Dismissing Jesus: A Critical Assessment, Pt. 4—The Way of Renunciation

Print In chapter three, “The Way of Renunciation,” Jones introduces us to the heart of the opposition he aims to unpack in Dismissing Jesus: God vs. Mammon.  “Renunciation” here is about renouncing the “whole social system” that is Mammon: “the spirit of unsacrificial wealth, self-interest, and greed, a longing for greatness and prestige, a grasping for power, the power of domination and violence” (36). 

Renunciation is a complete act of repentance, a turning away from the ways of the flesh and the world and a turning toward the way of the cross.  In many ways, then, this chapter offers something of a meta-statement of many of the chapters that follow.  It remains fairly general, but, as far as it goes, is mostly quite helpful.  Readers may particularly profit from Jones’s extended exposition of the meaning of the three temptations of Christ,  in which he shows how Christ’s rejection of Satan’s three temptations encapsulates his rejection of all that the world holds dear: material possessions, public spectacle and prestige, and power.

Jones clearly thinks that he shines new light on these vices of greed and pride by treating all their manifestations as part of a larger overarching whole, which he names Mammon. But I’m not so sure that this new nomenclature really helps us, on the whole.  To be sure, it sheds light on how many vices that we often imagine to be separate are in fact deeply interconnected, and grow out of one another.  On the other hand, it substitutes vagueness for precision.  Moral theology has made a considerable investment over the millennia in classifying vices, and by collapsing them all into one indiscriminate heap, I worry, Jones makes it more difficult to offer concrete diagnoses of particularly evils or concrete prescriptions for resisting them.  Of course, as I have said, later chapters fill in some of the details of the big picture given here, so this worry may be exaggerated.  Still, I think it’s important to resist, at the level of terminology, a flattening out of the moral life that causes us to forget the radical pluriformity of the sins and
temptations we face. Read More