Friday, October 23, 2015

Replacing Individualism With Collectivism Is Not The Answer

I posted an article on Facebook by John Piper where he responds to the question: How Should Christians Think About Socialism?. Piper admits up front that he is not an expert on politics or economics but does a pretty decent job of explaining why socialism is not compatible with Christianity. His money quote is below:
In other words, Socialism borrows the compassionate aims of Christianity in meeting people’s needs while rejecting the Christian expectation that this compassion not be coerced or forced. Socialism, therefore, gets its attractiveness at certain points in history where people are drawn to the entitlements that Socialism brings, and where people are ignorant or forgetful of the coercion and the force required to implement it — and whether or not that coercion might, in fact, backfire and result in greater poverty or drab uniformity or, worse, the abuse of the coercion as we saw in the murderous states like USSR and Cambodia.
I got a little pushback on social media regarding this brief message by Piper so I wanted to expand my thoughts here. Economics is an area where I think much of the church tends to think with the mind of their old man and where we tend to ignore what Scripture teaches about not just money but also the nature of fallen man.

I don't see Piper making an equivalence between "democratic socialism" and the totalitarian regimes he mentioned, in fact he specifically says that those two examples are the result of extreme abuse of the coercive power of the state. Piper is responding to the notion that the church should enlist the aid of Caesar to force people to be "charitable" toward one another. That notion is directly in contrast to what the Kingdom stance of the Bible teaches about the free and cheerful sharing with anyone in the church who has need. We are pretty awful at this, there are plenty of circumstances even within local churches where one family is living a very comfortable life with an excess of resources and the family in the next pew is having a hard time paying the mortgage or electric bill. The church should react to the Kingdom denying injustice on display with a Kingdom practice of sharing with those in need rather than washing our hands of the poor among us and tossing them at Caesar's feet.

The forces of collectivism and envy gave this world National Socialism, communism, Stalinism and all other forms of oppressive collectivism. Those same impulses are alive and well today and people like Bernie Sanders and others within the church are misguidedly seeking to reform Constantinianism with a collectivist twist. Electing Bernie Sanders would not inevitably lead to a Soviet style economic system in America but it certainly demonstrates a counter-Kingdom collectivist mindset..

There are some people in American religious circles who respond to an individualistic, westernized faith by proposing a liberal or progressive westernized faith. Neither is the correct response. What is needed is an otherworldly community of faith that takes into account the impact on economic behavior exhibited in a secular society full of unregenerate people. We cannot and should not expect people who are unregenerate to act like people who are born-again and that includes their economic behavior. What we should expect is for the church to respond to the needs of others, especially for "the household of faith", i.e. the church ( Galatians 6:10 ), like people who are regenerate and see economics through the lens of the Kingdom. We ought to joyfully and cheerfully give to our brothers and sisters in need. As Piper rightly points out:
In other words, there is built into the Christian faith an inner impulse by the Holy Spirit through the gospel to make sacrifices so that others have their needs met. And there is no such impulse built into human nature or the human heart apart from God’s grace.
If you missed that he is rightly saying that the impulse to sacrifice for others is not part of the human nature. That doesn't mean that unbelieving and falsely believing people don't sacrifice, certainly lots of people who are not Christians contribute in various ways to the needs of others and cultic false groups like the mormons do a lot of charitable works but those are motivated by societal pressure rather than anything inherent in themselves (for the most part).

The main problem with socialism as well as with communism, capitalism, etc. is that they are worldly systems of economics and as such are inadequate to faithfully represent the Kingdom. That doesn't mean that there is no difference between these systems, I can't imagine any rational person would draw an equivalence between the totalitarian regimes past and present and American style capitalism, so these issues do matter. However as I said no earthly system is a sufficient substitute for the Kingdom community we see modeled in Scripture.

Christians should think first of the needs of others after providing for the needs (and not the whims) of their own family. That this message is not getting out is not cause for the church to turn to collectivism but should cause the church to a critical self-examination. What do the budgets of most churches sat about where the priority of those who attend said churches? Too often they reflect a deeply self-interested mindset, in some ways  the same mindset that fuels collectivism. If your generosity stops at the end of your church driveway then you are doing it wrong. 

Dan Edelen has some good thoughts on this topic as well.

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