Category: Acton Commentary

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, November 25, 2015
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FLOW Lord's PrayerIn this week’s Acton Commentary, “Cheap Grace and Gratitude,” I extend the notion of “cheap grace” beyond the realm of special or saving grace to the more mundane, general gifts of common grace.

One of the long-standing criticisms of common grace is that it actually cheapens or devalues a proper understanding of special grace. That is, by describing the common gifts of God to all people as a form of “grace,” the distinctive work of salvation can be overshadowed or under-emphasized.

This criticism of the doctrine of common grace gets at something important: there is a recurring challenge to rightly order our loves and our appreciation for the diversity of God’s gifts. I take this concern about the relationship between common grace and special grace to be a version of the problem of relating nature and grace.

It is important, as I argue in the commentary, to appreciate the gracious foundation of all of creation. So it is a gift of God that we have the sun, rain, food, and shelter just as it is a gift of God that we have repentance, forgiveness of sins, and freedom in Christ.

But that isn’t to say that all gifts are the same. In the abstract I would much rather have forgiveness of sins than daily bread. As the Puritan John Flavel (c.1630–1691) put it, “God has mercies of all sorts to give, but Christ is the chief, the prime mercy of all mercies; O be not satisfied without that mercy.”

As it turns out, though, forgiveness of sins presupposes our existence, which requires (among other things) daily bread. Thus the Puritan Richard Baxter (1615-1691) observed that

if nature be not supported, men are not capable of other good. We pray for our daily bread before pardon and spiritual blessings; not as if it were better, but that nature is supposed before grace, and we cannot be Christians if we be not men: God hath so placed the soul in the body, that good or evil shall make its entrance by the bodily senses to the Soul.

In this way, special grace presupposes nature or the realities preserved through common grace. The Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck argued that grace restores nature. And Abraham Kuyper, in his writings on common grace in science and art, put it this way:

Scripture does not arrange both of those—the way of salvation and natural life—like two ticket windows next to each other, but continually weaves them together like threads, giving us a view of the world, its origin, its course within history, and its ultimate destiny, within which, as though within an invisible framework, the entire work of salvation occurs.

So today, this Thanksgiving, and every day, let us be thankful for all the good gifts that come from God. Being thankful for our daily bread, how much more thankful should we be for the forgiveness of sins!

acton-commentary-blogimage“It was the genius of the English political system to adhere to the facts of English history,” says Gertrude Himmelfarb in this week’s Acton Commentary.

What Lord Acton particularly admired in the later Edmund Burke was his empirical philosophy of politics, his refusal to give way to the metaphysical abstractions, the a priori speculations, that had been insinuated into public life by the rationalists of the French Revolution. Facts, Burke had admonished, are a severe taskmaster. They prohibit the idle vanities of philosophy and the bureaucratic pretensions of a logical, all-embracing political science, a summum bonum of mankind available to the benevolent legislator or administrator. Against the revolutionist who would reform all of society in accord with a preconceived logical plan, they urge the Conservative wisdom of history and tradition, which have evolved institutions that stand the test of time if not of logic. It was the genius of the English political system to adhere to the facts of English history.

The full text of the essay can be found here. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.

acton-commentary-blogimageA new film set on Mars taps into the quintessential American story, says Dylan Pahman in this week’s Acton Commentary.

After the Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first man to travel to outer space in 1961, Nikita Khrushchev remarked, “Gagarin flew into space, but didn’t see any god there.” The Soviets would not pass up an opportunity to deride religion, even though, reportedly, Gagarin himself was a Russian Orthodox Christian.

Americans, by contrast, are the sort of people who need to go to Mars to find God. Director Ridley Scott’s critically-acclaimedblockbuster film The Martian, based on the best-selling novel by Andy Weir, taps into this idea, the quintessential American theme of the great frontier and the aspiration for the transcendent that it signifies.

The full text of the essay can be found here. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.

acton-commentary-blogimage“With the news this week that Angus Deaton of Princeton University had won the economics Nobel,” says Victor V. Claar in this week’s Acton Commentary, “the question of how best to help the poor in developing nations takes on a greater level of urgency.”

When it comes to understanding the specifics of global poverty, Deaton’s achievements are especially impressive. By pioneering household surveys in poor countries, he helped us gain a more accurate perspective on living standards and the particular consumption realities of the global poor. These data provided researchers with detailed micro-level data, so that economists working in economic development no longer needed to make broad and sweeping generalizations regarding the poor in a given nation based on less personal macro-level data. Indeed, Deaton helped us better understand the specific spending patterns of the poor, making it possible to see what economic life looks like through the eyes of a poor person trying be the best steward she can, given her currently limited resources.

The full text of the essay can be found here. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here. You can also find a discussion of this topic between Deaton and Russ Roberts on a recent episode of EconTalk.

Blog author: jcarter
Wednesday, September 30, 2015
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acton-commentary-blogimageIt may be too early to tell, says Kishore Jayabalan in this week’s Acton Commentary, but has Francis has learned something about economics from his American critics?

Can we dare to say that Francis has learned something about economics from his American critics? Maybe so. Compare what he said in Latin America about the “idolatry of money” and the “dung of the devil” to his speech in Congress about the “creation and distribution of wealth” and the “spirit of enterprise.” On his return flight from Paraguay, the pope had said he needed to study the American criticisms of his economic statements and admitted he was “allergic to economics.” He knows that we live in an individualistic age but shouldn’t be nostalgic or romantic about the past. Whatever happened in the pope’s thinking about economics, it was a step in the right direction.

The full text of the essay can be found here. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here. , but has Francis has learned something about economics from his American critics?

Blog author: jcarter
Wednesday, September 16, 2015
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acton-commentary-blogimageWhy aren’t church leaders who are so quick to condemn capitalism, asks Rev. Jerry J. Pokorsky in this week’s Acton Commentary, decrying Big Government bureaucracy?

The warnings of recent papal teachings on questions of social justice rarely – if ever – identify the dangers of a highly bureaucratized central government. Apparently most of the sinful and corrosive “love for money” comes from private sector capitalists, not government public sector agencies. Certainly corporate capitalistic greed can and does have serious economic consequences. But is it reasonable to ignore the negative economic consequences of Big Government, its centralized control and bureaucratic demands?

The full text of the essay can be found here. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.

Blog author: jcarter
Wednesday, September 9, 2015
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acton-commentary-blogimagePopulism makes for strange bedfellows, says Kishore Jayabalan in this week’s Acton Commentary. “Take Pope Francis and Donald Trump, for instance. They are certainly populists of very different sorts, but there is one issue that unites them – both are harsh critics of economic globalization.”

Francis does explicitly and by name what Trump does implicitly and in practice. In fact, they seem to derive much of their popularity precisely because they attack free markets as an enemy of the people. Their worlds will collide later this month when Pope Francis visits America’s centers of political and financial power – K Street and Wall Street will not be treated nicely, we can be sure.

But really, how can the pope and the Donald see eye-to-eye on anything? Isn’t Francis the compassionate voice of concern for the world’s marginalized and excluded, while Trump is the aggressive, often insulting face of strident nationalism? Trump’s answer to America’s illegal immigration problem (i.e., building a wall across the border with Mexico, deporting illegals and denying those born in the US birthright citizenship) couldn’t be more opposed to Francis’s. Trump would strengthen the US military and has said that he doesn’t ask God for forgiveness. There couldn’t be a starker contrast between Christian humility and American bravado.

The full text of the essay can be found here. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.