Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Neither Poverty nor Riches - book notes

Neither Poverty Nor Riches: A Biblical Theology of PossessionsNeither Poverty Nor Riches: A Biblical Theology of Possessions by Craig L. Blomberg

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

According to Don Carson, this book is “the best one on the subject” (p.9)!

Blomberg’s book is intended to fill a gap in the Christian written response to widespread poverty in the world by being an evangelical biblical theology of possession, surveying both Testaments with sensitivity to the backgrounds of Scripture and to the issues throughout the world. “Ironically, this is a book by the rich for the rich” (11).


Reverse discrimination may be as immoral as the initial discrimination it seeks to rectify (49, this is softened in following sentence).

Inspired by Nehemiah’s example, Blomberg writes: “Christian leaders today need to model generosity in their giving, so that the average church-goer, whose offerings prove paltry in comparison, can see that greater sacrifice is both possible and necessary” (55).

It is better, therefore, to see these [verses in Ecclesiastes] as genuine commands to enjoy the material world…from within an eternal framework that keeps life’s transience in perspective…One can enjoy creation without worshipping it, especially by keeping the life to come in clear focus (3:21; 12:7). (62)

Thus it is clear that [The Rich Fool - Luke 12.16-21] is condemned not just for being rich. Still, it is important for professing Christians today to ask themselves how many unused surplus goods, property or investments they accumulate without any thought for the needy of our world. If the parallels become too close, presumably Jesus would say that their professions of faith are vacuous. (119)

But this discipleship will inevitably produce a tangible impact in the area of stewardship of material possessions. Indeed, this area is often the most important test-case of one’s profession of discipleship. (126-7)

It is arguable that materialism is the single biggest competitor with authentic Christianity for the hearts and souls of millions in our world today, including many in the visible church. (132)

There is no repentance in Luke that does not practice sympathy toward the poor and outcast, no welcoming the saving act of God in Jesus Christ that does not do justice and kindness, no waiting for his return that does not expect and anticipate God’s vindication of the humble poor, no participation in his community that does not give alms or share one’s goods or practice hospitality. (239, quoting Verhey 1984: 95)

  5 conclusions (243-6)

1) Material possessions are a good gift from God meant for his people to enjoy

2) Material possessions are simultaneously one of the primary means of turning human hearts away from God.

3) A necessary sign of a life in the process of being redeemed is that of transformation in the area of stewardship.

4) There are certain extremes of wealth and poverty which are in and of themselves intolerable.

5) Above all, the Bible’s teaching about material possessions is inextricably intertwined with more ‘spiritual’ matters.

  5 corresponding applications (247)

1) If wealth is an inherent good, Christians should try to gain it.

2) If wealth is seductive, giving away some of our surplus is a good strategy for resisting the temptation to overvalue it.

3) If stewardship is a sign of a redeemed life, then Christians will, by their new natures, want to give.

4) If certain extremes of wealth and poverty are inherently intolerable, those of us with excess income…will work hard to help at least a few of the desperately needy in our world.

5) If holistic salvation represents the ultimate good God wants all to receive, then our charitable giving should be directed to individuals, churches or organizations who minister holistically, caring for people’s bodies as well as their souls, addressing their physical as well as their spiritual circumstances.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian

Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the ChristianBloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian by John Piper

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a remarkable book on racism. Piper has read the popular, academic, and biblical literature with his usual care and insight, and in this book he provides much help to the rest of us Christians who “have not trained [our] powers of discernment in matters of racial and ethnic issues” (45).

Part One (Our World: The Need for the Gospel) opened my eyes to the black-white racial tensions to the south. Here Piper talks about structural versus personal strategies for making racial progress before concluding that a third strategy is needed—the gospel itself. The gospel is able to overcome nine destructive forces (Satan, guilt, pride, hopelessness, feelings of inferiority and self-doubt, greed, hatred, fear, and apathy) in ways that personal and structural strategies can’t touch (87).

Part Two is all about the power of that gospel. Jesus is the end of ethnocentrism. God provided one way to himself through Christ’s blood. This one sacrifice is for everyone. In reconciling all to God it reconciles peoples to each other, as all who believe become one new entity.

Revelation 5.9 teaches us that God intends to have people from every ethnic group (chp 9). Romans 3 teaches us that every people is justified the same way (chp 10). In chp 11 irresistible grace means that no one is too racist to be out of reach of God’s grace. All of these chapters, along with the subsequent ones, show the gospel’s relevance and power to such a large problem as racism.

Piper also has wise words to say about interracial marriage (chp 15), persuasively showing that the Bible blesses, not prohibits, it. Another thorny issue is dealt with in chp 16: the issue of prejudice and generalizing about others based on their ethnicity. Piper suggests that generalizations are unavoidable, and they can be made without falling into racial sin provided that one has a good heart. He offers eight penetrating questions with which to test our hearts in this matter.

Appendix Four usefully takes up the question: “What are the implications of Noah’s curse?”

I’ll let Piper summarize the book for himself:

The aim of this book has been to encourage you to pursue Christ-exalting, gospel-driven racial and ethnic diversity and harmony—espe­cially in the family of God, the church of Jesus Christ. I have tried to argue from Scripture that the blood of Christ was shed for this. It is not first a social issue, but a blood issue. The bloodline of Christ is deeper than the bloodlines of race. (227)

My favourite quotes:

The bloodline of Jesus Christ is deeper than the bloodlines of race. The death and resurrection of the Son of God for sinners is the only sufficient power to bring the bloodlines of race into the single bloodline of the cross. (13-14)

To be a Christian is to move toward need, not comfort. (110)

Jesus’s behavior is like a US Marine caring for a Taliban freedom fighter. (117)

Jesus is the point in redemptive history where the true Israel becomes the church of Christ and the church (Jew and Gentile) emerges as the true Israel. This is the mystery of Christ, now revealed, and it is possible because of the cross. (125)

The ethnic diversity of hell is a crucial doctrine. (135)

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