Category: Bible and Theology

zero-sumWhy do liberal and conservative evangelicals tend to disagree so often about economic issues? This is the second in a series of posts that addresses that question by examining 12 principles that generally drive the thinking of conservative evangelicals when it comes to economics. The first in the series can be found hereA PDF/text version of the entire series can be found here.

In my first post, I covered the first four principles (#1 – Good intentions are often trumped by unintended consequences; #2 – Our current economic and historical context must be taken into account when applying Biblical principles; #3 – To exploit the poor, the rich need the help of the government; #4 – We love economic growth because we love babies). In this post I want to consider points #5 (The economy is not a zero-sum game) and #6 (Poverty in America is more often a matter of personal choice than structural injustice).

5. The economy is not a zero-sum game.

In a zero-sum game, one person’s gain (or loss) is exactly balanced by the losses (or gains) of the other participants. If the total gains of the participants are added up, and the total losses are subtracted, they will sum to zero. It’s similar to dividing a pumpkin pie between five people: someone can only get a larger slice if someone else’s portion is smaller.

Many progressives in America, including far too many (though not all) liberal evangelicals, believe economics is a zero-sum game. They believe wealth, like a pumpkin pie, is fixed and that “there must be one winner and one loser; for every gain there is a loss.” This may be true in some economic systems, but it does not apply in free markets.

Jay W. Richards explains why free enterprise does not require that there be an economic loser for every economic winner:
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Blog author: dpahman
posted by on Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Today at Ethika Politika, I reflect on what it might look like to adopt thanksgiving as one’s orientation toward human experience and society:

We may think of gratitude … as an appreciation of the joy that uniquely comes from what is virtuous and the recognition of “what God has done or is doing.” Now we have a hermeneutic for our experience, grounded in the God-given “‘eucharistic’ function of man,” to borrow from Fr. Alexander Schmemann. It is not enough to simply appreciate what is given. One must submit what is given to the standard of the Good, be thankful for it to the extent that it measures up, and be critical of it to the extent that it does not. The goal is ultimately transformative: In thanksgiving we offer up to God the good things he has given to us and receive them back transfigured by his grace.

In the ancient Church, one of the common charges early Christians brought against Gnostics, who denied that the God they worshiped was the Creator of the world, was that they were being ungrateful. Whoever our Creator is, they reasoned, we owe him a great deal of gratitude. Thus, in this way they recommended a eucharistic worldview. (more…)

liberal-conservativeWe read the same Bible and follow the same Jesus. We go to the same churches and even agree on the same social issues. So why then do liberal and conservative evangelicals tend to disagree so often about economic issues?

The answer most frequently given is that both sides simply baptize whatever political and economic views they already believe. While this is likely to be partially true, I don’t think it is a sufficient explanation for the views of more thoughtful and sophisticated evangelicals (which naturally, dear reader, includes you and me).* Even if we start with our naturally acquired political orientation, our engagement with the Bible tends to have a dialogical effect, causing us to modify and rethink our economic views in light of principles we discern from Scripture.

Because we conservatives and liberals come to different conclusions, though, one side will be right and the other wrong (or at least more right and more wrong than the other). We all believe our views on economics are true, which is why we are justified in holding these beliefs and think those who disagree are necessarily wrong. That is just how belief works.

But we often don’t have a sufficient depth of understanding about each others fundamental economic beliefs to know why exactly we come to such different conclusions. Too often we express disagreements about policy without comprehending what guiding principles are motivating our differences of opinion.
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The 2014 Acton Lecture Series got underway last week with an address from Jay Richards on the topic of “Why Libertarians Need God.” In his address, Richards argued that core libertarian principles of individual rights, freedom and responsibility, reason, moral truth, and limited government make little sense in an atheistic and materialist context, but make far more sense when grounded in a theistic belief system. The video of the full lecture is available below; I’ve embedded the audio after the jump.

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How ’bout them Seahawks?

As a Chicago Bears fan the answer to that question means very little to me, but I did enjoy the annual ritual of binge-eating and loudly talking over friends and loved ones who gathered together around the TV for Super Bowl 48.

One thing that stood out was the tradition of having various NFL players and civil servants recite the Declaration of Independence before the game. Some of the powerful (and unmistakably religious) lines from our nation’s charter of freedom stirred up a few thoughts on the important role theology has played in this nation for more than hundred years.

For many Americans, the term “theology” is a confusing, misunderstood, or even meaningless one. It’s okay to admit that, even if you consider yourself a spiritual person.

Theology is simply the study, or understanding, of God. (more…)

“‘I have the right to do anything,’ you say–but not everything is beneficial. ‘I have the right to do anything’–but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others” (1 Cor. 10:23-24).

Christians are called to productive service of others in our work. The fact that someone will pay you for your work is a sign that they value it, and we must say that they are better-positioned than anyone else (other than God) to decide what’s best for them. But human beings are not infallible. In fact, we are highly fallible. We deceive ourselves and desire things that are not good for us.

Does the provider of a good or service have a moral obligation not to provide certain goods (or bads) or services? When does a “service” become a “disservice”?
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Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Monday, January 13, 2014

TaxCollectorUntil the 2000s, the biblical view of tax policy in the both the Christian and Jewish traditions was neutral to conservative in the political sense, says historian Bruce Bartlett. Historically, the principal biblical tax concern has been is opposition to tax evasion. But in the last 10 years, says Bartlett, academic commentary on tax policy and the Bible has shifted in a more politically progressive direction:

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The Holy Spirit is often described in the New Testament as a deposit, a down-payment. Thus Paul writes, “Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come” (2 Cor. 1:21-22).

This image is primarily a communication of comfort. What God has guaranteed he will surely reclaim in full. As Jesus says, “My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you may also be where I am” (John 14:2-3). This image of the Spirit as a deposit is the reason why some of these verses are my favorite Scriptures, because they resonate so closely with the identity of the Spirit as Comforter.

But this deposit is also something that God expects to be active, not passive. It is something he has entrusted to us and wants us to put to productive use. God, in this sense, expects a return on his investment in us. Like the owner in the parable of the talents, God has an ongoing interest in the deposit he has placed in us (see Luke 19:23).

We have been empowered by this Deposit to do good works, to offer up our service, our very lives, in grateful sacrifice to “him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb” (Rev. 5:13).

Praise and honor and glory and power, forever and ever, to him who gave us this deposit of comfort and encouragement!

The late, great Chuck Colson had impeccable taste in literature. By that I mean that he liked all of the same books that I like. Or I suppose that I should say, I like all of the same books he liked.

I especially loved the BreakPoint commentaries he’d do that focused on a great author. It always inspired me to hear Mr. Colson speak so eloquently and passionately about great novels that didn’t need Kirk Cameron starring in the movie version of them for Christians to praise.

While commenting on Fyodor Dostoevsky and his classic work Crime and Punishment, Colson said the following:

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Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, January 2, 2014

I certainly like where Dr. Calder ends up, but I’m not quite so sure about the argumentation he uses to get there. This short video is worth checking out: “Breaking the Power of Money” (HT: ESN blog).

Breaking the Power of Money – Dr. Lendol Calder from InterVarsity twentyonehundred on Vimeo.

Is it because students have unconsciously divinized money that they can’t bring themselves to tear a dollar bill in half? Or is there an implicit bias against the seemingly purposeless destruction of value? Perhaps they need some convincing that destroying dollar bills is an exercise in good stewardship.

Money is something powerful, that’s for sure. And the love of it is the source of all kinds of evil. So the challenge is to keep our loves for temporal goods, including money, ordinate. As Calder puts it, we do that not by destroying money, but by putting it to responsible use. Maybe that’s “profaning” money in the sense that we are taking away the purported and idolatrous divinity we ascribe to it. But maybe that’s also by “redeeming” money for godly use.