The Financial Breakdown: A Spiritual Diagnosis

Something more is going on in our economy than just money. Christians are struggling to see this crisis through the eyes of wisdom and not just as people who have lost possessions. We want to be more than just whiners who are mad like everyone else.

This message by Paul Mills at Capitol Hill Baptist Church will help raise up the level of thinking.

Paul Mills (PhD in economics at Cambridge) is an economist specializing in finance, as well as a Christian. He recently gave an address at the Henry Forum at Capitol Hill Baptist Church on The Financial Breakdown: A Spiritual Diagnosis. The audio, as well as a PDF of his slides, are available at the link. He covered the following areas related to the financial crisis:

  • the causes and culprits
  • the consequences
  • the underlying root cause
  • what this reveals about the spiritual state of high income countries (esp. in the US/UK)
  • what the Bible teaches about finance, in contrast to conventional thinking
  • the implications for public policy, the church, and Christians

Fishers of Men – Soren Kierkegaard

These are Christ’s own words: “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19)

So off went the Apostles.

But what was that likely to amount to, with these few men, who moreover understood Christ’s words to mean that it was they who had to be sacrificed in order to catch me? It is easy to see that if things had gone on that way, it would have amounted to nothing. That was God’s notion, perhaps a pretty one, but-as every practical man must surely admit-God is not practical. Or can one think of anything more topsy-turvy than that sort of fishing, where fishing means being sacrificed, so that it is not the fishermen who eat but the fish who eat the fisherman? And that is what they call fishing! It is almost like Hamlet’s madness when he says of Polonius that he is at supper, not where he eats, but where he is eaten.

Then man undertook God’s cause.

“Fishers of men! What Christ meant is something quite different from what these honest Apostles achieved, in defiance of all linguistic usage and linguistic analogy, for in no language is this what is understood by fishing. What He meant and intended was the origination of a new branch of business, i.e., man-fishery, preaching Christianity in such a way that it will amount to something to fish with this fishing company.

Attention now, and you will see that it does amount to something!

Yes, my word, it did amount to something! It amounted to “established Christendom” with millions and millions and millions of Christians.

It was quite simpy arranged. Just as one company is formed to speculate in the herring-fishery, another in cod-fishing, another in whaling, etc., so man-fishing was carried on by a stock company which guaranteed its members a dividend of such and such a per cent.

And what was the result of it? If you haven’t done it yet, don’t fail to take advantage of this opportunity to admire man! The result was that they caught a prodigious number of herring, or what I mean is men, Christians; and of course the company was in a brilliant financial condition. It proved indeed that even the most successful herring company did not make nearly so big a profit as did man-fishery. And one thing further, an extra profit, or at least a piquant[spicy] seasoning on top of the profit, namely, that no herring company is able to quote words of Scripture when they send boats out for the catch.

But man-fishery is a godly enterprise, the stockholders in this company can appeal to words of Scripture for themselves, for Christ says “I will make you fishers of men.” They can tranqually go to the meet the Judgment, saying, “We have accomplished Thy word, we have fished for men.”

A review of Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies

This is from InterVarsity Press’ site Addenda & Errata. It’s a good lesson on marketing a worldview and how the slow trudge of scholarship gets trumped by simplistic popularizers, such as Dan Brown of DaVinci Code fame. (I am always surprised by how many students in my classes take Brown’s work as a serious interpretation of the history surrounding the development of Christianity). As an aside, I wonder how much Christians do this, too. We can take an overly simplistic view toward things which require more depth, market them for the popular taste and end up with a popular form of Christianity which is no Christianity at all, or at least not enough of it to do the soul real good. Here I think of Osteen and others who market a version of the biblical faith which, while retaining the symbols of Christianity, so change the “product” that it becomes something else. But that is another post.

The Delusions of Pseudo-Scholarship

Last weekend I picked up a copy of David Bentley Hart’s Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies (Yale University Press). I’d been seeing comments on this new book, and I was looking forward to getting my hands on it. Over half way into it, I’m not disappointed. It’s difficult to put it down.

This is surely one of the best books of the season. And it’s got some endorsements many an author or editor would die for. George Weigel calls it a “rousing good read,” names David Hart “one of America’s sharpest minds” and tells us “This is Hart in full, all guns firing and the band playing on the deck.” John Milbank says, “Surely Dawkins, Hitchens et al would never have dared put pen to paper had they know of the existence of David Bentley Hart. After this demolition job all that is left for them to do is repent and rejoice at the discreditation of their erstwhile selves.”

I’m tempted to run on about this book, but I fear my colleagues might scold me for promoting another publisher’s book on the IVP Academic website. Of course, I’d have to tell them that I am doing so in the broader interest of truth! And I suspect they’d go for that.

One of the burdens of Hart’s book is to correct the caricatures of history that are being promulgated by writers of the New Atheism, from the “rhetorical recklessness” of Christopher Hitchens to the “extravagantly callow attack” of Sam Harris to the “embarrassing incapacity for philosophical reasoning” of Richard Dawkins to the “borderline illiterate” (but wildly profitable) work of Dan Brown.

In attempting to correct the modern mythology of the Middle Ages, Hart lands on a point that has surely provoked many a serious scholar of history or religion:

Sadly, however, it is not serious historians who, for the most part, form the historical consciousness of their times; it is bad popular historians, generally speaking, and the historical hearsay they repeat or invent, and the myths they perpetuate and simplifications they promote, that tend to determine how most of us view the past. However assiduously the diligent, painstakingly precise academical drudge may labor at his or her meticulously researched and exhaustively documented tomes, nothing he or she produces will enjoy a fraction of the currency of any of the casually composed (though sometimes lavishly illustrated) squibs heaped on the front tables of chain bookstores or clinging to the middle rungs of best-seller lists. For everyone whose picture of the Middle Ages is shaped by the dry, exact, quietly illuminating books produced by those pale dutiful pedants who squander the golden meridians of their lives prowling in the shadows of library stacks or weakening their eyes by poring over pages of barely legible Carolingian minuscule, a few hundred will be convinced by what they read in, say, William Manchester’s dreadful, vulgar, and almost systematically erroneous A World Lit Only By Fire. After all, few have the time or the need to sift through academic journals and monographs and tedious disquisitions on abstruse topics trying to separate the gold from the dross. And so, naturally, among the broadly educated and the broadly uneducated alike, it is the simple picture that tends to prevail, though in varying shades and intensities of color, as with any image often and cheaply reproduced; and the simple picture, in this case, is the story that Western society has been telling about itself for centuries now. (Hart, p. 35)

Hart brings to light some of the work of these “academical drudges,” focusing his rhetorical powers on the intellectual darkness that masquerades as enlightenment in our culture today. It’s a sophisticated polemic and an absolute delight to read.

The Seven Deadly Sins and the Chronicles of Narnia

I am preaching a series on the seven deadly and daily sins. Those who are Lewis fans and enjoy his Chronicles of Narnia note that they are seven in number and in a paper by Dr. Don W. King, Department of English, Montreat College it is suggested that Lewis used the seven deadly sins as a framework for the books. Here is the paper. Intriguing. At least part of reason for supposing this is true is Lewis’ immersion in Medieval Lit, a time when the seven deadly sins were woven into the fabric of medieval spirituality.