The Rich And Poor In James: Implications For Institutionalized Partiality -- By: Duane Warden

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 43:2 (Jun 2000)
Article: The Rich And Poor In James: Implications For Institutionalized Partiality
Author: Duane Warden

The Rich And Poor In James:
Implications For Institutionalized Partiality

Duane Wardena

After a hiatus in the early part of the twentieth century, evangelicals have rediscovered that living in a democratic society calls on believers to contribute a constructive, informed, and Christian voice to public social, economic, and political policies. 1 The interrelating of public policy with religious faith is an unsavory, uncomfortable task for some believers. By its nature, religious faith rests on uncompromising pronouncements that are founded on God’s being and the necessary order of the world he has created; by its nature, public policy rests on compromise. Thus politics and religion tend to sully one another when they meet.

While faith must tread cautiously into the political arena, it is unthinkable for Christian reflection on public policy and Christian reflection on faith to be drawn into airtight compartments. As Bauckham observes, “… fundamental New Testament principles for life in the Christian community extend in principle to life in human community as such, and therefore have political relevance.” 2 Uneasiness arises from the suspicion that Christian viewpoints tend to be informed by a mixture of sources drawn from inherited traditions, economic status, and fear of change rather than Biblical revelation. 3 That suspicion is the driving force behind this paper. Its purpose is to appeal to a voice from Scripture, namely, the book of James, for help in the construction of a Biblically informed, Christian perspective on matters of public policy relating to labor, poverty, wealth, and the power that flows from wealth.

The study will proceed as follows: (1) It will offer a brief analysis of the book of James with attention to passages that deal with the rich and the poor. (2) It will explore the message of James for its consistency with teaching found elsewhere in the Bible. (3) It will examine the implications of these statements for the way Christians ought to speak and act when confronted with wealth, status, and power on the one hand, or poverty, ignorance, and helplessness on the other.

I. The Rich And The Poor In James

An assessment of the literary character of James has a bearing on the conclusions one draws from the author’s allusions to the rich and poor. The genre of James has been the subject of a great deal of discussion. Dibelius has maintained that the document lacks continuity. He explains, “There is not only a lack of continuity ...

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