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Nov 20, 2007

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Charles

I was reading an excellent interview with N.T. Wright today at http://trevinwax.wordpress.com/

I wanted to see how Wright responded to his evangelical and reformed critics on issues of his reading of Paul.

Wright is strong on the coming of the New Creation (shouldn't all Christians be!)but when he begins to talk about it in terms of socialist political aims, I really don't trust his ability to apply the text.

The New Creation is - to use David Bryant's term - "approximated" before the final consummation. But I don't see it happening through socialist politics that deny the New Creation's reality or only mention it to woo Christian voters or wrap communisim in a baptismal gown!

Andy

Hi Michael,
thanks for this post!

I agree with pretty much everything that is said here.

I would say that in light of "collective wisdom", "prudence" and "discernment", my optimism concerning free markets and capitalism has been metered by not just by grappling again with the "transformative narrative" and {while appreciating the improvements in the past}-a general angst with the state of much of the world. BUT also recent significant works by world class economists such as Jeffrey Sachs and Joseph Stiglitz. My thoughts are that capitalism is definitely better than any system we have ever had {and i say that having grown up in a southern developing country}. However just as those in the middle ages and subsequent the settlers of the US in a sense imagined and "created" this free market system, perhaps some today can imagine a credible and prudent alternative.

Anyways I am still learning and on that note I am eagerly looking forward to Jeffrey Sachs next one "CommonWealth"

http://www.amazon.ca/Common-Wealth-Jeffrey-Sachs/dp/1594201277/ref=wl_itt_dp?ie=UTF8&coliid=ICZ8V66JMNSLI&colid=7B393241ZKLV

thanks michael, i am enjoying your thoughts and pushbacks.

Michael W. Kruse

Charles

I love reading Wright's theology but I'm with you on his politics. I profoundly disagree with him.

There is a long history in the Western world of elevating intellectual pursuits above those of “vulgar and seedy pursuits” like trade and commerce. There has also been a long running spirit/matter dualism that devalues economic activity. I think the vast majority in the academy (including the theological academy) are predisposed to look askance at economic freedom and long for an expertocracy to manage things rationally. This is one of the things I found most profoundly ironic about Emergent influences. They talk of being postmodern yet they seem to have fully embraced the Modernist idea that a centralized expertocracy can run complex societies better than virtuous people acting freely in a context of dispersed countervailing powers. It is a move backward not forward.

Andy

I like a lot of what Sachs has to say but I think he still puts to much stock in grand big scale solutions. William Easterly in "White Man's Burden" captures well many of my concerns, espeically in his description of planners and searchers. See my book review.

RonMcK

Everyone wants to save the world,
but no one wants to study economics.

Michael W. Kruse

Ron, I love that comment! I may have to steal it and make it the by-line for my blog.

Jason Barr

I think you generally have it right here, again with the caveat that there's still just a bit of a left/socialist tendency in me (though, unlike Marxists, I have no illusion that such tendencies can be mediated through central planning and government regulation). I tend more towards anarchic or libertarian socialistic tendencies, though, where such an economy is based on gifts made by people within the system, not forced upon people by the system itself - and as such I'm not optimistic for the implementation of such a plan on a larger level anytime soon. Human societies on the large scale are simply too complex and fragmented (yet connected in strange and surprising ways) for control to be a viable option.

I look at central economic planning a lot the same way Yoder looks at human attempts to influence the course of history in the last chapter of Politics of Jesus if you've read it.

I do think Christians should and must always be seeking ways to make the kingdom more fully visible among us. I tend to take a fairly Anabaptist-influenced perspective on things, where I think the church should seek internally to be the community of the kingdom as much as possible, but I also believe in the more reformational-style view where the kingdom as present in us leads us to also reach out to the world as agents of reconciliation, which includes the mission to call social structures to transformation and conformity to the nature of the kingdom.

I don't think there's any way to do that that isn't messy, no way that is easy or that can be neatly wrapped up in one conceptual box.

Your last paragraph really does it for me, I think it's excellent. The biggest problem with revolutions is that they tend to become like what they replaced. We need a vision that doesn't only go back to the liberation of Exodus, but to the primal goodness of creation, not to struggle to overcome evil by evil, but with good.

Michael W. Kruse

"I tend to take a fairly Anabaptist-influenced perspective on things, where I think the church should seek internally to be the community of the kingdom as much as possible, but I also believe in the more reformational-style view where the kingdom as present in us leads us to also reach out to the world as agents of reconciliation, which includes the mission to call social structures to transformation and conformity to the nature of the kingdom."

Well said, Jason. I grew up with a mild Anabaptist perspective but moved to a more Reformed position as an adult. I can relate.

Thanks for the thoughtful comment.

Jonas Borntreger

So Michael, is this series going to turn into a book? I feel that yours is a much needed perspective for the world we live in. JJB

Michael W. Kruse

Jonas, I've actually written a book called "Eikonomics: The Image of God at Work in the World" that I'm now editing. I'm going to submit to a publisher early next year.

Thanks for your encouragement!

RonMck

Michael, I understand what you are trying to do in this post, but I am uneasy about way that you present it. We need to avoid the dangers of utopian idealism, but you must be careful not to “dumb down” the Kingdom of God to achieve that. I do not believe the solution is to sit in the middle of the two poles that you describe, because there are important dimensions that you leave out of the analysis.

In assessing the potential of the Kingdom of God, a sound understanding of the human and economic condition is essential, but we must not let the vision of the Kingdom be limited by our current human situation.

We also need to have a sound understanding of the Holy Spirit. What has he been sent to do. What will he achieve? Have we seen his best shot, or is he coasting so that he up the ante in the second half?

We need to understand God’s plan for history. How far does he intend to advance his kingdom in this age? A cursory nod to the parable of the wheat and the tares is not sufficient here, (especially when it sounds like you have never grown a Crop of Wheat.

We also need to understand God’s working through providence. He has promised that he will raise up the righteous and bring down the unrighteous nations in history. How far is he going to go in doing that? What will happen when he really starts doing that?

I am not disagreeing with your conclusion. Its just that you make the kingdom of God sound rather tame and ineffective in the process of reaching it. We can show that certain approaches to human progress are wrong without minimising the Kingdom of God. They are wrong because their methods are wrong or insufficient, not because their objective is wrong.

Michael W. Kruse

Fair nuf, Ron. Like I say, getting this statment nuanced just right is difficult. I do believe that we will see a great change in the world over time with the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God. It will be far better than what we have ever known or know now. Now having said that, I also believe that what we will experience at the consummation of all things will be a quantum leap beyond that.

But I would also emphasize your observation about "God's working through providence" and contrast that to humanity ushering in the Kingdom. We are certainly participants in what God is unfolding but it is God who does the unfolding.

There is so much passion and distortion (IMO) around these issues that I find it almost impossible to properly nuance it without writing a dissertation. :)

I'm still learning and forming my understanding of eschatological issues.

Thanks for your helpful interaction with this series!

Bob Robinson

This is very, very important stuff--
The effort to be balanced and biblical is very difficult, because we always live in the dialectic of working this out. If you came from a pietistic platonist Christianity and want to become more biblical, you may improperly insist on focusing too much on the biblical teaching of "New Creation Now" while leaving behind the understanding that consummation of that New Creation is a future event done only by the power of God. If you are from a liberal-mainline social-gospel Christianity, you may swing that pendulum too far the other way and focus too much on the biblical teaching that God is offering individuals salvation and that our place in the Kingdom is yet to come in its fullness.

I commend you for attempting a balance. After reading RonMcK's excellent analysis, it occurs to me that our important attempts to do this are often skewed by our preconceptions. In my personal Christian milieu (dispensational pietism that has been seduced by Platonic philosophy), I am going to proclaim clearly that the New Creation began at the resurrection (notice that the empty tomb was discovered on "the first day of the week", reflecting back to the six days of the first creation). We are in a new creation week, but we have not yet arrived at the seventh day of rest (the consummation). I am fighting the thinking that economic justice is a useless endeavor and that our only real Christian work is saving souls for heaven.

So, I am proclaiming that if the New Creation has already begun, our economic work is a very real and positive part of this new creative work, moving us toward the final day of consummation. This, I think, cures the nihilistic way of seeing our Christian efforts for Shalom and Justice work now, and it also tempers our over-zealous belief that we can make a utopia before the New Heavens and New Earth are made.

Michael W. Kruse

Great observations Bob. Thanks.

I see other factors coming into play as well. There is a long history of Scottish Common Sense, populist, anti-intellectualism running through Evangelicalsm. Just like Bible is "plain truth" immediately available to all who read it so are economic truths obvious and available to everyone.

On the Mainline side is the tendency to over-intellectualize to the point of paralysis and act in the absence prayer and the leading of the Spirit. The first leads numerous ill-conceived attempts at reformation and an eschatology that tends to be driven by the emotion of the age. The second tends to squelch eschatological vision and make the church captive to intellectual ideologies.

Virgil

Michael, this is some interesting insight. I posted part of it and a link on Planet Preterist and I will work on a response for you...as time allows. :)

Michael W. Kruse

Thanks Virgil. I'll be checking back.

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