Quotes & Sayings

We, and creation itself, actualize the possibilities of the God who sustains the world, towards becoming in the world in a fuller, more deeper way. - R.E. Slater

There is urgency in coming to see the world as a web of interrelated processes of which we are integral parts, so that all of our choices and actions have [consequential effects upon] the world around us. - Process Metaphysician Alfred North Whitehead

Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem says (i) all closed systems are unprovable within themselves and, that (ii) all open systems are rightly understood as incomplete. - R.E. Slater

The most true thing about you is what God has said to you in Christ, "You are My Beloved." - Tripp Fuller

The God among us is the God who refuses to be God without us, so great is God's Love. - Tripp Fuller

According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater

Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - R.E. Slater

Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger

Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton

I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – Anon

Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII

Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut

Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest

We become who we are by what we believe and can justify. - R.E. Slater

People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – Anon

Certainly, God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater

An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater

Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann

Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner

“Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh” means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14) or, conversely, “I AM who I AM Becoming.”

Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton

The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens, we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – Anon

The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul

The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah

If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – Anon

Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord

Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another, so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

To promote societal transition to sustainable ways of living and a global society founded on a shared ethical framework which includes respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, universal human rights, respect for diversity, economic justice, democracy, and a culture of peace. - The Earth Charter Mission Statement

Christian humanism is the belief that human freedom, individual conscience, and unencumbered rational inquiry are compatible with the practice of Christianity or even intrinsic in its doctrine. It represents a philosophical union of Christian faith and classical humanist principles. - Scott Postma

It is never wise to have a self-appointed religious institution determine a nation's moral code. The opportunities for moral compromise and failure are high; the moral codes and creeds assuredly racist, discriminatory, or subjectively and religiously defined; and the pronouncement of inhumanitarian political objectives quite predictable. - R.E. Slater

God's love must both center and define the Christian faith and all religious or human faiths seeking human and ecological balance in worlds of subtraction, harm, tragedy, and evil. - R.E. Slater

In Whitehead’s process ontology, we can think of the experiential ground of reality as an eternal pulse whereby what is objectively public in one moment becomes subjectively prehended in the next, and whereby the subject that emerges from its feelings then perishes into public expression as an object (or “superject”) aiming for novelty. There is a rhythm of Being between object and subject, not an ontological division. This rhythm powers the creative growth of the universe from one occasion of experience to the next. This is the Whiteheadian mantra: “The many become one and are increased by one.” - Matthew Segall

Without Love there is no Truth. And True Truth is always Loving. There is no dichotomy between these terms but only seamless integration. This is the premier centering focus of a Processual Theology of Love. - R.E. Slater


Note: Generally I do not respond to commentary. I may read the comments but wish to reserve my time to write (or write from the comments I read). Instead, I'd like to see our community help one another and in the helping encourage and exhort each of us towards Christian love in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. - re slater

Friday, January 31, 2014

Book Review: The Lost World of Scripture, by Walton and Sandy, Parts 1-3

Review of The Lost World of Scripture
by John H. Walton and D. Brent Sandy
Part 1

Review by Carlos Bovell

by Peter Enns
Given what we have learned about literary production in the ancient world, authorship and the process that led to the final form of the canonical book are simply not as relevant as we have thought to our understanding of biblical authority. We need to develop new models that are based on an understanding of the roles of authorities, the nature of documents, and the transmission of tradition in hearing-dominated societies (62).

In many ways, Walton and Sandy provide a great service for evangelicals by trying to bring critical biblical scholarship into genuine conversation with the evangelical doctrine of inerrancy. The way Walton and Sandy attempt to this is through an inerrantist appropriation of the speech act theory.

They affirm, for example:

We believe that God has inspired the locutions (words, whether spoken or written) that the communicator has used to accomplish with God their joint illocutions (which lead to an understanding of intentions, claims, affirmations and, ultimately, meaning), but that those locutions are tied to the communicator’s world (44).

Not a few inerrantist writers hold strong to the hope that speech act theory can preserve inerrancy. In my book Rehabilitating Inerrancy in a Culture of Fear, I suggest that, although this may be possible, the form that inerrancy winds up taking would hardly be recognizable to believers committed to the Chicago Statement.

Further, in light of what Walton and Sandy argue for regarding biblical authors (that there are none), not only will the Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy not do, but speech act theory itself will be inadequate.

My understanding of a speech act is that in order for a communication to qualify as a speech act, someone, a person A, has to want to communicate something to a second person B. What Walton and Sandy have effectively done, in driving home the role of orality in the production of the Bible, it seems to me, is remove that “person A” from the equation:
  1. If this is right, speech act theory would seem not to apply to scripture, at least not in the way that Walton and Sandy [may wish to] apply it.
  2. Moreover, if speech act theory manages to collapse when applied to the oral nature of scripture, then Walton and Sandy should not appeal to speech act theory in their defense of inerrancy.
Don’t get me wrong, Christians have (and have had all along) the biblical texts to contend with hermeneutically.  Someone(s) had to have written them in order for there to be biblical texts for us to contemplate. It’s just that now, according to Walton and Sandy, the human communicator, the person A that is needed to appeal to for speech act theory to work, is not connected enough to the production of scripture for scripture to count as that person’s speech act.

It may be the case, then, that on account of the ancient cultures being oral cultures and not text-dominated as Walton and Sandy explain in their book, scripture should never have been construed as a speech act in the first place, or at the very least in the way that Walton and Sandy do in Lost World.

Walton and Sandy articulate their view this way:

Some community of people, we believe under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, determined that certain individuals, as well as certain traditions unattached to specific individuals, had authority—God’s authority. (63)

These human communicators—“some community of people”—are authoritatively involved for some unspecified development in the biblical text, but whatever that development turns out to be, it is not in a capacity to communicate something to someone else, at least not in the way that speech act theory tends to assume.

The communicators act rather as tradents of a body of common knowledge that is “out of their hands,” so to speak: a tradition.

By showing how little involvement biblical “communicators” actually had with the biblical texts in an oral culture such as the one that produced the Bible, Walton and Sandy open the door for evangelicals to begin focusing both on what involvement believers who receive the biblical traditions have on what the texts accomplish, and on how God himself has had to constantly be active, working toward accomplishing his communicative act through biblical traditions.

This is a positive move, in my opinion, but we have also left any reasonable notion of an evangelical, inerrantist, doctrine of Scripture.

If Walton and Sandy want to appropriate speech act theory for a doctrine of scripture, however, they would be better served by opting for at least one of two scenarios.

First, uncouple God’s illocutionary act from that of the “human communicator.” This way, if the human communicator is removed from the picture, God’s speech act can still stand.

Second, they can, after arguing against an “author,” insist that there was some kind of final “redactor” who had a heavy hand in producing the Bible we now possess. This redactor could then act as the “person A” who is communicating something to person B.

Either view, if laid out carefully, would be a step forward, though whether either option would be compatible to inerrancy, at least as it is expressed in the Chicago Statement, is doubtful in my opinion.

In Lost World, Walton and Sandy have given inerrantists a new context for understanding what the Bible is. Let us hope that some will take seriously the orality of the Bible that Walton and Sandy have presented and work together to better integrate their findings into a more satisfying doctrine of scripture.

- Carlos

* * * * * * * * *


A third view, in my opinion, is to regard the "human communicator" and/or "scribe," as transmitting redactors (or editors) who are fully (as in, 100% fully) involved in the process of God's speech act. Not none, nor partially, as indicated above by Carlos. But fully. To be 100% personally involved in the communication act of God's authoritative speech act to humanity.

Otherwise we disallow for the phenomenological and existential importance of the holy communicator's life and societal cultural understanding in the transmission of biblical revelation.

And, we make such human communicators mere dictaphones, recording machines, or unthinking ditationists, to the very holy process that had consumed their life producing both the oral traditions - and the latter arising textual traditions - that necessarily accompanied their life force (or devotion, or passion) to communicating God's Word to their human culture.

Hence, within the hermeneutical paradigm of textual capture and transmission must likewise accompany an essential anthropologic, or societal, transcription of God's speech act. Otherwise we create for ourselves and unnecessary naivete about the biblical text when so simply assuming the lack of degrees of the human spirit in its creation and invention (as any oral tradition and written document must be so understood. But in this case, it is a Holy-Spirit driven creation or invention of the first magnitude).

For more discussion about this please refer to the sidebars under hermeneutics generally.

- R.E. Slater

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Winter 2014 Church Events: Exploring Evolution

What I Learned at Exploring Origins

by Thomas Jay Oord
January 28, 2014

The Exploring Origins conference at Point Loma Nazarene University was a great success! I’m grateful to the many who attended and to those who led in various ways. This aspect of the Nazarenes Exploring Evolution project, however, taught me some things.

My conference co-director, Mark Mann, and I put together a strong program and lineup of speakers. We emphasized table discussions, panels and workshops, and I’ve been hearing very positive reports indicating these were helpful. We included speakers from multiple perspectives. The spirits of those who left the event were, for the most part, positive and upbeat.

Now that the conference is over, I’ve been thinking about highlights, lessons learned, and prospects for the future. Here, in no particular order, are my reflections.

Nazarenes agree God is Creator but may disagree on how God creates.

The overwhelming majority of the 200+ conference attendees thought evolution was compatible with the idea that God creates. In fact, probably only a handful of young-earth creationists attended, although Answers in Genesis had a booktable and Georgia Purdom was a plenary and workshop speaker. While I’m sure the conference attendance numbers did not represent the overall percentage of young-earth creationists who are members of the Church of the Nazarene, I am confident that Christians stand united under the claim that God is our Creator.

Evolutionary creationists and young-earth creationists both care about the Bible.

I was pleased at how central the Bible was for so many speakers. It reminded me that what is really at stake are claims about how the Bible should be interpreted and what role it should play in relation to science. For instance, young-earth creationists typically interpret Genesis 1 and 2 in a rather straightforward, literal fashion. Evolutionary creationists tend to interpret the same Scripture as telling us theological truths but not necessarily scientific truths. They believe the genre of Genesis is different from the genre of science. Many Nazarenes Exploring Evolution essays posted online illustrate this point.

Most U.S. Nazarene scholars of ministry or science think evolution is compatible with believing God is Creator.

Prior to the conference, 10-question survey was sent to professors of ministry and professors of science in the universities, colleges, and seminary in the United States. A little more than half took this survey, and the full results are now available in the new book, Nazarenes Exploring Evolution.

Here, for instance are the results of one survey question: Eighty-four percent (84%) of ministry professors agreed or strongly agreed that the Church of the Nazarene should allow the theory that God creates through evolution as one acceptable view of creation among others, and only eight percent (8%) disagreed or strongly disagreed. Ninety-three percent (93%) of science professors agreed or strongly agreed that the Church of the Nazarene should allow the theory that God creates through evolution as one acceptable view of creation among others, and none (0%) disagreed or strongly disagreed.

Here is one of the ten sets of survey graphs I showed at the conference:

The conversation about evolution can be difficult but is important.

We began the Exploring Origins conference with worship and Eucharist. I think this set the right tone, because I heard few demeaning statements during the time we were together. In my opening presentation, I offered guidelines for conversation that urged attendees to be humble, discerning, kind, open to others, and respectful of authorities. The overwhelming majority followed these guidelines. But there were a few statements and materials that subtly sent demeaning messages about the views of others. I wished those had been otherwise. I had hoped for 100% affirmation of others even when we disagreed. I was reminded that we have work to do to speak well about those who hold contrary views.

The Church of the Nazarene needs a new statement about creation.

The current statement on creation in the appendix of the denomination’s Manual offers these brief words: “The Church of the Nazarene believes in the biblical account of creation (‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…’ --Genesis 1:1). We oppose any godless interpretation of the origin of the universe and of humankind (Hebrews 11:3).” A number of those at the recent Exploring Origins worked to suggest ways to enhance this statement. They offered brief but substantial ideas that seem helpful. Perhaps their work will eventually come to fruition.

We have more to explore and more conversations to be shared.

The Exploring Origins conference concluded with a brainstorming session about where things should go after we left PLNU. The suggestions were helpful and energizing. Many said we need ways to expand the conversation. Others emphasized the need to model Christ-like conversations on this difficult topic. The consensus was that the conversation was important not only for seeking truth, but also to encourage scientists in the pews and show young people that the denomination takes scientific and biblical truths seriously.

I’m not yet sure about the particulars of all of this. I plan to keep facilitating the conversation and offer proposals I hope others will find helpful. I am cheered that so many believe talking about evolution and Christian faith is a central concern for the growth and maturity of the Church of the Nazarene.

I conclude by expressing my heart-felt appreciation to Sherri Walker, my colleague in this overall project. She did nearly all the essay editing, she networked, and she organized the book we co-edited. Her project activities will taper off soon, but I want to acknowledge my great gratitude to her.

Thanks, Sherri!


Bill Nye vs. Ken Ham: giving credibility to nonsense
(or, walking into an apologetic war machine)

by Peter Enns
January 29, 2014

Bill Nye will be debating Ken Ham in a week’s time–inexplicably, on Ham’s home turf, where he controls the terms and the crowd.

Nye is either going to get destroyed by Ken Ham or at least grow extremely frustrated with Ham’s tactics.

I hope I’m wrong, but I’m not (unless I am, but we’ll need to wait and see).

Nye seems to think he is walking into a debate of some sort over science, and that presenting the data will, if not prove victorious, at least put a dent into Ham’s armor.

It won’t. Nye is strolling into a well-tuned, battle-tested, apologetic war machine.

Nye and Ham won’t even be able to agree on what the data are, what science is, and what it means to interpret evidence. Ham will make sure of that.

This is a debate over worldviews, and they get nasty quickly and go nowhere.

Ham is a master of crowd manipulation, with a long and documented track record of interpreting his opponents in the worst possible light, twisting data and logic, and other passive-aggressive debate tactics (praise God).

Ham can’t and won’t give one square inch on his science because if he does his finely tuned worldview will crumble to the ground–a worldview that includes deeply held (and erroneous) views of God and the Bible.

No one who thinks he has a handle on reality as Ham feels he does is actually capable of debate. Such types only lecture, declare, and prophesy.

Ham needs his theology just the way it is in order to maintain his strong grip on his understanding of reality. His theology requires a science that supports biblical literalism. Failure in this regard is not an option for Ham.

If Nye wants to debate, he’s got a week to study theology and hermeneutics so he can address Ham’s unexamined and faulty premises that allow him to handle science as he does.

Nye is clear that he has no delusions of convincing Ham. The debate presumably is aimed at dissuading those who listen to Ham. That may work, for a small number who are already questioning Ham’s agenda, and that alone may be worth the effort.

That being said, this debate strikes me not simply as a general waste of time, but a win-win for Ham.

Ham is an immovable force. He will not in any conceivable universe “lose” the debate, and simply being debated by Nye will give Ham credibility in the eyes of those who might otherwise have successfully navigated past Ham’s treacherous port and found a true and living faith elsewhere.

The ideal opponent, if a debate were unavoidable, would be (1) a theistic evolutionist, who (2) doesn’t lose his/her cool, but (3) isn’t above giving hard punches to the gut, and who (4) knows his/her way around theology, hermeneutics, and the history of Christian thought to expose to a larger crowd was is self-evident to most everyone else:

Ham is not capable of true debate, and his views are not worth debating to begin with.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Generational Poverty in America: Bootstraps, Safety Nets, and Dave Ramsey

Rachel's sister Amanda

Bootstraps and Safety Nets: Some thoughts on generational poverty in America

by Rachel Held Evans
January 27, 2014

You all are in for a treat today because my brilliant, compassionate, and wise little sister, Amanda Opelt, has contributed a guest post about generational poverty in America that is both powerful and practical. The post materialized after a long phone conversation between us in the wake of my controversial post about Dave Ramsey and poverty (see next article below), at which point I realized my sister knew way more about this topic than I did.

Amanda has spent most of her adult life working in the non-profit sector—first in India, then in inner-city Nashville, and now in Boone, North Carolina, as a field support coordinator for Samaritan’s Purse. But more than that, Amanda embodies more than anyone I know the principle of loving one’s neighbor. No matter where she finds herself, she is present and loving to the people around her, whether it’s an orphan suffering from TB in a slum in Hyderabad, India, or an elderly neighbor down the street from her home in Boone. When it comes to following Jesus, she’s the real deal. She's faithful in the little things.

I hope you learn as much from her post as I did!

* * * * * * * * * *

The biggest problem facing Christian theology is not translation but enactment...no clever
theological moves can be substituted for the necessity of a church being a community of 
people who embody our language about God, where talk about God is used without
apology because our life together does not mock our words.

- Hauerwas & Willimon

* * * * * * * * * *

Immediately after college, I packed my bags and moved to India because at age 22 I thought I "had a heart" for the poor.

I figured India was probably a pretty good place to find poor people, and I was right.  The poverty in that foreign land is pervasive, and in a country where corruption and ideological biases cultivate very little opportunity for upward mobility, it's not hard to see the orphans, beggars, and leprosy patients around you as one-dimensional victims of the sinful systems around them.  It is a fair assessment in some ways, and I must say, loving the people of India came easy. Though their stories were gut-wrenching, my heart felt no complication in its compulsion to serve them.

But after 6 months, I realized that my educational emphasis in philosophy made the relief and development work to which I aspired demanding on my skill sets.  I packed my bags again and came home to my moderately privileged lifestyle the US, confused about my calling and certain I was destined to live a life languishing apathetically in my middle-class routine.

A job search led me to a position as a ministry-based social worker for an organization that provided job skills, mentoring, childcare and Bible study for low income women in the inner city of Nashville.

I'll admit I was skeptical at first.  I didn't know the first thing about urban poverty. Like many Americans, I felt a certain sense of indifference towards poor in America, and there was maybe, buried deep in my subconscious, even a mild contempt.  I had this sneaking suspicion that the poor in my own country couldn't possibly be like the poor I had encountered in India.  This was the birthplace of the American Dream, a place where anyone who had a will to try and a strong work ethic could improve his or her lot in life.

Someone once told me that animal shelters have an easier time fundraising than homeless shelters, and sadly, I’m not surprised.  Animals aren't too complicated, and they are one-dimensional in their in-culpability. 

There is a more complex emotional reaction to the homeless in America.  There is the compulsion to wonder, "why can't they just get a job?!"  When one is born in the Land of Opportunity, it is easy to assume that the birthright of every American is to have and equal opportunity and a decent shot at life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

What is opportunity?  What does it mean to be poor?

Most middle class Americans are familiar with circumstantial poverty—one bad investment or the loss of a job leads to a period of financial difficulty.  What I learned in the inner city is that to be caught in the cycle of generational poverty is to experience a bankruptcy of spirit, a deficit of hope.  It is poverty of education, community, safety, health, and spiritual guidance.

I met a woman whose first memories were of being locked up in a closet while her mother, a prostitute, "entertained" her guests. I met a woman who, as a little girl, watched a cross burn in her front yard and endured teachers at her new school shouting racial slurs at her because the community around her was angry about integration.  I cried with women who remember in excruciatingly vivid detail, sexual and physical abuse suffered at the hands of relatives and friends, abuse that would go on for years unstopped. These were children, many with developmental and learning disabilities due to instability during their earliest years, that were pushed through failing schools with burned out teachers and deteriorating textbooks and facilities.

Abuse, racism, corruption; we all experience these hardships to a varying degree.  But for the low-income women I worked with, their lives were a perpetual house of cards.  They had no resources, no safety nets to keep them from going under.  One step forward, two steps back.  A broken down car means you can't get to work, and missing even one day of work means you can’t make rent that month. A sick child means you can get fired from a job that keeps you at "part time" status because they don't want to pay you for sick days and holidays.  Finally getting out of the welfare system means losing any childcare assistance, and childcare costs often break the bank.  I knew a woman who wouldn't break up with her abusive boyfriend because he was her only ride to work.  I'm not saying there is no such thing as bad decisions, but we all make bad decisions and only some of us have to face the full force of their consequences.

When we hear the term “safety net,” most of us think of social safety nets like food stamps or medicaid.  But when I think of safety nets in my own life, I think of parents who were willing to pitch in a bit to help me pay rent my first month in my own place.  I think of a successful elementary school and several teachers who really cared and invested some extra time to make sure I didn't fail algebra.  I think of a safe and secure community where I could run and play outside.  I think of a caring doctor who helped when I was going through a difficult mental and physical health challenge (and health insurance that enabled me to pay him).

This month marks the 50th anniversary of President Johnson's Declaration of the War on Poverty.  While we have come a long way since Johnson made that historic speech [in 1967], in 2011 the U.S Bureau of Labor conducted a study and found that 46.2 million Americans (roughly 15% of the population) lived at or below the poverty line. Many of those individuals are children (Poverty defined is a family of four making $23,021). And for anyone who ever wondered "why can't they just get a job?" you'll be interested to know that 10.4 million of these Americans are considered the working poor.  In fact, the working poor made up 7 % of the work force in the US.  Most of these were workers stuck in part time jobs, and women were more likely to be among the working poor, as were blacks and Hispanics (www.bls.gov).

I did the math and found that someone working full time at the current minimum wage (assuming they had paid sick days) would only make $15,080 a year.  This was the painful reality of so many of my students in the inner city of Nashville.  Bottom line: it's just not as simple as "stop being lazy" or "just get a job." I wish I could provide some clear-cut resolution, a silver bullet solution that churches across America could implement to serve the needy. A few women I really respect have showed me that the only way to cultivate effective change in the lives of those in need is to become, yourself, a sort of safety net for them. The resource, the friend, the positive voice, the math tutor, the spiritual mentor they never had. It's complicated, and it can be messy. But Jesus never seemed to mind a mess, and no one he ever healed or scolded or cried for or embraced had a simple story.

The complexity of the need of the human heart is something only God can know.  But perhaps the first step is to begin the process of tweaking your understanding, to realize that the playing field is not always level and not everyone was born with bootstraps.  Before you judge the circumstances of those around you, consider the humbling reality of a sovereign God who "sends poverty and wealth; He humbles and He exalts. He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes and has them inherit a throne of honor" (1 Samuel 2:7-8).

* * * * * * * * * *

To learn more about the organization Amanda served in Nashville, check out the Christian Women’s Job Corps of Middle Tennessee. CWJC empowers individuals to break harmful cycles caused by poverty by providing education, mentoring and resources. Their vision is “to create a community where all individuals can experience transformation of body, mind, heart, and spirit.”

Financial advisor Dave Ramsey is also an evangelical Christian.

What Dave Ramsey gets wrong about poverty

Opinion by Rachel Held Evans, special to CNN
November 30, 2013

(CNN)– Dave Ramsey is rich. And he makes his living telling other evangelical Christians how they can get rich, too.

Host of a nationally syndicated radio program and author of multiple best-selling books, Ramsey targets evangelical Christians with what he calls a “biblical” approach to financial planning, one that focuses primarily on the elimination of consumer debt. His for-profit Financial Peace University is billed as “a biblically based curriculum that teaches people how to handle money God's ways."

Much of what Ramsey teaches is sound, helpful advice, particularly for middle-class Americans struggling with mounting credit card bills. I have celebrated with friends as they’ve marked their first day of debt-free living, thanks in part to Dave Ramsey’s teachings and all those white envelopes of cash he urges his students to use instead of credit cards.

But while Ramsey may be a fine source of information on how to eliminate debt, his views on poverty are neither informed nor biblical.

Take, for example, a recent article by Tim Corley posted to Ramsey’s website. Entitled “20 Things the Rich Do Every Day,” the article presents some dubious statistics comparing the habits of the rich with the habits of the poor, including:
  • “70% of wealthy eat less than 300 junk food calories per day. 97% of poor people eat more than 300 junk food calories per day.”
  • “76% of wealthy exercise aerobically four days a week. 23% of poor do this.”
  • “63% of wealthy listen to audio books during commute to work vs. 5% of poor people.”
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.

For example, a poor person might not exercise four days a week because, unlike a rich person, she cannot afford a gym membership. Or perhaps she has to work two jobs to earn a living wage, which leaves her little time and energy for jogging around the park.

A poor family may eat more junk food, not because they are lazy and undisciplined, but because they live in an economically disadvantaged, urban setting where health food stores are not as available: a so-called “food desert.”

Critics were swift to point out these discrepancies and among the critics were some of Ramsey’s fellow evangelical Christians who also noted that, though the book of Proverbs certainly heralds success as a common return on faithful labor, nowhere does the Bible guarantee that good habits lead to wealth.

The writer of Ecclesiastes observed that "under the sun the race is not to the swift,
nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent,
nor favor to the skillful; but time and chance happen to them all."

And far from having contempt for the poor, Jesus surrounded himself with the needy and challenged the excesses of the rich:

“Blessed are you who are poor,” he said, “for yours is the kingdom of God.
… But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort” (Luke 6:24).

"It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle," Jesus famously said, "than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God."

It’s hard for the wealthy to flourish in the kingdom that Jesus inaugurated because the economy of that kingdom runs so contrary to the economies of the world. It rewards the peacemakers over the powerful, the humble over the proud, the kind over the cruel, and those who hunger to do the right thing over those whose wealth has convinced them they already are.

Ramsey responded to the pushback with an addendum to the original post calling his critics “ignorant” and “immature” and instructing them to “grow up.”

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

The list, he said, applies only to people living in “first world” countries, where Ramsey believes economic injustices are essentially nonexistent. While the poor in developing countries are so as a result of external circumstances beyond their control, the poor in the United States have no one to blame but themselves.

“If you are broke or poor in the U.S. or a first-world economy, the only variable in the discussion you can personally control is YOU,” Ramsey says. “You can make better choices and have better results.”

America, he argues, has prospered as a direct result of its “understanding and application of biblical truths” which have led to “life-changing industry, inventions and a standard of living never known before on this planet.”

“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.

But such a view glosses over the reality that America was not, in fact, founded upon purely Christian principles (unless one counts slavery, ethnic cleansing, gender inequity, and Jim Crow as Christian principles), so we should be careful of assuming our relative wealth reflects God’s favor. (The Roman Empire was wealthy, too, after all.)

It also glosses over the reality that economic injustice is not, in fact, limited to the developing world but plagues our own country as well.
  • When medical bills are the biggest cause of bankruptcy in the United States, there are systemic injustices at work.
  • When people working 40-hour weeks at minimum wage jobs still can’t earn enough to support their families, there are systemic injustices at work.
  • When approximately 1% of Americans hold 40% of the nation’s wealth, there are systemic injustices at work.
  • When the black unemployment rate has consistently been twice as high as the white unemployment rate for the past 50 years, there are systemic injustices at work.
  • 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 un-informed, it’s un-biblical.

God does not divide the world into the deserving rich and the undeserving poor. In fact, the brother of Jesus wrote that God has “chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him” (James 2:5).

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.

Rachel Held Evans is the author of "Evolving in Monkey Town" and "A Year of Biblical Womanhood." She blogs at rachelheldevans.com. The views expressed in this column belong to Rachel Held Evans.

 - CNN Belief Blog