Friday, May 09, 2003

Edifier du Jour-Matthew 5:1-12(NASB). I had done a quick run through the Beatitudes back in October, but this Tony Campolo piece cited by Randy McRoberts made me want to take an in-depth look at them again. Campolo is a politically-liberal Baptist who's calling is to fight poverty. After hearing him at the Urbana '87 missions conference, I briefly pondered going to grad school at his Eastern College (now Eastern U.); my neoliberal streak was a bit stronger back then. The Beatitudes are Jesus' message of confort to the suffering and have-nots of the world. However, if you put this verse into the hands of a Social Gospel guy, however, it becomes a tool to both comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Here's the first two 'graphs of the exerpt.
While teaching at the University of Pennsylvania, I became good friends with a young Jewish student who eventually made a commitment to Christ. As I tried to mentor him and give him a direction as to how to live the Christian life, I advised him to go to a particular church that was well known for its biblically based preaching, to help him get a better handle on what the Bible is all about. When I met my friend several weeks later, he said to me, "You know, if you put together a committee and asked them to take the Beatitudes and create a religon that contradicted every one of them, you could come pretty close to what I'm hearing down there at that church. Whereas Jesus said, "Blessed are the poor." down there they make it clear it is the rich who are blessed.
In quite a few churches, an old Calvinist-offshoot ethic is at home, where the elect are wealthy and the poor are likely not to be the elect. Give a Pentacostal twist to that old Calvinist thought gives us the Prosperity Gospel. The rich are materially blessed, but the poor are spiritually blessed. For the rest of this post, I'll put Campolo's stuff in italics after the pertenent verses; it takes it a bit out of order, but not out of context.
1 When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. 2 He opened His mouth and began to teach them, saying, 3 "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Does that mean that the full in spirit are cursed? I don't think so; that would indicate that we're to stay down and beaten. No, this verse means that the poor in spirit are welcome into the kingdom; the Holy Spirit will pick us up-to borrow from Bob Carlisle, the saints are just the sinners who fall down and get back up.
4 "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Jesus said, 'Blessed are they that mourn,' but the people at that church has a religion that promises happiness with no crucifixions.
Tony's friend might have found his way to a Prosperity Gospel joint, where the positives of the Christian walk are overstated, or at least where the negatives are understated. If we follow the Gospel, we're going to tick people off. Some of us will stay poor. Again, this verse doesn't mean that you are cursed if you are happy, but that the people who are mourning will be comforted and brought through their greif
5 "Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth. Whereas Jesus talked about the meek being blessed, they talk as if they took assertiveness-training courses.
There are multiple ways to present the Gospel and to contest for the kingdom of God. Being gentle and humble doesn't mean being a doormat. When injustice happens, we're supposed to aggressively fix it. Of all people, Campolo should get that; he's no shrinking violet as a preacher. Eileen's gentler than I am and is less adept at sticking to her guns. People like her will tend to be less wealthy than others, but will have a great reward for their nuturing spirit in Heaven.
6 "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
If we seek after godliness, we'll be rewarded.
7 "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
It's our natural tendency to be vindictive when wronged. A merciful person will get walked on and undercompensated, preferring to let it go rather than make a court case out of every slight and mistake. They will get an extra dose of mercy from God.
8 "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Someone who is pure in heart has the heart of God; they will be walking with Him.
9 "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Jesus may have talked about the merciful and peacemakers, but those people are the most enthusiastic supporters of American militarism and capital punishment I have ever met.
Campolo was in the anti-Iraq-war camp. I would classify him and other pacifist-leaning liberals as peacewishers, taking about peace but not making peace. A true peacemaker might have to resort to violence in order to get back to a peaceful situation. I agree with him on capital punishment, but you can make a solid Biblical case for allowing it.
10 "Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Jesus may have lifted up those who endured persecution because they dared to embrace a radical gospel, but that church declares a gospel that espouses middle-class success and affirms a lifestyle marked by social prestige.
First of all, people who are persecuted for being active believers have a special place in the kingdom, but I don't think Jesus was preaching a gospel of poverty and failure. The Prosperity Gospel isn’t godly, either; a middle ground between materialism and asceticism is called for What is "middle-class success." Having a good job, a nice house with the proper furniture and appliances, a nice car, decent clothes, a safe neighborhood and a good family. What would the alternative be? An apartment in the project with Salvation Army store furniture, a bicycle to ride to work, and thrift store clothes (if you can find them for a guy 6’5”, two-hundred and *&^*& pounds)? I don’t think all believers are called to give up all nice things. We’re called to be generous and give to those in need, but I’m also called to look after my family. When I looked at an apartment for Eileen and I, I looked for places that would be in a safe neighborhood. That tends to be “middle-class” neighborhoods. I could have save a bit on rent by living in the low-rent part of Lake Wales, but I wanted a place where Eileen could get out of the car in the evening without having to be fearful of being mugged or raped. We need to avoid materialism, but asceticism isn’t godly either, for it tries to deny the physical blessings God gives us. Most people need to move towards frugality, but we need not become materially anorexic in the process.
11 "Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. 12 "Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
This is one that will fly in the face of the name-it-and-claim-it crowd. We will get into trouble because we are Christians, but will be blessed though it.

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