Category: Bible and Theology

Blog author: jsunde
Friday, January 22, 2016
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OneNationUnderGod_CVRChristians continually struggle to find the right approach, balance, and tone in their political witness, either co-opting the Gospel for the sake of political ends or retreating altogether out of fear of the same.

In their new book, One Nation Under God: A Christian Hope for American Politics, Bruce Ashford and Chris Pappalardo pave a fresh way forward. Though I haven’t quite finished it, thus far the book offers a refreshingly rich assessment of political ideology as it relates (or doesn’t) to the Gospel and Christian mission.

In a piece for Canon and Culture, Ashford whets our appetites on this same topic, providing a clear overview of how Christianity differs from conservatism and progressivism, as well as where and how we might engage or abandon each.

From my own experience, Christians seem to have an easier time discerning these distinctions with progressivism, most likely due to its overt rejection of or disregard for permanent truths. With conservatism, however, we tend to forget that without a particular focus on transcendence, conservatism languishes in its own shortsightedness and folly. (more…)

JMM_18.2Our most recent issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality, vol. 18, no. 2, has now been published online and print issues are in the mail.

In addition to our regular slate of articles examining the intersections between faith, freedom, markets, and morality, this issue contains the text of the Theology of Work Consultation symposium at the 2014 conference of the Evangelical Theological Society. The subject was “The Economics of the Theological Vocation.” The entire symposium, as well as executive editor Jordan J. Ballor’s editorial on the subject, is open access.

In addition, associate editor Hunter Baker’s review essay on Kevin M. Kruse’s One Nation Under God and Timothy E. W. Gloege’s Guaranteed Pure is also open access. In it, Baker seeks to answer the question, “Is Christian America Invented? And Why Does It Matter?”

One last highlight: We are pleased to include a republication of a rare 1941 essay by German economist Wilhelm Röpke, “A Value Judgment on Value Judgments.” Samuel Gregg, director of research at the Acton Institute and a scholar of Röpke’s work, authored the introduction, “A Value Judgment on ‘A Value Judgment on Value Judgments.'”

Read the entire issue here.

Subscription instructions to access all of our content can be found here.

HaleLegal historian Sir Matthew Hale has been described as “one of the greatest jurists of the modern common law.” Yet during his lifetime (1609-1676), he chose not to publish most of his legal writings, going so far as to prohibit such publication in his will.

Against these wishes, many manuscripts were copied and circulated by other lawyers after his death. One such work, Of the Law of Nature, was written on multiple hand copies, and now, for the first time ever, it is available via CLP Academic.

As its title indicates, the treatise explores the natural law, its discovery and divine origin, and how it relates to both biblical and human laws. Hale’s close connection between law and theology also demonstrates the importance of natural law to early modern legal thought.

The work was most likely written as a series of private meditations and reflections by Hale, giving it a unique, free-flowing style. Hale also brings a unique theological background and perspective to the topic, as editor David Sytsma explains in the introduction:

Sometime between writing the Discourse (ca. 1639–1641) and the Law of Nature (ca. 1668–1670) Hale’s religious perspective underwent a shift in the direction of Arminianism away from the Calvinism of his youth…In a manuscript likely written in the late 1650s, Hale still affirmed the traditionally Calvinist belief that the light of nature is insufficient for salvation. But after the Restoration he moved toward an Arminian soteriology which understood the gospel of the new covenant as offering forgiveness of sins by a condition of imperfect, sincere obedience. He also came to affirm the view, commonly associated with Arminianism, that virtuous pagans could be saved through obedience to the natural law (discussed below). In the last years of his life Hale professed that “Points controverted between the Arminians and Calvinists” regarding God’s decrees, his influence on the human will, the resistibility of grace, and so forth were impossible to determine and of “inconsiderable moment.” …Whether or not Hale changed his mind in the last year of his life, the soteriology present in his Law of Nature is clearly representative of his Arminian turn.

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carolers2Over the last century, Christianity has declined in social influence across much of the Western world, leading many to believe it has little place or purpose in public life.

In response, Christian reactions have varied, with the more typical approaches being fortification (“hide!”), domination (“fight!”), or accommodation (“blend in!”). In each case, the response takes the shape of heavy-handed strategery or top-down mobilization, whether to or from the hills.

And yet the cultural witness of the church ought to flow (or overflow) a bit differently. For Greg Forster, it has less to do with “cultural lever-pulling,” and a whole lot more to do with joy.

“Christianity is losing its influence in contemporary America because people outside the church just don’t encounter the joy of God as much as they used to,” Forster writes in his latest book, Joy for the World: How Christianity Lost Its Cultural Influence and Can Begin Rebuilding It. “…The joy of God can do what cultural lever-pulling can’t do.”

As we experience the joy of God in Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit, our attitudes and activities are transformed. As Christians, our primary task is not to take that transformation and funnel it toward end-game tactics, but to faithfully embody it across culture: blessing our neighbors and cultivating civilization, whether in the family, our work and the economy, or citizenship and community (Forster’s three main categories). (more…)

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, December 16, 2015
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This week’s Acton Commentary is adapted from an introduction to a forthcoming edited volume, The Church’s Social Responsibility: Reflections on Evangelicalism and Social Justice. The goal of the collection is to bring some wisdom to principled and prudential aspects of addressing the complex questions related to responsible ecclesial word and deed today.

A point of departure for the volume is the distinction between the church conceived institutionally and organically, perspectives formalized and popularized by the Dutch Reformed theologian and statesman Abraham Kuyper. A recent article in Themelios by Daniel Strange of Oak Hill College in London critically examines the distinction and ultimately finds it wanting: “I do not think that the institute/organism distinction, as Kuyper understood it, is a safe vehicle in which to carry this agenda forward, for it creates a forced distinction in describing the church, separates the ‘organism’ from the ‘institute’, and then stresses the organism to the detriment of the institute, ironically leading to the withering of what the ‘organism’ is meant to represent and achieve.”
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Blog author: jsunde
Tuesday, December 15, 2015
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Church-Social-ResponsibilityAfter years of rejecting or downplaying so-called “organized religion,” evangelicals are beginning to appreciate the church not only as organism, but as institution.

As Robert Joustra explains at Capital Commentary, a “minor renaissance in thinking” is taking place, wherein the church is viewed “not as a gathering of hierarchy-allergic spiritualists” but as “a brick and mortar institution, something with tradition, and weight, and history.” Evangelicals are beginning to see view it not as a “catchphrase and metaphor for likeminded people who love Jesus,” Joustra continues, but “as an inheritance, as spiritual and cultural lifeblood, as common practice and belief, as community.”

Once that view is regained and restored, another question begins to demand a bit more attention. If the church is, indeed, an institution, what social responsibility does it bear? Historically, it has started schools, hospitals, charities, and a range of other associations. It has spoken out on injustice, launched and inspired political movements, and influenced public policy.

What, then, is its proper institutional role in today’s social context?

Such questions are explored at length in the forthcoming book, The Church’s Social Responsibility: Reflections on Evangelicalism and Social Justice, a collection of essays edited by Joustra and Jordan Ballor. (Contributing authors include Vincent Bacote, Carl F.H. Henry, David T. Koyzis, and Richard J. Mouw.)

Though the book does consider certain “practical” effects of the church’s institutional witness, its primary goal is to ponder the “theological argument for what and how the Church should speak.” (more…)

carolerAs Christians living in a secular age, there’s a temptation to use Christmas as a wedge to wage epic new battles to restore Christendom.

But despite the flurry of hackneyed “War on Christmas” tropes, there is, alas, something rather amiss. Though the battlefront may not be a petty replacement of “Merry Christmas” with “happy holidays,” society is obviously devoid of a true understanding of the season, diluting a celebration about the invasion of heaven to a shallow idolatry of tradition for tradition’s sake.

Yet, as Andrew Ferguson reminds us, despite its best efforts, culture cannot, and indeed, doesn’t want to escape the “true meaning of Christmas” after all. In many ways, Ferguson writes, alluding to G.K. Chesterton’s famous words, it’s impossible to live in a post-Christian age.

Some things can’t be undone, and chief among them is the Light that was lit the first Christmas morning, while choirs of angels sang above,” Ferguson writes. “It can be ridiculed and parodied, satirized and scoffed at, obscured and sentimentalized, but it won’t be extinguished. So even a secular age continues to go through the motions, singing the same songs, sometimes the old songs, without quite knowing why.

And those songs — they bring such revelation and power, wherever they find a welcome set of lungs. (Yes, wherever.)

It is with Christmas music, Ferguson argues, that we see the Christian witness endure at its finest, not via an antagonism of tacky cultural kitsch, but through an elevation of the true and serious joy of Christ:

A good carol, said the great musicologist Percy Deamer, “was witness to the spirit of a more spontaneous and undoubting faith.” The effusions were organic, growing from the bottom up, and like the Gospels themselves, filled with metaphors taken from field and hearth…

…To take life”—and hence Christmas—”with real seriousness is to take it joyfully,” Deamer went on. “For seriousness is only sad when it is superficial: the carol is thus nearer to the truth because it is jolly.” The opposite isn’t necessarily true, by the way. “All I Want for Christmas Is You” [by Mariah Carey] might be described as jolly; no one would describe it as serious. “Joy to the World,” on the other hand, is both. A Christmas carol is meant to liberate us from phony seriousness and phony good cheer.

In the past that lesson has often been lost, at times even more thoroughly than in our own day—a reminder that should cheer us up, if you’ll forgive the expression. The serious joy, or the joyful seriousness, of Christmas is offensive to the grim Christian.

Carols offer a profound example of cultural engagement done right, shining a blinding light that, by virtue of its truth, goodness, and beauty, welcomes a lost world even as it wages war against hell.

Thus, as we worship and magnify Jesus this Christmas season, let us avoid petty battles against petty gods, whether of blind consumerism or nostalgic knick-knackery. Instead, let us exude and share the serious joy that comes from being a child of the living God. Let us simply sing, and sing of Jesus.

And let earth receive her King.