Books of 2013

In 2013 I read, what felt like, less than ever. Nevertheless, here’s what I came up with when formulating a list. I wrote the list ether adding books right after I finished them or while cataloging the books in our study and realizing which ones I had read this year. I’ll briefly comment on anything worth noting in the list if you care to look through it. 

Read in 2013

Aquinas: A Beginner’s Guide by Edward Feser – This book is marvelous. I’m writing a full length review now, but if you wish to review Aquinas’ five ways more in depth than you did in Systematic Theology class or if you want an introduction to Aristotle’s metaphysics, this is a must have at a very, very low price. 
Reformed and Feminist by Johanna Wijk-Bos – If you’re interested in the feminist movement in the church (whether sympathetic or not) this book is one that tries to endorse the inspiration of Scripture while exegeting it in a feminist way. Take it for what its worth. She does this with Ruth in the last few pages. 
How to Read Psalms by Tremper Longman – This book is useful, cheap, and brief. 
New Perspective on Jesus by James Dunn  – Best insight from this is Dunn’s remark to the effect that even if all we have in the gospels are impressions of Jesus upon his followers, they are still impressions left by Jesus and thus tell us something of the man. 
Philosophy and Civilization in the Middle Ages by Maurice De Wulf  – Useful, I intend to reread some chapters this year to help me with chronology during that era. 
The Making of the Middle Ages by R.W. Southern – same as above. 
Honor by James Bowman – Good book for understanding honor and why we do not value it as much or in the same way in modern western culture. Whether you agree with his history of honor or not (which I’d say could learn a bit from Bruce Malina or Dave DeSilva for the ancient era), his cultural commentary in the last chapter is very provocative.  
Practical Programming by Mark Rippetoe 
Fit by Lon Kilgore
Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe – The three fitness books above are pretty good. FIT and Practical Programming have a lot of very logical programming suggestions. I’m no elite athlete though, so many of them are simply infeasible for me. 
Wisdom’s Ways: Introducing Feminist Biblical Interpretation by Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza  – She defines several strains of feminism in the book. That made it the most useful. Other than it wasn’t particularly helpful for learning to interpret Scripture. It was more useful for understanding why certain feminist scholars interpret things the way they do. 
Who Stole Feminism by Christina Hoff Sommers
The War Against Boys by Christina Hoff Sommers – both of these books were written by a feminist philosopher who has apparently spent a great deal of time studying logic and statistical analysis. Both books are useful for getting past a great deal of nonsense argumentation used in certain circles that make false generalizations about males based of misunderstanding things like statistics. 
How God Became King by N.T. Wright  – Excellent book about the gospels, but Wright often writes with an “I don’t know why this isn’t obvious to all the other people” tone that is off putting. Nevertheless, the content of the book is very useful. 
The Psalms: Why They Are Essential by N.T. Wright  -This is more of a meditation upon the Psalms than a book about how to interpret them. He proposes looking at the earthiness of the Psalter how time, space, and matter intersect. In other words, read to Psalms to help you answer questions like what time is it in God’s timeline, where am I in relation to God’s work on earth, and what am  I doing in my body? 
The King Jesus Gospel by Scot McKnight – Excellent book about how the gospel narratievs are the gospel message that was preached by the apostles in the New Testament Era.
Being and Essence by Thomas Aquinas  – Want to know what Aquinas did with the Aristotelian distinction between being and essence? Read this. 
The Last Superstition by Edward Feser – Feser here defends Aristotle’s metaphysics and then some of Aquinas’ insights about God, nature, and ethics. The last superstition, for Feser, is the mechanistic universe and the abandonment of Aristotle’s metaphysics (which he right argues is presupposed in science, but since it is explicitly denied in philosophy has lead to so many crazy ideas out there). 
Ancient Faith and Modern Physics by Stephen Barr – Book by a physicist who actually knows the old arguments for God’s existence and why they are valid. 
Four Gospels, One Jesus? by Richard Burridge  – Decent book. The gospels are ancient biography and thus give useful pictures of Christ. 
Impossibility by John Barrow – This was a let down. He’s a mathematician who confuses logic with rhetoric. He often finds a logical conundrum, points out how he’s baffled by it, then thinks he’s convinced people that both sides of the debate are wrong. 
Black and Tan by Doug Wilson  – I’ve met Doug several times now. I read this because he’s been accused of racism several times and I just never saw it. Anyhow, he’s not a racist. He just thinks that the Civil War wasn’t about race (whether right or wrong) and he thinks that the gospel takes time to work into the hearts of whole people groups.
Lights in the Deep by Brad Torgersen – Excellent sci-fi shorts. I especially liked Outbound. Its about a boy who ends up exiting the solar system with a very unusual married couple. 
The Irrational Atheist by Vox Day  – Vox is a video game programmer with some very eccentric ideas about God and the world. Even his ideas which I disagree with aren’t irrational so much as (by my lights) wrong. Anyhow, in this book he fairly thoroughly dismantles the previously famous atheist superhero team of Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, and Dennett. The arguments are fairly obvious to anybody who chased down their footnotes or knew the history that was misreported, but Day’s statement of it all is hilarious. 
The Moral Landscape by Sam Harris  – Harris attempted to prove that science provides the material for constructing morality. In some sense that’s not particularly threatening. From a Christian point of view there are many goods to seek that are lesser than God but which it is a moral requirement to discover, seek, and improve our efforts toward. The problem is that Harris has to redefine what good is, thus making his book not about morality after all and he rants for pages about Francis Collins being a dangerous person. It’s neither a careful nor useful book. For a while he was offering money to anybody who could refute it in 1000 words. I still may try to write one using Aristotle and A.J. Ayers (who argues that philosophy and ethics are just non-sense).
How to Read Proverbs by Tremper Longman – Best book on proverbs ever. It’s good devotional material, good intro material, and it is brief. 
The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis 
Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis
Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis
The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis – Lewis’ children’s stories are just as fun as ever. 
Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis – I wrote my review. It is here.
Reading the Gospels Wisely by Jonathan Pennington – A much more thorough book on the gospels than Wright’s previously mentioned effort. If I were to start a seminary this would be one of the first year texts for all students. It is just that good. Here’s his description of the gospels, “Our canonical gospels are the theological, historical, and aretological (virtue-forming) biographical narratives that retell the story and proclaim the significance of Jesus Christ, who through the power of the Spirit is the Restorer of God’s reign. (pp 144)”

God and Explanations by Christopher Martin – This book covers Aquinas’ understanding of knowledge, of science, and of metaphysical demonstration. Martin goes a long way to clear up misunderstandings of Aquinas’ arguments for God’s existence. Favorite quote, “If we want to know about the existence of God, or about the nature of science, we should read Aquinas, not merely the writers of this century. If we want to study Aquinas we should pay him  the compliment of treating as important what he thought of as important. To study Aquinas as Aquinas is a poor piece of flattery, since Aquinas cared very little for Aquinas, while he did care for God and for science. (203)” This book is best checked out from a library because it costs 130 dollars. I found it in an e-book library at my local community college. 
Saving Leonardo by Nancy Pearcey – This is an excellent book that traces the change in philosophical worldview in our culture through our art. She isn’t correct about every discrete piece of art work, but she gets enough of it correct. It’s not a must read, but it is a pleasant read. I’m now curious about the relationship between thinking through a worldview explicitly to determine if you’re correct and that affecting your view of art and then how art can attract somebody to the worldview of the artist. The relationship between our appetites and our reason is all the more intriguing to me after this book.

The Devil and Pierre Gernet by David Bentley Hart – This is a strange collection of short stories. I love it. Many of them I think I’ll revisit. Hart describes food far too often and in too much detail. His vocabulary is also astounding. One story in particular is written from the point of view of gnosticism and is hauntingly beautiful and ultimately dissatisfying and depressing. 
Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis – This book is often over praised or under examined and unfairly dismissed. Lewis’ case for Christianity remains good in my opinion. His undeniably skillful prose also makes it pleasant to read. Few atheist writers match him for eloquence. I’d say maybe Nietzsche could be as interesting and accessible. 
The Experience of God by David Bentley Hart – Best book I read all year perhaps. Hart goes through the classical arguments, definitions, and concepts surrounding the idea of God (not as a name, but as a designation for being as such). He shows how the word for God has fallen into frustrating disrepair and thus made attacking theism really easy for the uninformed.
Female Chauvinist Pigs by Ariel Levy – This book is about female complicity in the rise of raunch culture. It is somewhat dated (though only 6 years old). The book is important because it points out how the “you go gurl” attitude of sleeping around and acting like a frat boy actually does not achieve female empowerment. The author is, sadly, unwilling to claim that such a lifestyle is stupid, dangerous, and evil for men and women. But it’s a start. 
The Victory of Reason by Rodney Stark – I know one historian who disputes Stark’s understanding of the rise of capitalism, but he’s the guy who gave me the book. It was astoundingly good. It’s about how medieval Europe, precisely because of Christianity and its desire to appropriate Aristotle’s best insights for the sake of moral progress, gave us modern science, careful philosophical reasoning, the technological revolution (because slavery became illegal), and capitalism. Good stuff. 
Saving the Appearances by Owen Barfield – This book packs a punch. I tried to write a review, but I need to reread it. Barfield covers too much. He essentially challenges a major shift in how we understand the ancients and therefore, how we understand ourselves, reality, and our access to reality. All of this ends in a discussion of idolatry and God’s kingdom. It is, from what I can tell, a tour de force that have been utterly ignored by people who are afraid of its import. Or maybe he’s just wrong and I missed it. 
Aesop’s Fables – These are great. My mom read them to my brother when we were children. Loved them then and love them now. 
Deep Exegesis by Peter Leithart – Leithart tried to recover the Quadriga in New Testament interpretation. I get it, but I think nobody will read this and be convinced. I loved the book and have used something like the quadriga for a while, but getting New Testament interpreters to take a misunderstood, maligned, and mocked system that is (on the basis of Christian liberty) adiaphora is a difficult task. I thank him for trying. 
Discourse on Method by Rene Descartes – I use Descartes to teach my students problem solving, but his meditations take you through his argument for God’s existence. Good stuff. 
Common Morality by Bernard Gert – He tried, but it’s mostly just a poor attempt to tell people to be nice. 
Desiring the Kingdom by James K.A. Smith
Imagining the Kingdom by James K.A. Smith  – Smith’s books attempt a radical revision or revisiting of an older anthropology of the human person based upon both ancient sources, post modern insights into personhood and embodied human practices, and modern brain science. It’s good stuff. Imagining the kingdom is the best of the two. 
The Electric Sky by Donald Scot – Scot challenges modern cosmology. Not sure if I’m convinced, but he’s got a doctorate in electrical engineering. Doesn’t make him right, but reading the book is like reading a detective novel about stars, quasars, gravity, and electricity. 
Note: I read several other books on feminist theory, but they were for a research assistantship I did and I found them unenlightening. 

Deals on Books

Amazon books on the cheap:

http://www.amazon.com/Philippians-The-Story-Bible-Commentary-ebook/dp/B00BW3EDD4/ref=pd_sim_kstore_32 
Excellent Philippians commentary for 5 bucks. 

http://www.amazon.com/The-Case-Psalms-They-Essential-ebook/dp/B00BATKRVW/ref=pd_sim_kstore_31
N.T. Wrights book on the Psalms for three bucks 

http://www.amazon.com/The-Christian-Faith-Systematic-Theology-ebook/dp/B003U4UTDQ/ref=pd_sim_kstore_42

Michael Horton’s systematic theology for 9 bucks. 

http://www.amazon.com/Following-Master-Biblical-Theology-Discipleship-ebook/dp/B003SE7602/ref=la_B001HMRDYQ_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1388381146&sr=1-3

Michael Wilkins’ excellent book on Discipleship in the New Testament and Early Church Fathers for 6 bucks. 

http://www.amazon.com/Evangelical-Theology-Biblical-Systematic-Introduction-ebook/dp/B00BW2U492/ref=pd_sim_kstore_10
Mike Bird’s systematic theology for 6 bucks 

Where are you staying?

In John’s gospel there are themes that relate to root words and concepts that reappear throughout the narrative and in various discourses of Jesus and rejoinders by his opponents. 

στραφεὶς δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς καὶ θεασάμενος αὐτοὺς ἀκολουθοῦντας λέγει αὐτοῖς· τί ζητεῖτε; οἱ δὲ εἶπαν αὐτῷ· ῥαββί, ὃ λέγεται μεθερμηνευόμενον διδάσκαλε, ποῦ μένεις; (Joh 1:38 BGT)

Then, when Jesus turned and observed them following him, he said to them, “What do you seek?” Then they said to him, “Rabbi, (which translates teacher), “Where are you staying?” (John 1:38)

Now, the obvious meaning of this passage in context is that the two men who decided to geographically follow Jesus (perhaps not even as his disciples yet) just wanted a private place to talk to the guy. But John, in his characteristically ironic manner, makes the passage mean a great deal more. 

λέγει αὐτοῖς· ἔρχεσθε καὶ ὄψεσθε. ἦλθαν οὖν καὶ εἶδαν ποῦ μένει καὶ παρ᾽ αὐτῷ ἔμειναν τὴν ἡμέραν ἐκείνην· ὥρα ἦν ὡς δεκάτη. (Joh 1:39 BGT)

He said to them, “You should come and see.” Then they cam and saw where he stayed and they stayed with him that day. It was the tenth hour. (John 1:39) 

Later in the gospel, these two disciples (Andrew and probably John), come and see Jesus’ identity. That’s another story altogether though. The import for this post is that Jesus tells them he’ll show them where he’s staying and he does (in terms of his physical house), but as the gospel continues Jesus uses the same Greek word to indicate that people should “abide in me,” “abide in my love,” “if you abide in my word,” etc. 

By chapter fifteen this happens:

9 Καθὼς ἠγάπησέν με ὁ πατήρ, κἀγὼ ὑμᾶς ἠγάπησα· μείνατε ἐν τῇ ἀγάπῃ τῇ ἐμῇ.
10 ἐὰν τὰς ἐντολάς μου τηρήσητε, μενεῖτε ἐν τῇ ἀγάπῃ μου, καθὼς ἐγὼ τὰς ἐντολὰς τοῦ πατρός μου τετήρηκα καὶ μένω αὐτοῦ ἐν τῇ ἀγάπῃ. (Joh 15:9-10 BGT)

Just as the Father loves me, so also, I love you; stay in my love. If you keep my commands, then you stay in my love just as I have kept the commands of my Father and I am staying in his love. (John 15:9-10)*

I intentionally translated the Greek word the same way throughout, though it normally is translated, “abide.”

The idea I’m getting at is that when Jesus answered their question, “Where are you staying?” with “Come and see,” John, with his penchant for irony, points out that all along Jesus’ answer was, “In my Father’s love.”

Jesus is the one who, in a unique way lives in God’s love. He does so in such a way, according to John, that he makes God’s love available to all. 

*Note: I translated the aorist here ἠγάπησέν and here ἠγάπησα as gnomic aorists (contra ESV, ISV, and others). I didn’t mistake them for present tense. It just seems that Jesus is stating a constant fact using the aorist, whereas he uses the perfect idea in the very next verse with “I have kept.” If the aorists were meant to convey the perfect idea, then it seems John would have just put them in the perfect.

Sunday School on Christians and Goal Setting

Christians and Goal Setting

Can Christians Set Goals?

Jas 4:13-17 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— (14) yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. (15) Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” (16) As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. (17) So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.

  1. Many might read this passage and mistakenly think: I guess setting goals is bad.
  2. On the contrary, James is against arrogantly planning to do things without considering:
    1. That the Lord sustains all life.
    2. That we deserve to die in our sins.
    3. That we should seek to conform our plans to the commands of the Lord (his will).
  3. This passage might also be about giving false appearances to look good, look rich, and self-aggrandize while looking down on the poor and the seemingly more sinful. This can be seen here:
    1. Jas 4:1-4 What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? (2) You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. (3) You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. (4) You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.
    2. Jas 4:9-12 Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. (10) Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. (11) Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. (12) There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?
    3. Jas 5:1-4 Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. (2) Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. (3) Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. (4) Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.
    4. Jas 5:12 But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.

In Fact Christians Should Set Goals (Poverbs 2:11):

  1. We are creatures within time.(Psalm 90:12)
  2. We are creatures made up of habits. (Romans 6:1-8:13)
  3. We are creatures designed to exhibit habits that approach the goodness of God. (Mark 10:45, 12:29-31, 1 Corinthians 10:30-11:1, Ephesians 5:1-2, 2 Peter 1:3-11)
  4. We are individuals with tasks, callings, and experiences specific to us. (Gen 1:27, 1 Corinthians 12)
  5. Self-improvement is not sinful…if done in the right way it is a Biblical command. (Prov 19:8)
  6. To live in time, to develop Godly habits, and to use our experiences, perform our tasks, and live up to our callings we must make plans and goals to do so.

Christians: Have you planned to walk away from sin? Have you planned ahead to, not just do, but to become good? Do you do good, not just off the cuff, but because you devised a way to do so.

Goal/Resolution Guidelines

Make Useful Goals (Paul Meyer is the source of this system)

    1. Specific
    2. Measurable
    3. Attainable
    4. Realistic
    5. Timed (short and long term)
    6. Recoverable (added by Geoff)
  1. Make categorized goals:
    1. General Character and Maturity (keeping a clean room/car, turning in all papers at least one week early, waking up early enough to not have to rush to work or school, only watch television one night a week, etc)
    2. Financial (save 300 dollars a month, only eat out once a week, make a budget, etc)
    3. Fitness (run a 6 minute mile by June, do one hundred push-ups by November, only eat sweets on Saturdays, etc)
    4. Spiritual Goals (pray the Lord’s prayer every day, read one chapter of Proverbs a day, visit the station every Wednesday, plan a short term mission trip, meet with an accountability partner every Sunday before church, etc)
    5. Academic/Career Goals (practice my skill an extra two hours a day, write a blog post every day when I’m not writing papers, sit with boss and ask what it will take to move up by July, study one hour a night starting seven days before every test, etc)
    6. Enrichment Goals (read a classic novel every month, take piano lessons, learn to knit, go for a long walk every Tuesday, etc)
  2. Means
    Every goals takes steps. Never create a goal without steps in mind.

Conclusion
Think about goals that you need and want to set for yourself in order that you might live for God’s glory and for the purpose of attaining to the good.

Jim West vs New Year Resolutions

Jim West came down, seemingly jokingly, against New Year Resolutions with a quote from James 4:13-16.

13 ¶ Ἄγε νῦν οἱ λέγοντες· σήμερον ἢ αὔριον πορευσόμεθα εἰς τήνδε τὴν πόλιν καὶ ποιήσομεν ἐκεῖ ἐνιαυτὸν καὶ ἐμπορευσόμεθα καὶ κερδήσομεν·
14 οἵτινες οὐκ ἐπίστασθε τὸ τῆς αὔριον ποία ἡ ζωὴ ὑμῶν· ἀτμὶς γάρ ἐστε ἡ πρὸς ὀλίγον φαινομένη, ἔπειτα καὶ ἀφανιζομένη.
15 ἀντὶ τοῦ λέγειν ὑμᾶς· ἐὰν ὁ κύριος θελήσῃ καὶ ζήσομεν καὶ ποιήσομεν τοῦτο ἢ ἐκεῖνο.
16 νῦν δὲ καυχᾶσθε ἐν ταῖς ἀλαζονείαις ὑμῶν· πᾶσα καύχησις τοιαύτη πονηρά ἐστιν. (James 4:13-16 BGT)

My translation:
Come now, you who constantly say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into this city and we will stay there a year and we will do business and we will make profit; you cannot know that which happens tomorrow. What is your life? You are a vapor, appearing for a brief time, then dissipating. Instead, you should say, “Should the Lord will it, we both will live and do this or that. But as it stands, you are boasting in your arrogance, all such boasting is from the Evil One.” (James 4:13-16)

Now, this being the case, planning ahead seems like an awful idea. But there is more to James’ story:

 17  εἰδότι οὖν καλὸν ποιεῖν καὶ μὴ ποιοῦντι, ἁμαρτία αὐτῷ ἐστιν. (Jam 4:17 BGT)

Which translates, “Therefore, whoever knows the good he ought to do and does not do it, to him, it is sin. (James 4:17)

It seems, rather, that planning ahead to do good is the idea (ie to do what the Lord should will), rather than planning ahead to do what ever you want. Even better stated, plan ahead to do good and not to do evil. In this sense a New Year’s resolution is like an adiaphora cultural practice than can be used to help you do good. I think James, like Paul, is concerned about human boasting. Good works and future plans should not be for boasting and self-aggrandizement, but for the good (or more theologically: for God’s glory). 

Jonathan Edwards’ journals are filled with resolutions to do good as is his list of resolutions.

Anyhow, other Scripture speaks of this same issue. For instance, right after Paul tells his compatriots that there is not room for boasting in Ephesians 2:8-9, he says:
10  αὐτοῦ γάρ ἐσμεν ποίημα, κτισθέντες ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ ἐπὶ ἔργοις ἀγαθοῖς οἷς προητοίμασεν ὁ θεὸς, ἵνα ἐν αὐτοῖς περιπατήσωμεν. (Eph 2:10 BGT)
For we are his project, created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared in advance so that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)

God has prepared good works to be done, thus Christians should do them (without boasting). But later in Ephesians Paul talks about being “renewed in the spirit of your mind, putting on the new man according to God, the creator, in righteousness and the piety of truth (Ephesians 4:23-24).” This kind of life takes forethought, like resolving, according to God’s will to memorize chunks of Jesus’ teaching, making plans to visit the sick in hospitals, and resolving (planning in advance) to have vacation times on weekdays rather than miss church services, etc.

In this respect, even self-improvement resolutions would be a good thing as long as it was self-improvement which did not contradict the example of John the Baptist (he must increase, I must decrease). The rule in terms of what ways to engage in self-improvement is also Scriptural, “test everything carefully, hold fast to that which is good (1 Thessalonians 5:21).”*

*Note: Paul’s teaching in 1 Thessalonians is about teachings from supposed prophets and thus about ideas in sermons in particular, and therefore applicable to ideas in general. If an idea is good, true, and beautiful and then also able to be put into practice without damaging your calling in life, then you not only can plan to do it. You probably should. 

A notable aside by Tom Wright

That is the point at which Paul found himself inventing and developing this new discipline we call, in retrospect, ‘Christian theology’. The radically new worldview in which he and his converts found themselves was bound to face the question ‘why’ at every corner, and in order to answer it, and to teach his churches to answer it for themselves, he had to speak of one particular God, and of the world, in a way nobody had done before.

This had an important result: the life of the mind was itself elevated by Paul from a secondary social activity, for those with the leisure to muse and ponder life’s tricky questions, to a primary socio-cultural activity for all the Messiah’s people. The interesting question of whether one thinks oneself into a new way of acting or acts oneself into a new way of thinking will, I suspect, continue to tease those who try to answer it (not least because it is of course reflexive: should you answer it by thinking or by acting?).

N. T. Wright, Paul and the Faithfulness of God, vol. 4, Christian Origins and the Question of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2013), 27.

 

Many do not understand the historic importance of Christianity. That importance does not make it true, although I’m convinced it is true. We often forget that the life of the mind, thinking about ultimate reality, ethics, and the nature of knowledge itself were activities of a very numerically limited elite. The Christian message, at every turn, exhorted the commoners to think carefully about reality. This does not mean that there were not missteps along the way, but it was this very notion that thinking was a sport for everybody that lead to many of histories greatest developments (Luther, for instance,may have started the first publicly funded school for boys and girls).

 

Dave Ramsey and Rachel Held Evans

Rachel Held Evans noted that Dave Ramsey gets some things wrong about poverty. On my lights she’s partially right about where he’s wrong. She accused him twice in the article of the false cause fallacy. 

One need not be a student of logic to observe that Corley and Ramsey have confused correlation with causation here by suggesting that these habits make people rich or poor…

 

This list simply says your choices cause results,” he said, again committing the false cause fallacy. “You reap what you sow.”

 

Now, Evans probably isn’t a student of logic, if her interpretation of Ramsey is correct, he is committing that fallacy. When she quotes him (the bold above) Dave pretty much admits that he sees pure causation there. Incidentally though, causation does imply correlation. That is what statisticians are often looking for. A meta-analysis or a simple thought experiment might show that it is logically possible (which Evans admits) for a person’s bad habits to make them poor. Because it is logically possible and is anecdotally true, it is understandable and perhaps somewhat wise for Ramsey to point that out. Sometimes the best we can do is say, “a large percent of smokers die of awful cancer than non-smokers rarely get…please don’t smoke (I picked this as an obvious example).” 

Nevertheless, Ramsey needs to imbibe more of the truth that sometimes, “Pro_13:23  The fallow ground of the poor would yield much food, but it is swept away through injustice.” Also, Ecclesiastes is clear that good things do not always come to those who work for them.

My biggest beef with Ramsey, though, has always been that the statistics he often provides people with are stats based upon what rich people who cheat to stay rich do. Note what Gary North (who though many do not like him, has a PhD. in Economics) points out that Dave bases many of his claims upon the book The Millionaire Next Door:

What’s wrong with this rosy picture? This: the book describes self-made rich men, and almost all of them made it by starting a business. What’s more, most of them declared bankruptcy once. Some did it repeatedly. They lived in terms of debt. They stiffed their investors, their bankers, and their relatives. Starting a business is risky. They passed to others as much of this risk as they could.

In the book, we learn that 85% of them had started businesses. To start a business, you must adopt one or more of these options to fund it: (1) borrow money from friends and relatives; (2) borrow money from a bank; (3) borrow money from customers (e.g., cash up front for a subscription); (4) put up your own money for a cash-only business (exceedingly rare the first time you start one); sell shares in your firm (even more rare). Once the business is profitable, you borrow money more to grow it. This is “the millionaire mind.” the authors’ title for their other book.

So, though Dave Ramsey, in the basics, can give really good advice. I’d say that he also has a tendency to uncritically use sources (which I suppose I could be accused of quoting Gary North). But, basing one’s economic paradigm off of people who declared bankruptcy (which Dave himself did) just seems unwise. The ultimate payoff of this criticism though is that Ramsey has made a fortune selling advice about how to get out of debt as a comeback from filing bankruptcy himself. That doesn’t make him a scam artist, it might actually lend credence to his advice. He cornered the market on a desperate need and started acquiring wealth (which raises its own problem…charging desperately poor people to help them get less poor might be suspicious…but it might also encourage them to follow through with their commitment to Dave’s program). 

But, back to Evans, she noted that she thinks that Dave Ramsey does not address the systemic issues that lead to poverty:

And throughout Scripture, people of faith are called not simply to donate to charity, but to address such systemic injustices in substantive ways.

The 17-year-old girl who lives in a depressed neighborhood zoned for a failing school system who probably won’t graduate because her grades are suffering because she has to work part-time to help support her family needs more than a few audio books to turn things around.

People are poor for a lot of reasons, and choice is certainly a factor, but categorically blaming poverty on lack of faith or lack of initiative is not only uninformed, it’s unbiblical.

The implication, again, is that Ramsey doesn’t do these things. I don’t know. He started a group called The Share it Foundation that exists to spread financial literacy. Hopefully that is meant to address those things. 

I also wanted to share some of my thoughts on Evans’ accusation that Ramsey teaches the prosperity gospel:

“There is a direct correlation,” he concludes, “between your habits, choices and character in Christ and your propensity to build wealth.”

For Christians, Ramsey’s perceived “direct correlation” between faith and wealth should be more troubling than his other confused correlations, for it flirts with what Christians refer to as the prosperity gospel, the teaching that God rewards faithfulness with wealth.

Ramsey’s particular brand of prosperity gospel elevates the American dream as God’s reward for America’s faithfulness, the spoils of which are readily available to anyone who works hard enough to receive them.

I don’t buy that. Claiming that Christian character correlates with an increase in material prosperity (which it historically has) it not claiming that faithfulness is rewarded with wealth. Evans made a big leap there. Paul gives advice that is meant to help people stay out of financial trouble, “Those who steal should not steal, but should work with their hands to give to those who have need (Ephesians 4:22).” Paul tells people to over come greed, to not be busy bodies, to work quietly, etc. Jesus does demand radical frugality and mercy to the poor, but Paul applies those sayings to the rich by admonishing them to share (1 Timothy 6:3-10). Paul warns against seeing Christianity as a way to get rich, but he also notes that Christian character (which includes contentment) leads to great gain. Now, Paul surely means the gain of life with God, but I don’t think he’s being ironic. I think he is saying that being godly really will lead to gain if you refuse to be greedy. 

God does not bless people with money; God blesses people with the good and perfect gift of God’s presence, which is available to rich and poor alike.

And that’s good news.

 

That is good news, but teaching people that getting out of debt often (but not always) requires a certain kind of character is not the prosperity gospel. It is wise Christian casuistry and has been for centuries.