Category: Bible and Theology

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…)

JMM_18.1 front cropOur most recent issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality has now been published online and print issues are in the mail.

Volume 18, no. 1 is a special issue. Guest editor Shirley Roels details the origins of the contributions in her (open access) editorial:

To highlight the 2013–2014 English publication of the first volume of [Abraham] Kuyper’s theological commentary on common grace, the Calvin College Business Department organized an October 2014 symposium, which was co-sponsored by the Acton Institute. Faculty, business practitioners, and students gathered to think about the meaning of Kuyper’s common grace theology for twenty-first-century business. Over an exceptional day of discourse, presentations and panels were woven into a robust discussion about the light of faith for business when that life is shared together by Christians and those who follow other paths. Leaders from banking, manufacturing, natural resources, film, food, and floral industries, among others, joined with business educators to shape the current intertwining of common grace and business.

The symposium was framed around three themes that emerge from Kuyper’s writings about common grace. Its planners described these as the protective, constructive, and imaginative functions of common grace. Through such grace, God protects remnants and echoes of his good created order as gifts for all people despite continuing human perversity. God designs the expectation and possibility that together humans will construct institutions to respond to needs and support social order. God provides continuity between the values and virtues of all people so that Christians as well as those in other faith traditions can work together imaginatively.

The article contributions to this journal issue originated in that October 2014 symposium. Peter Heslam’s opening article provides some of Kuyper’s less-known commentary about business life. Then eight articles, all authored by Christian business educators, articulate the implications of Kuyper’s common grace theology for business ethics, strategic planning, global debt markets, entrepreneurship, market pricing, the accounting profession, operations management, and human resource frameworks. Richard Mouw’s closing article enjoins us to bring robust Christian faith to the business spaces where God’s light can readily flood. (A separate review essay unrelated to the symposium also appears as part of the journal’s regular publication schedule.) Finally, integrated into the journal’s book review section are four reviews of recent books about faith and business that highlight resources to deepen this intersection of faith and business.

In addition to Dr. Roels’ editorial, I have made my review of The Common Good: An Introduction to Personalism by Jonas Norgaard Mortensen open access as well. You can read it free here.

If you are interested in a subscription to the Journal of Markets & Morality, subscription directions and prices can be found here.

Once you’ve purchased a subscription, you can read our most recent issue, volume 18, no. 1, here.

Martin Luther: Inventor of Austerity?

Martin Luther: Inventor of Austerity?

On the The Economist’s religion and public policy blog, the writer Erasmus pokes holes in a theory put forth by Giles Fraser, a left wing Anglican priest, who sees conflicting theories of the atonement of Christ as one of the causes of so much misunderstanding in the European Union. Erasmus explains:

… traditional Protestant and Catholic teaching has presented the self-sacrifice of Christ as the payment of a debt to God the Father. In this view, human sinfulness created a debt which simply had to be settled, but could not be repaid by humanity because of its fallen state; so the Son of God stepped in and took care of that vast obligation. For Orthodox theologians, this wrongly portrays God the Father as a sort of heavenly debt-collector who is himself constrained by some iron necessity; they prefer to see the passion story as an act of mercy by a God who is free. Over-simplifying only a little, Mr Fraser observed: “the idea that the cross is some sort of cosmic pay-back for human sin [reflects] a no-pain-no-gain obsession with suffering,” from an eastern Christian viewpoint.

Erasmus rightly describes this sort of thinking as a gross simplification. He quotes the Anglican priest, who said that “capitalism itself was built upon this western model of redemption” and that Angela Merkel is, in a sinister twist, is the daughter of a Lutheran minister. Erasmus: (more…)

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).

(more…)