, what are we to make of all of this “social justice” talk? Is structural or systemic sin real or Marxist ideology? Last time I made the case that sin is structural and systemic. However, much of what we hear today about social justice isn’t formed and informed by a biblical notion of justice. What we hear today is contrary to Scripture. What’s contrary to Scripture?  Marxist ideology under the rubric of “Critical Race Theory” is contrary to Scripture. What is Critical Race Theory (CRT)? CRT is a secular metanarrative that seeks to explain all of reality apart from God. A metanarrative is a theory that gives a wide-ranging interpretation to events and experiences based on universal truth. A metanarrative is a worldview that tells us about human origin, human meaning, human morality, and human destiny. In the case of CRT it provides a postmodern metanarrative or worldview that seeks to replace and displace the metanarrative or worldview of Scripture.  

There are generally five pillars of CRT: oppressive hierarchies, ever-present racism, non-traditional morality, anti-free markets (anti-capitalism), and social revolution. The first pillar is oppressive hierarchy. A hierarchy is simply a chain of command; there is always someone in authority above us. CRT teaches the higher you go in the chain of command the more oppressive ascending authority becomes. The necessary implication is that all authority is evil and oppressive. In short, the first pillar is the CRT’s doctrine of authority. The second pillar is ever present (i.e., ubiquitous) racism. Racism is the original sin of CRT; racism is the worst of all oppressive hierarchies; racism is both universal and systemic. The “White (male)” systems are inherently oppressive of minorities of all kinds. In short, the second pillar is CRT’s doctrine of man. The third pillar is non-traditional family. CRT believes that the nuclear family is a threat to society. If you go to the organization Black Lives Matters’ website (not the slogan; we all agree that all lives of black people matter.), they unambiguously state that the nuclear family must be dismantled, that heterosexuality is oppressive. CRT teaches that “heteronormativity” (that is heterosexuality is the normal and normative mode of sexuality) is an expression of oppressive hierarchy in the family. This is why CRT pushes for the disintegration of the nuclear family. In short, the third pillar is CRT’s doctrine of morality. The fourth pillar is anti-free markets. CRT teaches that the free-market is one of the most heinous forms of oppression. Pitting the “haves” and the “have- nots” is a classical Marxist way to express “oppression.” In short, the fourth pillar is CRT’s doctrine of economics. The fifth pillar is social revolution. Social revolution is the method by which one dismantles authority, racism, the family, morality, and free-markets. And one of the methods of social revolution is violence. CRT justifies violence as an acceptable means for social change.  In short, the fifth pillar is CRT’s doctrine of social change.

Next time I’ll share with you how CRT is contrary to Scripture and the Christian faith. But in conclusion, for now I merely want you to be aware of what CRT is about. CRT has long ago taken over the minds of academics across disciples from law to liberation theology. What’s different today is that it’s becoming mainstream, that it’s being pushed, for example, in certain progressive government school districts via the 1619 Project. The 1619 Project curriculum basically teaches our children that America was founded on evil, that our Founders were oppressive racists, that America must undergo a social revolution, a “fundamental change” must take place by any means. (Sound familiar?) Let me be very clear: peaceful protest is a civic virtue!! What was done to George Floyd was a travesty, a great miscarriage of justice! However, rioting and burning and looting are not civic virtues but vices! As Christians, we must be aware of this counterfeit notion of justice and empty philosophy of CRT vs. the biblical notion of justice. Next time, I’ll share with you the biblical notion of justice.

In Christ


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

In Sin My Mother Conceived Me.

Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
And in sin my mother conceived me.
(Psalm 51 ESV)

We hear a lot these days in our cultural conversations the terminology of “structural or systemic sin” from News headlines, political commentators, and political activists. As Christians, what are we to make of this? Is structural or systemic sin real or Marxist ideology? The short of the answer is both yes and no.
Sin is first and foremost personal. King David, as he confesses his personal transgressions of adultery and murder in Psalm 51, also acknowledges the radical nature of his sinfulness. David was born a sinner, conceived in sin and brought forth in iniquity in his mother’s womb. David is saying that he was a sinner, not because he sinned; David sinned, because he was a sinner. The Westminster Shorter Catechism says it this way:

Q25. Wherein consists the sinfulness of that estate into which man fell?

A. The sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell, consists in the guilt of Adam’s first sin, the want of that righteousness wherein he was created, and the corruption of his nature, whereby he is utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite unto all that is spiritually good, and wholly inclined to all evil, and that continually; which is commonly called original sin, and from which do proceed all actual transgressions.

What both Scripture teaches and the Westminster divines reiterate is that man was created righteous, but because of Adam’s first sin, man fell from his original righteousness, making him both guilty of Adam’s first sin and making him corrupt. When the divines say that all of humanity is guilty of Adam’s sin, they are speaking of the doctrine of Imputed Unrighteousness. One of the Scriptures the divines used as a proof-text is from Romans 5:12, 19:

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned. … For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.

Imputed Unrighteousness means that even though you and I did not personally commit Adam’s transgression (i.e., we did not partake of the fruit offered by Satan), we are nonetheless guilty of Adam’s transgression, treated as though we had done it. And not only are we guilty of Adam’s sin, we are also personally corrupted because of Adam’s sin; this personal corruption is called Original Sin where we are “wholly inclined to all evil….from which do precede all actual transgressions.” In short, each and every sinner is held responsible for his or her own personal sin and will give an account of that sin on the Day of Judgment. This is bad news, but there is good news. The good news is that God has accomplished salvation through Jesus on the cross. On the cross, our sins were imputed to Jesus (Jesus was treated as though he committed our sins, judged for our sins), and Jesus’ perfect righteousness was imputed to us by faith, and faith alone. That’s the good news of the kingdom of God: we are forgiven and set free from the penalty of sin.
This is the personal notion of sin in relation to the gospel taught in Scripture. However, related to the personal is the social: sin is also pervasive within social structures and social systems. When we sin we not only sin personally, but also corporately. Personal sin pervades every sphere of human life and society. Sin (like cancer) metastasizes, spreading to everything we touch in human life and society; laws, politics, policies, customs, ideologies, etc.—everything is corrupted by sin. The Bible calls this institutionalization and routinization of sin the World or this present Age. A good example of the structural and systemic notion of sin is abortion. The murder of a baby in the mother’s womb not only involves the personal sins of the mother and the abortion doctor, but also the corporate and structural sins of institutions and larger systems such as Planned Parenthood, the legal decision of Roe v. Wade, etc.  Sinful systems in the past were Antebellum Slavery, Jim Crow,  the Indian Removal Act, etc. As Al Mohler says, “The relationship between individual sin and structural sin is thus reciprocal. Individual sin eventually takes structural form. The structures then both facilitate and rationalize ongoing and expanding individual sin.” In short, personal sin and corporate sin feed upon each other. Scripture calls this evil tandem the world and the flesh.
In conclusion, the biblical notion of structural or systemic sin is real. We, the church, must speak against evil in all its forms, both personally and structurally. On judgment Day, Jesus too will destroy both the world and all sinful flesh, but until then we must proclaim the gospel. The gospel is the only answer to sin. Next month, I will discuss the unbiblical notions of structural or systemic sin that is rampant in our culture and on our news today, and relate this to the truth of the gospel.
In Christ

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized


fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

(Isa 41:10 ESV)

How do we trust God when fear is a greater pandemic than COVID19? How does the Spirit of God’s power, love, and self-control overcome the fear of our age (Zeitgeist)? I want to give you three words of encouragement, the same words of encouragement that the company of pastors, led by John Calvin in the midst of the Black Plague, gave to those who were on their sickbeds, dying from the Black Plague!
1. Death does not have power over the Christian.
The first thing to remember is that the power of death over the Christian has been taken away. The power of death is the fear of death that the devil holds over man. The author of Hebrews says, “ 14 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” (Heb 2:14-15 ESV). Jesus’ death destroyed Satan’s power of death which is our fear over death. This is why Paul could say “To live is Christ, but to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21). And we can say the same thing. Take courage in this, that even in a worst-case scenario, like contracting COVID19, you and I have nothing to fear! The best is yet to come when the “roll is called up yonder!”
2. Remember the message of the gospel of grace: confess your sins and flee to the mercies of God
Scripture teaches that the greatest existential threat to man is not a plague, or virus, or cancer, or natural disasters, etc. The greatest existential threat is sin and its effects on humanity. At most all COVID19 can do is destroy our bodies. Jesus said don’t fear that. What should we fear? Jesus’ warning is this: “do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Mat 10:28 ESV). The cure for the spiritual disease of sin is the gospel. God sent his Son into the world to save us from sin and sin’s wages. Through faith in Jesus we receive mercy, righteousness, and eternal life. In order to receive this gift, we must repent of our sins and trust in Jesus where we are safe in His arms.
3. God protects, loves, cares, and watches over His people
Revelation teaches us that throughout history— i.e., between the first coming of Christ to His second coming—God sends judgments: 9 They were scorched by the fierce heat, and they cursed1 the name of God who had power over these plagues. They did not repent and give him glory. (Rev 16:9 ESV). The purpose of these judgments is to warn sinful man of the impending Day of the Lord. On that Day (when Jesus returns) there will be a total destruction of this “evil age.” This will be the end of human history (this present age) and the beginning of the “age to come,” of the New Heavens and Earth. What we see in Revelation is God’s patience and long suffering: His slow, incremental increasing of judgment. Each vision (seven in all) is a snapshot or picture of God’s judgments on every generation until Jesus returns for The Judgment, called the Day of the Lord! What does this mean for our world today? It means that our world is under God’s judgment, that COVID19 is God’s wakeup call (a trumpet) for sinful mankind to repent before it’s too late. Eschatologically speaking, COVID19 (like all plagues, diseases, natural disasters, etc.) is a warning! But, alas, the world (as it says in Revelation) will not repent and give God glory. The question for us, the Church, is how do we fit into all of this? Revelation was written to address that question. Revelation’s basic message is that God is in control, that the Lamb of God is victorious, that the wicked will not repent and glorify God, but will continue to curse God who has power over these plagues (including COVID1). However, in the midst of all of this we, the Church, are protected, loved, and cared by God, that God is watching over us!
Dear Christian, remember that death does not have power over you; remember the gospel of grace; and remember God is in charge; He’s protecting you, loving you, caring for you, and watching over you in the midst of this global pandemic! As the prophet Isaiah says, Fear not!
In Christ

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

I Am The Life

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (Joh 14:6 ESV)

Philosopher Herbert Fingarette, while musing about death, said that “In my arrogance, I thought that I could conquer death with logic. But now I know that I only used logic to suppress my fear of death.” Dr. Fingarette lived and mused his way through most of his 97 years of life that death was nothing to fear, that he could muster enough arguments as a buffer to blunt the fear of death! It was only now at his dark stage of twilight, that is while the dusk of death was falling rapidly, that Dr. Fingarette realized his arguments were only a defense mechanism to suppress his fear of death. Fingarette had good reason to fear death. The Bible teaches that the fear of death has real power over our lives, a power that subjects us to “lifelong slavery.” The tragedy of Fingarette is that it wasn’t until he was near his end that he realized his human “logic” only served to numb him from the fear of death. It didn’t conquer his fear of death as he arrogantly thought all those years in his “ivory tower.” Because of that, he treated the most important existential issue in all of life with an escapist attitude! This escapist attitude contemplated that “since life is short, let’s just enjoy it!” The power of death does that: it has the power of dread and it has the power to create an escapist attitude to avoid such dread. But either way, dread is real! Who has this power of dread over humanity? Scripture says the devil: 14 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise apartook of the same things, that bthrough death he might cdestroy dthe one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who athrough fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. (Heb 2:14-15 ESV)

But the good news is that Jesus destroyed the power of Satan who has the power of death. How? Jesus’ death on the cross destroyed death and the power of death which is the power of dread! When Jesus says that he is the “life,” that’s what he means: that is to say, he’s the only way that can deliver man from the power of dread; He’s the only truth (Fingarette’s logic) that can deliver man from the power of dread! All the other ways and truths that man uses to deliver him from the power of dread are arrogant, merely ivory tower approaches of escapism doomed to fail in this age and in the age to come.

As I write this, we are all hearing the tragic news about Kobi Bryant and his untimely death as a young and extremely accomplished man. Our prayers go out to his family and friends, as well as others whose family members died in the helicopter crash. Whether we live a long full life like Dr. Fingarette, or our life is cut short like Mr. Bryant, may we prepare for a long eternity after this life! However, there is only one way to prepare: in Christ alone, through Christ alone, and by Christ alone!

In Christ,


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Small World Where God Matters

Then I looked, and behold, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. (Rev 14:1 ESV)


We live in a big world where God doesn’t matter, where bigger is better, power is impactful, and influence is all that matters. This sort of thinking can easily permeate the church and seep into our psyche, distorting our view and expectations of God. Recently I read a blog from a pastor, pastor Mark Loughridge. He said this:

“We live is a world where size matters. But God wants us to live in a small world where He matters. Consider Naaman’s maid…. Healing and salvation came to a pagan warlord because of 10 words. That’s all that is recorded, a nameless girl, with ten words—impacting eternity…. The power of God can inhabit smallness just as easy as vastness. Ten words, from a small nobody. World changing.”

This is true, true regarding not only smallness but also weakness. When we consider Revelation 14, we notice a contrast. The contrast between the Beasts of Revelation 13 vis-a-viz the Lamb of Revelation 14. The Beasts represent the sum total of all political and military power, as well as false apostate religious systems that are against Christ and his Church in this present/temporal evil age, an age that is under the power of Satan (the Red Dragon) who is the god of this present evil world/age. Compare this to the Lamb (who is Jesus) who is currently ruling and reigning in heaven (Mount Zion) in the eternal age to come with the 144,000 (which are all the elect saints of God). There is much we can ask of this text. However, there is one question I want us to ponder: why isn’t Jesus depicted as a lion? In Revelation 5:5, Jesus is depicted as the “Lion of the tribe of Judah.” Why is Jesus depicted as a sacrificial Lamb as opposed to a powerful reigning Lion? In part, it’s because Jesus reigns in weakness. That is to say, through the weakness of the cross Jesus conquered and was triumphant over the Dragon and his cronies (the Beasts).

Let this permeate and seep into our minds. Paradoxically, smallness and weakness are the ways of God. God can do (and does) great things through ordinary people like you and me. In this present evil age unbelievers live in a big world where God doesn’t matter. However, as pilgrims in this evil age we long for heaven, for the age to come. In the meantime, let us live in a small world where God does matter!

In Christ

Pastor Carl

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized



Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Regulative Principle and the Lord’s Day

Regulative Principle of Worship

What is the Regulative Principle of Worship, and what is its relationship to the Lord’s Day? The regulative principle is “the theory of church government and worship that not only church doctrine but church practice must be based on clear Scriptural warrant.”[1] The Westminster Confession says:

The light of nature shows that there is a God, who has lordship and sovereignty over all, is good, and does good unto all, and is therefore to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served, with all the heart, and with all the soul, and with all the might. But the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by Himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the holy Scripture (Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter 21: Section 1).


Both of these definitions hinge upon Scripture. Scripture alone is what regulates true worship of God. One will notice that this principle is an application of Sola Scriptura. During the 16th century Reformation, all Protestants affirmed Sola Scriptura, that the bible, and not the Church, was the sole standard and authority upon which the Christian faith ought to be based upon. Like Rome, the Reformers too affirmed the notion of Apostolic Succession. The different between the two was (and is today) that for Rome said Succession stops at the feet of the Pope and his bishops. The Reformers correctly understood that said Succession stops at the feet of Scripture which is the teachings of the apostles and prophets. All bible believing Protestants today affirm that the bible alone is authoritative, inerrant, infallible, and the complete revelation of the will of God for His Church. However, while all such Protestants affirm Sola Scriptura as it is applied to theology—i.e. the Person and Work of Christ, the Atonement, the attributes of God, the Trinity, etc.—what divides Protestants today is what divided the Reformers of yesterday: that is applying Sola Scriptura to both polity and worship as well. The Lutheran wing of the Reformation (taking its lead from Luther) accepted anything in worship that was not prohibited in the Bible. This principle is known as the “normative principle.”  The normative principle does not restrict the elements of worship to what the bible prescribes alone but opens up and makes more room for man-made elements and rituals to be employed in worship.  In short, the normative principle is permissive: what God has not prohibited is permitted. In contrast to this permissive principle is the restrictive nature of the regulative principle. Simply put, “whatever is commanded in Scripture is required, and that whatever is not commanded is forbidden.”[2]  It’s restrictive because if God ‘s Word has not commanded it via explicit command or by example, then it is not permitted. These are two different principles employed with two different regulations for worship. The former is regulated in part by Scripture and in large part by the norm of human prudence; the latter is regulated in toto by Scripture. The regulative principle is a subset of the Sola Scriptura: i.e. nothing is to be added to regulate worship, including human prudence.

The regulative principle adds a double filter, to filter out idolatry in worship. What do I mean? Case in point, is the Roman Catholic Mass. The normative principle can’t filter out the idolatry of Mass. Nowhere in Scripture does it prohibit Mass. Based upon the permissive nature of the normative principle there is no justification for excluding Mass. What then was Luther’s justification for restricting Mass? Horton Davies says:

If men were justified by their faith in the righteousness of Christ, accepting his sacrifice as the all-sufficient guarantee for the pardon of their sins, then all practices motivated by a belief in justification by works had to disappear. Such practices included attending the Mass as a good work and going on religious pilgrimages.[3]

Luther grounds his exclusion of the celebration of Mass based upon the doctrine of Christ’s once and for all sacrifice. The Author of Hebrews teaches very clearly that Mass contradicts the once and for all sacrifice of Christ. He says, “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God,” (Heb 10:12 ESV). This is in part why Mass is excluded from true worship. Sola Scriptura— instantiated in the doctrine of the once and for all sacrifice of Christ— precludes Mass. The Reformed wing of the Reformation also utilized Sola Scriptura instantiated via doctrine to filter idolatry. However, the Reformers had a second filter: i.e. Sola Scriptura instantiated via regulative principle of worship. Mass is a man-made tradition; it is not commanded in Scripture. In fact, the regulative principle is the first and best defense against idolatry. What I mean is this: there are more steps that have to be taken with the former to come to the realization that Mass is excluded from true worship—i.e. one must first understand the nature of the Atonement; secondly, understand the nature of Mass; thirdly, conclude by deduction that the Mass is excluded. With the latter there are just two basic steps:  does Scripture command the observance of Mass? If not, then Mass is excluded. Not only does the regulative principle, a sort of Occam’s Razor, simplifies truth but provides a first line of defense against convoluted arguments at the practical level of worship. This applies mutatis mutandis to the liturgical season of Lent. The Lutheran wing of the Reformation took a different approach to liturgical calendar reform.[4] Old notes that the Lutheran calendar “represented a moderate reform.”[5]  What made it a moderate reform was that Lutheranism provided an alternative; instead of providing a covenant of works framework to the seasons—e.g. instead of Advent and Lent being a means of justification by works—the Lutheran wing framed Advent, Lent, Good Friday , etc. within the covenant of grace lone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, making the celebration Christocentric.[6] In contrast to the Lutheran wing was the Continental Reformers in Strasbourg. They rejected Lent and Advent because they were “…basically ascetic and penitential” in their orientation.[7] In contrast to the Continental Reformed wing was the Anglo-Saxon, Puritan wing —e.g. during Cromwell which included Congregational, Baptist, and Presbyterian—that rejected the liturgical seasons in toto.[8] What explains the differences? The Lutheran wing’s reform was based exclusively on Sola Scriptura regarding doctrine, while embracing the normative principle for worship. The Continental Reformed wing embraced a modified regulative principle. They correctly rejected liturgical seasons; they understood that such ceremonial and liturgical seasons ended with the Old Testament church, that such ceremonies and seasons of the Old Covenant church were not transposed into the register of ceremonies and seasons in the new covenant church. They also correctly understood that at their root, Advent and Lent were ascetic and penitential, that they were means of grace and works in tandem. Unlike the Lutheran wing, they did not seem to think that transforming Advent and Lent from a humanistic to a Christocentric bent was even a possibility. However, Christmas, Good Friday, Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost were worthy endeavors. They chose them “because they were understood to mark the essential stages in the history of salvation,” naming them “evangelical feasts.”[9] They opted for evangelical feasts vis-à-vis liturgical seasons or calendar.  This is why I call the Continental wing’s application of the regulative principle “modified.” They agreed that liturgical seasons/calendars are nowhere found in Scripture. In fact, very early on a calendar was established: “the weekly observance of the resurrection on the Lord’s Day.” This they understood to be the only “season” celebrated weekly. However, they modified the regulative principle in that they did add to the weekly calendar of the Lord’s Day a seasonal calendar not commanded in Scripture, and they were the five evangelical feast days. This is like the High Sabbaths of ancient Israel. Just as you had the seven feasts or the High Sabbaths/Assemblies of Passover, Pentecost, etc. of Leviticus 23, likewise you have added onto the Lord’s Day other “evangelical feasts.” A strict adherence of the regulative principle precludes such, though well meaning, accretions. Just as with Mass, the Occam’s Razor of the regulative principle precludes the addition of evangelical feasts onto the Lord’s Day. Every Lord’s Day is an evangelical feast, celebrating Christ’s birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension, gift of the Holy Spirit, and His sure return! This reasoning is what separated the Anglo-Saxon, Puritan, Presbyterian wing from not only the Lutheran wing, but also the Continental wing of the Reformation.  The difference between the Continental Reformed and Puritan-Presbyterian Reformed is that the former was less consistent; the latter more consistent. I say less consistent, because there is no positive command instituting holy-days as a dominical ordinance equal to and/or in addition to the Lord’s Day.

Before I say more about the Lord’s Day and its relationship to the regulative principle, let me say more about the biblical justification of the regulative principle. This is important for us to consider. It seems self-evident that the regulative principle, though not explicitly stated, is (as the Westminster divines noted) a good and necessary consequence deduced from Scripture. R.J. Gore denies this. He contends that the regulative principle is an unworkable and unscriptural view of worship, that it’s unique to the Puritans. He says, “All that has preceded has been helpful in determining that the regulative principle of worship, as formulated by the Puritans and adopted by the divines at the Westminster Assembly, is unworkable. More importantly, it is simply not the teaching of Scripture.”[10] One of his main arguments against the regulative principle is synagogue worship. He states that Jesus attended the synagogue worship and that synagogue worship is not prescribed in the Old Testament, that it was a later development. Yet, Jesus countenance this practice of worship not prescribed in Scripture. Therefore, the Puritan regulative principle is just that: a Puritan innovation.[11] T. David Gordon cites Josephus’ description of synagogue practice and says that such practices of reading and prayers in “synagogue was not worship but study.”[12]Gordon notes that pious Jews attended synagogue to deepen their understanding of Torah, along with prayer and scholarly study. It’s more along the lines analogous to “…a Christian study center or seminar …. There was no pledge of divine presence at the synagogue…no atonement was made there; and Israelites were not called to meet God there.”[13] I agree with Gordon, that synagogue practices are a moot point. When it comes to worship, Scripture regulates such practices. However, when it comes to the synagogue, Christian study centers, seminaries, etc.— custom regulates such voluntary practices.

Contrary to Gore, both Calvin and the Puritans held to the regulative principle. However, do we have biblical justification for the regulative principle? Are there biblical texts that evince the regulative principle? One among many texts that demonstrate this is Exodus 20:4-6. We read:

You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing steadfast love to thousands1 of those who love me and keep my commandments. (Exo 20:4-6 ESV)

The Westminster divines correctly understood that the second commandment deals with right worship: worshiping the one true God correctly. The Second Commandment opposes all forms of self-willed worship, not only through the form of an idol. Although crass idolatry a la carved images were the most extreme form of idolatry in antiquity, there are more subtle forms of idolatry today which includes anything introduced in worship that comes from the hands or minds of man. In large part, this is the basic meaning of the command “You shall not make.” This precludes all human invention in divine worship. In other words, if God has not commanded it, then man is restricted from doing it!  The Second Commandment is the regulative principle of worship made explicit. Another passage of Scripture is Leviticus 10:1-3. We read:

Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered cunauthorized fire before the LORD, which he had not commanded them.  And fire came out from before the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD.  Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the LORD has said, ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.'” And Aaron held his peace. (Lev 10:1-3 ESV)

This text displays God’s zeal for his own glory, especially regarding the way that He is worshiped. What was Nadab and Abihu’s sin that caused such anger and retribution from the Lord? They took upon themselves to offer up “unauthorized fire before the Lord, which he had not authorized.” They were not judged for doing what God forbid them to do (normative principle), but for doing what God did not command them to do (regulative principle). They had no warrant or power of discretion to offer up fire they deemed “helpful.” In short, they were consumed by the wrath of God for violating the regulative principle of worship. The human fire they offered was just as practical as divine fire: both could burn incense. The only difference was the former was not of divine command, while the latter was of divine command. There are numerous other passages of Scripture, but these two are more than sufficient to provide evidence for the categorical and unequivocal biblical justification for the regulative principle of worship in general, but now let me turn in particular to the the Lord’s Day and its relationship to the regulative principle.


The Lord’s Day


Broadly speaking, when it comes to the notion of the Lord’s Day there are four dominant views. Christopher Donato’s Perspectives on the Sabbath presents the four most common views: the Seventh-day Adventist, the Sabbatarian, the Fulfillment, and the Lutheran views.[14] Out of the four, the Sabbatarian view or the Christian Sabbath view is the historic teaching of the Reformed tradition. The Confession teaches:

As it is the law of nature, that, in general, a due proportion of time be set apart for the worship of God; so, in his Word, by a positive, moral, and perpetual commandment binding all men in all ages, he has particularly appointed one day in seven, for a Sabbath, to be kept holy unto him: which, from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, was the last day of the week: and, from the resurrection of Christ, was changed into the first day of the week, which, in Scripture, is called the Lord’s Day, and is to be continued to the end of the world, as the Christian Sabbath (Westminster Confession Chapter 21: Section 7).

Though there is no explicit command changing the appointed day of the Sabbath from last day of the week to the first day of the week, there is an implicit command. Hebrews 10:24 commands corporate worship. Believers are also required to assemble for worship on the first day of the week by apostolic example (Acts 2:20), and by apostolic endorsement (1 Cor 16:2). Why is the Lord’s Day required? To answer this, we will have to go back to the original purpose and the nature of the Sabbath.

Joseph Pipa explains that God’s original intent was for all of mankind.[15] As Pipa says, when God blessed the day of the Sabbath, that “…by blessing the day God made the day a blessing for man.”[16] Pipa argues from Isaiah 58:13-14 that the said purpose of the Sabbath as a Creation ordinance promised three things: “intimate communion with God, spiritual victory, and practical enjoyment of his privileges.”[17] Pipa argues that these promises are not only for the Old Testament church, but also for the New Testament church. However, these promises are conditional. The condition is to keep the Sabbath.  The prophet Isaiah says,

If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure1 on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the LORD honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; (Isa 58:13 ESV)

God does not oppose pleasure, says Pipa. God opposes lesser pleasures in favor of greater pleasures in store for us on the Sabbath. In short, to remember the Sabbath means not doing one’s own work, not seeking one’s own pleasure, and not speaking one’s own words—these instantiate what it means to keep the Sabbath.[18] Desisting from one’s own work does not mean that works of piety or necessity[19] (Matt. 12:1-8) or works of mercy[20] (Matt 12:9-14) are precluded. To the contrary—not pursuing normal business as we do during the week does not mean we are not to pursue works of piety, necessity, and mercy as our Lord taught. We are to rest as a spiritual vocation. One will ask, what is the focus of the Sabbath? Is it rest or worship? Meredith Kline argues that the focus is rest and secondarily worship. John Frame, who was a student of Kline’s in the 1960s, recalls that Kline taught a modified Sabbatarianism. Frame explains the following:

In his earlier years, he questioned the position … that God designed the Sabbath mainly for worship, not for rest. In [other] views, Sabbath (or Sunday) rest is primarily a means of preparing for worship. But in Scripture itself, rest is a far more prominent element of Sabbath celebration. One may even say that the essence of Sabbath (from Shabbat, “to cease, desist, rest”) is rest. Genesis 2:3 describes God’s rest. It does not mention worship, of course, since God is not a worshiper, but the supreme object of worship. The fourth commandment tells Israel to cease work, without mentioning worship explicitly (though to keep a day “holy” is certainly an act of worship). God typically judges Sabbath breakers (as in Num. 15:32-36), not for failing to worship on the Sabbath, but for doing inappropriate work. Similarly, Jesus’ argument with the Pharisees was not over Sabbath worship, but over Sabbath work (as Matt. 12:1-8). So, the early Kline finds the essence of Sabbath in rest, rather than worship. Of course, when we rest from our weekly labors in honor of God, it is an especially appropriate time for worship, and Kline is well aware of the biblical emphasis on Sabbath worship …. But he is unpersuaded of the Westminster standards’ view that the day is to be spent entirely in public and private worship, together with deeds of necessity and mercy. Plain physical rest, like a long nap (what the Westminster Divines may well have considered “idleness”: see WLC, 119), is also appropriate, as is noncommercial recreation, such as taking walks, swimming, biking, or neighborhood games (contrary to the prohibition of “recreations” in WLC, 119).[21]

Later, Kline departed from the Sabbatian view by confining the Sabbath to the cultic sphere.[22] However, his accent on rest, as opposed to worship, is well founded. Case in point, we find with regard to the Sabbath a charitable concern of giving rest to the alien so that they may be refreshed (Ex 23:12; cf. Deut 5:14). Though resident aliens were not allowed to worship, they were charged to obey the Sabbath command to rest on the Sabbath. The reason for this is that physical rest points to spiritual rest. The structure of physical rest God had for ancient Israel, as it does for modern man, surely includes a social dimension. As Pipa says,

A greater portion of industrial activity, however, could shut down on the Lord’s Day. What would be the economical and environmental benefits if they did? Think of the extended life-span of expensive machinery, fewer repairs, and less pollution in the air and water….as God teaches us how to structure His day socially, He includes those outside the church.[23]

For the non-covenant resident aliens, Sabbath rest was merely physical rest with mere social implications. However, for the people of God Sabbath rest pointed beyond to spiritual rest. As it was for the Old Testament church, it is now for the New Testament church— resting is a covenant sign of grace.[24] As Pipa says, “All true Sabbath-keeping begins by our actively resting in God alone for our salvation.”[25] In short, the Sabbath is both a redemptive and creation ordinance, both promising eternal-life. Before the Fall, the promise of eternal life was under the covenant of works. Adam was promised eternal life, suspended on the condition of perfect obedience. If Adam had not fallen into sin, he would have entered into that eternal rest without passing through death. As Pipa says, “God, by resting on the seventh day, pictured the promise rest; so his rest was a type of our eternal rest.”[26] In short, before the Fall under the covenant of works the Sabbath promised eternal life conditioned by Adam’s obedience; after the Fall the Sabbath pledged eternal life, pledged and provided by Christ, the second Adam (1 Cor. 15:45-49). Piper says,

For the Israelites the Sabbath sign pointed in two directions: backwards, reminding them of God as Creator who after the Fall had promised salvation through a Redeemer; and forwards, reminding them that they were to wait in faith for the promised Savior.[27]

As our Confession affirms, because the Sabbath pointed forward to the redeeming work of the Messiah the only change that took place regarding the Decalogue was not the obligation to rest one day out of seven. That obligation is unchanged. It’s unchanged because of the correct understanding that the Decalogue (including the fourth commandment) summarizes the moral law, an eternal and transcended moral norm based in the very character of God. Thomas Shepard argues that the fourth commandment is a moral law, not just positive. He argues that the fourth commandment is “a law more strictly and specially moral, which concerns the manner of all men…may be thus described; viz., it is such a law, which is therefore commanded, because it is good, and is not therefore good merely because it is commanded.”[28] In short, a rightly ordered society is first based upon that which is morally or inherently good and right.[29] This means the fourth commandment is first and foremost a moral law of rest, viz., one day out of seven. What makes it moral is God. God is the moral exemplar. Just as God worked six days, man is to work (i.e., the Dominion Mandate) six days. And just as God rested on the seventh day, man is to rest (i.e. the Sabbath) on the seventh day.

Some have argued that the Sabbath is not a moral law, because of the New Testament shift from last day of the week to the first day of the week, from the Sabbath to the Christian Sabbath or Lord’s Day. Case in point is Craig Blomberg. He says,

The view that the Sabbath is binding on Christians rests on no explicit text in the NT or early Christian literature. It is surpassingly strange that a supposedly central Christian religious duty depends on the interpretation of an OT text. Rather than seeing a continuing validity of the Sabbath, which was changed from Saturday to Sunday, whether legitimately by the apostles in the first century or illegitimately by the church in the second (or by Constantine in the fourth), it is better to see the Sabbath command as a part of the superseded Mosaic institution and the Lord’s day as a different type of day, a day of assembly and worship.[30]

Blomberg argues that the Sabbath command is part of the Mosaic institution superseded, superseded along with the Temple, sacrifices, the priesthood, etc., that it’s part of the ceremonial law, types and shadows given to the Old Testament church to point to and terminates with Christ. Pipa accuses Blomberg of spiritualizing the Sabbath. He says,

Furthermore, at the end of the day, Dr. Blomberg has so spiritualized the Sabbath commandment that he leaves no biblical warrant for weekly worship and basically is antinomian when is comes to the regulation of public worship or it’s requirement for the saints of God.[31]

I won’t speak to the issue of antinomianism. (I do not believe Blomberg is antinomian when it comes to the regulation of public worship). However, I do see the merit of the accusation that Blomberg spiritualizes the Sabbath. He spiritualizes the Sabbath by relegating it to a type and shadow. Who is correct—Shepard or Blomberg? Martin correctly observes that there were “ceremonial aspects of Sabbath observance specified in the larger body of the Law of Moses.”[32] But this is true of the third commandment. Case in point is Leviticus 22:17-30. Profaning the holy name of God (which is a moral violation of the third commandment) has attached to it temporary, provisional, ceremonial prohibitions and a requirement. What are these? The forbidding of offering blemished animals; forbidding offering an animal less than eight days old; forbidding offering a mother and her young on the same day; and requiring thanks offerings to be eaten on the same day that it’s offered—these are discrete positive/ceremonial laws attached to the moral law of the third commandment. Violating these seemingly discrete ceremonial laws instantiates the violation of the third commandment (e.g., Lev. 22:31-33). The same is true for ceremonial regulations regarding the fourth commandment.[33] As previously quoted from the Confession, what is ceremonial or provisional about the fourth commandment is not the “appointed one day out of seven,” but the “last day of the week being abolished.” Martin says, “Indeed, unless the fourth commandment is a moral precept, there is simply no accounting for its presence in the Decalogue.”[34] In short, as Murray notes,

…the fourth commandment itself is an element of that basic law which was distinguished from all else in the Mosaic revelation by being inscribed on two tables of stone. The fourth commandment belongs to all that is distinctive and characteristic of that summary of human obligation set forth in the Decalogue. It would require the most conclusive evidence to establish the thesis that the fourth commandment is in a different category from the other nine…. a position equal to that of the fifth or the seventh or the tenth.[35]

Pipa’s accusation that Blomberg spiritualizes the fourth commandment is well founded and such spiritualization of the whole of the fourth commandment is an unfounded assertion of the Futurist perspective of the Sabbath.

However, what about the change of the Sabbath from the last day of the week to the first day of the week, i.e. the Christian Sabbath or Lord’s Day? Some contend that there is nothing in the New Testament that prescribes or even suggests that Sunday was the day chosen to commemorate our Lord’s resurrection.[36] It is true that there is no biblical command to change the Sabbath from the seventh to the first day of the week.[37] But that does not mean that the day was not changed. As Martin notes, nowhere in Scripture is there an explicit command establishing the office of deacon; yet, later in the life of the church this ministry was a standing office (cf. 1 Tim. 3:8-13).[38] The same goes for the change of day. There is no explicit command, but there is precedent set by the apostolic church, a precedent which established the rule for generations of Christians. How else are we to make sense out of the author of Hebrews’ assertion that “there remains a keeping of a Sabbath for the people of God” (Heb. 4:9)? What weekly Sabbath? The only weekly Sabbath evinced in the Apostolic church is the Lord’s Day!


End Notes

[1] Alan Cairns, Dictionary of Theological Terms, First ed., s.v. “Regulative Principle of Worship.”

[2] Frank J. Smith, “What Is Worship,” in Worship in the Presence of God, 2nd ed, ed. Frank J. Smith and David C. Lachman (Fellsmere: Reformation Media and Press, 2006), 17.

[3] Horton Davies, The Worship of the English Puritans (Morgan: Soli Deo Gloria, 1997), 15.

[4] Hughes Oliphant Old, Worship: Reformed According to Scripture, 2nd ed (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002), 28. More will be said on this subject below.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid., 29.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] R.J. Gore., Covenantal Worship: Reconsidering the Puritan Regulative Principle (Phillipsburg, N.J: Presbyterian And Reformed, 2002), 199.

[11] Ibid., pp.100-110.

[12] Ibid., Pp.100-110. T. David Gordon, “The Westminster Assembly’s Unworkable And Unscriptural View Of Worship?,” Westminster Theological Journal 65, (2003, January 01): 346-46.

[13] Ibid., 347.

[14] Skip MacCarty et al, Perspectives On The Sabbath, ed. Christopher John Donato (Nashville, TN: B&​h Publishing Group, 2011), Pp. 1-8.

[15] Joseph A. Pipa, The Lord’s Day, 5th ed (Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 2018).

[16] Ibid., 33.

[17] Ibid., 16.

[18] Ibid., Pp.,19-22.

[19] Ibid., Pp.,19-22/​Robert Paul Martin, The Christian Sabbath: Its Redemptive-Historical Foundation, Present Obligation, and Practical Observance (Montville, New Jersey: Trinity Pulpit Press, 2015), 191-200.

[20] Ibid., Pp., 201-222.

[21] John Frame, The Doctrine of the Christian Life (Phillipsburg, NJ: P &​ R, 2008), 523-524.

[22] Meredith G. Kline, Kingdom Prologue: Genesis Foundations for a Covenantal Worldview (Eugene, OR: Wipf And Stock, 2006).

[23] Pipa, The Lord’s Day, Pp., 49-50.

[24] Ibid., 53.

[25] Ibid., 23.

[26] Ibid., 31.

[27] Ibid., 59.

[28] Thomas Shepherd, The Works of Thomas Shepherd, Theses Sabbaticae, (Boston: Doctrinal Track And Book Society, 1853), 3: 29-30.

[29] Nicholas Wolterstorff, Justice: Rights and Wrongs, ed. First Edition (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2010). Wolterstorff argues that particular rights are primarily subjective, rather objective. The latter’s locus of conceptualization centers around objective “justice qua right order;” the former revolves around the idea of subjectivity: “justice qua inherent rights,” i.e., rights that inhere within humans qua humans. Basically, he argues that there are only two ways to understand primary justice: justice qua right order or justice qua inherent rights. Wolterstorff makes a convincing counter-narrative over-and-against the secular regime’s grand narrative. Contrary to the grand narrative—a narrative that recounts the story of the origin of justice qua inherent rights as a product of Nominalism, or the Enlightenment— Wolterstorff advances another story. He makes the case that justice qua inherent rights is not the product of the Enlightenment or even a product of Nominalism, but ultimately a product of the Biblical Judeo-Christian tradition, that is, both the Old and New Testaments. Wolterstorff’s argument exposes the weakness of the secular regime’s narrative (secular protagonists) and anti-secular regime’s narrative (antagonists of rights). Wolterstorff’s argument nullifies the intellectual main stream’s argument, wrenching the moral discourse of justice qua inherent rights from the exclusive purview of secularists and those who dismiss rights in favor for justice qua right order instead.


[30] Skip MacCarty et al, Perspectives On The Sabbath, Pp. 351-52.

[31] Ibid., 387.

[32] Martin, The Christian Sabbath, pg. 97.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Ibid., 101.

[35] John Murray, The Collective Writings of John Murray, vol. 1, (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1976), p. 207.

[36] Samuele Bacchiocchi, “How It Came About: From Saturday To Sunday,” Biblical Archeology Review 4, no. 3 (1978): 32.

[37] Martin, The Christian Sabbath, 273.

[38] Ibid., 274.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Love Hopes All Things

Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things

(1Cor 13:6-7ESV)


We have all seen what has happened at the conclusion of the annual March for Life in Washington DC., where a short video clip was posted on line to the internet, seemingly showing a group of white teenagers from a Catholic High school from Kentucky who had attended the March for Life rally, mocking, provoking, and teasing a Native American man as he beats his drum and chants his prayers. Initially the narrative was that these boys accosted this Native American man. Why? Based on what? The boys were white, teenagers, pro-lifers, Catholics, and supporters of the president (evidence by their Make America Great Again hats). However, when a video is later released showing that in fact the boys were the victims— that the Native American Man and a third party (“Black Hebrews” shouting profanities) were the ones that confronted the boys and verbally abused them, that these boys were accosted by adults— then the narrative flipped. Many pundits admitted their error and rush to judgement, while others doubled down with the original narrative. Tuesday on the View Whoopi Goldberg said:

 “Many people admitted they made snap judgments before these other facts came in. But is it that we just instantly say that’s what it is based on what we see in that moment and then have to walk stuff back when it turns out we’re wrong? Why is that? Why do we keep making the same mistake?”

Goldberg is asking an honest question and good question. Why is that? Why do we assume the worse in people? There is a psychological phenomenon called “confirmation bias.” In an article from Psychology Today entitled “Wishful Thinking” it defines confirmation bias this way:

“Confirmation bias occurs from the direct influence of desire on beliefs. When people would like a certain idea/concept to be true, they end up believing it to be true. They are motivated by wishful thinking. This error leads the individual to stop gathering information when the evidence gathered so far confirms the views (prejudices) one would like to be true.”

There is a big difference between what we like to be true and what is true. What we like to be true is based on the bias of love of self. In contradistinction, what is true is based on the bias of love of God and neighbor. The former is the judgement of prejudice, hate, and judgmentalism that comes in many forms: e.g., racism, ageism, anti-Semitism, male-chauvinism, feminism, etc. The latter is right judgment based on love. This is what the apostle Paul means when he refers to the judgment of love, love that “believes all things.” Theologians call this the “judgement of charity.” The judgment of charity gives people the benefit of the doubt. Contrary to confirmation bias, judgement of charity celebrates the truth, doesn’t make quick judgments (i.e., quick to hear the facts first and slow to speak on the facts, e.g., James 1:9), and doesn’t think the worse of people, but thinks the best, the best unless, and only unless, the facts do not confirm one’s bias of love. The reason why we assume the worse in people, and are quick to judge, is because of our bias of hate toward the other and love of self (and others like us). In short, it’s because we are sinners; it’s because humanity is radically corrupt. Confirmation bias is just one aspect of our radically corrupt nature.

But the good news is that there is a cure for this sin, like all other sins. The cure is the gospel. Not only does Jesus forgive us of our confirmation biases, but Jesus also purges and purifiers us of our confirmation biases with the truth of the gospel. The truth is this: if Jesus could love without his personal biases (being a Jew) distorting how he viewed other people (Gentiles), then can we not also commit our ways to Christ’s way? Unlike Jesus whose personal biases were never sinful, our biases, on the other hand, are corrupted by sin. In this life we will never totally be free of our false judgements of prejudice, hate, and judgmentalism, but by the grace of God we can fight against this temptation, knowing love “hopes all things.”


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

A Public Theology of Wealth and Poverty

The Mediatorial Kingship of Christ is an essential and very clear teaching of Scripture. Abraham Kuyper famously said, “No single piece of our mental world is to be hermetically sealed off from the rest, and there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!”[1] Kuyper and his legacy is dominant in discussions of Christ’s lordship over all of life.[2] Does this include economics? What is the Christian to make of economics: an ethic of economics? More specifically, what ought a Christian to think of wealth and poverty, especially in light of the fall of communism in the former Soviet Union?[3] Poythress argues that Jesus is Lord over all of life, including economics.[4] Is this true? If so, then what is (as Paul the Apostle contends), the good and acceptable and perfect will of God in matters of economics, especially as it pertains to the poor?[5] Such questions are important for the thoughtful Christian to ponder, but there is some evidence that some Christian pondering is not so thoughtful. Case in point is Widick Schroeder; Schroeder— who is professor of religion and society, at Chicago Theological Seminary— is most critical of such mushy thinking. Roger Shinn was part of a group of intellectuals whom the General Synod of the UCC endorsed to prepare a study paper to speak to the issue of theology intersecting with economics. Shinn relays “a biting criticism” from his colleague Schroeder vis-à-vis the process and content of that study paper that finally took the titular form of “A Pronouncement on Christian Faith: Economic Life and Justice.”[6] He “finds them ‘neither internally consistent nor systematically coherent.’ They are ‘harrowingly conceived.’ Doctrinaire’ and limited in scope.’ [as well as] ‘wistfully trusting of government…’”[7]  Dinesh D’ Souza makes a similar charge.[8] He contends that many Roman Catholic Bishops know less about economics than a college freshman.[9]

What is a Christian to make of this? The purpose of my essay is to make a case, a public theological case— grounded in the Christ’s Kingship a la Kuyper’s conviction of Christ’s Lordship over all creation[10]— for wealth and its relation to poverty within a modern free market context. This is not to say that wealth cannot be used as an instrument of abuse, misuse, and oppression to tyrannize the poor, but such a misuse does not negate the positive character of wealth as a means to combat poverty and promote the common good.[11] Contra liberation theology, social economic criticism was not a significant feature of Jesus’ ministry, but such criticism was a feature of the Prophets.[12] However, this is not to say wealth per se is evil. To make my case I will first delineate what I mean by public theology as a method of cultural engagement;[13] secondly, I will elucidate a biblical and early church notion of wealth and poverty as normative for Christian ethics; and thirdly I will make a case for wealth in our modern capitalist[14] context of globalization; and fourthly, I will conclude with a theological ethic conducive to globalization as a transformative approach in changing the cultural ethos.

When I refer to public theology,[15] I am not referring to a political theology.[16] The difference between the two is summed up by two concepts that Max Stackhouse has made central in his trajectory of public theology: one is a social theory of politics and the other is a political theory of society.[17] For Stackhouse, the latter is the essence of a “political theology.” A political theology qua political theory of society views government as the most “comprehending institution of society” at large.[18] Government— instantiated in  “political orders, regimes, politics and policies”[19]— or the Republic is prior to the Public, viz., the social sectors, or spheres such as religion, culture, (i.e., the sum total of beliefs and values and lifestyles), family, economics, and intellectual traditions or ideologies.[20] However, Stackhouse strives for a social theory of politics where the public is prior to the republic. He notes that a public theology qua a social theory of politics understands that politics “…comes and goes; it is always necessary, but is also a derivative artifact of those religious, cultural, familial, economic, and intellectual traditions that are prior to government, and every government is, sooner or later, accountable to them…”[21] For example, Stackhouse notes an interesting causal dynamic between politics and the sector of religion.[22] Stackhouse notes that politics is about power:[23] the acquiring, the consolidating, and the employment of power; it is a raw power of coercion. (I would also add violence or the threat of violence.) However, power needs legitimacy. Illegitimate power is not recognized. But Stackhouse asks: where does legitimacy find its source? He notes that it is found in law. But where does law find its source? It’s found in morality. Contra Christopher Hitchens[24] who argues that “religion poisons everything,” morality is founded on religion. This is an example of the religious sector being pre-political, while the political relying per se as a moral derivative of religion. This is what Stackhouse means by pre-political sectors. The stronger these sectors, the greater the check is on government; the weaker, the lesser the check is on government. But I also agree with Stackhouse that these sectors (though prior to and more stable) are not static. He says that, “The spheres also change in number and contours in history, they expand or contract in role and importance depending on the total dynamics of a society.”[25] This is an important distinction; such a distinction is a guiding principle in a proper understanding of a modern political economy. Educating the moral conscience in order to change or “transform” (ala H. Richard Niebuhr[26]) the moral ethos of a culture is far superior to political coercion. In short, public theology is formed and informed by a social theory of politics that understands the public, social sectors to be prior to the republic or state. This is why (for one reason) a free market economy is preferable over a state or socialist approach. The former is an instantiation of common grace.[27]

Secondly, when I refer to public theology I am (in lock step with Stackhouse[28])  neither referring to confessional, nor contextual, nor dogmatic theology, but to theology qua apologetic and dialogical as noted above in footnote # 12. Confessional theology is an intramural dialogue for a specific community of faith; a contextual theology is too specific; it’s in dialogue with a particular subgroup; a dogmatic theology seeks to intrasystematically make coherent sense out of biblical revelation and creeds. I, like Stackhouse, do not negate such theological methods, but incorporate or synthesize in dialogic fashion, making for a distinct public theological methodology.[29] Stackhouse sums this approach this way:

It may differ in that it is willing to encounter secular, philosophical and non-Christian religious orientation to the world and to explain its claims in their language. It basically assumes what, for example, the translators of the Bible assume: The truths it contains can be stated in words and conceptual frameworks and the meanings of key terms by the translating process.[30]

Thirdly, though public theology is a critical, constructive, and normative discipline. It is not a top down approach; Public theology is not a hegemonic approach that Lords-over every sector of society, but a dialogue between the public and theology. Stackhouse sums it up this way:

Every theology, as a proposal, has to meet the test of public reception—according to what manifests the truth, justice, and mercy of God, and what the public can internalize from it, and weave into the fabric of common life to enhance their moral, spiritual, and material existence.[31]

What Stackhouse means is that the public must first recognize public theology’s moral legitimacy, a legitimacy founded upon how and to what extent it evidences the good and acceptable and perfect will of God, a project made more difficult due to post-Christendom and apostate Liberalism.[32]

If public theology passes this test, then it will be received. However, in the case of an ethic of economics, this means that public theology must know the truths of economics and how those truths relate to the truth of God’s Word. This takes me to the second part of the essay: the elucidation of a biblical and early church’s notion of an ethic of economics, an ethic of wealth and poverty. Earlier I noted that I take very seriously a systematic approach to biblical theology. I do not mean to imply that the bible gives us a political economy or science of economics; I believe this no more than the bible giving us a modern scientific method for biology, or physics, or chemistry, even though Scripture does reveal truths that cohere with and have scientific implications.[33] However, I do believe that the Scriptures give us an ethic of economics: what should we value or what is valuable? And what ought to be the preconditions for economic exchange, a communicative understanding of justice?[34] One cannot begin to speak to and about economic issues without also addressing issues of justice.[35]

What does the Bible say about issues in regard to economics, more specifically to wealth and poverty? Christian thinker, Andrew Kirk, has misgivings about wealth; for him, wealth is evil. He says:

There can be no doubt, if we approach the Bible with honesty, that private accumulation is usually deemed to be the result not of harmless transactions in the market, but of either violence, fraud, bribes or expropriation.[36]

Kirk’s understanding of the Scriptures is that the Scriptures teach that all wealth, beyond subsistence, is immoral, immoral because if one person has more than is needed it is because it is taken from someone in need. For him, an economic transaction is always a zero-sum game, one that is never positive and always oppressive and exploitive.[37] He contends that the “two-thirds” of the world’s poor is poor because of the “one-third” of the world’s exploitation.[38] Some of the texts that Kirk points to as proof are: Micah 2:2; Hosea 12:8; Jeremiah 5:28. What all of these biblical references have in common is oppression, oppression by coercion and violence of the rich taking from the poor, oppression by unjust scales. Is this the sum total teaching of the Scriptures in microcosm? Or is there more?

One must first realize that oppression is a major lineament vis-à-vis the economic dynamics between rich and poor, wealth and poverty.[39] To ignore this reality in the biblical world (including our own), is to ignore the reality of sin in other sectors of society and to ignore what all Christians have as a constitutive component of their system of doctrine: i.e., Original Sin.[40]

How are we to understand oppression as a major lineament in the Scriptures vis-à-vis wealth and poverty, and is this lineament the only one? I have found Stackhouse’s distinction of “seven possible centers of economic organization” helpful.[41]  He notes only seven possible social centers of  economic organization or (what he calls), “capitalization”: individual, families, cartels, temples, the market, the state, and corporations— all within economic systems.[42] Stackhouse says that at different times and places in human history one social center of organization or capitalization will be more dominant than another. In fact (until recent times) the family and the state have been the two most dominant centers of capitalization.

However, there is an important side note I must make. Stackhouse notes that “pure economic individualism” is an economic fiction and an” ideological fantasy,” making it unfit as a true social center. He notes also that even though the market is a social center of capitalization it is an indirect center. It facilitates exchange; yet, it produces nothing.[43] He says that a “market can exist only when something is produced.” Noted economist James Gwaltney explains that:

At the most basic level, a market system is a form of economic organization where people help others in exchange for income. Pursuit of income induces individuals to produce goods and services desired by others. Both buyers and sellers gain from the voluntary exchange; otherwise the trading partners would not agree to the transaction.[44]

Gwaltney notes that people organize in exchange for the purpose of income: the market creates income, and income in turn produces goods and services. Not only does the market exist only when something is produced, but the converse is true: that which is produced can only exist when a market is already in existence. (This is an important notion that Adam Smith makes in regard to his concept regarding a division of labor.[45]) The reason for my distinction is to show that the market is an irreducible complex: one does not exist without the other along with individual agents within this complex.

Another reason I share this is to emphasize that the free market is not a modern-day invention. Free markets can exist without being organized by the state (though not very well without some legislation), without corporations, without guilds, without religion, without being organized even by the family—but capitalization does not exist without this irreducible complex. I say this because some thinkers assume that capitalism is an invention of modernity’s enlightenment project of rationalization.[46] That is not to say, capitalism has not been rationalized, but that does not mean that capitalism was invented during the 19th century’s and early 20th century’s process of urbanization and industrialization. This was one of the weaknesses of Rauschenbusch’s critique of capitalism; his view was that capitalism was by definition urbanization and industrialization, an “iron wedge” that induced one to compete against his or her neighbor.[47]

That being said, what is the bible’s notion of wealth and poverty? R.C. Sproul Jr. remarks that there are four different “kinds” of poverty in Scripture: slothfulness, calamity, exploitation, and personal sacrifice.[48] In reference to exploitation he writes this:

This group [i.e., the exploited] of the poor suffers indignities by living in societies where the social, political, judicial institutions favor the rich and the powerful and leave the poor without advocacy. One such society was Israel in the eighth century B.C., when ‘the poor were sold for a pair of sandals.’…. This kind of oppression provokes God, who hears the moans of his people.[49]

Because of the nature of poverty qua oppression, exploitation is front and center in discussing a biblical discourse concerning wealth and poverty, [50] and the need for relief.[51]

In light of this, in the ancient world of the biblical life setting, what were the social centers that dominated capitalization, and to what extent did these social centers define the discourse around the terms of wealth and poverty, the rich and the poor? Bruce Malina notes that there were four social structures of capitalization: kinship, politics, religion, and economic centers.[52] Malina defines a social structure as, “The means by which humans realize their basic values.” He notes that in the world of the New Testament, economics, and the religious social structures, developed through “political and domestic loci,”[53] that is, through the family and the regime. The family and the regime were most dominant; the implications for this is that economics was “tied to the regime and the family.”[54] The social loci of both kinship and regime determined the concepts and the discourse about economic issues. This will mean that, for instances, if the social center of dominance is political, then the discourse about poverty and the concept of impoverishment will take on a political valence, i.e., poverty qua oppressed.[55] The same is true of kinship: poverty qua sick and outcast. The same is true of economics: poverty qua indigent.[56] The same can, in turn, be said in regard to the cultural discourse about wealth and the wealthy; the wealthy are amassers of wealth and oppressors vis-à-vis political template; greedy vis-à-vis an economic template; inheritors vis-à-vis kinship template; prodigal vis-à-vis a religious social template.[57]

In regard to the Old Testament world, the same is also true.[58] Donald Gowan notes that when dealing with the Old Testament’s notion of wealth and poverty the discourse is centered around three groups: the widow, the orphan, and the sojourner.[59] These three groups[60] are definitive social categories in regard to the Old Testament’s prophetic concern[61] of the poor qua the oppressed, a group that F.C. Fensham brought attention to over a generation ago.[62]  These groups or classes of the oppressed were a concern not only for ancient Israel, in particular, but the Ancient Near East in general.[63] These groups or classes were oppressed in the sense of social dislocation.[64] What the poor qua widow, orphaned, and sojourner had in common was a precarious social status. In the case of the widowed and the orphaned it was the death of a husband or father; in the case of the sojourner it was social and political dislocation due to her or his alien status of not belonging. Gowan notes that the concern for these groups was not poverty per se as absolute poverty, but oppression. What he means is that economic poverty in the sense of a lack of subsistence was par for the course in the ancient world of the Old Testament. However, if one were economically disadvantaged due to any one of these three categories, then one was liable to oppression; that is, the wealthy— with their political clout and connections (social and political and economic capital)— could (and would) use their advantages over-and-against those with no such social capital. Gowan writes:

They were weak, for various reasons, and thus the plight of which the Old Testament most often speaks is not hunger or lack of shelter; it is their inability to maintain their rights, so that it is possible for others to oppress them.[65]

The rights that the widowed and the orphaned had was a right to her husband’s and a right to his/her father’s resources. The widow had certain “independent legal rights” that a married woman did not have.[66] Case in point, the gleaning laws mandated that what was left in the fields were to be left to the sojourner. Also, because the widower and the orphaned lacked sufficient “muscle power,” and the resident alien lacked equal opportunity, certain provisions were legislated: i.e., the gleaning of the fields; every three years a tithe was brought to the local town; and every seven years the land was left uncultivated so that the poor could harvest whatever grew on it.

In light of these realities, Gowan notes that the lack of “complete equality in the distribution of wealth” was not a disgrace. Indigence or poverty from an economic perspective was no scandal. Gowan says that, “[w]hat is a scandal…is when those who do not have much are deprived of what is rightfully theirs by those whose consciences do not bother them.”[67] The poor’s right may not have been the right not to be poor qua indigent, but it was the right of the poor not to be debased, disrespected, legally taken-advantaged of—i.e., not to be poor qua oppressed. Wealth (i.e., wealthy in a monetary, a political, and a social capital sense) is a good gift of God, not to be used to take advantage of the poor.[68] The reason why the poor—the widow, orphan, the sojourner—are a concern is because God hates the powerless being maltreated by the powerful. In order to be in right standing with God, one must not mistreat the poor. Righteousness (i.e., a right standing with God), was operative in defining justice in regard to the poor. Gowan says that this is one of the “flaws in the Old Testament’s approach” to the issue of poverty and wealth; that is, if one does not care about righteousness, how are the poor to be cared for and not disadvantaged? There were no coercive stipulations provided, just an “apodictic” or conscience driven approach.[69] (This I disagree; there were strict sanctions in the law, sanctions realized during divine judgment and exile.) In either case, we and our ancient forbearers are morally ambivalent about wealth. This is possibly why the biblical discourse that revolves around the concept of wealth and the wealthy is somewhat ambivalent. In one context wealth is a good gift from God. However, in another context wealth is a good gift corrupted, a misuse of economic, political, and social capital over-and-against the oppressed.

This ambivalence mirrors not only our modern ambivalence about wealth (from different perspectives), but also the early, post-apostolic Church’s ambivalence about wealth and the wealthy. Rebecca Weaver notes that though there is no definitive statement in the early Church about wealth and poverty, there are some reoccurring features; two of these features are ambivalence over wealth, and the wealthy, and specifically wealthy Christians, as well as the call of almsgiving, coupled with divine reward.[70] The poor were the recipients of divinely ordained largess, a largess given by the wealthy who in turn would be rewarded by God. In this way the rich could “lay up treasures in heaven.” Weaver notes that wealth was irrelevant to the early Church; what mattered was the disposition of one’s heart toward wealth and the use of one’s wealth. Weaver says that (for instance), “…in Clement we find someone who thoroughly adapted [wealth] to Christians ends. For Clement the value of possessions lay in their employment as alms.”[71] This normative value theory of wealth is contingent upon the use or misuse of one’s capital. This seems to be a sort of moral ontology of wealth. Wealth is metaphysically good, but its ontological goodness is “irrelevant.” Wealth’s utility is what makes it morally good. The moral ontology of wealth is based upon the use or misuse of capital.

To sum up a biblical and early Church discourse of wealth and poverty, one must realize— contrary to Kirk’s notion that the rich and wealthy are always so on the backs of the poor via violence, fraud, bribes and theft— that this was not always the case. There are other reasons or kinds of poverty within the biblical narrative. In the biblical world, the poor qua indigent via slothfulness or calamity or self-sacrifice is not the same as the poor qua the oppressed. The oppressed are always indigent by virtue of certain unfortunate preconditions (economically poor) but the indigent are not always oppressed. And the moral ontology of wealth is contingent upon the use of capital and capitalization.

This takes me to my next point: if wealth is a good, in both a moral and ontological sense, what place can wealth play in our modern capitalist context, and if wealth can play a productive part, how is this or in what way is this suggestive for an ethic for a global economy? The place that wealth plays in a capitalist context is important. As noted, wealth is an ontological good and a moral good if not misused, but the use or misuse of wealth in different contexts have implications for how we define wealth and poverty. What context do we find ourselves in today, and how is this suggestive for a global economy? David Krueger notes:

The collapse of the cold war, a nearly global rejection of centrally planned economies, the concurrent strengthening of market-based institutions and practices—all of these trends are dramatically influencing societies and businesses around the globe. These changes beg for fresh Christian ethical thinking.[72]

Our modern global, capitalist context, as Jeffery Sachs contends, began with the Industrial Revolution.[73] Around the mid-1700s, the world was poor, poor due to diseases, epidemics, hunger, and weather. Poverty, absolute poverty,[74] was around this time normal. He says that—the thousands of years B.C., as well as the eighteen-hundred years A.D.; there was never a period of “sustained economic growth.”[75] Not until the Industrial Age (which began in England and spread elsewhere), did the world experience sustained economic growth. However, this growth was regionally unequal; for example, with the U.S., Canada, and Oceania these regions experienced more growth, i.e. per capita intensive growth,[76] than say the former USSR. Sachs says that from the time between 1820 and 1998 the U.S. and Canada, and Oceania region experienced an annual per capita growth of 1.7%, while the former USSR experienced 1.0%.[77] His point is to illustrate that all regions of the world—he delineates eight— have experienced economic progress or regional per capita growth.

He contends that Gross World Production has increased fifty-fold since the 1880’s. He believes that the key to overcoming poverty is not transferring income from one region to another, i.e., by force, but by “the overall increase in world income.”[78] What is important is a steady, slow state of progress over time. He believes that the post-cold war is a second wave of globalization. The first wave of globalization began with the aftermath of the Industrial Revolution; there were three waves within the Industrial Revolution: the steam engine, the telegraph and ocean steamer, and the electrification of industry and urban life. Sachs says:

By the early twentieth century, Europe largely dominated the world. European empires controlled essentially all of Africa and large parts of trade as well. This was the age of globalization, an era of global trade, an era of global communications over telegraph lines, an era of mass production and industrialization–…an era of inevitable progress.[79]

However, all of this came to an abrupt halt in 1914. The juggernaut of a combination of two world wars and a great depression led to a global disruption of trade and communication. This disruption led to the end of the European-led globalization and the eventual rise of the so called First, Second, and Third World realities. This disruption led to First World restoring a semblance of trade, but it was no longer global, but regional among the First World based upon a market system of capitalization. The Second World was the world of central planning and one-party rule. This World cut itself off from the First, and in turn the Third World—which was even more isolated—cut itself off from both, trusting neither.[80] The problem with such global disruption (among many others), was that it destabilized any semblance of a steady state of global progress. This, he believes, explains such regional wealth discrepancies between 1820 and the present. This also explains why the discrepancies between rich and poor, between the First World (i.e., the rich) of free market capitalization, on the one hand, and the Second and Third Worlds (i.e., the poor) are evident. Sachs says that both, “Second World and Third World approaches did not make sense.”[81] Second World central planning and Third World autarkical isolation do not work, a point I whole heartedly agree.

Sachs proposes that our present wave (second wave) of globalization can close the gap between the regional discrepancies of wealth. His point is that our present phenomenon of globalization is a second chance to increase wealth, increase the world’s production. This is shown to be the only method in human history to pull millions out of absolute poverty. And in turn, the regional inequalities between the rich and poor may come to an end with the advent of our second wave of globalization, by opening up trade, and free markets.

David Krueger proposes something similar. Krueger espouses a notion of “productive justice.”[82] For him, as it is for Sachs, “higher levels of global economic output and wealth are morally defensible goals.”[83] He proposes an expanding of the economic pie. He notes that the main engine behind the train of free markets is the business corporation. Krueger and Sachs are on to something profound. If their project of productive justice is the best (and only) way to combat poverty, then disparaging wealth—as most Christian thinkers are prone to do ala Kirk and others—is not only wrongheaded, but morally obtuse.

This brings me to my concluding point: a theological ethic conducive to free market global systems. We have noticed that though wealth, in and of itself, is a good gift from God, it can be misused to the extent that it oppresses others. The Old Testament’s ethic to countervail such oppression was justice qua the righteous standard of God. Likewise, we need an ethic to countervail the abuse of capitalization in our day. Sachs reminds us that when societies become economically dominant the tendency is to misuse wealth. He says:

…the vast differences in power contributed to faulty social theories of these differences that are still with us today. When a society is economically dominant, it is easy for its members to assume that such dominance reflects a deeper superiority….Thus the inequalities of power and economics of the nineteenth century in favor of Europe was accomplished by the spread of new forms of racism and ‘culturalism’ ….These theories in turn justified brutal forms of exploitation of the poor through colonial rule, dispossession of the properties and the lands of he poor by the rich, and even slavery.[84]

If such poverty qua exploitation was a brutal concomitant during the first wave of globalization, then could not the same be said of our second wave? If the Old Testament’s ethic of righteousness was used to countervail such oppression, should we not, in turn, have an ethic to countervail oppressive tendencies that misuse wealth. Krueger offers such an ethic. Krueger proffers a theological/ethical vision of transformation: a transformation of the corporate ethos. Since the main engine behind the train of free markets is the business corporation, then Krueger’s tactic to transform the ethos of business corporation makes moral sense. This, he says, requires that “Christian theology” ought to make substantive claims about the good society, the proper roles of social institutions including business institutions, and the appropriate roles and responsibilities of persons within business.”[85] He calls his approach an “ethic of responsibility,” an approach employed by H. Richard Niebuhr. One paradigm of his ethic of responsibility is a “transformative/conversionist” approach.[86] Taken from Niebuhr’s classic Christ and Culture, the transformative template takes all creation to be a good gift from God (including wealth and its use), that has (from one extent to another) been corrupted. The work of the theologian/ethicist is to engage in a more critical assessment about the nature of humanity and human institutions and humanity’s limits and the role of sin in such limitation. A transformative ethic takes the nature of sin seriously within social structures, but it also understands that the nature of sin is one of privation. In order for sin to exist it must depend ontologically upon the good, for good is all that exists ontologically. But such an understanding of sin notes that sinful structures or institutions can be renewed. As Krueger says, “[though subject to misuse and perversion] that a transformative/conversionist [approach] understands that though capitalism and business practice to be flawed and marred by sin [it is still] open to the possibility of renewal and creative transformation under the sovereignty of God.”[87] Krueger believes that the liberationist stance is not at all helpful, at this point, because it sees market capitalization as an intrinsically evil social structure, hence unredeemable.

The reason I speak of Krueger’s “transformative” ethic is not merely for the fact that I may agree with it in theory, and that I believe that by changing the cultural ethos of a corporation makes sense in theory, but there is some evidence that changing such an ethos has been brought to bear in the culture. Peter Berger speaks of a new transformative ethical ideal of a “kinder, gentler” market.[88] Berger notes that the counter-culture ideals that began in the 60s—feminism, environmentalism, multiculturalism—have been absorbed by the culture. (I would add mostly not for the good.) A good result is a change in the corporate ethos: the disparagement of sexual harassment, diversity management, environmental sensitivity …etc. What is promising about this is that a social theory of politics and culture formed and informed and transformed by a public theology of wealth and poverty as proposed is not a pie-in-the-sky theorizing (as is the case of Marxist utopians), but a reality of globalization.

In conclusion, wealth is a good gift from God not to be disparaged but embraced by Christians as a good for humanity and especially for the poor. It is our calling as theologians and ethicists under the Lordship of Christ to evaluate and critique what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God in these matters.



[1] Abraham Kuyper, Abraham Kuyper: A Centennial Reader, ed. James D. Bratt (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998), 488.  The quote was originally part of Kuyper’s speech at the inauguration of the Free University of Amsterdam in 1880.

[2] James D Bratt, Abraham Kuyper: Modern Calvinist, Christian Democrat (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2013). See also Jan de Bruijn, Abraham Kuyper: A Pictorial Biography (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2014); Richard J. Mouw, Abraham Kuyper: A Short and Personal Introduction (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2011).

[3] Jeffrey D. Sachs, The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for our Times (London: The Penguin Press, 2005), 25. Sach notes that the First World of communism has fallen, and the Third World of isolation form the First and Second World have not worked for the betterment of their societies. Since the fall of communism, there is a recognition that market-based capitalization has triumphed and is triumphing.

[4] Vern S. Poythress, The Lordship of Christ: Serving Our Savior All of the Time, in All of Life, with All of Our Heart (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2016), 95-136.

[5] Donald E. Gowan, “Wealth and Poverty in The Old Testament: The Case Of The Widow, The Orphan, And The Sojourner,” Interpretations 41, (1987): 360.

[6] Roger Shinn, “The Christian Faith and Economic Practice,” The Christian Century July 1991, 21-23.

[7] Ibid., 3.

[8] Ronald Nash, Poverty and Wealth: The Christian Debate Over Capitalism (Westchester, Illinois: Crossway Boks, 1986), 10.

[9] Chad Brand and Tom Pratt, Seeking the City: Wealth, Poverty and Political Economy in Christian Perspective (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2013), 151-53. The work is the culmination of ten-years’ research and attempts to educate and develop a full orbed biblical, historical, economic, and theological defense of small government, free markets, and private enterprise.

[10] Most public theological discourse is based on Liberal theology a la Stackhouse, John de Gruchy, etc., who give no preference to Christianity. I hold to a public theology that does in the spirit of Kuyper.

[11] Jean Terole, Economics for the Common Good (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2017). Terole argues that is in fact a force for the common good.

[12] Michael J. Sandford, Poverty, Wealth, and Empire: Jesus and Postcolonial Criticism (Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2014). Sandford’s central claim is that “socioeconomic criticism was a significant feature of Jesus’ ministry.”

[13] The particular method in regard to public theology is a method of correlation, both polemical and dialogic. What I mean by the former is that by way of polemic correlation public theologians can speak against the culture as a voice primarily of criticism, deconstructing the idols within the culture or tearing away the ideological husk of our culture. For the latter, public theologians can speak to and with the culture as a voice primarily in dialogue, finding common ground so as to expose and appreciate and utilize the kernel of truth within the husk of our cultural and ideological misconceptions.

[14] Michael Novak, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism (New York, New York: American Enterprise Institute/​Simon &​ Schuster Publication, 1982). Novak’s works is programmatic in the articulation of a moral theory and a theological base for the implicit ideals of democratic capitalism.

[15] Max Stackhouse, Shaping Public Theology, ed. Scott Paeth, Harold Breitenberg, and Hak Joon Lee (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 2014). These selective writings are a primer on Public Theology, in general, and Stackhouse’s work in particular as a prominent thinker.

[16] Peter Scott and William T. Cavanaugh, eds., The Blackwell Companion to Political Theology (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2004).

[17] Max Stackhouse, God and Globalization: Globalization and Grace (New York And London: The Continuum International Publication Group Inc, 2007), 102-103.

[18] Ibid., 102.

[19] Ibid., 103.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid., 103.

[22] Max Stackhouse, Public Economy and Political Economy: Christian Stewardship and Modern Society (Maryland: University Press of America, 1991), 101.

[23] Moshe Halbertal and Stephen Holms, The Beginning of Politics: Power in the Biblical Book of Samuel (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2017). The authors argue that the essence of politics is power. Their case in point is the King David. There were pro-and anti-monarchical biases in the book of Samuel. The reason why is because David was a politician who wielded power. I do not agree with the authors higher critical understanding of Scripture but suffice to say politics is more about the persuasion of power than the power of persuasion.

[24] Christopher Hutchens God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (New York, New York: Hatchette Press, 2007).

[25] God and Grace, 107.Max Stackhouse. “Public Theology and Civil Society In A Globalizing Era” (paper presented to the Bangalore Theological Forum, Bangalore, 1992).

[26] H. Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture, 3rd ed (New York, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2001).

[27] Jeffrey E. Haymond, “Common Grace and The Competitive Market System,” The Journal of Markets and Morality 19, (2016, Spring): 79-80.

[28] Stackhouse, God and Grace, 107.

[29] David Neville, “Dialectic as Method in Public Theology: Recalling Jacques Ellul,” International Journal of Public Theology, vol 2, issue 2. Ellul adds to the notion of dialectic both proximity and distance.

[30] Stackhouse, God and Grace, 107.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Daniel Strange. “What on Earth? Why on Earth? Evangelicals and Public Theology” (lecture given at Friends of Oak Hill College, London, England, September 1, 2006). Strange argues that said legitimacy is based on the Lordship of Christ. He correctly notes that most pubic theological discourse does not consider the noetic effect of sin. It relies too heavily on natural law, social science, etc., due to liberal theology. This is why the moral legitimacy of public theology must not only be apologetic, but biblical and orthodox. To this I concur.

[33] Henry Morris, Science and the Bible, 3rd ed (Chicago, Illinois: Moody Press, 1986).

[34] D. Hausman and M. McPherson, Economic Analysis and Moral Philosophy, 2nd ed (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006).

[35] B. Barry, Theories of Justice (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989).

[36]  Andrew Kirk, The Good News of the Kingdom Coming (Downer Grove, Illinois: Inter Varsity, 1985), 71.

[37] Lester Thurow, Zero Sum Society: Distribution and the Possibilities for Change, 2nd ed (New York, New York: Basic Books, 2001). Thurow provides a rationale for why the America economy cannot solve its most pressing issues of the day, while making a case for redistribution of wealth.

[38] Andrew Kirk, The Good News of the Kingdom Coming, 71.

[39] Ann Cudd, Analyzing Oppression (Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press, 2006). Cudd argues that political economies are not inherently oppressive. The oppression is perpetrated by social groups within the structure of an institution.

[40] Reinhold Niebuhr, Moral Man and Immoral Society, 2nd ed (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013).

[41] Stackhouse, Public Theology and Political Economy, 114-117.

[42] David W. Conklin, Comparative Economic Systems (Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 1991).

[43] Ibid., 116.

[44] Ronald Nash, Wealth and Poverty, 47-48.

[45] Adam Smith, Wealth of The Nations (Hollywood, Florida: Simon And Brown, 2012).

[46] Ellen Meiksins Wood, “Capitalism or Enlightenment?” History of Political Thought 21, no. 3 (2000, Autumn): 405-426. Woods argues that Capitalism and the Enlightenment are not to be conflated, that they arise from different social, political formations.

[47] Walter Rauschenbusch, Christianity and Social Crisis, reprint by Library of Theological Ethics (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1992).

[48] R. C. Sproul Jr., Biblical Economics: A Commonsense Guide to our Daily Bread, 4th ed (West Virginia: Tolle Lege Press, 2008), 135.

[49] Ibid.

[50] Craig Blomberg, “Give Me Neither Poverty nor Riches: A New Testament Theology of Material Possessions,” Stone-Campbell Journal 2, no. 2 (1999, Fall): 210. Blomberg surveys some of the major contributions of the NT to a biblical theology of material possessions demonstrating neither an unrelenting asceticism nor a “godly materialism,” but a consistent concern.

[51] Ronald J. Sider, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger (Dallas, Texas: Word, 1997), 205. Sider shows that typically a substantial majority of Christian charitable giving typically does not to be going to alleviate the physical plight of suffering people.

[52] Bruce J. Malina, “Wealth and Poverty in The New Testament and Its World,” Interpretations 41, no. 40 (1987): 38.

[53] Ibid., 40.

[54] Ibid.

[55] Ibid., 360-65.

[56] Ibid.

[57] Ibid., 364-67.

[58] R. K. Harrison, Old Testament Times (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Harper Collins Publishers, 1970). Harrison argues in part that the Old Testament gives at each stage of its formation an accurate, including the cultural context of the oppressed.

[59] Gowen, Wealth and Poverty in the Old Testament, 343.

[60] Shabu Joseph Thottumkal, “Do Not Oppress!” (Zech. 7:10): The Widow, the Orphan, the Sojourner and the Poor in Post-exilic Israel (Bengaluru, India: Kristu Jyoti, 2016). This monograph is a detailed study of the rights of the widows, the orphans, the aliens, and the poor in Israel according to the postexilic prophecy of Zech. 7:9-10.

[61] E. Hammershaimb, “On The Ethics Of The Old Testament Prophets,” Vetus Testamentum Supplements 6, (1960, January 01): 75-101. Hammershaimb includes in his discussion the relationship of this prophetic Old Testament motif regarding concern for the oppressed but erroneously finds “that in the prophets’ concern for widows and the fatherless there are quite obvious traces of a Canaanite origin” (p. 83).

[62] F. Charles Fensham, “Widow, Orphan, And The Poor In Ancient Near Eastern Legal And Wisdom Literature,” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 21, (1962, April): 129-139.

[63] Cyrus H. Gordon, “Biblical Customs And The Nuzu Tablets,” The Biblical Archaeologist 3, (1940, February 1): 7-9. The practice of levirate marriage for widows, well attested from many places in the Ancient Near East, not only among the Babylonians and Assyrians but also with the Hurrians and even the Hittites in Anatolia.

[64] Gowen, Wealth and Poverty in the Old Testament, 344.

[65] Ibid., 347.

[66] Ibid., 345.

[67] Ibid., 29.

[68] Ibid., 350.

[69] Ibid., 352.

[70] Rebecca Weaver, “Wealth and Poverty In The Early Church,” Interpretations 3, no. 15 (2003, January 01): 368.

[71] Ibid., 370.

[72] David Krueger, Donald W. Shriver, and Laura Nash, The Business Corporation and Productive Justice (Nashville, Tennessee: Abington Press, 1997), 17.

[73] Sachs, End of Poverty, 31.

[74] It is “absolute” in contradistinction to relative poverty. Krueger, and others, say that relative poverty is a level above subsistence due to an increase of wealth.

[75] Sachs, End of Poverty, 31.

[76] Not until the Industrial Age (which began in England and spread elsewhere) did the world experience sustained economic growth. However, this growth was regionally unequal; for example, with the U.S., Canada, and Oceania this region experienced more growth, i.e. per capita intensive growth

[77] What I understand to be the difference of per capita growth vis-à-vis Gross National Product is that the former is a better index of real growth because it factors in GNP minus populations increase; e.g., if GNP is 6%​ within a five-year period and if during the same five-year period the population increases to about 3.5%​, then per capita growth is 2.5%​.

[78] Ibid., 31.

[79] Ibid., 43.

[80] Ibid., 45-48.

[81] Ibid., 48.

[82] David Krueger, The Business Corporation and Productive Justice, 26.

[83] Ibid.

[84] Sachs, End of Poverty, 39.

[85] Krueger, Productive Justice, 30.

[86] Ibid., 31.

[87] Ibid.

[88] Peter Berger, “Vice and Virtue in Economic Life,” in Christian Social Ethics in a Global Era, ed. Max Stackhouse et al (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), 75-93.

[89] Ibid., 87.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized