Tag Archives: freedom of the gospel

Inequality & Spirituality

Here is NPR with economist Tyler Cowen on his new book, Average is Over. The core of Cowen’s thesis is that we have become used to looking at things like the average or median wage to gauge the economy. In post-WW2 USA, and really in the US for most of its experience, the economy (GDP) grew and everyone got richer. Labor was always scarce, there was always the frontier, the competition was lying in smoking ruins allowing monopoly-like cartels that could share the wealth. All that is over. Outsized returns are now accruing to the 1% alone. Because of data tracking, which is really just getting started, we will identify the contributors easier. If you are talented it will become easier to get real rich. If you are not, well, robots and computers are going to replace you. The end result is increasing financial inequality. Not the 1% and the 99%, but to Cowan the 15% and the 85%.

There are two things that Cowen completely misses. Actually I don’t think he misses them so much as dismisses them as not credible. First, his explanation of happiness for a large group not in the 15%:

“Imagine a very large bohemian class of the sort that say, lives in parts of Brooklyn,” Cowen explains. “… It will be culturally upper or upper-middle class, but there will be the income of lower-middle class. They may have lives that are quite happy and rewarding, but they may not have a lot of savings. There will be a certain fragility to this existence.”

What does he mean by this? Well, I’ll take a stab. What he means is a class of poor enlightenment liberals. Let’s get even more explicit. A group that will largely practice self-restraint and late couple-pairing to raise their one child, but has no problem with: no-attachment sex, unlimited abortion, no-fault divorce and recreational drugs. Because they will have pseudo-prestigious (not real prestigious or they would be in the 15%) credentials they will be able to separate themselves from the riff-raff. They will socially amplify the difference by culturally associating with things the opposite of Monster Truck Rallies, say Shakespeare in the Park, which will be funded by a grant from the NEA in conjunction with the ABC foundation.

The first thing that Cowen misses is that we’ve seen that world before many times. A real power upper-crust, a cultural power broader based club like group with exclusionary behaviors and markers, and the people of the land. In the New Testament that equates to the Sanhedrin, the Pharisees and the crowds. What was the big problem with Jesus? He challenged and made fun of the Pharisees pseudo-prestigious markers. He ate with tax collectors and sinners – the equivalent of going to a monster truck rally. What eventually breaks out in such a world is Mary’s Magnificat – “He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy (Luke 1:51-54).” That has happened many times.

The second thing that Cowen misses or discounts to nothing is the Spiritual understanding of prior American generations. Is it a co-incidence that great inequality is emerging at the same general time of a great falling away from Christian teaching among the real ruling class? Cowen is an economist and it makes sense to explain to concentration as economic rationality. Talented people are more in demand, so their pay has become outsized. That is part of the happy justification for actually using position to extract the rents – I deserve it, I’m a meritocrat. Did not previous generations have such justifications? (The answer is yes). Sometimes they acted on them, but in the west they were typically bounded by Christian teaching if just the parable of Dives and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) or the Rich Man and his barns (Luke 12:13-21).

In a world oppressed by the rich and the oral law (your credit score record combined with all that big data), where the bread and circuses have lost their enchantment but we continue to rut around anyway because that is all there it, where society has become highly segmented class wise – hear this proclamation: Christ has come to set you free. There is neither Harvard nor University of Michigan, Temp employee nor Junior exec, beta-bohemian or alpha-elite. For you are all one in Jesus Christ. In Christ you are heirs. Through the Spirit you can live a life not of passing moments like envy and drunkeness and orgies and the like, but of of love, joy, peace, self-control. Because Christ has set you free.

Think that might preach?

Sanctified Freedom or how finance is a great school of the law


Biblical Text: John 17:11-19
Full Text – note, I deviated more from this text than I typically do.

Here is the question you need to ask yourself – are we bound creatures needing freedom, or largely free creatures needing strict guidelines?

How you answer that question will determine how you hear (or don’t hear) the gospel.

The stories come from the papers and the world of finance. The bottom line, the fact that everything can be reduced to a number and measured, and the relentless pressure to turn in a specific number drive home the lessons of the law and how we are all bound to unobtainable expectations. Only in Christ by the power of the Spirit are we free to produce real fruit.

The Disciple’s Life of Repentance


Full Text
Text: Luke 17:1-10

Luke 14:1 – 17:10 in my reading is one long extended teaching on being a disciple. The text for this sermon is the summary or conclusion of that section. I drew that boundary because in Luke 17:11 Jesus is no longer ping-ponging back and forth between disciples and Pharisees, but he is back on the road to Jerusalem. The entire Jerusalem road narrative is about discipleship, but this inner part has been more intense. It has been much more about how the disciple acts while Jesus is not present here and now.

The focus on being a disciple gives the section a heavy law feeling and it does end with millstones and the blunt saying about being an unworthy servant. But it is right there where the gospel enters. Of course that is how we would act. If we had a field slave and he came in we’d tell him to go clean up and make dinner. But that is not how God acts. In Christ – God serves the dinner and washes the feet. The unworthy slave is told to sit, eat, drink, rest…while the worthy son is crucified.

It is just that love for the unworthy slave that should inspire the life of repentance. We no longer have to look pious. We are not part of a religious club where membership depends upon our status or appearance. We have been seated at the table. We repent not because it atones for sin or gives us any merit. We repent because we desire to be closer to the heart and mission of the God who loved us first. We repent as a plea – Lord come quickly and finish what you started.

Sanctification or Becoming Civilized

Having two of my own this article on raising boys who read struck a nerve, and yes I have to admit that I fail the Wii test. We have one. The eldest boy plays all the time, and youngest boy watches eldest boy. And yes, there is no way a book will ever compete with the Wii. (Although I will give us credit, we did make them take the summer off of Wii).

The larger argument is one of how do we produce civilized people. Up until Freud, everybody everywhere realized that being and raising the people we’d like to be was tough and necessary. Socrates – “virtue is its own reward”; Aristotle – “We are not studying in order to know what virtue is, but to become good.”; Confucius – “The gentleman understands what is moral. The small man understands what is profitable.” Proverbs – “Their purpose is to teach people to live disciplined and successful lives, to help them do what is right, just and fair.” Sometime after Freud all this instruction in virtue was barbaric repression.

Freud was partially right, it is a repression. Luther would call it the “daily drowning of the old Adam such that the new man might come forth” in his small catechism explanation to baptism. The entire world is not wrong. Virtue, otherwise known as the law, is good and right. Which society would you rather live in? One where all boys grow up on Grand Theft Auto X or grow up on Treasure Island or Swiss Family Robinson? Which one would be more just? The process of civilization is tough. Especially for many of this generation who are themselves little more than barbarians having not been instructed in virtue as a child.

The world (outside of Freud) is not wrong on virtue, but it only has half the story. The struggle of virtue is not one we can win on our own. The Christian understanding is called sanctification. God has placed His Holy Spirit in us to will and to do that which is good (Phil 2:13). As we grow in faith, as we grow as free humans no longer bound to sin and satan, we practice virtue. Sanctification is the process of becoming what God intend – of becoming a fully free human being.

It would be nice if the larger culture would at least return to the secular notion of virtue. But my guess is that is too hard to fill 500 TV stations with content. But the culture’s abandonment of virtue, doesn’t give us leave to abandon our duty. It does mean we have to be more intentional about it. It does mean making choices that will mark us and our children out from the barbarian hoard.

Status Games

Full Text

Text: Luke 14:1-14

“…The human economy runs on quid pro quo. We buy things to signal status. We look at each other for affirmation of our status. We give and get expecting repayment. Those who can’t repay or can’t help are either in our debt or never considered. But Jesus is talking about the wedding feast, the resurrection of the just. In the Kingdom of God, there is only one person who can give status – the Father alone. And the Father has chosen to give the Kingdom to the crucified. The Father has chosen to give the good news to the poor, the blind, the dead…”