Everything Flax says is true, and it's a needed perspective for Christians who, in their thinking, must dodge at least two main errors. Josiah (my 16yo) and I were discussing this in our two-man Men's Fellowship just last Saturday, as we considered Proverbs 21:13 —
Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poorIt is not godly not to care about the poor. But it also not godly to come up with a system to bankroll poverty as a lifestyle on the backs of the productive.
will himself call out and not be answered.
It is along this razor's edge that Flax's essay runs. He rightly points out the vastly differing contexts of the Bible's calls for justice versus the status in America, and warns against anachronistically reading Marxism back into roundly un-Marxist texts.
America's poor are materially better off than even the richest biblical figures. The gravest dietary danger afflicting our lower classes is obesity. Even welfare recipients enjoy access to technological advances, nutritional, health and entertainment options unimaginable in antiquity.And so in the Bible, people are urged to individual charity towards those in their immediate vicinity (Deut. 15:7-8; Prov. 28:27). But equally they are forbidden to subsidize sloth (2 Thess. 3:10).
By current notions, Solomon was deprived, ruling without modern medicine, electricity, air-conditioning, television, automobiles, cell phones, etc. David never took him to Disneyland. In absolute terms, our poor are wealthier than kings of yore. Basing state policy on relative measures devolves into covetousness.
ASIDE #1: one of the greatest titles in Christian publishing, ever, was in a response-volume. Ron Sider exuded a screed for the granola-n-whine set titled Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger. In response, the late David Chilton produced Productive Christians in an Age of Guilt-Manipulators. Indeed.
The right priority (as Mohler said, as do we all) is evangelism. What poor and rich alike need more than anything is the Gospel, they need to be reconciled to Christ. This is imperative, this is the sine qua non.
But that doesn't mean we preach to a starving man as we inhale our Big Mac and fries. It may mean, rather, that we give him our Big Mac, and preach to him. The greatest need is not to figure out how to rob more working parents to subsidize self-victimized victimizers; it is to point them to Christ, and then to help them get a grip on their lives and start producing, because that's what Christians who are able actually do (Eph. 4:28).
ASIDE #2: I'll admit that I am invariably affronted when strangers walk up to me in parking lots or at gas-stations asking me to hand over part of my salary. One thought I have is the response: "From which of my children shall I take money to help you remain idle? Will you write them a 'thank-you' note?" I don't say this. But I think it.
The boys and I were at a Messiah sing-along at a liberal Presbyterian church ("pastored" by Christie or Julie or Betty or some such), a performance marred by some stinky ecumenism ("Excuse me, that's Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints") at the start. I had been intending to give to their charity as they asked; but it was "interfaith," and the ecumenism put me off.
But rather than congratulating myself on how orthodox I was (in keeping my money for some more fried chicken from Popeye's), I found a local Gospel rescue mission and made a donation, paying for it by a small self-denial.
I hope my only point is transparent: this is one way to try to keep the first things first.