Austinomics

The Bible Contract

American and western Christians in general have a difficult problem: Their lives look eerily similar to those who do not attach themselves with Christianity at all. The behavior is exactly the same of the culture around them. (Plenty of research has been done to back up these claims.) What Christians spend their money on and how they spend their time looks nearly identical to those who are not Christians. You must wonder why then, if so many profess the faith, is there not a larger difference in the way the two bodies live? I believe it is due to a “contractual” view of the Bible rather than a covenant view.  To really understand what I mean by this, we have to start from the beginning.

A contract is a legally binding set of terms that enforces behavior among two parties. A contract can orient people against one another as each party protects their self-interests. By contrast, a covenant is a pledge of trust between people themselves. This pledge requires that each person faithfully put their trust in each other and not the legally binding arrangement of the contract. A covenant pledge in Old Testament time was so powerful that often times animals would be sacrificed as a way to say, “may this be our blood if the covenant is broken”. People enter into covenants because they trust one another, people enter into contracts precisely because they don’t.

In the Old Testament, God is always working through his people through covenants (Gen. 9:1-17, Gen 15, Gen 17, Exod. 20-31, Sam 7:4-16). Some of them explicit and others implied. All of these covenants of course are carried out through faith and trusting one another. In the New Testament, the New Covenant in which God gives to all willing to accept Jesus as their Lord and savior. With this new covenant, it is extremely important that we recognize that the New Testament expresses it in terms of a marriage. Christ is described as a bridegroom who has come to Earth to find a bride (Matt. 9:15). And all who belong to the church are the bride of Christ. What makes this even more awesome is if we look at the old Jewish tradition of marriage and how it relates to Christ. In ancient times a man and a woman would be legally married a year or two before they ever had a ceremony. During this time the groom would typically go away and either secure an income, build a house, or otherwise build security for his future family. This was known as the “betrothal” period. During the start of the betrothal period, it was customary for the husband to give his wife a gift before they would leave and prepare a place for them. This gift symbolized a promising pledge that the husband would return once the preparations were in place for both the bride and the husband. It is clear that we are also in the “betrothal” period with Christ, as he has “gone to prepare a place for you” (John 14:3). And the gift Christ has given us is the gift of the Holy Spirit as he goes to prepare a place for us.  Christ’s proposal to us was when he was nailed to the cross, and in this betrothal period we are learning to be the faithful, radiant bride Jesus came to redeem. We are to use this time to break from “the pattern of this world”. Like a marriage, your surrender to Christ is something that is supposed to be faithfully lived out. If you view the Gospels as a covenant, this makes a lot of sense; if you have a contractual view, this is probably radically different than what you have been taught.

The New Testament talks about salvation in three phases, “were saved” (Romans 8:24), “being saved” (1 Cor. 1:18, 2 Cor. 2:15), and “shall be saved” (Romans 5:10). These three phases don’t make a whole lot of sense if you view salvation as a contract, but make perfect sense if you think that salvation is our marriage to Christ. Indeed in the Christian circle, “When were you saved?” is a common question. But this question implies a static and contractual relationship with God that contributes to “cultural Christianity” as my friend Garrett Engel would say. So long as you were once saved, and you pray a “sinners prayer” you have not broken the contract. But this mindset allows Christians to look for loopholes which others see and point out as hypocritical. Do you think what Paul wrote in 1 Cor. 6:18 that he meant, “see how close you can get before you cross the line”? If you were in a marriage, would you ask your husband or wife how much could you get away with before he/she divorced you? When we have this mindset, we are more focused on not breaking the contract in order to “stay out of jail”, rather than developing a real relationship with Christ. God isn’t interested in making a deal with you, but rather he wants to enter a marriage-like covenantal relationship with you.

Logic and Interpretation Need not Apply

A couple of weeks ago I had the unfortunate experience of running into a preaching couple on campus. Like your typical southern evangelist that shows up on campus, this pair’s purpose for coming to campus was to damn every person that walks by for being a sinner, and, condemn them to Hell. Last week it was Brother Micah and his wife on campus. Normally I never talk to these people, because there is pretty much nothing you can say or do that will win any favor with them. They will simply pull verses out of context and use the verses themselves as reasoning. Indeed, this past week was no different. Brother Micah was on campus to presumably try to bring others to Christ – a fact for which I actually condoned him for. For too many of us Christians spend day to day as functioning atheists, not looking for opportunities in which we can serve Christ or at least better preparing ourselves for that time. Instead of bringing anyone to even want to learn more about Jesus, Brother Micah initiated a response that I can only imagine is probably a common theme across his campus tours… Women took off their clothes, men kissed other men, and women kissed other women, simply to spite Brother Micah and his wife.

As I mentioned, I normally don’t care to talk to these guys, but a few Tuesdays ago I actually decided to just stop and listen. After Micah had finished talking with someone, I went up to him and said, “Hey, I respect you actually getting out and wanting to draw people to Jesus, but I’m not sure if this is the best way to go about it.” He blew up on me. Indeed he condemned me for everything you could imagine. He said I had no chance of being saved, and even said, “I know you’re not saved because you have not quoted any scripture to me word for word.” Absolutely insane. All I wanted to do was try and have a conversation — understand his perspective even — as to why he thought this approach was better than actually, you know, loving and serving your neighbor as yourself. I unfortunately didn’t get any of that.

Instead, I wonder now what is the basis for his beliefs. And, I am pretty sure, he is using scripture as an idol. Indeed the level of certainty he had was the equivalent to the level of “faith” he had. In John 5:39-40, Jesus says, “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” Indeed, Jesus is the bread of life (John 6:35) and all throughout the New Testament we are called to look like Jesus, which looks like the cross (1 John 3:16, Romans 5:8). It is on the cross in which we see the fullness of God’s love demonstrated. But if you’re not looking like the cross but yet judging as only God can judge then you must be wonderfully certain that your knowledge of scripture is what leads your to salvation. Case in point is when he told me I would not be saved because I hadn’t quoted any scripture. Brother Micah lives his life very much like the Pharisees in Jesus’ time in which he has memorized scripture thinking in the scripture itself had life.

Gregory Boyd in Benefit of the Doubt puts it wonderfully when he says (alluding to John 5:39-40), “This episode demonstrates that the way we believe what we believe can transform what we believe into an idol that actually blocks us from getting life from Christ – even when what we believe is completely true! And this happens whenever we are confident we are okay with God because of what we believe rather than because of our relationship with the one true source of life. If what makes us feel okay with God is our confidence in the correctness of our beliefs, then our confidence in our beliefs is, in effect, our god. This is what gives us our false sense of life.”

Thoughts on Pornography and the Degration of Women

This evening I went to The Village church in Denton, TX. The lesson was on the creation of Man and Women, but if you’ve ever listened to Matt Chandler, everything remotely related to the scripture will be brought up. One of those things that was brought up tonight was something I’ve never blogged on: pornography.

To understand my thoughts on this subject, we must start in Genesis. Specifically we’re only looking at two verses, Genesis Chapter 1 verses 26 and 27. These verses read:

[26]Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.” [27]So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

At first glance, these two verses appear to just tell the basic story of creation of humans. While on the surface that is correct, we must look a little deeper into the meaning. If you are a Christian then you undoubtedly believe that God is perfect. Therefore, to be made in the image of God automatically gives beings made in this image self worth. Human worth is not dependent on possessions, achievements, attractiveness, or any other worldly materials but rather on the fact that each person is made in God’s image and shares His characteristics.
So, I can hear you asking, how is this related to pornography? Great question. When you watch porn you go from having the ability to appreciate a fellow human being made in God’s image to treating the human being as a product not made in His image and used for consumption. Indeed you are essentially stripping the self-worth from that human.

For this to make the most sense, you must read Genesis Chapter 1 up to verse 26. Before God created human beings, he created other things such as plants, trees, and animals made for consumption. These things God did not make in His image because plants and animals cannot reflect characteristics of God such as love, patience, forgiveness, kindness, and faithfulness. Therefore, when you consume pornography, you are treating the human as not someone with self-worth made in the image of God, but rather a product. This does not stop with pornography however. In fact, the same analogy applies to, and in my opinion intensifies, when talking about strip clubs, “massage parlors”, prostitution, and human trafficking.

When watching porn, hiring a prostitute, or going to a strip club, you are literally stripping that persons’ worth and degrading them. There is no little girl or boy that grows up wanting to be a stripper or a porn star. Indeed there is an innate sense of self-worth that comes from being made in God’s image that drives us towards other professions. It is only during the most desperate times do people choose to go down this path because they feel they have no other options. Wouldn’t it be a great world if there was so little demand for adult-entertainment that strip clubs and prostitutes could not make money? How about instead of pushing these people down and declaring they have no self worth by consuming them we actually were to bring them up and recognize the divine image in each person?

But, Austin, it’s just entertainment, after all, being a student of the free market, do you not support a voluntary transaction of services? Indeed I am very free-market oriented, boarder-line libertarian. However, I believe the consumption of pornography, prostitution, and the like can easily have the “coolidge effect”  which could lead to infidelity, paying prostitutes, and even just looking at all women lustfully. These things are bad enough, but when you combine infidelity into the married home, you are clearly asking for disaster. Man is suppose to project the image of God and lead his family to also project the image of God and show His grace. However, by choosing to treat people as products for consumption rather than recognizing their divine characteristics, you are not aligning yourself under God which you must do in order to lead your family to project His greatness. In the end, this infidelity can split a family causing children to not only not know their biological father, but also not know their Father in Heaven, as there is no man to be the head of the household.

Also – just a quick note… while I mostly wrote this post from a male-accusation perspective, women are not immune here. BYU reports that 33.3% of pornography website visitors are women. I will let someone else write from that perspective though…

Where are the broken areas?

I often like to surf on Google Maps for no other reason than because I have a rather simple mind and I like to look at geography. I happened to be sliding around Dallas when I came across the Highland Park area and decided to go into the street view. The particular street I was on had a mixture of simple modest homes, and newly constructed behemoths. For whatever reason, that got me thinking: Where are the broken areas in the world? My good friend, Father Clint Wilson from St. Davids Church in Denton mentioned to me once that he intentionally moved into a broken area when he was starting a ministry in Denver, Colorado. I knew the “broken area” was a poor neighborhood because 1) There was a drive-by at his house (or close to it), and 2) Young priests often can’t afford to live in anywhere but lower to middle class neighborhoods. But now I am wondering, why do we always associate broken areas with poor, crime filled, neighborhoods? Could a rich, gated community not be just as broken? Christ often says it is very difficult for a rich man to get to heaven. Yet, I have not heard of any ministries targeted at the ultra-rich. Perhaps we assume that the area isn’t broken at all, because if they live in a gated community, there’s a good chance they’re probably giving some money away. But at the point when you’re living in a gated community, the extra surplus of wealth you have does not mean a whole lot to you (diminishing marginal utility). Christ makes this clear in Mark 12:43-44, “Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, I tell you the truth, this poor widow as put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything – all she had to live on.” As people of wealth will often tell you, “time is money”, I wonder what a ministry targeted at the rich would look like. Perhaps rich giving more time than money? It’s some food (preferably communion wafers) for thought.

In the Now

I am currently reading Present Perfect by Gregory Boyd. I love Greg Boyd’s writing style, because much like his other book, Myth of a Christian Nation, he never holds back and never beats around the bush. While I’m only about half-way through the book, I just want to write a quick blog post about some of his points.

The book is about “Finding God in the Now”… what does that mean? It means that we’re suppose to be surrendering our life to God right now. Being a Christian does not mean that at one time we surrendered our life, but rather the only life you have to surrender is the one you are living right now.  Gregory Boyd makes the analogy:

Think of it like a marriage. Thirty-one years ago I looked into my wife’s gorgeous eyes and pledged my life to her. But my pledge wasn’t itself the life I pledged to her. My pledge didn’t magically give us a good marriage. Rather, the actual life I pledged to my wife was the life I have lived each and every moment since I made that pledge. The only life I have to give to my wife is the life I live moment-by-moment. The quality of my marriage, therefore, isn’t derived by whether I made a pledge thirty-one years ago. It’s determined by how I live out that pledge now.  The same is true for our relationship with Christ. The important question is not, Did I once surrender my life to Christ? The important question is, Am I surrendered to Christ right now?

In a later chapter, Boyd also makes a great point that I had never thought of before: In life on earth, each passing moment means we are one moment closer to death. Yet, the one who is eternal Life invites us to participate in His life each and every moment. So by submitting your life to His right now are you really closer to death, or to life?

Economic Background of Christian Teaching

I had to recently write a paper for my history of economics class about either an economist or school of thought. I chose to do the economic background of Christian teaching and focus on the Austrian school of thought. My paper is below.

Abstract

The aim of this paper is first, to explore the economic conditions at the time of Jesus Christ, then to explore what Christ taught in relation to the economic conditions of the time. Lastly, the paper will discuss current economists that intertwine economics, Christianity, and morality.

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God has a plan for us All…?

If you are a Christian, how many times have you heard that, “God has a plan for us all”? Or perhaps if something you desired didn’t turn out the way you want, “…I guess it was just not in His plan”. Maybe you’ve heard that, “we must trust His plan”, or the non-religious version, “there’s a reason for everything.” These phrases and derivatives of these phrases float about in the Christian world all the time. Simply hang out after a church service and you are likely to hear several forms of them.

For me however, I have always had difficulty accepting this line of thought. If God gave us free will and also has an individual plan for us, how are we suppose to know which one of our free willed choices (in any certain scenario) is following His plan ? Can we screw up His plan by making incorrect choices? If we are simply following His script, do we really have any free will at all? Furthermore, one reason why I hate this thought, is how offensive it sounds in the wake of tragedy. Was 9-11 part of God’s script? If you suddenly lost a loved one in an accident, would you be comforted in knowing that it was part of His plan? Or what if you made a terrible mistake of driving while drunk and killed somebody? I don’t think anyone wants to believe that killing somebody would be part of their creator’s plan for their life. And chances are that you’d actually probably be pretty pissed off at God too. (Why me, God?!) Not to mention I find it difficult for such a loving and merciful God to create a plan in which people are tragically killed for the sole purpose of carrying out said plan.

So – How does one still believe in the Truth of God, while rejecting that we are all on a pre-destined script, ala Calvinism. Enter: Molinism. I first heard of Molinism in my History of Economic Thought class. Molinism was created by Luis de Molina – a theologian/economist that lived in the 1500s. Funny enough, many early economists were also deeply religious and wrote religious books (including Adam Smith, the “father of economics”). Molinism provides a solution that allows for God’s sovereignty while also allowing for human beings to have self-determined freedom.  In a very basic sense, God knows how you would react in any given circumstance. To further break it down, there are three variations in God’s knowledge. I have quoted theopedia.com below, but just Google Molinism, and you’ll get basically the same thing.

“The most famous distinctive in Molinism is its affirmation that God has middle knowledge (scienta media). Molinism holds that God’s knowledge consists of three logical moments. These “moments” of knowledge are not to be thought of as chronological; rather they are to be understood as “logical.” In other words, one moment does not come before another moment in time, rather one moment is logically prior to the other moments. The Molinist differentiates between three different moments of knowledge which are respectively called natural knowledge, middle knowledge and free knowledge.”

  • Natural Knowledge – This is God’s knowledge of all necessary and all possible truths. In this “moment” God knows every possible combination of causes and effects. He also knows all the truths of logic and all moral truths.
  • Middle Knowledge – This is God’s knowledge of what any free creature would do in any given circumstance, also known as counterfactual knowledge. It is also sometimes stated as God’s knowledge of the truth of subjunctive conditionals.
  • Free Knowledge – This is God’s knowledge of what He freely decided to create. God’s free knowledge is His knowledge of the actual world as it is.

God knows how his creatures would react if placed in any circumstance. Think of this as potential “If….then” statements. Jesus talks about this in Matthew 11:23, “And you people of Capernaum, will you be honored in heaven? No, you will go down to the place of the dead. For if the miracles I did for you had been done in wicked Sodom, it would still be here today. (NLT)” This is in line with God’s Middle Knowledge – Jesus is says that if he had performed miracles in Sodom, they would have repented.

A slight derivative of Molinism (and this is how it was explained to me in economics) is that instead of God knowing exactly how one would react in a given situation, is that God knows the probability of how would would react given the choices present. Given a certain situation, God knows that there is a certain chance you would choose option ‘A’ and a certain chance you would choose option ‘B’. This would be as if all your life actions were laid out on a probability tree. I like the idea of the probability tree the most. Because God is timeless, He still knows the ultimate outcome of every situation, but it seems to line up with how humans with freedom make choices everyday. Given any situation, there are certain probabilities that we choose one path or another. I also think the probabilities line up with how Jesus talks about prayer and faith. Jesus talks a lot about being consistent with prayer (Luke 11:5-13, Luke 18:1-8). I like to think prayer actually makes a difference. If we believe that Molinism is true – praying, but more importantly – being consistent with prayer could increase/decrease the probabilities of what path you go down. Now I cannot think of any scripture where Jesus talks explicitly about probabilities to cite them, however Molinism can be cited in many other verses other than Matthew 11:23 I listed above, and Molinism has the backing of William Lane Craig. I think prayer, free will, and pre-destination are one of the most interesting topics in Christianity. I have a hard time with pre-destination/Calvinism, and Molinism seems to provide a lot of good answers and not create many problems.

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