Category: Bible and Theology

Contrary to current policy, this is not reality.

Last Saturday The Imaginative Conservative published my essay, “Let’s Get Back to Robbing Peter: The Welfare State and Demographic Decline.”

To add to what I say there, it should be a far more pressing concern to conscientious citizens that the US national debt has risen from $13 trillion in 2010 to nearly $18 trillion today. That is an increase of $5 trillion in just four years, or a nearly 40 percent increase. It is becoming more and more clear that, at our current rate, our nation’s entitlement programs represent the injustice that people today feel entitled to spend the tax dollars of tomorrow on benefits that we cannot realistically continue to afford. John Barnes wrote in 2010 that “the total value of all debt and unfunded promises made by the U.S. government is $61.9 trillion over the next 75 years.” I don’t know how much that figure has changed in the last four years, but I doubt it has shrunk, to put it lightly.

As any student of the Old Testament should know, God is very concerned about each generation leaving a proper inheritance to the next (cf. Numbers 27:8-11). No doubt many readers in their private lives have made provisions for their children after they pass. But as a nation, we are doing the reverse: paying for our provision today with the resources of tomorrow.

I write,

The German economist Wilhelm Röpke, commenting on the expansion of European welfare states in 1958, wrote, “To let someone else foot the bill is, in fact, the general characteristic of the welfare state and, on closer inspection, its very essence.” While he did not argue that, therefore, such state assistance should in all cases be stopped, he put the question in sober terms: “[T]he welfare state is an evil the same as each and every restriction of freedom. The only question on which opinions may still differ is whether and to what extent it is a necessary evil.”

In the interest of carrying on that same sobriety of analysis, I believe the picture is far bleaker today. Röpke, in the title to the essay quoted, characterized the welfare state as “robbing Peter to pay Paul.” But Sts. Peter and Paul were contemporaries. If only we would simply rob our peers! Then we could have a lively discussion regarding “whether and to what extent” such robbery is “a necessary evil.” Instead, it is our children and grandchildren who must “foot the bill.” Yet on our current course, when the time comes to pay up there will be much less welfare available to them.

Read more . . . .

In today’s Wall Street Journal, Rev. Robert A. Sirico clears away the media hype surrounding the Vatican Synod on the Family and offers an analysis of its early work. He observes that nothing about the synod “challenges the dogma of the church related to the indissolubility of sacramental marriage, the use of artificial contraception, cohabitation and homosexual acts. What it did was soften the tone of these teachings.” But things got interesting.

An early report led critics to say that it “reflected the opinion of Archbishop Bruno Forte, a special secretary to the synod and a progressive, who prepared the final document and presented it to the media.” But Rev. Sirico, president and co-founder of the Acton Institute, notes that one of the more powerful, conservative cardinals, George Pell, called the report “tendentious and incomplete.”

What is really happening at this synod is an earnest effort by pastors of the church to determine how best to encourage people to live the Catholic faith. This is no easy task. A move too far in the direction of merely repeating old formularies will not work. A move away from what constitutes the very definition of what it means to be Catholic will not only erode the church’s self-identity and betray her founder’s mandate, it will also insult and alienate many Catholics who strive to live by the church’s teachings. This is what we pastors call the art of pastoral practice.

The practice is best modeled by Jesus’ encounter with the woman “caught in the very act of adultery” (John 8: 1-11). His interlocutors somehow thought that they could drive a wedge between his allegiance to biblical law and mercy. So they cast the woman before him and demanded that he say whether she should be stoned, as the law stipulated. The tension built as Jesus doodled in the sand. Finally he replied, “Let you who is without sin cast the first stone.”

The story does not end there. Jesus turned to the woman at his feet and delivered gentle, memorable words—a message that makes the whole story an encounter of faithful mercy: “Go and sin no more.” If this model—finding the balance between justice and mercy, which are often in tension—weighs heavily on the minds of bishops gathered in Rome, that will be an achievement for the church and its pastoral model.

Read “Beyond the Hype About a Vatican Upheaval” in the Wall Street Journal (subscription required).

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, October 1, 2014
By

The theme for this week’s Acton Commentary, “The Image of God and You,” struck me while I was rocking my baby son in the early morning hours. In the dim light he reached up and gently touched my face, and it occurred to me how parents are so prone to see the image of God in their children. And yet I wondered what it might be like for a child to look into the face of a parent. What would the baby see there?

The face of God, in a way. Or at least, a face of someone created in the image of God. The parental-filial relationship is a leitmotif of Scripture, starting with the trinitarian relationship between Father and Son and then with human society and the trinitarian image of father, mother, and son.

"You're in the image of God! And you're in the image of God! And you're in the image of God!"

“You’re in the image of God! And you’re in the image of God! And you’re in the image of God!”

Sometimes we are so busy affirming the image of God in others that we can forget to realize that we, too, are made in God’s image. The “weight of glory” applies not only to our neighbors but also to ourselves. Maybe what we need sometimes is an Oprah-like moment of affirmation: “You’re in the image of God! And you’re in the image of God! And you’re in the image of God!” And I, too, am in the image of God!

Dorothee Sölle, picking up on a vocational theme found in Martin Luther, once said that “God has no other hands than ours. If the sick are to be healed, it is our hands that will heal them.” There’s a sense in which this is true, in that God has deigned to provide us with the grace and responsibility of work and prayer, what Pascal has called “the dignity of causality.”

But of course God has his own hands, made dirty with the work of healing and pierced for our transgressions. In this way, our image-bearing and calling is always derivative of and oriented to the divine archetype, Jesus Christ, “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15).

museum of the bibleDetails have been released surrounding the launch of a new Bible museum on the National Mall in Washington D.C., a project founded and funded by David Green, president of arts-and-crafts retailer Hobby Lobby.

Museum of the Bible will open in 2017, displaying artifacts from the Green Collection, “one of the world’s largest private collections of rare biblical texts and artifacts,” along with other antiquities, replicas, and various exhibits.

“Washington, D.C., is the museum capital of the world,” says Green, “So, it’s only fitting that our board selected Washington as the home for this international museum. We invite everyone—adults and children, the intellectually curious and most seasoned of scholars alike—to Museum of the Bible to explore the most important and influential book ever written.”

(more…)

Common Grace 1.2 Front Cover Proof 1 (1)Christian’s Library Press has released the second in its series of English translations of Abraham Kuyper’s most famous work, Common Grace, a three-volume work of practical public theology. This release, Temptation-Babel, is the second of three parts in Volume 1: The Historical Section, following the previous release, Noah-Adam.

Common Grace (De gemeene gratie) was originally published in 1901-1905 while Kuyper was prime minister. This new translation offers modern Christians a great resource for understanding the vastness of the gospel message, as well as their proper role in public life. The project is a collaboration between the Acton Institute and Kuyper College.

Picking up where he left off in Noah-Adam, Kuyper reminds us that in the Garden of Eden, man’s body was “unimpaired and whole,” and “in terms of his spiritual existence, he was perfectly wise in mind, perfectly holy in moral nature, and perfectly righteous in his standing before God.” Such a state would have progressed if not for the Fall, but alas, Adam would indeed fall, and do so by violating an “apparently arbitrary command” — doing “good” because it seems good, rather than “because God wills it.”

Yet, even when sinking into the depths of death, Adam and Eve did not die. Why? (more…)

AnomalyWith Lecrae’s Anomaly album claiming number the one spot on Billboard’s Top 200, the rapper has come under fire for his recent comments about the inconsistency of those who rightly protest police abuse yet do not protest forms of rap music that glorify violence in general. The critique comes, in part, because some people believe that to call blacks living on the margins of society to moral virtue, in the midst of their protests about injustice, is “blaming the victim.” However, when we pay close attention to the Judeo-Christian tradition, what Lecrae’s comments represent is a model of a prophetic witness, a witness that speaks the whole truth to error and sin.

Lecrae is a highly skilled and creative rapper whose music has developed in recent years to contain the type of poetry that we might find in the wisdom (Proverbs, Ecclesiastes) and prophetic (Isaiah, Amos) literature of the Bible. Lane Whitaker over at Billboard.com reports Lecrae’s comments on the Mike Brown killing in Ferguson, Missouri:
(more…)

MatthewChristian’s Library Press has now released Matthew, the third primer in its Opening the Scriptures series. You can purchase it on Amazon today.

Written by Dutch Reformed pastor and preacher Cornelis Vonk, and translated by Nelson D. Kloosterman, the volume provides an introduction to the book of Matthew. Like others in the series, it is neither a technical commentary nor a collection of sermons, but rather an accessible primer for the average churchgoer.

Matthew focuses heavily on the Gospel itself, providing an accessible interpretation of its unique messages and themes, but always tracing each back to the larger unfolding God’s ultimate plan and to the grand totality of Scripture. This is true for all volumes in the series, but is particularly valuable here, given Matthew’s routine references to the Old Testament (no fewer than 59 times, compared to 25 in Mark, 32 in Luke, and 13 in John). (more…)

“All that exists is God’s gift to man, and it all exists to make God known to man, to make man’s life communion with God…God blesses everything He creates, and, in biblical language, this means that He makes all creation the sign and means of His presence and wisdom, love and revelation.” -Alexander Schmemann, from For the Life of the World (the book)

The following clip is an excerpt from the first episode of For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles (the film series), and seeks to set the stage for uncovering the bigger picture of our salvation. The question: What is it actually for?

We are all working within a fallen order, yet God’s gift of his very own son provided a way and a means through which we can be redeemed and restored, and unleash our gifts unto others in turn. (more…)

Today at Ethika Politika, I caution against the sort of scapegoating that justifies ideologies at the expense of human effort:

Do you support capitalism? Socialism? Distributism? Something else? Wonderful. What does that look like among the mess of market forms that actually constitute the economy you participate in every day? Rather than criticizing those policies that fall short of your saintly ideal or align too closely with your Hitler, what ones constitute a first step in the right direction for you? And why? And what are the actual consequences, intended or otherwise, that may come about?

While there is a place for simply outlining one’s ideal, if we wish to actually do some good ourselves, we need to get our hands dirty in the mire of material reality. Gnostic scorn for the concrete and this-worldly boasts a broad road with a wide gate, but it is the narrow road of reality that leads to life; not only for ourselves, but for the common good; not just for this world, but for the kingdom of God.

In his recent book Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action), Jordan Ballor begins with a similar call: (more…)

Blog author: dpahman
Wednesday, September 3, 2014
By

City Summer 2014In the most recent issue of The City, I have an essay on Orthodoxy and ordered liberty. I argue that Orthodox theological anthropology, which distinguishes between the image and likeness of God and two forms of freedom corresponding to them, fits well with the classical understanding of ordered liberty.

In particular, I examine these freedoms with regards to the family, religious liberty, political liberty, and economic liberty, arguing that the Orthodox ascetic tradition has much to offer to modern Christian social thought with regards to how best to order the freedom we have by virtue of being created after the image of God toward that freedom from passion and sin that finds its fulfillment in the likeness of Jesus Christ.

Of interest to our readers here, with regards to economic liberty, I write,

We are created with a capacity for freedom, autexousio, to be used for the purpose of the moral freedom of theosis: eleutheria. Thus, just as we ought to offer up our bodies as living sacrifices to God (cf. Romans 12:1), so also we are to offer up God’s creation to him through our labor. God has given us the earth in order “to tend and keep it” in a paradis[ai]cal state (Genesis 2:15). Thus, acknowledging … our propensity for failure, we nevertheless have a duty to make of God’s creation what we can, imitating the creativity of God and exercising the dominion he gave us (Genesis 1:26).

We must, then, have liberty in society to freely cultivate the resources of the earth for the sake of the higher good of self-sacrificing love. Helen Rhee affirms in Loving the Poor, Saving the Rich, her study of wealth and poverty in the early Church, the consistent patristic teaching of both the affirmation of private property rights and our moral duties to use our property for the good of others (what is known in the West as the “universal destination of goods”)….

You can read the full article online here.

And while you’re at it, take the time to subscribe to The City. It’s free and published in print and online three times a year. Subscribe here.