Why Bill Gates Doesn’t Prove that Wealth is OK

Bill Gates. Photo: UK Department for International Development, creative commons
Bill Gates. Photo: UK Department for International Development, creative commons

When (rich) Christians defend mammonism, the idea that Christians may or should be rich, they often include arguments that aren’t necessarily based on Bible study – such as the arguments I discuss in my God vs Wealth series – but rather in philosophy or economics. These are the sorts of arguments I tackle in my Why Wealth is Wrong series. You can also read my discussions on the economic argument and the mathematical argument.

The Bill Gates argument for why it’s OK to be rich is a variant of the mathematical argument that involves billionaires. Look at Bill Gates, the mammonist says, he’s so generous! He has his Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that does so much good for the world’s poor. This is because Gates is the richest man in the world, with his net worth of 75 billion US dollars. His abundant wealth allows him to be abundantly generous, and thus he as a rich man should not be condemned but celebrated both for his skills in computer invention and business, and his philanthropy.

The problem with the argument is that it tries to eat the cake and give it away at the same time: wealth is good, because you can give it away. This is the same error as the mathematical argument makes. Saying that wealth is good because billionaires can give lots of money to the poor, is like saying that it’s good to be fat because then you can lose a lot of weight. It’s trying to rationalize a phenomena by arguing that you can get away from it. Continue reading Why Bill Gates Doesn’t Prove that Wealth is OK

The Union of Heaven and Earth

Each time we recite the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew chapter 6:9-13 we pray these words, “your kingdom come, you will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” 

We thoughtlessly recite this prayer without paying a whole lot of attention to just how astounding these words really are.  That’s what I want us to dive into today in this blog post. 

The Beginning

In the beginning God created a beautiful world where he would dwell with his people.  Then he created human beings and put them in the world that he created.  The Biblical authors called this world a garden because garden best describes what life is like in the presence of God.  It is a flourishing world within which God’s people partner with God in doing the will of God.  God’s people partner with him as image bearers—tending the garden, reigning in union with God and bringing life and filling the earth with people. 

It was a place and a people who were fully in union with God—a Temple so to speak that was filled with God’s presence. 

Broken Union

When the snake appeared in the garden he was spouting the “wisdom” of the world offering a temptation to be one’s own master apart of God.  And this union between God and the people he created was broken.  They sought to establish a world without God and without the wisdom of God.  And there were drastic effects.  The people God had created were exiled and left the flourishing space filled with the presence of God.  And as the people created their own world apart of God, heaven (God’s space) and earth (human space) separated.  The result was war, injustice, greed, exploitation, murder and a world that no longer flourished.

A Plan to Reunite

God set about implementing a plan to reunite his people with himself and create a space within which heaven (God’s space) and earth (human space) could once again be joined.  He began with a people birthed through a man and woman named Abraham and Sarah who were promised a new land—a new garden that would flourish once again under the reign of God.  Their descendants were enslaved in Egypt but God delivered them and brought them to this new promised land that would be flowing with milk and honey. (another image of flourishing) 

God gave his people a Tabernacle which would be the space where heaven (God’s space) and earth (human space) met. God gave them a law, the Torah, so that his people would begin to seek justice and live together in peace.  A law that would help them flourish in the promised land.  And when the people gathered in the Temple, they experienced the presence of God.  They were present when God’s Spirit filled the Temple. 

When Jesus came, he came through a woman, a human.  Mary’s conception perfectly images the joining of heaven and earth in the person of Jesus Christ.  Jesus as fully human and fully God is the new Temple, tabernacling (dwelling) with God’s people.  The Apostle John tells us that the Word became flesh and tabernacled (dwelt) with us.  God put on human flesh and moved into the neighborhood as some translations say. 

Jesus said he was the Temple when he said,

“Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” But the temple he had spoken of was his body.” (John 2:19-21)

Jesus lived fully a life of union with God, going about bringing a bit of heaven to earth wherever he went.  Those he touched experienced the flourishing life of God and were healed, delivered, restored and renewed.  And the shalom of God–the kingdom of God broke into the present through Jesus Christ.

Pentecost

In Acts one and two, we read about how after Christ’s death and resurrection, he ascended into heaven and poured out the Holy Spirit on all flesh.  As they received the Spirit, flames rested on them just as the Spirit had filled the Tabernacle in the days of old.  Instead of a Temple made of bricks and stones, this new Temple made up of people who contained the Holy Spirit were the living stones that the Letter of 1Peter speaks about.  Jesus as the Capstone brings this people together like a new building that contains God’s presence. 

It is now God’s people who are bearing the presence and power of God wherever they go in the world.  And just as Jesus offered life and was a minister of life, so God’s people are doing the same things that Jesus did while on the earth.  As the “body” of Christ, Jesus continues his work through the hands and feet of those who have been united with Christ by the Holy Spirit.

We live in a day and a time within which many in this world are not flourishing.  We have disease, poverty, war, violence, exploitation and injustice.  At times even the church has unknowingly joined that injustice.  I feel that because we don’t have this understanding, we only think about heaven as a place we go when we die.  But as God’s people, we are a people who in union with Christ by the Holy Spirit have the capacity to bring heaven to earth when we too become healers, life givers, people of justice—those who lift the lame and set them on their feet–physically and metaphorically.  As image bearers and containers of the life of God, we have the opportunity to bring little pockets of the kingdom in our own communities and neighborhoods. 

We individually and corporately contain the power and presence of God.

I long for the body of Christ to grasp this and instead of waiting for the end of the world and a journey to heaven, we would realize that we carry heaven through our union with Christ by the filling of the Holy Spirit.  And wherever there is justice, wherever there is life, wherever there is wholeness, wherever there is shalom—there is the kingdom of heaven.  I wonder if our emphasis on going to heaven when we die but ignoring the injustices and sufferings of this sin-sick world are preventing others from receiving Christ as their own savior.  We currently seem so much more like people of the Empire than we do people of the kingdom of God.  I believe that if the world would see the body of Christ as she is called, they would embrace Christ for themselves.  

This is my prayer: that we as God’s people will grasp this truth once again.  Let us pray…

“‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,

your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us today our daily bread.

And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’

For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever, Amen

 

Some of the above ideas are from The Bible Project

Why Trickle-Down Economics Doesn’t Work

Two weeks ago we looked at how it is mathematically impossible to spend the same money on superfluities (i.e. unnecessary stuff) and aid to the poor, and from that we concluded that statements like “You need to be rich in order to give money to the poor” or “It’s good to give money to the poor, but there’s nothing wrong with being rich” either cannot refer to the possession or consumption of superfluities, or they are simply self-contradictory.

In this blog post I want to address another argument rich people use when defending their wealth, namely that all consumption is good for the economy and in the end also beneficial for the poor; there is really no need to point out consumption of superfluities as something bad, since the money one pays eventually trickles down to the poor.

Continue reading Why Trickle-Down Economics Doesn’t Work

Early Pentecostals on Patriotism and Nationalism

These days, love of God is often mixed up with love of country, patriotism and national pride. This was not the case with most early Pentecostals. In line with their pacifism, many influential Spirit-filled leaders criticized patriotism and nationalism. Here are some examples:

parhamCharles Fox Parham (4 June 1873 – c. 29 January 1929) was an American preacher who was instrumental in the formation of Pentecostalism.

The past order of civilization was upheld by the power of nationalism, which in turn was upheld by the spirit of patriotism, which divided the peoples of the world by geographical boundaries, over which each fought the other until they turned the world into a shamble. The ruling power of this old order has always been the rich, who exploited the masses for profit or drove them en masse to war, to perpetuate their misrule.

The principle teachers of patriotism maintaining nationalism were the churches, who have lost their spiritual power and been forsaken of God. Thus, on the side of the old order in the coming struggle, will be arrayed the governments, the rich, and the churches, and whatever forces they can drive or patriotically inspire to fight for them. On the other hand the new order that rises out of the sea of humanity knows no national boundaries, believing in the universal brotherhood of mankind and the establishment of the teachings of Jesus Christ as a foundation for all laws, whether political or social.
Charles F. Parham, Everlasting Gospel, pp. 27-28. Continue reading Early Pentecostals on Patriotism and Nationalism

The Bible on Immigration: Jeff Sessions Has It Wrong

Immigration is often in the news, but over the last several weeks, it has been discussed at a higher frequency than usual when information about the Trump administration’s policies on immigration to the United States (especially from Mexico and Central America) came to light.

Many of the policies embraced by the Trump administration are not unique to current administration. The Obama administration deported many foreign nationals and migrants, and they were following precedents set by the Bush administration. In addition, the first significant jump in deportations took place under the administration of Bill Clinton, while Hillary Clinton went so far as to support a double-layered border fence (in addition to other increased border security measures). Over the last 20 years, they have progressively become standard US policy on illegal immigration from Latin American nations. However, a recent story shows that this can also affect people from Canada who cross the border outside of a legal port of entry.

What makes this issue particularly relevant for Christians — and those of us at Pentecostals & Charismatics for Peace & Justice — is that Attorney General Jeff Sessions invoked the Bible in defense of these sorts of policies. Sessions is correct that most Biblical scholars understand Romans 13:1-7 to be discussing submission to governing authorities. Christians, who are supposed to love our enemies (Romans 12:17-19, 13:8-10), are supposed to love the state that persecutes them (as would have been the case in Paul’s context). This passage is not about blind allegiance to governmental policies that may be unfair, unjust, or unholy.  Continue reading The Bible on Immigration: Jeff Sessions Has It Wrong

Why Wealth is Wrong: The Mathematical Argument

112In my God vs Wealth series and God vs Inequality E-book, I’ve mostly based my arguments for why Christians shouldn’t be rich on Bible study, as well as a bit of early church history.

However, I have noticed that many Christians who defend their personal wealth do not just use the Bible, but also theoretical arguments that are based on economics, ethics and experience. Most of them are quite easy to counter with other arguments in the same field for why wealth is wrong. So in a couple of blog posts, I would like to discuss some of these arguments for and against wealth, while also connecting them to the Bible.

The first argument I often hear is “You need to be rich in order to give money to the poor” or, alternatively, “It’s good to give money to the poor, but there’s nothing wrong with being rich.” Now, I could agree with the first statement if we define rich as “having an income that exceeds one’s own/family’s needs” because then, per definition, only rich people will be able to give money to the poor without harming themselves or their families.

Continue reading Why Wealth is Wrong: The Mathematical Argument

The Pathway of Violence Versus the Way of Jesus

I recently read an article in the NYTimes about a little boy who was separated from his father at the border and placed with a foster family and I wondered about how he would process this experience in the future.  His foster mom said he cried and wailed at night for the first week and slept with a drawing of his family.  He is experiencing the punitive emotional violence of our current anti-immigrant climate.  Further some estimate that up to 2000 of the children have been separated from their parents in effort to punish families who are seeking refuge through the asylum system.  (Intercept)

How did we get here?  How did we become a people who can view every immigrant at the border as a potential criminal or someone coming to take advantage of us?  And where will this end?  

There is a trajectory that leads to more and more violence.

First, I think this kind of behavior begins with fear.  We fear something such as a loss of safety, or loss of identity or loss of stability.  The current immigration and refugee fears are fueled by concerns that muslim refugees will take over our culture and our governments to implement Sharia Law.  Or that there will be so many people of color that white people will become a minority.  This fear is real fueled by pundits across the nation.   Continue reading The Pathway of Violence Versus the Way of Jesus

Pentecostals & Charismatics for Peace & Justice