Category: Bible and Theology

The BBC reported today that China is ending its one-child policy, providing the following overview:

  • Introduced in 1979, the policy meant that many Chinese citizens – around a third, China claimed in 2007 – could not have a second child without incurring a fine
  • In rural areas, families were allowed to have two children if the first was a girl
  • Other exceptions included ethnic minorities and – since 2013 – couples where at least one was a single child
  • Campaigners say the policy led to forced abortions, female infanticide, and the under-reporting of female births
  • It was also implicated as a cause of China’s gender imbalance

Before everyone celebrates, China did not, however, eliminate all limits but changed the limit to two children. Certainly this is a huge improvement and a step in the right direction, but it is not without its own economic, ethical, and political problems. (more…)

jerusalemReligious liberty and economic freedom in the heart of … Israel? In September, the foundational message of the Acton Institute was featured at “Judaism, Christianity, and the West: Building and Preserving the Institutions of Freedom,” a conference that brought together Jewish and Christian scholars in Jerusalem.

One featured speaker was Professor Daniel Mark, an Orthodox Jew and an assistant professor of political science at Villanova University, Pennsylvania’s oldest Catholic university. Mark is also a visiting fellow in the Department of Politics at Princeton University. His lecture argued that the Jewish community needs to restore and promote religious freedoms based on the centrality of Jewish obligations, or “commandments.” Mark stressed the difference between “obligations” and personal “rights.”

The Torah doesn’t have a word for “rights,” Mark tells Judaism instead thinks in terms of obligations.

“We can defend the idea of [religious] rights by defending the idea of obligations. The reason we have to respect people’s rights to religious freedoms is because we have to respect their rights to religious obligations,” he says.

Mark explains that hypothetically, “If the government were to make one’s religious practices illegal, they would in actuality be withholding your obligations, not your rights or preferences.”


Cardinal Joseph Bernardin (1928-1996)

Cardinal Joseph Bernardin (1928-1996)

At The Catholic World Report, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg examines the use of the expression “a consistent ethic of life” — a phrase which has been used by Roman Catholic bishops as far back as a 1971 speech delivered by then-Archbishop Humberto Medeiros of Boston. More recently, Chicago Archbishop Blaise Cupich used the phrase in a Chicago Tribune article about the scandal of Planned Parenthood selling body-parts from aborted children. Elaborating, Cupich said “we should be no less appalled by the indifference toward the thousands of people who die daily for lack of decent medical care; who are denied rights by a broken immigration system and by racism; who suffer in hunger, joblessness and want; who pay the price of violence in gun-saturated neighborhoods; or who are executed by the state in the name of justice.”

The phrase “a consistent ethic of life” — also known as the “seamless garment” approach to ethics — won widespread currency during the episcopate of another Chicago archbishop, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin. Gregg observes that in approximately 15 addresses delivered between 1983 and 1986, Bernardin “called for the development of such an ethic and outlined how it might inform the way in which Catholics—lay and clerical—approached public policy issues.” Gregg goes on to outline the theological framework for this approach and how it has been applied, or misapplied, in recent decades: (more…)

Last week, I was pleased to attend the ERLC’s 2015 National Conference on Gospel and Politics, of which the Acton Institute was a proud co-sponsor. The speaker line-up was strikingly rich and diverse, ranging from pastors to writers to politicos to professors, but among them all, Russell Moore’s morning address was the clear stand-out.

Moore began by asking, “How do we as Christians engage in issues that sometimes are political without becoming co-opted by politics and losing the gospel and the mission at the same time?”

Starting from the story of Paul and Silas’ imprisonment in Philippi (Acts 16:25-40), and continuing with a rich perspective on Christian exile and a needed critique of American civil religion, Moore reminds us of how the Gospel has the power to cultivate a community that is equipped to “naturally and organically” bear witness to the outside world — through love, conscience, word, and action.

You can watch and listen here:

I encourage you to watch the whole thing, but for those without the time or in need of a teaser, I’ve highlighted some key excerpts below.

(Also, for those paying attention, Moore’s perspective serves as a fine complement to Acton’s latest film series, For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles, particularly the episodes on Exile and the Economy of Order. He also has a new book on cultural engagement that is quite good.) (more…)

??????????????Christian’s Library Press has now released Psalms II, the fifth primer in its Opening the Scriptures series, and the second in a two-part release on the book of Psalms. The book is currently available for order on Amazon.

Written by Dutch Reformed minister Frans van Deursen, and newly translated by Nelson D. Kloosterman, the volume provides an introduction to Psalms, a book which serves as “the oldest songbook that God’s people possess,” as well as the “oldest breviary or prayer book,” the author writes.

Like other volumes in the series, Psalms II is neither a technical commentary nor a collection of sermons, but rather an accessible primer for the average churchgoer. In this case, van Deursen hopes we learn lessons on both theory and practice when it comes to the great tasks of honor and worship, prayer and praise.

Whereas the first part provided a bit more of core theological and historical set-up on the Psalms as a whole, Psalms II dives straight into the summaries and analyses on the individual psalms themselves.

Van Deursen connects each psalm with many others and notes its Biblical surroundings, historical context, and the implications within our post-crucifixion Christian reality.

As an example of this approach in action, in examining Psalm 119, van Deursen notes the poet’s position as one persecuted by those who were supposed to be on his side. An excerpt of his analysis follows:

Psalm 119 is hardly a timeless poetic production about the glory of the Law; rather, it is a psalm in which a poor sufferer like Jeremiah could have recognized himself, someone who for his entire life had to remonstrate against political and ecclesiastical leaders in Judah who took counsel against him and spread lies about him (see, e.g., Jer. 36).

But the greatest fulfillment of Psalm 119 occurred with our chief Prophet and Teacher, who was smeared by prominent leaders in the Jewish ecclesiastical life of his day (he was called “Beelzebul, the prince of demons” by the Pharisees, Matt. 12:24). He also encountered “princes” like those members of the Sanhedrin who laid snares for him (trick questions) and were just as harsh as the opponents of our psalmist. And the servants of Jesus Christ were no greater than their Master. Church history often displays the pattern of Psalm 119: “princes” who “take counsel together” against innocent righteous ones who desire nothing more than to respect God and his Word…

We would encourage Bible readers, however, to read each verse of this psalm from the point of view of the historical situation of the writer. Then you will see the haze of “generality” and “timelessness” that covers this psalm for some people automatically disappear, and you will hear this psalm in terms of its flaming, polemical, confessional language—in the church world of our day, as well, which is just as full of contempt for the Word.

Purchase the book here and add it on Goodreads here. Also, see the other titles in the Opening the Scriptures series.

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In the latest video from Made to Flourish, Al Mohler reminds us that it’s our job as Christians to discover God’s original design for work and recover it for the glory of God:

To be human is not only to be an economic creature, but is to be a fabricator, a worker, the one who understands the stewardship of work, and understands we were made for it. Work is not a result of the fall. We were assigned work right there in Genesis 1:28.

Untitled But the work we do now is affected by sin in every way we can imagine. The things we build will not last. It is labor. But work is still meaningful. Even as the image of God was not obliterated in the fall, though it was corrupted in all of its parts, so work is also corrupted. But that means that we are to understand our task as Christians, to recover as much as possible of what it would mean to be an economic creature before a holy and loving and just and righteous God.

loan treeThere are three possible futures for American Evangelicalism. These diverse destinies depend upon the moral, social and theological convictions of the communities and leaders of the different streams. They also represent patterns found in three centuries of American Evangelical history. These futures will also determine whether or not particular communities flourish economically and socially.

American Evangelicalism has never been a uniform subculture. The term “Evangelical” denotes adherents of historic Christian faith within a Protestant ethos.

Remembering the Past

Synthesizing the insights of historians George Marsden and Mark Noll, the Awakenings that gave shape to the Evangelical ethos between 1730 and 1840 focused on five key attributes: (1) Biblical authority and inspiration, (2) affirmation of historic creedal theology, (3) the necessity of personal conversion, (4) commitment to local and global evangelization/missions, and (5) integration of personal piety and public charity and engagement in making the world a better place.

Integrating personal faith with deliberate generosity of material and spiritual resources for the common good was normal discipleship for Evangelicals. John Wesley, founder of the Methodists, eschewed any separation of piety and public charity, insisting that members develop relationships with the recipients of their largesse. He also commended entrepreneurship and hard work, enjoining friends to “earn, save, and give” in proper proportion.

The three reactions mentioned above have their origins in the 18th century. One group resisted change and rejected the affective experiences of renewed believers and their insistence that their ministers display sufficient enthusiasm and fidelity to Scripture. These were the “Old Lights.” They eventually split into two camps, with some retaining historic creedal faith and others embracing Deism and/or Unitarianism as the Enlightenment calls for eschewing old superstitions gave way to modern scientific understanding.

By 1800, reactions to change are established: (1) retrenchment and rejection of new experiences and ideas, (2) revision of the faith itself, including questioning cardinal doctrines, and (3) renewal leading to reform and revival of biblical faith. (more…)