Is Ethical Buying the New Legalism? part 2

It has been about a week since I did a post about the dilemma between purchasing ethically and becoming a new kind of legalist. I want to draw some attention to an idea that came through a few of the comments that were shared on the last post. It is the tension between the almost typical mark-up of both organic and fair trade goods, and the un-affordability of such products for those in poverty in the U.S.A. or other “Westernized” countries. How would low-income families survive without these ‘cheaply’ and ‘efficiently’ made goods (which most likely are not produced ethically)?

A couple of comments should be made:

1. Ethically made products are becoming more readily available for the average consumer. I can purchase “fair trade” coffee for almost the same price as any other ‘non-instant’ brand.  The same is true of many other products at the grocery store that are “organic” or “all natural.” (realizing that these categories may not always mean that something is more ethically produced).

2. Shouldn’t we use tools like “Better World Shopping Guide” to communicate to unethical companies that we are not willing to settle for injustice?

3. The tension of the above questions raises a new set of questions: Does affordability in OUR country/s necessarily justify a transfer of poverty? In other words, does America (or whatever country you hail from) deserve priority when it comes to poverty issues? If we continue to produce products unethically and believe this is ok because it helps low income families… What about all the low-income families across the globe who will suffer as a result?

So… this begs some big questions both in the arena of theology and ethics that I invite you to engage and discuss. Theologically, if God is gathering a “new humanity” that will be representative from every nation under heaven, how should our national interest on this matter be reflected upon through a “kingdom of God” lens? Ethically, does unethical buying for the sake of “helping low income families” justify perpetuating a cycle of poverty in other parts of the world?

What solutions are their as we attempt to unlock our imaginations to dream of a better kind of world?

PART 1 VIEWED HERE

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  • Tucker

    This is a very insightful post Kurt. Thanks for sharing it.

    First, I think it is a fair point to ask how the fad for ethical buying affects low-income families in America. For that matter, it is also fair to ask how the craze for organic foods affects farmers. If we demand that food be organic and locally grown, we have to be willing to accept the differences that those things will have on the food itself. Consumers put farmers in a kind of double-bind or catch 22 when we cry for organic and local food, but also still expect oversized produce without blemishes, in season and out.

    As for the affect on low income families in America, I take a page from Michael Pollan. We need to stop and ask why a box of twinkies, a fast food burger, or a soda, which require extensive mechanization, labor, and transport to produce, are less expensive than a head of broccoli grown a few miles away. There may be some gouging on the part of the organic growers, but more so I think there is a systemic problem in our national policies on farm subsidies. The unethically produced junk food is cheaper because it is subsidized, meaning we pay for it in other ways.

    I take the point about the transfer of poverty. It is one very much worth considering. But still, I think we need to keep one eye on the “here and now” questions, especially as people in ministry in the church. Our national policies and global economic structure being what they are- how would you counsel a member of your congregation who is low-income?

  • Kurt Willems

    Tucker… Thanks for you thoughts. I that I resonate with in a big way is the affect of desiring organic produce when it may not be available or convenient for those who also believe in purchasing locally. I am a boy who grew up around the Ag world. I even worked in a packing shed for 4 years during high school. I think that we need to continue to support local farmers, but also encourage them to begin thinking about alternative/earth-friendly methodology. Not all of the fruit in my house is organic. I have a bowl of Tangerines in my kitchen that are not organic as I type this. However, when we are at the store, if an organic option presents itself, we usually will spring for that item. Again, I guess our stance of buying alternatively when options are available put us in this tension.

    Second, your thoughts based on Michael Pollan give me something to think about! Has he written any books? Sounds like someone I’d resonate with…

    Finally, good point about how we counsel a low income family here and now. I think that the reality is that we are all victims and contributors to the principalities and powers (both systemic and quasi-personal). We are part of a web of sin that we cant escape, so we have to discern things through a grid of the “lesser evil” and necessity of survival. I would say that at minimum, those of us who are not low-income ought to buy with our conscience so we can affect change for those across the globe… This is an area that I am still in process on. Discernment is always localized not universal. It is when we reverse these that we find ourselves under Law…

  • Tucker

    Hey Kurt- yeah Michael Pollan has written several books. Two major ones are The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food. Check him out. Oh, also he is one of the main contributors to the film Food Inc.

  • Kurt Willems

    Awesome! Thanks… Also, I plan to purchase Food Inc this week!

  • Daniel

    I am most curious about your last comments at the end of the post… Are you saying that the aim of God’s Kingdom is to create a better kind of world, on this earth…?

  • http://nailtothedoor.blogspot.com Dan Martin

    For a different take, you guys ought to check out R.J.’s post on the “Testimony of Simplicity” of the Quakers.

    Once you have done so, I ask: How does the pursuit of simplicity in life mesh with, or clash with, the ethical/fair trade/organic purchase ethic? I would submit that in ethical/fair trade there is a common thread; in organic produce, however, not so much. Contrary to Kurt’s experience, I’ve seen organic produce cost as much as two to four times the price of the non-organic counterpart in our grocery stores.

    Tucker’s point on subsidies is a huge one. . .how would the market and its prices shift, if it weren’t for the powerful anti-free-market forces of ag subsidy which is equally supported by “conservative” Republicans and “liberal” Democrats from farming states?

    And Kurt, while your “transfer of poverty” comment is intriguing, remember two things:

    1) Sometimes the cheap wage in the foreign country is only cheap to us; for the country with a lower cost of living it CAN be (though not always) a very satisfying living wage, and sometimes even the best income available in an area. We need to be careful to parse worker abuse from genuine economic variance.

    2) My concern is more for the guilt that these ethical buying movements can lay on equally-conscientious believers who lack the means to purchase the stuff “good Christians” should be choosing. I have a healthy income, and it’s daunting enough to look at those price tags for a family of five. For someone who’s already struggling, they don’t need to be slammed with yet another guilt trip.

  • Kurt Willems

    Daniel, I would say that what we do here matters, because the Holy Spirit groans within us drawing us toward what God intends to do for this world. he will return and restore the brokenness back to the image of eden… except instead of a Garden this world is leading up to a City (the new Jerusalem!). Everything we do now is a reflection of what God intends for this world, “no more death morning crying or pain.” I have a recommendation for this: “Surprised by Hope” N. T. Wright — Read this book, it will rock your world!

    Dan, I understand your concern about marked up prices. For us, we decided that spending an extra buck here or there, even if it means less food, would be right for us. Whole Foods is a great place to do this.

    As far as transfer of poverty… fair trade movement (as I understand it) is exactly what you are saying. It takes into consideration economic variance when it certifies a product. Also, I am not saying that this is something that every christian should do. I think though we should be willing to make subtle sacrifices if it looks like Jesus. I think Jesus would want us to do what we can to effect change in the cycles of injustice. At the same time, as I have been saying, I do not think that everyone must do this to be a “good christian.” but, I do want to echo the words of Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben: “With great power comes great responsibility.” Lets use our power to think through our purchases for good. Not out of guilt, but out of gratitude towards a God who has the power to convert our imaginations to care about the downtrodden; both here and across the globe. This will look differently for each family in each season of life. What i am advocating is that when we are enabled to do something subversive… and we actually do… then we will be taking small steps toward change. (sorry if thoughts are scattered, in a hurry :-)

    PS – Dan, have you read “Colossians Remixed?” It is inspired by Tom Wright’s work on Colossians. This is where much of my inspiration came from…

  • http://nailtothedoor.blogspot.com Dan Martin

    Have not read Colossians Remixed. . .Ben likes it too. . .and if the two if you recommend it it must be good! On my (very long) list. . .

  • Daniel

    Kurt – Yes, I absolutely believe that Jesus is going to return and establish His Kingdom on Earth, from the New Jerusalem. But I’m now wondering why you chose to use the phrase, “ this world is leading up to a City…

    Do you see human beings playing a role in establishing this perfect and eternal Kingdom?

    When you asked, “What solutions are their as we attempt to unlock our imaginations to dream of a better kind of world?“, it confused me, because I don’t find anything in the Bible which compels us to use our imaginations to dream up a better world… Jesus is the the solution for that better world. And while I agree that what we do in this world “matters”, I think we have to be careful how much importance we attach to certain concerns, and be cautious not to let our good intentions pull us away from the Truth that saves.

    Yes, I believe that poverty is a real issue, and that we should care about how people are treated in factories, and I care about what kind of foods we put in our bodies, etc. But… Those concerns cannot measure up against the ultimate crisis faced by every individual on the planet, their relationship with the Creator… If we take the words of Jesus even half-way seriously, we can see that He was far less concerned about people’s bellies being full than He was about them being freed from the bondage of Sin. According to Christ, sin is the root cause of everything that is wrong with the world, and He Himself is the only answer to that problem. Even if we could enact some kind of global, binding legislation tomorrow that made every company use fair trade practices, every food producer grow organic food, every country have fair labor laws that protected basic human rights, etc., do you really think that this would suddenly make all the problems go away? Do you really think that what plagues our planet boils down to corporate agendas and inneffective policies???

    So while I’m not saying we shouldn’t be conscientious of what products we buy, I’m just asking if you really think that we are going to build a “better world” by something like the economic pressure of demand…? Is that what you understand Jesus to be teaching, that we will essentially create our own Utopia by endeavoring to make systemic social change? Do you really think the Kingdom of God can be manifest on earth in any other way than personal repentance and faith in Christ?

    • http://groansfromwithin.com Kurt Willems

      Daniel… here are some scattered thoughts. To truly get a grip on what I am saying u may need to do some reading (ie. Surprised by Hope).

      Kurt – Yes, I absolutely believe that Jesus is going to return and establish His Kingdom on Earth, from the New Jerusalem. But I’m now wondering why you chose to use the phrase, “ this world is leading up to a City…”

      By this I simply mean that when God created the world, it wasn’t static… It was and will always be a project. The picture (which is probably more of an image that hyper literal) is that what began as “Eden” will become “a new Jerusalem.” This is ALL the work of God through King Jesus, however we are called to join God in his mission to complete the creation project. Now, this is indeed God’s project and not our own, so I don’t believe that we must build and build (fight poverty, ecology, etc.) until the kingdom of this world becomes the kingdom of God… that is what is called “postmillennialism.” I however hold to some called, “inaugurated eschatology” that means that when Jesus resurrected he was the first fruit of new creation. God’s new world was kick started through the victory of Jesus and now our call is to join Jesus in implementing his mission as part of a “new humanity.”

      Do you see human beings playing a role in establishing this perfect and eternal Kingdom?
      When you asked, “What solutions are their as we attempt to unlock our imaginations to dream of a better kind of world?“, it confused me, because I don’t find anything in the Bible which compels us to use our imaginations to dream up a better world… Jesus is the solution for that better world.

      I borrow that language from Richard B. Hays and many other theologians who teach that when we are incorporated into the Christian family, we begin to see this world through new lenses. We see a world of possibilities, not of trash. It is now possible to live in light of God’s intention for this world (See Rev 21, 22 and Romans 8), so part of being the church is to implement God’s future intention in the present (as imperfect as it may be). That is the basis of the name of this website. The Spirit of God groans within us with the pain of the Created order. This world was meant to flourish, but now is “subjected to frustration.” But a day is coming when it will be “liberated from its bondage to decay to share in the freedom of the children of God.” So, the Spirit gives us vision to yearn for a better, liberated world… a world as God meant it to be. Now, our efforts will always be incomplete, but part of our witness is to live in this reality in the here and now. But, just as Jesus resurrected from the tomb with his physical body, so also, what we do in this world will not be wasted. God will somehow use our Kingdom reflections to point towards the reality of the “new heaven and new earth.” (and just to save another conversation, “new” here doesn’t mean “brand new” but the Greek has the idea of “renew”) Granted “imagination” is not a biblical term, but many terms we use in the church are not biblical either.

      Even if we could enact some kind of global, binding legislation tomorrow that made every company use fair trade practices, every food producer grow organic food, every country have fair labor laws that protected basic human rights, etc., do you really think that this would suddenly make all the problems go away? Do you really think that what plagues our planet boils down to corporate agendas and ineffective policies???

      NO!!!! Of course this wouldn’t make ALL our problems go away, but it would greatly alleviate poverty and suffering which hopefully you agree are not part of God’s design for this world that he declared as “Very Good.” We are called to be caretakers of this world however, and according to the image in Genesis chapter two, we are like gardeners tilling the garden. God did not just create humanity and say, “well, here is a place to live till you jack it all up…” He said, “The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” (Gen 2.15). Now… to the heart of your question: Yes I believe that people are in need of a Savior; but sometimes they need to be given food to eat so that they have another day to hear the Good News. Lets not just declare “good news” lets BE good news!

      So while I’m not saying we shouldn’t be conscientious of what products we buy, I’m just asking if you really think that we are going to build a “better world” by something like the economic pressure of demand…? Is that what you understand Jesus to be teaching, that we will essentially create our own Utopia by endeavoring to make systemic social change? Do you really think the Kingdom of God can be manifest on earth in any other way than personal repentance and faith in Christ?

      Finally, I have already answered this question, but I truly do believe in personal salvation. BUT, the gospel writers deal with poverty more than it deals with heaven. Consider the following stats: In the New Testament, there are 500 verses committed to the issue of provision through justice.
      That is 1 in every 16!
      If we consider the Gospels, issues of justice are spoken of every 1 in 12 verses.
      Its 1 in every 10 in the narrative of Luke.
      1 in 7 in James.
      Our God loves justice!
      In fact, Jesus said more about justice than he did about: eternal life, heaven and hell, the second coming, and sexual morality.

      Mike Pilivachi says,
      “If we take out of the Bible caring for the poor, the marginalized, the dispossessed, and being a voice for those who have no voice…we end up with a Bible full of holes.”

      My bottom line is: Lets not only care about half of the gospel! Finally, I invite you to read a few of my previous posts that may give you some clarity on what I am talking about my friend! Blessings:

      Read posts marked “Gospel” http://groansfromwithin.com/category/gospel/

      Or “Missional” http://groansfromwithin.com/category/missional/

  • Daniel

    Ok… So, after reviewing those older posts, and these recent two again, what I’m basically hearing you say is something like this:

    ‘Yes, we need a “personal” savior (though I’m still not sure what you’d mean by ‘savior’…) but we also, and perhaps more importantly, need to be a part of a type of “systemic redemption”, which God has supposedly been working on since the beginning…’

    Am I framing your position accurately enough? This “two-halved” gospel?

    Would you think it too much if I called it a “dichotomized” gospel? (I know that’s probably not a real word…) Where essentially you’re trying to simultaneously affirm the “eternal stuff” (though to be honest it still feels like you’re picking your words pretty carefully, and trying not to talk about sin…) while simultaneously emphasizing that people need to “join God in his mission to complete the creation project…“?

    Please pardon me for saying so, but to me that really sounds like talking out of both sides of one’s mouth… In fact, I think your last comment really reveals this incongruity on it’s own, because when you start talking about those “stats” in the New Testament, you’re essentially pitting these two “halves” of the Gospel against each other. (“Jesus said more about justice than he did about: eternal life, heaven and hell, the second coming, and sexual morality…“)

    Do you really see Jesus’s teaching on “justice” as something that can be divorced from any of those other things? Where do you find even one verse in all the gospels (let alone 500), where “justice” is a concept that has nothing to do righteousness (“morality”), eternity, judgement, etc? Is it possible to sin against another human being, and not sin against God, who created us all?

    Where does Jesus say anything that even implies that He is teaching against “systemic” evils? There is no such thing as systemic evil. There are only evil human beings. This is why we cannot “systemically” redeem anything. All that can be redeemed are human hearts, one at a time… Either God is the ultimate Judge, who will call everyone into account, and we look ahead to that day for true justice, or, we scrap that idea and decide we’d rather have settle for a measure of “justice” here and now, with ourselves as the acting judges and problem-solvers. Both paradigms cannot co-exist. They are fundamentally opposed to one another… (“Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart…”)

    But if Jesus was on a mission to address “injustice” in the sense that you are describing, He wouldn’t have had to look very far to find it. In Judeah during the Roman occupation, there was plenty of social inequality, plenty of physical need, and plenty of political corruption. There were lots of obvious “bad guys” to go after. Lots of systemic culprits. But He completely ignores them. Instead He always straight at the heart of the individual in front of Him. In John 8 he the tells the adulteress, “Go now and leave your life of sin…” [verse 11]

    In the same chapter, Jesus drives completely against this systemic, earthly understanding of injustice when addressing the issue of slavery…

    “They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”

    Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. I know you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are ready to kill me, because you have no room for my word.” [John 8:33-37]

    Jesus came to set us free from the bondage of sin and death. It is this bondage that all of creation groans to be freed from. The verses of Romans 8, (which you put so much emphasis on), actually completely refute any attempt at segregating the “eternal stuff” from this supposed “other half”….

    You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. [ch. 8:9,10] (here, there is a clear distinction between those who are in Christ, and those who are not, it is per individual, and not systemic or all-encompassing…)

    Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation—but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. [ch.8:12-17] (here, the Spirit of Christ is given supreme and central importance, being the ONLY thing which can give a person life. Life in Christ comes only through faith, and cannot come through any political, social, or economic (i.e. “systemic”) change… Without the Spirit, all we can do is live according to our sinful natures..)

    I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.
    We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. [ch.8:18-25]

    Man… Do I really need to say anything about that last part? It’s all about the “not yet”!

    When I asked if making a variety of social reforms would make our problems go away, you answered: “NO!!!! Of course this wouldn’t make ALL our problems go away, but it would greatly alleviate poverty and suffering which hopefully you agree are not part of God’s design for this world that he declared as “Very Good.”” But I really don’t think you have thought that out very far, and this I suppose comes down to the main reason I have allowed myself to be the obnoxious geek who leaves such long comments…

    I do want to totally affirm and encourage you as far as supporting things like fair trade, family-farming, eco-friendly products, organic produce, child-labor laws, etc. etc. Those are all awesome things which we should totally support! But… If you think that through those pursuits we’re gonna see the world start to finally turn things around, and people are going to finally just “learn to love one another”, (without repentance and being filled with the Spirit of Christ), then I’m gonna have to stand here and tell you straight up that you’re going to be tragically disappointed! Even if we could enact the most comprehensive social reforms every conceived by men, you STILL will not greatly alleviate poverty and suffering. Why? Because people will just keep on lying, cheating, hoarding, exploiting, double-talking, depleting, murdering, raping, lusting, idol-worshipping, scientifically altering, and abusing, other people, (and the earth), because they are fallen, wicked people at heart. Apart from Christ, we all are..

    So, if someday you really do find yourself in that scenario where someone is seconds away from dying of starvation, then by all means, give them something to eat! But don’t let that kind of hypothetical scenario continuously frighten you away from boldly proclaiming Christ, the Bread of Life

    “Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”

    Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”

    Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”

    So they asked him, “What miraculous sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? Our forefathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”

    Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

    “Sir,” they said, “from now on give us this bread.”

    Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” [John 6:26-40]

    • Kurt Willems

      Daniel, I think that we are talking past each other. Let me point out some things I affirm about your concern with me.

      1. I agree that only by an encounter with Jesus through the work of the Holy Spirit can someone be saved.

      2. I agree that we will never make this world a utopia by our social efforts… Although, God sure intends to! Heaven and earth will intersect for eternity!

      3. I agree that Jesus is the only one who can change the human heart. My point has not been on this, so I didn’t bring it up in this series… at least not yet :-)

      I think that where we are talking past each other is having to do with the scope of salvation. The biblical God who is perfectly revealed in Jesus, whose Spirit dwells within us both, has a redemptive plan to save humanity as they choose to engage a personal relationship with the Trinity! However, there is more to the story than this. Saying that there is more does not negate anything that I have said about individual salvation… it simply will put it in its proper framework.

      I believe that at the core of the Gospel is “justice.” God will bring his salvific restorative justice to three areas (to generalize).

      1. His restorative justice will save the whole cosmos (“For God so loved the world” [cosmos is the Greek word which means universe, not only humans])

      2. His restorative justice will save a new Israel, the church which is God’s “new humanity” This is a communal salvation.

      3. His restorative justice will save individuals who have recognized their need for a savior because of sin (there is the word you thought I’d avoid :-) )

      This is a view of Scripture that frames everything between creation and the coming new creation. The work of the Spirit in the life of the believer and the church does many things (including the assurance of salvation), but also compels us to reflect on not merely what we have been saved from, but what we have been saved “for!” We have been saved for the purpose of inviting others to join in the redemptive work of God in the above 3 areas. This is not a Dichotomized gospel, but what theologians call a holistic gospel.

      Well, I am not sure that you will be satisfied with my answer. About 5 years ago, I would have responded to me as you have been. If you are authentically curious about the perspective of this blog I invite you to read some of the books I have recommended here.

      With that, I graciously hope that if we differ, that we can agree to disagree. Poverty matters, souls matter… lets get on with helping people find the kingdom! I leave you with Jesus’ inaugural passage about his gospel mission:

      “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
      because he has anointed me
      to proclaim good news to the poor.
      He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
      and recovery of sight for the blind,
      to set the oppressed free,
      to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4.18-19

  • http://nailtothedoor.blogspot.com Dan Martin

    If I might add one more element to Kurt’s excellent response above, Daniel, it would be that the church, in its quest for salvation of souls, has frequently overlooked the transformed life that those who have been/are being saved are called to live. Both of you have quoted parts of Romans 8. Don’t forget what Paul said in v. 13:

    For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

    I think the issues of how/what we buy that Kurt is discussing involve the choices we believers make, as to whether we’re going to live according to the flesh, or whether, by the Spirit, we choose a different way. This is a call for those who have already made the claim of salvation by the Spirit–are they going to “walk in the spirit” or not?

    I do believe that if just those who name the name of Christ were to live like it, the entire world WOULD experience far more justice than they now do, and one effect of this would be the genuine attraction of more to seek him for salvation. . .but that concept seems anathema to most Evangelicals I have known. More’s the pity!

    • Kurt Willems

      Well said Dan! Thanks!

  • Daniel

    We have been saved for the purpose of inviting others to join in the redemptive work of God

    So, we who are saved, can particpate in the “redemptive work of God”, in ways that have nothing to do with other people coming to repentance? If I help build a school, am I part of God’s plan of “redemption”? If I plant a tree, am I helping to redeem the universe? If I give my waiter a good tip, am I helping God redeem the World?

    If the question with which you titled these posts was “Is ethical-buying the new legalism?”, then in light of this conversation that has followed, I would have to answer “YES”. If you are trying to shape the world by something like “ethical-buying” (which is itself a pretty slippery thing to really nail down…) then what you are essentially striving to do is change people’s hearts by following a pattern of outward actions. You are trying to subdue sinful behavior by purchasing the right things. That’s like what the Jews were trying to do by adherance to the Law. That is legalism…

    Ethically, does unethical buying for the sake of “helping low income families” justify perpetuating a cycle of poverty in other parts of the world?

    Is this what you mean by an issue of “justice”?

    Are you really lying awake at night agonizing over whose cycle of poverty you are perpetuating more when you buy your coffee…?

    There are two kinds of definitions of “justice”. God’s definition, and the World’s definition… The Bible takes this type of “dillema” and blows it apart, because justice, as understood by the Creator, means that the poor coffee grower, the corporate exec at the coffee company, and the guy standing in line at the espresso stand, are all equally guilty before God. Because of God’s justice, we all deserve death. The price of a bunch of beans is pretty superficial in the end. God is looking at the heart

    Kurt, I am familiar with many of the authors you listed, such as Claiborne, McLaren and Rob Bell… In fact, if you have been heavily influenced by those kinds of writers/speakers, then I don’t think I’ve been presumptuous here in the least. Shane Claiborne takes the gospels and twists them into nothing more than political manifestos. (thus the title of the book “Jesus for President”…) Sure, he makes an occasional nod to some kind of spiritual realm, but really the focus is squarely on trying to approach the issues of the world through economic and social angles. He preaches a social gospel, pure and simple.

    McLaren has now gone even farther, and now is finally coming clean about many of the teachings which for some time were only visible by reading between the lines. He essentially teaches universalism, and has completely chucked everything the gospel says about salvation from sin and faith in Christ. There is nothing “holistic” about this teaching, it’s straight up heresy. In fact, McLaren serves as a perfect example of why you can’t hold these two opposing viewpoints at the same time. Sooner or later, you are going to be forced to admit that one has to trump the other. This is exactly what McLaren himself admits to realizing when he made his big shift years ago. He plainly talks about how he looked at the church, and saw them talking about all these theological issues over in their “camp”, while meanwhile the world is over on the other side, talking about all these other issues (AIDS, hunger, poverty, etc…) So McLaren thinks to himself, “Why are we talking about all this religious stuff, when we really should be addressing all these nitty-gritty issues over here instead?” (And I think the majority of people who have gotten deep into this strain of “emergent” thinking have themselves gone through a similiar type of questioning…) But all that McLaren and others like him are doing is listening to the World to tell them what the “important” issues really are. They are listening to the World instead of listening to God, and then trying take the Bible and manipulate into conforming to their own chosen views…

    Most mornings I usually listen to NPR as I get my day going. Every morning, they are talking about the same kinds of issues; fighting poverty, eradicating disease, finding peace between nations, expanding education, and so on and so forth. These are all things that the world cares about. You don’t have to believe in Jesus to want to feed people’s stomachs and stop corporate greed. Buddhists care about that too, and Muslims, and Hindus, and Atheists, and everyone else. Christians did not conceive of the “fair trade movement”… I was at the WTO protests in Seattle in 1999. I have seen with my own eyes masses of people making a stand against what they perceive to be the “systemic” causes of “injustice” in the world. They are fighting on those fronts because they don’t get it, they don’t understand the true cause of all the wrong that is in the world…

    I’m afraid your “three areas of restorative justice” cannot rightly be divided as such. The only way that the Church, (the communally-saved New Israel) can be determined is by individual faith in Christ. The “cosmos” will only be redeemed when God has judged the world, and the “sheep” are seperated from the “goats”. So your first two “areas” of redemption are really just extensions of the third. That is why in His Kingdom there “will no longer be any tears”, because only those who have been redeemed by the Spirit will remain. God will create a new heaven and a new earth, and will allow His children to dwell in it. Sin will be gone, because Christ paid the penalty for it with His blood and those who belong to Him have been resurrected to eternal life (Romans 8:23). Then, and only then, will “justice” have been measured out…

    It’s really not surprising then that many like McLaren have concluded that they cannot “judge” people from other faiths, simply because they differ on a bunch of ‘trivial, theological issues’. If social justice is the rallying cry, then everyone else with that same goal is on your side… McLaren has chosen his side of the “holistic gospel”, and you will be drawn towards making that same decision yourself. You’ve already shown which side you are leaning towards when you try and show that scripture puts a larger emphasis on (social) “justice” than heaven or hell. Unfortunately it seems that you have read a bunch of these books and filled your head with a lot of ideas that really cannot be fleshed out. I know you don’t believe it now, but eventually these emergent values will not be content to share the stage with old-fashioned, close-minded ideas like “salvation”… I pray that you don’t go down the same road as many of those men…

    • Kurt Willems

      Daniel, I feel that you are speaking from a place of anger. We are not going to agree apparently. I tried to be gracious and hospitable towards you, but unfortunately you don’t seem to want to return the favor. My motto is that of St. Augustine: “In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, love.” As you engage in theological conversation, I hope that this would be your motto. I am not going to make many comments, because I don’t think consensus is possible here. You seem to have all the answers that you want. If you want to know what I believe, you ought to pay attention to how much I have affirmed you thoughts in the last comment and now this one. Here are a couple of comments on some of what you said….

      fighting poverty, eradicating disease, finding peace between nations, expanding education, and so on and so forth. These are all things that the world cares about.

      These happen… and I say happen as a word of coincidence with where pop-culture is currently… to be the very things God cares about. Consider these verses:

      He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away…To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life.
      Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. Revelation 21:4, 6b; 22:1-3a

      God’s future intent for the world causes us to care about these things in the present as the Holy Spirit (the evidence of salvation) groans for this day within us. This is often called the “presence of the future.”

      I’m afraid your “three areas of restorative justice” cannot rightly be divided as such. The only way that the Church, (the communally-saved New Israel) can be determined is by individual faith in Christ. The “cosmos” will only be redeemed when God has judged the world, and the “sheep” are separated from the “goats”. So your first two “areas” of redemption are really just extensions of the third. That is why in His Kingdom there “will no longer be any tears”, because only those who have been redeemed by the Spirit will remain. God will create a new heaven and a new earth, and will allow His children to dwell in it. Sin will be gone, because Christ paid the penalty for it with His blood and those who belong to Him have been resurrected to eternal life (Romans 8:23). Then, and only then, will “justice” have been measured out…

      Finally, I disagree with you in many ways, but also agree with your assessment of resurrection and new heaven and new earth as the completion of the Christian hope. This will be a place where “lion will lay down with the lamb… and little children will lead beasts” etc. Indeed, “then and only then will ‘justice’ have been measured out.” I am sorry that we are talking past each other so much. I think that we come from a different theological paradigm. You seem to be coming from a “reformed” perspective (which is fine), but I am not so much. I want to emphasize that the gospel is as Jesus would say “the gospel of the kingdom of God.” This certainly includes individual salvation (and repentance as you seem to think I ignore), but Jesus/Paul/ and other NT writers demonstrate that the gospel is much larger than this. I am an Anabaptist (btw: I am also, charismatic—and have a deep belief in the need for and work of the Holy Spirit). If you want to know more about what I believe, feel free to google that term.