I was talking with my partner in crime, Jonathon Miles, about this week’s blog and he mentioned a quote that C.S. Lewis had made about having first things first. In my trolling the Internet in search of the quote I stumbled across something that combined the quote with issues of social justice at, of all places, First Things.
Over on Catholic World News, a fellow who goes by the name of Uncle Di reflects on the way that clerics in recent decades have abandoned revealed truth and saving souls in favor of sundry causes of social justice. He recalls a 1942 essay by C.S. Lewis, “First and Second Things.” Lewis wrote: “To sacrifice the greater good for the less and then not to get the lesser good after all–that is the surprising folly. . . Every preference of a small good to a great, or a partial good to a total good, involves the loss of the small or partial good for which the sacrifice was made. Apparently the world is made that way. If Esau really got his pottage in return for his birthright, then Esau was a lucky exception. You can’t get second things by putting them first; you can get second things only by putting first things first.”
Ultimately, that is the dilemma we find ourselves in with Rob Bell and most things he is presently teaching. This is especially pronounced in his book Jesus Wants to Save Christians: A Manifesto for the Church in Exile. The premise itself is flawed. It assumes the Church is a citizen of the world or a nation or somehow belongs somewhere from which it has been kicked out. But it has always been the case that the church is made up of strangers in a foreign land. Jesus told his followers in Matthew 10:23:
“But whenever they persecute you in one city, flee to the next; for truly I say to you, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel until the Son of Man comes.
The Apostle Paul was pretty clear as well when he wrote in 1 Corinthians 5:20:
Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
The apostle assumed we were not citizens but were representing Christ to a hostile world, begging them to be reconciled to God. Oddly he doesn’t write anything on eliminating world hunger, poverty or injustice. He and the Lord both spent time telling their followers that the world is unfair. The reason is simple and it is a first thing. All are fallen. All are in bondage to sin. Unless that is addressed, the second thing, providing remedies for hunger, poverty, illiteracy, etc., will fail.
As I pointed out in Rob Bell, Mark Twain and the New Exodus Perspective Part 1 Bell and Golden have bought into the New Exodus Perspective. This is a synonym for liberation theology which in turn is merely a euphemism for Marxism. Like John Dominic Crossan and the Jesus Seminar Bell uses the Bible but avoids anything like actual context, assuming the importance of the second thing, abandoning the importance of the first thing and in the end, losing everything. You can read pages 12-14 of the book at Amazon.com in the ”Look Inside” first pages link. Bell and Golden paint a picture of class warfare between Cain and Abel. The battle between a farmer who was a property owner and a shepherd who “doesn’t have a strong sense of boundaries, because he sees all land as a possible spot for him to stop and feed his flock.”
This question would have many dimensions – economic, political, religious, social – let alone personal aspects of ownership and property and progress.
They go on to talk about Cain moving East of Eden and building a city. Bell and Golden state:
It’s not that he’s east of where he was created to live, but he’s actually settling there …
They go on to talk about Adam when God asked him “Where are you.” They write:
And the answer is, of course, “East.”
I have looked through every translation I can find and I will be dipped, I cannot find this in any of them. There is a reason of course, because it isn’t in the text. In fact, if we actually follow the text we see several things. Genesis is about beginnings which is, oddly enough why it is named Genesis. It is about the creation of the universe. The beginning of the human race. The beginning of sin. The beginning of redemption. The beginning of nations, the beginning of …
We find nothing about Cain being created to live in the garden, in fact, Adam was never intended to remain eternally in the garden. In Genesis 1:28 we read:
God blessed them; and God said to them, “ Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
Due to Adam’s rebellion and sin, although the garden was preserved and Adam was banned, the rest of the earth that Adam was already commanded to fill, was cursed. He and his progeny would have to work hard to live from the once abundant soil. But, it was always the case that they were to spread out.
Chapter 1, titled “The Cry of the Oppressed” again forsakes the first thing. The oppressed that God was responding to were God’s people. Scripture shows over and over that He offers the means for those not His people to become His people but we don’t really find Him delivering the oppressed who are not His people. In fact, the oppressed here were oppressed as a judgment for their rebellion against Him. But then, we would actually have to read the Bible in context to know that.
This leads us to the point of this little book. It is somehow our responsibility to eliminate social injustice and cause non-believers to act like believers. Sadly, too many believers don’t act like believers, but that is another topic for another day.
Another “first thing” that is missed is the concept of “living the way of Jesus.” The fundamental idea here is that He healed the sick and fed the poor, and if we are truly followers of Jesus we should be working to bring about social justice. Now, I am not saying that feeding the poor, working to heal the sick, addressing illiteracy or even trying to help people who are living under oppression is a bad thing but it isn’t a first thing. We find in Matthew 11 the reason that Jesus did the things He did in a response he gave to John the Baptizer:
Now when John, while imprisoned, heard of the works of Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to Him, “Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?” Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and report to John what you hear and see: the BLIND RECEIVE SIGHT and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the POOR HAVE THE GOSPEL PREACHED TO THEM. And blessed is he who does not take offense at Me.”
John’s question was a simple one. Are you the Messiah (the Expected One) or should we look for someone else? The response from Jesus seems cryptic or nonsensical to some readers. Why didn’t He just give a yes or no response? Well, He did. He pointed to the miracles that would identify the messiah, the Expected One. Healing the blind, lame, deaf, cleansing the lepers and raising the dead were His credentials. They weren’t for demonstrating how to bring about social justice but to know Who the Messiah was. In addition, preaching the gospel was an essential element. If Jesus wanted all of the hungry to be fed, He was God and could have done that. If he wanted everyone healed, He was God and could have simply spoken the word. He did none of that and was the One Who said that we would always have the poor with us (Matthew 26:11)
If we get the first things first, the second things follow. We provide for God’s people and often times for unbelievers around us. The result is unbelievers become interested in the gospel and become believers. A quote from Julian the Apostate seems in order. He was the last pagan emperor of Rome and was trying to reestablish the pagan religions. He wrote to a pagan priest in Galatia:
“Why do we not notice that it is their kindness to strangers, their care for the graves of the dead, and the pretended holiness of their lives that have done most to increase atheism [i.e., Christianity]? I believe that we ought really and truly to practice every one of these virtues. And it is not enough for you alone to practice them, but so must all the priests in Galatia, without exception…In the second place admonish them that no priest may enter a theatre or trade that is base and not respectable…in every city establish hostels in order that strangers may profit by our generosity; I do not mean for our own people only, but for others also who are in need of money…for it is disgraceful that, when no Jew ever has to beg and the impious Galileans [Christians] support both their own poor and ours as well, all men see that our people lack aid from us.”
There was not involvement in social justice or even trying to change government. Christians were simply living Christianly, caring for one another and those who came into contact with them. The contrast was so great that Julian insisted his priests should imitate the Christians. How sad that Bell and Golden think we need to imitate Marxism instead.