Category: Bible and Theology

The modern world has introduced a wide array of fruits and freedoms, yet it also brings with it new tensions and temptations. Whether in family, business, education, or government, the expansion of opportunity and choice require heightened levels of individual wisdom, discernment and intentionality.

In a recent talk for the C.S. Lewis Institute, Os Guinness laments the influence of these effects on the Western church. “It isn’t ideas which have caused the main damage to the church,” Guinness says. “Modernity itself, not ideas… has done more damage to the church than all the persecutors put together, and yet many Christians don’t even know what I’m talking about.”

As Guinness argues, the Western church has far too passively shifted alongside or according to the trends and tendencies of modernity as seen across the culture, whether in family, business, education, or government. Across cultural spheres, we’ve shifted from a stance of authority to one of preference, from a mindset of integration to one of fragmentation, and from a supernatural orientation to a secular worldview. (more…)

Blog author: jsunde
Tuesday, January 10, 2017
By

salt-handsDoes the theological conservatism of a church help or hinder its chances for growth? And what, if any, impact might that have on its social and political witness?

In a new research study, sociologist David Haskell and historian Kevin Flatt explore the first of these questions. Using survey data from 22 mainline Protestant churches across southern Ontario, the study concludes that “the theological conservatism of both attendees and clergy emerged as important factors in predicting church growth.”

“Our data demonstrate that within our sample, theological differences do matter for church growth,” they write. “…These associations hold even when church age, clergy age, congregant age, and the presence of conflict in the congregation are controlled for and other variables related to growth (such as worship style, youth emphasis, and clarity of purpose) are held constant.”

Though Haskell and Flatt plan to develop 5 academic papers from their data, the current study doesn’t seek to uncover an underlying explanation as to why the trend exists, nor does it aim to explore the other ripple effects to social witness. But for those who believe the church bears a distinct social responsibility, there’s a second overlapping and intersecting question that’s well worth asking: How might a church’s theological commitments and priorities impact its public voice and influence?

In his epilogue to The Church’s Social Responsibility: Reflections on Evangelicalism and Social Justice, Flatt offers a separate set of reflections on this point. Unlike the study on church growth, the essay doesn’t rely on survey data, but it does point us to a strong historical case study from mainline Protestantism. Titled “A Cautionary Tale,” the essay sets its focus on the United Church of Canada, a denomination that has suffered a decline in recent years, not only in church attendance and participation, but also in social influence and political witness. (more…)

IMG_1902In his many addresses to the nation, President Calvin Coolidge made a point of routinely redirecting the country’s attention to the “things of the spirit.”

In his Thanksgiving Day Proclamation, he encouraged the country to reorient its vision of abundance, progressing not only in material prosperity, but also “in moral and spiritual things.” In his reflections on the Declaration of Independence, he reminded us that ours is a liberty not meant for “pagan materialism,” which would surely turn our prosperity into “a barren sceptre in our grasp.” Years earlier, as President of the Massachusetts Senate, he urged legislators to remember that “statutes must appeal to more than material welfare.” “Man has a spiritual nature,” he continued. “Touch it, and it must respond as the magnet responds to the pole.”

All in all, the message was consistent: “The things of the spirit come first.” For Coolidge, America had entered an “age of science and of abounding accumulation of material things,” and thus, was in sore need of such reminders. When it came to an occasion such as Christmas — a season compounded with those same temptations of materialism — the theme would continue.

“Christmas is not a time or a season but a state of mind,” Coolidge wrote in a 1927 Christmas greeting. “To cherish peace and good will, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas. If we think on these things there will be born in us a Savior and over us all will shine a star sending its gleam of hope to the world.” That short refrain is likely the most widely read of Coolidge’s reflections on Christmas, but after the presidency, he offered a more extended view. (more…)

evan-flow-all-is-giftThroughout the Christmas season, we are routinely reminded of our “gift nature,” whether through the transfer of presents, the confluence of family gatherings, the creative flurry of plays and performances, or, most importantly, the central story of the One who gives it all meaning in the first place.

Christmas is the story of the ultimate gift and gift-giver. As we embrace and receive and celebrate what that all means, we should be careful to remember that the corresponding Christmas traditions are not merely symbolic or celebratory of a reality in ages past.

The divine generosity bound up in the Christmas story represents an active renewal we were meant to participate in — day after day, year after year. As Alexander Schmemann reminds us, God sent his son “not as a rescue operation, to recover lost man,” but “rather for the completing of what He had undertaken from the beginning. God acted so that man might understand who He really was and where his hunger had been driving him.” (more…)

on_the_church“‘First rooted, then grounded, but both bound together at their most inner core!’ Let that be the slogan of the church living from God’s Word.” -Abraham Kuyper

What is the social nature of our relation to God? What is the church, and who is the church? How should it to relate to the broader society?

Such questions are explored at length in On the Church, a newly translated, newly released collection of essays and speeches by Abraham Kuyper on the nature of the church. Published by Lexham Press in partnership with the Acton Institute, the anthology highlight’s Kuyper’s unique ecclesiological vision of the church as both “institution” and “organism” — or as the Apostle Paul puts it, “rooted and grounded.”

“’Rooted and grounded’ unites organism and institution,” Kuyper says, “and Scripture itself refuses to allow any separation — it weaves them together. By means of the person who sows and plants, the metaphor of vital growth overflows into that of the institution; by means of the living stone, the metaphor of the building flows over into that of the organism.”

Kuyper’s doctrine of the church was not developed or delivered in a vacuum, but in response to his own social context and the challenges of his day. The disestablishment of the church in the Netherlands and the resulting social pluralization was one thing; the external challenges to the doctrine of Scripture by “higher criticism” and “modern science” were another. “Enlightenment rationalism continued to challenge Christian epistemology,” explains John Halsey Wood Jr., the anthology’s editor. “In addition, a changing social landscape, as much as the changing intellectual one, also posed a challenge to theology and the church.” (more…)

kuyper-2-pro-rege“A human kingship imperceptibly came to power, leaving no place for the kingship of Christ.” –Abraham Kuyper

The West prides itself on valuing freedom – political, economic, religious, and otherwise. For some, this leads to the promotion of a certain brand of libertinism: the freedom to do what we want. For others, such as Lord Acton, “Liberty is not the power of doing what we like, but the right of being able to do what we ought.”

For the Christian in particular, true freedom is more than a little paradoxical, involving plenty of constraints and restraints. We know that “it is for freedom that Christ has set us free,” and yet, in keeping with the upside-down economics of the Gospel – “the first shall be last,” “those who lose their life will find it” – it comes with prepackaged with calls to servanthood and obedience. These are good hints that true freedom may have less to do with nitpicking over “choice” and “constraint” and more to do with accurately recognizing the image of God we bear and the responsibility it entails.

In seasons of pain and frustration, the notion tends to feel more clear and less paradoxical, of course. “The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer,” the Psalmist sings. “My God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

This is the sound of freedom through dependence, and it’s one that Christians are well familiar with. But it’s a song we also tend to forget and neglect. (more…)

816bkjgz2xLThe church has recently awakened with renewed interest in the intersection of faith and work, leading to a widespread movement in congregations and seminaries and a constant flow of books, sermons, and other resources (including a hearty bunch from the Acton Institute).

In a new NIV Faith and Work Bible from Zondervan, we gain another valuable tool for expanding our economic imaginations, weaving a rich theology of work more closely with the Biblical text.

Edited by David H. Kim, Executive Director for the Center for Faith and Work, and including a foreword by Tim Keller, the Bible offers a range of pathways and commentaries to assist Christians in connecting the dots between their daily work and the Biblical story.

Kim describes the Bible as a “unique and exciting combination of doctrine, application, and community experience,” with the goal of developing a theology of work that “will hopefully rewire the way you understand the gospel and how it has everything to do with your work.”

To accomplish this, the Bible includes, among other things, (1) specific introductions to each book that highlight key lessons and applications to work and economics; (2) a “storylines” feature that serves as an introductory study for those new to the Bible); (3) essays on doctrine as it relates to stewardship (e.g. dominion in Genesis); (4) historical writings written after the Bible; and (5) real stories of application in daily/modern life. (more…)