Just how is God "recreating the world"?
By Steve Kindle
Somewhere in the world there should be a society consciously and deliberately devoted to the task of seeing how love can be make real and demonstrating love in practice….If God, as we believe, is truly revealed in the life of Christ, the most important thing [to God] is the creation of centers of loving fellowship, which in turn infect the world. Whether the world can be redeemed in this way we do not know. But it is at least clear that there is no other way. ~Elton Trueblood
One of the most difficult realities for American Christians to accept is that nothing, and I mean NOTHING belongs to anybody. Every thing in the universe is the Lord’s. And every person. It’s difficult because we all conduct our lives in the midst of a consumer society that rewards acquisitiveness and power over others. As the bumper sticker proudly announces, “The one with the most toys wins.” So we live our lives competing against one another, and when we win, we feel very entitled to ownership of the spoils. As one of my parishioners put it when asked to help support a local “safety net” initiative, “I worked hard for what I have and no one’s going to take it from me.”
No wonder congregations are uneasy during “Pledge Season.”
Another strong disincentive for understanding biblical stewardship is that it has largely been reduced to issues of money. Our “Stewardship Moments” are confined to urging congregants to increase their annual monetary pledges. And on a typical Sunday, the worship leader may include the “many ways we give in addition to our bills and checks,” yet, the focus is on what goes into the collection plate.
The only thing that can turn this around is a comprehensive understanding of stewardship that relocates the Christian from a consumer of church services to a caretaker in partnership with God of all that God gives us to manage on God’s behalf.
Human beings were created for a high purpose—to collaborate with God in “tilling and keeping.” To till means to derive from creation what it is intended to yield for sustenance and comfort. To keep means to manage the tilling in such a way that those generations who follow will be able to derive from tilling the same level of sustenance and comfort. This two-fold process is intended to maintain a self-sustaining world into perpetuity, but only as long as we remember who owns it, and that it is not ours to usurp for our own advantage.
God intended for Israel to be “a light to the nations,” a light that displayed for all to see how living by God’s intentions for the world would result in shalom, well-being for all. The psalmists envisioned a time when all the world would ascend the hill to Jerusalem for instruction in God’s ways. Today the church’s calling is to model a way of life built on, in Trueblood’s words, “the creation of centers of loving fellowship, which in turn infect the world.”
My book is an effort to lift up this majestic calling that we humans are privileged to undertake by looking carefully at the biblical material, coming to see the world as God would have it, see how some of the Scriptures’ traditional meanings need to be reassessed, as well as find rich meaning in otherwise overlooked verses. I even provide a sermon in the final section.
Here’s a link to a serious book review by a Bob Cornwall: http://www.bobcornwall.com/search?q=Stewardship
I think it was Mark Twain who noted that the US is the most ardent worshiper of Mammon that the world has ever seen.
Bravo for this post – right on target. If we cannot be trusted with what is not our own, who will give us what is truly ours?
Yes, you are right! God bless you. At the same time, we have some of the most sold-out Christians in the USA of anywhere in the world. We were friends of the late Millard Fuller who gave away a million dollars and began helping the poor with the theology of the hammer. He founded two Christian housing ministries, Habitat for Humanity and Fuller Center for Housing.
I appreciate your reference to “tilling and keeping.” Very good. Your whole post is excellent. After my husband and I were saved, we were greatly influenced by Elton Trueblood and even attended a Yokefellow conference in Richmond, Indiana. I think of the parable of the talents that applies to your subject. The thing that most of us forget, however, is that ALL we have received must be invested some way in building God’s kingdom. That would include sharing the spiritual insights and testimonies God has given us. You are doing just that. Thank you.
Your shift from consumer to caretaker is crucial!
Yes, and as you indicated, it is the key. It’s hard to practice stewardship in the comprehensive sense in the USA because of our commitment to as much unfettered capitalism as possible. The constant need for growth equates to more and more exploitation of resources. It’s hard to preach, “learn to live simply, so that others can simply live.”
It is also very difficult to recognize our share in the corporate body of humanity when we insist on our own individual identity and refuse to acknowledge the contribution of others to our selves in every context. Thatcher was known to say that the problem with the social state is that you soon run out of other people’s money. She was wrong. Even if you have accumulated for yourself much wealth and have had it arise out of your own absolute creativity, there is nothing you have that you were not given – for example, through birth, training, language, the systems that provided you with shelter and sustenance and so on. You created, built, and sustained none of these. Even the words you speak are not yours alone or no one would understand you.
Need I say that the warning applies equally well to those who think their wealth is in a particularly ‘right’ theology or creed. If you think you stand, take care lest you fall. And care for your sibling for its (his or her) Lord is also able to make it (her or him) stand in the judgment.
There are no self-made people. As I wrote in my book, who wrote the books the “self-educated Lincoln” studied? But I’ll have to admit that your observation that “Even the words you speak are not yours alone or no one would understand you” is the best example of all. Absolutely made my day!
You wrote “One of the most difficult realities for American Christians to accept is that nothing, and I mean NOTHING belongs to anybody.”
Much of what we are dealing with in US society today, and it extends to our arguments in government, boils down to whose “stuff” it is. One rather generalized faction talks about individual ownership and “private property” and the rights that go along with it. Another talks about the stuff belonging to “society” and “society’s” responsibility to properly handle and distribute for the common good.
What I think is probably counter cultural to BOTH those narratives is this very idea that you mention. Even the “society” in which we live is not ours, it is a resource to steward. So, when it comes down to it, all these arguments on national finance and economics is a bit of a distraction. Everything belongs to the Creator. We have been given possession of it for a time so, to some extent, it is ours to dispose of. But our disposal is not at the whim of society, government, or the masses, but we dispose of these resources as representatives of the owner, acting as we feel that owner would act.
Which means we would need to first a) acknowledge that there IS an original owner from which we receive the resources and b) come to know that original owner so that we can faithfully act in their stead.
As the Tolkien nerd that I am, I can’t help but think of another Steward, given the task of caring for something long term with no clear indication of when the owner would come back. And it seems to me that, at least American society, has fallen under the same spell as Denethor where we desire the control and the power for ourselves, denying the future return of the King, and forgetting how that King would want his affairs conducted. And the result is despair, depression, and, eventually, death. A grim prophesy… but one, perhaps, we should heed.
As a fellow Tolkien fan I like your illustration. It’s not ours, and making it ours doesn’t make us richer. It ultimately will pervert our vision, make us lose our way, and destroy us.
I’ve written a related short story and I thought I’d provide a link to it: The Pastoral Tithing Visit.