Author Archive: KevinD

Economics According to the New Testament

Gold aureus coins with the faces of various Roman Leaders. These coins were found below the floor of a Roman house in Corbridge in 1911. From the British museum.

Growing up, I was often exposed to the idea that capitalism and Christianity go together. Profit and wealth were not simply compatible with Christianity, but were a sign of God’s blessing or your personal piety. I remember going to the Christian bookstore once or twice and seeing large piles of books with that topic specifically in mind, usually by Dave Ramsey, who was recently on the 700 Club for a new book of his. In that interview, one of the first things mentioned is how Ramsey and Robertson agree that wealth is a good thing, and that those who see wealth as bad are wrong, even “gnostic.” I don’t think the heretics here are the “gnostics” who believe that wealth is wrong; rather, I think the heretics here are Ramsey, Robertson, and others in their camp, who seem to have forgotten what the New Testament and early church taught concerning economics.

Ramsey likes to talk a lot about biblical finances. He claims that when he gives someone financial advice that it is done through following what the Bible says. Let’s take a look at what the Bible, specifically the New Testament, teaches Christians concerning finances.

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Gay Marriage Is Not Against Biblical Authority

I am uncompromisingly pro-gay marriage and I am unapologetic in my affirmation of LGBT equality. This is one issue that I refuse to compromise on, and because of this, it has gotten me in trouble in the past. One church that it did get me in trouble with was my local Presbyterian Church USA congregation. The congregation and presbytery I was a part of were and are socially conservative, but I was a flaming liberal. Naturally, I found myself in some serious disagreement, and it didn’t help that I was a universalist, pacifist, and straight up commie-pinko. While the local Presbyterian community did not appear very welcoming, I am happy to see that the PCUSA has recently become fully LGBT-affirming at the national level.

Now that this has happened however, I am seeing the same old arguments from my conservative brethren that I have heard over and over again. It happens whenever any Christian denomination becomes welcoming and affirming, and I see the battle lines being drawn in the Mennonite Church as well. This is especially the case in Pittsburgh, because Pittsburgh Mennonite Church just became officially LGBT-affirming, and even lost their pastor because of it. I remember mentioning my uncompromising position on this issue to the local Mennonite conference minister as well, and I think I saw her cringe. If I remember correctly, she said that might be a problem at some point, but whatever.

The main argument that I see from conservatives on this issue is that gay marriage is somehow against the clear teaching of the Bible. Whenever we become open and affirming in our Christian faith, it is because we are ignoring the authority of the Bible. Guess what, I am not open and affirming in spite of the Bible, but because of it! (more…)

The Social Upheaval of the Kingdom

Recently, I started rereading Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians. It’s been a long time since I have read Paul, and the last time I really read him, I spiritualized him. By that, I mean that I made Paul’s words the words of an Anglo-Saxon Puritan. Coming from a Protestant (Reformed) background, it is really easy to see Paul’s talk of election in the meaning Calvinists give to it, and it is easy to see Paul as some modern German theologian in the tradition of Martin Luther. I was easily able to look at the material, political, and societal implications of Jesus’ teachings, but Paul was harder for me, due to that connection with Reformed Protestantism.

Going into First Corinthians anew, I learned that Paul’s epistle was written to a very special community of believers. Corinth was a deeply Roman and deeply cosmopolitan city. It was really the entire Greco-Roman world present in one place. This means that the Corinthian church was diverse, and part of that diversity involved Paul having converted both rich and poor, elite and common. The division of rich and poor in the Corinthian church was one of the reasons Paul wrote the letter. For example, in 11:17-34 we see Paul rebuking those were were treating the poor unfairly in communion. A passage that is particularly important in discussion these class relationships is 1 Corinthians 1:26-2:5: (more…)

Rethinking Peter and the State

I recently wrote about Romans 13 and the state. I mentioned that I did not believe that text was even about the Roman government. I believe, based upon the evidence I have seen, that Romans 13 talks about reconciling Jewish and Gentile Christians in relation to the religious, community authorities. Tyler Tully picked up on this and wrote a far more detailed analysis of this here and here, which I strongly recommend reading.

Today, another questionable text in regards to the New Testament and the state has been brought up, this time from Peter instead of Paul:

Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. (1 Peter 2:13-17 ESV)

This passage is a bit different than Romans 13. Unlike Romans 13, this passage is pretty straightforward. Romans talks about vague authorities, the sword, and taxes, and it is surrounded by teachings on religious instruction and ethics. Simply put, Romans requires a lot of unpacking in addition to looking at possible translation errors. On the other hand, this passage from 1 Peter is pretty much independent, and any issues in our reading of the text would primarily originate from possible translation errors. (more…)

Romans 13 and the State

N.T. Wright recently had a Q and A session on his Facebook page, and he responded to this question:

What would Paul say to a Christian serving in the military?

Wright’s response can best be summarized by these two statements:

This is again straight Romans 13: God wants there to be human authorities, but they are answerable to him.

It is therefore appropriate in principle for a Christian to serve in such a force [the state], basically an extension of police work.

(You can read the full response here.)

In reaction to this, Kurt Willems wrote a response showing where he disagrees. Kurt, in classical Anabaptist fashion, believes that Christians should be nonviolent, but that the state still serves a purpose. There is a separation of church and state, and the state is a necessary evil.  (more…)

Anabaptists on Economics

Originally posted at Koinonia Revolution.

Schleitheim Congregational Order:

“Of all the brothers and sisters of this congregation, none shall have anything of his own, but rather, as the Christians in the time of the apostles held all in common, and especially stored up a common fund, from which aid can be given to the poor, according as each will have need, and as in the apostles’ time permit no brother to be in need.”

Andreas Ehrenpreis:

“They who would enter into life must come through love, the highest commandment; there is no other way through the narrow gate, Matt. 22:34-40; John 14:1-14. Hundreds of Scriptures and many witnesses make it very clear that whoever wishes to have the precious and hidden jewel must go and sell everything, yes, hand over everything they possess, Matt. 13:45-46; Acts 2:43-47. Different interpretations of these texts have been given because people want to keep what they have, but we cannot deny the work and power of the Holy Spirit, by which the apostles set a firm example in the first church in Jerusalem and three thousand were added, Acts 2; Acts 4:32-37.”

“Whoever claims to belong to Christ in love, but cannot give their possessions to the community for the sake of Christ and the poor, cannot deny that they love worldly goods, over which they have only been placed as caretakers for a time, more than Christ. Therefore Christ says, blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven, Matt. 5:3.” (more…)

Anabaptist Revival in Allegheny County

It is strange that I live in Pennsylvania, a state with a strong Anabaptist population and history, but in my county (Allegheny) there was very little presence. Part of the problem is that I live in western Pennsylvania, while the historic Anabaptist populations primarily settled in the east, on the other side of the Appalachian Mountains. Until the 1960′s, there were no Mennonite congregations in my county—the nearest Mennonite community was in the next county. There were a couple Brethren congregations, but it was still mostly the same.

It was in the late sixties, when a small community from various backgrounds and denominations began to meet that things started to change. This small community admired the Anabaptist—specifically Mennonite—vision, and the called themselves “Pittsburgh Mennonite Church,” even though they did not belong to a Mennonite denomination at this point. A little while later, they decided to join the Allegheny Mennonite Conference of the Mennonite Church, and it was with them that an Anabaptist movement started in my area. (more…)

Embracing the Foolish

When I look at my life so far, I realize that I really shouldn’t be a Christian. I grew up in a culturally Christian environment, where neither of my parents really cared about religion, and the few experiences I did have with the church growing up were not good ones. Add to that the fact that I am part of the generation called “Millennials,” which tends to be less religious than previous generations. In all respects, I really shouldn’t be a Christian.

What changed was that I discovered Jesus. I found the radical, subversive, Sermon-on-the-Mount Jesus, and I just couldn’t let him go. My mother, who dislikes religion, has found my affection for this strange character particularly frustrating. She wanted me to be a teacher, or perhaps a professor. I chose to be a pastor. She wanted me to be concerned for material goods and financial stability like she is. I have a habit of not caring much for money. I also collect different Bible translations and theology books, which also annoys her. My faith is foolishness to her. (more…)

The Christian’s Constitution

There was one text in the Bible that has been the most influential on my life. It was this text that really helped convince me to become a Christian, and it was this text that brought me into radical politics. The passage I am referring to is the Sermon on the Mount.

It was when I was in middle school that I was first introduced to this famous sermon, and it ignited my interest in the gospel. By reading its words, I fell in love with the man who spoke them, and I wanted to apply the sermon to all aspects of my life. It was a big reason that I became interested in left-wing and anti-war movements as well. It would be years later, when I read Leo Tolstoy’s The Kingdom of God Is Within You, that I really started to realize just how much was packed into Matthew 5-7. Recently, a friend of mine who I know from both Young Anabaptist Radicals and MennoNerds, said, ”The Sermon on the Mount or Plain is the Christian’s constitution.” I think there is a lot of truth to that. (more…)

The Community of Goods

From a television personality saying that the poor are lazy to a megachurch pastor teaching that wealth is a blessing from God, in the West today—especially in the United States—Christianity is often associated with individualism, capitalism, and personal profit. I personally believe that Christians are called to a different standard. Being Christian should mean following Jesus’ example today—it should be missional and based in radical discipleship. This means that we should look to the example of Jesus and try to bring his example into our context today.

The early followers of Jesus were far removed from our American culture of rigid individualism and capitalism. On the one hand, they came from a pre-modern society, and on the other hand, they practiced a radical form of community—one that is described throughout the New Testament and several early church documents, and has been revived many times throughout church history. (more…)

How Should a Christian Respond to Syria?

This post originally appeared here.

These last few days have been exciting, but not necessarily in a good way. On the one hand, we have had a celebration of Martin Luther King’s legacy, but on the other hand, the dogs of war are snarling again, this time for Syria. Our politicians are simultaneously celebrating one of Christianity’s greatest prophets, while also considering military action abroad (again). Considering this interesting coincidence, I think it can be helpful to consider what Martin Luther King would have thought about the current military actions of the United States.

There is an episode of The Boondocks called “Return of the King” that actually tackles this exact question. In this episode, instead of being killed, King slips into a coma after being shot, and he wakes up in the year 2000. King learns that not as much has changed as he would have wished, and he becomes greatly disillusioned. There is one part of the episode, however, that is really relevant to our current wars and our inevitable involvement in Syria. (more…)

Blessed Are the Poor

This post originally appeared on my blog, Koinonia Revolution.

I was reading a really interesting and really disappointing article about poverty and our perception of it yesterday. It does not say anything I did not already know, but it did get me thinking about something when I read this:

Prejudice against the poor increases during hard economic times, said John Dovidio, a Yale University psychology professor.

“Our society is based on the idea that if you work hard, you get more, and if you have less, you deserve less,” Dovidio said.

Unfortunately, this is exactly the case, and you can just turn on one of the major news stations or a political talk show to see it. I personally see it even among members of my own family, which is funny because my family is not very prosperous to begin with. Our society has the assumption that everything is the result of an individual’s actions, which seems to be product of our emphasis on individualism to me. If you are poor, it is because you are lazy, not because you might be mentally ill, handicapped, born into poverty, or unemployed. And if you are rich, it is because you are a “job creator” who works hard. It literally saturates American culture and media. (more…)

My Day With the Mennonites

I have been identifying with Anabaptist Christianity since some point last year. There was so much I loved about that particular approach to Christianity, and that is still the case. When I first found out what Anabaptism was, and I seriously wanted to identify with it, I quickly realized that I was in a black hole of the Anabaptist tradition. The Brethren churches formed a circle around my area, but there was not one in my area. When it came to the Mennonites, there were a few churches, but they were not close enough for me to attend regularly. At first, I thought I was stuck, but recently I was finally able to get in touch with some of the Mennonites in the area. Today was particularly special in that I was able to visit one of the Mennonite churches.

At first, I thought that I would not be able to visit because of my limited access to transportation, but then I started talking to one of the members of the church. First, they got me in touch with some Mennonites who are operating closer to me than I thought, and I have made plans to work with them in the near future. I still, however, wanted to visit a Mennonite church beforehand. I have heard a stereotype that Mennonites are supposed to be hospitable people. Well in this case, the stereotype proved correct, because my friend offered to take me to visit his church, even though it would mean an hour drive. So, we arranged for me to visit. (more…)

The Kingdom of God and America (Crosspost)

Yesterday being Father’s Day, I naturally got to thinking about my father. I love him dearly, but he is literally the exact opposite of almost everything I stand for. To give you a rough picture of who he is, he listens to Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, Sean Hannity, and Glenn Beck on his radio daily; he used to be a police officer, then a constable, and now he is a TSA agent. That is only the tip of the iceberg. What often gets me thinking, and the reason I write this post, is the sort of fusion of cultural Christianity and American patriotism that I find with people like my father. In this context, Christianity is not so much a way of life, but more like an ethnic heritage and set of social customs that are merely used to reflect the American way of life.

Though it was my father who got me thinking about this subject, it is something that is found globally. Every empire for the last 1700 years has been turning Christianity, or at least the facade of Christianity, into a religion that can be used to reinforce the imperial way of being. I think a great example of what this kind of Christianity is pretty much any state church in western Europe. Most of these churches have almost lost every single legitimate believer, but a shell of Christianity remains as part of the historical and national heritage. Church is for baptisms, confirmations, weddings, funerals, and presidential inaugurations, but very little of it is used for everyday Christianity. I also suspect that Mainline Protestantism will be in a similar situation either very soon, or it is already there. (more…)

Beware of the Ministry-Industrial Complex

Occasionally, I end up going to one of those “Christian” stores, or I get some sort of advertisement from them. Where I live, they are called “Family Christian Stores” with an emphasis on the family part. In other parts of the country, such stores also exist, but with different names. We have all been to those kinds of places. When I was an evangelical, that was where you went to get a Bible or some accessory for it, but I still occasionally end up going there for one reason or another. These stores have books by Sarah Palin and Joel Osteen, and entire walls devoted to American flags and New International Versions. We all know the type.

A couple of weeks ago, I received an advertisement catalog from one of those stores, and for some reason I looked through it. First, there was a bunch of customized Bibles. Sort of like some sort of collector’s item, there was a bunch of needless varieties of Bibles for purchasing. I always see this whenever I go to any bookstore – people treating the Bible like some sort of fashion statement. What really annoyed me was when I saw this. They have this line of patriotic clothing, but it is not just patriotic. They mix Christianity into their patriotism in an amazing way. They even have a “Jesus Saves” shirt stylized to read “JesUSAves.” They literally made Jesus an American and linked Christian salvation to Americanism. They are mixing Christianity, capitalism, and the American state into one single chimera. Now, this is not new. I have known that they were doing this for a long time, but this example proved to be the ideal opportunity to bring up the issue. (more…)