Archive for the 'Economic Theology' Category



01
May
09

Unequal Yoke

While this decidedly Christian phrase is usually reserved for marriages between people of different faiths, or a relationship where one partner has no faith, it can really refer to any relationship that should be covenantal. It should be used in church situations in which people who see the role of church as ministry are pitted against those who wish to follow a secular, business model. It should be used in the strained relationships between the various ecclesiastical levels. It most certainly should be used when describing the all too common broken contracts between governments and constituents. In decidedly counter-cultural fashion, I would like to suggest that it applies to all things economic – that, in a just society, all transactions would be covenantal and mutually equitable. Continue reading ‘Unequal Yoke’

27
Apr
09

The Theology Behind Church Financial Practices

As a church administrator, I have been asked several times to “review” the procedures of larger churches. It has become my habit to write briefly about the financial systems and procedures, unless of course there are significant problems, and then spend a good amount of time telling the board or session what their financial reporting communicates in terms of theology and praxis. This has been, many times, unwelcome, but I have yet to do this with a church that has not taken seriously at least some of the items I pointed out and begun to take a hard look at their practices.

This report is from a couple of years ago, and is fairly representative. I offer it, not for what it says about this church, but for what it says about the general atmosphere of church “business”. While for some it is inconceivable, I contend that finances may be the truest indicator of a church’s practical theology. In this case, the message communicated was counter-productive to the goals expressed by the Board. Continue reading ‘The Theology Behind Church Financial Practices’

27
Apr
09

Administration Issues in Small Churches

This opinion paper is rife with generalities. Suffice it say that the opinions expressed herein refer to the majority of churches, as opposed to all churches. This, by the way, will be a very untidy post.

 The mainline church in the U.S. has long pursued adoption of “sound” business practices in its member congregations, spurred on by the increasingly rigorous legal and social demands that have resulted from a long and growing list of ethical transgressions. The two most prominent areas of concern are sexual misconduct and financial/property mismanagement. In my opinion, the interest in the first has been spurred not primarily by a sense of protecting and safe-guarding children and people otherwise at risk of sexual predation, but by the financial fallout that may consequentially occur. That which has garnered the full attention of concerned parties is the potential “price” of abuse. Increasingly, changes have occurred with the development of “sound” church business practices that have moved the basic ethical underpinnings of church oversight and administration from spiritual and social concerns to financial matters and risk management. Routinely financial, staff and property management are referred to as the “business” of the church, with the real business of the church – ministry, mission and education – receiving far less attention. Continue reading ‘Administration Issues in Small Churches’

20
Apr
09

Imperialism, Colonialism and “Disciple-Making”

The adherents of Christian religions include upwards of 2 billion people – almost one-third of the world’s population, according to David Barrett, an Evangelical Christian who is the compiler of religious statistics for the Encyclopedia Britannica.[1] While Christianity began in the Middle East, it is generally considered a European/American religion. Those areas, however, do not encompass the majority of adherents. More Christians, in fact, are found in the “third world” – those areas that were formerly colonized by various European powers.  The story of the spread of the world’s most prolific religion during the second millennia of Christianity is at least interesting, if not informative of the current political and military efforts of the West, most notably the U.S., seemingly aimed at making converts of another sort – disciples of Western democracy and capitalism. Continue reading ‘Imperialism, Colonialism and “Disciple-Making”’

30
Mar
09

Wrestling with Personal Theology

Over the last few years, one of my favorite preaching topics has been the abandonment of self-interest, selfish ambition and conceit that is extolled in Philippians chapter 2. The call to humility contained within that passage culminates with “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,” (2:12) which, I remind the congregation I am addressing, is difficult to do with someone else’s theology tucked under your arm. To be free of your own conceit requires being free of theological tenets that establish authoritarian norms of belief. It is to acknowledge that certainty is the opposite of faith, not doubt. Continue reading ‘Wrestling with Personal Theology’

28
Mar
09

God’s Economy

Having accepted the challenge to discuss economic theology with a Presbyterian session of a large metropolitan church, and having overheard in conversation the “ideal” minister being described as a “CEO” type, I began with a simple exercise – one I had presented several times before to different audiences. The exercise takes advantage of the preponderance of business language and processes being used by sessions and boards of religious institutions.

Continue reading ‘God’s Economy’

23
Mar
09

Religions Put Emphasis on Least Theological Issues

Theologically speaking, God can be found in all situations. In even the most heinous of events, we can trust God to be at least suffering with those who suffer, mourning with those who mourn and crying with those who cry. So even in this trying economic time, we can envision God’s concern for those who are worst hit by our unfolding system of commerce – the worst hit, of course, being the poorest of the poor and not particularly those whose fortune may have been trimmed by a few billion. Given this, I find interesting the results of a Pew Forum survey of religious people in which they were asked where President Obama and the legislature should concentrate their efforts. Additionally interesting, although I have yet to find an explanation, is the fact that the categories include only white religious people. We are left to surmise the purpose of that decision.

pew623

Continue reading ‘Religions Put Emphasis on Least Theological Issues’

23
Mar
09

Government Averse to Curbing Big Business Arrogance

In his commentary, AIG bonuses follow an American tradition, Julian Zelizer cites long-standing tradition as the real culprit in the AIG bonus scandal. While both parties are trying to paint the other as complicit, Zelizer makes the cogent point that the Fed’s long-standing tradition of avoidance when it comes to the management and profit-making of big business has been the real enabler.

Zelizer wrote: “In many ways, the bonus scandal was utterly predictable and would likely have happened regardless of which party was in power. And if history is a guide, the populist outrage over the bonuses may not fundamentally change the federal government’s relationship to private business. Traditionally, American politicians in times of crisis have resisted aggressive interventions by government into business which would tamper with managerial prerogatives and profits.” Continue reading ‘Government Averse to Curbing Big Business Arrogance’

21
Mar
09

Finally, Laying Blame Where it is Due

I don’t normally like the “blame game”. It is, many times, used to lay blame for negative outcomes on the lowest level of management possible, so that when heads roll they are insignificant. It is a process of scape-goating – finding the lowest person on the ladder of decision-making on which the corporate sins can be laden and then slap them on the behind and send them out into the wilderness of public scrutiny. When, however, there is a systematic strategy of avoiding responsibility, laying blame where it is due becomes the method by which healing can occur. Continue reading ‘Finally, Laying Blame Where it is Due’

18
Mar
09

What Do the Numbers Actually Say?

It’s no secret that the the American Religious Identification Survey, conducted by researchers at Trinity College of Hartford, Conn, had some interesting, if not troubling, news for U.S. churches. In a culture and age in which numbers take precedence over other indicators, the results of the survey are sending shock waves down the spines of many denominational hierarchies. As is customary, however, the concentration is on solving the numbers problem, rather than taking a good, long look at the causes. That would require collective introspection – not a process at which mainline denominations are adept. As is not uncommon, it is those outside of the fray that often give the most reasoned critique of the situation. Continue reading ‘What Do the Numbers Actually Say?’

16
Mar
09

Many Tribes or One Nation?

The Concept of Nation in Relation to Israel in the Period of the Judges.

In discussing the concept of nation within Israel’s political, social and/or religious structure during the period of the Judges it becomes imperative, first of all, to remove the obstacle of modern concepts of nationhood from the equation, in favour of attempting to determine the nature of the unity expressed by the final author(s) of Judges. To this end, this paper will try to ascertain the characteristics of the “nation” being claimed in the finished work and then decide, using existing scholarship about supporting and/or contradictory evidence within Judges, whether the claim appears valid. Separating early or core stories from the redactions that followed will help in focussing on the most likely circumstances that existed, as well as the nature and extent of the rhetoric and propaganda used by the redactor(s) to recast the period in a different light.  

Modern concepts of nation, for westerners at least, serve to confuse the issue when considering the question of whether Judges-era Israel was tribally structured or nationally united in some manner. Nationhood, in the sense of countries having sovereign and fixed national borders and central governmental structures, is a relatively modern concept for Europeans, occurring in the West only over the last three to five centuries, and one that may yet be more idealistic than true. Continue reading ‘Many Tribes or One Nation?’

17
Feb
09

But, How Do I Know I Will Possess It?

The Reading:  Genesis 15:1-12,17-18

Setting The Theme:

God cut a covenant with Abram. While I realize much can be made of the nature of this covenant, I also know that I am addressing people who have already wrestled with these implications. Some have expounded on the unilateral nature of this covenant – that God is the only participant. Some have gone further and said that God has taken all the risk of the penalty – an utterly humiliating death – for both parties in the contract. From there it is not difficult to see the trail being blazed to Christ on the cross.

If I had the definitive answer to this conundrum, I think I would still be unlikely to change the minds of many people. Since I don’t have the answer, I am not even going to try.

The reason for the covenant is rather more interesting. What prompted it? Continue reading ‘But, How Do I Know I Will Possess It?’

13
Feb
09

The Myth or Reality of American Civil Religion

The term “civil religion” was first used by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, an eighteenth century philosopher and writer, and refers to “the religious dimension of the polity“, or the intertwining of religious presuppositions with the political and social aspects of life. It is easy to understand why Rousseau would be critical of religion, since in 1717 he was born and subsequently raised in Geneva, at that time a still flourishing theocracy – in other words, a civil society under the rulership of God and scripture. His cynicism gave Rousseau a keen perception of the role of the power of suggestion in social life, which is illustrated in this famous quote, “The first man who, having fenced in a piece of land, said, “This is mine,” and found people naïve enough to believe him, that man was the true founder of civil society.”  Continue reading ‘The Myth or Reality of American Civil Religion’

12
Feb
09

Poor & Helpless – Two Different Things

 There is sometimes a perception that low-income people are victims or helpless, as well as another that they are deserving of their economic status because they lack certain skills, ambition or values. A study performed by the Gallup organization reported that 54% of the U.S. population believe that “low self-esteem” was a significant factor in homelessness, and alcoholism a causal factor in 52% of cases, although 94% believed the homeless could lead productive and self-sufficient lives if given the opportunity.(i)  Both views tend to understand the low-income population as powerless to get what they need. While this is certainly true of some, for many these judgments may simply be the perceptions of economically or socially privileged people that ignores the ingenuity and creativity expended by low-income people in pursuit of basic survival, especially since more people are fighting for economic survival than in the past. Continue reading ‘Poor & Helpless – Two Different Things’

11
Feb
09

Growing Beyond Numbers – a continuing project

This is a project I was involved with several years ago, while in seminary. I have threatened numerous times to revisit this and continue to work at the basic premise. It was good, just not complete. If you feel inclined to help, I would appreciate any suggestions. I will no doubt make sure that the revisions can be seen apart from the original, which is owned collectively by all the authors. Each gave their permission years ago to work with this, as long as attribution was given.

Be prepared: This is a small book. It is, at least I think, interesting and challenging – especially for churches in flux and those trying to redefine their identity – but it is not a quick read.  

Continue reading ‘Growing Beyond Numbers – a continuing project’




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That's too bad - I'm so sorry. Oh, well, just try to make the best of it. What you'll find here is a variety of essays and ramblings to do with things theological, social, whimsical and, sometimes, all three. I don't write to get famous - trust me, I've been told how futile that would be - but to express myself. I love to communicate and browbeat - ummm, I mean dialogue - about the things I find intriguing. Since you're here, and the door's locked, why don't you stay a while. There's a page bar under the header with links to information about us - I mean me. Don't forget to tell me what you think - in a nice way, I mean.

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