What's the Difference between Peace & Justice and Health & Wealth?

During my drive through Oregon (wish I could say I was following the trail of Lewis and Clark), I finally had the chance to listen to the Reformed Forum interview with Anthony Bradley about black theology. During one segment Bradley questioned the wisdom of approaching the black church with the solas of the Reformation. A better point of contact would appear to be the neo-Calvinist model of Christ transforming culture since it resonates with black theology’s themes of social justice.

Why Christ is not a better contact I don’t know. Lots of black Protestants I do know love their Lord and are unashamed about talking openly about him. One of the many ironies I observed during my years on the Alumni/ae Council of Harvard Divinity School was the old-time Unitarians’ reactions to the presence of black holiness Protestants as students and graduates. On the one hand, the Unitarians delighted in the presence of minorities. On the other hand, all the talk about Jesus made them uncomfortable.

Whatever the best connection to black Protestants, I am still having trouble distinguishing the worldliness of establishing just social structures from the worldliness of owning a Lexus. This is especially puzzling since Bradley admits that when a Lexus has been denied for so long (because of economic conditions), buying a brand new luxury car may have a dose of justice added to a helping of self-gratification. Either way, whether the social order we prefer is one that costs me wealth so that others may have a larger piece of the pie, or one defined by free markets that allows me to buy as much as my credit card will allow, I’m not sure why either offers a glimpse of the kingdom. In fact, neo-Calvinist transformationalism seems to be as preoccupied with economic and political conditions as Health and Wealth preachers are concerned with experiencing God’s blessings in this life. One may be more modest than the other, though the modesty may be a function more of middle-class abstemiousness than of spiritual insight. But both look for signs of God’s victory in the here and now.

Calling all Vosians!

24 thoughts on “What's the Difference between Peace & Justice and Health & Wealth?

  1. “Whatever the best connection to black Protestants, I am still having trouble distinguishing the worldliness of establishing just social structures from the worldliness of owning a Lexus.”

    Here is one distinction: there is an explicit condemnation in Scripture of greed, selfishness, hoarding but also a call for Christians to serve the material needs of the poor. Another way to put it is that not all worldliness is bad, depending on what you mean.

    Or, maybe the signs of God’s victory here and now (there IS an “already” to your “not yet”) that Christians should look for is not so much a transformed social order (“We’ve elected Ron Paul! Our God reigns!”), but a transformed church that evidences the fruits of God’s grace, namely being gracious in word and deed. Cups of water given, clothing offered, prisoners visited are small things, and not earth shattering as we would count them. But they are fruits of faith – and I would argue – sound doctrine.

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  2. I think I’d rather take my ideas of social justice, health and wealth from Bunk, Omar and Stringer rather than black Protestant’s turned neo-Cal.

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  3. “Either way, whether the social order we prefer is one that costs me wealth so that others may have a larger piece of the pie, or one defined by free markets that allows me to buy as much as my credit card will allow, I’m not sure why either offers a glimpse of the kingdom.”

    The Robin Hood ethic certainly doesn’t offer a glimpse of the kingdom but it doesn’t help that you offered a false dilemma.

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  4. Even if the social order we prefer is free markets that encourage us to buy as many guns as our credit cards will allow, I don’t think “private property” ideology is a preview of each person under their own vine and fig tree.

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  5. The free market feeds on creating addictions (advertising) and depends on people addicted to earning more private property. A capitalist economy stands against “under-spending”.Even if you earn as much as you could (but whoever knows that?!) , if you save or give away what you earned, and thus “make do with less” or conserve the older model you still have instead of buying the “new and improved”, you are sinning against not only your rights as an individual but also against the rules of the kingdom which could already be coming.

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  6. Hart… if Robin Hood and the credit card are not the only two options… what are my other choices?… a holy localism?

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  7. Saying that capitalism is NOT the kingdom in this world is not saying that socialism IS the kingdom in this world. If I am not mistaken, that was DGH’s point. Some Republicans have gotten so used to saying that socialists are not realistic, are “immantentizing the eschaton”, that they don’t seem to notice their rhetoric assumes that anti-socialism is a present sign of the kingdom. GAS is the one who needs to look at what I wrote.

    In his first response, GAS rejected only one of the two options as false. I agree with DGH that neither side of the “how to do the economy” debate is about God’s present reign. And even if there is a third and more conservative way (Wendell Berry), that too is not the kingdom of God. That which has come about with the passing of time” comes from God’s providence not from God’s approval and command.

    I am neither old school nor new, nor both. We can’t be inductive, because the age to come has not yet come, even though some have already received the verdict of the age to come. Christ is not only everywhere but now here; Christ is absent and we look for His coming.

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  8. Marky Mark, socialism is the exploitation of man by man, capitalism is exactly the reverse. Ba-da-tish. But I like the point here that peace and justice are the cultural versions of personal health and wealth. One might be less crass and uncouth than the other but both seem animated by the same theology of glory. Bingo.

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  9. I’m confused. You wrote that “Neo-Calvinist transformationalism seems to be as preoccupied with economic and political conditions as Health and Wealth preachers are concerned with experiencing God’s blessings in this life.” This (the former) would seem to be a great compliment. Would you agree that such preoccupations are right so long as not attached to bringing in the “kingdom” in this world or any other theologically transformationalist phrases, and so long as, if the individual is a minister in the church, it does not detract from or get included into his ministerial duties?

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  10. Patrick, it depends on what you mean by economic and political conditions. If you think you’re going to get some kind of justice in this life, then it may be a preoccupation that can’t be scratched.

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  11. Markster, I rejected the entire false dichotomy. Besides, it’s not the system in itself that matters but the effects of the system that counts. Can you see the invisible hand?

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  12. D.G., I guess I don’t know what you mean, either. You surely can save lots of lives–from basic diseases and starvation etc.–by donating money to charities and getting others to donate as well, and even voting for politicians that will increase foreign aid etc. But I thought your line was to critique a theology that included such activities as part of kingdom work, but not to critique those actives or even the moral obligation of every individual to care for the poor, etc.
    BTW when are you going to have a new book out? I’m getting tired of waiting!

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  13. Patrick, if you read the likes of Wendell Berry, you might question certain premises about health, medicine, charity, and foreign aid. The moral imperatives, even without the lift of kingdom work, are more complicated than we sometimes imagine.

    If all goes well, a global history of Calvinism might appear later next year. In the meantime, have you reread Lost Soul of American Protestantism?

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  14. I have not reread the Lost Soul, though it is tied for my favorite with Secular Faith, but I did just read From Billy Graham, and thought it was pretty neat. Of your 13 or so books on amazon, I’m up to 6/13. You have the illustrious place as my mid-semester historical-smut-break!

    On ethics not being simple, I suppose I should read Berry. However, that most distinguished CVT found it hard to take Christian epistemology in the history of Christian thought seriously when he simply could not find one worthy of the name, and I find it hard to take Christian ethics seriously when I can’t find one. Any theory that gets wrong our deep obligations to those that are about to die from starvation or the like is worthy of the trash bin I’d think. But I agree with you that this is not kingdom work, unless one wants to talk about wide and narrow kingdom work where “wide” is simply our moral obligations in any sphere, but that is just asking for more of the same confusions.

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  15. Patrick,

    I likely agree with you about helping someone about to die, but I’m not sure all the relief out there springs from such dire circumstances of profound motives.

    BTW, if you are looking for another title, The University Gets Religion may appeal. The politics of religion in the academy had a significant effect on the way I came to think about religion and politics in the public square. I have had reason of late to dip into the book and I was surprised not to be more embarrassed.

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  16. Can’t we all get along? Seems to me someone should mention moderation. Success in life isn’t bad. Having nice things isn’t bad. Having old things isn’t bad. Having meager economic status isn’t bad. Capitalism is simply an expression of freedom on an economic level. It’s the best imperfect system for the average person in a free society. it allows those with meager means a much better chance to have more means than any other system the world over. And, it leaves people free in other areas too. It’s far, far, from perfect. But so isn’t the human body. That doesn’t make it bad in and of itself. Capitalism, wealth, is not paradise, it’s not magical, and it certainly isn’t the Kingdom of God. It’s effects, historically, on a penultimate level, have been better than communism. Does that mean capitalism is on the same level as the Atonement of our Lord? Of course not! Is Capitalism taught by the blessed Apostles? I don’t think so. Prosperity preachers and Neo-calvinist transformationalists have successfully foisted more and more imperatives on the saints. That ought to be fought, vigorously.

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  17. Patrick, you might want to read Stanley Hauerwas, simply because he doesn’t think there is such a thing as “Christian ethics”. Now, the cynic in me would say that’s a result of confusing ethics with the gospel, as Methodists, Anglicans, and Roman Catholics (Stan can’t make up his mind what he is) tend to do. But a more positive spin would be this–Stan says that what’s come to be known as “Christian ethics” is the apologetic “translation” of the world’s narrative so that the church always takes second place to the world.

    But if we react by saying that the world exists for the sake of the church, that history (second kingdom) continues for the sake of the “spiritual kingdom”, we still end up basing our definition of what’s church on its relationship to what we call “world”. Nathan Kerr has written a good critique of Hauerwas. Being anti-liberal does not define church. The Holy Spirit acts to proclaim what God did in Christ.

    Patrick, start with After Christendom. It’s much more progamatic than Resident Aliens.

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  18. Fesko, from his new commentary on Galatians, xxv: “The long-awaited new heavens and earth are not only a future but a present reality. They have dawned with the advent of Christ and his outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Hence, Paul stresses the fact that circumcision is a mark that belongs to the present evil age (1:4) and the elementary principles of the world (4:3, 9), and consequently it counts for nothing … The new creation does not begin at the conclusion of all things but in the middle of history. At the consummation, however, Christ will close the present evil age and the only thing that will be left is the new creation and those who are a part of it by Christ’s regenerating grace.”

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