Category: Bible and Theology

pope plant“Laudato si, mi’ Signore!” Both the title and first line of the most recent papal encyclical come from St. Francis’ canticle which looks at nature as a great gift, but you all know that. Every news source worth its salt made that clear before the encyclical was released (either time); yet, we as Christians are called to be salt of the Earth. This entails more than a brief glance at the word on the street about the ecological pronouncement. What is at stake here is the central call of humanity: to till and keep the gifted garden (Genesis 2:15). The first human was placed in this role of cultivation of the earth even before being told to not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. There was a promise to act and a law to keep. The Bible is divided into two halves: law in the Old Testament and promise in the New Testament. The call to be salt of the earth is about the Christian life fulfilling that promise. Note that the law followed the promise in the order of our creation. Core to human being was first the love of the life of the world–the greatest commandment as Christ said. So, then why is the reactionary focus of the encyclical even before it was released surrounded upon the policy, the law, that it would inspire and not the call to promise?

Surely within the encyclical there is language that leads to law being created. What Pope Francis has seen in the world directly articulates the life he leads–one unaccepting of a “globalization of indifference” for any child of God’s in need. (more…)

heart in handCompassion is a marvelous virtue. Feeling concern for others and acting sacrificially — especially on behalf of those that cannot return the favor — reveals mature character and contributes to human flourishing.

Compassion moves missionaries and monks to great efforts as they plant churches, pioneer institutions, and work for justice across cultures and geographies. Paul’s words are the motivation for his apostolic proclamation that, “…the love of Christ compels us…” and, “one died for all, therefore all died. And those who live should not live for themselves but for him who died and rose again.” (2 Cor. 5)

This agape love includes moral conviction and missional wisdom.

“Unsanctified mercy” (thank you, Jill Miller, for this term) arises when compassion becomes compromise and our fear of offending subverts biblical truth. The American church is increasingly guilty of doctrinal, moral, and spiritual compromise under the guise of compassion and misplaced historical guilt.

At the risk of offending tender sensibilities, it is time to confront our own hearts and our public ministries with gospel truth. Progressive Christians have served the kingdom well as they expose the excesses of consumerism, capitalism, and colonialism that often mark American and Western ecclesial efforts. Conservative Christians serve God’s reign as they remind the church that there are timeless beliefs and values not subject to one’s “evolution.” The sanctity of life, the definition and marriage, and the historical foundations of the gospel and Scripture are among these convictions. There is much room for civil family debate on a variety of issues and strategies.

The events of the past half-century and the last few months are cause for grave concern and I am unashamedly speaking truth to power as unsanctified mercy leads the church down pathways of compromise, irrelevance and ineffective witness. (more…)

Since its publication in 2007, the Acton Institute’s Environmental Stewardship in the Judeo-Christian Tradition has been one go-to source for religious thought on environmental stewardship. The following list gathers information from “A Biblical Perspective on Environmental Stewardship,” an essay from the book that offers the Christian perspective on humanity’s place in nature.

1. God, the Creator of all things, rules over all and deserves our worship and adoration (Ps. 103:19—22).

2. The earth, and, with it, all the cosmos, reveals its Creator’s wisdom and goodness (Ps. 19:1—6) and is sustained and governed by his power and loving kindness (Ps. 102:25—27; Ps. 104; Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3, 10—12). Men and women were created in the image of God, given a privileged place among creatures, and commanded to exercise stewardship over the earth (Gen. 1:26—28; Ps. 8:5).

3. The image of God consists of knowledge and righteousness, and expresses itself in creative human stewardship and dominion over the earth (Gen. 1:26—28; 2:8—20; 9:6; Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10).

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chesterton-pope-francis-enclycialPope Francis’ new encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si, is generating discussion across the web. For a round-up of responses and reactions from Acton, see Acton Speaks on the Environment.

There’s plenty left to explore, respond, and reflect on, but in the meantime, it’s worth noting an interesting parallel with another great Catholic thinker (as passed along by a friend of mine).

The beginning of the environmental encyclical leads off with the following statement about Earth being our “sister”:

LAUDATO SI’, mi’ Signore” – “Praise be to you, my Lord”. In the words of this beautiful canticle, Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs”.  This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her.

These references to “sister earth” are sprinkled throughout the encyclical, and it’s metaphor that’s been used before by G.K. Chesterton in Orthodoxy: (more…)

JuniusCoverCLP Academic has now released The Mosaic Polity, the first-ever English translation of Franciscus Junius’ De Politiae Mosis Observatione, a treatise on Mosaic law and contemporary political application. The release is part of the growing series from Acton: Sources in Early Modern Economics, Ethics, and Law.

Junius (1545–1602) was a Reformed scholar and theologian at the Universities of Heidelberg and Leiden, and is known for producing a popular Latin translation of the Bible and De theologia vera, which became “a standard textbook in theological prolegomena among Reformed Protestants.”

In their introduction, editor Andrew McGinnis and translator Todd Rester offer more on the historical context and the questions Junius aims to answer, explaining how he was “personally called upon by ‘good men’” to “address the contemporary political implications of the laws of Moses.” (more…)

pentecost12Pentecost Sunday: The Holy Spirit comes with tongues of fire and an “incendiary community” is empowered for mission.

Pentecost is not the birth of the church. The church is conceived in the words and works of Jesus as he gathers followers and promises, “If any one is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believers in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” (John 7:37-39)

The church is born when our Resurrected Lord appears to the fearful disciples and breathes new life into them and sends them out in mission (John 20:21-23).

There was one more moment to come in this drama of unveiling a missional people reflecting the manifold wisdom of God: empowerment for witness and the formation of heterogeneous communities of faith, hope, and love (Luke 24:44-49; Acts 1:8). (more…)

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, May 12, 2015
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Madeleine lengle.jpg

This week the University Bookman published an essay in which I reflect on some of the lessons we can learn from Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, especially related to the recent discovery of an excised section. L’Engle, I argue, is part of a longer tradition of classical conservative thought running, in the modern era, from Burke to Kirk.

Although L’Engle’s narrative vision is drenched in Christianity, she is often thought of holding to a rather liberal, rather than traditional or conservative, form of the faith. However, in an intriguing essay published as part of an edited collection by Regnery in 1986, L’Engle describes what the proper role of the church, particularly of her Episcopal church, ought to be with respect to social realities.

I discovered this piece while doing some research for my own small book on the economic teachings of the ecumenical movement. In “What May I Expect from My Church?” the question she raises with respect to the “Anglican establishment” was precisely the one that interested me with respect to the ecumenical movement: “Where and how do I want my establishment to inject itself into secular controversies?”
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factory-workers1When faced with work that feels more like drudgery and toil than collaborative creative service, we are often encouraged to inject our situation with meaning, rather than recognize the inherent value and purpose in the work itself.

In Economic Shalom, Acton’s Reformed primer on faith, work, and economics, John Bolt reminds us that, when enduring through these seasons, we mustn’t get too concerned about temporal circumstances or humanistic notions of meaning and destiny. “As we contemplate our calling, we will not simply consider the current job market,” he writes, “but ask ourselves first-order questions about who we are, why we are here, how God has gifted us, and how we can best serve his purposes.”

This involves reexamining what our work actually is and who it ultimately serves. But it also involves fully understanding God’s design for humanity in the broader created order. As we harness the gifts and resources that God has given us, it is crucial that we understand the source and aims of our toil, and the obligation and responsibility that comes with our authority. (more…)

Human-Male-White-Newborn-Baby-CryingBirthrates across the globe are going down even as life expectancy increases. The former trend is marked particularly in developed nations.

There are lots of reasons for people to have kids or not have kids. Some of these reasons are economic. As I’ve argued previously, “One of the common concerns that drives prospective parents to put off having children is economic, specifically that they won’t have the financial resources to support a growing family. This is a worry that’s been around as long as there have been families.”

Perhaps it really is more difficult in America today to make the economic sacrifice (or perhaps better understood as investment) required for having kids.

But often these kinds of economic reasons end up being used as rationalizations. More honest, at least, is this characterization of a ‘rational’ approach to procreation:

Not having children isn’t selfish. Not having children is a perfectly rational and reasonable response given that humans are essentially parasites on the face of a perfectly lovely and well-balanced planet, ploughing through its natural resources, eradicating its endangered species, and ruining its most wonderful landscapes. This might sound misanthropic, and it is, but it is also true.

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Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, April 29, 2015
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DSC_0700This is a post about that time that President Obama quoted Luther (Martin, the reformer, not the anger translator). Okay, maybe the President didn’t quote the monk with a mallet, but suspend your disbelief for a few more paragraphs at least.

Remember the kerfuffle when President Obama uttered those infamous words, “You didn’t build that”? It was, granted, a long time ago (3 years, in fact). But as I argued at the time, there was some truth in the basic sentiment, even if there was some ambiguity about the President’s intended antecedent.

Lately I ran across this striking passage from one of Martin Luther’s sermons, where he raises the stakes, so to speak, regarding the necessity of civil government for social flourishing. In a 1528 sermon on the Lord’s Prayer, Luther has this to say about the petition, “Give us this day our daily bread”:

When you pray this petition turn your eyes to everything that can prevent our bread from coming and the crops from prospering. Therefore extend your thoughts to all the fields and do not see only the baker’s oven. You pray, therefore, against the devil and the world, who can hinder the grain by tempest and war. We pray also for temporal peace against war, because in times of war we cannot have bread. Likewise, you pray for government, for sustenance and peace, without which you cannot eat: Grant, Lord, that the grain may prosper, that the princes may keep the peace, that war may not break out, that we may give thanks to thee in peace. Therefore it would be proper to stamp the emperor’s or the princes’ coat-of-arms upon bread as well as upon money or coins. Few know that this is included in the Lord’s Prayer. Though the Lord gives bread in sufficient abundance even to the wicked and godless, it is nevertheless fitting that we Christians should know and acknowledge that it comes from God, that we realize that bread, hunger, and war are in God’s hands. If he opens his hand, we have bread and all things in abundance; if he closes it, then it is the opposite. Therefore, do not think that peace is an accidental thing; it is the gift of God. (LW 51:176-177)

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