Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


Counterfeit Gods 3

posted by Scot McKnight

Keller.jpg

Tim Keller and Greg Boyd have the same message: eschew all idols and devote yourself completely to the one God, the God of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian in NYC, in Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters treats the subject of the idol of money in chp 3 of his fine book.
“The new explosion in executive salaries, the increased emphasis on luxury goods, the rapacious deals that make millions for the deal makers at the expense of thousands of common workers, the lack of concern about steep debt … all of these represent profound social changes in our society” (49-50).
Question: How much do we dance with this financial world?

We dwell in a culture of greed. Can we see it in ourselves?

As a pastor, Keller says he’s never had a person confess greed to him. Every other sin, but not greed and his point is we don’t see it in ourselves.
But Jesus emphasizes greed: the love of money, anxiety about money, he warns about loving money, trusting money, and obeying money. So he sees the whole message of the counterfeit god of money in Zacchaeus. Once again, Keller combines a psychological reading into with clear biblical teaching — and some regula fidei (he finds Zacchaeus trusting in God’s grace) to expound this text. 
Zacchaeus gives up 50% — and he shows that the generosity of grace outstrips the tithe for followers of Jesus. Zacchaeus practiced justice as well. 
Then follows a discussion of deep idols — the depth of our motivations and heart — and surface idols
I agree with Keller’s theological readings and the big message he is presenting, but he’s outstripping what the text says in some of this. Zacchaeus experienced the grace of forgiveness but to turn that into Zacchaeus learning that he couldn’t trust in his moral performance says more than the text. What he offers at times is a theological reading of the text, and it is a theology widely shared but not by all.


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Diane

posted November 2, 2009 at 7:09 am


This is a powerful statement: “As a pastor, Keller says he’s never had a person confess greed to him.”
Then: ‘Every other sin, but not greed and his point is we don’t see it in ourselves.”
I see greed in myself, but paradoxically, seeing that and engaging in that struggle has led to a simpler lifestyle. However, one thing I have noticed in the Christian walk is that people can get radioactively defensive about their money and lifestyles. I do think much of this “trickles down” from the top–who can be satisfied with their mere 100,000s in annual income when the very rich are raking in millions or tens of millions every year? I believe it does tend to lead to a rationalized rapacious attitude toward the needs of those below us economically.



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Scot McKnight

posted November 2, 2009 at 7:12 am


Diane, thanks so much for that eloquent expression: “rationalized rapacious attitude.”



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Patrick

posted November 2, 2009 at 8:32 am


I would guess Keller’s point gets more of a hearing post Credit Crunch than it would have before. But even then I’m not too sure how loudly it will be heard inside the church. We are deeply shaped by consumerist values which operate as assumed norms for western society (me included). The present crisis could bring some good if those norms are questioned more seriously in the church.
It was interesting earlier this year when the President of Ireland said the country had been ‘consumed by consumerism’. She got a lot of heat from different quarters – despite the country facing financial meltdown due to rampant greed. Where greed is acknowledged it has tended to be only in the bankers and property developers. Very slow to emerge is a recognition that no-one was forcing large numbers of people to take on unprecedented levels of personal debt.
Jesus said something about planks and specks. It is easier to spot greed in others, especially when it has been so ‘rationalized and rapacious’. If there are others worse than us, we can’t be too bad can we?



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T

posted November 2, 2009 at 9:04 am


Scot,
Thanks for noting what Keller does well and also how he goes beyond the text here (which reformed folks tend to do with this text–can’t have “salvation” outside of the formula). I think Keller and other leaders in every camp (not just reformed) need to know that using texts that just aren’t support for their own theological grid as if they are just damages credibility, which is in short supply for all Christian leaders. This is especially important for the droves that are growing up in the church but eventually leave; they become experts at picking up on this. If we want to see that pattern slow down, the over-reaching with the scriptures to fit our theological grids has to stop.



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RJS

posted November 2, 2009 at 9:15 am


T,
As I have been thinking about this for the last several posts, I have a little different take. Perhaps Keller is using the text in good Jewish first century fashion, a fashion also favored by early church fathers. It is not a modernist take – but more post-modern and pre-modern.
I don’t think that it hurts credibility if it is wrestling with the story in dialog with both the text and with other Christians. It hurts credibility if it is presented as the final word with absolute certainty.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted November 2, 2009 at 9:57 am


I’m with T at #4 here. Conservatives like to use the Parable of the Talents as Jesus’ endorsement of capitalism and liberals like to use Jubilee as endorsement of wealth distribution. The practice of taking an argument I want to advance and then finding a biblical story or passage that, at surface level, seems to make the case inspires me to tune out the messenger. I’ve been doing a lot of reading in recent months on First Century Palestine and the Greco-Roman world with a special eye to economic issues. I find I’m having to unlearn a lot of things if I want to deal honestly with the text.
Also, I’m not persuaded that greed is the central culprit here. Yes, we can always point to the high profile excesses. They’ve always been there and always will be those excesses. But I think the great sin of our age is more akin to gluttony. We don’t know how to stop. Post-materialism (meeting basic material needs is no longer the driving force in society) has delivered us to a point that we don’t have personal boundaries and don’t know how to find them. Just like consuming food for the medicating effect it has for trouble in our lives is dangerous so is the over consumption of otherwise good things.



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MatthewS

posted November 2, 2009 at 9:58 am


RJS, I replied to this on the previous “counterfeit” thread but might as well move it forward to this one. This is essentially a copy-and-paste from there:
I don’t think we can appeal to NT authors’ use of the OT to establish practice for today. We don’t really understand what they were doing. Their hermeneutics do not arise from our worldview and we can’t really put ourselves back then to understand what they were doing. We have to assume they were acting fairly within their context but how could we assure we would do the same? Also, we aren’t apostles. The apostles were moving Scripture forward, so to speak; they were interpreting Scripture but also writing new Scripture. All of that says to me its better to let their teachings stand but not try to re-create and build on the parts of their thinking that are most opaque to us today.



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T

posted November 2, 2009 at 9:59 am


RJS,
You may be right. And in any event, upon review, my comment was too strong. I hope that this practice would “decrease” as it would require something more than a human to “stop” it altogether. I am grateful for Keller and wish for more, not less, of his activity.
But I feel like I am hearing pastors do this much too often and too easily, and they are doing it as participants in a culture that treats them like modern-style experts, rightly or wrongly. They’re not teaching in synagogues where the elders or others will feel free to enter into open debate with them about their teaching right there on the spot. The pulpit does not have a peer.
You are used to, I imagine, noting the difference between what a given study or experiment proves and what, by contrast, it merely fails to contradict and b/n the hunches of this or that person conducting the study. I’m used to a similar precision in my work as to what a given case supports, contradicts or is silent upon. This text says nothing about Zacchaeus’ trust in his moral performance. It would be just as easy to conclude from this text he trusts it strongly and has now been shown how best to perfect it, or several other mindsets. Keller fills in the gap with reformed theology as if it’s right there in the text. I don’t especially mind folks saying they believe this or that is going on and giving their hunches, but I do mind when they don’t point out that this text doesn’t give any support for their hunch.
Again, though, I wish Keller even more success than he’s already had in his work. I would like to see more teachers, particularly of prominence, clearly differentiate b/n their hunches (or someone else’s) and what the scriptures actually show. It would also help conflicts of opinion be better received.



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T Freeman

posted November 2, 2009 at 10:16 am


Michael,
Thanks for raising the parable of the talents–great case in point. When I was teaching business law at a local Christian universtiy, there was this presumption that the parable of the talents was the anchor for “stewardship” as the NT’s core teaching on money. That passage isn’t even about money. Yes, it may have some application to that, but it’s not an example of Jesus sitting down with the goal of teaching his students how to handle their money. When Jesus did do that, his overwhelming topic or concern was greed/idolatry/attachment.
I think this is a fair statement: “Jesus emphasizes greed: the love of money, anxiety about money, he warns about loving money, trusting money, and obeying money.” Though the parable of the talents isn’t one of them, there are many texts from Jesus and the NT generally about money, and the topic tends to be idolatry/greed. That’s not to say, as you argue, that Genesis or the OT generally, doesn’t give us reason to discuss stewardship, but that’s another conversation.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted November 2, 2009 at 12:21 pm


#9 T Freeman
I’ve been reading some Dennis Oakman and other socio-historical stuff lately. Oakman points out the Palestinian peasant’s version of the “American Dream” was to live in self-sufficiency on his land unmolested by powerful people. Anything that could not be self-supplied would acquired through barter with kin and people of the local community.
Wealthy landowners and the government entities constantly conspired to force peasants into monetary exchange because it made transactions visible and taxable. Loans were made to draw peasants into the monetary system and oppress them. There was on ongoing of battle by peasants to hide their produce to escape taxation. While we view money as liberating and empowering, Oakman suggests that Palestinian peasants would have viewed the very presence of money as a sign of oppression.
If Oakman is right, then all the discussions of “money” by Jesus take on a whole level meaning that is not present to us because we have a very different relationship to currency and its uses.



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T

posted November 2, 2009 at 1:31 pm


Michael,
Interesting. But even if Oakman is right, I don’t see those cultural dynamics radically shifting the NT’s overall stance regarding money specifically or other forms of wealth. The NT identifies trust and value (idolatry) issues for money and other forms of wealth too often. I don’t see the thrust of Jesus’ concerns as limited to only currency, or any one form of assets. When I was teaching business law, I had the students compile every NT scripture that had any overt connection to money, wealth, material goods, etc. Reading them all in one shot was surprising and tough to take! Idolatry/greed/attachment, which often played itself out by failing to care for or respond appropriately to others (disloyalty to God’s concerns), was the overwhelming issue addressed. Maybe I’m missing Oakman’s point, though, which I’m sure is tough to summarize for a comment.



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Diane

posted November 2, 2009 at 4:44 pm


Michael,
Interesting that you see the problem as gluttony, not greed, and it would be interesting to examine the two vices in relationship. I lived for a year in England and the word greedy was usually applied by the English to overeating, what we would call gluttony. Not surprisingly, it was we Americans who were usually accused of being greedy. Actually, we were clueless, as we thought there would always be another bowl of food coming, but it amounted to the same thing. However, I think you’re exactly right that there is something of gluttony in our excess– if we define greed, in American context, as a form of grabbing and grasping and hoarding more than we need and gluttony as overconsumption. We hoard and we overconsume simultaneoously. None of this is a very flattering self portrait of a nation, and I see both in myself, and I see a huge temptation as I try to weed this out my life, to panic and live like the rest of the world. But I already live like the rest of the world!



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Diane

posted November 2, 2009 at 4:50 pm


Michael,
I also think you’re right that we don’t even know what the boundaries are anymore so we hoard and stuff and hoard and stuff because we don’t know when to stop. The only time I feel I regain a window on sanity is when I am with my Amish neighbors out here in the boondocks where I have moved, in part, to try to get away from the culture of excess. The Amish can be criticized in many ways (I am trying to preempt the throat jump here :)–I know, I know they’re not perfect) but they truly are a society that lives with less and yet doesn’t seem the poorer for it.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted November 2, 2009 at 5:26 pm


T #11
I was using the money issue as an example of nuance in the text. I think there are other issues at work in some of these texts other than our surface reading.
Probably of greater significance is the presumption of a zero-sum game in NT Palestine context. The presumption was that if someone became significantly more wealthy than others in the community they did so at the expense of others. Because of the way things were structured they were essentially correct. They idea of amassing wealth to place in productive service toward sustainable and growing profits was not in mind. This is the community Jesus emerged from and was speaking to.
Therefore, when we move into our world of market economics and capital investment what does hoarding look like? Then it meant having significantly more than others. Today some people are accused of “hoarding” when they have significantly greater assets. But those assets, unlike grain held in barn, are often at work in productive enterprises creating more goods, more jobs, and more wealth for more people. What is hoarding in out context?
Similarly, greed would be wanting more than the norm in the community. But with capital based production, clearly some are going to own significantly than others as the reap the reward of effective business management. Are these people greedy? If not necessarily then what differentiates?
These are the kinds of questions I wrestle with as I try to relate the biblical narrative and unfortunately too many theological commentators have not appreciated the shift between the NT and the present … still seeing the world as a zero-sum game of the Bible and making ethical judgments accordingly.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted November 2, 2009 at 5:36 pm


#12, 13 Diane
I suspect that in a sense all the seven deadly sins all bleed over into one another as they all share a common idolatry that where we place ourselves in some way above and outside the relationships God designed for us to have with him and with others.
I sympathize with the Amish attraction. Our culture is disorienting. My concern is that we have developed ethics and norms that over the past 2,000 years that were forged in the context living in materialist societies (i.e., the focus of life was meeting daily material needs.) We have not discerned well what discipleship looks like in post-materialism. I want to avoid both being co-opted by the present ethos and embracing movements that destroy the good the post-materialism has brought.



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T

posted November 2, 2009 at 11:36 pm


Michael,
Now that’s even more interesting. I agree that “hoarding” in these contexts could be very different, especially in terms of the results of our hoarding on others. But that still doesn’t solve the who-do-you-trust/love-the-most issue, the idolatry/loyalty issue. Even if there was no shortage for anyone, it would still be a problem to trust and love $ or stuff more than God, and thereby serve it. And, even if we’re not in a pure zero-sum game, we are still in many zero-sum situations, where our loyalties will be at odds. In any event, the idolatry issue still seems like the sweet spot of the NT’s concern re: money and our love of things in the world (the first part of the Jesus Creed), with the secondary effect that we fail in our duties others (the second great command).



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Ann

posted November 3, 2009 at 1:13 am


When I spent a couple of years among main-line Presbyterians, I found that quite a number of the pastors had a penchant for preaching psychology using Scripture. It sounds as if you’re saying Scot that Keller is more Scripturally-grounded than many of those I knew, but it’s an interesting that the psychological implications continue to be drawn out in these chapters. I wonder if it’s a peculiarly Presbyterian interest, perhaps akin to trying to find contemporary “laws” of the psyche within the text.



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Richard W. Wilson

posted November 4, 2009 at 2:10 am


Awareness of my own tendency toward hobby horse theological eisegesis may be part of what makes me reluctant to think I have anything to teach any believer in Christ. Nevertheless, as my awareness of that all too human tendency has increased it has made me all the more uncomfortable and inclined toward identifying that phenomena when it is really there. So, I deeply appreciate Scot’s identifying Keller’s going beyond the text into eisegetical intrusion with his Reformational obsession with false salvation by moral performance. Actually, what the text says is that everyone is inclined toward salvation by theological purity, by trusting in one’s theological faithfulness rather than in the work of Jesus on the cross. (just kidding 8>) ,well sort of kidding) As one of the new reformed luminaries it is not surprising that Keller manifests that particular penchant. I’ve been attending one of the key Acts 29 churches and frequently see that same Reformed phenomena reflected in sermons I hear. Last Sunday I heard references to “if saved always saved” and also anachronistically to Arius’ rejection of “the divinity” of Christ even though the text of I John doesn’t mention either. We all have our issues, apparently.
All the best to all in Christ,
Richard W. Wilson



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Tim Keller

posted November 4, 2009 at 7:25 am


Hi Scot–
It’s always fair to warn about reading our overall theology back into every text. But in this case you may be reading too much into my words ‘not through moral achievement or performance.’
I don’t see a difference between, as you say, ‘experiencing the grace of forgiveness’ and ‘knowing you are accepted despite failures in performance.’ Aren’t they the same thing? Nearly every commentator (I’m looking at I.Howard Marshall just now) says that the order in Luke 19 was–(1) receive salvation, and only then (2) change performance. That’s basic ‘salvation by grace not works.’ I even added in the book at that point that ‘it is unlikely that [Zacchaeus] had a clear, conscious understanding of this’ principle, though his joy showed he was responding to Jesus’ free graciousness. I took a bit of care to not to do what you say I do, that is to read a full Reformation doctrine of justification back into Luke 19. Perhaps I didn’t succeed! I’ll reflect on it. Anyway, thanks for calling attention to this.



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