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I spent most of today shopping and cooking (red beans and rice, then samosas), so my time for mulling the fracas that GKB this weekend instigated has been short.1 To summarize the stimulus and response briefly, GKB claimed he could see no good justification for Christian (displays of) wealth. As often happens when wealth is challenged, its defenders and its detractors jumped quickly, and in shrill tones they are even still shouting, 120 comments and counting.2

I’m curious what you who have been reading and participating in the debate, or who want to read it now, take from it all? Along what lines (theological, political, economic, personal) does the discussion break down? I’m curious because, while I think most of the arguments tiresome retreadings of long-rutted ground, I am nevertheless fascinated by the ways people get to their comfortable ruts and how they manage to alert everyone else that they drive in x rut rather than y. As I see it, there are four ruts in which this particular conversation runs (links are to representative comments that illustrate what I mean):

Feel free to add to the list, flesh it out, or correct me where I’m wrong.

1 GKB’s a demagogue, a button-pusher extraordinary. I am often amazed that he continues to find ways to compel others to reply at length to what he writes. Sometimes they preach to him, others they preach to his readers; sometimes they further his point, others they bury his point for the privilege of seeing their own words onscreen; sometimes they indulge in non sequitur, other times they roll in ad hominem, still others they enthusiastically poison wells; still, however they make their words seen, they do it frequently and at length. There’s something in the posture he strikes that makes him both threatening and nonthreatening at once. I admire this quality of his.

2 I’ve witnessed this same discussion several times as both student and teacher. American Christians are often quick to defend wealth’s accumulation in general and in particular, in part because so much of American culture valorizes wealth. What I can say from my experience is that economic theology is always built from a hodgepodge of political, theological, personal, and societal commitments. The operative word there is hodgepodge, of course. Hart’s What Does the Lord Require?: How American Christians Think About Economic Justice explores that hodgepodge at length. Here’s a concrete example: I knew someone who sold her farm and gave the money she earned from it to the poor, and she sometimes seemed proud because she could fast, or give more than any other; hers was a desire to be like the old woman who gave her last penny and was praised by Jesus for it. Another couple, Christians in the same church, never forgave her for forsaking her wealth at once what she could have made to serve the Lord at length. In both cases of the woman who sold and the couple who criticized, the emotions and arguments that wrapped into their actions and judgments were so complex that all we could do, when talking to one party about the other, was simply to suggest withholding judgment. In person wealth is terribly personal, as is poverty; in society, abject wealth and great poverty is impersonal, and each is apt to destroy us all.



well, you beat me to the punch… i’ve been trying to formulate something all day, but still have little beyond what i posted… and, rather than linking to him, i will here reproduce what i wrote there.

Scripture contains both a vindication and a condemnation of wealth–and those of us who aim to follow Scripture have to live inside the tension.

On the one hand, the prophetic line (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Nahum, Amos, Revelation) calls into question wealth. In these prophetic texts, wealth is not only synonymous with opulence, luxury, and excess it is also an indicator of exploitation.

But, there is another strain, a strain that all those Christians who are quick to disparage “the God of the Old Testament” readily call on when the discussion turns to wealth… it’s the Deuteronomic strain of thought (the Pentateuch, Proverbs, Kings, Chronicles, even Paul, to an extent, might fall under this category). Wealth is synonymous with blessings from God and even a sign of righteousness. (Paul, I would venture, disagrees with this last tenet).

Jesus, though largely of the prophetic vein (his kingdom not being of this earth and whatnot), uncouples wealth from divine blessing. It rains on the just and unjust.

Yet, if we assume that Acts and Paul don’t condemn the wealthy but, in fact, make full use of wealthy patrons to spread the Gospel, the NT divides down lines of Deuteronomic vs. Prophetic thinking on the matter, as well. (Revelation being a book that radically calls Christians out of the world and out of the various socio-economic relationships they were in that gave service to, real or simply lip, Caeser/Empire idolatry).

I’ve got more to say… but I’ll stop preaching here. Except this whole deuteronomic/prophetic divide also appears around concepts such as government and politics where Paul would advocate the Deuteronomic principle of divine order and heirarchy (thus, an apparent silencing of a critique of government) and Revelation (the prophets) would take a much more critical stance of government. (But that’s another post that I’ve been trying to work on, but that is going to take more time.)

oh, and as you were enjoying red beans and rice and samosas…

we were enjoying polenta with pan-fried bay scallops in a baby-bella, and fino sherry reduction. más donís the american version of this really nice $10 Spanish wine

there are three keys to a good polenta:
1) fresh, coarse, whole grain cornmeal
2) stir, stir, stir even more than you ever imagined you could
3) a nice tasty sauce with which to smother the polenta

(adding cheese to the polenta, once it is cooked also gives it a certain delectablity)

1: Sure, and I agreed with you when you wrote it there; however, it’s not the only current running through the discussion because not every argument is made via an initial scriptural search and justification. Take this one, which I also linked to above, where any effort to project oneself onto another is completely rejected. Yes, it’s a cautionary tale steming from the Pharisee and the sinner parable in the Sermon on the Mount (specks and planks), an allusion that is made at least a dozen times in the discussion. It’s also more than that—namely, a rejection of the value of sympathy (in the fictionalizing sense) to serve as a means of moral determination. If GKB writes of afailure of sympathy for the wealthy, that guy rejects sympathy outright and declares, “to mine own self be true, because only in knowing myself can I have singularly-assured salvation.” It’s a rejection of fiction as a conveyor of truth, in sum, and through that rejection, it is also an affirmation of individual self-determination.

All that to say what I said at first: arguments come from all over, including the prophetic conflicts with the temple. However, prophet vs temple is a strain that comes up often at KB.net because GKB’s sympathies are with the prophets much moreso than most.

Well, I wasn’t trying to silence all the other strains in the conversation. I was just wanting someone to say that they agreed with me :P

sorry to be little than tiresome retreadings of well-rutted ground is the emphasis on pneumatic tires there?

and, it seems, though i could be misremembering that you expanded on the whole rut thing?

Last comment for a while, for I need to work on a book review.

When I was still trenchantly prophetic, I was one of 12 groomsmen for a wedding. We had the wedding and then all 600 guests were invited to the country club for a sit-down 5 course meal and dancing. Yes, it was a Northern wedding. Then, the closer 200 were invited to the bride’s home for a more intimate affair—consisting of a variety of hors d’oeurves, various salads, a panoply of deserts and our choice (buffet style) of prime rib or smoked turkey carved for us as many times as we liked. 15 hours after dressing up as a penguin, I finally shed my black and whites and slid naked into bed.

I was truly offended by such oppulence and, what seemed to me, waste.

On the way back to our lovely alma mater, I talked this over with my riding companion, a Mennonite. I was sure that he, a frugal, garden-growing, chicken-raising, cloth-sewing, sock-darning, peace-mongering, Mennonite would share in my righteous indignation. Instead, he told me that there are times to dance and times to refrain from dancing, times to celebrate and go all out and times to refrain from such celebrations.

i would correct your statement if GKB writes of a failure of sympathy... his post exhibits a failure of sympathy towards the wealthy.

i don’t know if i agree with you in terms of your link… the guy, though not overtly, is quite definitely citing the parables of the talents, however skewed his take may be.

but, i also doubt that a real scouring of scripture is actually going on by anyone involved. because it does not come down on one side or the other; rather than dealing with the ambiguity of Scripture, a hermeneutics of proof-texting is in operation where people try and find a support for their position rather than a real examination of the issue. that, at least, was what i was trying to say, albeit, poorly, by pointing out this divide between temple and prophets.

that is, under the appearance of righteousness both sides are content in not thinking about the issue.

there are those who outright give up any pretence of thought (the ad hominimers and the cryptic posters who respond with one line commments) and those who think they are thinking about the matter and citing scripture.

but, in a way, all are doomed to fall into not thinking… in part, because of the percieved truculence and self-righteousness of GKB’s tone and because his posts, and not that they should be anything else, are reactions to situations rather than patiently outlined arguments, and last of all because of. (yes, g, i affirm your brilliance :P.)

again, not that his post should be anything else, he gets to decide what kinds of posts he wants to post.

given that we live in a fully individualistic society (and not even protestant religiosity escapes this… in fact, individualism is a principle foundation of protestantism), can these discussions be anything other than shrill, accusatory, and self-righteous?

any and all decision on the matter is seen as an indictment of variant positions.

i should add, that those who perceive a truculence and a self-righteousness in GKB’s tone… often become twice the sons’s of hell as he… at least this is the case with those who keep trying to pen him into a left/right political rubric.

I’m not sure there is a resolution to the problem. As amply mentioned in previous comments, we have strains of scripture, ranging from outright condemnation of wealth to outright glorification of wealth. Not seeing any divine hand in the production of scripture, I merely write this off as the inevitable result of many books written by many individuals of wholly different bents, over the course of many years. How could it possibly have a uniform policy on wealth and its uses?

Everyone will latch onto their favorite strain however, for whatever psychological reasons, and proceed to interpret the other strains in light of their own favorite. And so we have our result: The glorious WWF smackdown that is GKB, a guilty pleasure if ever there was one.

That’s my rut, anyway.

J, I asked myself a similar question a couple of months ago. Basically: “Can I achieve anything through (my admittedly poor) online writing? Will actual thought be inspired? Or will every discussion devolve into a shouting match?

I decided to give it up because I couldn’t achieve what I had hoped for. My last post went up yesterday.

GKB seems comfortable with the tone of his blog. I couldn’t find a tone that fit.

i should add, and this for GKB’s sake that i don’t fault him for what i wrote here... his failure of empathy or sympathy is in part because of the prophetic rhetoric he deploys…

and, the failure of dialogue has more to do with people reacting to his prophetic tone rather than advancing anything resembling a conversation. and, though any discussion of wealth and righteousness will lean towards this kind of non-conversation, i think it has just as much to do with persona and reacting to persona rather than entering into a conversation where all sides are in play.

i promise i will now shut up.

except to point out another aspect of all GKB postings… at some point or another JH will come in say something brilliant, banal, or otherwise (as in his famous Burkes sucks comment)... this elicits an inquiry or rebuke from one of the readers. JH then has to explain that he is really just a poser because he doesn’t believe any of this anyway. and they, excited by the prospect of witnessing on-line, work towards a reconversion. at which point, he politely declines, posts his menu for the evening, this too gets misread, and the whole cycle starts all over again.

what GKB needs to know, no one is really posting. it’s just a bunch of viruses vying for cyber-supremacy

Man, I had a long comment but I must have hit the wrong button. The comment “preview” thing throws off a WordPress user like myself.

RE: Kb.net, I rarely achieve what I hope for, but I liken myself to a struggling baseball player. You may have had a few glimmers of success in the minors, but now you’re hitting .174. The coaches tell you to keep doing what you’re doing (didn’t someone say something along these lines in reference to insanity?) and eventually, maybe, you’ll break out of your slump.

That’s me: I go up there and keep swinging away, hoping one day to make contact in the sweet spot, and at that moment a deep, life changing discussion which involves real thought and reflection will occur, and the internet will explode.

Until such time, I’m hitting .174 and dropping elbows…

GKB: Keep doing what you’re doing. It’s not the noblest job in the world, but someone has to do it. I say this in all approving sincerity.

J: The court jester has always been my favorite character.

Off to dinner. I do believe tonight will be a drinking night. It’s in all our best interests if this is my last post for the day.



I, too, sincerely encourage you to keep on (if for no other reason than to give me something to read during class). GR may exist no more, but KB.net should keep on keeping on.

I don’t have too much to add to the poverty/wealth discussion. I do suffer some personal anxiety in knowing that I will be earning a fairly large salary in a year’s time. Perhaps I’ll ease the tension by buying a lexus.

1/5 of elijiah craig might help as well… if you can tear yourself away from PBR, or god’s drink

You’ll have to pry my PBR from my cold, dead fingers. Nothing wrong with a little double fisting, though, so perhaps I can give the bourbon a try, too.

can you really go wrong with a drink created by a baptist?

Excuse my ignorance, but ‘god’s drink’ would be…

I have my guesses…

Ben Franklin: “Beer is living proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”

hey, and he’s a found(l)ing father.

some expand upon this and say it’s pbr (scott)... millions and billions of americans blinded by their drunkeness would say that it’s bud-light, but they are clearly wrong.

Here in Tejas (if we’re moving away from the French “x”), Shiner Bock is King. PBR is unheard of, generally…

I would also say that Goose Island’s Matilda is just about the best beer America has to offer. God must love Chicago, because the Goose Island is here to quench our thirst.

when we were in austin for a wedding a few months back, my father in love and i went to buy some beer. he said corona and i said shiner bock, when in tejas drink as the tejanos do, and all that jazz. well, the beer stocker, contemptuously looked at me and said, shiner bock’s not real beer… it’s made by the corona people, if you want real tejas beer, buy real ale

we bought, upon his recommendation a colorado beer new belguim’s skinny dip

but, he was right, real ale is real and it rocks!... that goose island looks good

New Belgium’s Fat Tire is also quite good.

Not to get into it too much, but our little aside illustrates my dilemma well. Is it a sin to spend $5 for a good beer at a bar when one is available for $2? Or is it a sin to drink an inferior beer when a vastly better one is available?

(My tongue is ever so slightly, but not entirely, planted in my cheek.)

if indeed the pursuit of excellence is syonymous with virtue and its opposite a sin (as some seemed to imply in GKB’s past post), then drinking crap is a sin.

so, bottoms up the good stuff because life’s too short to drink bad beer

The friend whose wedding I recounted went down to the island where my parents were doing missionary work with some doctors and dentists from his church for a medical campaign. At the end of the their stay, they went out in search of Cuban cigars. A brother of the church who had a taxi was chauffeuring them around. Needless to say, 3rd world Christianity is much more puritanical in regards to certain vices that modern Unitedstatsian males indulge in. But, the cigars didn’t bother the guy… and he it wasn’t that he was bothered… however, he was shocked that they smoked close to $150 worth of cigars (well more than twice the brother’s monthly income). They were giddy… it was such a deal. $150 on high-class Cubans… comparable cigars in the States would’ve been 500 or more.

I am not one to say that cigars are wrong, but there was something wrong about their obliviousness to the disparity between their oppulence and his (and everybody else’s) poverty.

It’s not that a five dollar beer is any more or less morally reprehensible than a two dollar beer; but, maybe there is a problem with a $20 on beer a day habit… (bracketing, of course, the obvious problems with alcoholism)...

relatedly, a health and wealth gospel preached from a guilded pulpit to mercedes driving parishoners is reprimandable… but maybe something that rhetorically resembles a health and wealth gospel preached among the destitute by the destitute isn’t as reprehensible… (after all, stable homes help create stable children and all that jazz)

rather than what it’s who and when.

I’m late to the drinking (I promise I’ll catch up later), but I don’t want to forget Scott’s question about writing and tone, because this seems a really good an opportunity as any to discuss it and make some sense of the comments that GR used to get. More later.

I wholeheartedly agree that drinking bad beer is sinful. If you feel guilt over the expense, buy a trappist ale: it will be a holy experience for you and your money will help support support good monastery in Belgium.

Other points made above I might return to later. I admit I may have overdrawn the sympathy/fiction line, although I think it’s there. I see it running through all the “no hypothetical” claims. I think I’m right, of course, but I’m not prepared to defend it now…

Perhaps it’s still a bit fresh to talk over the response to GR.blogspot in the same way we’re talking about GKB and kb.net’s readership, but the discussions I think make good parallels in the ways that they are/were provocative. S, your reasons for hanging up GR I understand, as I understood why you put him on in the first place. I have wondered sometimes if GR was too genuine for his own good, but I think a better argument is that GR was too genuine for the genre and the medium in which he wrote. What GR had to say deserves a longer medium, a more thorough and patient set of arguments, and a more authoritative presence than a blog could ever provide. The Church of Christ may not be ready for GR’s blog, but it might be ready for Scott’s book. That would be a difficult thing to publish, I realize, for the same reasons that you picked up GR to begin with, but the good side of it is that it would be a few years yet before you finished. Of course a book will have its peanut gallery (like HR is to kb.net) but those peanuts will have a different weight, and will work on a different plane from the comments on GR.blogspot. I’m completely serious about this: you may disparage your writing, but I won’t (although those Andrew Sullivan posts were… dry), and that you have something important to say to the Church of Christ about its abuse of gay men and women (not to mention those BT&Q) and its stunted sexuality makes your book more that much more worth reading.

Still, what I’ve said before about blogging I still believe to be true. It’s a broad brush genre; it thrives when it takes big gulps of the world. It’s mostly not for sipping. There are exceptions, but they’re not many. It’s what you see on the wealth thread at kb.net, which J describes really well above. A response to tone here, a defensive stance thrown up there, with a few nonsense questions about biblical genre thrown in willy nilly with verse lists that mean little more than the time it took to compile the list. It’s what GR got with every post, although with GR, his very existence posed the threat. GKB, in contrast, is merely a false teacher whose words, not his life, can be corrected and reprimanded.

Aside: That last post at GR.blogspot said all that pretty well already, and I know you know that in GR’s case, his words mean less to many of his readers than his body. And Nussbaum was classic. (If I were you, I wouldn’t have been able to resist a parting shot: a link to the recent stats about hordes of teenagers having anal sex to protect their virginity—but then, you’re a better man than me.)

One final thing: GKB, I love this.

My question then, is, can we, as a community of Christians make a list of what we can (and should) and cannot (and should not) imbibe?

Would putting lesser beers like Natty Light or Keystone on the “do not drink” list be pharisaical?

One other thing: I appreciate it.

I have no idea if I have any role besides audience, but I’d like to say that I love every last one of you people. Sometimes I think Hermits write too lengthily. Sometimes I think GKB writes too quickly. Sometimes I think that I try too hard. I think GR was a gift to the audience of all these blogs, and I’m a little sad to read of his retirement.

Keep on truckin’.

Abita Yellow Dog will set you straight.

no, you are, whether you like it or not, a part of the conversation…

yeah, if i spent more time editing down and less time gushing, i’d actually spend less time blogging.

JRB, you’re supposed to save the good stuff ‘til after you leave the office… :)

Point of fact: 0.666666666… Hermits write lengthily. 0.3333333333… Hermits are brief.

(That third is also woefully silent of late—sadly, too, since that third is the brilliantest of us all.)

Also, HR publishing (one article per page, no matter what) begs for longer pieces—probably to our detriment.

(Finally, a stab at a list.)

Christians can drink any bock with a clean conscience, and can feel holy drinking a bock from Germany or Austria.

Christians may certainly drink anything made by monks.

Christians can try any beer made locally and in small batches (small is relative to companies that advertise beer with bikinis) at least once without sin. If local brew is good, it is righteous to drink another.

S can drink PBR so long as he doesn’t try to proselytize the rest of us to it. C can drink fruity beer (Framboise, or Berry Weiss) as much as he likes so long as he promises to write more.

Teenagers are free to drink cheap beer (cold or warm) until they reach the age of accountability, after which they must repent of their waywardness with any of the aforementioned legal brews.

I see already that that this doctrine needs a system of indulgences. It probably also needs its own comment thread? (Hint to J)

It’s probably blasphemous to say so out here in the West, but, Communist that I am, I go by the ABC Rule—Anything But Coors.

One can get Fat Tire here, and it is not bad at all.

I was getting ice cream with a friend in Cody last week. The girl behind the counter (who very much resembled many of the students Greg and I once taught) told us, “I was reading the New York Times the other day, and someone called me a Communist!” It was quite a moment.

Now that the list has been produces, the midrash can begin, no?

Concerning Point One (bocks from the Continent), is it permissible then to partake of bocks by people currently NOT in Germany or Austria but who follow an old German or Austrian recipe (at least according to their marketing department)?

Comrade Laura:

Drink more PBR. It will help you pass as a Capitalist (though we all know better), just as it helps me pass as straight (though we all know better) when in scary dive bars.


Damn it, S, now we need to work up a set of punishments, too: you’ve already broken the 4th commandment of no proselytizing PBR!

Sheesh. Of course the gay guy would be first to ignore the rules…

Is not drinking PBR punishment enough? Sort of like the punishment for polygamy…


You know by now that the rules don’t apply to the gays. Once you come out, you lose all sense of moral direction. If it makes you feel better, I won’t be drinking PBR this weekend. Finals are over and I’m off to the beach, so mojitos and margaritas will abound…

Mmm. . . M drinks. PBR is not the worst stuff in the world, and it’s certainly the drink of choice if you are at Sutliff (I’d post a link but apparently I’ll have to upgrade to Flickr pro to see photos that old. . . grr). Anyway, around here I have mostly taken to skipping the beer and going straight for the hard liquor. Partly this is a matter of economy (I drink much less of the hard stuff), partly it’s because I like it, but mostly it’s because I so enjoy watching the reactions when I say, in my best demure librarian voice, “Wild Turkey on the rocks, please.”

mmmmm a nice rye whiskey.

Ooh, Sutliff. 5 years I lived here before I was shown that grand place. It reaches deep into the most redneck place in my heart. It’s Sutliff time of year, now. Perhaps we’ll make an evening of it soon and bring back pictures…

First I was introduced to Irish whiskey, and thought that I was enlightened.

Then I met Glenlivet, and I realize I am the neo-est of neophytes, and about as diametrically opposed to enlightened as one can get…