Browsing Tag


Social Issues

“Radical” review: 107-140

This is another chapter of Radical where I agree with the basic argument David makes. It’s a slightly longer chapter, which seems appropriate since he’s trying to convince an American audience that meeting earthly, physical needs of others is one of the fruits Christians are supposed to bear as believers. Obviously I agree with this premise, although we get there through different theological means.

To me, I see meeting physical needs as a requirement for Christians because ours is a religion that teaches our physical existence is sacred. Immanuel is God with us, God become flesh, God dwelling among us. When we observe the sacraments, we baptize our bodies and eat and drink. All through the accounts of Jesus’ ministry the “good news” was Jesus healing us and feeding us, not just giving us theological nuggets to chew on (although he also did that aplenty). I believe that the ultimate goal of the Christian God is to redeem and restore our physical existence, for us to remain embodied and earthy, except glorified.

Because of that, I prioritize making sure people’s needs are met and work to end human suffering.

However, David’s theological motivations are different. This chapter lacks the sort of impetus I’ve described above; instead, his argument amounts to Jesus said so and it glorifies God. This is not the sort of reasoning I’d ordinarily quibble over– if you are led toward taking care of people and ending poverty and starvation, I don’t exactly care what brings you here. However, this is an influential book, and I am going to quibble because of this:

The point is not simply to meet a temporary need or change a startling statistic; the point is to exalt the glory of Christ as we express the gospel of Christ through the radical generosity of our lives. (135)

There’s this thread of an idea that meeting needs isn’t sufficient as an end unto itself. If the person doesn’t come out on the other side of a Christian handing him soup with some urge to confess Jesus as Lord and Savior, then giving him the soup was rather pointless. Meetings needs is a means to an end, and that end is “sharing the Gospel.” Except, the more I read about what Jesus did and said, it becomes startlingly apparent that Jesus took care of people’s physical needs far more often than he talked about the evangelical concept of “salvation.”

In fact, he talks about forgiving sins every so often, but most often he zeroes in on following him. And what does “following him” look like? Helping him help people. Feeding his sheep. Loving people. David talks a lot about the rich man that Jesus instructed to sell all that he had, but ignores the fact that Jesus concludes sell all that you have with follow me. Not “confess me as Lord,” not “admit you’re a sinner and need me to save you from your sin.” He says do what I’m doing. Only God can forgive sin, so what else is left, exactly?

Helping starving children in Africa and Asia isn’t a means to an end. It is an end.

The most glaring problem about this chapter to me, though, is that he constantly conflates his interpretation of the Bible with What is Absolutely True, Factual, and Accurate. The best example of that is here:

Of course, important principles are expressed throughout Scripture on the subject [of money]. One such principle is that wealth is not inherently evil. Scripture does not condemn riches or possessions in and of themselves. (112)

Again, the Bible does not teach that wealth alone implies unrighteousness or warrants condemnation. The rich man in this story [rich man and Lazarus] is not in hell because he had money. Instead, he is in hell because he lacked faith in God, leading him to indulge in luxuries while ignoring the poor outside his gate. (114)

As I read these pages, all I could think was are you sure about that, buddy? for two reasons. Reason number one comes from Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes. This is one of the first differences they highlight:

Outside the West, wealth is often viewed as a limited resource. There is only so much money to be had, so if one person has a lot of it, then everyone else has less to divide among themselves. If you make your slice of pie larger, then my slice is now smaller. In those cultures, folks are more likely to consider the accumulation of wealth to be immoral, since you can only become wealthy if other people become poor.

Psalm 52:7 describes the wicked man who “trusted in his great wealth and grew strong by destroying others!” In our Western mind, this man demonstrated his wickedness in two ways: he trusted his wealth and he destroyed others. Yet the psalmist considers these to be one action … (41)

They go on to explain the linguistic reasons for why that is, but I’ll stop with that. We see this same concept echoed in the Rich Man and Lazarus parable– in fact, David’s argument that he went to hell because he “lacked faith” isn’t supported by the text; in fact, all it says is “remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony.” There’s nothing there about faith. It’s just about you had good things so now you’re in agony.

I’m not saying David is necessarily wrong here. He could be right. I just think he’s got an over-inflated sense of his interpretation being The Only Correct One.

The last significant problem I have with chapter six comes here:

And this is really the core issue of it all. Do we trust him? Do we trust Jesus when he tells us to give radically for the sake of the poor? Do we trust him to provide for us when we begin using the resources he has given us to provide for others? Do we trust him to know what is best for our lives, our families, and our financial futures? (123-24)


No, I actually don’t.

I’ve known a lot of Christians who trusted to God to “provide for all their need according to his riches in glory” and ended up with malnourished children because they couldn’t afford to buy enough food. There’s tons of stories of people mysteriously leaving groceries on porches, but for every single one of those there’s a Christian kid not having life-threatening medical needs met because these Christian parents don’t have the money to get them treated. And, to be clear, David is specifically talking about sacrificing so much that not being able to receive medical treatment is a significant possibility.

So no. I don’t trust God to provide for me when I have all the hard proof I need to illustrate that this is not something they’re in the regular business of doing. Either God doesn’t provide all our need, or they don’t think that “food” and “shelter” and “healing” are needs. Obviously, Jesus, Immanuel, shows us that they do think these things are important. I agree with David that we are charged with continuing Jesus’ ministry, with feeding his sheep. However, I think that putting ourselves at risk of losing food stability, shelter, and medical treatment isn’t how we’re supposed to go about doing that.

This chapter illustrates really well that David is coming at this from a good place– he really does care about people, about the poor, especially. Where I disagree with him isn’t about the core idea as much as it is a matter of degree. Handsome and I prioritize meeting other people’s needs– our budget revolves around it. However, it is held in balance with the fact that I get two massages every month to manage my fibromyalgia and saving up for things like ellipticals. We all define “need” differently, and I don’t think anyone should judge each other for where we draw the line.


Fascinating Womanhood: family finances

1950s Woman Shopping Frozen Food Section Of Grocery Store

Occasionally during the course of her book, Helen gives her readers practical, “down-to-earth” level advice. This is one of those chapters, which is dedicated to telling women how they can help their husbands by “developing the womanly art of thrift.”

Like she usually does, she opens up her chapter by appealing to the Bible, which “makes it clear” that it is “the husband’s responsibility to provide the living.” However, also like she usually does, she doesn’t reference any particular passage, just expecting us to know what she’s talking about. However, I can think of a few examples that render this claim completely unfounded:

  • The Proverbs 31 Woman. She’s been used to bludgeon Christian women for decades, but one of the things that “the Bible makes clear” that she does is not just “practice the womanly art of thrift” but she also makes money. Proverbs 31 describes a woman who is like “the ships of the merchant,” whose “merchandise is profitable.”
  • Priscilla, who with her husband runs a profitable tent-making business. Paul frequently talks about how indebted he was to this married couple, and he always lists Priscilla first. Considering that the culture of the time always listed the head of the household first, Paul’s decision to lead with her name is significant. (Acts 18).
  • Lydia, the “seller of purple,” and traditionally considered the first Christian convert in Europe. Because of her wealth and her status as a free woman, she invited Paul and his companions into her home, which she would not have been able to do if she was under the legal control of a husband or father. She was clearly in control of her home, independent of any man (Acts 16).
  • Phoebe, who Paul describes as “minister” (the same word he uses to label other notable pastors) and a “leader” or “patron.” She was tasked with delivering his letter to Rome, a duty that also would have required her to read and interpret it for the church there. She was certainly not staying at home, behind closed doors, hiding behind her husband. (Romans 16)
  • Titus specifically tells Roman-Christian women to be “keepers at home,” which as I’ve written about before, was a charge to run a profitable family business; it was not something Paul wrote to make sure women stay in the kitchen.

“The Bible makes clear” Helen? I’m not sure what Bible she’s reading, but it’s not the one I’m pretty sure everyone else in the world has.

But, the biggest thing that bothers me about this chapter is how harshly she divides up people. The way she talks about married couples in this chapter is incredibly divisive. She boxes every single last human being on the planet into what she thinks is “biblical” without any sort of exceptions, without extending grace, without viewing difficult situations with compassion.

She is strictly addressing wives, here, and what she tells them is that they are to be given “allowances” to cover the “household budget”– which does not include anything outside of groceries and clothing. She forbids women from making any sort of purchase– at all— that doesn’t fit inside of “anything in regular demand.” Any kind of need, like furniture or repairs, is to be sought out and paid for only by the husband, and he has “major jurisdiction and final say.” She tells us that we’re not allowed to discuss these sorts of things with him– ever. If we do, we risk emasculating our husbands and “relieving him of his responsibilities” which, somehow results in husbands becoming incapable of handling money wisely.

This actually fits into Helen’s pattern, and is a direct result of how she views communication. To Helen, any possible sort of discussion (“conflict”) is to be avoided at all costs. If a conversation between a husband and a wife could lead to any sort of disagreement whatsoever, she absolutely forbids you from having it. To Helen, a marriage is only “successful” if the two never disagree, and the only way for that to happen is for one person to never have a say. In Helen’s world, that person is always the wife. The fact that one of the biggest sources of conflict in marriages is money (couples who fight over money once a week are 30% more likely to get divorced) has led Helen to believe that husbands and wives must never, ever talk about it. If you never even discuss money, you can’t fight over it, and presto-change-o, happy marriage!

For families in “financial distress” she tells women they they aren’t allowed to go get a job. Instead, we’re supposed to “reduce expenses” and “trim the luxuries” which… gah. The suggestions she makes for how women could do this? Selling their second car. Cancelling vacations. Don’t be tempted by advertisements. Which, in some situations could be perfectly reasonable advice. However, I’m becoming more and more convinced that Helen has never interacted with a poor person in her entire life. People who have two cars and can afford to sell one of them aren’t in financial distress, I’m sorry. Maybe someone who has two cars is living outside of their means, but that is nowhere near the sort of scale many families are facing when 20% of all children go hungry because they live in “very low food security households.” Selling your second car isn’t going to fix that.

And what are we supposed to do when men “make a mess of things”? When they don’t pay the mortgage, or the bills, when they overdraft their accounts?

Let go completely and turn your back on things. Don’t be anxious, checking the books to see if he added right, or is neglecting anything. If he make a mess of things, let him suffer the consequences, no matter what they are. That is the only way he will learn.

I might have thrown the book across the room at that line. Because he’s not the only one suffering consequences when the bank forecloses on your house because he didn’t pay the mortgage. This sort of comment doesn’t even begin to make sense, but she justifies it with “psychology”:

He will begin to feel responsible, to know that if anyone is to worry about the money, it will have to be him. And he will notice your relief, that you are happier. Let him know you are. As he sees you brighter he will try harder to make a go of things, to keep you happy.

Helen doesn’t live on this planet. I’m positive. If she did, she’d realize how ridiculous a statement this is. Sure, some people are motivated by wanting to make the people in their life happy. I’m one of them. But there are plenty of people who couldn’t give a damn, but she doesn’t even acknowledge their existence. This chapter, while Helen has presented it as practical advice, it is almost entirely inapplicable for huge sections of humanity. It is only relevant to the top 20% of all American households, and is wholly incapable of even making sense anyone who doesn’t have the luxury of two cars and a $70,000-a-year income. Helen, here, is displaying an astounding lack of compassion or even awareness that some families really are destitute. Her white, middle-class privilege is pouring out of her, and it’s more that just disappointing.

Helen isn’t alone in this attitude, which is heartbreaking. Many people in conservative evangelical America share the exact same blinders that Helen has on in this chapter. We’ve forgotten that Jesus said “the poor you will always have with you” and that our primary responsibility as the Church is to care for the widows, the orphans, and the poor. We don’t even know they exist anymore. Not really. Oh, we do the Christmas shoebox drives and the book drives and the canned food drives and the backpack drives– one for each season. And then we completely forget about them, except for those four times a year.

I want to be angry with Helen, but I can’t be angry with Helen without feeling anger towards the modern American church in general.