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Aug 13, 2008


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Oh when the sociologists become the Doctors of the Church! When that happens, comments like this can be made:

unhelpful lenses. Some are looking through the lens of New Testament writers writing to a Greco-Roman audience living under a totalitarian empire.

As though the principalities and powers behind Rome are not still with us today! Indeed, the accidents of history and political systems have changed, but some things have not. As though the powers have nodded off and allowed all this prosperity to happen! Of course, there are authors and thinkers who use this lens and neglect the reality behind Empire, who then make foolish comparisons, but one ought not write off this hermeneutic so quickly!

Michael W. Kruse

Darren, I’m not suggesting that social science trumps what God has revealed. What I am suggesting is that God has revealed himself into specific historical-cultural circumstances and persevered authoritative witnesses for us of his work in those contexts. From these we can discern ultimate and penultimate ethics that are constant and unchanging. As we move down the ladder closer to specific application, things become considerably more contextualized.

Example: Ultimate ethic = Love your neighbor as your self. Farther down the ladder in the OT we are told “there should be no poor among you.” At a very specific level we are told to leave the edge of the fields unharvested so the poor may glean. Most of us would agree that the first two ethical considerations are culturally transcendent but the last is not. To make ethical and practical choices we me must move up the ladder of abstraction to those ethics that have transcendent qualities and discern our way back down into specific application into our present context.

Related to this is the posture we adopt in relation to social institutions including the state. The New Testament was revealed into a world under heavy domination by a totalitarian power. The strategies and postures for exhibiting the Kingdom in the NT were tailored to that context. As the context changes so do the strategies and postures. The degree of tension between the Jesus communities and an existing culture greatly influences strategies of separatism or cooperation. I reject the notion that the NT church’s posture toward Greco-Roman totalitarianism is a culturally transcendent mandate for the church in all contexts. That in no way discounts that the dark powers are still at work in the world.

Finally, Augustine wrote in the Literal Meaning of Genesis:

“It is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, while presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense. We should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn… If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well, and hear him maintain his foolish opinions about the Scriptures, how then are they going to believe those Scriptures in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven?”

So to the cry of “when sociologists become the Doctors of the Church,” I would retort, Oh when the Doctors of the Church presume to speak authoritatively on topics without even acquainting themselves with most elemental concepts related to those topics. :-)

William Apel

I truly appreciate your entire post and most especially this series on Shalom and Prosperity.

I wouldn't be making this comment if I hadn't been in the middle of 'Free to Choose by Milton and Rose Friedman.

Here is what they wrote back in 1980:

"The century from Waterloo to the First World War offers a striking example of the beneficial effects of free trade on the relations among nations. Britain was the leading nation of the world, and during the whole of that century it had nearly complete free trade. Other nations, particularly Western nations, including the United States, adopted a similar policy, if in a somewhat diluted form. People were in the main free to buy and sell goods from and to anyone, wherever he lived, whether in the same of a different country, at whatever terms were mutually agreeable. Perhaps even more surprising to us today, people were free to travel all over Europe and much of the rest of the world without a passport and without repeated customs inspection. They were free to emigrate and in much of the world, particularly the United States, free to enter and become residents and citizens.

"As a result, the century from Waterloo to the First World War was one of the most peaceful in human history amont Western nations, marred only by some minor wars...and of course, a major civil war within the United States, which itself was a result of the major respect-slavery-in which the United States departed from economic and political freedom."


Michael W. Kruse

Thanks Bill. I may get into more specifics later.

I'd need to see more of what M. F. said in the context. Clearly there was freer trade in the era than previous eras but my read of history is that it was far less free than anything we've seen in the last fifty years.

Remember that England would not allow the colonies to develop industry. They were required to by manufactured goods from their colonial overseers. Gandhi's great protest against Britain was to process cotton. This was the case from much of humanity that was under the influence of the British Empire.

That isn't free trade. :)

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