Episode: Martin Luther found the sale of indulgences objectionable, so he nailed 95 theses to the door of his bishop’s castle, launching the Protestant Reformation. But where did the idea that giving money could somehow alleviate the human sin problem originate? OnScript host Matthew Bates welcomes David Downs to discuss the biblical and systematic implications of atoning almsgiving. Interviewing from Tanzania (please forgive the occasional authentic Tanzanian background noise!), David’s reflections on charitable giving for the church today is multicultural and profound. His book Alms is certainly highly recommended. Listen. Share. Read.
Guest: Dr. David J. Downs is Associate Professor of Biblical Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary. He holds degrees from Clemson, Fuller, and Princeton, having served as a teaching fellow at Princeton and a visiting professor at Holy Cross. In addition to Alms, David has also published The Offering of the Gentiles: Paul’s Collection for Jerusalem in Its Chronological, Cultural, and Cultic Contexts (Mohr Siebeck, 2008; repr. Eerdmans, 2016), as well as numerous journal articles.
Book: David J. Downs, Alms: Charity, Reward, and Atonement in Early Christianity (Waco, Tex.: Baylor University Press, 2016). Christianity has often understood the death of Jesus on the cross as the sole means for forgiveness of sin. Despite this tradition, David Downs traces the early and sustained presence of yet another means by which Christians imagined atonement for sin: merciful care for the poor. Alms, in the end, illuminates the challenge of reading Scripture with the early church, for numerous patristic witnesses held together the conviction that salvation and atonement for sin come through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and the affirmation that the practice of mercifully caring for the needy cleanses or covers sin. Perhaps the ancient Christian integration of charity, reward, and atonement has the potential to reshape contemporary Christian traditions in which those spheres are separated.
The OnScript Quip (our review): A broad yet deep study of the atoning power of merciful action in ancient Judaism, the New Testament, and early Christianity, Alms is beautifully written and persuasively argued. Deposit this book in your library’s treasury and generations of readers will be enriched. — Matthew W. Bates, Quincy University, OnScript