Category: Bible and Theology

Golden-Calf-Painting1Last week, I wrote about the danger of self-chosen sacrifice, channeling evangelist Oswald Chambers, who warns us to “never decide the place of your own martyrdom.”

“Always guard against self-chosen service for God,” he continues. “Self-sacrifice may be a disease that impairs your service.”

As an example of how the process ought to go, Chambers looks to the story of Abraham and Isaac. God demanded something quite peculiar — the sacrifice of Abraham’s son —  and Abraham simply obeyed. “God chose the test for Abraham,” Chambers writes, “and Abraham neither delayed nor protested, but steadily obeyed.”

In Cornelis Vonk’s primer on Exodus, part of CLP’s growing series, “Opening the Scriptures,” he highlights an example of the opposite.

Moses had gone up to Mount Sinai, where God was to send down his law in written form. Yet down below, even as the Israelites had quite visibly witnessed the supernatural power of God — whether through the plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, the fire by night, etc. — they gave way to their humanistic impulses. Anxious and impatient for Moses to return and eager for guidance and direction, they could wait no longer.

“Make us gods who shall go before us,” they said. (more…)

titiaan_abraham_izaak_grtIn our efforts to serve others and do good in the world, we humans have a remarkable tendency to fall short, no matter how carefully constructed or well intended our plans and designs may be.

When failure occurs, economists are likely to point to some kind of knowledge problem, noting that, for instance, Western Congregation X didn’t (and perhaps couldn’tknow or foresee that sending hundreds of free shoes to Developing Nation Y would put several local merchants out of business.

To mitigate these types of ripple effects, we can work to be more careful in a variety of ways, but throughout that process, Christians have a unique responsibility to order our concerns within a particular context of transcendent obedience to a particular God and Savior. “To obey is better than sacrifice,” as Samuel once said, “and to listen than the fat of rams.”

When we seek to do good on behalf of others, we certainly ought to consider the various modes of “natural” analysis and observation — reason, history, science, tradition, etc. — but we are also commanded to consult and consider the voice of God himself, whether delivered through his Word, the inward witness of the Holy Spirit, a prophetic church community, or otherwise.

This is not to call for some form of anxious and nit-picky legalism, of course, though that temptation is sure to endure as well. It’s to say that ours is a service uniquely empowered to stretch beyond the ways of this world, which are far too aimless, far too arbitrary, and ultimately beholden to the self.

When we neglect transcendent sources of knowledge, danger and destruction will persist, both in our spiritual lives and the witness we bear in the world. As the great teacher and evangelist Oswald Chambers once cautioned, “Always guard against self-chosen service for God,” which “may be a disease that impairs your service”:

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Given the dynamics of the information age and ever-accelerating globalization, humanity faces a variety of new opportunities and challenges when it comes to creating, collaborating, and consuming alongside those from vastly different contexts.

Although Pentecost Sunday has already past, Pentecostal theologian Amos Yong wrote some related reflections on this very question, particularly as it relates to Christian vocation. As Yong notes, “location and situatedness matter, and do so across many registers — religious/theological, ideological, socio-economic, political, educational, linguistic, geographical, cultural, ethnic, racial, and experiential.”

Globalization has been a blessing for many, yet for Christians, it raises the question of what role the Gospel plays as we engage with and bear witness to our brothers and sisters across the world. As Yong asks: “How then do we not only make sense of our lives but also bear adequate vocational witness in our pluralistic age?”

The answer, he continues, can be found at Pentecost:

A look backward to the biblical day of Pentecost event might help us understand the polyphony of our world and empower wise witness in the public sphere. What I am referring to is the remarkable phenomenon of the Holy Spirit’s outpouring “on all flesh” (Acts 2:17b) that both empowered the diversity of tongues (Acts 2:2-11) and simultaneously precipitated the declaration of “God’s deeds of power” (Acts 2:11b). From this, we see that the multiplicity of voices is not in and of itself a problem; in fact, such plurivocity may well be a work of the Spirit of God in the present time. It is precisely in and through the many tongues of Pentecost that the glory of God is both manifested and mediated. (more…)

Blog author: dpahman
Wednesday, June 11, 2014
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Today at Ethika Politika, I examine the longstanding claim of the Roman Catholic Church that the universal character of the common good in our present era necessitates a world political authority. The problem, I argue, lies in the tradition’s too closely identifying the good of political communities with the common good.

The recently canonized Pope John XXIII, for example, states that “[p]ublic authority” is “the means of promoting the common good in civil society” (Pacem in Terris, 136, emphasis mine). And Pope Benedict XVI continued the call made by John XXIII for a “world political authority” in Caritas in Veritate, specifically recommending that the U.N. be “vested with the effective power to ensure security for all, regard for justice, and respect for rights” (57, emphasis mine). The problem with the U.N., to the popes, is that it is not powerful enough.

In response, I write,

I would worry about a U.N. or any other global political authority endowed with such great power and means. If nation states have failed to ensure the global common good, as the pope admits, why should we expect a global government to be free from error in this regard? The only difference would be that the mistakes of such politicians would necessarily have global consequences. I like my U.N. nearly ineffective and mostly powerless, thank you very much. If anything, to ensure subsidiarity, the larger the political authority, the less power and means it should have. (more…)

bankruptcyThe Bible has a lot to say about the principles behind bankruptcy law, says T. Kyle Bryant. In the Old Testament, God gave Moses various laws concerning the poor, lenders, borrowers, and debt forgiveness.

From these passages, we get a glimpse of how God makes provision for people who cannot pay their debt after a certain number of years. Beside discouraging lenders from making “bad” loans (ones that could not be repaid in seven years), the law prevented overwhelming debt from ruining a person’s life forever. In this way, God’s law provided for a type of bankruptcy protection every seven years (and every 50 years for land).

The United States bankruptcy scheme is complex, but the similarities between it and the biblical system are striking. Both systems served to protect the relatively powerless consumers and give predictability and stability to the creditors. For example, in the Israelite law, debtors could be released from their debts every seven years—no matter the amount of the debt, it was gone. This prevented common debtors from having to sell themselves into slavery in perpetuity to pay for their debts. On the other hand, it gave a stable and predictable risk profile to creditors seeking repayment of those debts. Lenders could temper their desire to make risky loans with the knowledge that any chance of repayment after the seventh year was uncertain.

In a similar way, the Bankruptcy Code allows a person freedom from their debt every eight years. Chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Code governs (in large part) individual debtors and the discharge of a person’s debt. If someone has received a discharge of their debt under Chapter 7, they must wait eight years before they can file for bankruptcy again. This echoes the biblical pattern of debt being wiped away every seven years. (But whether this tempers creditors’ risky lending practices is another question).

Read more . . .

Evan Koons just posted the first video blog, or “vlog,” in support of For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles, a new educational video series from the Acton Institute.

The series, which follows Koons on a creative journey to discover “God’s Economy of All Things,” begins by laying the framework that Koons alludes to here.

As he wrote in a recent article for Q Ideas:

We are being called by God to spend the remainder of our days serving our captors, working with them (not fighting them or conforming to them or fleeing from them—but serving them) and compromising nothing. It’s rooted in the belief that all of our vocations (family, work, public service, education, art, and more) matter.

For new vlogs and other resources from Koons & Company, check out the FLOW blog (add it via RSS), subscribe to the YouTube page, and follow FLOW on Facebook and Twitter.

View the trailer and pre-order your own copy here, discounted at 50% off for a limited time, until June 15.

Visit the Acton Book Shop to find related books and media

10 commandmentsRabbi Benjamin Blech, Professor of Talmud at Yeshiva University, reminds us that the 10 Commandments are not only relevant in our world, but needed more than ever. Writing at aish.com, Rabbi Blech says the Commandments are both universal and timeless.

The first Commandment is “I am the Lord your God.” (Yes, I know that there is a bit of a difference in the numbering of the Commandments between Jews, Catholics and Protestants. Since this is a Jewish author, we’ll go with his numbering.) Rabbi Blech tells us that in a world of “selfies,” this Commandment is more relevant than ever.

The aggrandizement of self, the preoccupation with ego, the narcissism of our generation needs above all to be reminded that “it’s not all about you.”

No moral system can be based solely on concern with the self. If man is the sole arbiter of goodness then evil will always be rationalized as necessary for personal pleasure and privilege.

As Dostoyevsky so perceptively put it, “Without God, all is permissible.”

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Kevin Allen, host of a weekly call-in show on Ancient Faith Radio, interviewed Fr. Michael Butler over the weekend “about how we might address the environmental issues that confront us today by appealing to the authentic Orthodox Tradition.” Fr. Michael is the author, with Prof. Andrew Morriss, of the 2013 Acton monograph Creation and the Heart of Man: An Orthodox Christian Perspective on Environmentalism.

In their April 23 commentary “Christian Environmentalism and the Temptation of Faux Asceticism” the authors note:

The ascetical tradition of the Orthodox Church includes many practices: prayer, fasting, almsgiving, keeping vigil, inter alia. They are the active part of the spiritual life, our voluntary cooperation with the grace of God. As such, it is important that we not be tempted to use the ascetical practices of the Church for ends they were not designed to serve. Thus, we need to be careful of “environmental consciousness” masquerading as authentic spiritual practice. Moreover, we must keep in mind that it is the believer’s practice of asceticism, not asceticism qua asceticism, that is important. (more…)

Perelandra (1)One of the primary themes in the Acton Institute’s new series, For the Life of the World, is the notion that “all is gift — that we were created to be gift-givers, and that through the atoning power of Jesus Christ, we are empowered to render our activities, nay, our very lives to God and those around us.

As Evan Koons explains at the end of Episode 1: “All our work in this world is made of stuff of the earth — our families, our labor, our governments and charities and schools and art forms — all of it takes place here below, but all of it is pointed toward heaven.” Or, as he wrote last week: “A life of ‘All is Gift’ has no room for the ‘self-made’ man or woman. We are all edified by the gifts of God and by his gifts reflected in others… ‘All is gift’ recognizes and radiates this truth. Know it or not, we are always fashioning bootstraps for someone else.”

I was therefore a bit struck when I came upon the exact phrase and notion when reading the final chapter of C.S. Lewis’ Perelandra, the second novel in his remarkable Space Trilogy.

Early in the story, Ransom, the chief protagonist, arrives at Perelandra (i.e. Venus), and upon meeting a mysterious lady (“the Queen”), he soon learns that she is an Eve of sorts — innocent and obedient, in all of her pre-Fall-of-Man glory. The human race of Perelandra is still in its earliest stages, without any knowledge or influence of Evil.

The setting is soon disrupted, however, when Weston, an opportunistic scientist from the first novel, arrives on the planet. After spouting a long sermon of overly-spiritualized individualism, Weston is eventually overtaken by what appears to be demonic possession, after which he attempts to lure the Queen toward disobedience to Maleldil (the Creator God), much like the Serpent of old. (more…)

helping-hand-610gr“The Bible does say a lot of justice and the poor,” notes Kevin DeYoung, “but if we are to be convicted and motivated by truth, we must pay more careful attention to what the Bible actually does and does not say.”

An example is a concept that DeYoung says can be derived from the Bible, the principle of moral proximity:

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