We are nearing the end of our small group study of The Truth Project. Last night I watched the second to last installment about the “sphere of labor.” I did not get to see the last video about “The American Experiment” but have a pretty good idea of where he was going with it – a place I will be spending a great deal of time arguing against in the coming weeks. Essentially believing that America is a great last hope for the Gospel and we need to continue to try and “save it for God” or bring it back to God or whatever. Anyone reading this who has been here before knows that I especially struggle with such a perspective. I just finished reading Gregory Boyd’s book entitled The Myth of a Christian Nation. It is a great pastoral piece written to challenge and make people uncomfortable in dealing with their idolatry of nationalism. This problem is alive and well and way too often has gone unaddressed. I would like to say more about the book as I found it to be a poignant and sharp pastoral treatment of a topic that is all too often left in academia.
However, back to the truth project. I had many misgivings and much reserve in studying this material knowing that it was produced (or at least marketed) by Focus on the Family. I knew there would be some underlying agenda-driven points along the way. It met me squarely with this video on labor. Now, I do applaude the inclusion of this topic in the series. He is right that we too often do not speak of the place of labor in our theological framework. And for the first part of his video I felt he did a fair job of presenting a biblical perspective. Our role in work is rooted in God’s working in the Genesis account. God worked. He created us to work. Work is not inherently evil. The Fall did affect work (he states that the text shows it affected the ground, not work itself, which may be a semantical variation, but I don’t feel as though he gives enough credance here to the affect the Fall has had – he sure was adament that the Fall had affected our moral capacity in the rest of the series!)
When he moves away from Genesis, however, he begins some hermentuetical gymnastics to make his right wing political ideology fit the Bible. I found his use of the biblical text in this video to be incredibly selective and misleading and incredibly unfortunate. He loves the Old Testament where it talks about leaving behind the gleanings for the poor people to work – to ensure they WORK for their wages. The poor should not be given hand outs. OK, I’m with him there. Systematic rehabilitation is at the core of addressing the complex issues of poor – but little progress will be made by wood-working factories leaving the sawdust for poor people to collect and recycle (the “incredible” example he gives). But here, as throughout this series, he is showing an incredibly myopic and fundamentalist perspective of the text. The Bible says it, I believe it, let’s move on. He came across to me as a very well-intentioned (I don’t doubt his heart) white, middle class American who has taken little time to sit down accross the table from the impoverished families who are all out of “easy” answers. For Tackett, everything is flat. The poor need jobs; people with money need to make jobs so they will work. If only it was that simple!
This is, to me, one of the most frustrating aspects that frequently surfaces from evangelical Christianity – an utter disregard for the complex sociological and economic factors affecting the world. Please don’t take this the wrong way, but there comes a point and time when we need to put our Bibles down and learn from economics, sociology (and all other disciplines) and struggle and wrestle with how this impacts our understanding of the sacred texts. It is like Tackett has been unaware through this entire series how he has been shaped by these disciplines and through his life experience, and instead stamps his perspective as the way.
Unfortunately, his way doesn’t consider the fundamental economic program in the Old Testament. I have had disagreements with his teaching throughout the series, but felt as though it served as good discussion. Some of his statements and teachings in this series are downright misleading and un-biblical. I am flabergasted that he would spend 15 minutes of his hour long session on the gleanings passage and NEVER mention jubilee. Jesus reads from the text in Isaiah at the beginning of his ministry in Luke stating that he has come to fulfill this (in their hearing). Israel was intended to be built around the idea of redistrubtion of wealth – something he lists on the screen that the Bible teaches is a SIN! A sin! It is a biblical teaching! I’m not supporting socialism or anything like that . . . my point is that Tackett has allowed his culture to dictate his understanding of the text. The Bible does teach that this is a sin. It actually looks a lot like what the early church did. Jubilee forcefully redistributed the wealth every fifty years. I don’t believe that this makes everything easy to understand . . . but if you are going to have a Bible study you CAN’T spend a fourth of your times talking about the gleanings (because that fits into your Republican/Protestant work ethic ideology) and not address the jubilee (because that fits more into a Democratic/liberal sharing of wealth that you don’t agree with). Why else would he avoid this teaching? It is even more central to Old Testament theology? And of course he went to the Proverbs to uphold the value of work and all that. There is a lot to be wrestled with here, and he avoids the conflict altogether and instead presents our form of economy as though it is ordained in Scripture – it is not. It may be a better version than most or all other economies . . but it is not presented in the Bible (our economy is totally foreign to the biblical authors).
He makes the same mistake in the New Testament. He rushes to you don’t work you don’t eat and says . . . See, told you. But totally avoids Jesus’ fundamental teachings from the Sermon on the Mount – if someone asks for your tunic, give him your cloak as well. Tackett would say give him a job. Hey that’s great . . . but all I’ve got is a tunic and cloak. His poor use of the Bible in this episode shows that he is not a theologian working outside his field, mistraining those in the ways of his ideology.
He shows his card and the house of cards falls out from under him by a simple and seemingly harmless comment he makes off the cuff and on the side. To completely understand this you’ll have to know the general outline that he uses for his teaching. There are great foundations built on the nature and character of God, anthropological insights, supporting pillars of philosophy and others and on top are these spheres: labor, sociology, and others. His premise is that these spheres are the created order set in place by God with a purpose. It is when these spheres overlap into another sphere that sin enters. It sounds great, but it’s not biblical. The Bible nowhere lays out some created order that everything follows. This is where modernistic scientific models break down. Sure, there is some good in organizing things this way and it is a helpful way to talk about things that don’t get addressed enough. However, you can’t draw logical conclusions based on these faulty logic premises. That fails to see them for what they are. They are illustrates for the sake of discussion, not ontologically secure facts.
His comment is that the spheres of government (the state) and labor are different and that jobs can’t come from the state. Wait . . . was that John McCain or Dell Tackett. The Bible doesn’t say anything about that. He knows that, that’s why he quickly moves on, but if you’re paying attention, you can’t let him get by with that comment. His whole system breaks down if you begin to use it in that way. My postmodern mind was fatigued by trying to follow his thoroughly modernistic approach and application to Scriptures. It furthers my suspicions that The Truth Project is a thoroughly modernistic agent dressed up with some bells and whitles (there was a really well done and cool video at the beginning of this session depicting God’s creation), but riddled with the same issues that are being debunked by postmodernity.
In the end, Tackett offers too many answers, and not enough questions in an area that is very challenging and complex. I appreciate his willingness to address the topic, but wish that he would do so acknowledging his biasses.