Wayne Grudem’s Misuse of Scripture in “Politics According to the Bible”

I’m reading Wayne Grudem’s recent book, Politics According to the Bible (Zondervan, 2010). A conservative, Grudem is responding to books from the left like Jim Wallis’ God’s Politics. In my opinion, he makes some good points and some not so good points. Since this blog focuses on money, simplicity, giving, and justice, I thought I’d offer an evaluation of Grudem’s sections on “economics”, “private property”, and “giving to the poor”. In this area, I’m very disappointed. I’m quite concerned that Grudem’s biblical foundations are deeply faulty, and that many Christians who read him are being led to very wrong conclusions and opinions. His treatment of both Old and New Testament texts is vastly different from ours in the Lazarus at the Gate / Global Poverty Impact curriculum. And since Grudem’s book seems like it is meant to also be a textbook for seminary students, I want to offer a few thoughts on it for the readers of this blog.

In his chapter on Economics (chapter 9), Grudem takes the Bible as affirming private property. He seems to take this as an absolute: in fact, the right of the individual to acquire as much wealth and private property as possible by all lawful and moral means. He begins by quoting the prohibition on coveting (Ex.20:17) as assuming private property in the sense that he means it. He immediately condemns communism, or public ownership, on the grounds that it seeks to abolish private property. He cites Leviticus 25:10 as an example of how God returns land and property to individuals – a quotation I will evaluate below. He quotes 1 Samuel 8:10 – 18 (the warning of Samuel to Israel that a king will tax, take, and enslave) as evidence that big government power is an evil. He believes that economic development is God’s clear intention for the creation. He affirms the money currency and free markets as the direct derivation from biblical principles. He affirms the Bible’s concern for the poor but critiques government attempts at alleviating poverty. He believes government should encourage businesses. He believes taxes should be as low as possible for all individuals, and lower than 20% for corporations. He comments on capital gains taxes, income tax rates, and eschews a higher tax rate on the rich. Based on his reading of selected Scripture, he believes that God gave people the unlimited right to pass on economic inheritance to their children (Proverbs 19:14; Numbers 27:8 – 11) and that government should not interfere with that (Ezekiel 46:18). He says, “The Bible clearly takes the side of individual ownership of property. My conclusion is that the estate tax should be permanently repealed.” (p.309) Etc. etc.

For the moment, I’ll set aside the fact that American wealth is, to a very significant degree, built on stolen land (from Native Americans, Chicanos, and Mexican Americans), stolen life and labor (from African Americans), stolen wages (from underpaid immigrant strikebreakers to today’s migrant workers, with underpaid women throughout), and stolen health (from people affected by pollution, toxins, harmful products, workplace injuries, etc. who went without legal defense). I’ll only address Grudem’s misuse of various Scriptures which undergirds his thinking about economics and private property.

Even though we cannot reinstate the Law of Moses as if we were Mosaic Israel, it is still valuable to discern principles that we will find developed further in the rest of Scripture. One lesson is that in Israel, wealth was God’s blessing for all, including future generations. Leviticus 25 is quite significant because in this section we find the clearest statement about God’s desire for Israel’s use of the land over time and as it relates to family and “private property”. But Grudem truncates it down to the individual.

Leviticus 25 demonstrates that God’s vision for biblical Israel was virtually the opposite that Wayne Grudem has for America. Israel divided its land up by clan and family in a roughly even distribution, starting from the point they settled the Promised Land. The fiftieth year was called a “Jubilee year.” It was a “reset button.” During the Jubilee year, people returned to their ancestral lands (Lev.25:13), even if they were indentured to someone else in a debt-contract. They did not pay for the remainder of the debt contract that they left unfulfilled. Land, too, would return to its original tribal and familial boundaries (Lev.25:14 – 28), so people could not be permanently displaced from their ancestral lands. In other words, land could not be permanently bought or acquired. If an Israelite fell upon hard times and was forced to sell family property, a kinsman-redeemer was required by Law to intervene (Lev.25:25 – 28). But even if there was no kinsman-redeemer, that Israelite would be restored to his ancestral land at no expense!

This also means that children and grandchildren would not be penalized for the laziness or misfortunes of their parents and grandparents. Because land was wealth, there were very strong measures taken to ensure that, over time, no family and no individual could accumulate land at the expense of someone else (which was, incidentally, the only way to accumulate it). God was weaving a deep principle into Israel’s existence: ‘The land, moreover, shall not be sold permanently, for the land is Mine; for you are but aliens and sojourners with Me’ (Lev.25:23). God was reminding Israel of their status as ‘aliens and sojourners.’ They did not, in fact, own the land. God did. And their experience of that reality lay in the fact that God pushed a “reset button” every fifty years on land boundaries, so that every Israelite could enjoy their ancestral land as a gift from Him as if they were first settling the Promised Land! This was something like what humanity should have experienced had the fall never happened: God was bestowing the garden land to humanity and every family would have their own portion.

Imagine if the United States followed a policy of land restitution to Native Americans, African Americans, and Chicanos. We would have a very different situation to say the least! Or, imagine if there were some way to design a social system so that the children and grandchildren of parents who fell on hard times would not be punished for what happened in the generations before them. Instead, our social system forces children of lazy and criminal parents to swallow their parents’ choices, as if we could safely assume that children of those people will share their parents’ characteristics. And, we essentially say that many of the poor are poor because they keep having children. Historically, European American people infected by the disease of racism allowed children of black slaves and sharecroppers to inherit all the unmitigated disadvantages they could handle, and more. Even for people who claim to be without racial prejudice, which may be the case on a personal level, they fail to see how the economic and legal system we have perpetuates injustice by forcing children and grandchildren to bear the brunt of all their ancestors’ misfortunes and choices. From 1979 – 2007, the income gap tripled. In roughly the same period, the racial wealth gap between white families and black families increased by fourfold. But the Mosaic arrangement of land and wealth in ancient Israel would have alleviated all that.

I am incredulous, then, that Grudem can read Leviticus 25 and still say, “The Bible clearly takes the side of individual ownership of property. My conclusion is that the estate tax should be permanently repealed.” (p.309) How can he wrench the idea of “private property” out of its context and foundation in Leviticus 25? For people to have the unlimited ability to accumulate wealth and pass it on to their children is precisely the opposite of what Leviticus 25 says. And quoting Proverbs or any other Old Testament passage about “inheritance” or “hard work” is of absolutely no use for his case. That is because every other Old Testament passage takes Leviticus 25 as the starting point and foundation. So “inheritance” in Proverbs includes God’s “reset button” of land redistribution to its original intended boundaries and nothing beyond it. It most certainly does not imply that parents should have the ability to pass down unlimited amounts of wealth and property to their children, especially when they gained it at someone else’s expense, but even when they gained it “fairly”.

Contrary to what Grudem thinks, there is not even a notion of economic or technological progress in Israel’s Scriptures. In fact, an overarching spirit of anti-progress is bound up in the Mosaic legislation to prevent Israelites from displacing each other from the land. Land was the most desirable economic commodity of ancient times, the driving force for economic growth and trade, the symbol of status, and the factor of production attached to power in that era, which is significant in that Israel valued land even more, perhaps, than other civilizations did. Their land was the tangible manifestation of their covenant relationship with God. Yet precisely because of this, land was frozen in its distributed arrangement by tribe, clan, and family.

It is not even as simple as the contemporary Roman Catholic posture, “Justice takes priority over progress, but progress that equally benefits everyone is acceptable.” The entire notion of progress is called into question by the Bible. It is quite impossible that Israel thought they should ever improve on the land as it was given to them. The sabbatical ordinances of letting the land lie fallow for an entire year reflects a certain ideal, the ideal of humanity simply receiving provision from the land in as undisturbed and unprovoked a manner as possible. Israel was to let the land experience Sabbath rest every seventh year (Lev.25:1 – 8 ) and every fiftieth year, that is, after seven Sabbath cycles (Lev.25:9 – 12). These Sabbath years for the land were more than simply a year of planned crop rotation to let the soil recover. It was an act of trust in God to provide what they needed, without agricultural planning, irrigation, or cultivation. Every seventh day, seventh year, and fiftieth year, Israel was to experience something of a return to the garden of Eden, eating freely from the land. Furthermore, it was impossible for Israel to plan intelligently for the future because God commanded the people to sacrifice the best tenth of their harvest (normally used for future seeding) and their animals (normally used for breeding). The embodiment of future economic certainty was destroyed to leave room for God Himself to supply it. Economic development under these conditions was not even an intellectual category for Israel. Improving domestic stock through intelligent breeding was literally laid on the altar. Thus, rather than seeing the land as an object God gave them to harness, Israel understood the land as God’s medium of blessing His covenant people. The land was one of Israel’s sources of identity. It mediated their existence. The promised land mediated between God and Israel in the same way the Edenic land mediated between God and Adam. The land was sustained by God (not by them) and supervised providentially by Him (not by them) in correlation with Israel’s obedience to Torah, not in relation to whether they used the best known agricultural methods, worked the hardest they could, etc. This is clear from Deuteronomy 11:11 – 17. Israel saw a significant distinction between their land and the land of other nations, like Egypt. God would bless Israel on their land because of their love for God and love for neighbor, the original responsibilities of both Adam and Cain. No other people had a land like this one. No pesticides needed. No chemicals. Organic. Sustainable. Tiny carbon footprint.

Furthermore, the Jews were not to loan money to each other at interest (Ex.22:26 – 27, Lev.25:35 – 38, Deut.23:19, Ezk.18:10 – 18, 22:12) which put a check on capital, the second factor of production and the driving medium for innovation. Banking as we understand it today, which already existed in ancient Babylonia and the Mesopotamian region according to Hawkes and Wooley, was impossible in Israel. With this prohibition, Israel had no incentive to profiteer at the expense of creation’s resources. They had no impetus for technological advancement, and the institutional motivation for economic growth was dismantled. Israel could not make human ingenuity part of the process of receiving God’s blessings from the land. They could not link the future to the present by means of money. They could not even describe risk in monetary terms, but instead had to place time and uncertainty into the hands of God. In fact, given that the practice of usury favors the wealthy, as they are the only ones with such capital to loan out, it is not surprising that God forbade usury among the Israelites. Once again we see God instituting laws that prevented the acquisition of more property, protected people from their own greed, mitigated against the permanent displacement of the homeless, and halted people from evaluating everything and everyone in terms of material wealth. The church during the Middle Ages likewise generally forbade the practice of interest-rate lending, carrying over the disdain for usury present in early Christianity and also in ancient Greece. Only with Calvin and his followers, with their reliance on trade and commerce for funds, did Christianity and usury become bedfellows. To ill effect: We have not had a vigorous Christian critique of banking for about five hundred years. It would come in useful right about now with the global financial system in a crisis.

When God revealed Himself personally in Jesus of Nazareth, he called his Jewish followers to disinherit themselves from the Mosaic land system (e.g. Matthew 6:19 – 34; 19:13 – 30; Luke 6:12 – 49; 9:51 – 62; 12:13 – 34; 14:25 – 35; 18:15 – 30; 21:1 – 4; etc.). He did this because of his global evangelistic mission; Jewish disciples couldn’t hold onto their ancestral lands and go out into the Gentile world at the same time! He did this also because the generosity of his people was now unlimited. God was no longer utilizing a stable economic system in which people were anchored in a land, which would then become a geo-political community. Instead, Christians are called by Jesus to be a mobile, flexible, pilgrim people, not claiming permanent roots in a land, but looking forward to reunion of the new heavens and new earth.

All of this, Grudem apparently rationalizes away. He never even considers the biblical theme of power and what Jesus and Paul might suggest about a fundamental redistribution of power. Much to the detriment of Christian scholarship, devotion, witness, love, and yes, political action. While Grudem is eager to criticize the consolidation of government power, he fails to mention the growth of corporate power and its skewing of American democracy. He doesn’t even consider the role of banks. If he had listened to populist Republicans like Kevin Phillips, who presciently warned us in Wealth and Democracy of the corruption of democracy and the perils of a financial economy, his book would have much more balance. But alas, he did not. I could hardly stomach how he addresses Native Americans in ch.15. To readers of this book, I can only say, “buyer beware.” To those who are in relationship with fans of the book, I can only say, “Please have them read this blog post.”

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21 thoughts on “Wayne Grudem’s Misuse of Scripture in “Politics According to the Bible”

  1. Hey mako, this was very interesting! I normally don’t like politics, but now I’m getting more and more interested because of how corrupted the US democracy is in its current state 😦 I’ll be sure to try and read Phillips and I’ll also try to forward this to my high school Bible teacher who really likes Wayne Grudem lol

    Just a question: you seem to describe a utopia when you talk about banks and how they charge interest rates, which is never what God wanted. But since we’re NOT living in God’s garden, how do you think we can function today as a successful economy WITHOUT interest rates? Granted, capitalism was never supposed to be the answer, but don’t you think that, human sin counted as a variable, it’s the best choice? This is excluding the “capitalism” that the US practices right now, but rather the capitalism as Adam Smith envisioned it 🙂

  2. That book sounds chillingly misguided. Thanks for your critique. Do you have a good book on Biblical perspectives on economic matters to recommend?

    • Hi Kate,
      Thanks for reading, and for your post! I’ve appreciated several good books on money and economics. Jacques Ellul’s “Money and Power”; Ron Sider’s “Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger”; Sandra Wheeler’s “Wealth as Peril and Obligation” are probably the best treatments of Scripture. And if you haven’t yet, you can check out the Lazarus at the Gate curriculum: http://www.lazarusatthegate.org. Let me know what you think about any of those materials, or anything else you pick up.
      warmly,
      Mako

  3. Pingback: Grudem: Politics not really according to the Bible - Gentle Wisdom

  4. Mako:

    A few thoughts and questions:

    1. I find it odd that the Lev 25 “reset button” fails to adjust for changes in family size: your family gets back the same allotment no matter how many kids your parents and grandparents had. This means that, although “children and grandchildren would not be penalized for the laziness or misfortunes of their parents and grandparents” (as you put it), children and grandchildren would still be penalized for their parents and grandparents’ reproductive choices. Highly fertile families would see their fixed allocation divided and subdivided into smaller and smaller portions for each child, while families which exercised restraint would not.

    2. Your thought that the Sabbath years are “something of a return to the garden of Eden, eating freely from the land” is new to me. Does scripture itself invoke this understanding of the intention of the law?

    3. Your reference to Deut 11:11-17 confuses me, especially in the context of technological/agricultural progress. It seems you think it indicates that God intends to provide *directly* (miraculously?) for Israel as long as Israel is faithful to God, and that progress in agricultural technology would be superfluous. I suppose this receives some support from verses 10 and 12, “The land you are entering to take over is not like the land of Egypt … where you planted your seed and irrigated it by foot as in a vegetable garden. … It is a land the LORD your God cares for…” But surely, Israel still needed to plant and irrigate their crops to get a harvest (right?)!

    Instead, it seems to me that the passage is better understood as a metaphor for God’s *overall* faithful provision for Israel, which (for all we know) might actually include the imparting of agricultural and scientific knowledge as the physical means of extracting bountiful harvests from the land. In other words, I see no reason to interpret Deut 11:11-17 as indicating that God’s *method* of provision must operate miraculously *directly* on the land, without any human intervention (other than harvesting); God could just as well fulfill those promises by miraculously giving the Israelites technological and scientific ingenuity, which when applied would produce a bounty….

    4. I’ve always seen the OT prohibition on interest as a *problem* for the plausibility of biblical economics. That is, it seems so manifestly obvious that the charging of interest is *essential* to healthy economics, that Christians face an apologetic *challenge* in explaining why the Bible prohibits it. (I take this challenge to be similar, for instance, to the conflict between evolutionary theory and the account of creation we find in Genesis 1.)

    I’ve never before encountered someone who seriously thinks we must radically reform current economic systems to eliminate charging interest. Is that your position? If so, what do you think of Islamic banking/Islamic mortgage arrangements, which technically avoid charging “interest”, yet recreate much of the same economic benefits by re-conceptualizing familiar financial instruments? (wikipedia has a good summary of Islamic banking techniques.) Are they acceptable, or do they totally miss the intention of the law?

    5. I suppose I should lay my own cards on the table. I think it’s clear from scripture that everyone should be provided some minimum of welfare, but that once that’s secured, there’s no barrier to how much wealth the rich might accumulate through hard work and ingenuity. (I’m tempted to use this as a way to resolve the conflict between Deut 15:4 and Deut 15:1)

    6. And while I don’t (yet) know how to make a biblical case for it, I also think we should strive for an ideal that John Rawls has called “equality of fair opportunity”: all who have the same talent and industriousness will have the same prospects of success, no matter their circumstances of birth.

    The main difficulty with this is that the single biggest generator of inequality is the family: some parents are just better at raising their kids than others, and this violates equality of fair opportunity.

    I really don’t see any way to achieve true equality of fair opportunity without disrupting the family. One solution is to advocate a system which removed kids from their parents and raised them in *communities* (e.g., communal child rearing practiced in kibbutzes; this was also Plato’s solution). But to achieve complete equality, we’d have to *require* parents to relinquish their kids. This is not just undesirable: it would be horrendously evil (I think).

    In any case, I think that as long as families exist, we’ll always have significant inequality, even if we eliminate all other oppressive injustices. And I don’t know how to deal with this….

    • Hi Ang,

      1. True! But the Mosaic-Sinaitic Law from a Christian perspective was always temporary. At some point, God was going to send the Israelites out into the world to participate in His ongoing mission to the nations. So at some point, Israel’s life on the land as settlers was going to come to an end, and their life as pilgrims in the world would be given new meaning.

      2. Absolutely. Every aspect of Israel’s existence in the promised land was an echo of humanity’s existence in the original garden land. First, you can trace the motif of “blessing” and “fruitfulness” that falls first upon Adam and Eve in Genesis 1, and then is renewed with Noah, and then Abraham (Gen.12:1 – 3). This signifies how God was empowering and blessing His true humanity, and this fell upon Israel. Second, you can see how the Tabernacle sanctuary (and later the Temple in Jerusalem) was seen as a new Eden (the same materials and colors are used in Exodus 35 – 40 as in Genesis 2). Third, the land and its unique fruitfulness invite this comparison. For more info, see http://nagasawafamily.org/archives_work.htm.

      3. I quoted Dt.11:11 – 17 for two reasons. First, to show that the use of biblical Israel by modern Christians is extremely limited because Israel had an unusual land supernaturally cared for by God. Second, to show that God’s provision of rain, crops, and food from the land was tied to Israel’s obedience to the law, which was like what Adam and Eve enjoyed in Genesis 2. Ongoing enjoyment of the land was tied more to Israel’s holiness ethics (Leviticus 18 – 20) than to what we now call “technological progress” driven by some political-economic engine. From all accounts, they were to simply receive God’s supernatural care for the land. This doesn’t rule out technological progress in principle, but would offset the social and economic inequalities that often result from such progress.

      4. The ancient Greeks also rejected interest rate lending, if you were under the assumption that only the ancient Jews and ancient Christians rejected it. Many medieval European Catholic theologians rejected it (although they often created the loophole of the Jewish banker), and recently, C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity also remarked that perhaps there is a problem with our rather facile endorsement of usury. But your question about plausibility touches upon a larger question. Perhaps I’m misunderstanding you, but I don’t know why this issue has a bearing on the “plausibility” of the biblical narrative as a whole. I have no problem believing that this was the historical attitude of the ancient Jews and Christians (and Greeks). Perhaps implicitly you feel that this approach must be rationally implementable in our modern economy. In my opinion, that is not the criterion of its truthfulness. Christian ethics are not justified or plausible based on whether we can translate them into a viable public policy alternative for our society as a whole. Rather, Christian ethics are justified and plausible based on whether they bear faithful witness to Christ, his character, and his mission.

      5 and 6. Your points about the family are well taken. But again, I don’t think Leviticus 25 or the Mosaic-Sinaitic vision of Israel’s life can or should be translated into modern terms directly. Also, Jesus’ teachings are a unilateral set of ethics for his followers and not directly translatable into a public policy. So I sympathize with your concern for a more fair distribution of opportunity (absolutely fair is, I agree, an impossibility). But the family is also an important biblical consideration. So, we can discuss wages, policies concerning inheritance and the handing down of wealth, working towards equality in public schools, ways to offset residential segregation, and so on, what else can we do but “fight the long defeat”?

      Best,
      Mako

      • Mako:

        1) I think your willingness to make this move here, to take all Israel’s legal arrangements as *temporary*, shows you give a very high priority to *economic equality* as part of God’s design. That is, you’re willing to posit an unstated principle that yields equality even when the Biblical arrangements, as stated, would allow inequality. I wonder where you get this principle from?

        2. Work and technological progress seem not to be inherently alien to the arrangement in Eden. God planted the garden, but man was to “work and take care” of it. I don’t see how “the entire notion of progress is called into question” by Eden (or anything else in Scripture) *in any way whatsoever*.

        3. I actually think technological process is best explained as Divine provision: the best explanation of the fact that our minds can unravel the mysteries of the universe is that God designed both our brains and the universe and matched the two together. We can, of course, abuse our cognitive abilities, and this can result in suffering (e.g., inequality). But I really don’t see why the solution has to involve any critique of technological/agricultural/economic progress as such, as you seem to advocate.

        4. My worry is with this sort of argument. 1) If the Bible is correct, all lending with interest is wrong. 2) But we now know there’s nothing wrong with lending with interest as such (because it’s essential to enabling the best economic arrangements), thus 3) We now know Bible is not completely correct. I’m not all that worried about other societies which condemned interest, because it doesn’t matter so much to me that they be found to be correct. There is such a thing as progress is moral thinking (I think), and those societies are just outdated. I’m unwilling to think the Bible is outdated, though.

        To further illustrate my worry, here’s an analogous argument. 4) If the Bible is correct, American slavery was not wrong. 5) But we now know that American slavery was wrong, thus 6) We now know the Bible is not completely correct. Here, it seems to me the best way to go is to deny 4). What surprises me is that, in (1-3), you seem to advocate denying 2). Why? I guess I want you to spell out in greater detail how, exactly, charging interest fails to be “faithful witness to Christ, his character, and his mission”, as you put it.

        And, I’m still wondering what you think of Islamic banking, which promises to recover large-scale economic development without ever charging interest.

        5) Do you agree with my view, that once some minimum level of welfare is secured for everyone, “there’s no barrier to how much wealth the rich might accumulate through hard work and ingenuity”?

  5. @Angasm,

    1. You ask where I get the value of economic equality. I think you’re overstating my case for economic equality here, though I appreciate your thought in some ways. I am not for some absolute and static system of ‘economic equality’, although I think it’s plain to see that God has some kind of rough economic equality in mind when He parceled out Israel’s land to them, and this is what I fault Grudem for not seeing. In the Old Testament, distributive social justice is a much higher value than progress. And in fact, there is a kind of New Testament rough ‘equality’ that Paul referred to in 2 Corinthians 8: ‘For this is not for the ease of others and for your affliction, but by way of equality – at this present time your abundance being a supply for their need, so that their abundance also may become a supply for your need, that there may be equality; as it is written, ‘He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little had no lack.’ (2 Cor.8:13 – 15) Paul was collecting a financial offering for the famine victims in Judea and Jerusalem. It is notable that these Corinthian Christians were ‘giving to the church’ in a very different way than we do, with our ‘10% tithe to the local congregation,’ which reinforces global inequalities. They were giving to Jewish Christians whom they had never met before, based on need. This is not a public policy prescription for government aid, but I see no reason why this should not be a factor (among others) in Christian giving today to the global church. Quite to the contrary: it should.

    But more must be said, and said quickly. When Paul was collecting this relief offering in various Gentile churches, as he was in 2 Corinthians 8 – 9, Romans 15, and probably Philippians, he was willing to accept money from ‘the churches of Macedonia’ who were in ‘deep poverty’ (2 Cor.8:1 – 2). This indicates that Christian generosity goes to the level of the imitation of and participation in Christ. This is why Paul was thankful to receive a financial offering from poor Christian people, to give it to other poor Christian people. The act of sacrificial love and generosity was inherently meaningful, even more deeply meaningful than the outcome of a rough equality. If anything, this is an ongoing, living responsibility Christians have towards others, not a prescription for a static legal and social order.

    My willingness to take Israel’s legal arrangements as temporary is based on the logic of the biblical story, not in order to slip in some kind of similar economic program through the backdoor. Ethically, Messianic Israel differed from Mosaic Israel in large measure because Jesus called his people into a pilgrim existence. They were to no longer be a geo-political nation, and especially not a theocracy. And when they spread out, their ethics did not reference a social economic order (as in Leviticus 25), but Jesus who was infinitely generous. Hence, Christians on the whole seemed to take the attitude that Paul describes in 1 Timothy, ‘For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction.’ (1 Tim.6:7 – 9)

    So even when Christians have significant influence into political processes, it is unclear exactly how Christians are to influence public policy. This is part of my hesitation of simply saying that Christians ought to abolish interest rates. I think there should be debates about it, certainly. And I think there should certainly be ways that Christians make 0% loans to the poor, help people get out of debt, and do other things. More on that below.

    2. I’m not saying that there was absolutely no technological progress in the pre-fall creation, but the difference in our opinions regarding how and to what degree this would have happened is quite significant. There does seem to be enough textual warrant to think that Adam and Eve were to eventually design clothes for themselves, some kinds of tools, and so on. I suspect that the world of an unfallen humanity would have been a manner of human civilization not at odds with nature but reconciled with it, like Tolkien’s elvish civilizations of Lothlorien and Rivendell. This, after all, is the picture of the civilization of the New Jerusalem from Revelation 21 – 22, made of natural materials and such. I can readily square that with my sense of what God’s intention was in Genesis 1 – 2. But I believe that you are quite overstating the case when you suggest there is no implicit or explicit critique of the notion of technical progress.

    Consider what Adam and Eve were supposed to do in the garden. Part of the difficulty in understanding this issue is difficulty in translating and understanding 2:15. Were they to ‘work/till’ the garden? If so, how? If human-crafted implements like tools were an intended and integral part of the original mandate to till and keep the garden, why are tools not invented until Cain’s descendants generations later (Gen.4:22)? How could they simultaneously spread out across the whole earth? To be sure, how can the different responsibilities from the two creation accounts (spread out and stay in the garden) be reconciled? We must look at Genesis 2 without our current preconceptions and experiences of work, but rather with the aim of recontextualizing the passage in the overall biblical history that it narrates.

    My first observation deals with the narrative of Genesis 2 – 3 itself. Sailhamer argues (convincingly, I believe) that the ‘shrub of the field’ and the ‘plant of the field’ mentioned at the beginning of the second creation account (Gen.2:4 – 5) are not references to the garden before the Fall, an assumption which would make the two creation accounts stand in contradiction to each other over the question of whether plants or humans were created first. Rather, the ‘shrub’ and ‘plant of the field’ refer to the ‘thorns and thistles’ and ‘plants of the field’ resulting from the curse, as evidenced by the repetition of phrases that occurs in both places (John Sailhamer, The Pentateuch as Narrative, Zondervan: Grand Rapids MI, 1992, p.97. See also U. Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Genesis, Part 1, From Adam to Noah, trans. Israel Abrahams, Jerusalem: Magnes, 1972, p.102). The writer of Genesis anticipates a post-fall audience, so by way of contrast, he mentions conditions familiar to them that did not actually exist in the pre-fall world. This occurs in three other ways: (i) The narrative anticipates the phenomenon of rain in the special garden area of Eden, which would of course be familiar to the author’s post-fall audience even though rain in Eden does not actually seem to have been present before the fall. Similarly, (ii) the narrator anticipates what work after the fall would be like by referring to the fact that there was ‘no man to work the ground’ (2:4 – 5), a phrase which anticipates the time when the man and the woman were to be cast from garden ‘to work the ground’ (3:23). Finally, (iii) sweat is a result of the fall, which is best understood as a contrast to no sweat before the fall. Could Adam and Eve have done significant agricultural work without sweat? Probably not as we understand it today. This supports my hypothesis: There was a significant difference between pre-fall and post-fall living and working conditions. Since it is only after the curse that humankind would eat the ‘plants of the field’ as opposed to the ‘fruit of the trees,’ and only after sweaty labor at that, we are on slippery ground when we say that Adam and Eve ruled in creation by hard physical labor.

    Specifically, the only way to reconcile the two creation responsibilities given to human beings – on the one hand, to spread out and fill the earth, and on the other hand, to tend a seemingly stationary garden – is to conclude that Adam, Eve, and their descendants were to spread the special conditions of the garden throughout the whole earth. This is not surprising given what we see God promise Israel: When they were humble before Him, He would cause the land to be a fruitful garden for them. Likewise, God also promised that when the whole earth is filled with the knowledge of Him, the conditions of life Israel experienced in the promised land would extend throughout the whole creation (Isa.11:6 – 9; 54:2 – 3; 65:17 – 25; Rom.4:13; Rev.21 – 22). Therefore we can reasonably conclude that the original human responsibility was to spread the special conditions of the garden throughout the whole creation. We were to be co-gardeners with God, intermediaries through whom God brought forth even more order and life.

    How were Adam and Eve to do this? Most English translations render Adam’s responsibility in the garden in Gen.2:15, ‘to work it and keep it,’ with the pronoun ‘it’ fluidly meaning either the garden and/or the ground. There are considerations to this, however. The Hebrew word translated ‘put’ (nuach, Gen.2:15) in the phrase ‘the LORD God put Adam in the garden,’ can be translated ‘rested’ in this context. The same word is used when God ‘gives Israel rest’ in the land (e.g. Ex.33:14; Dt.3:13, 20; 5:14), which of course has thematic symmetry to the original humanity being at rest in the original blessed land. Hence God positioned Adam in the garden east of Eden to live in a state of rest, which raises questions about work in the post-fall sense.

    What then is Eden? The close similarity between the garden and the appearance, coloration, materials, and role of Israel’s tabernacle (compare Gen.2:10-12 and Ex.25 – 27) is suggestive of priestly responsibilities given to God’s true humanity, Israel (Gordon J. Wenham, ‘Sanctuary Symbolism in the Garden of Eden Story,’ Proceedings of the World Congress of Jewish Studies 9 (1986): 19-25), which requires the original humanity to have had priestly responsibilities to worship at the location of God’s presence. This means that Eden is a supernatural manifestation of God’s presence. In addition, Eden has very important thematic similarities to another location of God’s presence, the more institutionalized tabernacle: Israel’s Temple. Note that a supernatural river of life flows out of both – compare Gen.2:10 with Ezk.47:1 – 12. Thus, humanity in creation was designed to spread out from Eden, creation’s priestly center, to proclaim human lordship in creation. Likewise, it is significant that in God’s scheme of redemption, Christians were sent out from Jerusalem to proclaim Jesus’ lordship as God’s newly restored humanity.

    What seems important is that in the original paradisal garden land, and with Eden as their immediate environment, humanity’s responsibilities and life were certainly not the same as they were after the fall. Moisture came up from the ground where they were. A river also flowed supernaturally from it – supernaturally because rivers do not diverge in nature; they converge; yet this river diverged into four ‘headwaters’. Humanity’s original commission was, therefore, highly unusual. From this central place of worship, humanity pre-fall had a commission to spread the special beauty and superabundance of God’s garden throughout an already beautiful and abundant, but wild, creation, carrying God’s presence with them as His image-bearers and so reproducing the conditions of Eden everywhere. This supernatural filling of the creation with God’s divine presence (in the second creation account) corresponds thematically with the creation needing to be filled naturally with human life (in the first creation account). This literary tie between the two creation accounts should not be missed. God did not make the creation already filled completely with life; He made creation to be filled in every positive sense, and humanity was to partner with God to fill it. (Note that the motif of filling is also present in our relation to Jesus Christ, particularly in Ephesians. We are the fullness of him who fills all in all (Eph.1:23). This ‘filling’ applies reciprocally. On the one hand, we are to grow up in all aspects into Jesus, who is the head (Eph.4:15). That is, we fill up Jesus’ body. On the other hand, we are to be filled with the Spirit (Eph.5:18) and filled up to all the fullness of God (Eph.3:19) which is probably corporate language. As in the old creation, so too in the new: God creates a realm to be filled. In New Testament terms, we fill up Jesus’ body, and Jesus fills up our individual bodies by his Spirit.)

    Furthermore, the command to rule and subdue was associated with human beings speaking and verbalizing their rule over the creation. Just as God brought forth life in creation by speaking, humans were to tend life primarily by speaking. This ties the first and second creation accounts closer to each other, since the commission to rule the creation corresponds to Adam naming the animals. The possession of the divine image suggests some ability to act in a parallel way to God, who works by speaking. Logic also necessitates it: Adam had to verbally repeat God’s blessing and prohibition to everyone else in creation. This sustaining of God’s word through the word of humanity captures the essence of what it means to be God’s true humanity. Perhaps the animals even spoke back to humanity, which may have been the case since no one was surprised that the serpent could speak. The world of Adam and Eve may have been very close to C.S. Lewis’ Narnia, where creatures understood the human voice, and perhaps had voices of their own. And the power of human speech is further reinforced by the Babel narrative, where humanity speaks like the creator God (‘Come, let us make’) and God Himself concedes that ‘nothing will be impossible for them’ (Gen.11:6), because humanity will weave a story together about themselves that does not include God. Thus, communication was at the centerpiece of God’s work and humanity’s true work. This may sound odd, and while it may not be vital to the points being made here, it fits well within the orientation of priesthood and worship suggested by the history of Israel and the New Testament.

    The notion of Adam and Eve farming is again unlikely if God’s unusual arrangement with Israel was a limited restoration of what used to be Adam and Eve’s life before the Fall. We cannot be absolutely sure, at this point, what their work in the garden actually looked like, but it appears that Adam and Eve in their original state did little farming, irrigating, and cultivating, unlike even Israel, who did some of this, and that is why I believe Israel experienced only a limited restoration of the original creation. Adam and Eve were to live in the seventh day, which, textually speaking, had no end; the creation was already finished and good, and it was without the curse. Once we understand how the creation account functions within the narrative story of Israel and all humanity, we cannot assume that our experience of work in creation neatly corresponds to theirs. In fact we must conclude that Adam and Eve lived in an unusual state of rest in relation to the creation. From here, I want to evaluate your point #3.

    3. I am uncertain at what level to engage your point here. On the one hand, part of me wants to work out in finer detail what kinds of technologies Adam and Eve would have devised from creation. Again, I suspect that it would have been a manner of human civilization not at odds with nature but reconciled with it, much like Tolkien’s elvish civilizations of Lothlorien and Rivendell. This, again, is the picture we have of the civilization of the New Jerusalem from Revelation 21 – 22, made of natural materials and yet habitable by people. All this is fascinating and rather playful because we are talking about a different order of being and a different order of life.

    But the more serious part of me wants to ask why you apparently feel there is a straight line of continuity from the Genesis creation account and the conditions there, all the way to us, who live after the fall and in the midst of the groaning creation? On the exegetical and theological level, I think you are reading our fallen existence backward into the creation account. Genesis 1 – 4, along with Genesis 1 – 11 as a whole, critique all civilizations as tainted by the fall. Both literary units end with ‘cities’ in the biblical idiom (the city Enoch in Genesis 4, the city Babel in Genesis 11), which both represent human rebellion against God. They are already looking ahead to the resolution of the problem of human nature and human civilization, along with human alienation from the creation. The earliest Christian theologians said that humanity lost two things in the fall: innocence and power. This insight into some power that we lost in the fall corresponds, I think, to the groaning of the creation, that we aborted a mission to bring forth more sustained life and beauty from the creation because we forsook the spiritual power we once had. When the Edenic intersection between heaven and earth was open prior to the fall, it is possible that God’s supernatural presence with humanity made the earth something more than a finite resource. But now, the earth is most certainly a finite resource, and what we call ‘progress’ is rapidly depleting it.

    This situation cannot be ‘resolved’ by constructing a system of ethics cobbled together from various parts of Scripture. It might be mitigated somewhat, but mitigation is different from resolution. Ultimately, Scripture tells us quite realistically that the creation calls out for the return of Christ to the earth to renew it and renew humanity (Rom.8:18 – 25).

    You ask why a biblical solution has to involve a critique of technological/agricultural/economic progress as such. There is one very practical and immediate consideration: the forces of technological and economic progress we have set into motion will one day exhaust the earth’s resources and make our planet quite difficult to inhabit. I don’t see how you can overlook this. Take the concept of the ‘free market,’ something quite vital to the overall notion of ‘progress.’ In a ‘free market,’ we only factor in the cost of acquiring natural resources: how much money, time, and effort did it take us to get raw materials? Then we add our labor to it, and make a product. Depending on how we value our own time and labor, this typically becomes the cost of an item. And in a competitive market, driven by the desire for high returns on an investment (measured by various interest rates, of course), people (corporations) try to acquire natural resources at the lowest possible cost to them. Then they externalize the cost of putting pollution and toxins back into the earth and back into human bodies (economists call this a corporate ‘externality’) because they don’t want to pay for it. But the idea that we can properly evaluate natural resources and even other people’s health is grossly misleading. We simply do not know enough about our environment and even our own bodies. Future generations of people are not here to tell us what the consequences of our actions are, and how they will be affected. They would almost certainly value land, water, and air much more highly than we do. The ‘free market’ does not comprehend the preferences of people who are not here yet. It is therefore ruled by the shortsighted.

    Take our food economy as just one example, since we are also talking about agriculture. Some of our soil is becoming depleted, yielding food that is no longer nutritionally dense. We also lose valuable nutrition in food simply by the distance that that food has to travel from the ground all the way to our plates, suggesting that we live too far from the land. Even the way we cut food before it hits the store shelves accelerates the process of nutritional decay. Pesticides and preservatives are making us sicker. Refined and processed foods are not helping us; for example, we take away the bran and germ layers from wheat so that white flour products can last longer on the shelves, but that makes them merely simple carbohydrates, which our bodies take in as glucose, making us obese; and now, one out of every three Americans born after the year 2000 will be diabetic; our health care system will not be able to handle that. Narrowing nature’s wide variety of each species of food down to a manageable number for the sake of ‘agricultural efficiency,’ as we do with apples, corn, etc., makes our crops extremely vulnerable to crop diseases. Most significantly, we do not seem to be able to scientifically manufacture foods that are good for us. Genetically modified foods are only increasing our allergies, inflammations, and diseases. Genetically modified crops are in fact taking over other crop areas, much to the profit of Monsanto and much to the detriment of generic variety and human health. And yet we continue to do all these things in the name of ‘progress.’

    4. I’ve not studied Islamic banking practices, but I’ll try to set some time aside for it, although sadly it’s not likely to happen anytime soon.

    You are surprised that I challenge your statement #2, ‘But we now know there’s nothing wrong with lending with interest as such (because it’s essential to enabling the best economic arrangements)’? I am far less than certain that you are that there is nothing wrong with it, or that it’s essential. It seems to me that you have a prior commitment and are trying to fit the biblical data into that commitment. I will try to spell out in greater detail why charging interest fails to be a faithful witness to Christ, his character, and his mission.

    An interest rate, on a fundamental level, represents the rate at which some people are trying to convert nature into money. It may also represent the rate at which other people seek to profit via speculation from other people converting nature into money, but at its basic level, that is what an interest rate is. As I said above, my biggest concern with interest rates is that this economic system misrepresents the cost of actions taken in the present that will be borne by future generations. In Western Enlightenment philosophy and political-economic theory, the cost of economic actions is assessed and borne by individuals in the present. In market theory, the cost of an economic good is simply the cost of resources and labor, with some profit to comprehend the risk involved in producing it and bringing it to market. The cost of borrowing or loaning money at interest is interpreted as the cost to the borrower or lender to take an economic risk in the present. The problem is that our future children are never accurately represented. Since the idea of ‘individual rights’ undergirds the Western philosophical, cultural, legal, and economic system, if our actions impact future children in some unforeseen way, or an insidious way that we deny, our future children are not here to voice their objections to our actions. Hence, Western civilization depletes the future of the natural world in a race for present-day profits as measured against interest rates. To be precise, the West pushes off to the future enormous problems: environmental pollution, global warming, the energy crisis, the global food shortage, the global water crisis, the oceanic crisis, and so on. And Western civilization provides interest rate profits to convert the natural world into money in the present to ‘keep our economy growing.’ The truth is: we have not inherited this earth from our parents. We are borrowing it from our children. And we are leaving nothing left for them. This is taxation without representation across time. The idea of ‘individual rights’ combined with an interest rate-driven growth economy is likely to be the fatal flaw of the West, especially since we give huge corporations more ‘individual rights’ than our future children.

    In his study of how Catholic teaching effectively stymied the advancement of industrial capitalism whereas Protestant teaching facilitated it, British economist R. H. Tawney describes the general attitude of medieval Christendom: ‘On the iniquity of payment merely for the act of lending, theological opinion, whether liberal or conservative, was unanimous, and its modern interpreter, who sees in its indulgence to interesse the condonation of interest, would have created a scandal in any age before that of Calvin. To take usury is contrary to nature, for it is to live without labor; it is to sell time, which belongs to God, for the advantage of wicked men; it is to rob those who use the money lent, and to whom, since they make it profitable, the profits should belong; it is unjust in itself, for the benefit of the loan to the borrower cannot exceed the value of the principal sum lent him; it is in defiance of sound juristic principles, for when a loan of money is made, the property in the thing lent passes to the borrower, and why should the creditor demand payment from a man who is merely using what is now his own?’

    Kevin Phillips in Wealth and Democracy also warned that each major world empire collapsed because it became more and more centered in finance. First, Hapsburg Spain. Then, the Netherlands. Then, the British. He warned Americans against the financialization of our economy. That was back in 2002. I think his warnings were quite apt. I haven’t read his 2008 book, Bad Money: Reckless Finance, Failed Politics, and the Global Crisis of American Capitalism, but I expect it is more of the same.

    Soren Kierkegaard suggested that the best way to grow in love is to love those who will not be able to repay you. Being a rather depressed person, he believed that we should love the dead. I believe, to the contrary, that we ought to love the unborn, especially other people’s unborn children. We would do so primarily by self-restraint. In our day and age, I think that is a very good posture by which we witness to Christ, his character, and his mission.

    Consider that the early Councils of Arles (314), Nicea (325), Laodicea (372), and many others forbade clergy from trafficking in usury. John Chrysostom, bishop of Antioch from 389, thundered against it. The Councils of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries forbade it to both clergy and laity, and laid down the punishments for such behavior. Usurers were not to be given communion or Christian burial, their offerings were not to be accepted, and clergy who fail to punish them were to be suspended until they made satisfaction to their superior. The Council of Lyons (1274) and the Council of Vienne (1312) effectively made the usurious money-lender an outlaw and extended the church’s attack on usury to its highest pitch. Anyone renting a house to a usurer had to expel that individual within three months, the will of a usurer was invalid, rulers and magistrates legally permitting the practice of usury were to be excommunicated if such legislation was not revoked within three months, and anyone declaring usury to not be a sin was to be called a heretic. They took it that seriously.

    Once again, since Christians are not the only participants in the larger political and economic system, I remain somewhat uncertain about whether Jesus’ own expectation is that we eliminate interest rates altogether. I do know, however, that we can address this issue on many different levels in the meantime. Christians can lend to others, especially the poor, at 0% interest rates. We can help others get out of credit card debt, especially, presumably with some self-management training involved, since that often has a ~20% interest rate. I know Christian microfinance organizations are struggling to operate in a for-profit manner and keep their interest rates low, and I think this is commendable. On the national and international level, I am a proponent of reinstituting the Glass-Steagall legislation separating commercial banking and investment banking, thus sheltering something as important as home mortgages from being bundled in with derivatives and other highly risky investments, and traded from bank to bank. It also seems to me that bank behavior contributed (they were not the sole contributor, of course) to people going into consumer debt and thus overheated the economy, and that banks also highly leveraged themselves on speculative financial dealings with each other, and also thus overheated the economy. When the inevitable contraction happened, it took with it a huge number of jobs and homes that were built on overspending and no margins. We need legislation that will regulate banks so that this will not happen again.

    5. Do I agree with you that, once some minimum level of economic welfare is secured for everyone, “there’s no barrier to how much wealth the rich might accumulate through hard work and ingenuity?” No, I absolutely do not agree.

    • Mako,

      I think there are just three major disputes between us:

      A) The normative status of economic equality: namely whether there should be any barriers to how much the rich might accumulate through their labor and ingenuity, assuming some minimum level of economic welfare is secured for everyone.

      B) Whether the Bible contains a critique of technological/economic progress as such.

      C) Whether charging interest, as such, is wrong.

      I will tackle each in turn.

      A) You seem to realize we don’t have a very strong case that Scripture prescribes economic equality. If so, then good: we are actually in agreement.

      The equal division of land between families in Israel could easily be God’s way of securing a common *minimum level of economic welfare* for everyone. It leaves open whether or not further accumulation of wealth should be impeded in any ways. In fact, since *only* land is redistributed at jubilee (so one’s stock of gold/silver is left untouched), it seems even more likely that a principle of minimum welfare is the intention of Lev 25.

      The word the NIV translates as “equality” in 2 Cor 8:13-14 (isotes) is best understood, I think, as *fairness* (ESV). If this is right, then we need to figure out whether it’s *fair* to allow the rich to accumulate without barriers, which is precisely what is at issue here.

      The appeal to Ex 16:18 in vs 18, by the way, does not seem to me to indicate a principle of equality, but rather of proportion to *appetite*: this is because each “gathered as much as he could eat”. Here it applies only to food (manna). Can it be generalized to *all* our appetites?

      I don’t think so. Because parceling out economic advantage according to appetite seems patently *unfair*. If I happen to have expensive tastes (I must have fine wines and expensive cars to even be moderately satisfied), that doesn’t seem a reason to give me more money than someone would has cheap tastes—who would be perfectly satisfied with more simple pleasures.

      And, as you indicate, 1 Tim 6:7-9 leaves it unclear what public policies we ought to have regarding the generation of wealth. It is entirely possible for some to get rich without really *wanting* to get rich. We could imagine an idealized Mark Zuckerberg, for instance, who just loves making addictive technologies, but is does so most effectively if he also makes a lot of money from it. Should such a person be necessarily impeded in their accumulation of wealth, assuming a world where everyone has been provided a minimum of welfare? I don’t see any reasons why.

      I guess I just don’t see where you’re getting the restrictions you think ought to be in place for accumulation of wealth. The Bible is unclear on the issue, so your principles must be coming from elsewhere.

      To tie this back to Grudem: from what little I’ve read of his book (via Amazon preview), it seems to me that Grudem thinks we can extract from scripture an explicit policy that *eliminates* restriction on accumulation of wealth. I disagree with him on this too. I think scripture just doesn’t say anything clearly, one way or the other, about public policy on economic systems and wealth creation.

      B) Similarly, my view is that scripture is simply silent on whether we should take a pro-technology/progress or anti-technology/progress stance (whether we should accept technology/progress as such or critique it). So we must use other methods to determine what our attitude should be towards technology. (To clarify what I mean by scriptural silence: I believe scripture is simply silent on whether Fermat’s Last Theorem is true or false. So we must use other methods to determine what our attitude should be towards the theorem.)

      I couldn’t find anything in your extended discussion to change my mind on this. Everything you say is completely compatible with either a pro- or anti-technology stance. Many of your points are really stretching things. I don’t see the value of showing in detail how each of your points is irrelevant, so I’ll just pick one. You say, for instance:

      “sweat is a result of the fall, which is best understood as a contrast to no sweat before the fall. Could Adam and Eve have done significant agricultural work without sweat? Probably not as we understand it today. This supports my hypothesis: There was a significant difference between pre-fall and post-fall living and working conditions.”

      Though there *is* a significant difference pre- and post-fall, I don’t see how this has any bearing *at all* on our stance towards technology.

      The pre- and post-fall difference, by the way, has to be pretty big. I’m told that we can’t do *anything* without sweating (we sweat even when just sitting). So if there was not sweat whatsoever before the fall, our heat-regulation physiology must have radically changed.

      But, you may insist that what is meant is that there was no “dripping sweat” before the fall, *and*, we *stipulate* that no physiological changes to our sweat glands occurred.

      Now, note that this stipulation is nowhere to be found in scripture! But let’s accept the restraint. Even so the pro-technologist could say: “Aha! Then Adam and Eve were supposed to develop a research programme, to produce *robots* that did all the hard physical labor for them!”. This is far-fetched—but it’s Eden, after all, and they had God’s help.

      My point here is to illustrate why I think both pro-technology and anti-technology stances are both compatible with the scripture.

      In any case, I happen to think that scientific discovery is itself a form of worship. At least, scripture has a positive attitude towards it (Prov 25:2), and I think it could have formed a big part of humankind’s mandate in Gen 2.

      You say a lot more; none of it seems to me to be relevant to whether the Eden story is pro- or anti-technology. I figure this is to be expected, when one simply lifts an entire passage verbatim from an old essay as part of one’s online interactions with an interlocutor about a somewhat unrelated matter….

      I hope it’s clear that I don’t take my pro-technology, pro-progress stance to be delivered by scripture. I take *that* from 1) my own ethical sensibilities (e.g., my intuition that the green revolution was a good thing!), and 2) the fact that I don’t see anything in scripture that explicitly contradicts it.

      You claim, for instance, that cities represent rebellion against God. The fact that they *represent* rebellion doesn’t mean that they themselves *consist* in rebellion as such. Do you think that forming a city and living in it constitutes rebellion against God? Really?

      You say: “the forces of technological and economic progress we have set into motion will one day exhaust the earth’s resources and make our planet quite difficult to inhabit. I don’t see how you can overlook this.”

      I don’t see what would make you think I’ve overlooked this; as a matter of fact, my own research as a political philosopher focuses on this issue precisely. (I’ve linked a paper of mine, which I’m still working on, at the end of this reply.)

      You say that the concept of the “free market” is “something quite vital to the overall notion of “progress”. And then you give an example of a free market that is “free” in the sense of being free to do all sorts of nasty things (e.g., externalize the cost of pollution, erode the life prospects of future generations). I just don’t see how doing these nasty things is in any way “vital” to progress. Why must we link the two? Why can’t we have some progress *without* doing those nasty things?

      I’d like to remind you that very few people advocate *completely* free markets (I don’t). I think it’s uncontroversial that free markets need regulation: for instance, we should outlaw contracts that fix prices or put restraints on competition. And we should forbid monopolies which produce economic inefficiencies. So I assume there should be restraints on free markets. The question is: what restraints are appropriate? I see no reason to jump to the conclusion that we ought to critique progress itself. Why not figure out a way to achieve progress without those nasty elements?

      We’re still working out what restraints are needed to ensure responsible treatment of the environment. I do think we have obligations to future generations. My own view (which I’m still working out) is that our basic obligation future generations is captured by the principle of *indirect reciprocity*: what we leave for future generations must be *no less good* than what we ourselves received from previous generations. This is because any principle that allowed us to leave for future generations *anything less good* than what we received would, when iterated, ultimately lead to disaster.

      Which I say “no less good”, I actually mean a principle of rational indifference: we assume that future generations would be approximately like us in their preferences, and I claim that we must conserve the earth in such a way that future generations would be *at least indifferent* to whether they’d prefer to be born in their time or in ours.

      Think, for instance, about whether you’d rather be born today or 500 years ago. I’d prefer to be born today. So, this means that our forebears satisfactorily discharged their obligations to us.

      When we make our plans for resource consumption, we should imagine making a similar choice, only for the future. Imagine what sort of world our policies would create for, say, the year 2500. Now, imagine you were given the option to be born either in the year 2000 or in the year 2500. If you’re likely to say “I’d prefer to be born in 2500”, then our policies are sound. If they’d say “Meh, either way is fine,” then again, our policies are sound. If you say “The earth in the year 2500 is rubbish! Take me back to the year 2000!”, and if the reason for the sorry state of affairs in 2500 is traceable to our policies today, then our policies are bad.

      Notice that, on this way of looking at things, there’s nothing at all wrong with progress.

      Anyways, none of this is from the Bible. This is just my own philosophical position—I made it up. That having been said, I should add that I don’t see anything unbiblical about what I made up. Do you?

      C) You say, “my biggest concern with interest rates is that this economic system misrepresents the cost of actions taken in the present that will be borne by future generations”. This seems to be a problem with our economic system taken generally, and not interest rates. I fully agree that our system is imperfect and in dire need of reform. But I see nothing in your discussion that pins the problem to interest rates as such. You cite various people who agree with your general critique of modern financial systems, but unfortunately I’m unable to discern the *argument* which pins the problem to interest rates.

      You also state that charity and generosity should be part of how a Christian shows love to the world, but I don’t see how this shows we should abolish interest rates. Why can’t we do *both* charitable work *and* participate in the global economic system?

      Why do I endorse free markets and the price system? Two reasons, stated well by Samuel Freeman:

      “First, unlike heavily planned economies, a market system is crucial to realizing the basic liberty of persons to freely choose their own careers and place of occupation.”

      “Second, market allocation of productive resources and of labor are believed to be more likely to result in an efficient allocation of these forces of production than is a non-market system. Markets thereby normally minimize economic waste (assuming proper regulation)”

      For more, see Sam Freeman’s paper on this website, p. 19:

      http://www.law.nyu.edu/academics/colloquia/clppt/index.htm

      I support interest rates to the extent that they are essential to an economic system which promotes these two values. (Hence my interest in Islamic banking. If we can stop charging “interest” and still have efficent markets, then that would be fine by me.) I’m no economist, but my understanding is that interest is crucial to the efficient allocation of capital. This, I think, is enough to justify its use.

      My own interpretation of the OT prohibition on interest is: when interest is charged *absent* a economic system which promotes the above values, then it is immoral. Because ancient Israel lacked such an economic system (and so did the early Christians), then charging interest was, in their contexts, wrong. But since our modern context *does* include the requisite economic system, charging interest is not wrong today.

      As I stated earlier, I think our modern system is far from perfect. I actually have a paper in which I argue for a specific type of reform, and I’d be happy to get more feedback on it. (My professors have been bugging me to try to get it published.) It’s currently titled “Global Justice and Natural Resources”, and it’s available here:

      http://files.nyu.edu/aat271/public/justice-prep.pdf

    • Mako,

      The response I posted has been stuck in “moderation” for a day now, probably because it contains links, and that triggers WordPress’s spam filters. I’ll go ahead and post it now with the URLs mangled; I think this will allow it to be approved automatically. When you encounter a url: the periods have been replaced by spaces….

      I think there are just three major disputes between us:

      A) The normative status of economic equality: namely whether there should be any barriers to how much the rich might accumulate through their labor and ingenuity, assuming some minimum level of economic welfare is secured for everyone.

      B) Whether the Bible contains a critique of technological/economic progress as such.

      C) Whether charging interest, as such, is wrong.

      I will tackle each in turn.

      A) You seem to realize we don’t have a very strong case that Scripture prescribes economic equality. If so, then good: we are actually in agreement.

      The equal division of land between families in Israel could easily be God’s way of securing a common *minimum level of economic welfare* for everyone. It leaves open whether or not further accumulation of wealth should be impeded in any ways. In fact, since *only* land is redistributed at jubilee (so one’s stock of gold/silver is left untouched), it seems even more likely that a principle of minimum welfare is the intention of Lev 25.

      The word the NIV translates as “equality” in 2 Cor 8:13-14 (isotes) is best understood, I think, as *fairness* (ESV). If this is right, then we need to figure out whether it’s *fair* to allow the rich to accumulate without barriers, which is precisely what is at issue here.

      The appeal to Ex 16:18 in vs 18, by the way, does not seem to me to indicate a principle of equality, but rather of proportion to *appetite*: this is because each “gathered as much as he could eat”. Here it applies only to food (manna). Can it be generalized to *all* our appetites?

      I don’t think so. Because parceling out economic advantage according to appetite seems patently *unfair*. If I happen to have expensive tastes (I must have fine wines and expensive cars to even be moderately satisfied), that doesn’t seem a reason to give me more money than someone would has cheap tastes—who would be perfectly satisfied with more simple pleasures.

      And, as you indicate, 1 Tim 6:7-9 leaves it unclear what public policies we ought to have regarding the generation of wealth. It is entirely possible for some to get rich without really *wanting* to get rich. We could imagine an idealized Mark Zuckerberg, for instance, who just loves making addictive technologies, but is does so most effectively if he also makes a lot of money from it. Should such a person be necessarily impeded in their accumulation of wealth, assuming a world where everyone has been provided a minimum of welfare? I don’t see any reasons why.

      I guess I just don’t see where you’re getting the restrictions you think ought to be in place for accumulation of wealth. The Bible is unclear on the issue, so your principles must be coming from elsewhere.

      To tie this back to Grudem: from what little I’ve read of his book (via Amazon preview), it seems to me that Grudem thinks we can extract from scripture an explicit policy that *eliminates* restriction on accumulation of wealth. I disagree with him on this too. I think scripture just doesn’t say anything clearly, one way or the other, about public policy on economic systems and wealth creation.

      B) Similarly, my view is that scripture is simply silent on whether we should take a pro-technology/progress or anti-technology/progress stance (whether we should accept technology/progress as such or critique it). So we must use other methods to determine what our attitude should be towards technology. (To clarify what I mean by scriptural silence: I believe scripture is simply silent on whether Fermat’s Last Theorem is true or false. So we must use other methods to determine what our attitude should be towards the theorem.)

      I couldn’t find anything in your extended discussion to change my mind on this. Everything you say is completely compatible with either a pro- or anti-technology stance. Many of your points are really stretching things. I don’t see the value of showing in detail how each of your points is irrelevant, so I’ll just pick one. You say, for instance:

      “sweat is a result of the fall, which is best understood as a contrast to no sweat before the fall. Could Adam and Eve have done significant agricultural work without sweat? Probably not as we understand it today. This supports my hypothesis: There was a significant difference between pre-fall and post-fall living and working conditions.”

      Though there *is* a significant difference pre- and post-fall, I don’t see how this has any bearing *at all* on our stance towards technology.

      The pre- and post-fall difference, by the way, has to be pretty big. I’m told that we can’t do *anything* without sweating (we sweat even when just sitting). So if there was not sweat whatsoever before the fall, our heat-regulation physiology must have radically changed.

      But, you may insist that what is meant is that there was no “dripping sweat” before the fall, *and*, we *stipulate* that no physiological changes to our sweat glands occurred.

      Now, note that this stipulation is nowhere to be found in scripture! But let’s accept the restraint. Even so the pro-technologist could say: “Aha! Then Adam and Eve were supposed to develop a research programme, to produce *robots* that did all the hard physical labor for them!”. This is far-fetched—but it’s Eden, after all, and they had God’s help.

      My point here is to illustrate why I think both pro-technology and anti-technology stances are both compatible with the scripture.

      In any case, I happen to think that scientific discovery is itself a form of worship. At least, scripture has a positive attitude towards it (Prov 25:2), and I think it could have formed a big part of humankind’s mandate in Gen 2.

      You say a lot more; none of it seems to me to be relevant to whether the Eden story is pro- or anti-technology. I figure this is to be expected, when one simply lifts an entire passage verbatim from an old essay as part of one’s online interactions with an interlocutor about a somewhat unrelated matter….

      I hope it’s clear that I don’t take my pro-technology, pro-progress stance to be delivered by scripture. I take *that* from 1) my own ethical sensibilities (e.g., my intuition that the green revolution was a good thing!), and 2) the fact that I don’t see anything in scripture that explicitly contradicts it.

      You claim, for instance, that cities represent rebellion against God. The fact that they *represent* rebellion doesn’t mean that they themselves *consist* in rebellion as such. Do you think that forming a city and living in it constitutes rebellion against God? Really?

      You say: “the forces of technological and economic progress we have set into motion will one day exhaust the earth’s resources and make our planet quite difficult to inhabit. I don’t see how you can overlook this.”

      I don’t see what would make you think I’ve overlooked this; as a matter of fact, my own research as a political philosopher focuses on this issue precisely. (I’ve linked a paper of mine, which I’m still working on, at the end of this reply.)

      You say that the concept of the “free market” is “something quite vital to the overall notion of “progress”. And then you give an example of a free market that is “free” in the sense of being free to do all sorts of nasty things (e.g., externalize the cost of pollution, erode the life prospects of future generations). I just don’t see how doing these nasty things is in any way “vital” to progress. Why must we link the two? Why can’t we have some progress *without* doing those nasty things?

      I’d like to remind you that very few people advocate *completely* free markets (I don’t). I think it’s uncontroversial that free markets need regulation: for instance, we should outlaw contracts that fix prices or put restraints on competition. And we should forbid monopolies which produce economic inefficiencies. So I assume there should be restraints on free markets. The question is: what restraints are appropriate? I see no reason to jump to the conclusion that we ought to critique progress itself. Why not figure out a way to achieve progress without those nasty elements?

      We’re still working out what restraints are needed to ensure responsible treatment of the environment. I do think we have obligations to future generations. My own view (which I’m still working out) is that our basic obligation future generations is captured by the principle of *indirect reciprocity*: what we leave for future generations must be *no less good* than what we ourselves received from previous generations. This is because any principle that allowed us to leave for future generations *anything less good* than what we received would, when iterated, ultimately lead to disaster.

      Which I say “no less good”, I actually mean a principle of rational indifference: we assume that future generations would be approximately like us in their preferences, and I claim that we must conserve the earth in such a way that future generations would be *at least indifferent* to whether they’d prefer to be born in their time or in ours.

      Think, for instance, about whether you’d rather be born today or 500 years ago. I’d prefer to be born today. So, this means that our forebears satisfactorily discharged their obligations to us.

      When we make our plans for resource consumption, we should imagine making a similar choice, only for the future. Imagine what sort of world our policies would create for, say, the year 2500. Now, imagine you were given the option to be born either in the year 2000 or in the year 2500. If you’re likely to say “I’d prefer to be born in 2500″, then our policies are sound. If they’d say “Meh, either way is fine,” then again, our policies are sound. If you say “The earth in the year 2500 is rubbish! Take me back to the year 2000!”, and if the reason for the sorry state of affairs in 2500 is traceable to our policies today, then our policies are bad.

      Notice that, on this way of looking at things, there’s nothing at all wrong with progress.

      Anyways, none of this is from the Bible. This is just my own philosophical position—I made it up. That having been said, I should add that I don’t see anything unbiblical about what I made up. Do you?

      C) You say, “my biggest concern with interest rates is that this economic system misrepresents the cost of actions taken in the present that will be borne by future generations”. This seems to be a problem with our economic system taken generally, and not interest rates. I fully agree that our system is imperfect and in dire need of reform. But I see nothing in your discussion that pins the problem to interest rates as such. You cite various people who agree with your general critique of modern financial systems, but unfortunately I’m unable to discern the *argument* which pins the problem to interest rates.

      You also state that charity and generosity should be part of how a Christian shows love to the world, but I don’t see how this shows we should abolish interest rates. Why can’t we do *both* charitable work *and* participate in the global economic system?

      Why do I endorse free markets and the price system? Two reasons, stated well by Samuel Freeman:

      “First, unlike heavily planned economies, a market system is crucial to realizing the basic liberty of persons to freely choose their own careers and place of occupation.”

      “Second, market allocation of productive resources and of labor are believed to be more likely to result in an efficient allocation of these forces of production than is a non-market system. Markets thereby normally minimize economic waste (assuming proper regulation)”

      For more, see Sam Freeman’s paper on this website, p. 19:

      www law nyu edu /academics/colloquia/clppt/index htm

      I support interest rates to the extent that they are essential to an economic system which promotes these two values. (Hence my interest in Islamic banking. If we can stop charging “interest” and still have efficent markets, then that would be fine by me.) I’m no economist, but my understanding is that interest is crucial to the efficient allocation of capital. This, I think, is enough to justify its use.

      My own interpretation of the OT prohibition on interest is: when interest is charged *absent* a economic system which promotes the above values, then it is immoral. Because ancient Israel lacked such an economic system (and so did the early Christians), then charging interest was, in their contexts, wrong. But since our modern context *does* include the requisite economic system, charging interest is not wrong today.

      As I stated earlier, I think our modern system is far from perfect. I actually have a paper in which I argue for a specific type of reform, and I’d be happy to get more feedback on it. (My professors have been bugging me to try to get it published.) It’s currently titled “Global Justice and Natural Resources”, and it’s available here:

      files nyu edu /aat271/public/justice-prep pdf

      • Ang,

        I’ve enjoyed the thoughtfulness you’ve put into your article on Global Justice and Natural Resources. It’s been a while since I’ve read work in more or less pure political and moral philosophy, especially expanding the range of Rawlsian philosophy. While this field is not a main area of interest or expertise for me, I have certainly benefited from your paper. The discipline you put into this way of thinking is refreshing. I appreciate your work with the Equality Principle and your qualification of Hayward’s ecological view of natural resources.

        However, I think your questions and admirable responses to those questions arise from a particular cultural context: within the Western industrial economic system and in dialog with the wavering sense of Western responsibility to the rest of the world, increasingly globalized as it is. As such, there are some practical things that I can agree with. To the extent that you are taking Christian convictions and expressing them through the language of Western political and moral philosophy, to engage in dialog there with secular thinkers and bring about semi-Christian outcomes vis-à-vis that context, I think is a necessary and admirable task. As such, I think it’s admirable that you argue that wealthy industrialized nations should share their wealth with poor nations.

        But one ethical outcome which I think you do not adequately consider in your paper is that wealthy nations, at least in some cases and perhaps in many, ought to dismantle a significant part of their system of wealth generation, dramatically reduce their level of resource consumption, and lower their level of ‘wealth’. What if the poor nation believes that the rich nation should not offer its goods paternalistically to assuage its moral guilt, but instead reduce its level of consumption and adopt a simpler way of life closer to the technological and economic level of the poorer people? This is a scenario that has occurred at key moments in history, not least in response to colonialism. For example, Chief Seattle and the Suquamish people in the Puget Sound area reportedly said, after converting to Christianity and yet being forced to transfer ancestral lands to the U.S. federal government: ‘We know that the White Man does not understand our ways. One portion of the land is the same to him as the next, for he is a stranger who comes in the night and takes from the land whatever he needs. The earth is not his brother, but his enemy, and when he has conquered it, he moves on. One thing we know, which the White Man may one day discover – our God is the same God. You may think now that you own Him as you wish to own our land; but you cannot. He is the God of humanity, and his compassion is equal for the red man and the white. The earth is precious to him, and to harm the earth is to heap contempt on its Creator…Even the white man cannot be exempt from the common destiny. We may be brothers after all. We shall see.’

        What this quote illustrates is not so much a claim that restitution is due to Native Americans, although that is a worthy topic by itself, but rather the claim that the Western political-economic tradition (emphasizing the earth as a natural resource, human beings as endowed with individual private property rights, human beings as possessed with individualistic talents and skills, and technological advance as the unquestioned march of human destiny) is itself simply a cultural preference and not actually grounded in the biblical story. And if it is a mere cultural preference, then it can be evaluated and critiqued as such.

        Hence, I think you are at risk of taking Rawls’ starting points, which are secular and from a Western cultural context, absolutizing those cultural values, and reading them backward into the Scriptures as if the Scriptures themselves looked ahead longingly for Western culture and the industrial economy. For example, while I admire Rawls very much, I think he fails to provide a compelling foundation for human dignity in the first place, or, in the second place, for assessing human cultures. Since human dignity serves to undergird the question of assisting poor people and poor nations to begin with, this is quite an important question. My own assessment of this question is that Christian faith alone provides a stable metaphysic and epistemology for human dignity. I suppose we can discuss that as well offline, if you’d like to read my paper on it, found here: http://www.nagasawafamily.org.

        But if Christian faith alone serves to ground human dignity, then the question arises whether we can take one idea out from the Christian metanarrative and make it serve a purpose in some other ethical system outside of that story. Just as Wayne Grudem wrenches ‘private property’ out of the biblical story and places it into the story of capitalist American exceptionalism, John Rawls takes ‘universal human dignity’ and tries to advance his concept of ‘justice as fairness’ in a secularized liberal tradition. In fact, he denies that he is addressing metaphysics but only politics. But as Michael Sandel (Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do?) and Alasdair McIntyre (Whose Justice? Which Rationality?) have shown, prior to the question of justice (politics) lies the question of the good (metaphysics), and this is the question that is unanswerable in a secular framework. What about inherited tradition and/or claims to received truth? Rawls assumes a context of Western secular liberal capitalism, as is clear from his social-contract thought experiment of people designing a government and society from scratch, and defends it and its advance throughout the world, as you appear to build upon in your paper.

        So when we are discussing Scripture, I am uncomfortable with your tendency to reduce Israel’s laws down to something like ‘a minimum level of economic welfare’ because I think this reflects an anachronistic reading of the text which takes Western culture as a given and Western questions as normative, and a questionable wrenching of one facet of the text out from other facets which are meant to belong to it. I think this is the broadest way of understand our disagreement, so before I return to (A) whether the Bible and economic equality, (B) the Bible and progress, and (C) interest rates, I want to explore this larger issue.

        For instance, I agree that the equal division of land between families in Israel leaves open a further accumulation of wealth that could vary between families and individuals. This is why Proverbs often stresses the importance of work and the vice of laziness. But to call this a ‘minimum level of economic welfare’ seems wholly inappropriate to me. That is an anachronism that cannot be fairly taken from what Israel’s Mosaic laws meant as a whole. Instead, the promised land was the physical substance through which God supernaturally blessed Israel and mediated His goodness to them; this was unique among the nations of the world. There was a miraculous aspect to Israel’s physical life in the land because of God’s presence with them. That is the undeniable significance of Deuteronomy 11:11 – 17 and many other passages, a fact which you appear happy to jettison because of your discomfort with the miraculous nature of God’s use of this land, as you wrote in your first post:

        “Your reference to Deut 11:11-17 confuses me, especially in the context of technological/agricultural progress. It seems you think it indicates that God intends to provide *directly* (miraculously?) for Israel as long as Israel is faithful to God, and that progress in agricultural technology would be superfluous. I suppose this receives some support from verses 10 and 12, “The land you are entering to take over is not like the land of Egypt … where you planted your seed and irrigated it by foot as in a vegetable garden. … It is a land the LORD your God cares for…” But surely, Israel still needed to plant and irrigate their crops to get a harvest (right?)!

        “Instead, it seems to me that the passage is better understood as a metaphor for God’s *overall* faithful provision for Israel, which (for all we know) might actually include the imparting of agricultural and scientific knowledge as the physical means of extracting bountiful harvests from the land. In other words, I see no reason to interpret Deut 11:11-17 as indicating that God’s *method* of provision must operate miraculously *directly* on the land, without any human intervention (other than harvesting); God could just as well fulfill those promises by miraculously giving the Israelites technological and scientific ingenuity, which when applied would produce a bounty….

        Of course I believe that Israelites were to plant seeds, water their crops, and so on. God made that invitation to Israel Himself. But this does not take away from the direct, miraculous interventions God promised to do for Israel, and did. This is precisely the meaning of the Sabbath year in Leviticus 25. Israel was to let the land experience Sabbath rest every seventh year (Lev.25:1 – 8) and every fiftieth year, that is, after seven Sabbath cycles (Lev.25:9 – 12). This is extraordinary: one full year without planning, planting, irrigation, or cultivation, and two consecutive years like that in the Jubilee! These Sabbath years for the land were more than simply a year of planned crop rotation to let the soil recover. This was not rotation. It was an act of trust in God to supernaturally provide what they needed. We cannot separate the land of Israel from the calendar of Israel. Every seventh day, seventh year, and fiftieth year, Israel was to experience something of a return to the garden of Eden, eating freely from the land.

        This thought is particularly clear in Leviticus, which emphasizes how Israel’s land was available to them contingent upon them living a moral way of life characteristic of God’s true humanity. The land’s blessings came not because of economic ingenuity or technological development, but because of their devotion to God, piety, and ethics. In one of the major ethical high points in the Torah, Leviticus 18 – 20, God required sexual ethics corresponding to the creational marriage ideal, fidelity to Himself, compassion for one’s neighbor, fairness and truth in all dealings, abstention from sorcery and Canaanite practices of bodily mutilation, and care for the stranger and the alien. To undergird these commands, God reiterated that He had brought them ‘out of the land of Egypt’ (Lev.19:36). And this is also why we have the peculiar phrase oft repeated in Leviticus, that if the people fail to demonstrate holiness in their relationships in accordance with being God’s true humanity, *the land* would spew them out (Lev.18:26 – 28); the relationship between God, humanity, and land was inseparable for Israel.

        Psalms 37, 65, 69, 85, and 107 are reflections upon this unique relationship Israel had with its land through God. All these Psalms speak of Israel enjoying their land by maintaining their fidelity to YHWH, keeping the Torah’s ethical commandments, and refraining from reliance upon the technology of warfare characteristic of their pagan neighbors. Israel’s obedience or disobedience to God’s code of holiness even determined the fruitfulness of the land. If Israel lived wickedly, God would change ‘rivers into a wilderness, and springs of water into a thirsty ground, a fruitful land into a salt waste because of the wickedness of those who dwell in it’ (Ps.107:33-34; Ps.37:11). If the Israelites were not committed to God’s ordinances, then God would shut up the heavens and make the land dry (Hag.3:10-19, Mal.3:7-12). Thus, regarding the creation as an inert ‘natural resource’ is rather foreign to the Mosaic injunctions and Israel’s outlook. Land was the living substance which mediated God’s supernatural blessing to Israel. In the land of Israel, as long as His presence rested with the Israelites, God was exceeding the laws of nature. And it was obedience, not economic development or industrialization, that would bring forth God’s blessing upon Israel from the land.

        A note on why I am providing a lot of biblical material as part of this discussion, some of which is indeed from other things I’ve written, even though you think it’s unrelated to the discussion. I provide significant portions of biblical analysis, not to intentionally irritate you, but because I think this is germane to the things we’re talking about. I freely acknowledge that this is a lot to think about, but I do think it is, in fact, part of the discussion. You are abstracting the land laws from all the other practices and institutions of Israel, in fact, the very metanarrative of Israel, including the miraculous work of God. You take passages like Deuteronomy 11:11 – 17 as a ‘metaphor.’ I do not, and see no reason to do so. The biblical writers themselves understood Israel as something of God’s recovery in microcosm of what He began in the original garden land. That’s why I (and many others) have labored to demonstrate on literary and theological grounds that there is a connection between them. In that original garden, God’s presence called forth from the land a supernatural harvest in partnership with humanity. Later, you are rather cavalier about taking ‘sweat’ as the sole defining difference of pre- and post-fall work, as if we didn’t have sweat glands before the fall. This is not at all what I’m saying. Sweat is simply a literary marker of how laborious human work did not have to be before the fall, and later had to be afterwards. Israel understood this because their experience of agricultural life was interwoven with God’s miraculous and supernatural provision. I cannot minimize the miraculous aspect of God’s relationship to historic, biblical Israel. We don’t see that kind of divine intervention happening anymore, including in the New Testament to the church because we are not yet inheritors of a land, but it is a commitment God will renew when Jesus returns (Revelation 21 – 22). So the way Scripture treats the garden land, or configures the garden land of Israel, is not reducible to a political philosophy; the garden land is not a mere inert natural resource. That miraculous dimension makes this passage stubbornly and fundamentally embedded within the biblical story, with its strange Jewish particularity, which then is not reducible to something else. This is also why I resist your attempt to read ‘economic and technological progress’ back into Israel’s land legislation, and by extension, all the way back into the garden of Eden. God’s desire in the Old Testament was clearly to use the garden land to mediate His supernatural, miraculous blessing to Adam and Eve, and then Israel.

        You appear to be of two minds about this. On the one hand, you say that ‘scripture is simply silent on whether we should take a pro-technology/progress or anti-technology/progress stance.’ Then, on the other hand, you say that ‘scientific discovery is itself a form of worship. At least, scripture has a positive attitude towards it (Prov 25:2), and I think it could have formed a big part of humankind’s mandate in Gen 2.’ The bulk of your energies suggest that you actually do think the latter. Your impatience with biblical scholarship, your discomfort with the miraculous interaction between God and the garden land(s) in biblical history, your desire to make a ‘metaphor’ of things that should not be understood as metaphors, your attributing to me extreme positions I don’t actually hold (did God do all the agricultural work, was there no sweat at all, etc.) in an attempt to dismiss my points, and your unfamiliarity with the literary function of Genesis 1 – 4 and 1 – 11 as Israel’s fighting doctrine against other human civilizations, all suggest that you want to be able to comfortably read scientific and technological progress out of the pages of Genesis 1 and 2, and that you don’t actually mean it when you say that Scripture is silent on the issue. Indeed, you claim Proverbs 25:2 when it does not support your case, since it’s talking about having insights into the heart of a king and being an advisor to a king, not about scientific discovery into the natural world, so I maintain that you (or whoever taught you) lifted that verse out of context. The reason I pursue this discrepancy with you is because I think reversing human technological and economic ‘progress’ ought to be more squarely on the table as a serious consideration, both in your paper and in Christian discourse with the general public. Yet if we do think that scientific discovery is a form of worship and was part of our creation mandate, then there is an implicit, if not explicit, duty of humanity to do that. And if that is true, then those civilizations and cultures which have progressed further along scientifically and technologically have fulfilled more of their God-given creation mandate. That would be cultural imperialism masquerading in Christian theology, a syncretistic attempt to merge genuine Christian hope with Enlightenment views of progress.

        Once again, let me reiterate that I admire what you’re trying to do in your paper, within limits, given the audience you seem to be speaking with there. However, practically, I want to raise another possibility, that rich nations dismantle their cultural and institutional means of wealth generation. And secondly, when you return to the Scriptures to draw further inspiration as a Christian for your work, I’m concerned that you have accepted the starting points of Rawls and others and are looking for justification for them in Scripture. That is also what I’m uncomfortable with. I believe that the relevant point of comparison is not between biblical ethics and other ethics, but in this case, between the biblical metanarrative and the Enlightenment metanarrative. As we engage in a struggle to care for the world’s poor, that is a major consideration. It would be hard for me to overstress this point.

        From this standpoint, I can more fully address (A) the Bible and economic equality, (B) the Bible and progress, and (C) interest rates, I want to explore this larger issue.

        I’ll start first with (A) the Bible and economic equality. I want to differentiate between Christians and non-Christians here. I think Christians are called to extraordinary levels of ethical reflection and action regarding wealth under the lordship of Jesus. It is a secondary (and worthwhile) question whether and how Christians can articulate a meaningful ethical framework for non-Christians outside of the lordship of Jesus. I’m saying this because I think at times you do not differentiate between those two different tasks.

        A smaller point first. You are incorrect when you say in your third post:

        ‘In fact, since *only* land is redistributed at jubilee (so one’s stock of gold/silver is left untouched), it seems even more likely that a principle of minimum welfare is the intention of Lev 25.’

        Actually, an Israelite was to furnish a newly freed servant with ample flocks, with generous food and wine besides (Dt.15:13 – 14) so that the newly freed servant would not be at all empty handed, and have flocks to restart their agriculturally based livelihood. Also, future cash flow was forsaken, for in the Jubilee, debt was absolutely forgiven, no matter how much debt was owed. Then, between the giving of Leviticus and Deuteronomy, God established a floating debt-forgiveness schedule in addition to the fixed calendar Jubilee schedule. In Deuteronomy 15:1, He says that all debts are to be forgiven after seven years of the debt being incurred. So whether the floating seven year debt limit expired (for the person) or the fixed Jubilee year occurred (for the nation), whichever happened first, the outcome was the same: Indentured servants left without paying out the remainder of their services, and the employer Israelite was to provide the newly freed Israelite with a fairly sizable amount of resources, so it is patently not true that only land was redistributed. The future flow of goods and services, along with agricultural startup capital, so to speak, were involved as well.

        But when we come to the New Testament, we find that for Christians there is a living, ongoing responsibility to move towards greater economic equality within the Christian community. For example, your treatment of 2 Corinthians 8 is problematic. The ESV and its translation of ‘isotes’ as ‘fairness’ still includes ‘equality’ in its range of semantic meaning, so quoting the ESV doesn’t necessarily prove the point you’d like to make. Moreover, the Greek root word ‘equal’ is also found in John 5:18 where Jesus makes himself ‘equal with God’ and in Philippians 2:6 where Jesus ‘did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped.’ Hence, KJV, NKJV, RSV, NASB, NIV, ASV all translate ‘isotes’ as ‘equality’ in 2 Corinthians 8:13 – 14. NRSV translates it ‘fair balance’. Moreover, Paul’s citation of Exodus and the incident in Exodus supports my point: every Israelite family got enough for themselves, each day. On a per person basis, there was in fact economic equality. But you are rather hasty in trying to explain this away. You say:

        “The appeal to Ex 16:18 in vs 18, by the way, does not seem to me to indicate a principle of equality, but rather of proportion to *appetite*: this is because each “gathered as much as he could eat”. Here it applies only to food (manna). Can it be generalized to *all* our appetites? I don’t think so. Because parceling out economic advantage according to appetite seems patently *unfair*. If I happen to have expensive tastes (I must have fine wines and expensive cars to even be moderately satisfied), that doesn’t seem a reason to give me more money than someone would has cheap tastes—who would be perfectly satisfied with more simple pleasures.”

        It seems to me that you are trying to take this incident in Exodus and Paul’s use of it in 2 Corinthians, read it as if it had to do with God satisfying people’s different ‘appetites’ as in ‘tastes’, wrench it out of its context for application to Christians, suggest that this become an economic policy for non-Christians, and take that to an unwarranted extreme in order to nullify its relevance to this discussion. In response, I would say God did not care one whit about differentials in people’s tastes, only needs. Everyone got the same thing: ‘an omer apiece according to the number of persons each of you has in his tent’ (Ex.16:16). He gave them the same amount of food, day after day, in monotonous rhythm with no variation, for almost forty years. The only variation concerned the Sabbath day; God again supernaturally made the bread last for an extra day only on the Sabbath (Ex.16:22 – 24). So to suggest that we speak of ‘appetites’ as ‘tastes’ seems rather beside the point, and in fact, completely opposite the point. God, Moses, and Paul cared not one bit about people’s ‘expensive tastes’ vs. ‘cheap tastes’. What’s more, God expected them to be thankful for this monotonous diet; He considered their complaining to be ridiculous. They could starve themselves if they so chose, but complaining about His food was sinful, plain and simple. I’m unclear why you think we should read this passage as making accommodations to people’s various ‘tastes’. Are you simply trying to prevent anyone from drawing the appropriate implications out of this passage?

        Once you factor in the intertextual literary analysis, you reach even more significant conclusions that reinforce my point. Why does Paul quote from Exodus 16:18 in the first place? There were many other possible passages from the Old Testament from which to quote. Intertextuality – how the New Testament writers quote from the Old – has been a field of increasing, and rewarding, study. Interestingly enough, Paul does not quote from Israel’s historic condition of being oppressed in Egypt. That might have been appropriate given the fact that the Roman Empire was oppressing Israel. Yet Paul does not quote passages from the Exodus deliverance event such as, ‘You will not go empty-handed’ or ‘The LORD had given the people favor.’ (Ex.3:21; 12:36) He does not use that episode in favor of the Judean believers and somewhat against the Corinthians. Nor, equally surprisingly, does he use Israel’s land traditions as a model for economic equality within the worldwide church community. He does not quote, ‘So that the needy of your people may eat’ or, ‘There shall be no poor among you.’ (Ex.23:11; Dt.15:4) Instead, Paul quotes from the wilderness manna episode. ‘He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little had no lack’ (Ex.16:18 quoted in 2 Cor.8:15). Why?

        The main issue concerns our place in the larger biblical metanarrative. Obviously the two situations between Israel in the wilderness and the church today are not perfectly equivalent, but quoting the wilderness manna episode serves several pastoral purposes Paul had for the church. Richard B. Hays (in Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul) notes some of them. The quote depicts the church’s life in the world as an echo of Israel’s wilderness wandering episode, preventing the Corinthians from adopting a settler mentality (cf. 1 Cor.10). It reinforces the church’s unity as a people sojourning together, warning them against a schism. It highlights the church’s dependence on God by echoing Israel’s dependence on God’s supernatural provision (which is yet another incident of the miraculous that disrupts our ability to reduce the biblical narrative down to political philosophy). I would add to Hays that this quotation also strategically critiques the Corinthians’ materialism and their temptation to hoard for the future. In the wilderness, when the Israelite men went out to gather manna for their own households, they discovered that if they tried to gather a large amount, the extra bread spoiled. Their portion shrank to suit their household for that day only. Is Paul suggesting that the Corinthians’ excess, if they try to hoard it for themselves, will be wasted from a divine perspective? Probably. Is Paul suggesting that God acts, and invites the church to act, in ways to meet the basic needs of its members as it sojourns in the world? Probably. The lingering literary echoes that fill the air are fascinating.

        Hence, I maintain that Christians are called to struggle constantly (and admittedly, imperfectly and humbly, but nevertheless constantly) towards economic equality in the global church, even as the church expands as it follows the evangelistic mission of Jesus. But to summarize my point about 2 Corinthians 8, I think here we do find, for Christians, a dynamic yet constant invitation towards economic equality in the church. Not just a ‘minimum level of economic welfare’ with the right to accumulate wealth beyond that, since the right to accumulate wealth requires a fairly strong competing right to withhold excess wealth from the poor in order to reinvest profits and savings into increasingly expensive capital outlays. This is part of my reason for answering in the positive your question of whether there should be a barrier to how much wealth the rich might accumulate through hard work and ingenuity. Yes, for Christians, I think there is always somewhat of a barrier to unlimited wealth accumulation, however virtuously acquired. That barrier is the poor.

        Whether there is a barrier for non-Christians, according to some other ethical system which makes sense to them, or simply by virtue of power and politics, is an excellent question which I want to continue to struggle to think through and articulate. And the possibility I am suggesting, that is not explicitly found in 2 Corinthians in particular, is whether this entails not simply giving from the rich to the poor, but in some cases, directives from the poor to the rich to dismantle their systems of wealth production.

        So, that moves us on to the larger subject of (B) the Bible and progress. It is not so much that I think the Bible absolutely stands against all technological progress per se, but that it offers a constant and thorough-going critique of human civilization as a whole; and technological advances are part of fallen human civilizations and an outgrowth of human motivations which are always in need of humbling and refining. Therefore, I would not say that the Bible is simply ‘neutral’ towards technology and progress. The Bible’s position is pessimistic and skeptical in general, and nuanced in any given instance, but ‘neutral’ would not be an adequate word to describe it. The Bible actually seeks to penetrate deeper behind what we call ‘civilization’ and ‘progress’ and the forms which they take.

        It’s possible that your more optimistic view of the possibilities of progress come from your more extensive reliance upon philosophy, which, I suspect, treats technological progress as separable, in principle, from the conditions in which they actually emerged, or the results that actually happened. My roots lie in sociology and history, in what actually happened, including what actually happened in Scripture, and less so what could happen in principle under some ideal conditions.

        You ask me to consider whether I’d rather be born 500 years ago, or today, or in the year 2500. Perhaps you think that I would at least prefer today to 500 years ago, due to our technological advances. But I think that question is very difficult to answer. Today, 1 out of 6 people around the world live in urban slums. It’s not just that people come looking for jobs in cities. They regularly get displaced by corporations buying their land to make sugar, tobacco, coffee, rubber, plastic, etc. for the global market, or dispose of toxic trash there. In 20 – 30 years, that number will be 1 out of 4 people living in urban slums (while the total population of the world keeps increasing). The pressures of the global market and the shifting ownership of land leave farmers unable to grow a diversity of crops, which becomes a problem. The food processing technology which we have developed in our attempt to offset the displacement of people from arable farmland is resulting in obesity and diabetes crises in Third World countries. Do we have any reasons to think that that trend will go down? Or that things will be better in 2500? The same institutional forces and human desires will still be around. So the question of when I would rather be born is colored by the probabilities of which family I would be born into. It’s also colored by what I might perceive of my lot in life compared to other people. The greater the social inequalities, the harder life is to bear if I’m on the lower rungs. Perhaps it would be easier to live to an age of 60 if everyone else did, too, back in the farmlands of Tokugawa Japan? Or among the Wampanoag tribe in Massachusetts prior to the English settlers arriving at Plymouth? Perhaps whatever inequalities that existed would have been easier to bear back then?

        You believe that our policies are either good or bad, but progress per se is neutral. I disagree with this, because progress itself is a policy, and it results in both more good and more bad simultaneously. Hence, the Internet has brought enormous speed and efficiency to communications and transactions. But it has also rebirthed a global explosion of child pornography, which was almost completely eradicated before the Internet, is now becoming more brutal and graphic, and is growing. The U.S. and most countries consider pornography to be free speech of some sort. What were my chances of being born a child sex slave just before 1990? Almost zero. My chances today? Small but significant, and increasing.

        You speak of renewable energy resources, and I certainly am for that. But some resources and practices of ours seem like they are on a collision course, and I’m not too sure how we expect to deal with it. Take plastic, for instance. Plastic provides us with innumerable products, but it also uses petroleum, causes ozone depletion when we manufacture it, is extremely difficult to recycle, decomposes very slowly, and is contributing to dioxin poisoning in humans. The Pacific Garbage Patch has enough plastic floating around to cover twice the size of Texas, and it’s growing along with its sister patch in the Atlantic. Now that plastic is entering our food chain, it’s likely to have increasingly bad effects on animals and us, because it has estrogens and other chemicals that will disrupt our biochemical stability. How are we going to solve these problems?

        The more progress occurs, the tendency is to miniaturize the technology while maximizing the impact. So we have smart phones. But we also have miniaturized biological weapons. We can communicate much faster than we did decades ago. But the ability for black market dealers to sell drugs, weapons, and modern day human slaves has grown dramatically, and those markets have ballooned. This contributes to multiple failed states or semi-failing states today: Afghanistan, Colombia, Pakistan, etc. where nuclear weapons and other terrorist technologies are being developed.

        This is where I think philosophy as a discipline has problematic blind spots when it comes to evaluating progress. Philosophy is unable to resolve the perennial problem: how to adjudicate between the three competing conceptions of the good? Is the highest good distributive economic justice, political liberty, or traditionally-defined virtues? Neo-Hegelian philosopher Francis Fukuyama was naïve when he wrote The End of History, for instance, because he conceives of an easy reconciliation between distributive economic justice and political liberty under liberal democratic capitalism, and also without really acknowledging the reality of the third category, traditionally-defined virtues. I think this is why he completely failed to predict the rise of Islam and the significance of religious categories. Out of all the political philosophers that I’m aware of writing on the subject of progress, I think only John Gray at the London School of Economics takes a skeptical view of progress, stemming from his balanced historical and social outlook, which I think squares with the biblical evaluation of human history.

        That biblical evaluation is found in the literary theme of the city, which is both urbanization in its historical particularity and also an emblem for our human civilization taken as a whole, civilization outside Eden’s garden land and Israel’s garden land. You appear to not have studied this before, and question whether I am overstating the case about cities as both constituting and representing rebellion against God. Those are fair questions, and I understand your reaction, since this is a theme that is almost never taught or preached in most churches. It is clear from its earliest literary appearances in Scripture that the human city is negative. When we take Genesis 1 – 11 as a whole literary section, we find something very thought provoking, and very relevant. God is opposed to these cities because He is for human life. Kikawada and Quinn compare Genesis 1 – 11 to its contemporary literature, and find something very remarkable.

        In Homer’s Iliad (European), there is a five-fold structure dealing with human civilization and overcrowding.
        1. Problem: Overpopulation, wickedness, earth burdened
        2. First Threat: Zeus sends the Theban War; many destroyed
        3. Second Threat: Zeus plans to destroy all by thunderbolts; Momos dissuades Zeus
        4. Third Threat: Momos suggests that Thebis marry a mortal to create Achilles and that Zeus father Helen of Troy; war results between the Greeks and the barbarians
        5. Resolution: Many destroyed by Trojan War, earth lightened of her burden

        In the Atrahasis story (Babylonian/Akkadian), there is a five-fold structure dealing with human civilization and overcrowding.
        1. Creation (1.1-351): the work of the gods and the creation of humans
        2. First Threat (1.352-415): Humans numerically increase; plague from the gods to limit overcrowding; Enki’s help
        3. Second Threat (II.i.1-II.v.21) Humanity’s numerical increase; drought from the gods; Enki’s help
        4. Third Threat (II.v.22-III.vi.4): Humanity’s numerical increase, Atrahasis Flood, salvation in boat
        5. Resolution (III.vi.5-viii.18): Numerical increase; compromise between Enlil and Enki; humans cursed with natural barrenness, high infant mortality rate, cult prostitution (to separate sex and procreation)

        In the Zoroastrian Avesta (Old Iranian), there is again a five-fold structure dealing with human civilization and overcrowding.
        1. Creation: Ahura Mazda tells Yima (human) to be king over creation
        2. First Threat: Overpopulation; Yima asks the earth goddess Armaiti to expand herself
        3. Second Threat: Overpopulation; Yima asks the earth goddess Armaiti to expand herself
        4. Third Threat: Overpopulation; Yima asks the earth goddess Armaiti to expand herself
        5. Resolution: Ahura Mazda sends a deadly winter with heavy snowfall to punish overcrowding; Yima told to build a three storied enclosure to survive; humanity destroyed outside while a boy and girl born in enclosure every 40 years

        However, in Genesis 1 – 11, while there is a five-fold structure dealing with human civilization and the question of human reproduction, we find the opposite conclusion.
        1. Creation (1:1-2:3): God creates the world and humans and blesses them
        2. First Threat (2:4-4:26): Genealogy of heavens and earth; the Fall; God promises victory to the seed of the woman; Cain kills Abel and settles in a city; God preserves Seth
        3. Second Threat (5:1-9:29): Genealogy of Adam to Noah; human violence; God destroys the world through the flood; God preserves Noah and family
        4. Third Threat (10:1-11:9): Genealogy of Shem, Ham, Japheth; Nimrod builds an empire of cities; humanity clusters in the Tower of Babel; God disperses humanity
        5. Resolution (11:10-26): Genealogy of Shem; introduction of Abram; in 11:27, God calls Abram out of Ur to begin Israel

        We can see that the Hebrew tradition is also concerned with population, but in exactly the opposite sense. The Hebrew God, far from punishing human beings for population growth, orders them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.’ Kikawada and Quinn argue, ‘This command, so long familiar to us, is in its cultural context utterly startling, as unexpected as the monotheism.’ Frymer-Kensky says that this command to be fertile is ‘an explicit and probably conscious rejection of the idea that the cause of the flood was overpopulation and that overpopulation is a serious problem.’ (Tikva Frymer-Kensky, ‘The Atrahasis Epic and its Significance for Understanding Genesis 1-9,’ Biblical Archaeologist 40 (1977):152. See also B.S. Yegerlehner, Be Fruitful and Multiply (Dissertation, Boston University, 1975) and David Daube’s The Duty of Procreation (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1982)) Temple cult prostitutes who used various forms of birth control divorced sexuality and childbearing, but the Hebrew God unequivocally united the two. It is significant that such cult practices were coupled with overpopulation myths in ancient cities, because cities faced that problem. Kikawada and Quinn conclude: ‘All other traditions view population control as the solution to urban overcrowding. Genesis offers dispersion, the nomadic way of life. Population growth is from the very beginning of the Genesis primeval history presented as an unqualified blessing. The blessing in Genesis 1:28 finds a fulfillment in the dispersion ‘upon the face of the whole earth,’ which concludes the primeval history. Genesis 1 – 11 then constitutes a rejection of Babel and Babylon – of civilization itself, if its continuance requires human existence to be treated as a contingent good. For Genesis the existence of a new human was always good.’

        The image of God in us is manifested or further tarnished based on how we treat another person in whom the image of God resides. I have questions and concerns about population growth, but I take Genesis 1 – 11 as at least saying that God gives dignity to each new human life, and calls all existing human beings to welcome it into the human family. God measures character and relationships, not progress. Gandhi’s famous saying comes to mind, ‘The world has enough for everyone’s need, but not everyone’s greed.’ So when we think about the conditions into which some new human beings enter into this world, how do we weigh that? Is it worth some of us having all these goods and services if someone else is born into sheer deprivation and hopelessness because of social controls meant to promote and defend these privileges?

        On (C) the Bible and interest rates, and now I suppose the ‘free market system’ with whatever caveats we want to put around that term, even if I were to accept Freeman’s and your definition from philosophy and economics about how the market behaves in the ideal world, I would at least insist that the real world is not like that. If we are dealing with failed states, semi-failing states, corrupt governments, and governments that do not protect basic human rights all over the world, where exactly is a fair labor pricing system happening? If we are extracting resources from land and dumping toxins on land because other communitarian cultures (e.g. African, Latin-American cultures) do not evaluate the price of land with full knowledge of the cost to them, and if American corporations are actually taking advantage of communitarian systems of ownership where we pay off one person or one party against the remainder of their people to acquire rights to that land, where exactly is a fair land price system happening? If we find that the CIA has manipulated governments all over the world so that American corporations can come into those countries and take advantage of the disarray and chaos we create, where exactly is a fair price system happening? If we find conflicts of interest in powerful banks and government officials because of their investments in industries connected to war, oil, and natural resources, then exactly where is a fair capital price system happening? And so on.

        Logic and courtesy dictate that we should greatly limit our economic activity until the world reaches a point where there is a true marketplace under the definition given by you and Freeman. This is, again, another reason why I think Christians should put onto the table the idea that the rich nations of the world should dismantle – perhaps temporarily, perhaps conditioned on certain other factors, and perhaps permanently – various parts of its wealth generation mechanisms. Do you agree that logic and courtesy demand that?

        I’d like to press further. In your paper, you say, ‘The second class of obligations I wish to set aside are those that are grounded in facts about historical injustices.’ Here, again in my opinion, is a fundamental flaw with approaching the problem of economic disparity from the standpoint of political philosophy. Can one truly set aside historical injustices? For you proceed to say something which I generally agree with: ‘If, as a matter of historical fact, rich nations obtained their wealth through illegitimate means, it seems they should owe compensation to the countries which were cheated.’ But you do not adequately consider how conflicting cultural paradigms operate to the systematic advantage of the West at the expense of the rest of the world, and at the expense of future generations. Let’s even set aside for now covert and overt military operations such as the 1953 CIA assassination of the Shah of Iran, to keep Iran’s oil fields open for Anglo-Iranian Oil/British Petroleum. Conflicting cultural paradigms alone are enough to trigger substantial hesitation, according to the critieria you acknowledge.

        The reason I quoted from Chief Seattle was to highlight those conflicting cultural paradigms. And the reason I cited a brief history of Christian negative opinion on interest rates, especially the Tawney quote, is to illustrate how the Western tradition, over time, has made very important cultural attitude shifts towards land, labor, capital, time, value, possession, and motivation. The West believes in a certain cultural paradigm with components in that package. Today, land is merely a natural resource separate from us, and nothing more, despite the fact that we are biochemically connected to it in profoundly deep ways that we are still discovering. Western philosophy and economics treats labor as an individualistic commodity since human beings are endowed with individual talents and skills, despite the fact that those talents and skills are partially accidental, partially genetic, and partially nurtured by parents and teachers and mentors and even the physical infrastructure of the wider polity (e.g. school buildings, roads, systems of information). In the West, capital is on par with land and labor as an economic input, and a person should be rewarded with a return merely for having more capital than others and lending it, despite what the Jewish, Greek, and Christian virtues have said about this being inherently unjust because it favors the rich. In the West, time can be owned by people rather than God and therefore equated with money. In the West, value is added by not just the person doing actual work, but also by investors taking risks with their money who could have gotten a return for their money at a bank, a bank which in turn is seeking to get some other return on its own money to attract more investors’ money to it. In the West, possession can be reduced to the individual, regardless of the wishes of ancestors or descendants or community. In the West, individual economic self-interest is said to be a perfectly valid form of motivation, despite the biblical tradition and others warning against greed and so on.

        By saying this, I am pointing out that this Western assortment of views is merely cultural, and because it is only cultural, it is completely arbitrary from an intellectual standpoint. It is not biblical or theological, which I have spent much time proving, much to the cost of your sore eyes, I’m sure. It finds no particular intellectual grounding anywhere. From a philosophical standpoint, these cultural assumptions are simply assumptions. You might say that they justify themselves by producing the wealth that liberal democratic capitalism has produced, but I would respond by saying that logically, you have simply set up your own critieria for validation. Philosophy by itself cannot truly adjudicate between fundamentally competing definitions of ‘the good,’ even if one of the ideas of ‘the good’ is material wealth flowing from humanity’s technological progress. So industrialization does not prove the validity of all its underlying cultural assumptions. Industrialization proves nothing but its own existence.

        Moreover, what is extremely problematic for any advocate of the free market is that, in historical reality, people of other cultures are forced to change by Western institutions and exposure to Western agents. The main way other governments learn to modernize is if our corporations go there to do business for the lowest possible cost to themselves. The main way laborers learn to resist predatory employers is if people become laborers first and then organize a union and workers’ rights after being taken advantage of for so long. The main way people become educated about their own resources is if they learn what price those resources will fetch on the global market, and what they could purchase, even though this will produce huge social rifts in their own communities. And so on. The main way for the world to become a free market system is for Western corporations to aggressively and forcibly reshape the cultural landscape everywhere else, because traditional peoples don’t even think in these terms yet. And if they wouldn’t except for Western intrusion, then aren’t these corporations, academics, etc. producing their own justification? Isn’t that the biblical definition of idolatry, and the dictionary definition of a tautology? That is why I believe Christians must be cautious about imperialism, critical of all these outcomes, and open to repeating the fundamental challenges arising from other cultures towards the fundamental assumptions about land, labor, possession, etc. This is now one of the tasks of the global church. Historically, the advance of the free market was always accompanied by cultural imperialism and frequent injustice. And if cultural imperialism is itself an injustice, which I believe it is, then this again gives rise to my question: What if the poor nation wishes the rich nation to de-industrialize? What if factions within the poor nation wish it?

        I’ll do more research on interest rates in particular and come back to this blog post regarding that. But I’m happy that we are discussing the broader substance behind the idea of progress. I think reading your paper contributed to my ability to address your questions with more clarity. Thanks again for that.

  6. Mako,

    Unfortunately, it seems we’re multiplying mutual misunderstanding while also expanding the scope of our discussion; this does not bode well for the future manageability of our conversation. But here’s an attempt to clear things up.

    By the way, I’ll be taking down the justice paper soon; I put it up in preparation for a discussion of the paper at NYU which will take place later today. So if you need another copy please email me at angst at nyu dot edu.

    1. I’m extremely skeptical of the value of claims like: “because such and such a view comes from a ‘western cultural context’, it is thereby parochial.” I take most all truth–including moral truth–to be objective, in the same way that “the earth orbits the sun and not vice-versa” is objectively true: true no matter what your culture or religion. In particular, I don’t understand why a view’s being “western” or “secular” should in itself be a critique of the view. So I am simply unable to appreciate what appears to be one of your central concerns with my position.

    For instance, at the end of your post, you express disproval of “western intrusion” and “cultural imperialism”. I find your attitude mysterious. What do you mean by these things, and why are they necessarily bad?

    Let’s try to clarify what you mean with an example. The claim that the earth orbits the sun seems to me to be a product of Western culture. Am I being “imperialistic” when I think that anyone who, today, persists in believing the sun orbits the earth, is mistaken and possibly irrational (if they’ve been shown the scientific evidence)?

    Here’s another example. It was a *Western* discovery that it’s best to wash your hands before delivering a baby, especially if you’ve just touched a dead body. Am I being “imperialistic” when I insist that this practice be adopted by all cultures?

    If so, then I see no problem with being “imperialistic”, and I fail to understand why being so is necessarily a criticism. If not, then I don’t see why the “imperialism” you’ve criticized is necessarily different from these examples.

    In any case, I am very sensitive to cultural differences in moral perception (in fact, my dissertation grapples directly with this very issue), and I thought that would be evident from how I discussed cultural variation in the Ultimatum Game.

    2. I’m also not sure why you think it’s relevant to critique Rawls. I don’t see myself as a Rawlsian (not yet anyways). As far as I can tell, I have not argued that anything should be accepted *simply because* Rawls accepted them. So I don’t see how I’m “absolutizing [his] cultural values], and reading them backwards into the Scriptures”. Perhaps it would help if you were more explicit about what “starting points of Rawls and others” I have “accepted”, and for which you think I am “looking for justification … in Scripture”. I have been claiming all along that I think scripture is *neutral* on the matters we’ve been discussing. This means I am most definitely *not* claiming to have found justification for my views on these things in scripture.

    3. You also say a lot about the limitations of philosophy. For instance, you say “Philosophy by itself cannot truly adjudicate between fundamentally competing definitions of ‘the good,’ even if one of the ideas of ‘the good’ is material wealth flowing from humanity’s technological progress.” What, exactly, do you take philosophy to be? And why should philosophy be able to “adjudicate between fundamentally competing definitions of ‘the good,’” in the first place? This adjudication is something you’re bringing up out of the blue, and I am baffled as to why.

    Maybe this will help me to understand your point. Can *you* adjudicate between fundamentally competing definitions of `the good’? If so, please explain how what you’re doing is not, itself, philosophy. If not, please explain why it is important for philosophy to be able to do it.

    4. I *deny* that I’m trying to find explicit support for my views in Scripture. Instead, my project is to see whether my views are *excluded* by scripture. I think I’m trying to be *very careful* about letting scripture speak for itself and not attributing more to scripture than what may legitimately inferred from the text. My claims have generally *not* been that such and such view of mine is found in scripture, but rather that my views do not *contradict* scripture: that there is a viable interpretation on which scripture is consistent with my views, and that there is no viable interpretation on which scripture is inconsistent with them.

    You say, for instance, that “because of [my] discomfort with the miraculous nature of God’s use of [Israel’s] land”, I “jettison” the miraculous aspect. Not only do you misrepresent my psychology here, but you also overstate my point. Really, my claim here is that nothing in the text forces us to interpret Deut 11:11-17 as requiring all of God’s miraculous intervention to be focused *on the land itself*. Yes, Israel’s prosperity was to be God’s reward for Israel’s faithfulness. My point is that the text does not preclude God from delivering this prosperity by inspiring Israel as a nation to engage in scientific discovery, and economic and technological progress.

    Similarly, I deny your accusation that I’m attempting “to read ‘economic and technological progress’ back into Israel’s land legislation, and by extension, all the way back into the garden of Eden”. Rather, I’m just trying to show that none of that Biblical material requires us to adopt the sort of critical stance you advocate towards such progress.

    You say, for instance, “You appear to be of two minds about this. On the one hand, you say that ‘scripture is simply silent on whether we should take a pro-technology/progress or anti-technology/progress stance.’ Then, on the other hand, you say that ‘scientific discovery is itself a form of worship. At least, scripture has a positive attitude towards it (Prov 25:2), and I think it could have formed a big part of humankind’s mandate in Gen 2.’”

    What I said was:

    “In any case, I happen to think that scientific discovery is itself a form of worship….”

    When I said “I happen to think X”, I meant that *I* think X, not that I think scripture teaches X. I think Scripture has no direct attitude towards scientific discovery as such, because I think it never mentions science. I agree that Prov 25:2 does not refer to science specifically, but I disagree with your attempt to limit its applicability to “insights into the heart of a king and being an advisor to a king”. Rather, I take the verse to apply to discovery in general, and I understand scientific discovery to be one form of discovery. That’s why I think it applies. It’s indirect.

    Also, when I say “X could have formed a big part of humankind’s mandate in Gen 2”, I mean that it’s not *inconsistent with what scripture says* for X to be part of the mandate described in Gen 2. I do not claim actually to have found X there in the mandate.

    Now, take this sequence (I’ve added the labels for ease in discussion):

    “(i) Your impatience with biblical scholarship, (ii) your discomfort with the miraculous interaction between God and the garden land(s) in biblical history, (iii) your desire to make a ‘metaphor’ of things that should not be understood as metaphors, (iv) your attributing to me extreme positions I don’t actually hold (did God do all the agricultural work, was there no sweat at all, etc.) in an attempt to dismiss my points, and (v) your unfamiliarity with the literary function of Genesis 1 – 4 and 1 – 11 as Israel’s fighting doctrine against other human civilizations, all suggest that you want to be able to comfortably read scientific and technological progress out of the pages of Genesis 1 and 2, and that you don’t actually mean it when you say that Scripture is silent on the issue.”

    As for (i), my impatience is not with biblical scholarship in general, but rather *your* specific attempts to use particular scriptures which do not really have bearing on the issue at hand. In asking whether scripture contains a critique of progress, I’m *inviting* biblical scholarship. I just don’t think what you offered is relevant.

    As for (ii), I’m not uncomfortable with the miraculous. I’ve tried to explain this already.

    As for (iii), I don’t agree that the things I claim are metaphors “shouldn’t be understood as metaphors”. Deut 11:8-15 explicitly mentions, as examples God’s care, only two things 1) sending of rain, and 2) provision of grass. I take these things to be metaphors for *all* of God’s provision: I assume God’s ready to provide other things, in addition to these two. Similarly, when it says the land is “flowing with milk an honey”, the I take these two goods (milk and honey) as a metaphor for the *entire* range of abundance in the land. There’s no implied *limitation* here, so that milk and honey are the only things that flow. When you say we shouldn’t take these as metaphors, what do you have in mind as a literal interpretation? Surely, you do not mean to limit the text to asserting God’s provision only for rain, grass, milk and honey?

    Anyways, I think we need additional argument to show that technological or economic progress *could not* be part of what God intends to bestow on an obedient Israel. (Just because only rain, grass milk and honey are mentioned explicitly here does not entail that God will provide nothing else.) I just don’t see how you can use this passage to conclude a negative view about technological/economic progress.

    As for (iv), I did not attribute *to you* the extreme positions you cite. I thought the point about God doing all the work, for instance, was clearly posed as a *question*, asking you to clarify your claim. I wanted to understand how you get an anti-progress message out of scripture. One way you might do it is to argue like this, “Progress requires human work. But according to Deut 11, God doesn’t want humans to work for bountiful harvests, thus God doesn’t want us to work towards progress.” I asked the question to see if you had an argument of this sort in mind. Since this is *not* your argument, I’m not sure what is.

    As for (v): I don’t see how you can legitimately conclude, merely from my unfamiliarity with something, a claim about my motivations.

    But enough about me.

    5. You raise an interesting argument: that taking scientific discovery to be part of worship and the creation mandate leads to “cultural imperialism masquerading in Christian theology”, because “cultures which have progressed further along scientifically and technologically have fulfilled more of their God-given creation mandate”. I don’t see why this has to follow as a consequence. Singing, for instance, can be an act of worship, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that people who are more advanced at singing have necessarily fulfilled more of their God-given mandate than those who are less adept at it. God’s mandate is wide, and includes many projects. Not everyone has to do everything equally well. There is diversity in capacities and aptitudes.

    I say we can say 1) Matt Redman is much better than me at singing, 2) Singing is a part of worship, and yet 3) let *God* judge whether Matt Redman or me has, all things considered, “fulfilled more of their God-given creation mandate.” By analogy, I say we can 1) claim the West has been better at science than anyone else, 2) affirm that science is part of God’s mandate, and yet 3) let God determine whether Western culture, or some other culture has, all things considered, “fulfilled more of their God-given creation mandate”.

    6. I do agree that, although I frame my argument in the paper as justifying a *penalty* for overconsumption, rich nations could fulfill their obligation simply by reducing their ecological footprint (by consuming less). I should be more clear about this, and thanks for pointing it out.

    I do not, however, think my arguments warrant “dismantling a significant part of [our] system of wealth.” My argument implicates only resource consumption, not wealth generation. And, I would press my point in footnote 22: I think “it is unlikely that my proposal would have generated any obligations prior to the 20th century”.

    7. You mention debt forgiveness and providing for freed slaves. I don’t see what blocks an interpretation which takes minimum welfare to be the guiding principle behind these laws, as well. The provision for freed slaves may be seen as an attempt to ensure former slaves have minimum welfare. As can debt forgiveness: it is to ensure that those who are unable to pay debts are not indefinitely burdened by those debts.

    8. I refrain from using “equality” to translate 2 Cor 8 because there is no evidence there that general economic equality was the goal there. I agree that “fairness” can include equality—I’m a believer in the equality principle, after all. But my point is that we need reasons to think equality is the right principle of fairness as understood in the passage. We can’t just jump to the conclusion that general economic equality is being prescribed here.

    Ex 16:18 is about distribution of *food*, and I assume that any plausible principle of minimum welfare would say that everyone should have all they need to eat. My question is whether the Bible endorses a principle of economic equality that extends to *all* wealth—beyond just food. And my argument about expensive tastes was directed against attempts to use Ex 16:18 as support for such a general principle.

    Why does Paul appeal to the Manna episode rather than others when discussing “isotes”? I don’t think scripture tells us. But maybe it’s because the Manna episode focuses our attention to *food*, and this best highlights the fact that the fairness that Paul has in mind in 2 Cor 8 requires only that everyone *have enough to eat*—and should not be generalized to wealth in general. On this view, Christians should strive to make sure everyone has enough to eat (plus other basic needs like water and medical care). But there’s no principle that would push Christians to strive for equality above this minimum welfare.

    9. You say “for Christians, I think there is always somewhat of a barrier to unlimited wealth accumulation, however virtuously acquired. That barrier is the poor.” Yes, I agree—if the poor exists below *some minimal level of welfare*. But what if the poor are all taken care of? I’ve never tried explicitly to specify what minimal level of welfare I had in mind, but maybe it will help if I did. Suppose everyone (even the poorest of the poor) had at least $30k/year each, so none are starving, etc. My question is whether there’s some principle of equality that requires the rich to limit their accumulation under such a scenario—for instance, to refrain from (legitimately) making $3MM/year. I see none required by scripture.

    9. As a philosopher, I tend to shy away from detailed, rigorous investigations of empirical questions, like whether my chance of being a sex slave was lower 500 years ago or now. But I admit my thinking is influenced by Pinker’s new work, “Better Angels of Our Nature”, which argues that violence has *declined* overall through history. He would deny that things are worse today than 500 years ago. Do you know of solid empirical findings which contradict his conclusion?

    My question really was 1) whether our obligation to future generations is *no more than* to leave to them a world that’s at least as good as what was left to us, and 2) whether my test (based on whether you’d prefer to be born to day or some other time) is a good way of testing whether what we’ve left is good enough. You say philosophy as a discipline has a problematic blind spot with respect to evaluating progress. Well, I’m trying to fill that in. What problems do you see with my proposal? (I actually see many; but i’m always looking for help…) It seems your main thought is that it’s near-useless practically, because of the empirical difficulties in discerning that things were lack back then (or will be in the future).

    10. I accept that scripture links cities with rebellion against God. What would surprise me is the further suggestion that city life itself *constitutes* sin–so every person’s lifestyle (including persons today) would better conform to God’s ideal if they lived outside of cities. What is your view? Do you think a mass exodus from cities would, in itself, reduce sinfulness? If so, what’s the maximum population density you think may be sustained without sin? Would it automatically decrease my own level of sinfulness if I moved from New York City to podunk, texas? Would it decrease my sinfulness further if I then moved to the middle of Siberia, where almost nobody is around?

    The main difficulty I have with bringing up cities is that I don’t see how your point entails a negative attitude for technological/economic progress *at all*, unless you take the (radical, and I think ludicrous) stance that all city living constitutes sin. Such a view would enable the argument: [Much] progress requires cities, cities are intrinsically sinful, so progress is sinful. I assume this is *not* what you have in mind. So what is the connection between progress and scripture’s take on cities?

    11. You say, “Logic and courtesy dictate that we should greatly limit our economic activity until the world reaches a point where there is a true marketplace under the definition given by you and Freeman.” I don’t agree, because I see no reason to think that greatly limiting economic activity (e.g., by implementing highly invasive government controls) would improve matters overall. I actually think imposing such a limit would would most likely worsen conditions. For instance: the rate of extreme poverty (living on less than $1.25/day) has been falling since 1990, and the largest contribution to this is China, which achieved their poverty reduction by adopting free markets. In any case, whether economic limitation would improve things is clearly an empirical matter. It is clearly not a matter of just “logic and courtesy”.

    12. When I “set aside” an issue in a paper, I mean to set it aside *only for the purposes of the paper*. I am not recommending that we ignore the issue in general. My goal in that paper was not to articulate a completely general conception of justice. It was to defend a special principle connected to the use of natural resources. I will try to make this more clear in future revisions of the paper.

    13. You identify a collection of views you take to be essential to supporting the modern economc system, and then you say “this Western assortment of views is merely cultural, and because it is only cultural, it is completely arbitrary from an intellectual standpoint”. Did you ever *argue* that such views are *merely* cultural, and that they are intellectually arbitrary? If so, I missed it.

    (And as a matter of fact, I’m pretty sure the “West” does not agree monolithically with all you said there, and I doubt whether modern economic systems require all the elements you mention.)

    To clarify: I’m not all that interested in what the West has said on any particular matter. I’m interested in whether there are any reasons to think interest rates are, as such, bad. Showing that a positive view about interest rates is supported as part of a set of intellectually arbitrary assumptions *does not* by itself yield *any* reasons to think that interest rates should be rejected.

    14. Where are you getting your “biblical definition of idolatry”? I fail to see what point you’re trying to make with the cultural appeals in your discussion of free markets.

    And a tautology, as I understand it, is a mere repetition of a single idea, perhaps by using different words. “War is war” is a tautology. “Water is H2O” is a tautology. And maybe “F=ma” is a tautology. I don’t see how “producing [your] own justification” fits this understanding of tautology.

  7. I think my view on wealth equality just changed over the weekend.

    This is because of “The Spirit Level”, a book written by epidemiologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett. There they present formidable evidence that wealth inequality is a cause for a very wide range of health and social problems. (I was directed to this work by Peter Unger.)

    Earlier I asked whether we should limit the rich from accumulating wealth, even when everyone enjoys a minimum of welfare. I think Wilkinson and Pickett provide some of the best reasons available to answer “yes”. Their reason for limits is simple: it’s because wealth equality would make us all *substantially* happier, overall.

    Of course, a question still remains whether greater overall happiness is enough to justify limitations. Only an act utilitarian would automatically conclude that it is. I highly doubt any of us are act utilitarians. We think people have rights which shouldn’t be violated, not even if doing so would make (most) everyone substantially happier.

    And, they provide a case for *national* equality (wealth equality between people within a nation). They don’t say whether *global* equality would help anything.

    So I’m not yet *completely* convinced.

    But even so, my view on this has changed fairly dramatically. Prior to “The Spirit Level”, I saw no compelling reason to even try for wealth equality. But now, I’m thinking we do have a strong reason to try. If Wilkinson and Pickett are right, I think each nation should go for increased wealth equality among its citizens, if it is at all possible to achieve it without violating people’s rights.

  8. THANK YOU. I search for scholarly information that relates the bible to the world in which my family & I live. It seems to me Christ was kind, caring & gentle which is not what I think I observe in many of the “hard core” evangelical “scholars”. Do you have any recommended readings? Thank you again, Dee

  9. What makes you think there was not a large variance in social classes in OT. Abram’s family wealth to David’s to Solomon’s to all the way thru to the NT we are shown that God’s Grace can overcome man’s greed. Our constitution driven by God fearing(knowledge is to fear God) people is centered around and protects with the Bill of Rights a pursuit to happiness. Just as God could not trulely loves us without giving us free will to choose to believe in Him and His authenticity, so the constitution (OUR constitution) gives us free will to pursue happiness by means of property accumulation that I can then choose to give away. (how can I give away something I haven’t acquired). I encourage you both to take yourself out of the judgement seat and read and reread the constitution. Please pay close attention to the part about the separation of church and state. And dont forget the part where if one was born during a certain time and place and scribed this, one would find oneself labeled a heritic and sought out to be disembowled before being hanged for public display. How’s that for progress. I myself must get to work on my properties so I can pay my heat bill.

  10. Hi Mako –

    Thanks for taking the time to write this. The overlap between politics and faith is an active and ongoing source of study for me and I found the piece and comments thought provoking. However, your central allegation that Grudem misuses scripture is misplaced. In his introduction he states explicitly:

    “…Then I have used a third type of argument: an appeal to facts in the world. In some sections (such as chap. 9, on economics), much of my argument depends on one’s evaluation of the actual results of certain policies (for instance, do lower taxes lead to greater economic growth or not?). Such arguments are different from arguments from direct biblical statements, and they are different from arguments from broader biblical prin- ciples, for they depend not on the Bible but on an evaluation of the relevant facts in the world today… But a different evaluation of the facts might lead someone to a different conclusion about a certain policy. I am certainly not claiming that the Bible also supports all the facts I cite about the world today. Readers are free to evaluate and search out evidence about those factual question themselves. What I am doing in each chapter, however, is to say that if my understanding of these facts is correct, then the teachings of the Bible seem to me to lead to one conclusion or another about the specific issue under discussion….”

    I see that you disagree with his conclusions and raise interesting points worthy of debate (private property, interest and debt), however you don’t actually address either his stated method or the misuse of scripture. In fact Grudem’s encouragement that “Readers… evaluate and search out evidence… themselves” appears rather more generous than a narrow directive “Buyer beware”.

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  12. Interesting critique but rationale for conclusions confuse biblical charge to the government with other functions commissioned by God to mitigate evil in society till He returns. It is always critical to identify “who” the bible was addressing to determine “who” it applies to today. The bible has identified three basic human organizations commissioned by God with separate roles and responsibilities; the family, the religious leaders (church after Pentecost), and the government.

    The commands to support the poor are not directed to the government but always to the family and the Priests/Levites/Church. In the old testament, every three years the tithe went to the poor. The poor were never given hand outs but had to work for food that the individuals/families left in the fields. This was affirmed by Paul in Acts when the Church, not Rome was the organization that collected the funds for the poor and Paul’s command that those who would not work should not eat. So, we as individuals really should specifically find ways to employ the poor through work on our property. The church should not keep the full tithe/offering but distribute at least a third to the poor in the community.

    Conversely, the government is charged with maintaining impartial justice (neither justifying either rich or poor but holding both to the same laws and punishment) and protecting nations through use of lethal force. At times, God also directs rulers to initiate war to remove nations that are given over to idolatry and immorality. God does not “endorse” all killing done by the government, only that required for justice. The innocent should never be killed, but the guilty should never be let off without punishment. Some crimes are not punishable by prison but require confession and restitution. Those are elements of justice.

    The government is the ultimate authority on earth but God expected the Priests and Prophets to rebuke and instruct. Two major issues include the need to call out for an end to the murder of the innocent unborn and the evil greed for power and wealth of the government.

  13. Pingback: C.S Lewis should really be read more… Wayne Grudem not so much – faithreasonaddingup

  14. Pingback: Marriage Ancient and Modern – faithreasonaddingup

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