Category: Bible and Theology

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.”
(more…)

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.

Blog author: jsunde
Wednesday, December 9, 2015
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0611When we think about “stewardship,” our minds tend to revert to the material and the predictable. We think about money or the allocation of resources. We think about growing crops or creating goods or financial investment and generosity.

For the Christian, however, stewardship goes much further, weaving closely together the tangible and transcendent in all areas of life. “Stewardship is far more than the handling of our money,” write Lester DeKoster and Gerard Berghoef. “Stewardship is the handling of life, and time, and destiny.”

In For the Life of the World, God’s oikonomia is compared to a song, with our activity in each sphere of creation harmonizing together even as it plays in its own distinct way and through its own “modes of operation” — whether in family, business, education, or elsewhere. God has given us stewardship as a gift, granting the responsibility to manage his house and the availability to partner with the divine in that remarkable task.

C.S. Lewis points to this reality in The Magician’s Nephew, where he writes at length about the origins of Narnia and the creative call of humankind. (more…)

Fox TV is prepping for a Jan. 25 release of a new show titled “Lucifer,” where “bored and unhappy as the Lord of Hell, the original fallen angel, Lucifer Morningstar has abandoned his throne and retired to L.A., where he owns Lux, an upscale nightclub.” Fox adds helpfully, “He’s no angel.”

A report by Barbara Hollingsworth on CNSNews.com notes that “a number of faith-based and conservative watchdog groups are panning Lucifer.” Among others, she interviewed Rev. Robert A. Sirico, president and co-founder of the Acton Institute:

“The very fact that it could be on a major network without serious questions being raised with regard to advertisers and the like tells you where the culture has gone, to a certain extent,” Fr. Robert Sirico … told CNSNews.com. “I urge believers to be calm, because part of the marketing strategy of these companies is to incorporate the kind of opposition they can get from believers who would find this offensive and thus call more attention to the project.

“The second caution is that this show seems rather superficial with its constant use of one gag about the devil. It doesn’t seem like it’s a serious reflection on evil, on the capacity of human beings to betray their highest values.

“I’m reminded of what C.S. Lewis puts in the words of his devil in the Screwtape Letters, that the real danger in confrontation with evil and the world is when people don’t believe that there is evil. So I don’t think we’ve hit the bottom quite yet, because at least they’re talking about things spiritual,” Sirico said.

Read “Nothing Redeeming’ About New Fox TV SeriesThat Glamorizes Satan” by Barbara Hollingsworth on CNSNews.com.

Blog author: jballor
Friday, December 4, 2015
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Albrecht Dürer - Praying Hands, 1508 - Google Art ProjectThis is just a brief note, a cohortative: Let us pray!

For those tempted to disdain prayer in favor of work in alleviating the ills of the world, I recommend C.S. Lewis’ essay, “Work and Prayer.” There he writes, among other things, “Prayers are not always—in the crude, factual sense of the world—’granted’. This is not because prayer is a weaker kind of causality, but because it is a stronger kind.”

From of old prayer has been recognized, in John Calvin’s words, as “the chief exercise of faith,” and the means “by which we daily receive God’s benefits.”

Denunciation of prayer is a call to atheism; lack of prayer is a form of practical atheism.

For more on work and prayer, check out this commentary on the parable of the lost coin, lost sheep, and lost son.