Flourishing Faith: A Baptist Primer…

flourishing-faith-chad-brandFlourishing Faith: A Baptist Primer on Work, Economics, and Civic Stewardship
Chad Brand
Christian’s Library Press, 2012
ISBN: 978-1-938948-15-2
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Chad Brand says “the Bible does not explicitly lay out a theory of economics in a political context” (p.111). Because of this, it seems many Christians are ambivalent about such things, believing it does not really matter what position one takes. And yet, regardless of whether or not we recognize it, or are able to articulate it, we all live by some political economic worldview.

Further, though the Bible does not promote one particular political economic theory, it does speak to issues of work, money, ethics and relationships. Our understanding of these issues forms the basis for our worldviews, so it becomes imperative that Christians understand and apply those biblical principles. This is particularly important where Christians participate in democracies with free elections – politicians govern in light with their political economic theories, and these theories have genuine spiritual implications.

In Flourishing Faith, Baptist pastor, professor and author, Chad Brand, introduces political economic theory from a baptistic, free church perspective. Though written from an American perspective for an American audience, the underlying principles are transcultural and all readers will find value here.

Brand approaches this theme by presenting a biblical theology of work (God created us to work and work is a noble vocation), wealth (having wealth is not the issue, but rather how one gets it and uses that wealth), and government (a necessary institution, but should be limited because of the damage caused by an over-reaching bureaucracy). He develops these themes by providing brief surveys of pertinent biblical teaching and histories of how these themes were understood and applied. Brand does a good job in covering a lot of ground in relatively few pages. Readers will come away with a good overview of this subject.

There are three major competing economic theories, according to Brand.

Free market
Scottish moral philosopher, Adam Smith, in his ground-breaking work An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776), “advocated the principle of “natural liberty,” which meant, for him, that people ought to have the freedom to do what they want with little interference from the state, so long as they are law-abiding citizens” (pp.96-7)

Socialist
Karl Marx articulates the socialist economic theory in The Communist Manifesto (1848) co-authored with Friedrich Engels, and Das Kapital (1867). Among other things, Marx called for the abolition of private property and rights of inheritance. He believed credit, communication and transportation should be centralized in the hands of State. Factories and production facilities should be centrally owned. He promoted a progressive tax system and free education for all. Virtually all economic life should be directed by the State.

Governmental Management Model
Cambridge (England) economist, Milton Keynes, in a highly technical work, The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (1936) argued that Marx was not entirely right in his economic theory. While Marx believed free market entrepreneurialism was inherently unreformable, Keynes believed it could be reformed through government management of the economy. Brand highlights the “most enduring claim” of the Keynesian theory: “Mass unemployment had a single cause, inadequate demand, and an easy solution, expansionary fiscal policy” (p.104). Brand then concludes:

To boil that down to its basics, Keynes was saying that when there is mass unemployment, the government must insert itself into the economy with significant stimulus spending. Of course, if there is mass unemployhment, it is also likely that government spending resources will be at low ebb. So, in such situations, governments must either borrow heavily in order to stimulate the economy or they must raise taxes on the wealthiest persons in society or both. When they insert such a fiscal stimulus, unemployment will go down. This is Keynesian economics at its most basic level, what we might call the governmental management model (p.104).

It doesn’t take much reflection to realize that Keynesian economic theory is the accepted wisdom of the day in the American political arena. And it does carry significant implications for the country going forward. While all three economic theories have Christian proponents, Brand shows that the free market view has been the most widely held view among Baptists.

But why should Baptists care about political economic theories anyway – especially over-burdened, time-starved pastors? Aren’t Baptists concerned with spiritual matters: evangelism, discipleship and church-planting? Anticipating the question, Brand provides five excellent reasons why Christians should understand economic theory.

  • The Bible speaks to economic issues: acquiring and disposing of money and property, fair wages, and stewardship of the earth.
  • Understanding political economics helps us understand the world in which we live.
  • It leads to a more comprehensive model of Christian discipleship.
  • We need a solid theology of work and economics.
  • All political theories hold theological implications.

As a Primer, I believe the book succeeds – it provides an easily grasped introduction to the subject, lays out the major themes, and provides direction for those interested in digging deeper. Each chapter concludes with a series of probing questions encouraging reflection and a bibliography for further in-depth reading.

I recommend this book for all Christians, and especially for pastors and teachers who have responsibility for guiding others into a clearer understanding of how worldviews impact our day-to-day decisions. It would be a great small group study.

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[Other than a publisher provided copy of this book, no remuneration was received for this review representing the independent views of the reviewer.]

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Under Renovation

I am repairing and rebuilding this site and apologize for any inconvenience caused.

Please keep checking back as I hope to clear up broken links and add new content.

Thank you for your interest in this site.

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Sages of the Talmud

The Talmud, a central text of Rabbinic Judaism, is a multi-volume work recording the teachings and opinions of thousands of rabbis on many subjects. It covers Halakha (law), ethics, philosophy, customs, history, and a multitude of other subjects, forming the basis for virtually all decisions related to living a Jewish life.

Sages of the TalmudSages of the Talmud: The Lives, Sayings and Stories of 400 Rabbinic Masters
Mordechai Judovits
Urim Publications, 2009
ISBN: 978-965-524-035-1

The Talmud is organized around the Mishnah – a compilation of legal opinions and debates about how to understand and apply Torah – the law of God. The Mishnah itself was recorded by Tannaim – teachers of oral law who did their work between 10-220 C.E. Organized topically, the Mishnah provides the framework for the entire Talmud. Its six orders are Zeraim (Seeds), Moed (Festival), Nashim (Women), Nezikin (Damages), Kodashim (Holies), and Tohorot (Purities).

Under each Order are several tractates (treatises) discussing, debating, and expressing opinions as to the meaning of the corresponding Mishnah. The Amoraim, expounders of the Mishnah (220-500 C.E.), are the compilers of the 63 tractates making up the Talmud.

Now, if all of this sounds confusing, you are not alone. The Talmud is an intimidating body of literature, and particularly so for one not raised within Rabbinic Judaism.  Not only is its sheer size challenging, its structure can also be very confusing – and then there are the Sages – those men whose opinions and rulings are recorded in the Talmud. Who were they? Where did they live? When did they live? What were the conditions under which they labored?

Mordechai Judovits, a Holocaust survivor, retired businessman, and long-time student of Talmud, comes from a family of distinguished rabbis and Talmudic learners. His life-long love of Talmud led to his quest to know something of the life and times of the sages. That quest led to this reader-friendly recounting of stories, anecdotes, vignettes and fascinating history of 400 Talmudic masters.

Judovits says he did not intend to provide a “complicated Talmudic pilpul” (intense textual analysis), but rather a “simple recording of stories, anecdotes and sayings of the sages as recorded in Talmud.” He hopes to provide Talmudic students a window into the world of the tannaim and amoraim – the social and political climate of their times. By opening this window, Judovits hopes to draw greater numbers into a two-thousand year journey of questioning and learning at the feet of some of Rabbinic Judaism’s greatest rabbis.

The book opens with a brief outline of how the Talmud is organized. Along with a brief historical overview of the years during which the Talmud was compiled, Judovits provides pointers for determining how one might identify the various contributors to the discussions at hand. What could easily descend into a dry recounting of names and places, finds life through the historical vignettes and anecdotes liberally sprinkled throughout the text.

The body of the book is an alphabetical listing of 400 sages mentioned in the pages of Talmud. Virtually everything Judovits tells us about individual sages can be found within the Talmud itself – he has carefully noted the sources for all he has written. Serious students of Talmud will appreciate this as it will immediately provide them with the context of all Judovits has written about each Talmudic contributor.

While many will find this a rich resource for helping to understand Talmud itself, others will simply enjoy reading the anecdotes and sayings of the sages for their own reading enjoyment.

As is true of today, so it was true in ancient times – we are influenced by our cultural surroundings. Judovits understands this and provides a valuable overview of both world and Jewish history during the Talmudic period. Beginning with the first Babylonian exile (600-550 B.C.E), and extending through 550 C.E.

My only disappointment with this historical overview is that the author chose to exclude any mention of Jesus of Nazareth or of the New Testament community of believers in Jesus. Indeed, the designations of B.C.E. and C.E (Before the Common Era and the Common Era) only exist because of the historical person, Jesus. I would argue that the push to codify Jewish Oral Torah in the multi-volume Talmud was encouraged by three things: the ongoing dispersion of Jews throughout the Roman world, the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem (70 C.E.), and the growth of the Christian community which at the outset was entirely Jewish.

That said, I recommend Sages of the Talmud as a useful introduction to the world of Talmud. It is an introduction that I would encourage my Christian friends to pursue.

Also recommended: The Spirits Behind the Law: The Talmud Scholars by Rabbi Jonathan Duker.

[Other than a publisher-provided copy of this resource, no remuneration was received for this review which expresses the independent opinion of the reviewer.]
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Purchase this book here:

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Messianic Judaism demands its place at the theological table

Introduction to Messianic JudaismIntroduction to Messianic Judaism: Its Ecclesial Context and Biblical Foundations
David Rudoph & Joel Willitts, General Editors
Zondervan, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-310-33063-9

Evangelical Christians can no longer afford to ignore Messianic Judaism – a movement of Jewish believers in Jesus (though a large number of messianic synagogue attendees are gentiles). No longer content to remain in the evangelical backwaters of Christianity, Messianic Judaism’s leaders are demanding their place at the theological table as a legitimate and distinctly Jewish expression of belief in Yeshua (Jesus) as Messiah and Saviour. In many ways it is a reaction against centuries of supersessionism – the belief that the Christian Church has replaced Israel as the Covenant People of God. (Well, it’s a bit more complex than that last statement.)

The movement is not without controversy. I have serious concerns with some positions espoused within the movement, but I will leave that for another post (or two or three or …. !) For now, I simply wish to draw your attention to an important book providing an introduction to Messianic Judaism – some of its key leaders and central doctrines. Given that the contributors are both Jewish and Gentile believers in Jesus from a broad spectrum of the believing community, this is as good a book as any to begin exploring the movement.

Joel Willitts (one of the editors of the book), introduces the book in the video clip below. I hope you will watch it, and I hope it will prompt you to purchase the book and get into the conversation.

I hope to interact with the book, chapter-by-chapter in coming days.

You can purchase this book here:

Amazon Canada

Amazon USA

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Why I joined (and Quit) and Rejoined Twitter

On April 22, 2009, I posted “Why I Joined (and Quit) Twitter.”

So, why do I have a Twitter account today? What changed?

When I first began using Twitter, it seemed like most tweets I read were nothing more than the daily activities of those tweeting.

“I’m having coffee with Joe.”
“Just leaving the office – had enough for today.”
“What a beautiful day here in Brooklin. Wonder what I’ll do today?”
“Just finished raking the leaves in my yard – my aching back!”
“Bautista homers in the 5th! Go Jays!”

Ok, you get my point. However, as Twitter matured and grew more prominent, I slowly realized the upside of Twitter – the beneficial role it could have. For example, through his Twitter stream, my son learned of the tragic tsunami in Japan before it was reported in the news here in Ontario. I discovered Twitter could inform me of major conferences, or draw attention to valuable articles online – the list goes on.

So, I repented and reopened a Twitter account. For anyone interested, you can follow me at @davidsdaniels. Shameless self-promotion, I know!

I don’t have thousands of followers, nor do I follow thousands, but Twitter does keep me informed of news, ministries, publishing activities, and significant blog posts that hold particular interest for me. Further, I use Twitter (and Facebook, Google+, and LinkedIn) to let my followers, friends, and colleagues know when I’ve posted something here. And when I see a particularly good tweet, I retweet for the benefit of my followers.

Like all social media, Twitter can be a valuable tool or a time-wasting toy. Hopefully I’ve chosen the former. I am glad I rejoined.

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