Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Integrity

As everyone knows, Al Gore is the high priest of the temple of Global Warming. By that I mean that he is the leading spokesman, the loudest voice, the one you think of first when you think of the topic. Most know, however, about the other side of the story. While Mr. Gore travels about the country in private jets and large SUVs to warn us about our "carbon footprint", his house is consuming 20 times the national average of natural gas and more energy in one month than the average American household in one year. There is a term for this: "Inconsistency". That is, while on one hand Mr. Gore is stumping to get all of us to save the planet by decreasing our consumption of fossil fuels, he continues a consumption of fossil fuels far beyond the average person he is chiding. "Oh," he says, "it's okay. You see, I'm paying other people to plant trees and such to offset my carbon footprint." But, Mr. Vice President, wouldn't it be more productive to decrease your own consumption and pay someone to plant trees?" You see, Mr. Gore is inconsistent. He preaches one thing but lives another. The upshot is one has to wonder if he actually believes what he preaches. Personally, it seems to me that until Mr. Gore levels the house he owns (not sells -- that would just mean someone else would consume all that energy), moves into a "green" home, travels in "green" transportation, and shows up at his speaking engagements in a Prius or, better yet, an electric car, I'm going to be hard-pressed to believe his yells of "Fire!" He is inconsistent, and for me it destroys his message.

There is a portion of American Christianity that is hard at work trying to convince the rest of American Christianity that the primary job of the Church is to feed the poor. Okay, that's limited, but they're really interested in the social gospel, not the Gospel. They will point to passages like this: "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God ... But woe to you who are rich, for you are receiving your comfort in full" (Luke 6:20, 24). They ignore the fact that this does not say, "Help feed the poor" and use it to point out that poor people are important and rich people are ... wrong. The main problem is that the vast majority of those who are arguing that the poor are heaven-bound simply because they're poor and the rich are damned (no, sorry, they don't make that argument -- that would be too judgmental, too consistent) losers are themselves not poor nor willing to head that way. Indeed, they are generally middle-class Americans, among the richest people on the planet. Now, if they genuinely believed that poor folk were inheritors of the kingdom of God, why is it that they aren't striving to become poor folk? They're perfectly happy urging others to surrender their worldly goods so these poor folk will no longer be poor (which, if you believed that the poor would inherit the kingdom of God, would be a bad thing, right?), but they don't actually plan to become one of the walking poor themselves. They are inconsistent, and for me it destroys their message.

Every good Christian knows this fabulous verse. In fact, likely all I have to tell you is the reference and you'll be able to quote it: Romans 8:28. That's right. "God works all things together for good to those who love Him." Great verse. Wonderful promise. It's not a contract; it's a promise. God does it. It doesn't require anything of you. God does it. How easy can it be? And yet, every good Christian would likely have to admit if he was to be honest that when unpleasant events occur, our first response is not "Wow! I wonder what good God is going to work this into! I can hardly wait to see!" We know that we are commanded to "Count it all joy when you fall into various trials" (James 1:2) , but we don't, do we? Some better than others, for sure, but as a whole we're just not so good at this. You see, we are inconsistent, and for me it destroys the message.

"Consistency" is the concept I've been waving, but there is another term, a better term. If you took basic math in high school, you learned the term, "integer". An integer is a whole number. It has no fractions, no decimals. It is one number. It isn't a part of another number. If you take the number 1.5, for instance, it's midway between 1 and 2. It is, in a sense, part of two numbers. Integers are whole numbers in themselves. The word is also the source of our word and concept, "integrity". Integrity is technically "The quality or condition of being whole or undivided." You have integrity when your entire life is whole ... undivided. When your life and your beliefs and your words all line up, you are a whole, you are consistent, you have integrity. That's why there's no plural for the word. It references only one.

What about you? Are you a person of integrity? Does your life match what you say you believe? Does your life match what you say? Are you consistent in what you preach and what you do? If not, are you aiming for it? Are you aware that a lack of integrity goes a long way to destroying the message? Something to think about.

20 comments:

Dan Trabue said...

Amen! We DO need to strive for consistency in our lives. It speaks well of us when we do so.

Of course, we are all of us imperfect and tend to be less than consistently consistent. Still, the more we can be consistent, the easier it is for us to speak with integrity.

That much I agree with. Now, in an effort to help you be consistent with your belief that we ought to tell the truth and represent people accurately (and I feel sure I can assume that this IS your belief, yes?), I would point out that you've got a mistake on how you represent those who believe in what you refer to as "the social gospel," but what I refer to as, "the gospel."

You state...

There is a portion of American Christianity that is hard at work trying to convince the rest of American Christianity that the primary job of the Church is to feed the poor. Okay, that's limited, but they're really interested in the social gospel, not the Gospel.

Speaking as one of this "portion of American Christianity," I'd suggest that we ARE interested in proclaiming the Gospel, just as Jesus said that HE had come here, to "proclaim good news to the poor... to proclaim release to the captives and the regaining of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor. If this message is what Jesus came to preach and I'm attempting to follow in Jesus' steps, then that is the gospel that I'm sharing, as well. But there's not two gospels, the social gospel and the gospel. There is only one gospel.

You go on to state...

They ignore the fact that this does not say, "Help feed the poor" and use it to point out that poor people are important and rich people are ... wrong. The main problem is that the vast majority of those who are arguing that the poor are heaven-bound simply because they're poor and the rich are damned

Which is simply not a fair or sound way to describe our positions.

1. We don't "ignore" that Luke 6 doesn't say "Help feed the poor." Instead, we heed the MANY places in the Bible that tell us to do just that (the story of the sheep and the goats, for instance, or Deut. 15:7, Deut. 26:12, Lev. 19:19, Prov. 31:8, Isa. 58:66, Luke 3:11, Luke 12:33, Luke 14:12, for instance, or James 2:16, which says, "and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,' and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?")

2. I don't believe you are actually disagreeing with us that we ought to feed the poor, are you?

3. Are you suggesting that this is not part and parcel of the good news that Christ said he'd come to share with the poor?

4. We DO think that poor folk are important, but I don't think you disagree with us on that point, do you?

5. We don't think rich people are, simply by being rich, wrong. We have not said that so it is not fair to suggest that this is our position, correct?

6. We have not argued that the poor are heaven bound simply because they are poor. We have not said that so it is not fair to suggest that this is our position, correct?

In short, don't you think you could more fairly represent our position? Isn't it possible that you are MISrepresenting our position (seeing as how we don't believe as you've said) and isn't that an inconsistency on your part?

Stan said...

Dan Trabue: "Speaking as one of this 'portion of American Christianity'..."

As before, Dan, if the shoe doesn't fit, don't wear it. I wasn't thinking of you when I wrote what I wrote. I was thinking of those who fit exactly the description I offered. If the description doesn't match you, then don't assume you're one of those about whom I was speaking.

That should take care of most of your complaints because I'm obviously not speaking of you. However, in order to try to address your comments fully ...

Yes, we should feed the poor. No doubt about it. Is that the Gospel? No. Paul warns against "another Gospel" (Gal. 1). What is the Gospel? "Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?" (Gal 3:2). The Gospel is salvation by faith. The Gospel is diverting God's wrath toward sinners (Rom 1:16-18). The result of the Gospel is that we can love others, feed the poor, and so on. But that is not the Gospel.

I have fairly represented my position. You don't apparently know the ones about whom I'm speaking because I have also fairly represented their position that the "social Gospel" is the important "gospel" and the Gospel of "repent and believe and be saved" is not. And I have fairly represented, perhaps, not their position on the poor and the rich, but on the rational, consistent ramifications of their understanding of those words ... which is the topic of the post -- consistency.

Dan Trabue said...

Perhaps there are some out there who believe as you do. You have not offered any links to point to them and I have never heard of them, but perhaps they exist.

Once again, I think it would help make your case if you would point to a quote or a source for someone believing as you suggest, THEN we could be talking about something real instead of in generalities.

Dan Trabue said...

Stan said...

Yes, we should feed the poor. No doubt about it. Is that the Gospel? No.

Agreed. But I don't know of anyone who argues that feeding the poor is the gospel. It goes hand in glove with the gospel, though. Perhaps you are right. Perhaps this is merely addressed to some group of people out there who believe as you suggest. I've just never heard of them.

What I HAVE heard of, though, are more Right-ish religious folk misunderstanding and/or misstating the opinions of those who believe in what they call the "social gospel."

But perhaps you have not misunderstood, I don't know. I've just never heard of such.

Stan said...

Have you heard of the book, Generous Orthodoxy? I spoke to the author of that book (in which "generous" orthodoxy is essentially defined as "whatever you want to believe ought to be fine"). He berated me for having concern for the truth of the Gospel when what we were really put here to do was to take care of the poor. We can spread the "good news of Christ", sure, but that will likely get in the way of our real task of eliminating poverty. When I pointed out that Jesus said, "The poor you will always have with you", he got angry and quit talking to me. However, providing a conversation I had with someone as a "source" isn't going to influence you one bit, is it? Without proper documentation, I suspect, you'll still dismiss it as ... well ... not a lie ... but certainly not something you will accept as a truthful representation. (See also this article about the "social gospel" movement that is about "a new social order in this world".)

Dan Trabue: "I don't know of anyone who argues that feeding the poor is the gospel."

I'm sorry. I'm confused. I thought you did:

Dan Trabue: "what you refer to as 'the social gospel,' but what I refer to as, 'the gospel.'"

I see the Gospel as the good news about Christ and salvation. I see the "social gospel" as a natural and necessary result of responding to that Gospel.

Dan Trabue said...

Generous Orthodoxy, by Brian McClaren? Yes, I'm familiar with him. I have some problems with his thinking and some things I like about his thinking/theology. I am unfamiliar with him thinking that feeding the poor IS the Gospel.

And, no, what I was trying to say was that I don't think of our work with and alongside the least of these as separate from our work of evangelism. It is one Gospel, the Gospel of Christ and that Gospel has feeding the poor going right along with preaching/living God's grace. Sorry if I was not clear.

Stan said...

Dan Trabue: "I am unfamiliar with him thinking that feeding the poor IS the Gospel."

I think you/we got sidetracked here somehow. I can't find anything that I wrote in the post that suggested that anyone thought that the social gospel was the Gospel. What I said was, "they're really interested in the social gospel, not the Gospel." Some mitigate the Gospel (which includes bad news or it is meaningless) because they argue that their primary task is to make people's lives better. I wasn't thinking of "social gospel" as a substitution for the Gospel until you suggested they were one and the same to you.

One other thing. No one I know actually argues "the poor are heaven-bound". They don't argue it, but the fact that they do not argue it is inconsistent with their point. The verse says, "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God." If "yours is the kingdom of God", but "you aren't necessarily going to heaven", in what world does that make sense? How can that be understood in any other way than "you who are poor are going to heaven!"? That's the sense in which I say they argue that the poor are going to heaven. Now, others would say "To be consistent with Matt 5, this is more likely 'poor in spirit', a prerequisite to salvation" and then they're fine and consistent, but taking it apart from that at simple face value, giving them the kingdom of God, and not assuring them heaven makes zero sense.

Dan Trabue said...

I am sorry, perhaps I've stated something incorrectly and gotten off track. Let me try to deal with exactly what you're saying. You said...

Some mitigate the Gospel (which includes bad news or it is meaningless) because they argue that their primary task is to make people's lives better.

1. The Gospel (literally "the Good News") includes "bad news"? Well, I guess one could look at it that way. If Jesus is preaching good news to the poor that might include such Jubilee messages as the freeing of economic prisoners, the forgiveness of debts, etc, that COULD be construed as bad news for those who were benefiting from the system as it was.

That is, the wealthy man who was instructed by Jesus to forgive the debts of the poor woman may THINK that this is bad news. But I don't think of it as such. I think it is Good news both for the wealthy man and for the poor man. The poor woman gets out of debt and the wealthy man releases a bit of the trappings of wealth. I don't tend to think the good news is rightly called bad news in any sense, but that may be a side topic...

2. I don't know of any Christians (McClaren included) who would describe "the primary task" of the church as making people's lives better, but I guess that's one way of looking at it. If a person who was lost is now saved, well, that person's life IS better.

Most progressive Christians I know would probably suggest our primary task is to follow Christ or to be faithful, and that could well include making people's lives better by sharing of God's grace, by sharing of God's Good News, by sharing of God's bounty, by opposing oppression, etc.

Dan Trabue said...

You asked..

The verse says, "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God." If "yours is the kingdom of God", but "you aren't necessarily going to heaven", in what world does that make sense? How can that be understood in any other way than "you who are poor are going to heaven!"?

In my mind, this would be an example of another verse that offers a part of the story but not the full story. Just like some passages that say, "If you believe in Christ, you will be saved..." but that's not the whole story because we know the Bible also says, "The demons believe, and tremble..." so I would presume that they're not saved, right?

Just because a thought is offered in the Bible does not mean that it is the WHOLE truth. A passage can be explaining a little bit of Truth without necessarily expanding upon all Truth, don't you think?

I have a question for you: If you think that Luke passage is talking about the "poor in spirit," and not the actual poor, then what do you do with the next verse that says, "Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation" - Is that talking about the "rich in spirit"? Looking at the text in whole, blessed are you who are poor, for yours will be the kingdom of God, blessed are you who hunger, for you will be filled... Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation, woe to you who are full, for you will be hungry..." I don't see any reasonable way to make that anything but talking about literally poor and literally rich.

But how do you explain the whole passage if NOT literally?

Stan said...

Okay, Dan, once again, let me see if I understand you correctly. I haven't cited a source you can look up, so I am lying. No, no, you won't admit to calling it lying. Just not ... reliable, believable. Just not telling the truth. Am I accurately representing your view?

(Note: On "the gospel includes bad news", I have written on this more than once.)

Naum said...

Stan: Have you heard of the book, Generous Orthodoxy? I spoke to the author of that book (in which "generous" orthodoxy is essentially defined as "whatever you want to believe ought to be fine"). He berated me for having concern for the truth of the Gospel when what we were really put here to do was to take care of the poor. We can spread the "good news of Christ", sure, but that will likely get in the way of our real task of eliminating poverty. When I pointed out that Jesus said, "The poor you will always have with you", he got angry and quit talking to me. However, providing a conversation I had with someone as a "source" isn't going to influence you one bit, is it? Without proper documentation, I suspect, you'll still dismiss it as ... well ... not a lie ... but certainly not something you will accept as a truthful representation. (See also this article about the "social gospel" movement that is about "a new social order in this world".)

That's a rather flawed, unjust characterization of the author's (McLaren/Generous Orthodoxy) beliefs.

And sorry, your interpretation of "the poor you will always have with you" is way off the mark, and much more in alignment with Joyce Meyer (who trotted out that verse to defend her million dollar luxury lifestyle earned by her "ministry"). Jesus message was that there are poor because of your hardened hearts, that if you acted out in love as he instructed (in Christ), you are advancing his Kingdom. And Matthew 25 makes it quite clear that "eternal life" is ALL about feeding the hungry, attending to the imprisoned, healing the sick, providing clothing/shelter for those without, displaying compassion to strangers, etc.…

Dan Trabue said...

Once again, Stan, if my SON, my WIFE or my beloved PASTOR said something unbelievable, I would question their source. My point would not be to suggest that they are lying, but to suggest that their point is hard to believe and that it would help to have a source to see what they are talking about.

If I say something that seems unbelievable (and it has happened) - on my blog for instance - and I look at it and think, Wow, that's hard to believe, I will go and check my source. Doing so is not to suggest that I think I am lying, but rather an acknowledgment that we oftentimes have misunderstandings and miscommunications as humans.

I do hope you don't take that offensively, it is not intended as anything other than "testing all things," as we are instructed to do in the Bible. But yes, if I find you have said something unbelievable and I write you a note saying, "I find that hard to believe, what's your source?" I have done so because I find it unbelievable. That is the case. Not that you're lying, not that you're unreliable, just that the statement seems to be lacking in credibility.

What would you have me do when you write something that is hard to believe?

On the Luke 6 thing, I do hope you might find the topic in the realm of "consistency" to answer my question about how you explain that whole passage (ie, is it saying, "woe to you who are rich in spirit?")

Stan said...

Naum: "flawed, unjust characterization"

Excellent! I wasn't aware that you were there for my conversation with him! Good to know that I had witnesses. Maybe now Dan will believe me!

Oh, wait ... you weren't there. I referenced a conversation. I accurately explained the content. The reference to the book was for identification, not for content.

And I would suggest that you now have your own inconsistency to deal with. If Matthew 25 tells us that eternal life is all about doing those good works, it stands in stark contrast to the repeated words of Paul that assured us that the Gospel was salvation by faith apart from works.

And no one, it seems, from your camp sees the poor logic of putting an end to poverty. Whether or not it is possible, your take on the verses that assure us that the poor, by virtue of being poor, are blessed would make it cruel to stop them from being poor. They're blessed! Why would you want to make them no longer blessed???

Oh, and thanks for the Joyce Meyers connection. Since I'm not rich and not defending the rich and have spoken repeatedly about the need to give, to share, to love ... yeah, that was helpful. Thanks.

Stan said...

Dan, I gave you my source. You rejected it. I have no other source for you. I told you what it was. That's not good enough. I didn't record the conversation and transcribe it for you to read. Sorry. Why on earth would you care what I have to say about Luke 6 when you can't believe what I say about a conversation I had?

In fact, since most of what I write seems to be outlandish to you, why do you bother reading it or arguing it with me?

Stan said...

No point in me explaining. I'm not reliable. Here are the comments from a host of commentaries. The format I put them in is the name of the commentary or commentator followed by the comment on Luke 6:20 and then the comment on Luke 6:24. If there is no comment on Luke 6:24 it's because the commentator didn't make any.

Matthew Henry:
Blessings pronounced upon suffering saints, as happy people, though the world pities them.

Woe to them that are rich, that is, that trust in riches, that have abundance of this world's wealth, and, instead of serving God with it, serve their lusts with it.

John Gill:
blessed be ye poor; not only in the things of this world, having left all for Christ, but poor in Spirit

But woe unto you that are rich,.... Not in worldly riches and substance, for some of these have been, and are happy persons in a spiritual sense; and at most, it can only mean such, who trust in their riches, and place their, happiness in them; but it chiefly regards such, as are rich in their own opinion, and stand in need of nothing; who place their confidence in their own righteousness, and do not apply to Christ, in whom alone are durable riches and righteousness

Adam Clark:
See the sermon on the mount paraphrased and explained

Likely spoken at the Pharisees

Illustrated New Testament:
This discourse is given more fully in Matthew

This is not spoken of rich men universally. Abraham, David, and Joseph of Arimathea, were rich men. The language is simply an energetic expression of the hopeless condition of those who have earthly riches only, for their portion.

Barnes:
See this passage fully illustrated in the sermon on the mount

Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown:
In the Sermon on the Mount the benediction is pronounced upon the "poor in spirit" and those who "hunger and thirst after righteousness" (Mt 5:3, 6). Here it is simply on the "poor" and the "hungry now." In this form of the discourse, then, our Lord seems to have had in view "the poor of this world, rich in faith

People's New Testament:
These beatitudes are given more fully in Matt. 5:3-12

Matthew omits these woes. Woe unto all whose heart is set upon their riches and who take their delight and consolation in them. The woe rests upon all who are engaged in the greedy chase after wealth, or make it their great good

Robertson:
Does Luke represent Jesus as saying that poverty itself is a blessing? It can be made so. Or does Luke represent Jesus as meaning what is in Matthew, poverty of spirit?

As a matter of fact the rich Pharisees and Sadducees were the chief opposers of Christ as of the early disciples later

David Guzik:
Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God: To be poor in spirit is not a man's confession that he is by nature insignificant, or personally without value, for that would be untrue. Instead, it is a confession that he is sinful and rebellious and utterly without moral virtues adequate to commend him to God.

But woe to you who are rich ... Woe to you who are full: We should right feel bad for people who do not sense their own need of God

John Calvin:
Luke gives nothing more than a simple metaphor: but as the poverty of many is accursed and unhappy, Matthew expresses more clearly the intention of Christ.

He pronounces a curse on the rich, — not on all the rich, but on those who receive their consolation in the world; that is, who are so completely occupied with their worldly possessions, that they forget the life to come.

Stan said...

One other note. Many of the commentators pointed out that Jesus wasn't speaking to the crowd as much as to His disciples. ("He lifted up His eyes on His disciples" - Luke 6:20.)

Steve Martin said...

Feeding the poor is great, and we ought do it.

But the whole world does that. There is nothing inherently Christian about feeding the poor.

Our job #1 is to speak of Christ and the fogiveness of our sins that only Christ can and does give, and the new life that He brings to people lost in a world that is dogged by sin, death, and the devil.

If we aren't doing that, then everything else is just playing church.

Dan Trabue said...

Stan said...

Dan, I gave you my source. You rejected it. I have no other source for you. I told you what it was. That's not good enough. I didn't record the conversation and transcribe it for you to read. Sorry.

In your post, Stan, you said, "There is a portion of American Christianity..." and made your charge. That sounds like a blanket statement about many Christians. Christians who believe in what you call a "social gospel." Now you are telling me that this is based upon one person in one conversation you had with him?

You seem to be taking my comments as if there is some hostile intent. I'm just striving for clarity. Is your complaint only about what McLaren said in that one conversation? If so, why not write about that?

It's when you make a more blanket statement that I (in good faith and with no ill intent) ask a question about a source. Does that seem unreasonable or uncivil to you?

In truth, I mean no harm by my question, it is simply a question for clarification's sake and a statement about those more progressive Christians who sometimes have their positions misunderstood and misstated. I'd hope that we could move past this apparent mistrust.

Stan said...

I made a blanket statement about "a portion of American Christianity". If you are not part of that portion, ignore it. Since you don't know anything about the portion about which I'm speaking, ignore it. I didn't write a post about McClaren because my post wasn't about McClaren. My post was about consistency, with one illustration from one group of people who demonstrate inconsistency. You believe they are imaginary people. Fine. You can't explain how it makes sense to improve the condition of the poor when being poor is a blessing. Fine. You ask for sources and I give them and you don't accept them. Fine. Now ... what part of this is reasonable and civil?

Stan said...

Steve ... may I just say, "Amen!"