'On Faith' Excerpt Pushes Socialistic Read of Jesus' Teachings

Today's religion page (B9) of the Washington Post featured a liberal theologian pushing a socialistic read of Scripture.

This week's question: "Was Jesus a social revolutionary? Why or why not?" The print edition headline for the May 12 "On Faith" feature read "What Does Jesus Want You To Do With Your Money?"

"On Faith" is an online "discussion" hosted by Newsweek and the Washington Post.

Post editors excerpted the response of "liberation theology" advocate Rev. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite.

The Chicago Theological Seminary president urged readers to "underline all the texts about wealth and poverty" in their Bibles.

"The message of the Gospel will open before you like a flower in a warm spring rain," she added, closing by quoting from Luke 6: 'Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God... Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.'"

Of course, the Gospel According to St. Matthew has a similar passage, but it notes that the poor who are blessed in question are those "poor in spirit."

Christian theologians and teachers studying the Beatitudes have often remarked that the passage from Luke is not to be taken as a simple swipe against material wealth.

As the online Catholic encyclopedia New Advent notes (emphasis mine):

Some scholars would attach to the former word also the sense of
humility; others think of "beggars before God" humbly acknowledging
their need of Divine help. But the opposition of "rich" (Luke 6:24)
points especially to the common and obvious meaning, which, however,
ought not to be confined to economical need and distress, but may
comprehend the whole of the painful condition of the poor: their low
estate, their social dependence, their defenceless exposure to
injustice from the rich and the mighty. Besides the Lord's blessing,
the promise of the heavenly kingdom is not bestowed on the actual
external condition of such poverty. The blessed ones are the poor "in
spirit", who by their free will are ready to bear for God's sake this
painful and humble condition, even though at present they be actually
rich and happy; while on the other hand, the really poor man may fall
short of this poverty "in spirit".

One can find similar views from Protestant theologians, such as this September 2003 sermon from a Reformed Christian minister (again, emphasis mine):

I rather think that Matthew's "poor in spirit" isn't so much a contrast
to Luke's "poor" but an expansion.

[...]

Quite
a few of us have wealth, advanced academic degrees, successful careers,
social status, and institutional power. Are these bad things? No, God
wants us to achieve great things, to be successful with the gifts God
has given us. Remember Joseph, our hero of the past few weeks, who did
great things by his successful administration of the Egyptian economy?

The
problem is that none of this brings us any closer to the Kingdom of
God. It's not about your IQ, your SAT's, LSAT's, MCAT's, CV's, PhD.s
CEO's, 403b's, or TD's. The Kingdom of God is about your neediness.

[...]

Here's what Jesus is saying. It's right there, at
those most devastating, vulnerable, secret, difficult, stumbling,
failed, sinful, embarrassing, and painful experiences of your life that
you're closest to the Kingdom of God.

At any rate, it is curious that the Post highlighted the remarks of one of its more liberal panelists by reprinting them in the Saturday paper, when any number of more conservative reactions from other panelists, such as Prison Fellowship Ministry president Chuck Colson or columnist and 2007 Media Research Center Gala emcee Cal Thomas, would have done just as well.

Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd is a writer living in New Carrollton, Md.