A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith
by Brian McLaren
"I realized that my conversation partners [his critics] simply couldn't address life-and-death issues like poverty, the planet, and peace within the conventional paradigms they inherited. … The Greco-Roman narrative, founded on a constitutional reading of the Bible … rendered those life-and-death issues invisible, insubstantial, and unaddressable."
If you don’t know of Brian McLaren, he is a key figure in the crowd that would like to re-make the Christian faith in the image of postmodernism. There is much that could be said about this whole muddle-headed project, but I will focus on just a couple of the points mentioned here.
McLaren thinks this ‘constitutional reading’ of the Bible, by which he seems to mean the usual and customary reading, leaves certain key social problems unaddressed because they become somehow ‘invisible.’ What this seems to mean is that a problem like poverty, given a traditional reading of the Bible, goes unrecognized.
I know a lot of ‘traditional’ Bible readers, and almost all of them know that poverty is a problem around the world. So what is McLaren talking about here? He is probably expressing the typical liberation theology-inspired frustration that, given the parameters of the historic Christian faith, there is no institutional, social and particularly governmental solution to the problem of poverty.
This is especially ironic given that one key contributing cause of poverty is the interference of institutions, especially governments, in the economic lives of people. When you look around the world currently and survey the past, it becomes alarmingly obvious that wherever and whenever people are allowed to work, produce, buy, sell, and so forth without interference from governments they often do fairly well economically speaking.
While there are always setbacks and exceptions, economic well-being is the tendency when there is economic freedom.
But that does not mean there is never an example of a poor person even in the most economically free circumstances. It does mean that when you try, even with the best of intentions, to develop some system imposed by a government to ‘solve’ this problem, the problem always gets worse in the end.
Christians should not be blind to poverty. Charity, which in its best forms can never be institutionalized anyway, is a wonderful thing.
But Christians should desire and work to achieve a situation in which governments are ‘blind’ to poverty. Equality before the law – something that God insists upon according to the Bible – is impossible whenever governments ‘see’ poverty and try to solve it by law.
This is the case because a law aimed at solving poverty will, of necessity, need to treat one person very differently from another. It will need to deliver goods to people in a certain economic situation by taking those goods from people in a different economic situation.
Lev. 19:15 reads, “Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.” Once the law requires that those who have less than the ‘poverty level’ receive something from those somewhere above that level, justice has been perverted. In fact, it has been destroyed.
The ‘traditional’ reading of scripture treats poverty as something to be handled by generosity, that is, by gifts. Once governments begin to demand ‘gifts’ for the benefit of a certain class of people, justice is gone. That doesn’t mean poverty is ‘unaddressable.’ It means that it cannot be morally addressed by government. It is something that governments must ignore so that justice is preserved and charity can operate freely.