Why Socialism isn’t evil (once again): a response to Rick Phillips

Quick reblog. American “conservative” Christians really confuse me… very different social perspectives to Christians this side of the pond.

The Arbour

corbyn-sanders

Another day, another Christian denouncing Socialism. This time Rick Phillips offers his thoughts at the Reformation 21 blog in the piece titled Socialism is Evil. It was also linked via the Challies A La Carte feature for today. I have already discussed the nature of Socialism from a Christian point of view, in response to comments from John Piper here and John Stevens here. I will here address Phillips points directly.

Phillips offers  three reasons why he believes the Bible deems Socialism evil. They are:

  1. Socialism is a system based on stealing
  2. Socialism is an anti-work system
  3. Socialism concentrates the power to do evil

As I have noted both here and here, in response to RC Sproul Jr and John Piper respectively, Socialism is clearly not predicated on stealing. At the heart of most forms of Socialism is a high tax redistributive system. The state typically tax…

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Ash Wednesday

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After the splurge on pancakes yesterday, many Christians today feel bloated, and a bit lethargic.   It’s just as well that the medieval church foresaw this problem, and made sure the first day of Lent was a super-fast day.

The whole point of Lent is to prepare for Easter – because it’s easy to boil Christianity down to certain holy days, instead of making it about a life of service.   So while Jesus fasted 40 days at the outset of his public ministry, someone had the smart idea that a 40-day preparation for the holiest of holy days – Easter – was a good plan.

Christian preparation ought – rightly – to involve confession of sin.   This allows us to more sweetly savour the work of Jesus, as both atoning sacrifice and cloak of righteousness.   It also forces us to face the need for reconciliation with our fellow humans, particularly in the church – “forgive us, as we have forgiven others” is a radical, life-altering prayer.

But because it’s very easy to reduce Christianity to ritual behaviour, a display of repentance became the focal point.   Searching the Bible, wearing sackcloth (the clothing of the utterly destitute) and sprinkling ashes (the ash-heap probably being the place of discarded rubbish) was identified as an outward display of grief, and by extension grief over sin.   The problem with ritual is that it builds symbolism upon symbolism.   The sprinkling became a little ashen cross on the forehead (while the priest intoned the words “repent and believe the Gospel”), and the ash itself was the blessed cinders of the previous year’s Palm Sunday branch-waving.

But what if these displays of repentance are better understood as cultural expressions, not divinely-commanded displays for all of human time?   In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus compared the public displays of prayer – which he went on to teach as including repentance – with the way he expected his disciples to pray:

“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

(Matthew 6:5-6 ESV)

Instead of obsessing about ash-filled ritual today, why not get back to the radical heart of repentance?   Firstly, enjoy a private engagement with God.   The sweetness of the Gospel is that it doesn’t rely on public displays to affect inner peace.   The reward of a secret-seeing Father is that the secret hurts and grief are also seen, and tenderly healed.

Secondly, be reconciled to people.   Ritual masks – it papers over – the broken reality.   Show the love of God today, not by wearing an ashen cross, but in a broken heart that longs to be reconciled with your hurting wife or husband, with quarrelsome parents or siblings… the power of God to heal in these situations cannot be discounted.

Shrove Tuesday

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Pieter Bruegel the Elder – The Fight Between Carnival and Lent

Everyone loves a good detox, especially after the excesses of the annual – Christian? – Christmas over-indulgence.   For contemporary, detox-addicted Christians, Lent is a sort of spiritual dryathalon.   Go for a month without some small luxury – what are you giving up, anyway? – as you prepare to celebrate the resurrection, rolling eggs down hills and other empty symbols.

That’s right, folks!   The annual 40-day fast, held by Christians since the 4th Century, starts tomorrow.   #thatsucks   But then, today is “Pancake Day” – so use up all them eggs, sugar and mmm… buttery goodnesses.   #woohoo

That’s just the first paradox Lent throws us – before we fast, we must completely finish our feast; just to be sure we waste nothing.   Ah, so it’s a fast with no real cost?   I’m sure God designed thriftiness as a feature of the spiritual exercise of fasting.   I wonder was there ever a committee testing slogans like, “Shrove Tuesday: Prepare to spiritually thrive without wasting a penny!”

There are a lot of problems with Lent.   Over the next 40 days I’ll try to highlight some of them in a series of devotionals.   Why?   I want you to know (deep down in your chocolate-craving soul) that ritualised Christianity doesn’t even come close to the splendid good news about Jesus.

If you really think abstinence is a detox – that you’ll be purer for abstaining – remember Jesus told us:

“Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person.”

(Matthew 15:17-20 ESV)

Good luck giving up sin for the next month – hope you don’t try to get it all out of your system today!