The book “#Occupy the Bible: What Jesus Really Said (and Did) About Money and Power,” by Dr. Susan Thistlethwaite, Astor+Blue Editions publisher, caught my attention while strolling through my local library. I was especially compelled to check it out, since I am interested in expanding my understanding of what the Bible says about money, in particular what Jesus said. After all, that is why I write this blog.
The book argues for an “Occupy Wall Street” styled presence similar to the Civil rights movement; it doesn’t get much to the heart of what Jesus really says about money and power that would satisfy students of the Bible. Since the book was published, the Occupy Wall Street movement has died out. So I am not sure if she was calling for Christians to join the Occupy Wall Street movement, or for a new liberal Christian styled movement to hit the streets. Either way, she is calling for more social justice to be brought about through the same style as demonstrated by the original Occupy movement–the style of living in tents in public places and in marches to combat economic inequity, or to take back what Wall Street stole through the recession. I think a more scholarly work, and one that would possibly motivate people, would be one that digs much deeper into the issues she is concerned about.
She doesn’t analyse scripture much, and when she does, in my opinion it lacks some depth. She has extensive theology credentials, so I don’t doubt her knowledge. Also lacking is a fair representation of what the first century Christian church really looked like, compared to my understanding of that time period. An example of this is her assertion that the calling of Simon and Andrew in Mark 1:16-20 into ministry, and their moral instruction in other verses, was in actuality Jesus forming a union, and that the organization of labor was part of the establishment of the Kingdom of God. So for students looking for a scholarly work on the issues of money, possessions, power and Jesus, they might be better served to look elsewhere.
The book doesn’t reveal the end game: The main challenge I have in reading Dr. Thistlethwaite’s book is that she doesn’t clarify what the movement should bring about. She attacks capitalism and misuse of power, but she doesn’t provide a set of clear goals. This lack of direction was the main reason why the Occupy movement failed, yet she seems to make the same mistake. She fails to articulate the main problems she wants to solve and what the end result will look like, such as her preferred style of government or economic system.
If she is calling for a movement, shouldn’t she reveal what she wants the mob to try to create? Is it fair to argue that just because Jesus had great concern for certain people groups, they should create a lot of noise without some kind of goals to work towards? It may be she thinks the goals of the movement will arise out of their collective morality, or that leaders, both from political and economic power positions, will conform to the mob’s pressures.
Exclusivity: In her book she reveals opinions held by Christians on the far left, or termed progressive these days, which are in many ways exclusive. They are exclusive since she strongly suggests other Christians with different points of views are wrong, un-Biblical and just aligned with the conservative anti-Christian forces she wants to combat. Christians that hold the wrong point of view are to be left behind, or they should come over to her far better moral point of view. Christians hold many diverse beliefs, and I doubt that anyone is going to create a movement unless he or she is able to come up with a mission that brings together what they have in common to solve the problems of injustice and poverty. Our politicians in Washington fail to make progress because they are so focused on their differences that they are unable to seek common ground and accomplish goals together through give and take. It is pity that Christian thinkers and writers fall into the same trap.
Jesus cares about the poor, justice, and righteousness. He is also very concerned about personal integrity, to a higher level then anyone else ever taught. He illustrates in many verses his concern about the sick, poor, old, widows, and wealthy people. Jesus’ plan and concern for the whole world is spelled out in a simple verse, John 3:16. I think if people want to be concerned about what Jesus cares about, and desire to understand money, power and possessions better, I recommend they study a couple of very balanced works on these subjects “Neither Poverty nor Riches, A Biblical Theology of Possessions” by Craig Blomberg. Mr. Blomberg covers the entire Bible and offers keen insight both from the Old and New Testaments about what Jesus’ thinking might be. Studying the “Theology of…” provides readers a much broader and deeper understanding, a starting point that can challenge Christian readers from all political and economic viewpoints. I reviewed this book recently here too. The other book I recommend is Money, Possessions and Eternity, 2nd Edition by Randy Alcorn: this is probably the best single book written about Christian personal finances.
The U.S. is in the middle of political deadlock because no one on either side wants to cooperate with the other side. If Christians–progressive and conservative, mainline Protestant, non-denominational, Catholic and Evangelical–came together on many of the things they have in common, they could accomplish so much good in the efforts of justice and poverty, good the world has never seen. If the focus is more on our differences, as the book argued for, like Washington we will divide and fail. Formulating and backing something like this, with real articulated goals on things that unite us, would be something that could possibly form the basis of a Jesus movement that could bring about real change.
Disclosure: I think it is wise to study the Bible first with non-biased eyes, not from any particular political or economic viewpoint, and then to formulate opinions about those subjects with Biblical insight, no matter how challenging that might be to one’s core political and social beliefs. That said, often but not always, many of my political, social, economic and theological beliefs lean more to the right, although my wife would tell you I teeter between conservative and moderate. Reading #Occupy the Bible, you will find many of its opinions, viewpoints, analysis and conclusions to be much more left leaning than I have described. This was because I reviewed the author’s ideas setting that aside for my reading, so that I could be fair to you and keep the doors open to dialogue about ways for Christians to come together to solve problems of human suffering.