Category: Bible and Theology

Charles Malik. Photo credit: LIFE Magazine.

In today’s Acton Commentary, I highlight a little book by the Lebanese diplomat, philosopher, and theologian Charles Malik, Christ and Crisis (1962). With regard to its continuing relevance, I write,

Malik would urge us to have the courage to take up our crosses today, each in our own capacities and competencies, putting the life of the spirit first, not settling for easy answers and scorning all distractions. “There are three unpardonable sins today,” wrote Malik in 1962 — but just as relevant now — “to be flippant or superficial in the analysis of the world situation; to live and act as though halfhearted measures would avail; and to lack the moral courage to rise to the historic occasion.”

Above all, Christians can never be ashamed of Jesus Christ. “To be fair, to be positive, to be thankful — these are highly desirable Christian virtues today,” wrote Malik. But he did not stop at that commendable fairness, cautioning, “And of course you are not fair at all if, in trying to be fair to others, you are so fair as to cease to be fair to Christ Himself — Christ who was much more than just fair to you and me when He took our sins upon Himself on the Cross.”

Malik’s impressive work deserves more attention than it has received in recent years. And his record speaks for itself: In addition to co-drafting the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, sitting as president of the U.N.’s General Assembly in 1958, acting as Lebanese ambassador to the United States, and dedicating his life to fighting communism and defending human rights, Malik was also a philosopher and theologian and served as vice president of the United Bible Societies from 1966 to 1972 and president of the World Council on Christian Education from 1967 to 1971. Such monumental work for both the common good and the kingdom of God ought not to remain obscure to Christians today.

You can read my full commentary on his 1962 work Christ and Crisis here.

Psalms I, Frans van DeursenChristian’s Library Press has now released Psalms I, the fourth primer in its Opening the Scriptures series, and the first in a two-part release on the book of Psalms.

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 I is neither a technical commentary nor a collection of sermons, but rather an accessible primer for the average churchgoer. In this case, the author hopes we learn lessons on both theory on practice when it comes to the great tasks of honor and worship, prayer and praise.

The book includes a good deal of theological and historical set-up on how we are to understand the Psalms as a whole, proceeding to provide more detailed summaries and analyses on the deeper meaning and Biblical context of the individual psalms themselves. (more…)

RootedGod has clearly given us dominion over creation, yet a variety of divisions and distortions persist. Radical environmentalists dream of a world without us, even as hyper-consumerists wield God’s call as justification for undue exploitation and self-seeking.

Getting the relationship right not only impacts our stewardship, but gets to the core of what we believe about God, why he created us, and who he has called us to be. It’s no wonder, then, that Abraham Kuyper begins one of his sermons on the role of the church by examining humanity’s broader role in creation.

In his sermon, “Rooted and Grounded,” Kuyper proclaims that the church must be both rooted”in the “organism” of the Gospel, even while being grounded in various institutional forms. Yet insofar as we are “rooted” in “organic” life, we must ask: Which garden do we intend to cultivate? How do we plan to do it? Why? (more…)

“If we’re not heaven bent on doing more, we’re hell bent on trying to escape all the stuff we have to do.”

In Evan Koons’ concluding vlog on the Economy of Wonder, he tackles the difference between sloth and what Josef Pieper has called “virtuous idleness.”

It turns out sloth isn’t just about being lazy or doing nothing or sleeping in till 2. That’s called college. Sloth, at its core, to paraphrase field scholar Josef Pieper, is when we give up on the very responsibility that comes with our dignity: that we do not want to be what God wants us to be, and that means that we do not want to be what we really, in the ultimate sense, are. Hishis very good, gratuitous, useless creations born out of nothing more than his love and abundance.

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Through Christian’s Library Press, the Acton Institute has published four tradition-specific primers on faith, work, and economics, including Baptist, WesleyanPentecostal, and Reformed perspectives. Each offers a distinct contribution to the subject, and when taken together provides a rich and coherent framework for Christian stewardship. The books are part of Acton’s growing Oikonomia Series.

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This week, Acton and CLP will be giving away two complete sets of the series (that’s 4 books total for each winner!), including Chad Brand’s Flourishing FaithDavid Wright’s How God Makes the World a Better Place, Charlie Self’s Flourishing Churches and Communities, and John Bolt’s Economic Shalom.

The contest will end Friday night (February 13) at 11:59 p.m. To enter, use the interface below. To get started, all you need to enter is your email address! After that, there are five ways to enter, and each will increase your odds (with extra points for tweeting).

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Note: Due to certain constraints, print copies are only available to contestants who live North America. Winners who reside elsewhere will receive a digital copy.

primer-baptistI recently pointed to a helpful talk by Greg Forster to highlight how understanding economics is essential for developing a holistic theology of work, vocation, and stewardship. Economics connects the personal to the public, and prods our attentions and imaginations to the broader social order. In doing so, it alerts us to a unique and powerful mode of Christian mission.

In his latest book, Flourishing Faith: A Baptist Primer On Work, Economics, And Civic Stewardship, Chad Brand expands on this point, listing five reasons why pastors and seminaries (and thus, lay people) would do well to dig deeper into the realm of economics. (The following titles are paraphrased summaries, with the corresponding text pulled directly from Brand.)

1. The Bible Deals with Economic Issues

First, the Bible deals with economic issues…It addresses matters of stewardship of our world (Gen. 1–3; Gen. 9:1–7), of God’s ownership of creation (Matt. 6:25–30; Col. 1:16–20), and of economic shalom (Lev. 25:1–55; Acts 2:42–47; 2 Thess. 3:6–10), and other important issues given more detailed discussion in [this book].

2. Economics Helps Us Understand the Public Square

Second, an understanding of economics and especially of political economy can help us understand what is going on in the world around us. The general election…is impossible to follow without some understanding of the implications of Obamacare and its impact on Medicare, the federal deficit, and the long-term effects of continued deficit spending. The posturing on the part of Republicans and Democrats sometimes seems like little more than rhetoric, but the one who understands what is really at stake can help lead people to a better understanding of their responsibility in the public square.

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1754aae62eIn Abraham Kuyper’s newly translated Scholarship, he explores the Christian’s role in the Economy of Wisdom. Addressing students of Free University in Amsterdam, he asks, “What should be the goal of university study and the goal of living and working in the sacred domain of scholarship?”

Though he observes certain similarities with other forms of labor — between teacher and farmer, professor and factory worker — and though each vocation is granted by God, Kuyper notes that the scholar is distinct in setting the scope of his stewardship on the mind itself. “Not merely to live,” he writes, “but to know that you live and how you live, and how things around you live, and how all that hangs together and lives out of the one efficient cause that proceeds from God’s power and wisdom.”

I was therefore delighted to stumble upon a different address/sermon (“Learning in War-Time”) given at a different university (Oxford) by a different intellectual heavyweight (C.S. Lewis), which touches on many of these same themes, but with a slightly different spin.

Included in Lewis’ book, The Weight of Glory, the sermon was given in 1939 (the beginning of World War II), and explores how, why, and whether Christians should pursue learning during times of extreme catastrophe. More broadly, how might we consider the life of the mind among the many competing priorities, demands, and obligations of life, and the Christian life at that? “Why should we — indeed how can we — continue to take an interest in these placid occupations when the lives of our friends and the liberties of Europe are in the balance? Is it not like fiddling while Rome burns?” (more…)

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, February 4, 2015
By

Make Work Your FavoriteIn this week’s Acton Commentary, “A Parable for the Unemployed,” I provide a brief survey of the biblical view of work, concluding with reference to the parable of the workers in the vineyard in Matthew 20. As I argue, this parable “might just as well be called the parable of the jobless. It teaches us to wait patiently and expectantly for ways that we can be of service to God through serving others.”

Or as the Theology of Work biblical commentary puts it, “If the vineyard owner represents God, this is a powerful message that in God’s kingdom, displaced and unemployed workers find work that meets their needs and the needs of those who depend on them.” If you don’t think this is a message of import for today’s world, then you might have succumbed to some statistical deception.

But from another perspective, one that the church hasn’t always fully appreciated, this parable might be taken as an illustration of the necessity for job creation. For every jobless person, some business owner or entrepreneur must create a job. Without the work the vineyard owner needed done, there would have been no jobs for those waiting in the marketplace “doing nothing.” One of the greatest things one person can do for someone is to create some meaningful and productive job for that other person to do.

And again, if the vineyard owner is understood in some sense to be in the place of God, then God has a job for each one of us to do in this world. Thus Lester DeKoster and Gerard Berghoef write in the context of other different parables that “God is a free enterpriser because he expects a return on his investments.” God expects us to be about the work he has given us, or as Jesus put it, to “be about My Father’s business.”

primer-pentecostalIn the latest Journal of Markets and Morality, Joseph Gorra reviews Dr. Charlie Self’s new book, Flourishing Churches and Communities, calling it a “joyous, practical, and insightful primer to the integration of ‘faith, work, and economics” that will inspire “a pathway for leaders of Pentecostal thought to reflect on public life in a renewed way.”

The book is one of four tradition-specific primers from the Acton Institute, and although it focuses specifically on a Pentecostal perspective, Gorra rightly observes that Self writes in a way that draws wide appreciation for the work of the Spirit in economic life. Avoiding “provincial understandings” of Pentecostals themselves, Self is careful to present Pentecostalism in a “nontriumphalistic manner,” Gorra writes, which mainstream evangelicals may find “accommodationist to many of their own theological sensibilities.”

As an example, the book seeks to highlight and illuminate five key principles, which on their face fit rather snugly within these discussions across Christianity as a whole:

  1. Work is good.
  2. Although sin has effaced human nature and work, it has not erased the divine nature in people and the ability to bring good to the world.
  3. God has reconciled the world to himself in Christ and is now working through the church to express the life of the kingdom in the present age.
  4. God the Holy Spirit actively energizes compassion for the poor and wealth creation for community flourishing.
  5. Cultural, economic, and social institutions are built on transcendent moral foundations.

As Gorra duly notes, numbers 4 and 5 are perhaps the most distinctly Pentecostal, demonstrating where Pentecostalism may offer its most distinct contribution to such matters: (more…)

Creación_de_AdámDorothy Sayers, playwright, novelist and Christian scholar, wrote an important work in the 1930s entitled, Are Women Human? In her essay, she presents the biblical case for gender equality in a humorous and insightful way, grounding mutuality in theological anthropology. From the Genesis narratives to the new earth of Revelation, she affirms this thesis:

We are all human beings, made in the image of God with a job to do. And we do our jobs as a man or a woman.

This theological vision — of men and women in mutual love and respect carrying out their vocations for the glory of God and the good of others — undergirds the best of ecclesial, economic, political, and social liberty, and it has implications for the full range of human interactions and relationships. Notice the order of reflection: Creator > human identity > the call to worship/work > gender identity.

Alas, the effacing (not erasing) of the imago dei has led humankind down all manner of oppressive pathways, from dehumanizing and disintegrating practices of pagan and secular ideologies to the degrading subjugation of women, minorities, and many others in the name of “religious tradition.”

For followers of Jesus, a full vision of God’s reign includes living the future now in the power of the Holy Spirit, with the church as the herald and witness of the fullness to come. This includes redeeming the wholeness of being human, integrating all facets of individual and social being, including relational shalom. Women and men who love Jesus are icons of the coming kingdom. Singleness is not incompleteness, but a signpost of a future where all God’s people are married to Christ and sisters and brothers of one another. Marriage is a special illumination of Christ’s delight in his church, not a superior status. (more…)