John Nolland: Nominalism

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“His master replied, ‘I will judge you by your own words, you wicked servant! You knew, did you, that I am a hard man, taking out what I did not put in, and reaping what I did not sow? Why then didn’t you put my money on deposit, so that when I came back, I could have collected it with interest?’ Luke 19:22-23

“The master deals with his slave on the slave’s own terms. There is no doubt that the slave felt pressure from his master’s expectations and, though he took custody of the master’s money, he would not accept the responsibility that accompanied it. There is a certain kind of nominalism involved here: readiness in a general way to be identified with Jesus, but unwillingness to be answerable in any committed sense to God’s expectations that are made known to us in connection with Jesus; a preference for doing nothing rather than running the risk of doing too little.

The master will argue that the extreme image that the slave has of him, far from being an excuse for inactivity, should rather have produced action. To put the money on deposit with a bank would have produced a rather more modest return than achieved by the other slaves, but it would have involved the very minimum of effort on the part of this slave and would have exposed him to minimum financial risk. Beyond questioning the logic of the slave’s position, this suggestion hints that though God’s mandates to his servants open up a vast sphere of possibility, he is prepared to accept, when there has been any sort of effort to implement the mandate, what is actually a minimal return on his investment.”

John Nolland in Luke 18:35-24:53, Volume 35C (WBC; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1993) 918-919.

John Nolland was a professor at Trinity College Bristol where I did my doctoral work and is another fine Aussie biblical scholar. I read from his Luke commentary because I am speaking on a panel today about what ministries should do with investment resources.

So I am learning as CEO of Global Trust Partners, that you don’t bury the resources you have, but you don’t invest them without an investment policy either, so we are working on that now. With institutional resources, we want them put to work in keeping with the Master’s wishes.

The larger issue at play here, however, is the nominalism so prevalent in Christian circles. People align with Christ, but don’t show any corresponding actions, so the inactivity they exhibit represents the testimony against them. They will be dealt with on their own terms.

It leads me as an educator and speaker at this conference to spark action. In my own journey, I did not figure out the blessings of obedience until I acted. I pray that everyone reading this will run from nominalism to grace. Jesus cares not about returns. He just wants us to experience the blessing of living out our faith.