In this edition of Radio Free Acton, Paul Edwards goes behind the scenes at the premiere of For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles, the new curriculum produced by the Acton Institute that examines God’s mission in the world and our place in it. Edwards looks at the curriculum itself, speaks with some of the folks who made it, and gauges audience reaction to the premiere. You can listen via the audio player below:
While serving in an inner city ministry, Ismael Hernandez began to have doubts about whether he was effectively serving the poor. “For the first time in my ministry work I felt dissatisfied with what I was doing,” says Hernandez. “I saw that I was simply a ‘stuff-giver’, a bureaucrat of compassion, and under the weight of the free stuff I was dumping at the poor was their spirit, slouching aimlessly, awaiting.” He realized that the human person is not only called to change but also to choose:
Christian anthropology asserts that from the beginning of our lives we are created as subjects, not objects moved by forces; even if these forces are well intended. In pursuit of the safety that a parasitic life offers, some find comfort in the boredom of meaningless life or on the pity of others. The truth is that much of what we were doing for the poor was about ourselves and how it made us feel. We began and ended in moral posture that justified our endless call for resources to pass on to others; never daring to challenge the poor themselves, as that was blaming the victim. We had become the brokers and middlemen of a flow of goods passing from a set of hands to another but barely making a dent in the condition of those who ended up with the loot.
Read the rest to hear Hernandez’s five essential principles of poverty-alleviation.
“Economics is complicated,” says Derek Rishmawy in his review of John Bolt’s new book, Economic Shalom. “Establishing a Christian approach to economics seems even more daunting a task, especially given the amount of ink that’s been spilled when it comes to a Christian approach to money and wealth.”
The primary strength of Bolt’s proposal is try to move us past the simple biblicism that tends to run rampant in these theological discussions. In the first chapter, he disposes of the idea that there is clearly one “biblical economics” that can be cleanly read off the surface of the text. He does so partially by surveying the economic thought of three major christian ethicists, Walter Rauschenbusch, Ronald Sider, and David Chilton, using essentially the same biblicistic assumptions, end up with a wide variety of contradictory economic proposals ranging from interventionist socialism to theonomic libertarianism.
Instead, he holds up the thought of Herman Bavinck, who put forward a more chastened reading of Scripture that takes into account it’s salvific purposes . . .
Instead of piling up a bunch of verses and trying to see which specific commands can be cleanly mapped onto the current political system, Bavinck proposes we recover the main spiritual purpose of the Scriptures–the restoration of fallen man to God through the Gospel. From there, humans begin to be restored to their proper relationships with each other and are enabled to begin taking up the form of life rooted in God’s creational norms. Where do we go to find those norms? Well, back to the Scriptures, but now, we don’t go looking for particular commands, but the general principles that underlie and inform them. For this reason, Bavinck won’t speak directly of a “biblical economics”, but rather an economic system that is consistent with Scripture.
Sociologist Max Weber famously associated Protestantism with capitalism. Although widely accepted by many, that claim is theologically dubious, empirically disprovable, and largely incidental, says Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg:
Even when we consider modern capitalism’s emergence, a direct connection between this event and Protestantism is very open to question. The economic historian Jacques Delacroix, for instance, has highlighted many facts about this period that Weber’s theory simply cannot account for. “Amsterdam’s wealth,” Delacroix writes, “was centered on Catholic families; the economically advanced German Rhineland is more Catholic than Protestant; all-Catholic Belgium was the second country to industrialize, ahead of a good half-dozen Protestant entities.”
At Public Discourse, Nathan Shlueter takes an unusual approach in his review of Acton’s Director of Research Sam Gregg’s Tea Party Catholic — it’s a memo to the faculty of Georgetown University as written by Sen. Paul Ryan:
As Gregg’s book makes clear, defending market economies does not make one a libertarian. And, in fact, no libertarian or Randian egoist would approve of my budget plan, which—whether you agree with it or not—is a sincere attempt to preserve and improve a financially endangered social safety net, not destroy it. Nor should defense of the market be confused with crony capitalism, which is profoundly unjust, and which I have spoken out against strongly and repeatedly. Finally, the market is not a panacea for all our ills, and is even a source of a few of them. There are common goods that can only be secured by good government. And, like government, the market will only be as good as the human beings who act within it.
The fact that we disagree on some matters of policy does not necessarily mean that either of us is outside Catholic social teaching. As Gregg points out, in most cases, Catholic social teaching only provides the correct principles for resolving complex social and economic questions, rather than specific policy requirements. This means that in most cases there is room for legitimate disagreement on the correct application of those principles.
To avoid the “twin errors of materialism and spiritualism” Christians need to mix it up with the “dirtiness” of this world, Jordan Ballor argues in Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (And Action). The Christian Post recently interviewed Jordan about his new book:
CP: What is “dirt” a metaphor for in the book?
Ballor: It’s a multi-layered metaphor. On one level, it’s just about grit, the things that attend to hard work – sweat, toil and mud – all the things that have to do with what happens when we work hard in this life. On another level, and informed by Christian understandings of sin, it has to do with the fallenness of our natures. The spiritual dirt that comes with original sin and adds up as we actually sin in this world. I use it on at least those two levels in the book to talk about how we can seek to be clean, whether that’s always a good thing, whether we should seek to be dirty in some cases or not.
Obvious from the title, I’m encouraging us to get dirty and that is in the first sense, although understanding that avoiding sin is not always possible. So that is how those two layers of the image of dirt come together.
Earlier this month, Christian’s Library Press co-sponsored a discussion between Ken Myers, Matthew Lee Anderson, and British moral philosopher Oliver O’Donovan. Held a few blocks from the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., the conversation addressed questions and themes of political theology and was loosely centered around O’Donovan’s 1996 book The Desire of the Nations.
Click here to listen to an audio of the conversation on the website of Mars Hill Audio Journal.
The newest issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality has been published. The issue is available in digital format online and should be arriving in print in the next few weeks for subscribers. Volume 16, no. 1 is a theme issue on the topic of “Integral Human Development,” which was the focus of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s 2009 encyclical Caritas in Veritate. He writes,
The development We speak of here cannot be restricted to economic growth alone. To be authentic, it must be well rounded; it must foster the development of each man and of the whole man.
In this light, this most recent issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality focuses on the goal of development with the broadest possible conceptions, combining insights from the disciplines of theology, philosophy, ethics, economics, and law, in order to explore the complex goal of lifting people out of all forms of poverty — whether material, spiritual, or otherwise — so that they can better fulfill their God-given potential and vocations. (more…)
Jordan J. Ballor has spent the past decade working for the Acton Institute. At Fieldnotes Magazine he share five lessons he’s learned from working at a think tank focused on the intersection of theology and economics:
1. Treat people like people. The Golden Rule, “do to others what you would have them do to you” (Matt. 7:12), may seem like common sense, but it is much more uncommon to see what it really should look like in practice. I experienced this when I was walking back to my car from the office after work one day when I was approached by someone asking for help. At the time I was caught up in my own thoughts and worries, and the person in front of me was really just a problem, an obstacle. I took the easy way out and missed an opportunity to treat a person as if he was a person, made in God’s image and likeness.
2. Your work matters to God. It doesn’t matter if you are a preacher, a plumber, or a politician; the work you do is important to God. Most of us are not tasked with leading Fortune 500 companies, passing laws, or proclaiming the gospel from the pulpit. But we are all called to be faithful, to use our various gifts to serve others. The work you do matters to God because you matter to God and he has placed you where you are for a reason. So be a channel of grace in whatever you do. As Peter puts it, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms” (1 Peter 4:10).
Over at Capital Commentary, Byron Borger has a review of Jordan Ballor’s new book, Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action):
Although his book is not simple, he is a fine popularizer, writing serious material in sometimes playful ways, with the occasional nod to pop culture, drawing on themes from Deadwood or Lost or a contemporary novel. The book is neither introductory nor scholarly. Readers of journals such as First Things, Cardus, or The Journal of Markets & Morality (for which he serves as the executive editor) will most appreciate the four long essays in this volume. Ballor often cites, with unusual insight, the work of Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Bonhoeffer, and Kuyper.