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Two Advent Collects

So Dr. Leithart gave us the awesome assignment, for Liturgical Theology class, of writing a collect every single day of the term. Since there's enough days to do it, I've decided to write mine as one for each week of the Church calendar. Here are those for the first two Sundays of Advent.

Advent 1
O Almighty God, Who sent Thy Son into our darkness that we might come into Thy light, give us the eyes of faith, that we might see clearly in the twilight of this present age, until the Sun of Righteousness returns in glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with Thee and with the Holy Ghost ever, one God, world without end. Amen.

Advent 2
O Lord Jesus Christ, Who at Thy first coming found your people an unfruitful vineyard, and trampled them in your wrath, grant that we may be faithful stewards of Your kingdom, that our work may be approved in that dread day of judgment when you return to reign; through Thy powerful name, at which every knee shall bow. Amen.

A Lenten Feast

On Ash Wednesday, Leithart preached an absolutely phenomenal homily about the eschatological character of Lenten fasting. It's up now on the First Things blog.

In the last class of the term, Doug Wilson made a remark that, though not an important point in the context of the class, got me thinking, and hasn’t left me alone since. He said something to this effect, “It’s true that the Bible has a lot to say about the sins of the rich, but it is certainly not true that the Bible is only concerned with the sins of the rich. The prophets spend a lot of time berating the rich, but Proverbs focuses primarily on the sins of the poor. Jesus echoes the message of the prophets, but Paul echoes the message of Proverbs. So if someone asks, ‘Does the Bible worry more about the sins of the rich or the sins of the poor?’ we must reply, ‘It depends which part.’” Now, while I would certainly agree that the Bible is not only concerned with the sins of the rich, this statement struck me as suspicious at best, just plain false at worst. And, when I had a chance to do some investigation, I found that it was the latter—just plain false.

First, let’s look at Paul, since that’s the quicker and easier one. Paul does not address issues regarding either rich or poor very much in his letters, but we can find a number of examples, especially toward the end. So, first, let’s see what he has to say about the poor—supposedly, his dominant theme when it comes to wealth. A thorough investigation of his letters reveals only 3 places (each only one verse long), where he addresses the sins of the poor…and that’s a stretch. Let’s look at them. First is Ephesians 4:28: “Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give to him who has need.” It is not clear that this verse really focuses on “sins of the poor,” unless it is only poor people who steal, which quite clearly is not true in our own time or any other time. Moreover, the second half of the verse is asking for such people to give to those who are in need…which makes this more relevant as an exhortation to the rich, than to the poor. But let’s count it for half each way, why don’t we? Then come the verses oft-cited by conservatives--2 Thess. 3:10: “If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat”; and 1 Tim. 5:8--“But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever.” I think we may reasonably agree that these address issues that are more likely temptations for the poor than for the rich (who wouldn’t have had much trouble getting enough to eat, whether or not they worked), but this is the entire scope of Paul’s warnings to the poor—2 and a half passages, each only a single verse.

What does he have to say about the sins of the rich? Minimally, there are four passages, totaling 11 verses: the condition that church officers not be greedy for money in 1 Tim. 3:8 and Tit. 1:7, and extended condemnations of riches and greed in 1 Tim. 6:5-10, 17-19. You could probably add to this the exhortation to give cheerfully and generously to the collection for the poor in Jerusalem in 2 Cor. 8:1-9:15 (39 verses), since, though this applies to everyone, it applies to the wealthy in particular. Let’s count this for half then, and also count for half Eph. 4:28, mentioned above. This makes 5 passages, totaling 31 verses, compared to 2.5 verses. In other words, Paul has more than 10 times as much to say about temptations of the rich as about the poor! Or, if you want to be picky, and not count the 2 Corinthians passage at all, he still has 4-5 times as much to say.

So what about Proverbs, supposedly Paul’s inspiration for his admonitions to the poor? With Paul, we could perhaps excuse a misreading of the emphasis, since there are so few passages to consider. But in Proverbs, where issues of wealth receive more discussion than anywhere else in Scripture, the emphasis is clear, and is overwhelmingly focused on the sins of the rich, so it is hard to see how any careful reader of the book could agree with Wilson’s statement.
Of course, a number of verses in the Proverbs are rather enigmatic, and I cannot profess a perfectly complete and accurate count here, but I think this is pretty close. First, then, how often do Solomon (et al.) exhort or warn the wealthy? I located 31 exhortations or warnings, totaling 45 verses (3:9-10; 11:24-26; 13:7, 13:8; 14:20-21; 14:31; 15:27; 16:8; 17:5; 18:11-12; 18:23; 19:17; 21:13; 21:17; 22:9; 22:22-3; 23:4-8; 23:20-21; 27:23-24; 28:6; 28:8; 28:11; 28:15; 28:20; 28:22; 28:27; 29:7; 29:13-14; 30:8-9; 30:14; 31:20). These include quite a number of warnings against taking advantage of the poor, as well as warnings about the fleetingness of riches, or about the sins of greed or gluttony that wealth gives rise to.

So what about the poor? Well, I identified 15 exhortations, totaling 28 verses, which might be read as warnings to the poor. So, at best, the poor receive about half as much warning and instruction as the rich in Proverbs. But this is probably not an accurate way of putting it. See, of those 15, 4 (10:15; 13:8; 19:4; 19:6-7; 22:7) are not really warnings or exhortations to the poor, so much as simply observations that being poor isn’t a good thing, a statement with which all but the most romanticizing Dickensians will agree. I refer to statements like “The rich man’s wealth is his strong city; the destruction of the poor is their poverty” (10:15) and “Wealth makes many friends, but the poor is separated from his friend” (19:4). I think we can agree that these verses should not really be taken as Proverbs “focusing on the sins of the poor.” We thus have 11 exhortations, totaling 23 verses. But wait! What are these about? Well, they’re about being lazy, and of course, we know that poor people are lazy.
Heh.
As soon as you see it written like that, it looks pretty absurd, but that seems to be the thought process that leads to the conclusion that Proverbs focuses on the sins of the poor. Of course, in modern welfare states, we are all well aware of the phenomenon of a whole class of indolent indigents; but, though certainly there have been plenty of lazy poor people throughout history, this is hardly an accurate generalization. Indeed, I think, if you took a broad historical sampling, you would find that laziness was more often a temptation of the rich (who could get by with it, for a while), than for the poor (who, usually lacking welfare services, would’ve starved if they hadn’t been willing to work). And so it is that in most of these warnings to the sluggard in Proverbs, the warning is not phrased “You’re poor, and you’d better work your way out of it” but “If you don’t work, you’ll end up poor,” which seems to presuppose that the person being admonished has some wealth to begin with. For example, in the famous passage in 24:30-34, the lazy man has a vineyard, a field, a stone wall—he seems rather well-off—and he is warned “a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest; so shall your poverty come like a prowler, and your need like an armed man”—the poverty is something new that will come on him; not a condition he is living in. And in 21:25-6, the lazy man seems like a person with money, because he is condemned for greedy, rather than being a generous giver: “the desire of the lazy man kills him, for his hands refuse to labor. He covets greedily all day long, but the righteous gives and does not spare.” The warnings against sloth, then, far from being taken as admonitions to the poor, are probably better taken as warnings to the rich against becoming poor. But let’s be conservative, and count them half each way. This will affect 7 passages, totaling 18 verses (6:6-11; 10:4-5; 13:4; 20:4; 20:13; 21:25-6; 24:30-34), which will then count for 3.5 passages (9 verses) on both the rich and poor sides of the equation. This leaves only 4 passages, totaling 5 verses, which actually clearly address temptations of the poor (13:8; 28:3; 28:19; 30:8-9).
In the final analysis, then, we have 34.5 exhortations to the rich, totaling 54 verses, and only 7.5 exhortations to the poor, totaling 14 verses. Proverbs, then, has 4-5 times as much to say against the sins of the rich than against the sins of the poor, and the former are usually addressed much more explicitly and directly. This hardly constitutes a shift in emphasis from the message of the prophets.

In conclusion then, whatever Wilson may see in Proverbs and Paul, it is clear that these parts of the Bible join with the unanimous chorus of Scripture in focusing on the sins that come from mammon—greed, pride, oppression, and lack of generosity. The poor do face their own temptations, and the Bible is aware of this, but does not seem overly worked up about it. As wealthy American Christians, we need to take a good look in the mirror that the Bible provides, rather than reprimanding the “lazy poor” from our comfortable armchairs.

Just a random note from my recent reading of Hebrews.

It annoys me no end how TRs try to bracket off the Biblical testimony to the reality of apostasy into a few "problem passages" that can then be explained away. Hebrews 6:4-6 is a great example of this problem. The problem of course is not merely that the passage cannot be successfully explained away without resorting to ridiculous exegesis. More important is that the passage cannot be isolated in the first place. On the contrary, by my count, 71 of the 303 verses in Hebrews are warnings against apostasy, and the author apparently does not consider himself to be dealing with a mere hypothetical. In other words, 1/4 of the letter is devoted quite explicitly to the issue, with much of the rest providing supporting argument. Indeed, in the first six chapters, 41 of 101 verses deal with the issue. Essentially, apostasy is the theme of the first half of Hebrews, and 6:4-6 is simply the most irrefutably explicit discussion of it.

*sigh* Yes, I still have a chip on my shoulder from my GPTS days.

Notes from the Mountaintop

Just in case anyone was on pins and needles waiting for another book review or some Romans 13 tidbits, I'm afraid I must apologize. We're up in the mountains and nine of us are sharing one computer with internet access, so blogging opportunities are minimal; and in any case, I can't post anything off of my computer.

But, I will offer a random slice of life--in fact, a big milestone in my life: I learned to snowboard today! Every time I've skied for the past few years, I've had terrible foot pain, and yesterday it was worse than ever. The boot man told me my feet were quite misshapen and that pretty much only a podiatrist could help me. I'd heard that learning to snowboard was likely to prove a very painful experience, but I figured that if I was going to be in a lot of pain either way, I might as well learn something new while I was at it. And so I did...and there wasn't even much pain involved! (Of course, I've still got a lot of Advil in my system, so I may be singing a different tune this evening.) I can't do anything fancy yet or go too fast, but I can handle an intermediate slope just fine. Tomorrow I'll probably try some of both.

On another note, I never replied to another nit-picky comment by the statistics-monger regarding the national debt. Suffice to say that I mostly agree with your points and shall probably moderate my national debt alarmism, but I would still insist on two major differences from the WWII debt situation. For one, the national debt reached 130% of GDP by the end of WWII...but that was at the end of the crisis. At the end of this fiscal year, the national debt is expected to be at nearly 80% (without counting many off-balance sheet liabilities)...and my guess is that this crisis has a ways to go yet. Hopefully we won't hit 130% again, but...it's possible. The second point is that the total domestic debt is far higher now--corporate, personal, municipal, federal. In WWII, everything besides federal debt was quite under control; the private sector was in solid fiscal condition, and could support a deficit-heavy government. Now, the private sector (whether individual households or businesses) is virtually bankrupt, and it's the deficit-heavy government that's having to help it out. Anyway, enough with that subject. I've got skiing (or snowboarding, rather) to do.

So the Romans 13 paper has been growing faster than the federal deficit, and now stands at 80 pages...I was planning to put up bits and arguments here on the blog as I wrote it, but it wrote itself too fast for that. I'll have to come back and put up some pieces later, I suppose. Meanwhile, I need to finish getting all of my book reviews from Wilson's class up--there's still three to go. Here's one on a book I actually really enjoyed--Dalrymple's Life at the Bottom.

Theodore Dalrymple’s account of life within the underclass of the British welfare state is a scathing and sobering account the evils that we in the West have wrought in the name of justice and mercy. It offers a damning indictment of the agendas that have sought to pursue these Biblical values, but with God conveniently left out, and shows just how far they have veered off track, and thus also indicts the Church for its failure to take firm charge of the God-given mandate for the poor. This book ought to convince any honest reader that something is deeply and fundamentally flawed about the way we have sought to minister to the lower strata of society in the modern West.

Unfortunately, though, when it comes to raising and addressing the deeper questions provoked by his analysis, Dalrymple falls silent. This is not necessarily a complaint against his book—every book must have a limited scope—but merely an observation that the book leaves most of the important work to still be done by the reader. And indeed, if this book is to have any relevance for a Christian political theory, we must be able to draw more from it than merely a specific description of the specific ills arising from a specific set of policies that are historically unique.
For example, Dalrymple’s discussion of the problem of the liberal welfare agenda consistently critiques their presupposition that suffering and bad behavior are the result of social causation rather than individual choice. This presupposition means that they never challenge erring individuals to grow up and change their ways, and so they condemn them to a perpetuation of their degradation. But, of course, inherent in this critique is a sharing of the presupposition, for Dalrymple’s entire point seems to be to call his society to account for helping to induce and prolong the terrible moral, educational, and economic deprivations of this underclass. He consistently aims to show that absurd social policies have helped wreck so many lives. Therefore, his real argument cannot be against the idea that deprivation and degradation are due to bad social factors, but rather to suggest that the liberal agenda has substituted particularly harmful social factors for relatively benign ones. Of course, Dalrymple also wants to maintain the case that social causation cannot erase individual responsibility, but his critique of the appeal to social causation would be clearer if he recognized explicitly that he shared some basic presuppositions of it.
There are a few things we should be careful not to draw from Dalrymple’s book, which many conservatives might be tempted to. First, this description of the unique conditions affecting the underclass in the Western welfare state is not a description of the worldview of underclasses generally. Dalrymple is clear about this, remarking about the difference between the “poor” in England and in Africa. We should not be tempted to think, based on our rather bizarre experience with the “poor” in America and Europe, that poor people in general are lazy and irresponsible—we have helped to make them so here, but this is far from generally true (though of course there are always examples), and is not universally true even here. Thus, it is a rather serious failure of perspective when conservatives see the call for justice to the poor in the Third World as simply another manifestation of the same phenomenon that drives the welfare state, and as likely to yield the same result. To raise concern over the rights of oppressed workers in Guatemala or over the exploitation of the poor in Mozambique is not necessarily an example of a “leftist” agenda, and it is a mark of how blinding the partisan agendas are that people often think that way. The difference, of course, is that very many workers really are oppressed in Guatemala, and the poor really are systematically exploited in Mozambique. In Britain, it may be true that prosperity and civil justice have so increased that the only people who are “trapped in poverty” are there because they don’t care and don’t try not to be. But we should not use that observation to deny that in very many places, people really are trapped in poverty and exploited, and it is our duty to campaign against this injustice.
Indeed, it is important to note that Dalrymple’s book does not really provide an argument against the essential liberal complaint that the poor are being exploited for the economic benefit of the middle class; rather, it simply points out that liberals are complicit in this. In my mind, this is a point he should make more of: why does the vast apparatus of welfare and social rehabilitation bureaucracy stay in place, and even grow, when its flaws are so clear? Because millions of people have an economic interest in keeping it there—millions of people are employed in that bureaucracy, whether it be the public school teachers, the welfare office workers, the homeless shelter personnel, or the army of administrators and lobbyists who keep it all going. To some extent, it seems that Britain’s problem has been a shift from industrial exploitation of the underclass to bureaucratic exploitation, for all the conscience-soothing that liberal platitudes might offer.
Dalrymple’s book should also not be taken as an argument for social independency. Liberals err by denying that the poor are independent agents; rather, they are a product of society and must remain dependent on society. Thus a culture of dependency is created, and no one is encouraged to take care of themselves. The solution to this, the capitalist would argue, is to get government out of it, to start requiring people to be independent agents, taking care of themselves, rather than being passive dependents on a welfare society. Participation in the benefits of society, the capitalist argues, should be based on individual merit; that is, each individual is free to try to provide for himself and better himself, and those who are best qualified will rise to the top. While this is a popular answer to the problem of dependency, it is far from a Christian answer. The Church should insist, not on dependency or independency, but on interdependency—that is, understanding that each of us, as members of society, is dependent on everyone else. No one should be asked or expected to govern themselves and provide for themselves all alone, but neither should anyone expect to be totally governed and provided for by another. It must always be a reciprocal relationship; everyone should be offered gifts, but only if they are willing to bring their own gifts to the table to share as well. And this observation points to the real moral of Dalrymple’s book: the failure of liberalism has not been to take too much responsibility for the needy, but to take too little responsibility. Taking responsibility for the suffering and sinful neighbor does not mean forking over some money to a faceless bureaucracy, which will then dole out benefits down an impersonal chain of command. In such a system, nobody is really responsible for the needy; if anything goes wrong, the buck can always be passed to someone else or to society in general, as Dalrymple clearly depicts. Taking true responsibility for the needy means being willing to get out there ourselves and do the dirty work of helping, providing, and discipling. And here the conservative hypocrisy is unmasked—we want to blame the liberals for their irresponsibility, and the needy for their irresponsibility, instead of starting (or even ending, for that matter) with taking true responsibility ourselves.

Last night, working off a helpful tip from Ryan Handermann, I discovered this beauty, which finally nails the lid on the coffin of traditional readings that refuse to see 13:1-7 as an application of the principles of 12:14-21.

I'm afraid I can't figure out how to get Blogger to indent the lines for the cool chiasm-shape.

A. Live in harmony with one another (allelous) (12:16)
B. Do not pay back (apodidontes) evil for evil (12:17)
C. Live at peace with all men as much as depends on you (12:18)
D. Do not avenge (ekdikountes), but give place to wrath (orge)
(12:19)
E. Specific commands about doing good to your enemy (12:20)
F. Do not be overcome by evil (kakos), but overcome evil
with good (agathos) (12:21)
G. Be subject to the governing authorities, for
there is none but from God (13:1)
F.’ Those who resist incur judgment, for the rulers are
a terror to the doer of evil (kakon), not the doer of
good (agathon) (13:2-3)
E.’ Do what is good, if you wish to escape fear. (13:3)
D.’ The magistrate is the avenger (ekdikos) for wrath (orge) (13:4)
C.’ Be in subjection and pay taxes for conscience’ sake (13:5-6)
B.’ Pay back (apodote) to each what is owed him (13:7)
A.’ Owe no one anything, except to love each other (allelous) (13:8)

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