One Way to Preach the Gospel
A new Bible translation is causing controversy after it cut out difficult parts surrounding economic justice, possessions and money. – ekklesia.co.ok
"Did Jesus have money? Well, the Bible was clear. Kings brought him gold," Dollar says. "Did Jesus have money? It's clear. He had a treasurer to keep up with it." – Creflo Dollar, as quoted in the Atlanta Journal Constitution
Two articles I’ve read this past week have left me a little uneasy. The first, circulated by the British site Ekklesia, announces a new version of the Bible that cuts out Jesus’ words regarding selling possessions to the poor, and how hard it is for the rich to get into heaven:
According to Chairman Mr. De Rijke the foundation has reacted to a growing wish of many churches to be market-oriented and more attractive. "Jesus was very inspiring for our inner health, but we don't need to take his naïve remarks about money seriously. He didn't study economics, obviously."
According to De Rijke no serious Christian takes these texts literally. "What if all Christians stopped being anxious, for example, and started expecting everything from God? Or gave their possessions to the poor, for that matter. Our economy would be lost. The truth is quite the contrary: a strong economy and a healthy work ethic is a gift from God."
While the Bible has sold a few copies, lots of folks are dismissing as easily as lots of folks dismiss Thomas Jefferson’s edits of a supernatural Jesus from the Bible two hundred years ago.
Creflo Dollar’s preaching also seems to edit out notions of poverty being a blessing and the idea to sell everything one owns. Dollar, whose church has 23,000 members, says that Jesus probably even had a house.
This, of course, flies in the face of most scholarly study, as no reputable theologian has ever argued for a rich Jesus.
The appeal of a wealthy Jesus seems to give authors and pastors justification for the large salaries many command. It’s easy when you’re rich to explain everything with a simple cause and effect: I was faithful to God, God gave me this job that pays a lot of money, so God must want me to have the money, right?
Of course, these rich people from their pedestal say the same about those in the opposite social class with an effect and cause argument: you’re poor, so you must have done something for God not to bless you.
Tell that to Mother Teresa.
Our theology gets messed up the moment we believe that God’s blessings come in material form. In our democratic system of capitalism, money can be made in a variety of ways. You can exploit others, you can invent the next big thing, you can sell your time and ideas, and you can profit off of people’s need for connection to the divine. Justifying such behavior by saying that Jesus had money or that his warnings about money were merely contextual and unintended for such an economy is despicable.
But not just because it doesn’t make sense. This theological position is absurd because it creates a barrier of theological superiority between classes based on God’s supposed favoritism. It’s bad enough that the world’s social classes are divided on race and gender lines. Adding religion as a category is equally as terrible.
What does the Bible say?
While Dollar and others with private jets may justify their excesses by projecting such behavior upon the carpenter from Nazareth, we are led to think that Jesus remained poor by choice. Born into a peasant ‘blue-collar’ class, Jesus had few initial advantages due to his family name. He learned a trade, and apparently practiced it until he was 30 or so.
At that point, he asked 12 men and other men and women to follow him around, promising them that they would have no place to lay their head. They were only allowed a certain amount of money and clothing for their travels, and must stay on floors or couches of the generous people who opened their homes.
For food, they ate fish, and every once in a while, Jesus could make food and wine come out of nowhere.
If we believe in a supernatural Jesus who was fully God, then this man could have made anything, including riches, appear from nowhere. However, his choice to remain itinerant and wander around healing and teaching was a deliberate choice, one that should encourage his followers to likewise make conscious choices to live simply, take care of family, and give the rest away.
A true revolution would happen, not if Christians today prayed for more money and then miraculously got raises because of their obedience to God. A true revolution would happen if Christians everywhere did the exact opposite: by taking a vow of semi-poverty and giving the rest away, social programs and churches could be funded in order to meet the needs of everyone.