Category: Bible and Theology

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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RussellDMoore-lowRussell Moore talks and writes about a lot of topics as president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. He even writes about the legendary Johnny Cash. “Cash always seems to connect,” says Moore. When it comes to leading and speaking about religious liberty, the same can be said for Moore. There are few as engaging and persuasive as Moore in the public square today. He’s interviewed on this important topic in the issue of Religion & Liberty . In the editor’s notes, I speak a little bit on the impact of Moore’s character and integrity.

“Shades of Solzhenitsyn” is the feature essay and Kevin Duffy offers a critical analysis on some of the similarities between Pope Francis and Alexander Solzhenitsyn. A world starved by a lack of moral clarity is in desperate need of the best thoughts from both men.

Dylan Pahman reviews Reality, Grief, Hope: Three Urgent Prophetic Tasks by well-known Old Testament scholar Walter Bruggemann. I review Extortion: How Politicians Extract Your Money, Buy Votes, and Line Their Own Pockets by Peter Schweizer. We all are or should be aware that our leadership in Washington is a disaster and a cesspool of corruption. But it’s even worse than that according to Schweizer. The system is best understood by comparing it to organized crime. Schweizer was interviewed in the Winter 2013 issue of Religion & Liberty.

“Christian Environmentalism and the Temptation of Faux Asceticism”
by Fr. Michael Butler and Andrew P. Morriss is an excerpt from Creation and the Heart of Man: An Orthodox Christian Perspective on Environmentalism . That work is invaluable for a more responsible environmental framework with God at the center of creation.

It may be surprising, especially to many of our Reformed readers, that Richard Baxter has never been profiled for “In the Liberal Tradition.” Max Weber called Baxter the embodiment of the Protestant work ethic and Baxter’s thought and prolific writings are still widely utilized and studied. We’d all be better off if we took the time to read How to Do Good to Many.

If you’d like to read our executive director’s thoughts on Acton’s battle with the city over our property tax exemption, there is no better statement on this issue than Kris Mauren’s frequently asked questions segment.

Zenit, the Catholic news service, published a recap of Acton Institute’s conference, “Faith, State, and the Economy: Perspectives from East and West.” The event, held in Rome on April 29, brought expert speakers from around the world to explore the complex relationship between religious liberty and economic freedom. For more on this conference and others planned in the series titled “One and Indivisible? The Relationship Between Religious and Economic Freedom,” please visit this page.

Zenit asked Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg what Catholic social service organizations can do in order to not compromise their Catholic identity:

Gregg underlined the importance of De Caritate Ministranda, “On the Service of Charity” – a 2012 document Benedict wrote upon the recommendation of Cardinal Robert Sarah who heads the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, the Vatican’s main oversight agency for charitable activities.

The document, Gregg said, made it “very clear that if Catholic charitable organizations accept funding, whether it be private or government, and it starts to cause the organization to compromise its identity, mission, ability to employ who it wants to employ, its ability to do what it wants to do in accordance with Church teaching, then bishops have the responsibility to stop Catholic organizations from accepting [these funds].”

“It’s well worth reading,” Gregg said, as “it is forcing Catholic organizations to ask themselves some very hard questions, such as: ‘Who is our master?'”

Read more of “International Experts Examine Religious and Economic Freedoms” On Zenit.

On The Catholic World Report, Acton’s Michael Matheson Miller offers a personal reflection on the recent canonization of Pope John Paul II.

There were pilgrims from all parts of the world: Spaniards, Australians, a remarkable number of French (including a couple whose five young children wore matching jackets), a large group from Equatorial Guinea were also matching with commemorative traditional garb marked with images of Pope John Paul. I saw Slovaks, Americans, Nigerians, Lebanese, Italians, and legions of Poles young and old, waving red and white flags and holding banners. More than one million Poles came to Rome to see their native son raised to the altars. A risk-taking American couple had brought along three of their children, including a five-month-old in a baby carriage. At moments it was unnerving to stand in such a crush of people, yet despite the multitude, nearly everyone kept their calm and minded their manners. It was no European football match.

The love that John Paul II evokes has long perplexed journalists. George Weigel tells the story of a reporter who was stunned to see ninety thousand people in Denver’s Mile High Stadium chanting “JP II We Love You!” She attempted to explain away the faithful as “Vatican plants.” There is an attractiveness about sanctity that doesn’t fit into our normal categories. Perhaps this is why it is easier for the media not to deal with it.

I think we love John Paul II for a very simple reason—because, as St. John says of Christ, “he loved us first.”

Read more of “The Love of Saint John Paul II” by Miller on The Catholic World Report.

On the Law in General, Girolamo Zanchi“The goal of all good laws is first and foremost the glory of God, then the good of one’s neighbor, privately and, most important, publicly.” –Girolamo Zanchi 

The following excerpt comes from Thesis 3 (above) of Girolamo Zanchi’s newly translated On the Law in General. Though the work encompasses a range of topics, from natural law to human laws to divine laws, this particular thesis comes in his first foundational chapter on what the law actually is—its goals, classifications, and functions.

If the basis for law is, in fact, fairness—namely, that all people get what they deserve—then nothing is more fair than that God receives all honor and glory in the highest and that our neighbors receive what benefits their health and happiness of mind and body. Logically, then, it would follow that the goal of every good and just law is the glory of God and the good of human beings, first in public, then in private. The apostle Paul remarked about this primary goal, “Whatever you do,” (but we should do what the natural law and God himself have commanded) “do everything for the glory of God” [1 Cor. 10:31]. This exhortation depends on a universal premise that everything we should and can do must be done for the glory of God. In addition, Christ said about all good works, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in Heaven” [Matt. 5:16]. (more…)

Leonardo Da Vinci Horse and RiderToday is Earth Day, a great opportunity for Christians to confess with the Psalmist, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it” (Ps. 24:1).

An immediate corollary to this confession that the world belongs to God is that whatever we have is entrusted to us by him. We therefore have a responsibility as stewards over those aspects of creation that we have control over, most notably our bodies, souls, and property.

Over at The Federalist, I take on Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s conception of stewardship, particularly as applied in the case of the Keystone pipeline. “Tutu’s depiction aligns with a view of the environment as a pristine wilderness which must be preserved rather than cultivated and developed, and is in this way the antithesis of responsible stewardship,” I argue.

One particularly fruitful discussion of the stewardship responsibility of the Christian is contained in Abraham Kuyper’s reflections on the Eighth Commandment in his commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism. We published these remarks in the latest issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality:
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Have Christ and Christianity exerted a positive influence on the development of civilization? Eric Chabot summarizes the evidence that it has, touching on everything from slavery to economics to Medieval church music, and concludes his essay by pointing to an atheist scholar who agrees. What’s the upshot if Chabot is right? Something can be useful and still false, so it wouldn’t prove Christianity true. But recognizing that the Judeo-Christian tradition has benefited civilization, and to a degree unrivaled by any other worldview, should prod one at least to give Christianity a thoughtful hearing.

Discoveries in physics and astronomy offer another reason. (more…)

christ3Holy Week gives us an excellent opportunity to simply take time to look beyond ourselves. When I was little kid, lying in bed at night, I would sometimes become terrified and overwhelmed with the idea of death. I was so petrified of the notion that after death I would be snuffed out of existence for eternity. I’d turn on all the lights and desperately try to distract myself from my deepest thoughts. It didn’t help much that the first dream I can remember as a kid was being chased by the devil with a pitchfork. It made me concerned about the destiny of my eternal state. Ultimately, the only thing that cured me from these panic attacks was the Gospel and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I had to look beyond myself.

With the suffering death and resurrection of Christ, no kind of death should trouble a person clinging to Christ. As the angels said, “Why do you seek the living One among the dead?” And as Athanasius declared in On the Incarnation, “A marvelous and mighty paradox has thus occurred, for the death which they thought to inflict on Him as dishonor and disgrace has become the glorious monument to death’s defeat.” Often we look upon the cross and see violence foremost. It is our sin that put Christ there. But Jesus bore the entire weight of the world and it could not contain him. He was beaten, mutilated, and scourged, but the Father glorified Him in death. Hillary of Poiters noted:

The sun, instead of setting, fled, and all the other elements felt that same shock of the death of Christ. The stars in their courses, to avoid complicity in the crime, escaped by self-extinction from beholding the scene. The earth trembled under the weight of our Lord hanging on the cross and testified that it did not have the power to hold within it him who was dying.

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