Another portion of my introduction to my forthcoming book Wasted Evangelism:
The Wasted Evangelism thesis—social action can be evangelism
Chapters one through five of Wasted Evangelism were originally presented as papers at annual meetings of the Evangelical Theological Society between 2006 and 2012. At a very personal level I was attempting to formulate a biblical rationale for my own vocation and work in social action—and I wanted to do so publically and before my own evangelical community. The exercise was a journey through Mark’s Gospel that led me to conclude that social action can, indeed, be evangelism.
Many within the Christian community from all political stripes and church traditions advocate for ministry to the poor. This is nothing new. However there are basically two views on the matter: for some, a social concern is “a fruit of spiritual conversion” and used as a “means of evangelism” or pre-evangelism. For others, such as Ron Sider, who is one of the chief spokesmen for evangelical social action, “Evangelism and social concern are equally important but distinct aspects of the total mission of the church.” The studies in this series on Mark’s Gospel suggest that social action is not a separate, distinct responsibility for the church, but that that is evangelism ought to be intentional demonstrations of God’s kingdom in this world, thus social action can, indeed, be evangelism.
For many, the definition for evangelism is self-evident. Evangelism is the activity of proclaiming the evangel, that is, the “good news.” It is as simple as that. Everyone knows what the “good news” is—Jesus died and rose again for your salvation and mine, the forgiveness of our sins, so we may have entrance into heaven after death. This aspect of the gospel is true and important to proclaim; it is, nonetheless, a selective reading of the NT. For when one turns to the Gospel accounts, the “good news” is dynamically related to the kingdom of God that has arrived in the appearance of Jesus Christ. Any discussion on the topic of biblical evangelism must take into consideration how the “good news” relates to the “the kingdom of God.” The reign of God should be foundational in any discussion on the subject and will offer insights for both definition and potential outcomes for evangelism. As William Abraham points out, “Evangelism is at the very least a continuation of vital elements in the work of the early apostles, prophets, and martyrs who found themselves dramatically caught up in the reign of God in the world.” The following studies provide a model that takes seriously the role of the kingdom and, as well, the Gospel narrative for defining biblical evangelism in order determine what constitutes a legitimate range of evangelistic activities and what outcomes are relevant to measure biblical evangelism.
Four of the chapters were presented as papers for the Other Voices in Biblical Interpretation section of the Evangelical Theological Society and have also been graciously published by the Africanus Journal
: “‘Wasted Evangelism’ (Mark 4): The Task of Evangelism and Social Action Outcomes,” Africanus Journal
, Vol. 1, No. 2 (November 2009): 39–58; “Idolatry and Poverty: Social Action as Christian Apologetics, Africanus Journal
, Vol 2, No. 2 (November 2010): 24–43; “‘You Will Appear as Fishers’ (Mark 1:17): Disciples as Agents of Judgment,” Africanus Journal
, Vol. 5, No. 1 (Spring 2013): 21–36; A Prelude to Judgment: The Beelzebul Episode (Mk 3:22–28) and Its Significance for Evangelistic Social Action, Africanus Journal
, Vol 6, No. 2 (forthcoming November 2013).
Whenever someone attempts to define or redefine terms like “gospel” or “evangelism,” one must tread carefully for sacred ground is being disturbed and sacred pillars are being removed. I am fully aware that I have entered a debate on the subject of evangelism and social action that has had a history of polarizing positions, where relationships can become strained or, all too often, severed. I recognize that I have made conclusions in the following chapters that will make many within my conservative and evangelical Christian family uncomfortable. My hope, nonetheless, is that I will cause many to dig deeper into the text, specifically the Gospel of Mark, to hear what the Bible says about the relationship between the gospel, evangelism, and social action.
This book is not the typical review of Bible proof texts about the poor, poverty, and justice; nor, is it an argument from my experience in community action or for a political position regarding social concern for poor. The six studies contained in this volume are intensely exegetical in nature, seeking to hear Mark’s presentation of the gospel of Jesus Christ (1:1)—and, as well, how those of us on this side of the Gospel should listen more effectively to the text. The studies do not so much promote a definition of evangelism as they are an attempt to be confronted by the depth of Mark’s understanding of the appearance of God’s Messiah-king and the in-breaking of his kingdom. After digging deeply and attempting to listen more attentively to Mark’s Gospel, it is inescapable to me that God’s concern for the poor and issues of justice are actually embedded with the definition and content of the gospel of God. As Christians, we must deal with this despite our own political leanings, our treasured church traditions, or our home address; and, then, obey accordingly.
In The Hole in Our Gospel, Richard Stearns, President of World Vision, reproves the believing community:
One of the disturbing things about Church history is the Church’s appalling track record of being on the wrong side of the great social issues of the day. If the Church is indeed a revolutionary kind of institution called to foment a social revolution by promoting justice, lifting up the sanctity of human life, fighting for the underdog, and challenging the prevailing value systems in our world, then it seems we should be out in front on social justice issues rather than bringing up the rear.
In almost the same breath, Stearns sustains the rebuke by turning to Martin Luther King, Jr., who, from a Birmingham jail, wrote to the sleepy, indifferent church of his day:
The contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent and often even vocal sanction of things as they are.
The church community, Stearns admonishes, loses its relevance in the world when it loses its voice for justice. One cannot walk away from a study of Mark’s Gospel narrative without hearing that the Good News of Jesus Christ is also an alarm set to awaken a church to its responsibilities as advocates on behalf of those who live with the effects of poverty.
The Gospel of Mark is not so much about re-ordering the world as it is about reorienting the Christian community toward the significance of what it actual means to believe and obey the gospel of Jesus Christ. As Mark wrote to a church that was losing its place in society and was being blamed for many of the ills of the empire, today the church in America, particularly the evangelical community, is losing its own place and power as a voice in political and cultural affairs. The Markan call is not to advocate for self-preservation, but to be truly with Jesus (3:14b) as he breaks his kingdom into a society whose people and structures have rebelled against God. The relevance needed is not for our sustainability as church communities, but a relevance that reflects becoming faithful agents of God’s kingdom that has been inaugurated with the appearance of Jesus, his Messiah-king.
A narrow, proclamation-centered definition of evangelism, based exclusively on word-studies and isolated proof-texts, does not match the narrative meaning of the gospel, particularly as Mark presents the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God (1:1). These studies demonstrate that a mere verbal and cognitive-based definition for evangelism solely related to the etymology of the word “evangelize” is too narrow and is void of the rich biblical content that Mark gives his Gospel narrative. The following six chapters are a long, in-depth, exegetically-based argument that seeks to demonstrate that Mark’s programmatic content of the gospel links together the gospel, evangelism, and social action.
The following is a part of my introduction to my forthcoming book, Wasted Evangelism: Social Action and the Church’s Task of Evangelism. This portion seeks to define what I mean by “Social Action.”
A working definition of biblical social action
The basic dictionary definition for social action is “individual or group behavior that involves interaction with other individuals or groups, especially organized action toward social reform.” Within sociology the concept is associated with the work of Max Weber, who understood social action as the relationships people have between social structures and the individuals whose actions create them. Weber forms more of a sociology of knowledge definition, asserting that social action is the “the rational consideration of alternative means to the end, of the relations of the end to secondary consequences and finally of the relative importance of different possible end states.” Peter Hovath underscores the importance of seeking and implementing necessary change on behalf of others who do not have access to power for needed change and, thus, defines social action as “participation in social issues to influence their outcome for the benefit of people and the community. Social action can, under favorable circumstances, produce actual empowerment, impact, or social change.” Within the welfare arena social action is often used to simply mean efforts to improve social conditions, or to address the needs of a particular group within a social setting or societal structure. Social action, therefore, can be understood as attempts to improve human welfare and develop commitment to each other, advocating for and/or making changes in social structures (whether it is at the individual, community, or legislative levels) for the betterment of community life for all.
Social action, therefore, is principally the means (i.e., an action) by which one group offers alterative means to a different end for another group, the formation of action and/or policy for dealing with social issues and community life. Within the context of poverty, social action, therefore, is not simply charity, alms-giving, or the transfer of wealth. The Bible speaks of what we call “social action” in terms of carrying out justice and caring for the needs of the weak. Social action is, then, associated with actions taken by individuals or groups on behalf of others, and, in particular, advocating on behalf of the marginalized or powerless individuals or groups whose access to the systems of power are prohibitive or unavailable.
What, then, is evangelistic social action? Throughout these studies I reference Mark’s programmatic use of OT contexts regarding the economically vulnerable and the land (e.g., Exod 21–23; Mal 3:1–5; Amos 4:1–2; etc.), which, for Mark, informs his understanding of the gospel (cf. Mark 1:1-3) and which supports the importance of considering the poor in relationship to the Christian community’s social context. I point out that the Exodus land-laws were operating behind Mark’s programmatic gospel theme. The land-laws were given to ensure that the economically vulnerable (i.e., the land-less) were full participants in the benefits of living in the land. In light of Mark’s association of the kingdom with the gospel and the gospel’s programmatic association with the Exodus land-laws biblical social action is a means to ensure that the blessings and benefits of living in society reach to the poor. Mae Cannon, in her book Social Justice Handbook, affirms a similar understanding for the biblical concept of social justice:
“The resources that God provides were made available to his people from the very beginning. Justice is expressed when God’s resources are made available to all humans, which is what God intended. Biblical justice is the scriptural mandate to manifest the kingdom of God on earth by making God’s blessings available to all.”
In order for social action evangelistic activity to be relevant and legitimate, as the following studies demonstrate, biblical social action ought to promote outcomes that indicate the presence of God’s rule and reign over creation, particularly on behalf of the economically vulnerable and those who are living with the effects of poverty.
Significance: Determine Authoritative and Analogous Obedience
The narrative and programmatic significance of “preaching” indicates that the content of the to preach (v. 14c) component of the Mark 3 commission is, indeed, the authority to cast out demons (v. 15).This is grammatically and syntactically allowable and is also demonstrated by how Mark crafted the narrative. Reading the commission in this way challenges a narrowly defined, verbal and cognitive-based understanding of evangelistic activities. Thus, as fisher-followers, the church’s paradigm for evangelism should include activities that confront Satan’s dominion over the realms of humankind and reorient those realms to reflect the inaugural presence of God’s kingdom. The task of “casting” corresponds to any analogous obedience (i.e., application) that demonstrates how God’s rule affects the realms of humankind.
In order to appropriately move from text to application, there should be a strong correspondence between the meaning of the text, the significance of the text to the readers/listeners, and the action taken that indicates obedience to the text. For those of us on this side of the text, the significance of the Mark 3 commission is our alignment with and commitment to the mission of Jesus (1:14–15) and to exercise Jesus’ authority through action that demonstrates, concretely and evidently, God’s rule and reign has enter time and space. Certainly, as the whole of the NT indicates, evangelism includes simple proclamation (i.e., cognitive-based activities of communication to present information), announcing and explaining that the kingdom is near. Yet, such proclamation is not the end of evangelism, a simple a set of words, for, as Mark’s Gospel narrative as a whole and the Mark 3 commission indicate, there is a resultant consequence of the announcement, another viable mode of language, namely deed-parables. As parables revealed the mysteries of the kingdom of God, deed-parables demonstrate visibly and tangibly the ruin of the reign of Satan’s power over the affairs of humankind (cf. Mark 3:27) and, as a result, reorients the world back toward God’s rightful dominion (an underlying significance of the Mark 4 parable of the mustard seed, vv. 30-32).
The Mark 3 commission, as I have demonstrated in chapter three (“You Will Appear as Fishers”) is the inaugural fulfillment and premiere “application” of the fisher-promise made in Mark 1:17. The fisher role is related to God’s judgment on people and structures that distort God’s creation from his design and reign, which includes the realm of social action that seeks to advocate for those affected by the issues of poverty and injustice. Therefore, it is “appropriate for applications, activities, and outcomes of social action and justice” to be within the realm of evangelism, which is thefisher-follower’s task. This implies that the Mark 3 commission (3:14–15), at least to some extent, should be associated with social action, which is legitimate obedience for following Jesus Christ and for being faithful to the gospel.
Evangelism is the spread of the gospel, the seed being sown, the word to be increased (Mark 4), which according to Mark’s narrative is dynamically linked to the end of Satan’s dominion and the inauguration of God’s rule and reign. This is what church evangelism looks like: As Jesus’ “casting” action demonstrated the end of the strongman-Satan’s kingdom and the arrival of God’s kingdom—visible, tangible, and evidential acts that indicate the time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand (1:15a; cf. 3:27)—thus, for the church in front of the text, the significance of the “casting” of the Mark 3 commission is the continuation of Jesus’ mission to confront the powers that oppose God’s dominion, which, as indicated by the fisher-promise link to OT contexts and illustrated by the poor widow vs. the duplicitous scribes episode (12:38–44; cf. 13:1–3), includes advocating for those affected by the causes of poverty. As fisher-followers, the church is obedient to the Mark 3 commission when it demonstrates the end of Satan’s reign and indicates the presence the Stronger Man’s kingdom through evangelistic activities that include and promote social action outcomes. This also makes redemptive-historical sense of the authority to cast out demons as a display of the arrival of God’s kingdom: God in Jesus Christ has reconciled all things to Himself (Col 1:20) and with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth (Eph 1:10).
The obedience (or application) and the desired outcomes analogous to the purpose and indent of commission to have authority to cast are those which demonstrate God’s reign and rule. This allows evangelism, that is, the spread of the gospel/word, to also include the realm of social action, which demonstrates God’s rule and dominion in over the realms of society and people who impact the poor and economically vulnerable. This is supported by antecedent OT material related to the economically vulnerable associated with the OT judgment role of fisher-followers. Walter Pink reminds us that as a community of believers we “are not commissioned to create a new society; indeed, we are scarcely competent to do so. What the church can do best, though it does so all too seldom, is to delegitimate an unjust system and to create a spiritual counterculture.”
This is the evangelistic task of fisher-followers.
“Throughout the entire history of Christianity, holy women and men of God have shown their inner spiritual lives by active engagement in social justice in defense of the poor and oppressed” ~by Mae Elise Cannon in Justice Spirituality: How Faith Practices Fuel Social Action, p. 1.)
As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, we need to “smudge” ourselves with “the hard complexities of the world.” Jean Bethke Elshtain writes, “Bonhoeffer wrestles with the problem of ‘dirty hands.’ When we act in the world, we cannot control the consequences of our actions. People respond to our actions in ways that we can neither predict nor control. So, Bonhoeffer asks, do we remain in a position of purity, above the fray, where we can bask in our own virtuousness? Or do we enter the fray, knowing that it is likely to get us dirty? We cannot remain absolutely pure” (from her “Afterward” in Evangelicals in the Public Square by J. Budziszewski).
“Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord GOD,
“When I will send a famine on the land,
Not a famine for bread or a thirst for water,
But rather for hearing the words of the LORD.
“People will stagger from sea to sea
And from the north even to the east;
They will go to and fro to seek the word of the LORD,
But they will not find it.
“In that day the beautiful virgins
And the young men will faint from thirst (Amos 8:11-13).
I hadn’t made the connection, yet I have preached on this text before. In Amos 8 we are told there will be a famine, not of bread and of water, but a famine of the word (8:11). Then, Amos tells us as a result the next generation (which for us is the millennial generation, 16-30 yr olds) will faint from thirst (v. 13). Earlier in Amos 8 we learn that worship is related to the issues of justice and the economically vulnerable effected by poverty.
Hear this, you who trample the needy, to do away with the humble of the land . . . “Then I will turn your festivals into mourning and all your songs into lamentation 8:4, 10).
We learn in verses 4-10 that worship will be destroyed because the worshippers neglected the poor and focuses on greed (vv. 4-10). Earlier Amos basically preached the same message:
“I hate, I reject your festivals,
Nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies.
“Even though you offer up to Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings,
I will not accept them;
And I will not even look at the peace offerings of your fatlings.
“Take away from Me the noise of your songs;
I will not even listen to the sound of your harps.
“But let justice roll down like waters
And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream (Amos 5:21-24).
It should not surprise the church today that one thing that turns the millennial generation off to Christianity and the church is its disregard for the poor and while it enjoys the accumulation of wealth. This is partially Amos’ point. In the end, our next generation, our “beautiful virgins” and “young men,” the millennial generation, our 16 to 30 year olds, for the lack of God’s word, will faint (die).
How does the contemporary affluent (dare I say suburban) evangelical church repent? For us, we have a famine of the Word because our pulpits declare, not God’s Word (a partial gospel, a selected version of the Bible’s message), but human words that are self-help and/or words to make us evangelical Christians feel entertained and comfortable in democracy, in our affluent culture.
Andrew Davey, in his book Urban Christianity and Global Order, insists that a church concerned about “its own sustainability must have strategies other than the growth paradigm.” As a church seeks “strategies” to promote its own growth, assessment should be made of its impact on the local community. This includes consideration of how such growth and the resources used for that it could impact the economically vulnerable and those living with the affects of poverty in the community. Contemporary church growth models are multimillion-dollar business ventures with huge marketing campaigns and an elite leadership of its own that promote expectations for a local church that can divert resources away from its responsibilities regarding the poor. Such allocation for growth may also contribute to the local causes of poverty as well. While a church’s sustainability should direct it outward and toward the future, it should also have positive, redemptive consequences for the community, with special consideration for its vulnerable populations. [A paragraph from the first chapter (“Widows in Our Courts”) of my book on “Evangelism and Social Action”].
“so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places” (Eph 3:8-10).
This is the purpose of the church, all else is a distraction. Anything else is diversion, entertainment, amusement, or about power, status, control, and always about sarx, flesh.
The previous five chapters have been a long argument demonstrating that Mark’s programmatic content of the gospel indicates there is a biblical link between the gospel, evangelism, and social action—that is, God’s concern for the poor and for those living with the effects of poverty are embedded in the gospel, thus part of the realm of evangelism. I endeavored to show that a narrow, proclamation-centered definition of evangelism, based solely on word-studies and isolated proof-texts, does not match the narrative meaning of the gospel, particularly as Mark presents the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God (1:1). It is clear that merely a verbal and cognitive-based definition for evangelism simply related to the etymology of the word “evangelize” (euaggelizō) is too narrow, void of the biblical content that Mark’s Gospel narrative presents.
Mark relies on OT backgrounds and contexts to fill the gospel of Jesus Christ (1:1) with defining content. Typically it is accepted that the gospel incorporates various OT biblical motifs and concepts such as God’s dominion, the exodus, exile, redemption, and even sacrificial propitiation and forgiveness. The previous chapters have shown that the same OT contexts Mark harnesses to give programmatic definition to the gospel (e.g., 1:2–3) also contain obvious correspondences and direct references regarding socio-economic relationships and community responsibilities toward the poor and economically vulnerable. Each of the previous five studies demonstrate that the gospel is programmatically embedded with OT references that include—actually, demand that—social action outcomes be a component of a church’s task of evangelism.
Therefore, social action, indeed, can be evangelism.
In chapter 4, “You Will Appear as Fishers,” an examination of Mark 1:17, I concluded that the promise to become “fishers of men” finds its inaugural fulfillment and premiere “application” in the Mark 3 commission; namely, “fishers are those who are with Jesus and who, then, will be sent out to preach and to have authority to cast out demons.” Through the Markan context and antecedent OT background, I showed that the “fisher metaphor is appropriate for applications, activities, and outcomes of social action and justice.” This implies that the Mark 3 commission “to preach” and “to have authority to cast out demons” (3:14–15) is, at least in part, associated with social action, which is legitimate obedience for following Jesus Christ and for being faithful to the gospel.
After five rather intense and in-depth studies on the relationship of the gospel to social action, now in the final two chapters the aim is to move, in a general since, toward application. I certainly do not intend to offer specific how tos or even examples, but to set some direction for applying my conclusion that “social action can be evangelism.” This chapter seeks to draw out the significance of the programmatic content of the gospel implied by the Mark 3 commission and the final chapter provides a framework for developing outcomes that reflect obedience and faithfulness to the whole content of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God (Mark 1:1).
Close examinations of Mark’s programmatic understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ (1:1–3), the fisher’s text (1:17), the Mark 3 Beelzebul episode (3:20–35), the Mark 4 parable of the Sower who Sows, and the Mark 12 widow vs. duplicitous scribes episode have shown that that the gospel itself is defined broad (and deep) enough to include God’s concern for the poor. With the previous chapters as a foundation, this chapter presents the significance of the Mark 3 commission for the church’s task of evangelism. As part of the application process (that is, thinking deeply and thoroughly about application), I seek to show that the significance of “preaching” and “casting” (3:15) provides a basis for building social action outcomes into a church’s evangelistic activities.
Church leaders cannot escape the narrative fact that the Beelzebul episode, the conflict thread (2:1–3:6), and the Sower parable (4:1–12) seem specifically directed at them. For church leaders a posture of shame reminds them of the illusive nature of status, the dangerous allure of power, and the recurring failure of faulty structures to guard the gospel and the church from the destructive influences and seductive cultural patterns that oppose God’s reign over all spheres of humankind. It should not surprise us that the shaming of the Beelzebul episode connects church leaders to the church’s responsibility (and neglect) for the economically vulnerable. Caring, protecting, and advocating for the poor gives away power and public association with those living with the effects of poverty risks lowering one’s church community status. However, maintaining power and its enabling structures so that one’s social standing and status remain in place (even among, and more particularly, the Christian community) at the expense of the weakest and most vulnerable among us is synonymous with blasphemy against the Holy Spirit—breaking covenant, risking outside status and, thus, the condition of being eternally never forgiven.
The biography of Jesus vs. Jewish leaders is linked to the biography of the disciples, who like the ones beside Jesus (i.e., his associates and extended family, 3:21; cf. 6:1-6) and like Jesus’ earthly family (3:31–32), are at risk of being outside (6:51–53; 8:16–21; 8:34–38; cf. 9:33–34; 11:31; 16:14), if they, too, are not doers of God’s will (3:33–35). This is particularly relevant to church leaders, as they stand before the Mark 3 Outsider-Insider sandwich, for the Beelzebul episode ought to shame them in those areas that are too closely identified with that which opposes God’s rule and kingdom (cf. Mark 1:15; 3:25). Mark’s Beelzebul episode functions similar to OT penitential prayers, allowing the reader/listener to enter a life narrative that reflects an appropriate shame for allowing those destructive forces and influences to distract from obedience to God’s word and work in the world. And like OT penitential prayers, a disposition of shame humbles the reader/listener before their “disobedience to the Mosaic ideals” that often reflects “mistreatment of the poor and the weak,” and gives them a way home that maps a spiritual disposition for restoring a fractured obedience to God.
Interestingly after confessing that Jesus is the Messiah, Peter is soon rebuked as a surrogate of Satan’s interests: “Get behind Me, Satan; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s” (Mark 8:33). Significant to the reader/listener is the immediate juxtaposition of the Peter-Satan rebuke and Jesus’ admonishment that true followers must deny themselves (the opposite of power, an emptying of power) and take up their cross (v. 34). Church leaders who intentionally incorporate social action in a church’s evangelistic activities fulfill the obedience implications of the Beelzebul episode and, thus, raise Jesus’ honor rating in the public sphere. Without such a public disposition, church leaders are further warned that “whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:38).
This final essay is the conclusion of my ETS paper and chapter 5 of my forthcoming book on Evangelism and Social Action. For the Mark 3 paper thread . . . click here
As a prelude to judgment (i.e., continued exile) implied by the Isaiah 6 idolatry-taunt (Mark 4:12), obedient outcomes for the Mark 3 sandwich should correspond to the nature and reason for the judgment being applied. The Isaiah 6 judgment is a consequence “of the nation’s covenantal disobedience.” The original idolatry-taunt (Isa 6:9–10) relies on Isaiah 1–5 for its own rationale for the judgment of exile. Amid a call to restore justice and righteousness (Isa 1:17, 21, 26, 27; 3:10; 5:7, 16), there are charges related to the economically vulnerable: Defend the orphan, Plead for the widow (1:17); They do not defend the orphan, Nor does the widow’s plea come before them (1:23); The plunder of the poor is in your houses . . . And grinding the face of the poor (3:14–15). The mention of the orphan and the widow is an obvious reflection on Exodus covenant stipulations (Exod 21-23). Additionally, the Isaiah 6 judgment is associated with Israelite leadership’s sin of idolatry (Isa 1:29–31; 2:6–9; 2:12–13; 2:18, 20), also an element of the prelude to judgment in the Mark 3 sandwich.
Later, the prophet Zechariah links social action outcomes to God’s covenant restoration from the judgment of exile (7:8–14), binding together listening to the word of the Lord, the role of the Spirit, idolatry, and exodus land- stipulations. Zechariah declares the word of the LORD (7:4) to the exiles: there is no attempt to show contrition because they had not linked their idolatrous hard hearts to their misplaced social relationships. The exiled are called to Dispense true justice and practice kindness and compassion each to his brother and not oppress the widow or the orphan, the stranger or the poor (7:9–10). Yet, like the Jewish leaders who confronted Jesus and make accusation in the Beelzebul episode, their hearts are hard (their hearts like flint, 7:12a) and had turned a deaf ear to God’s law and words provided by His Spirit through the former prophets (7:13). The Zechariah 7 pronouncements regarding judgment and restoration find analogous reiteration and realization in the Mark 3 sandwich.
As these OT backgrounds and referents indicate, there is a link between the Beelzebul episode and disobedience to the land-stipulations that were in place on behalf of the economically vulnerable. It should not surprise Mark’s readers/listeners that just prior to the pronouncement of ultimate judgment on the temple (i.e., its destruction, Mark 13:1–2) there is a contrast between duplicitous scribes and a poor widow (12:38–44). It is reasonable to include social action outcomes—the protection, the care, and the advocacy for the economically vulnerable—as components of a church’s evangelistic activities. As “no forgiveness” is the outcome of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, social action outcomes should be the results of doing God’s will (Mark 3:35); thus, church leaders should ensure that social action is included in a church’s evangelistic activities.
In 1976, I had graduated high school and had been dating a New Hampshire girl from a very politically active family who held fundraisers and campaign events for Jimmy Carter. As a child who not only grew-up in a republican family but even before I could vote was doing cold calling for Richard Nixon, I was very much out of place—enrolled in progressively liberal private school, dating a progressively liberal girl from a family overtly and actively supporting Jimmy Carter. But come November ’76, I am proud to say I lost my first presidential election—I voted for Ford. Hind sight tells me I did the right thing.
Today, it might not be Carter-Reagan all over again, but it’s sure close—maybe worse. I wanted to vote for Romney in 2008; lost my chance to John McCain. I was, then, hoping for a Hillary contest—I would have voted for Hillary over McCain without hesitation. For sure, I lean right politically. But in the end it’s not about abortion, gay-marriage, religion, protecting my Christianity, or even healthcare: it’s about whose policies and worldview will support an economically strong business world, for without that prosperity there will be more poor and less means to provide support and paths to their own self-sufficiency.
For the last 17 years I have worked in the social action community that, everyday—in grants, in speeches, in all forms of rhetoric, in strategic plans, and with catchy slogans—said we exist to help people be less dependent on government and to move toward self-sufficiency. This present administration and its policies has undermined this stated purpose; has created a business environment that undercuts expansion and thus discretionary funds; has indebted us even more to servitude to foreign powers and threatens future generation of Americans, especially the poor and middle class; and has made a “new normal,” well normal, which is inexcusable and unacceptable. Like evolutionists who keep throwing more time and more universes (by faith) into history so their lame theory will look like it works, liberally progressive social engineering politicians think throwing money at our cultural and social problems will alleviate poverty. This is a fallacy. We need a more experienced and capable person to move our economic “new normal” forward to unleash the creative potential for business and employment to expand. Simple as that. This current administration has failed—and failed before it started in January 2009—for it did not have practice or experience or knowledge in this vital area. I am hoping at the end of this day, November 6, 2012, we’ll have a new Day One and a new administration that can erase the “new normal” and put us on the path needed to move as many as possible to less dependence on government and toward more self-sufficiency.
A President Romney can do just that.
Continuing the introductory material that will help decipher the meaning of the warning against blaspheming the Holy Spirit…see the previously posted material.
Shaming the readers into listening
It is an interesting set up, the Beelzebul controversy, in that the scene clearly indicates the Jewish leadership could not (or would not) discern the workings of God in their world. They applied a faulty framework to evaluate Jesus and His Kingdom–mission, thus declaring Him demon–possessed and in cahoots with Satan. In reality they were using, in ignorance or by design, not only a faulty theological foundation, but also a limited, skewed social imagination. Their power—that is their place, status, and self–definition (i.e., a distorted social imagination) provided the basis for making public their accusations concerning Jesus. One might argue that only a theological framework is necessary, however, without recognizing a sociological imagination is at play any theological framework will be skewed toward power— that is the status and place (i.e., the application of an unconscious and distorted social imagination)—of the interpreter.
Commentators have noted a shame/honor paradigm that played a social convention in the time of Jesus has been integrated into Mark’s Beelzebul episode and context. There is no doubt that in the broader context such a convention is behind the confrontation. What is at stake is the honor or personal worth of the scribes who came down from Jerusalem, Jesus’ family, Jesus’ associates, and, of course, Jesus himself. In the first century, a person’s honor rating was everything, allowing a person a right to status and gave social identity.” The scribes seek to devalue Jesus’ honor through shaming Him publically.
The question is, however, what is Mark attempting to do to his reader/listeners? The issue or use of honor/shame fits Mark’s narrative elsewhere. Inferred or claimed honor or shame can be seen in numerous texts and episodes throughout Mark’s Gospel narrative. The Beelzebul episode and surrounding intercalation finds a cultural foundation in the honor/shame paradigm that pervaded a person and/or family’s relationship to its broader geo-neighborhood. However, it is the listener who is being addressed. Mark seems to be harnessing the same cultural value and directing it to his audience. They, too, are being shamed into obedience, for they, too, are warned that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is unpardonable. This is not a problem for the scribes; they will “destroy” Jesus (Mark 3:6; cf. 14:58; 15:29). Ultimately, it is the Christian community’s problem, for they, too, must determine Jesus’ honor rating and demonstrate loyalty in “doing the will of God” as His true family (3:35; cf. 13:14, 33–37; 14:27–31; 38–42).
Biblically, shame is “not a psychology, it is a politics.” It is the way back to creation as it should be under God’s rule. Shame causes repentance and penitential prayer that are “narrative repair,” causing the ones shamed to discover that they, too, could be too closely identified with the destructive patters of those opposed to God’s rule and reign and to return to the values and an understanding of creation that honors God (Jesus) and His rulership (Kingdom).
Without a sociological imagination ourselves, we are stuck listening to the Beelzebul episode in a narrow, individualistic mode, limiting its application to the private sphere. Intentionally seeking a sociological imagination, that is listening to the whole narrative and as a community of believing listeners who stand before the text, so we may hear more broadly, allowing the social aspects of Mark 3 Beelzebul episode speak. Narrowing our field of vision, limiting what we hear, shrinks potential application to “me” alone. Mark crafts his narrative with a community of listeners in mind, those facing real issues of faith. Let the story and power of Mark’s narrative speak and form its significance to those standing before the text, allowing for a wider range of potential application—for the community of believers, particularly, its leadership.
The other post: Part 1 (1 of 2)
, Part 1 (2 of 2)