I just picked up Cruciform Press’s October publication, Awaiting a Savior: The Gospel, the New Creation, and the End of Poverty, today. It’s a title that makes me nervous. It could be excellent, applying the gospel and gospel priorities to Christian life, or it could go very badly, falling into popular philosophies of so-called “social justice.” The introduction and table of contents suggests the former, so I am optimistic.
In the few pages I read this morning, the author, Aaron Armstrong, describing the state of creation and life in Eden, wrote, “It was a world in which poverty could not exist” [p. 15]. Poverty could not exist because poverty, like all miseries now in this fallen world, is a result of sin. In a sinless world, there is no poverty.
Reading that, I was struck with an idea not (yet, anyway) stated explicitly: It is perhaps the first irony of all time that poverty began when the richest people who would ever live wanted more. Adam and Eve had everything they could ever need. They were given dominion over all of creation, and free use of all of it, save one thing: they could not eat the fruit of one tree. Of the abundance of the garden, only one tree was off-limits. And it took only a few words from the serpent to make them think “It’s not enough; I want more.” Because Adam and Eve wanted more than God had given, we all have less.
Getting to the root of poverty:
The first man and woman were created in the image and likeness of God and declared “very good” in his eyes. They were then given the task of serving as God’s representatives within creation. For a time, they lived in perfect harmony with God, each other, and the world around them. But when they chose to sin, everything changed. Their original identity was lost. Their relationships with God, with each other, and with the world were broken, devastated, ruined. This is poverty in its most true and ultimate sense. Incomparable riches—an unbroken relationship with God and a harmonious relationship with the rest of creation—have been squandered. Everything about our existence has been impoverished as a result of sin. A fallen world inhabited exclusively by sinners: that is the essence of poverty. Sin, and the effects of sin throughout creation, is the Poverty from which all other poverty flows. —Aaron Armstrong, Awaiting a Savior (Cruciform Press, 2011), 23.
Now the whole earth used the same language and the same words. It came about as they journeyed east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. They said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks and burn them thoroughly.” And they used brick for stone, and they used tar for mortar. They said, “Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.” The Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built. The Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language. And this is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them. Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.” So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of the whole earth; and they stopped building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of the whole earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of the whole earth. —Genesis 11:1–9
Aaron Armstrong compares current efforts to eliminate poverty to the building of the tower of Babel.
The current discussion about poverty has a common theme: most people who think poverty can be eliminated also think humanity must be united to achieve it. If we are one in purpose, the thinking goes, nothing can stop us from achieving our goal: All 191 UN member states unanimously agreed to the Millennium Development Goals. The first of those goals is to eradicate extreme poverty. Jeffrey Sachs believes that if we are united in purpose and tactics, we can end extreme poverty by 2025. Paul Collier believes the eight richest nations of the world need to be united in creating new laws and charters designed to assist reformers within the 50 poorest countries in their quest to change their countries for the better, and that the rest of us need to unite in pressuring them to do so. There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of these options. Building a tower can be a morally neutral endeavor. But it comes back to the “why.” Are we seeking somehow to make a name for ourselves, or are we seeking to make much of God’s name? —Aaron Armstrong, Awaiting a Savior (Cruciform Press, 2011), 23.
Armstrong wonders if “that ‘confusion of languages’ dynamic is still not at work, a means by which God hinders our ongoing attempts at uniting this fallen race for the sake of our own glorification.” I think he’s onto something there.
When helping those in need, Christians need to be discerning in the way we help. In any situation, there may be factors that affect how we offer assistance. But one thing upon which the gospel forbids us to base our decisions is the worthiness of the recipient.
The Israelites were freed from slavery because the Lord loved them and kept the oath that he swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. When he gave them the promised Land, it was not because of their righteousness, for they were a stubborn people. In the wilderness, they provoked him to anger, worshiping the golden calf, grumbling and complaining endlessly. If a people were ever completely undeserving of God’s mercy, it was the Israelites! Yet, God still brought them to the land he had promised. Is this any less true of us? How can we, if we have been saved through Christ, say to anyone, “You are not worthy of my help”? How we help may vary from situation to situation (something that we’ll look at in later chapters), but no one should be considered unworthy of assistance. —Aaron Armstrong, Cruciform Press, 2011), 44&ndash45.
The following paragraph impressed me as one that could be slipped into any book on Christian living. In fact, any such book that doesn’t contain the principle of this paragraph is probably way off-track.
We must recognize that before Jesus ever offers ethics, he offers grace. If we don’t see that . . . we will use the Sermon on the Mount as a hammer, a means of forcing ourselves or others to act in a way we never could act without the grace of the Holy Spirit. This legalism is the natural inclination of our hearts. We want law, not gospel. We want deeds, not creeds. We want the demands of the law—even if it’s just so we can disobey them. But the good news of the gospel includes the fact that grace always comes before the demands of the kingdom. Jesus is not telling us what is required to earn blessing. He’s telling us what to do in light of the fact that we are already blessed! “The gifts of love always precede the demands of love.” —Aaron Armstrong, Awaiting a Savior (Cruciform Press, 2011), 65–66.
This is one of those uncomfortable days when I find myself disagreeing with my betters. Easing my discomfort somewhat is the fact that my betters are disagreeing with each other, and I, at least, get to side with one of them. Thabiti Anyabwile, with whom I seldom disagree, has written a fine piece on The Importance of Your Gag Reflex When Discussing Homosexuality and “Gay Marriage”. Carl Trueman, with whom I also seldom disagree, says Brother Anyabwile has it all wrong. I say Dr. Trueman is wrong. Trueman says,
The normalisation of homosexuality is sad and thus I really do appreciate the Rev. Anyabwile’s desire to make sure that we understand its seriousness. The problem with doing that via aesthetics, however, is that aesthetic arguments are often highly subjective . . . [full post]
Which is quite true, but I think a very important point is missed. For creatures created in the image of God, and especially those who have been recreated in Christ and filled with the Holy Spirit, all that is subjective is not entirely subjective. That I, along with all men in general, find women attractive is not a matter of subjective aesthetics. It is my God-given nature. Likewise, that we are disgusted at the thought of doing with our own sex what we delight to do with the opposite sex is not a mere matter of taste, either. It is God’s design. He made us, like magnets, to be attracted and repelled.
Of course, we are fallible, and the Imago Dei is corrupted by the Fall; therefore, we cannot merely trust our instincts and impulses without question. But neither should we toss them aside as uselessly subjective. Rather, we should test our reactions against God’s. That which pleases him should please us, and that which disgusts him should disgust us (see God’s Gag Reflex by Aaron Armstrong for more on that).
The “yuck factor” is part of the image of God in us, and Anyabwile is right: it should never have been excluded from public debate. We need to bring it back, because every human being reflects God’s image and by nature knows homosexuality is against nature. When confronted with what it really is, human beings created in the image of God are disgusted, and that is as God intended.
Update: Thabiti answers his critics.
The big news today is that the Acts 29 semi-pseudo-non-denomination has, after enabling Mark Driscoll in his very public sin for years, given him and Mars Hill Church the boot.
As one might expect, admonitions are being issued scolding anyone who might be rejoicing in Driscoll's demise. We should only be sober and sad, they say. Half of that is correct. We should be sad. We should be sad for Driscoll's spiritual condition. We should pray for his repentance and restoration—although to what, I don't know, as I have no knowledge of a time when he was not (as Phil Johnson points out) well known for ungodly behavior.
(And let me remind you: he got his ordination in the self-service aisle.)
However, there is also cause for joy. Scripture does not leave us scratching our heads, wondering what to do with the Mark Driscolls in the church. If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven. —Matthew 18:15–18 The incorrigible are to be, if necessary, removed. This is done for their own sake, in hope of bringing them to repentance, but it is also—and I would argue moreso—for the sake of the purity of Christ's church. It glorifies God when a sinner is brought to repentance, and it glorifies God when the unrepentant are removed from his church. If it is not so, then wherefore the above passage?
Yes, I grieve for Mark Driscoll, as I do for anyone in his ignoble and dangerous condition; but I rejoice for the church, as I see his reputation—and therefore, influence—waning. The church and Driscoll are at odds. For which should I care most?
Addendum: This post by Aaron Armstrong, which I had not read prior to posting my own (and is the kind of mature, humble confession that, coming from Acts 29 (among many other influential enablers), would make a good start towards restoring their credibility), provides a good example of the kind of rejoicing in which we cannot engage. Had I read it, I might have included words to that effect. On the other hand, while I do not consider Driscoll to be my enemy, I believe his ungodly behavior, and much moreso, some of his wildly unbiblical doctrine and horrific ecclesiology, do make him an enemy of the gospel.