Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Translating the Bible Is a Waste of Time!

This morning I went to lay down a very straightforward thesis: pastors should never learn to translate! Quite simply learning the languages for the purpose of translation is counterproductive. There are many great, clear, and sufficient translations of Scripture. Those who simply learn Greek only for the purpose of providing another translation among many are Wasting Their Time! Why then should prospective ministers subject themselves to the task of learning Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic? The reason is because it helps in the task of understanding the text. Reading the Bible in the original languages provides a first-hand glimpse at the human words of revelation that God has chosen to use to communicate to these people. Anyone who is able to read these texts in the original languages is able to analyze them without the interference of any secondary interpreter. In other words, reading in the original languages provides an overall understanding and comprehension of the text in a way that is fresh and personal. You see, the pastor is concerned about how he is going to communicate God's word to God's people and is not primarily concerned about the further establishment and the publication of new translations of the Bible. A translation is a conclusion of a scholar/pastors understanding of a text. In other words, the purpose of a translation is to demonstrate how one understands the meaning of the text.

Does this mean that we should not learn how to translate? Absolutely not! The purpose of translating is not just pushing out a final product. That is just one kind of translation. There actually to other kinds of translating that one should be aware of. The first kind is "whole glimpse" translation. This is the first translation that one will make of the text to the best of his ability. In other words, the translator is not concerned about pushing out finally polished and scholastic prose, rather he is merely concerned to try to get a sense for the whole. This task asks the question: what is this entire text about – what does it basically say? The second kind of translation is what I call "dirty" translation – this is the task of simply making sure that you have translated the whole text and included all of the parts in your translation, even if they don't make sense. Your task is to find everything that which is initially untranslatable. In this task you are looking for all of the points of ambiguity, which you will need to spend more time on in order to understand clearly. These two tasks ideally won't take you that much time – depending on your level of competency. Even if you aren't extremely competent, the point here is not to spend a lot of time on the text! The final translation is your final product – this will take more time to produce. This is the translation that is produced out of all the work that you put into understanding the nuance of every word and the significance of every grammatical piece.

I would conjecture that many students of the languages get to quickly frustrated with themselves when they discover they are unable to push out a highly polished translation in a single act of translation. The problem here is a misunderstanding of the purposes of translating a text and the purpose of understanding the text in the original languages. If one can keep in mind of the larger goal of understanding the text, then one can become comfortable with the rough and dirty translations that must be produced in order to attain a higher goal. Otherwise you'll be wasting your time.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Choosing A President of Peace

The topic of leadership is extremely controversial largely due to the fact that it is a necessary component for the function of any given society but it is rarely openly discussed as an issue. In other words, everyone has an opinion about leadership but few people actually realize or clearly defined their opinions about leadership. The first question that must be addressed getting clarity on this topic is: what is leadership? What is the nature of leadership? What is the purpose of leadership and what tasks are required for the accomplishment of that purpose? I would suggest that leadership is: the intelligent, intentional, and rightful use of power for the establishment and preservation of an orderly and harmonious society. In other words, a leader can be an individual person or group of persons who has been given authority on the basis of his/her/their ability and moral apprehension of reality. A leader works toward a clearly defined purpose: to establish and preserve order in a given society. Another way to say this is that a leader seeks to establish peace.

Now, "peace" can be defined negatively or positively. Negatively peace can be defined as the absence of war, conflict, or hostility. Positively it can be defined as a state of tranquility.
A leader should be clear on the extent of peace that he is assigned to achieve. Some leaders are merely put in place to restrain conflict or hostility in a given circumstance. An example of this kind of leadership could be the presence of a police officer or perhaps when a city has been declared a state of martial law. Who would ever argue that martial law is put in place in order to bring about a tranquil condition for society? Many leaders are often put into a position of power not just to restrain conflict but to exemplify, encourage, and (insert circumstances) demand unity. In other words, some leaders are put in place to bring about the right conditions for a tranquil or free society.

So what do we mean by tranquil condition? Let's put this thought experiment into context. The president of the United States is a specific kind of leader. He is a leader put in place to exercise force of the law. His primary task is not to write new law, although he is able to do this (and theoretically any American citizen is able to draft up proposals for law). So the question pertinent for the office of president is: what kind of peace is he to bring about? Certainly no one would argue that the president had the authority to restrain evil or disorder, but what is his positive leadership goal? Is the president somebody who is merely put in place to ensure the conditions for tranquility or is he someone that is supposed to bring about tranquility itself? In other words, is the president responsible for not only sustaining the conditions for proper living or welfare but is he also responsible for sustaining life itself? The way one answers the question demonstrates how one understands the administration of justice as it should be practiced from the White House.

This is important to understand when it comes to choosing a presidential candidate. If one chooses a presidential candidate on the basis that he believed that candidate will provide for the continued welfare of his life, then in a sense one has a larger expectation of what a leader can and should be able to do for the order of the society in which one lives. Furthermore, one also believes that it is the president who is responsible for the continued preservation of life and not the subject. This I believe is a dehumanizing and disempowering view of leadership and justice.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Leadership: a call for opinions

Leadership is a topic that no man is neutral about. Some may deny their individual calling as leaders – others may boldly assert their right and position as a leader within a given context – still others may flat out deny the validity of current leaders that are in position – and still others may deny the necessity for the existence of the office of leadership for a just society. Whatever your position may be, it's safe to say that you probably do not and cannot remain neutral on the subject of leadership.

As the presidential election draws closer and closer opinions about the nature of leadership will begin to flare up. In order to be clearheaded about the subject I would like to construct a careful definition of leadership. In order to do this accurately, I'm in the process of gathering as many definitions of leadership as possible. If you would like to help me on this topic, please feel free to submit your definition of leadership by attaching a response to this blog post. Give me your definition no matter how outlandish or imprecise you may feel it may be. Thank you for your participation in this project.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Is Mozart making you smarter?

When it comes to giving out study advice, it is common to hear someone say: "you know, listening to Mozart can increase your IQ average by about a half point!" Where this piece of sage advice has come from I have no clue. The question that I would put forward is this: is it really true that one can increase one's ability to absorb and understand more information while listening to Mozart or any piece of classical music for that matter? I would suggest that it actually decreases your ability on the basis of the fact that it draws your attention away from the subject matter at hand.

Think about it this way. If one were to attend a stage production of William Shakespeare's Hamlet, then is it safe to say that one could increase one's ability to apprehend and make use of English language? Certainly the opportunity is there, but the mere coincidence of attending a Shakespearean production does not guarantee one will be thinking and writing in Shakespearean language when all is said and done. Certainly if one gave do preparation by studying the play beforehand and learning something about stage production, one could certainly benefit to a greater degree.

Now let's put this in another way. Let's grant that attending a Shakespearean production increases one's intelligence level, but could we also say that attending that same Shakespearean production while reading a different book during that production would increase one's ability to apprehend the subject matter within the book? Certainly not. It would not only be difficult to read within a dark theater, but it would also be extremely difficult to pay attention to that book while a play is going on. The same holds true for listening to classical music while studying. I would argue that without a doubt it is beneficial to listen to classical music, especially if one is given due consideration to the arrangement and performance of the music. However, listening to Mozart while trying to memorize geometric formulas or Greek participles is distracting and it gets in the way of learning. Why? Because classical music extremely interesting to listen to whether one has a good ear For it or not. The reason classical music is so detrimental to the act of reading is because it is so beautiful!

The problem is that it uplifts your mood in such a way that you feel more intelligent and to a certain extent it does help you become more intelligent, but not with the process of trying to analyze information. The reality is that classical music can be beneficial for one's thinking but it's a particular kind of thinking. Classical music assists one in the process of synthesizing information and not analyzing information. Analysis is the process of breaking apart an entire unit of information into its component parts, but synthesis is the process of putting that information together in a new or original manner. So, in other words, if you put on a Beethoven record while trying to read your physics textbook, then your brain is the one to try to start synthesizing information rather than trying to analyze information. The music will put you in a relaxed state of mind where you will be able to play with previously acquired ideas, but it will not help you acquire new ideas. You can see how listening to music while studying can be detrimental, but listening in order to relax and think can be beneficial.

Let me put forward one final argument or rather one example. In my experience, I have noticed that there are many successful teachers that habitually listen to classical music. In my opinion, there is nothing more inspiring than passing by a professor's office restore is partially closed and in which there is the gentle sound of Mozart. However, I have further noticed that many of the same professors are not actually reading or studying at the same time. Very often they are cleaning their office for organizing the books! I've also noticed a negative example. When surveying a library, which I regularly study yet, I have noticed handfuls of graduate – yes, not college but graduate – students sitting at their desks with their books clutched in hand an iPods at their side piping in music directly to their ears! Now, I could partially by the argument that they were simply trying to block out the noise, if perhaps they were sitting in the middle the Starbucks, but they weren't. Anyway, you don't have to take my word for it. Just try for yourself. Try to study one hour with music in the background – pick your poison – and then try to see how much you can remember by writing down everything important you try to study on a piece of paper. And then taking another block of time and study without music, and then try to see how much you can remember by writing down everything important on each paper. And then compare the difference – chances are, you'll probably be able to write down more information from the time without music than with.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Celebrities may not be your friends!

I had an odd experience the other day. I read my previous blog entry and became irate at the irascible line of reasoning put forth. Basically, I had argued that I would rather grab a cup of coffee with Bill Clinton then with Larry King. I argued that if one could theoretically hang out with a celebrity without that particular celebrity having celebrity status, then one was not starstruck but genuinely attracted to that person. My implicit conclusion was that I could envision hanging out with Bill Clinton.

I can't agree to that line of reasoning. I would love to talk to Bill Clinton precisely because of his fame (or infamy depending on how you interpret the facts). I am fascinated by the fact that he managed to become so politically successful at such a young age. I am enamored by his political skill, which is capable of not only dissembling but magnifying the humanity of his person. I am stupefied by his ability to overcome deep moral intemperance and remain faithful to his wife. In addition, I must say, his life story (as it is told in his autobiography) is rather interesting to listen to. All this to say, I am a little starstruck by his prestidigitation and lack of comportment.

And if that is the case, I probably am not a good person for him to talk to. I would not be addressing his person, but I would be attempting to understand American history or trying to set myself up as someone who is morally superior. So, now, I am stuck. If I can't talk to him merely on the basis of being a political celebrity, then what should I do, if I were given an un-excusable opportunity to grab a cup of coffee?
If I had been on excusable opportunity to talk with Bill Clinton this is what I would do:

1. I would seek to know

a. if he is a good listener – meaning does he said his mind to the task of listening to an individual person who might not otherwise be of any immediate benefit to him?

b. Does he communicate a sense of honor and respect for other people?

c. Does he project a sense of trustworthiness and confidence?

d. Is he witty – that is, does he say appropriate things in ways that are not hackneyed or ambiguous or immoral or with a view towards the truth?

e. Has he ever read the Bible?

f. If so, what does he think that it is about?

2. I would attempt to establish some type of mutually recognized agreement – meaning, I would ultimately seek to try to understand what he had to say, while evaluating the truth of what he had to say in a way that was open and honest – I would make it my aim to try to find a mutual recognition of agreement because truth is the bond of all friendship

So, why this careful delineation? Why have I wanted out so carefully a conversation that will probably never take place? Well, this example of how I would talk to Bill Clinton is really just my blueprint for how I would talk to anyone. I think the goal of any conversation should be one that seeks to establish friendship – the basis and bond of friendship is truth. This means that conversations should be aimed at establishing a mutual recognition of the truth and what is true.

To deny that truth is the basis of friendship, is to make friendship completely arbitrary and one based on mere whim and fancy. This would create a community of mistrust. It would be an obdurate community fueled by everyone's individual passions. What is necessary for every individual to begin to establish a trustworthy community is to begin to think about one's objects of admiration and fascination; to think about celebrities and famous people in terms of love and trustworthiness. This means that one must not indulge oneself into thinking merely about what is fascinating about Clinton, Larry King, Oprah, Tom Cruise, and the like. To think too much in this direction will govern your thinking, affections, and actions in a way that is not trustworthy or friendly. The bottom line, be careful how you think about celebrities because they may not be your friends!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Why I would hang out with Bill Clinton but not Larry King

The art of friendship is rarely thought of as an art. In fact, when you read that phrase "the art of friendship" you may have suspected me of dishonesty, manipulation, or perhaps even outright perfidy. However, I still maintain there is a proper way to obtain and maintain friendships – the pith of any art or science includes principles and rules of conduct!

However, even if you disagree with me, follow my thinking for just a moment. Contemporary American culture upholds an ideal image of friendship – that is, people with which one can and should be associated. So what is that ideal? In order to get the cultural ideal of friendship, let us first try to think about a public person that embodies friendship. It may be a celebrity, a political figure, a powerful figure. Certainly there are many people that could come to mind. I think that people like Mr. Rogers, Bill Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, Jay Leno, Jerry Seinfeld, Britney Spears, Lady Gaga, Larry King, etc. (just check out who is being trended on Yahoo to get a good idea of friends, I did!). As you read through this list, you probably had strong conflicting emotions pulse through you because some of those people are universally loved (I dare you to hate Mr. Rogers!), While others are certainly hated by some but adored by others (i.e. Bill Clinton – I have to admit, despite my political and theological disagreements with the man, I still think he would be pretty fun to talk to – he seems really nice and approachable).

It is certainly true that, although there is hardly a person that is universally loved and adored, there can be discerned in patterns of American friendship a set of identifiable characteristics that can be amalgamated into a single ideal of friendship. Let's go with Larry King for the time being. Aside from the fact that Larry King so old that true age could only be verified by method of radiocarbon dating, he is a well-respected figure who has interviewed just about everyone you could imagine from Billy Graham to Paris Hilton.

Now let's think winning characteristics – he has long-standing trust with the American people because of his continued and dependable journalistic skill – he knows how to ask honest inquiring questions, which provide the right information for people to understand various public figures. He is not afraid of interviewing anybody despite their social connotations – the only criteria necessary for Larry King is that there is a public figure/issue worthy of the peoples’ attention.

In my assessment, Larry King earned the title of ideal friend with all honesty, integrity, and praise. But let's face it, unless you were either going to be on the show or you really cared to brag about it to your friends, is not somebody exactly what I hang out with. He would be more like an overly inquisitive uncle. I think the true test of an honest public celebrity is this: if you can answer yes to the following question, that I think the celebrity could be a good friend: if this person were not famous, would not make me famous by meeting them, or would not become famous shortly after the meeting them, would I want to hang out with them? In other words, do you think they would be enjoyable, helpful, or possibly one who could agree with you?

If you cannot answer one of these questions, you may just be starstruck! So, go on, give it a try. Think about your favorite distant friend (i.e. favorite celebrity, politician, or wealthy person), and try to see if be friends with them. In addition, give a little bit more thought to what a friend is. If you can define a friend as an ideal, you can learn how to obtain friends and maintain friendships because friendship begins with a bond of affection – and affections are expressions of what we believe to be true – how we perceive what is true and false about persons, circumstances, and ideas. In other words, when you like a person, you are affirming a belief about that person – you may simply affirm their beauty, their charm, but you may also affirm their character or behavior. As you begin to learn and think about what you like and don't like, you will begin to learn about patterns of behavior and principles, which govern your life and that you find desirable in other people. This will enable you to discover the rules and principles that you use to connect with other people – the essence and pith of the matter is that you will discover how to improve in the art of friendship.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Remembering Bad Study Habits

Recently I happened upon a discussion among some fellow students of mine concerning the problem of reading and retaining practical knowledge. The discussion arose in the classroom when the professor was absent. (He had momentarily stepped out in order to give us the time freedom to fill out our student evaluations of him). We all finished our student evaluations rather quickly and the professor had not yet returned. Immediately, some of the students began to discuss the question of whether or not they had satisfactorily passed the reading quiz given at the beginning of the class. One student very openly and frankly confessed that he was only confident about one of the five answers that he had given. The problem, he explained, was that he would read material for the class, understand the practical principles with relative ease, but would not be able to regurgitate those principles for the quiz. Without commenting further concerning the progress of this conversation, let me pose this question: what makes the reading of practical books easy-to-understand, but difficult to retain?

I would suggest that many practical books (i.e. any book that contains information that suggests some type of procedure for implementation) are relatively easy to understand because most practical books appeal to principles we already know and use. In other words, practical principles are not the thing that we are learning; rather what we are learning is the specific application of those principles. In other words, when you are reading a cookbook, you are not learning how to cook in general rather you are learning how to cook something. Part of the difficulty is simply remembering the specifics.

There is another edit difficulty, which has to do with the systemization of practical knowledge. Most practical books layout and logical and explicit sequence of instructions whereas most of the time people tend to operate at an intuitive unstated level. Think about it this way: when you are driving down the road, are you mentally rifling through the various rules of the road that you have to learn as a 15-year-old? No. You may do so on occasion when discussing some type of ambiguity trafficking such as a four way stop or blinking traffic light. However, most of the time you operate more or less automatically without conscious thought. When you learn something new, you have to do so in an explicit conscious level. In other words, acquiring a new skill does not feel the same as doing that skill. In order to learn that skill, you must first learn the stated explicit logical sequence before it can become automatic knowledge.

As it turned out with my classmates, I found out that what they were failing to do was simply taking notes from the book, condensing those notes, and attempting to memorize those notes. You see, for them when they read the textbooks, they clearly understood the practical advice that was being given and the assumed that immediate understanding was the full extent of the task. However, this is only part of the task. Immediate understanding must be accompanied with intent on memorization. If one fails to attempt to retain the systematic framework of practical knowledge, then one is either simply lazy, or one assumes they are not learning anything new, or that they are right disagree. Immediate understanding could simply just indicate that they just understood the part but not the whole, which seems very likely in this case.

I say these things not to condemn my fellow classmates, but out of embarrassment from my own academic past. I can remember some of my teachers saying things like: "I'm not concerned that you memorize all the details, rather I want you to understand." I'm almost positive that the intent of my teachers was not to belittle the idea memorization but it was simply to stress the idea of understanding as the goal of reading. However, I interpreted the statements to mean – don't worry about memorizing anything just retain the big picture. What I have been learning since being in graduate school is that there must be a healthy combination of big picture understanding and memorization of detail. If one does not commit the details memory, then one risks actually having an inaccurate big picture. So, as an aspiring professor myself, I plan on telling my students, “I'm not concerned that you memorize details or understand the big picture, rather I am concerned that you memorize the details that support and informed the big picture!”

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


Okay, so I don't actually know where Dave Ramsey stands on the doctrines of total depravity, irresistible grace, and limited atonement, but I can say with confidence that there is principled agreement between Calvin’s theology of wealth and Ramsey’s financial ethical principles. The question worth pursuing is: how do Ramsey and Calvin agree? In order to pursue this question, we must ask first of Calvin: what is wealth strictly defined; what is wealth from a theological perspective; and what is the place of wealth within the Christian life? This will put us in a position to demonstrate in principle where Dave Ramsey fundamentally agrees with Calvin.


Calvin understands wealth rather broadly. He defines it as anything which is of "earthly benefit." This benefit could classify as something which is strictly necessary – that is, physical goods or services that by necessity are required for sustaining life. Earthly benefit can also extend into things made "for our delight and good cheer," (ICR, 720). If we factor this spectrum of purposes together, we can say that for Calvin wealth is defined as: any product or service that contributes towards a definite and identifiable end, whether that and be defined by necessity or enjoyment. This definition may include products or services that are: strictly necessary (i.e. water), necessary and enjoyable (i.e. food and clothing), or intrinsically and strictly enjoyable (i.e. gold, silver, ivory, marble). The purpose of wealth is identified by “the natural qualities themselves of the things,” (ICR, 721).



Calvin identifies two polarizing tendencies with regard to a proper theology of wealth within the Christian life. One view tends to see wealth as a provision to the Christian only in so far as it is necessary for sustaining one's life. Although the motive behind this stands on wealth is praiseworthy, the strictness of the stands is more or less un-biblical because it fetters "consciences more tightly than the word of the Lord – a very dangerous thing," (ICR, 720). The other view tends to see wealth as a provision that is "not to be restrained by any limitation but to be left to every man's conscience to use as seems lawful to him.” In other words, wealth is not only necessary but is to be used according to the conscience of the one who possesses it.


Calvin maintains that wealth has a definite place within the Christian life. On the one hand, wealth is necessary for one's life as a pilgrim, which "we ought to use its good things insofar as they help rather than hinder our course," (ICR, 719 – 20). On the other hand, one's use of wealth is not strictly determined by “every man's conscience.” He has no desire to bind the conscience to “definite and precise legal formulas; but inasmuch as Scripture gives general rules for lawful use, we are surely to limit our use in accordance with them.” In other words, once use of wealth is determined by natural quality and purpose of the benefit itself.

Why is this case? How can Calvin argue such a mediating position on wealth? Calvin argues that “The use of God gifts is not wrongly directed when he is referred to that end to which the author himself created for us, and he created them for our good, and not for our ruin.” In other words, the proper use of wealth is defined by its specific purpose, which is ultimately based in God as the author and directed toward us as a good. If wealth is used in accordance with its proper purpose, then the Christian has glorified God in the process because he has done something in accordance with the mind of God and in response to his kindness.

Calvin states more fully that earthly benefit has been, “created for us that we might recognize the author and give thanks to him,” (ICR, 721). This statement sums up what wealth is from a theological perspective. Notice that he identifies the nature wealth as “all things created.” This means that all earthly benefit has its true origin in God and yet is distinct from God. It must be recognized that “all things created” in this context does not exclude artifacts and implements manufactured by man. Remember, Calvin included food and clothing with in his examples of earthly benefit, (ICR, 721). Notice also that earthly benefit is “for us;” that is, we are proper recipients. The purpose of wealth has two dimensions to it. There is subjective dimension – as recipients we are meant to “recognize” and “give thanks” in response to wealth acquisition. There is also an objective dimension – God communicates through wealth that he is the author of earthly benefit and as such he is kind.


It should now be more abundantly clear to the reader how one stands on wealth is actually a reflection of one's attitude toward God. If one maintains that wealth is merely strictly for our necessary benefit, then one is in fact denying God's creative involvement in products and activities that are clearly intended for purposes other than essential survival. In addition, such asceticism will actually cultivate an attitude of ingratitude and discontentment because one is needlessly denying a benefit that is not at all prohibited by God himself. On the other hand, permitting oneself every benefit within one's possession will also result in ingratitude. So to sum up – what is the Christian attitude towards: wealth in general, wealth in their particular circumstance, and their individual financial responsibility?

Wealth in General – Every Christian must possess an indifferent attitude toward wealth. Calvin states, "Those who use this world should be so affected as if they did not use it."

Circumstances of Wealth – every Christian should be mindful of his/her financial circumstance. Calvin states, "They should know how to bear poverty peaceably and patiently, as well as to bear abundance moderately." In other words, individual financial circumstance should not determine one's attitude toward wealth or your fellow human beings. That attitude of the rich should be modest and the attitude of the poor should be patient.

Financial Responsibility – The third and final rule is accountability. Calvin states, "All those things were so given to us by the kindness of God, and destined for our benefit, that they are, as it were, entrusted to us." This means that all Christians everywhere are required to have a sense of personal financial responsibility.

Calvin and Ramsey

So how do you Calvin and Ramsey agree? Ramsey roughly holds the same position regarding the nature of earthly benefit, or money. Ramsey maintains that money has to basic properties. First, "money is active," (FP, 19). In other words, money is a type of social power that is constantly exercised through its continued use. Money has a place within society as a reciprocal instrument, which "requires you to take the initiative to control it," (FP, 20). The second quality is "money is amoral," (FP, 20). This point emphasizes the instrumental factor of money. Money is impersonal; that is, it requires an intelligent agent to make use of it. Money is not responsible, rather it is the one who uses the money that requires responsibility. Ramsey states, "the way you act your money or lack of it will show us whether you are good or evil, but the money itself is neither," (FP, 20).

I would argue that Ramsey’s first stated quality about money would agree with what Calvin means by possessing an indifferent attitude toward wealth. To be indifferent does not mean that you pretend wealth does not exist, it simply means that you are aware of its limits, purposes, and uses. You understand the reciprocal and social dimensions of wealth that requires personal initiative on your part. Second, I would maintain that Ramsey's second quality of money regarding its moral status would agree with what Calvin has to say about financial responsibility. Ultimately, money is not accountable before God, but the one who uses the money is accountable.

Most fundamentally, however I believe agreement can be perceived between how Calvin and Ramsey understand the supreme importance of a moral reflection. Ramsey stated in strictly anthropological and ethical terms, "extreme amounts of money or extreme lack of it magnifies character," (FP, 24). Calvin, from a theological perspective, could modify the statement by saying something like, "extreme amounts of money or lack of it reveals ones attitude toward God. In other words, if it is true that all things are created by God for our good, which are to be used according to their purpose, then the improper use of them in any way is indicative of what one believes about God.

For instance, if a Christian were to take an extreme attitude regarding one's budget, that a Christian should only budget for what is strictly necessary for survival, then in effect one is making a theological claim about God. That is, God only wants us to earn money insofar as it keeps us alive. This action is a patent denial of God's goodness which is revealed in the main purposes of other created objects (and" created objects" by the way extends to technological artifacts as well). Or take the case of somebody who believes that there finances are only to be regulated by their own conscience; that is, they are free to be as liberal and indulgent as possible. In this case, there is in fact a denial of gratitude. Yes, it affirms that God has made all things according to their purpose for us and for our good, but it places a one-sided emphasis on "for our good" and he fails to acknowledge the good God behind the thing. I realize, it's not Ramsey's intent to be this theologically overt, but in my opinion is ethical thinking on the matter not only extends into the theological realm, but in fact agrees with Calvin’s theological thinking.

P.S. I'd love to know what you think with regard to these matters:
• do you think it's possible to develop a theology of money like Calvin?
• Did you think Calvin is being fair to Scripture?
• Do you think he's being too lenient?
• Do you think he's being too strict?
• Do you think that wealth has nothing to do with theology?
• I invite your comments…

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Thou Shalt Not Speak with Imprecision!

Did you know that Jesus instructs us to cultivate speaking and listening skills in the Sermon on the Mount? Okay, so he never explicitly says, “Thou shalt not speak with imprecision!” But he nevertheless teaches us that this must be the case, if we are to develop genuine friendships. The Sermon on the Mount is a discourse on friendship: friendship with God and friendship among men. The startling feature about this theme is the way in which Jesus approaches it. He begins by addressing the problem of hatred, which is the destructive force that undermines friendship, and name-calling. He states that “you have heard that it has been said long ago, ‘do not murder’ and whoever murders is subject to judgment, but I tell you that everyone who is angry with his brother is guilty of murder. Whoever calls his brother a fool is guilty before the Sanhedrin and whoever calls his brother a moron is in danger of the fire of Gehenna!” (Matt 5:21-22, my translation).

The principal here has two dimensions. Negatively – hatred is part of the prohibition of murder – this is a destructive force to friendship. In addition, abusive language is an extension of hatred and thereby a further violation of the prohibition to murder. This much is prominent and readily accessible in the text. Positively – love is the fulfillment of the law – this is the edifying force for friendship. Love between brothers is what constitutes true community. In addition, non-hostile negotiable language is a further extension or expression of love. Love – that is, an attitude of goodwill that seeks the benefit of one's neighbor – is a necessary condition of the heart that is fully expressed in the words we choose to use with our friends. Jesus affirms this principle when he addresses the problem of dealing with those who may be angry at you. He states, "Even when you are offering a gift on the altar and then and there remember that your brother has something against you, then go, leave your gift on the altar, and be reconciled to your brother," (Matt 5:23, my translation).

The verb "to be reconciled" means to come to terms with your brother. From this it can be inferred that reconciliation involves a skillful use of nonhostile, simple, and unambiguous language. Nonhostile – means that you are not using fighting words or name-calling. Simple – means that you're using ordinary language. Unambiguous – means that you must use language that is not attempting to hide, deceive, or subvert.

The Sermon on the Mount is a discourse on friendship. To be sure, all human friendship must first be grounded in friendship with God (Matt 5:8 – 10). This being established, this friendship extends into human to human relationships. Friendship between brothers is constituted with love (5:21). Love is expressed with a skillful use of language (Matt 5:22). This means that the fulfilling the law does not mean merely avoiding hatred among men but also speaking simply, peaceably, and unambiguously to men. In other words, do your friends a favor by cultivating your ability to speak clearly, truly, and peaceably.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Platonic Wealth Building

A couple of nights ago, I was reading Plato's Republic only to be surprised by the fact that the first issue to be discussed was wealth building! The Republic is a political philosophy, indeed the political philosophy. The basic thematic question is: what is justice? Plato not only wants to understand and articulate a theory of Justice but he also wants to propose a pragmatic model that could be implemented. As a piece of literature, it is staged as a dialogue, which is characteristic of most of Plato's writings. This particular dialogue is completely narrated by Socrates, who is incidentally the main character of the drama. At the beginning of the drama, Socrates is invited to participate in a festival that is taking place in the city. On his way to the city, he encounters a pleasant older gentleman named Cephalus.

Cephalus is unusual older gentleman because he possesses a sense of contentment and happiness, which seems to run contrary to many older people who no longer enjoy the benefits of youth “as the physical pleasures wither away” (I. 328d2). Socrates, was quite astonished by this, inquires about how he has achieved this state of mind. Celphalus provides an astonishing rationale for his philosophy of thinking young. He basically says 1) old age does not “cause many evils” 2) rather it is “the way people live,” or a lack of personal responsibility. This personal responsibility is founded on the principles of moderation and contentment, which is practically demonstrated in the way one approaches personal-finance.

Cephalus is admittedly one who has great wealth, but it is well that he himself has acquired and no thanks to his father's wasteful opulence. Cephalus is indifferent to wealth itself, but is satisfied by the benefits that he has achieved by means of his wealth. He clearly states that his wealth has benefited him in two areas: 1) he is able “to leave my sons here not the last but a little bit more than I inherited,” 2) he stands fearless before the gods because he knows he has lived "the just and pious life" and this life was made possible by the fact that wealth enables one to speak truthfully – without coercion – and one his people to a man and gods.

This is extremely interesting because Cephalus has drawn attention to the significance of money in three different yet related social spheres: family, economy, and religion. He doesn't have a strained relationship with his family because he has put them in the best possible financial circumstance. This means, even in his old age he is taken care of by his children because he has ensured (at least in part) there wealth. He's not at odds with the state because he has been able to pay his debt. He does not have to fear the gods because he has lived a good life and he has paid for all the proper sacrifices (this last point certainly is theologically suspect, but the principle remains true). Money does not just affect I – It relationships. That is, money is not just a way for an individual to relate to a large impersonal society. On the contrary, money is also a way of relating to family, neighbor, and God. Money is reflective of one's personal character. This does not mean that a lack of money equals a lack of character. In other words, character is not measured by quantity, however character is reflected in one's use or misuse of money. The acquisition and use of wealth should be guided by a sense of moderation and contentment. The acquisition of wealth will enable a person to provide for his family, speak the truth in confidence, and live with complete integrity before God. The purpose of acquiring great wealth is not mere acquisition but personal character and provision.

Now, admittedly, Socrates dismisses Cephalus’understanding of justice on the grounds that it does not provide a sufficient definition of justice, specifically in the case of truth speaking. However, if we are to be fair to Cephalus, he was simply referring to personal justice and not widescale political justice. In addition, even though "Socrates" (the literary character) dismisses Cephalus’case study, I believe that Plato is holding up Cephalus as a paradigm example of somebody who is a Just citizen and who has achieved a just balance in life by means of a pure state of mind. The principal here is: just character begins the heart but is expressed outwardly through one's use of allotted power, which in this case is money. Truly, this is the first principle of Platonic wealth building!