Category: Bible and Theology

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…)

“A religious right that is not able to tie public action and cultural concern to a theology of gospel and mission will die and will deserve to die.” –Russell Moore

In this year’s Erasmus Lecture at First Things, Russell Moore offers a striking critique of the religious right of decades past and present, pointing the way toward a renewal in public theology and a revitalization of Christian institutions:

Alas, while many the movement’s conversations have often focused on key issues and the right high-level policy aims, far too often, it has suffered from a narrow theological imagination and an increasingly cynical political pragmatism. As a result, we’ve found ourselves reaching for narrow policy wins and waging gruesome short-term political combat at the cost of clear Gospel witness and long-term culture-level action and institution-building.

As Moore concludes, a renewed religious right will require a more holistic and generational view of human flourishing and the People of God — one that doesn’t forget or neglect the heart of the Gospel or confuse it with moralism and political privilege: (more…)

Michael Hamburger, a Jew born in Germany and exiled in England in 1933, borrowed the persona of the previous century’s German Romantic poet Friedrich Holderlin to express in verse the madness of the modern world. For Hamburger, Holderlin’s well-documented … shall we approach this delicately? … mental issues, were a proportional response to a world he perceived as approaching the precipice. In his 1941 poem titled “Holderlin,” Hamburger wrote:

I have no tears to mourn forsaken gods
Or my lost voice.
This is my wisdom where no laughter sounds,
No sighs, this is my peace.

Glory is gone, and the swimming clouds;
My dumb hand grips the frozen sky,
A black bare tree in the winter dark.

For truly observant Roman Catholics, the contemporary milieu echoes Hamburger’s lament vis-a-vis Holderlin about “forsaken gods,” or, at the very least, forgotten or casually ignored for convenience’s sake Church history, doctrine, dogma and precepts.

Zmirak

Overtly, one need look no further than recent WikiLeaks’ revelations concerning John Podesta and company’s desire for a “Catholic spring;” the Affordable Care Act’s attempted bulldozing of religious liberties; the media and its “green” allies embracement of many of the pronouncements found in Pope Francis’ Laudato Si encyclical; government compulsion of florists and pastry chefs to violate their respective religious conscience; the tragic abortion morass wrought by the Supreme Court’s discovery of an unknown until 1973 penumbra of privacy in the U.S. Constitution; and the combined deleterious effects on the family unit caused by the twinning of the sexual revolution with no-fault divorce.

Less obvious are efforts within the Church itself, which include nuns, laity and clergy promoting government wealth-redistribution efforts under the guise of charity as well as engaging in ill-informed “environmental” activism that pose very real negative threats to the world’s poorest – and consistently contradict the Church’s explicit teachings on such matters. As your writer can attest, post-Vatican II Catholic school education did little to inform its students about the Deposit of the Faith due to focusing on such “social goods” as economic equality and using pop music lyrics to advance squishy theological concepts that tilted heavily toward socialism and pantheism. One need only close one’s eyes to recall the wheat-germ scented nuns of the 1970s agitating for more government programs.

It’s all enough to make someone stand athwart Christian history, yelling Stop! – and that someone is John Zmirak, author of The Politically Incorrect Guide® to Catholicism: The Most Politically Incorrect Institution in the World! (Regnery Publishing, 2016, 370 pp, $21.99). Those of us familiar with Zmirak’s other books and essays shouldn’t be surprised he wields a mighty pen and encyclopedic knowledge of Catholicism and many other topics when it comes to demolishing liberal shibboleths and the agendas to which they’re attached. (more…)

church-state-christian-flagWeary and wary from the Religious Right’s checkered history of unhealthy political alliances, many pastors and churches have opted for disengagement altogether.

Or the illusion of disengagement, that is.

As Andrew Walker reminds us, “It is impossible for churches to be apolitical because Jesus is a King. He isn’t a pious emblem to tuck away into our hearts with no earthly effect.”

The Gospel we preach is inherently political. Indeed, as Walker continues, “Jesus is Lord” is “the most political statement ever uttered in the cosmos.” The question, therefore, is whether our churches are honest enough to connect the dots for God’s people:

The church that insists on calling itself “apolitical” or relegates “the gospel” to a message of pious sanctimony unbothered by earthly affairs has a tragic misunderstanding of what “politics” really is, and how the church’s very essence is fervently political in nature…

The early church knew this. Its statement that Jesus is Lord was a direct political assault on the claims of Caesar. Caesar was threatened by the church’s message because the church pledged allegiance to a higher authority, and in doing so, subjected Caesar’s temporal authority to Jesus’ kingly authority…The early church was political, and so must we—but political as the Bible defines political, not as how FOX or MSNBC define political.

It’s one thing to avoid the overt co-opting of the pulpit that we’ve come to behold — to cease with overly simplistic voter guides and cheap endorsements of particular candidates. It’s quite another to ignore or avoid the widespread cultural implications of the Gospel. (more…)

strong-weak-chart-andy-crouch12In our discussions about politics, society, and culture, the vocabulary of “human flourishing” has become increasingly popular, moving dangerously close to the status of blurry buzzword.

Yet at its best, the term captures the connective tissue between the material and the transcendent, the immediate and the eternal, pointing toward a holistic prosperity that accounts for the full complexity of the human person.

In his latest book, Strong and Weak: Embracing a Life of Love, Risk and True Flourishing, Andy Crouch examines the broader ideal. ‘“Flourishing’ is a way of answering the first great question,” he writes. “What are we meant to be? We are meant to flourish—not just to survive, but to thrive; not just to exist, but to explore and expand.”

In order to actually embody that answer, Crouch believes we have to grasp the underlying “paradox of flourishing.” “Flourishing comes from being both strong and weak,” he writes, requiring us to “embrace both authority and vulnerability, both capacity and frailty – even, at least in this broken world, both life and death.”

In truth, most of us tend to elevate one to the detriment of the other, relishing in abuse of power or pursuit of poverty. Yet as humans created in the image of God, and as citizens of an upside-down Kingdom, we are called to embrace and combine each together. Such is the path to real life and abundance, both in the now and not yet. (more…)

Blog author: jballor
Friday, October 14, 2016
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Maerten de Vos - The temple taxOver at the Libertarian Christian Institute, Jamin Hübner engages my reflection on taxation and Sam Gregg’s book, For God and Profit, with his sed contra: “But what if the ‘taxation is theft’ creed is consistent with both Christian and libertarian ideas, and that all things considered, taxation really is theft? And what if we’re simply misreading or misappropriating the New Testament? This wouldn’t be a comfortable or popular conclusion to draw, but it might be the case nevertheless.”

Hübner accuses me of prooftexting because I take as point of departure for my short reflection (not really an argument, I would say) Paul’s instruction in Romans 13:7, “Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes.” I don’t properly connect my treatment to Jesus, says Hübner, who is “Paul’s primary source.”

Now if all that was said about paying taxes was that short verse in Romans from Paul, then perhaps Hübner may have a point. And I agree that a full argument and exploration of taxation in Scripture would take into account a good deal more, not only of Scripture but of Christian reception of Scripture. Hübner wants us to account for Jesus in our theology of taxation. I’m fine with that. But I think we would probably need to explore the full scriptural witness, too.

Next, Hübner points out that my prooftexting hermeneutic could likewise be applied to legitimate slavery. If he can find a scriptural text where Paul instructs someone to buy slaves, then I suppose I would have to grant him that point, too. The moral status and treatment of taxation and slavery in the Bible are not exactly equivalent, however. Even if “no NT writer condemned [slavery] outright,” neither did anyone of them instruct Christians positively on this matter, e.g. to acquire slaves. But not only are taxes not condemned outright, there are numerous indications, including Romans 13:7, where paying them is positively mandated.

But perhaps all that is just outdated, contextual instruction relevant for the first century but not now. Hübner promises to examine that in a future installment, and in the meantime you should check out his first part. Whether or not I am prooftexting, I think we can agree that our hermeneutical approaches are quite different.

I wonder whether the taxation issue really is just a symptom, however, as the quote from Rothbard at the end of Hübner’s post might indicate. Isn’t the problem for Hübner really the existence of “violence-based governing authorities,” of which taxation is just one manifestation?
(more…)

“It needs to be our job to envision a different future for the church in which we teach our young people to compete in the arena and be so excellent that they cannot be denied — to be shepherds.” -Gregory Thornbury

In a recent lecture at the ERLC’s 2016 National Conference, Gregory Thornbury, President of King’s College in New York City, challenges the church to “stop talking about culture and engaging culture” and begin sending competitors into the “heart of the arena,” whether in finance, business, the arts, politics, or otherwise.

“I am concerned that the rightful teaching of grace in our churches may be producing a slacker generation that will damage our witness in culture for coming generations,” Thornbury says. “We need to recover the work ethic that made the people of God who they were in every cultural situation.”

That ethic, Thornbury continues, can be spotted in the shepherd motif of the Biblical story, beginning with the story of Cain and Abel. While Cain simply accepts the curse on the ground, operating cynically from the scarcity of a fallen world, Abel “understands that the human being is created in the image of God and part of the cultural mandate is to subdue the earth.” Cain toils, but Abel deploys.  (more…)