Rumble over Live8 and the Bible

…And in the red corner we have … Phil Johnson … who was singularly unimpressed with the weekend’s Live8 events.

In the blue corner … Sven … who is singularly unimpressed with Phil’s unimpressedness with the Live8 events.

Phil doubts the credibility of vacuous celebrities in their campaigning. In fact they are more than doubts – he likens them to Judas who gave the impression of caring for the poor but in reality was only concerned to get his hands on the cash.

Strong stuff, and it would not surprise me to find it is a valid comparison on the Last Day. But it remains for the Last Day, not for now. Let the Lord sort that out.

For me, I fully support the Blair and Brown initiative, and if the Live8 events help then good on them. One big issue is trade. It must be dealt with. For years now I have felt that the CAP and trade tariffs against African nations are abominations that must be ended. The US and Europe are guilty of using the strengths of their economies to subsidies the weaknesses and thereby penalise the Africans for whom our weaknesses are their strengths. Perhaps this is simplistic, but this seems to me to be what is going on.

The other is getting good governance in Africa, but frankly I have no idea how to get this. Sin runs deep in all of us.

In the other corner, Sven vents his spleen over Phil’s commens he really does not engage with him. You see Phil argued that since Jesus said that the poor will always be with us (John 12:8) then “Make Poverty History” is a vacuous slogan. Sven, on the other hand, says there are hundreds of other verses and stories in the Bible where we clearly see that overturning injustice and unfairness towards to poor is one of the central issues. Well, frankly this is a daft way to approach the Bible. He seems to think that if you snip out all the verses that agree with you and then snip out all the ones that don’t, then put them on a set of scales then whichever has the most verse-votes wins! He makes no attempt to account for Jesus’ words, which we must.

So here’s my take. Yes, there are plenty of verses that speak of justice and getting rid of oppression of the poor and defenceless in the Prophets. This is simply to be a characteristic of God’s holy people. Israel was to be marked by it. Unfortunately it wasn’t. Now the reason was simple. The covanantal arrangement which God established with the nation of Israel was never intended to be the God’s final word. You see, though God’s promises to Abraham seemed to have been fulfilled – they had reached the promised land, right? – things just did not go well. There was decline into sin and disobedience. The corruption had not been dealt with. The sins were flagged up (as Sven rightly notes) but also, more covenantal promises are given, pointing to a future day of blessing. There is to be a New Covenant (Jer. 31:33,34) and a new heavens and earth (Isa. 66:22). The New Covenant brought in with Christ. The new heavens and the new earth are yet to be fully realised.

The implications of this are that though the ethic of justice is commanded in the prophets, and should be increasingly a feature of inwardly-renewed yet outwardly-decaying Christians (2 Cor 4:16), it will not fully be seen until return of Christ, when all things will be consummated and the new heavens and earth realised. In this way we see that the words of Jesus are true – there will always be the poor, because the world is yet riddled with sin and corruption and ever will be in this age – but that the ethic of justice remains true for his people nonetheless.

Sven has a seconder, the ever-controversial John. He says that we are to see the Bible’s “real values, not the ones we are told that it teaches”. He thinks that Sven has shown us the real values. But how can he have if he has made such an inadequate ‘argument’? He has just picked out a few verses he likes better than others.

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Rumble over Live8 and the Bible

10 thoughts on “Rumble over Live8 and the Bible

  1. Johnhttp://john.pettigrew.org.uk/blog/ says:

    Actually, I wasn’t being quite that glib. I think that it’s unarguable that the Bible, and Jesus in particular, have a bias towards the poor. As you said, we have obligations to help the poor and oppressed. That being so, bitching against those who are trying to do so (as Phil was doing) is scarcely Biblical.

    Phil seems to confuse personal taste with aesthetic worth, and doing good with fitting into a particular stereotype – comparing Live8 to a Gay Pride march is, from someone like Phil appears to be, a huge insult, and was meant to be.

    I believe that efforts to do good are to be applauded whether they are to our taste or not. I believe that the Bible commands us to help the poor. Jesus’ comments about “you will always have the poor with you” cannot be taken to mean that we should therefore not help them – what Jesus meant was surely more that being with Jesus was more important at that time, and that following Christ is the primary thing we should be doing now. Also, Jesus meant that there will always be poor people to help – but this is not a discouragement to help them! If anything, it should be a spur.

    If there is, as you say, an “ethic of justice”, I fail to see exactly what in Sven’s post (or mine) you take objection to. Of course, Sven took a superficial approach, because a short blog post allows little else, but you seem to agree with his basic assertion that Christians should help the poor and should support other people who do so. And that we cannot take a single comment by Jesus to over-ride all those statements on the Law, the Prophets, by Jesus Himself and in the Epistles about how we should help others, love our neighbour as ourselves and so forth.

    My own small contribution was merely a quotation from Amos that I posted because it was fitting and because I like that translation 🙂

    pax et bonum

  2. Stephen says:

    Hi John,
    I accept that blog posts do not express all that could be said about a subject. By their nature they are often whimsical and superficial. (Just look at mine!) Nevertheless, I suppose strong opinions ought to have strong backup.

    I admit that Phil Johnson did not give as strong a case as he should have, and I suspect was guilty of trying to see into people’s hearts buy assigning motives. (Even that last sentence does so – so does your view of him in your comment. This is best avoided as far as possible.) I did criticise that – it must be left to God who alone can search hearts.

    Phil is right that “Make Poverty History” is silly – in one sense. It is unrealistic, as Jesus knew. However, at its most charitable I would see this as a “stretch target” – setting apparently unattainable targets often stimulates innovative solutions which are better than if the targets had be seen as reachable at the outset.

    My objection to your post was not the translation of Amos, which was interesting. Nor was it that both you and Sven see as laudable efforts to improve the plight of Africa. These seem good to me.

    My objection was to how you want to mount the high horse of the real values of the Bible. In attempting to mount it you and he seem to accept a completely inadequate means of doing so – superficial Bible verse-chucking. It is a poor model for anyone else looking in. That I find irksome.

  3. Johnhttp://john.pettigrew.org.uk/blog/ says:

    Well, I wasn’t trying to do any verse-chucking (indeed, my reference to “real values” in my blog post was referencing Sven, not my own post). Sven himself doesn’t quote a single Bible verse in the post at issue. He does allege that the Bible’s strongest message about poverty is that we should try and do something about it, but neither of us seem to disagree with that.

    I agree that MakePovertyHistory is a silly goal – but it is the aspiration of the campaign. Even if we know we will never achieve it, we’ll achieve more if we aim high.

    pax et bonum

  4. Svenhttp://worldofsven.co.uk/theology says:

    My objection to Phil’s remarks was that he seemed to be objecting (as many Christians are wont to do) to the idea of radical and (horror of horrors) actions by non-Christians to combat poverty. Equally as disagreeable were his statements that Live8 was on a par with a gay pride parade.

    My blog post was intended as a passing comment, not a counter argument and hence the lack of detail.

    Clearly scripture teaches that we are to help the poor and end injustice, and people use John 12:8 to diminish the importance of this idea. Of course they won’t ‘make poverty history’ and doubtless there are also some impure motives involved too but to suggest that we should not support or condone the enterprise in the light of John 12:8 is crazy.

  5. Svenhttp://htttp://worldofsven.co.uk/theology says:

    As for the ‘real values’, I wasn’t attempting some kind of ‘real’ objectivity but merely pointing out that a great many people who devote time to expounding what the Bible teaches ignore or belittle areas that the Bible gives a great weight to, whilst over-emphasising areas that the Bible mentions less. Compare for instance the extremely vocal nature of ‘bible believers’ on the issue of homosexuality yet their frequent indifference to injustice, corruption and poverty.

  6. Stephen says:

    Sven,
    Thanks for commenting. I don’t doubt that John 12:8 could be used in the way you describe i.e. to cover lack of concern for the poor. So I agree with what you say.

    Beware of using vocal volume as a gauge of concern. Yes, the homosexuality issue is one that evokes outspokenness for all sorts of reasons. For evangelicals it is an in-house debate, where others look in. However, my experience is that those same people are also extremely generous in money and time in support of the poor, but quietly so. They just get on with it.

  7. Johnhttp://john.pettigrew.org.uk/blog/ says:

    Homosexuality isn’t an “in-house” debate for evangelicals, though. Just look at what’s happening in the Anglican Communion at the moment, or at the lambasting of non-evangelicals that some evangelicals indulge in.

    True, a certain portion of the debate is “in house”, but it still behooves evangelicals to be aware of others.

    pax et bonum

  8. Stephen says:

    A sub-surface meme in Phil’s post that re-emerged for air in Sven’s comment, I think!

    🙂

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