Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Thinking about Jubilee

In some corners of the Christian world we see the idea of Jubilee, taken from the Old Testament, presented as a framework for how Christians should think about economic and political issues in American society. Writers and speakers like Jim Wallis and Shane Claiborne invoke the Jubilee on a regular basis and it has started to really catch on as model for "social justice" more broadly in the church.

Because of this I read with a great deal of interest an informative piece at the Gospel Coalition by Art Lindsley, 5 Myths About Jubilee that gets beyond the simplistic rhetoric to look at what the Jubilee was and was not and why it is not really applicable to our culture.

This redemptive-historical approach to understanding Jubilee has the advantage of avoiding the debates about capitalism or socialism. Given the complexities and misunderstandings surrounding Jubilee, the present-day applications of this practice are not immediately clear. They are not as easy to interpret and apply as those who perpetuate these myths want to maintain. But it is clear that Jubilee cannot be used to defend redistribution of wealth by the state.

Of course, even if the Bible doesn't require the state to redistribute wealth, the state may still do so. Whether the state is the best vehicle to meet the needs of poor people is a separate issue.

There is a case to be made that the state should provide a safety net for the poor. But state involvement does not absolve Christians of individual or corporate responsibility. Certainly Christians must be concerned about the poor, the stranger, the widow, and the orphan because God requires us to do so. Jesus says that whoever serves one of the "least of these" serves him (Matthew 25:45).

Biblical commands are not given to the impersonal, secular state, but to Christians to care personally for those in need with our time and treasure.

I think that hits the right tone. 

Just as those who put forth 2 Thessalonians 3:10, "For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat", as a defense of capitalism or opposition to welfare programs are taking a concept completely out of context, so too are those who see the Old Covenant national Israeli practice of Jubilee as political cover for liberal wealth redistributive policies. In some ways I think it is a cheap out for Christians to rely on the government to do what we have been called to do, a failing of Christians on the left and the right.

We need to be mindful at all times of reading modern cultures into the nation state of Israel under the Old Covenant and beware of trying to force our own interpretations into situations where it is not warranted. Check that article out, it is pretty short and I think you will find it enlightening.

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