Interview with Dr. Gary Tyra, Author of “The Holy Spirit in MIssion” (@IVPress)


In this video, I interview Dr. Gary Tyra of Vanguard University regarding his new book, The Holy Spirit in MIssion: Prophetic Speech and Action in Christian Witness. You can purchase the book for $9.99 here.

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Review of Ronald J. Sider, “Fixing the Moral Deficit: A Balanced Way to Balance the Budget”


Ronald J. Sider, Fixing the Moral Deficit: A Balanced Way to Balance the Budget (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2012). $15.00, 171 pages.

“America faces a historic choice,” writes Ronald J. Sider in the Introduction to Fixing the Moral Deficit. “We have a deficit crisis, a poverty crisis and a justice crisis.” The deficit crisis arises from spending more than we earn. The poverty crisis results from increasing numbers of Americans falling into the ranks of the poor even as wealth increasingly concentrates at the top. And the justice crisis occurs when we ignore either the deficit or the poor. “These three crises add up to a huge moral deficit,” Sider argues. “But there is a balanced way to fix it.”

That balanced way begins with understanding the facts on the ground: the deficit crisis is real, and both poverty and economic inequality are on the rise. It continues with mapping out biblical principles on the nature of persons as individuals in community, the social responsibility to care for one’s neighbors—especially the poor, the nature of distributive justice, the limited acceptability of some economic inequality, and the role government plays in alleviating poverty. It then sifts through current proposals, in light of biblical principles, and finally offers a reasoned alternative. Sider’s “balanced way to balance the budget” steers a centrist course between the Scylla of tax cuts and the Charybdis of increased spending. He argues that “we should adopt a roughly equal (50-50) mix between increased revenue and cuts in spending.”

There is much to admire in Sider’s book. Chapter 3, “The Big Questions in the Debate,” outlines biblical principles that should garner agreement from Christians of all stripes. Their disagreements will center on Chapter 5, “A Better Way,” where Sider applies those principles to policy. The interesting question for Christians across the political spectrum will be whether they recognize that disagreements about policy revolve around differing prudential judgments and do not necessarily implicate biblical principles. In other words, can one agree with Sider’s principles but disagree with his policies?

By the same token, the book has several weaknesses. It discusses the moral deficit almost solely in terms of the federal government’s revenue and expenditures, ignoring broad cultural trends that impact both poverty and income inequality but are not easily ameliorated by government policy. One thinks here of the breakdown of marriage among America’s lowest economic classes as an example of the former, and globalization and the information technology revolution as examples of the latter.

Furthermore, this almost exclusive focus on federal government obscures local and state solutions. Granted, government plays a role in fighting government, but government at what level? Might national, one-size-fits-all anti-poverty programs crowd out locally tailored ones?

Finally, the concluding chapter offers 18 “Action Steps” to “help solve our moral deficit.” Tellingly, none of them involves starting a business or creating jobs. Instead, they involve informing oneself about the issue, advocating for effective political action, supporting charitable organizations, and living simply. These are worthy actions, of course, but the solution to poverty must include both public-sector distribution of goods and services and private-sector creation of wealth.

Despite these weaknesses, I highly recommend Fixing the Moral Deficit. It is a morally serious attempt by a respected Christian scholar and activist to apply biblical principles to our nation’s multiple economic crises. Whether or not one agrees with Sider’s every proposal, he is a model of how Christians should eschew bumper-sticker slogans, engage in rigorous analysis of issues, and work for the common good.

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P.S. If you found this book review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

Knowledge Problems and Necessary Virtues


(Here’s my editorial from the spring 2012 issue of Enrichment, which is available online.)

In a February 12, 2002, press conference, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld made the following statement: “[T]here are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — there are things we do not know we don’t know.”[1]

Rumsfeld was answering a question about the apparent lack of evidence connecting Saddam Hussein’s government and terrorist organizations seeking weapons of mass destruction. But his remark applies to the knowledge problems leaders face in any organization, including the church. And they suggest certain virtues that all leaders, including ministers, need to develop.

Start with Rumsfeld’s first two categories: known knowns and known unknowns. The older I get, the more I realize how ignorant I am in most areas but how knowledgeable I am in a few. Career specialization is the reason for this lopsided ratio of ignorance and knowledge. I have been a vocational minister for half of my life and all but 2 years of my professional career. Consequently, I have the knowledge base and skill set necessary for vocational ministry. Had I chosen or been called to a different profession when I was 21, no doubt I would have a very different knowledge base and skill set.

When you know what you know and do not know, it helps you develop appropriate virtues. In the case of known knowns, confidence, and in the case of known unknowns, teachability. In 2007, I transitioned from associate pastor at a megachurch to senior pastor of a turnaround church. I was not afraid of the new task of preaching weekly because my previous ministry experience had prepared me for it. I approached the pulpit with confidence. But I had never led a board meeting or annual business meeting, never been responsible for formulating the entire budget for the church (as opposed to my department’s budget), and never done a thousand other things that senior pastors routinely do. I was unconfident, but I was teachable. And I benefited from mentors both inside and outside the church who were willing to share their knowledge and skills with me. Had I approached my known unknowns with confidence, rather than teachability, the growth of the church would have been stifled by my ignorance (and pride).

The real problem in ministry — or leadership generally — is how we respond to unknown unknowns. Consider the Early Church. It was entirely Jewish. Then Jesus Christ poured out the Holy Spirit on Gentile God-fearers without their being circumcised, keeping kosher, or observing Sabbath. The Early Church did not know how to respond to this novel situation, which they had not even imagined would happen.

When you experience unknown unknowns, two extreme responses are common: resistance and ditching. In the Early Church, Judaizers resisted the law-free gospel and clung to the necessity of the ceremonial law, while antinomians went to the opposite extreme and ditched the moral law along with the ceremonial one. The proper response, as articulated by Paul? Flexibility. Paul flexed with the new wind of the Spirit blowing among the Gentiles without being uprooted from Scripture’s foundational “law of love.” In the crazy, rapidly changing times in which we live, ministers similarly need to know what can change and what must remain the same.

To Rumsfeld’s three knowledge problems, philosopher Slavoj Žižek adds a fourth — unknown knowns,[2] “the disavowed beliefs, suppositions and obscene practices we pretend not to know about, even though they form the background of our public values.” Žižek was writing about what happened at Abu Ghraib.

Sometimes we ministers overlook and even justify sin in our churches. We do not confront the abusive dad because he is chairman of the board. We give the gossipy woman a pass because she does so much for missions. We take out loans for building campaigns but do not have money in our benevolence accounts. Repentance is the only appropriate response, and we ministers should lead the way.

Confidence when we know what we know. Teachability when we know what we do not know. Flexibility when we experience unknown unknowns. And repentance in the face of unknown knowns. These are the knowledge problems we ministers face, and the virtues we need to develop.

Notes

1. http://www.defense.gov/transcripts/transcript.aspx?transcriptid=2636. Accessed 18 January 2012.

2. http://www.lacan.com/zizekrumsfeld.htm. Accessed 18 January 2012.

Smyrna: Serving Jesus – Convenience or Cost?


In this video, Dr. Jim Bradford continues his seven-part “Spiritual Assessment” series, based on Revelation 2-3. This is the second of seven videos in the series, focusing on the church in Smyrna. Dr. Bradford asks: “Is serving Jesus a matter of convenience, or is it actually costing us something?”

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