Stuff is Good

or There Is No Last Supper


A quote from N. T. Wright on Pentecost (pilfered from Uri’s blog):

There’s an old chorus which begins, ‘Turn your eyes upon Jesus; look full in his wonderful face’. That’s a great invitation, but sadly it goes on ‘and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.’ There is a truth in that, but actually in today’s gospel a very different note is sounded: when we look fully at Jesus, risen, ascended and glorified, and when Jesus sends his Spirit on his people, then the things of earth will be seen in a new, sharp and properly disturbing light. And instead of escaping from the world, retreating like an embarrassed chameleon to one colour-field only, we are sent into the world, not to take on its colour but to reveal the new combined reality of heaven and earth, to live in that reality – which we do in sacrament here, and in service outside – and to declare to the awkward and unready world that Jesus is Lord. Pentecost is the end of the great cycle of events that began with Advent; but it is of course the beginning of the new world, the world of God’s kingdom, of his combined heaven-and-earth reality, the world in which, by praise and prayer and prophecy, we are now called to live without embarrassment and to love without measure.

I love the idea of Spirit-filled people being full colour in a monochrome world. Jesus Himself was more of everything than we are, including more emotional, but perfectly appropriate in every instance, and perfectly genuine.

Tom needs to realise that the first century story actually moved beyond Pentecost to Trumpets, etc. and the rest is history (see J. B. Jordan). But that’s another story.

Also, he is rightfully speaking against the escapist sentiment in the old chorus. But I’m not sure it’s totally incorrect. The pattern is that we receive kingdom office through obedience. When we are tempted to seize the things of the world, we look to Jesus. The things that once charmed us grow neither dim nor disturbing. Both their significance and their insignificance becomes apparent to the Spirit-lit eye. The things of earth are good, but we are to view them with the eyes of stewards, not those of hording tinpot despots.

Steven Wedgeworth wrote an excellent piece called The Goodness of Stuff. Here’s a few quotes:

“…the Lutherans and Reformed argued that all creational institutions had their own legitimacy.  Both spiritual and physical things were created by the good God, and thus apart from removing sin, no “extra” spiritual blessing needed to be added to physical things.”

“Contemporary moral philosopher Charles Taylor routinely promotes what he calls, ‘the affirmation of the ordinary life,’ and he states that this found some of its greatest defenders in the Protestant Reformation.  This was true precisely because, as Taylor writes, ‘One of the central points common to all Reformers was their rejection of mediation.’ Creation had no need to be mediated through the institutional church.  Ordinary life was good in itself, according to the Reformers, and as Taylor goes on to argue, this affirmation of creation and humanity lead to the successive social gains that we now enjoy.”

“Whenever Christians set out to ‘reclaim’ the culture, they invariably do a bad job of it. This is usually because they have given too much credit to the devil. As Uncle Screwtape has told us, the demons are actually incapable of producing anything good. Indeed as Lewis teaches us elsewhere, along with Augustine and Athanasius, the devil is incapable of creating anything at all. Whenever we engage cultural expressions, we should keep in mind that at the bottom of each and every one of them is a remnant of the good. A proper culture will have much in common with the original culture, with natural culture.”

But then, back to Tom. Stuff is good, but like Jesus’ willingness to leave all that He possessed with the Father in heaven, we leave our stuff (not disturbing or dim stuff but good stuff) to go into the world to serve. We are willing to give it all up so that there can be more stuff, just like we leave comfy home in the morning to go to work and come home with a comfy paycheque.

Missionaries live in poverty so that Christ can transform culture, not just people. The transformation of the people produces an honest, integrated culture that God blesses until the cup runs over. [1]

The Bible is full of rich people and plunder; rich people who horde and rich people who serve. Zacchaeus is a perfect example of the transformation from one to the other that the Spirit brings. Was his stuff still good? Yes. It was not disturbing, but it was not as alluring. He became a rich channel instead of a sinkhole. It became a greater blessing to give good stuff to others. The culture wasn’t rejected. It was enjoyed in community and with discernment. Jesus didn’t refuse to transform stones into bread because bread is bad. Nazirites didn’t abstain from grapes and grape products because grapes are evil. They had one eye on the future. All good soldiers die for the next generation.

Unlike Babette, we cast our bread upon the waters and expect to see some returns. There is no Last Supper. That’s not how God works. Where welfare failed to transform third world cultures, micro-loans are succeeding because there is a Covenant involved, a day of reckoning for the stewards, blessings and curses.

The New Testament brought a greater appreciation of God’s assessment of us as His vessels, His possessions. Peter Leithart writes:

In an essay in Engaging Economics: New Testament Scenarios and Early Christian Reception, Aaron J. Kuecker contrasts the economics of the Spirit in Luke-Acts with the health and wealth gospel on offer in some “Spirit-filled” churches. Instead of guaranteeing an increase of net worth, the coming of the Spirit opens believers outward in generous use of their gifts and goods. Economics is Spirit or Satanic,[2] a point that Kuecker emphasizes by contrasting Ananias and Sapphira, who falsify the Spirit by their greed, with Barnabas.

In sum, “Possession of/by the Holy Spirit explicitly turns people away from the self and outward toward the broader community and the ‘other.’  The outcome of this allocentric identity is that people, and not possessions, become valued as one’s ‘own’. . . . Spirit-influence thus leads to the use of possessions freely for the ‘other,’ as is exemplified by Barnabas.  In clear contrast, the influence of Satan turns people away from the broader community and the ‘other’ and inward toward the self. The outcome of this egocentric identity is that possessions, and not people, become valued as one’s ‘own.’ . . . Satan prompts a treacherous turn away from the community and leads to destruction. . . . The Spirit prompts a turn toward the community and leads to restored relationships and times of refreshing.’”

So, the good stuff grows strangely dim only because we’ve got our eyes on something better. It’s not because stuff itself is bad or disturbing. It’s because something else is outshining it, but it’s not Jesus. More on this tomorrow.

Also, what do you think is the significance of Zacchaeus being in a tree?

[1] And when a culture turns from God, the abundance must be manufactured. See Building A Cage Out of Freedom.
[2] See Worship as Commerce.

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2 Responses to “Stuff is Good”

  • BecNic Says:

    Great point that the stuff is ‘not as alluring’ in the light of Jesus’ glory! The escapist sentiment is where I assume the song writer is pointing out, I confess. I think Wright has a point in that we often have been unquestioning of content in hymns and for some years singing out any old thing especially where it leads us to think of our future with God- rescued from this earthly toil and living a sinless state in heaven. Certainly in worship songs now we’re singing more of God’s Hope that we have HERE and NOW in God’s creation than living for a future date and faith as insurance for that. I wonder if you and Wright have this in common…?

    You’ve written positively about ‘stuff’ and alluded to our western material comforts, yet there is also an assumption within that, that a follower of Jesus would use their wealth to serve. I wonder that Zacchaeus’ realization when we came to faith was that ‘his’ wealth and resources was really not his at all. And like the parable of talents- that God’s power and resources works through our actions, when its under His authority and Lordship.

    thanks for a great blog. I’ve really enjoyed what I’ve read!

  • Mike Bull Says:

    Thanks for reading, Rebecca. And I appreciate your comments.