We continue to release new EWP Talks as part of our flipped conference at Karam Forum 2018. These two new talks look at what we can learn for our own economic lives from the Mosaic land laws (and the prophets’ anger when those laws were broken), and how the mission of the church fits into the challenging dynamics of cultural and economic systems. Consider using these talks with your students, and mark your calendars for Karam Forum 2019 on Jan. 3-4!
The land laws in the Mosaic code may seem like an esoteric topic, its context in an agricultural economy and ancient familial system far removed from our modern lives. But this talk’s personal testimony and scholarly explanation from Keith Reeves of Azusa-Pacific University reveals the continuing importance of those laws – and the testimony of the prophets when they were violated – for justice and flourishing in our own time.
Reflecting on his own life experiences, growing up on a family farm and then raising his own children in a very different cultural context, Reeves emphasizes how the Mosaic land laws reveal an important connection between family and economic life. The ancient household was a familial unit, but it was also an economic unit; members of the family worked the land to support one another. Thus economic opportunity and family stability are two sides of the same coin. Reeves points to a number of practical ways we can apply this insight to the modern economy, working to strengthen families and also expand economic opportunity. (The latest headlines show just how urgent this issue is, as Minnesota has just adopted a new policy to mitigate the financial penalty for getting married in programs for those in need.)
Reeves also describes how the economic life of Israel was turned upside-down under the monarchy, as kings took land away from households – stealing their economic opportunity. The anger of the prophets reveals God’s heart for the ordinary opportunities of ordinary people: “Working hard every day just to support a family may seem like a small thing in a culture of celebrity and big business. But the extreme anger of the prophets whenever that opportunity was taken away from people shows that it’s a very big deal to God.”
Attendees of the original Karam Forum meeting in 2017 are unlikely to forget Jay Moon’s brief but remarkable illustration of the complexity of culture, using a formidable sphere-shaped puzzle called a Perplexus Ball. In a talk for Karam Forum 2018, Moon has expanded that insight into a full talk suitable for classroom assignment.
Moon begins with the story of how missionaries building a well to provide clean water in a disease-prone region changed the way local villagers related to one another, and ultimately made the message of Jesus plausible to them. He connects this to biblical accounts of Paul’s missionary work, which also combined economic and evangelistic activities. Paul’s tent-making and his preaching of the gospel were not separated in different compartments of life; they were not only interdependent, but functionally integrated.
From this starting point, Moon explains how “the functional integration of a culture” is critical to understand how the church lives out its mission. What happens in one sector of a culture, such as its economics and its use of technology, has an impact on every other sector of that culture – including how social relationships are formed and, ultimately, what people believe. The point is that the church wants to change people’s beliefs, but it doesn’t have to start there. Economic and technological change provide breathtaking opportunities for the people of God to go out into the world and build new ways of doing things that build authentic relationships and make the gospel plausible.