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Posts Tagged ‘social justice’

Thanks to Zondervan for a review copy of this book and an opportunity to participate in the Blog Tour for Darrel Bock’s A Theology of Luke and Acts

A few weeks back Zondervan went on the look-out for bloggers who were interested in joining up on their Blog Tour for this fine book, A Theology of Luke and Acts.  Who wouldn’t want to read something by Darrel Bock, right?  It makes sense, too, for Bock to be tabbed to write this particular volume, given that he has now completed commentaries on both Luke’s Gospel and Acts.

Because of the size of the book (roughly 450 pages of text) and the short amount of time to read the book before the Blog Tour, reviewers were asked to pick one chapter and review it.  Fair enough.  I opted to read chapter 17, ‘Women, the Poor and the Social Dimensions in Luke-Acts.’

Bock notes the cultural prejudice against women during Jesus’ time, specifically how they were not seen as reliable witnesses by society.  Yet, they serve that function in Luke’s gospel time and time again, from Anna the prophetess to those who first receive the news of Jesus’ resurrection.  They are some of his most loyal followers, often more faithful than the men who walked with him.

Interestingly, the women of Luke’s gospel don’t fit a single mold.  From rich (Joanna) to poor (the woman who gave her two mites), from righteous (Elizabeth and Mary, the mother of Jesus) to those with unrighteous pasts (the women who anoints Jesus’ feet)- Luke seems to take care to include the whole gamut of possibilities.

Bock also correctly notes that individual women are not the main focus in Acts, since the focus of Acts tends more towards communities (through the ministry of individuals, of course).  Key here is the inclusion of women in receiving the Spirit in Acts 2, responding positively to Paul’s teaching in Thessalonica, etc.  Priscilla, wife of Aquila, is somewhat different, however, in that she’s not a recipient, but a teacher.

As for the poor, it has been long said that Luke has great concern for them.  Bock notes, correctly, that we can’t spiritualize these teachings, but must accept them for what they are: declarations that the poor will be blessed.  He also notes that this concept is “rooted in OT texts… the pious poor of the Hebrew Scriptures who are exploited” (p355).

Bock rejects the over-politicizing nature of liberation theology, remarking “What we have in these passages is something that falls between the full political agenda of a liberation perspective and the ignoring of the poor that often is the approach of the alternatives to liberation” (p355).  I think he is basically correct here.  While I’m not convinced it’s entirely possible to separate Jesus’ teachings from politics- especially not in Jesus’ day, when ‘separation of church and state would have been a completely foreign view- it’s hard to imagine that Jesus would call for the overthrow of a government in order to liberate the poor and oppressed (not to mention probably replace it with a new government that will form a new category of oppressed people).

As solid as this chapter is, I felt like he came up one step short in explaining the importance for this aspect of Jesus’ ministry, especially how it relates to the Kingdom of God.

In fact, the ‘Kingdom’ as a category seems to have received the short shrift from Bock in this volume.  According to the subject index, it’s only discussed on about 10 of the 450 pages.  Now, I realize the Kingdom of God is not peculiar to Luke’s writings, so perhaps Bock felt the need to focus elsewhere.  Then again, healings, discipleship, Israel, the Hebrew Scriptures- these are crucial to all of the gospels yet receive their own chapters in this book.

The point is that the ‘Kingdom’ is central to Jesus’ preaching, and we know this because it’s central to the Synoptic Gospels (elsewhere Bock calls it a ‘key theme’ [p141]).  Jesus came proclaiming the Kingdom with his words, and demonstrating its arrival with his deeds.  So what does Luke’s focus on women and the poor tell us about the Kingdom that Jesus proclaimed?

This is where I was disappointed in Bock’s chapter.  It’s not that he says anything wrong; in fact, there’s little to argue with in this chapter.  It’s that he doesn’t say enough.  He says basically what anyone with a little bit of time studying Luke-Acts can come up with.  What he doesn’t do is connect the dots and tell us just why it’s so important Jesus’ ministry included reaching out to women and the poor, or why Luke in particular highlights this.

Keep in mind that I’m focusing on one chapter out of 23.  I highly recommend you go and read other reviews included in the Blog Tour to get a fuller picture of the book’s quality.  From what I read (which was a little more than just this chapter), it seems like Bock makes solid observations, but may come up a tad short in pulling it all together and demonstrating the coherence of Luke’s theology.

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Most of us have heard of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses.  We learned about them in world history class in high school, noting that it sparked the Protestant Reformation (which is more or less true).  A few of us know that Luther nailed the 95 Theses to the chapel door in Wittenburg, Germany- and a couple of us even know this happened on October 31, 1517 (as noted by Brian here). 

What surprised me, however, is what I found when I actually sat down and read them.   I suppose I expected a compendium of Luther’s theology: sola scripture, justification by faith alone, etc.  What I found, however, was a different sort of Luther.  Luther wasn’t necessarily angry with the pope, he was angry that there were priests who were abusing the sale of indulgences.  He seemed more angry that the pope didn’t know about the abuses perpetuated by these renegade priests.

Even more surprising was Luther’s concern for the poor.  It’s not that I didn’t think Luther disliked the poor or anything, it’s just that I was expecting theological debate.  What I got was a good lesson in social justice and concern for those in need.  I’d encourage you to read the 95 Theses to see what I mean.

For example, check out number 45: “Christians are to be taught that he who sees a man in need, and passes him by, and gives [his mony] for pardons, purchases no the indulgences of the pope, but the indignation of God.”

It’s hard not to imagine that Luther was thinking about the parable of the Good Samaritan as he was writing this.  The poor were being asked to fulfill a religious duty, even when the needs of those around them were not being met (or even the needs of their own families, as number 46 of the Theses alludes to).  Of course, the devout Catholics of that day probably didn’t know Jesus’ parable, since they could not read the Bible for themselves (as Brian touched on in his Reformation Day post).

I also couldn’t help but think about the description of “true religion” in James 1:27: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

Reading the 95 Theses is a lesson in a pastor’s care for the flock.  Luther was indignant at the abuse of the poor- those renegade priests who, in effect, turned the poor upside down and shook the money out of the pockets and said “God bless you.”  I suspect that as Luther continued walking down this path of fighting this abuse, he began to notice the flawed theologically foundations that led to such abhorrent practices, which is why we tend to think of Luther the Theologian before Luther the Pastor. 

When I look at the church today, I can see where Luther would find similar abhorrant practices.  We see the health & wealth preachers who bilk the devout poor out of their money, all the while flying in private jets from one mansion to another, or building some unncessarily elaborate facility in the name of God (they ought to read Thesis number 86).  If we wanted to go outside the realm of the church for a moment, we could note how many people throw money into already well-funded political campaigns in the name of helping our country (including helping the poor in our country), all the while walking past the hungry guy with the Dunkin’ Donuts cup sitting next to him holding a few coins.

Well, I could go on with this, but I’ll spare us all the speech.  My whole point is this: what Luther noticed was that those in need were being passed over in the name of religious duty, and devout believers were being taken advantage of by those they trusted.  Are there ways in which we do the same thing?  Are we able to walk past the beaten man on the side of the road so we can get to our next occasion to serve God?  Are there still devout believers who feel the message coming from the pulpit that they need to give (time, money, etc) in order to know God’s forgiveness?

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