Acton Institute Powerblog

Evaluating Our Values: A Christian Response to the Debt Crisis

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Over at ThinkChristian, I take the opportunity to sketch “what a comprehensive Christian response to the crisis of public and private debt might look like.” I focus “on five main areas: the individual, familial, ecclesial, economic, and political.” This is a brief and preliminary set of questions and observations.

But even so, I think even just provisional attempts to evaluate our values shows us that “the problems we face are far more than political – and far deeper than merely political solutions can hope to solve.”

Jordan J. Ballor Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty, where he also serves as executive editor the Journal of Markets & Morality. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary. He has authored articles in academic publications such as The Journal of Religion, Scottish Journal of Theology, Reformation & Renaissance Review, and Journal of Scholarly Publishing, and has written popular pieces for newspapers including the Detroit News, Orange County Register, and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. In 2006, Jordan was profiled in the book, The Relevant Nation: 50 Activists, Artists And Innovators Who Are Changing The World Through Faith. Jordan's scholarly interests include Reformation studies, church-state relations, theological anthropology, social ethics, theology and economics, and research methodology. Jordan is a member of the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA), and he resides in Jenison, Michigan with his wife and three children.

Comments

  • Jordan,

    Looking forward to seeing you work through these questions. Judaism and Islam both have long histories of theological discussion of debt but for the last 200 years there has been little work on this by Christian theologians. There is a long tradition of prohibiting the charging of interest in all three faith traditions, will you be wading in on that debate?

    • Dan, usury is an interesting topic, and one we’ve done a fair bit of work on. For starters, I’d recommend my introductory essay to the translation we did of the reformer Wolfgang Musculus, including his treatise on usury:

      http://www.acton.org/sites/v4.acton.org/files/pdf/jmm11_2_scholia_intro.pdf

      The upshot is that a position on charging interest was not a confessional issue in the Reformation, in the sense that people fell out on both sides of the question from a variety of traditions. Of course Aristotle’s claim about the sterility of money was debated in  as well. In modern terms, once you have fiat money and the reality of inflation, I think it’s a real question at least a minimal level of interest is compatible with lending without gain, in the sense that over a period of time the real value of money declines. So getting $1.05 back for a loan given two years ago might not be lending at a gain, even if it is lending at interest.

    • Dan, usury is an interesting topic, and one we’ve done a fair bit of work on. For starters, I’d recommend my introductory essay to the translation we did of the reformer Wolfgang Musculus, including his treatise on usury:

      http://www.acton.org/sites/v4.acton.org/files/pdf/jmm11_2_scholia_intro.pdf

      The upshot is that a position on charging interest was not a confessional issue in the Reformation, in the sense that people fell out on both sides of the question from a variety of traditions. Of course Aristotle’s claim about the sterility of money was debated in  as well. In modern terms, once you have fiat money and the reality of inflation, I think it’s a real question at least a minimal level of interest is compatible with lending without gain, in the sense that over a period of time the real value of money declines. So getting $1.05 back for a loan given two years ago might not be lending at a gain, even if it is lending at interest.

    • As for Islam, you might find this piece to be of interest:

      http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/22/imams-learning-islamic-fi_n_906299.html