Monday, May 28, 2012

Sutton Turner explains why people shouldn't show partiality against the rich and quotes James

Sutton Turner is an executive pastor at Mars Hill. Partiality against rich and poor is bad but it's apparent which kind of partiality James was explicitly writing against ,partiality toward the rich.  Turner has to subject the text and its broader context to a few contortions to get to the point of saying that Christians shouldn't be mistrustful toward the rich.  It's not that a case couldn't be made to not be skeptical about the rich.

Our prejudices against the rich ultimately amount to poverty theology, as though our righteousness depends on Jesus plus how little is in our bank account.

Turner seems determined to point out that a lot of Christians are inclined to use James' epistle as a polemic against the wealthy.  I wonder why that might be?

James 1: 9-11
The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position. But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business.

James 2:1-12
My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism.  Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in.  If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,”  have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?  But you have insulted the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court?  Are they not the ones who are slandering the noble name of him to whom you belong?

If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right.  But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.  For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.  For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,”[b] also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom,  because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!

James 5:1-6
Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you.  Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes.  Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days.  Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.  You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you.

Maybe Turner just forgot that the reason people tend to read the epistle of James as levelling trenchant criticisms on favoritism toward the wealthy and about the conduct of the wealthy because that's the plainest reading of the text.

Then again, the executive elder who had the kingly role before Sutton Turner doesn't have a whole lot of sermons you can download.  The role doesn't really require a man with any demonstrable skill or history in exegesis or hermeneutics.


Anonymous said...

I've re-written this comment a few times, because I know that I am deeply in the Jesus-would-not-own-a-BMW camp, and I'm trying to see past my own biases for a moment. But... isn't the reason we don't usually hear sermons like this because we don't *need* reminders to serve the rich? Because every natural bent we have is to do good things for those who have the power to reciprocate? When was the last time someone at Mars Hill (or any other North American church) was neglected because they were too wealthy?

I know Mars Hill thinks that Tony Campolo is beyond the pale theologically, but here's one instance where he's a lot more orthodox than they are:

"Christianity is a religion built around a man who was rich and became poor, and I think that’s the first thing that must be said."


Anonymous said...

Again, I'd be interested to hear from you whether or not preaching against poverty theology has been a distinctive of Mars Hill since its early days, or a newer (and most convenient) addition.


Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

Speaking against "poverty theology" is something Driscoll started doing from time to time circa 2004. He's made a point of saying there are righteous poor and unrighteous poor as well as righteous rich and unrighteous rich. He hasn't really defined what constitutes being in one of those four categories. Former executive pastor Jamie Munson, back in 2002 when he wasn't a pastor that I can recall, opined that there were no righteous poor in America at one mens' teaching event. A week later he came back and said there were righteous poor in America, he just didn't think there were very many of them. So between Driscoll and Munson a suspicion of what they might call "poverty theology" does seem to have been around for a while. Their views may have changed over the years but it would be tough for me to describe their respective positions as being spelled out as theological positions as much as sociological or demographic assessments from what I can remember of them.

Broadly, yes, Driscoll and Munson have never been for "poverty theology" from even the early days. Turner hasn't added anything new there. What "poverty theology" actually is never gets defined. Ten years ago the Mars Hill pastors urged people to embrace open copyright and talked about how traditional intellectual property was going to be outmoded. Then last year, I think, or before that there was the trademark and logo legal notification. Obviously Driscoll and his team had a change of heart about how irrelevant intellectual property was really becoming in the last ten years. :)

Steve said...

Sutton Turner seems to define poverty theology as "Our prejudices against the rich ultimately amount to poverty theology, as though our righteousness depends on Jesus plus how little is in our bank account."

Can the same be applied to giving, serving or other good works? If Mars Hill says you should be part of a community group, is that Community Group Theology, adding on to what Christ has done?

And it is a bit weird to hear Turner boast about his big giving, and the lesson about how if you're rich that gives you a pass on having to spend time doing things like being committed to a community group or setup team or other areas of service.

Steve said...

You should add facebook & twitter links to your site, too...

Anonymous said...

Of course, the rich may very well receive special treatment by the priests and kings. Does anyone know who the big money donors to MH are? Do they get special places at the banquets? Vacations with or invitations to dinner with the head pastor? Special autographed first editions of books?

Does one chase after a handshake with a large donor after the Sunday "service" while ignoring the poor woman "with issues" seeking the pastor's personal touch for prayer? Is the pastor's time too valuable to be bothered by the pleas of the hoi polloi?

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Sutton is from a large egalitarian charismatic prosperity church in TExas called Celebration Church. brought in not for theology but organizational pragmatism.