Category: Bible and Theology

Blog author: dpahman
Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Not Abba Pistamon

Today at Ethika Politika, I examine some ancient economic wisdom from one of the desert fathers: Abba Pistamon. Far from the newest of Nintendo’s Pokemon monsters (despite the sound of his name), Abba Pistamon was one of the first Christian monks. The dialogue between him and an unnamed brother that I examine from the Sayings of the Desert Fathers has a lot to say about production, labor, profit, and exchange.

I write,

Far from a gnostic allergy to any involvement with the material world, Abba Pistamon acknowledges the good of production and exchange, appealing to past precedent of other revered monks before him (“Abba Sisois and others”). Commerce, he says, was common. In fact, according to the size and expansive enterprise of ancient monastic communities, we can say that his assessment is more than anecdotal. In ancient Christian sources, contempt for the merchant and trader is common, but the reality is more complicated. Sometimes traders and merchants went by a more respectable name: monks. We should not be surprised, then, that Abba Pistamon displays a certain natural business sense. But he does not stop at the merely economic aspects of production and exchange.


In light of the discussion about distributism in the recent comments, I’m posting John Zmirak’s excellent Religion & Liberty review of The Hobbit Party: The Vision of Freedom that Tolkien Got and the West Forgot by Jonathan Witt and Jay Richards (Ignatius Press, 2014) here on the PowerBlog. Note how he ends the review with a discussion of Tolkien and whether his work lent support to distributism. Have at it.

In Praise of the Bourgeois, Liberty-Loving Race of Hobbits

By John Zmirak

"First they ignore it, then they ridicule it, then they willfully misunderstand it, then it becomes a classic." Mohandas Gandhi never said that about great works of literature, but it does describe the trajectory of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. We are long past the days when critics could lightly sneer at the book as "escapist," or convince people that it is secretly "militarist" or "racist." Too many tens of millions have actually read the work to swallow such poison pills. So readers of Tolkien who profoundly misunderstand the book and reject its central message have taken another tack: They have tried to misconstrue the work as a plea for radical environmentalism, Marxist revolution, or the use of the violent force employed by the state in the service of other agendas (such as Distributism) that were utterly alien to Tolkien. The Hobbit Party, by Jonathan Witt and Jay Richards does a brilliant job of exposing these crass or crafty misreadings of Tolkien, presenting in plain English and scholarly detail the true complexity and beauty of Tolkien's epic, and more honest applications of his insights.

The Hobbit Party is an easy and pleasurable read, deeply informative and grounded in a fundamental sympathy with the vision of the good that Tolkien wove through all his works. If you only bought one book on The Lord of the Rings, this would be an excellent choice. It's especially worthwhile as a gift for students who are already fans of the book, since it will connect them to Tolkien's intellectual roots and moral aspirations.


In the latest video from For the Life of the World, Christian philosopher Peter Kreeft expounds on the Economy of Wonder and how it intersects with our stewardship of God’s house.

Hipster head-bobbing is permitted:

There’s beauty everywhere. We just don’t see it…Life is a mystery to be lived continuously, not a problem to be solved suddenly…

In this life, we are so full and foolish that we appreciate only a few of these things, since we have more and more slaves that we have to take care of, and therefore we have less and less time every generation — less and less leisure. Our slaves are not made of flesh and blood anymore, thank God, but they’re made of steel and plastic and computer chips. We are happiest when we play with endlessly fascinating simple things, like the sea or sticks and stones, instead of with expensive computer games that bore us so quickly that we require new ones every month. This is an image of the human condition.

…Everything that exists has some truth, some goodness, and some beauty. Everything is divine revelation. We are creators because we are created in the image of the Creator. We are artists because God is, and it’s because we dimly know this that we weep with both joy and sorrow when we meet someone pulls up the curtain an inch — the curtain that separates the heavenly vision from the earthly.

…How do we use this to save the world? How do you appreciate beauty? You just love it. How do you appreciate goodness? You just love it. How do you find the truth? You love it. Seek and you shall find. Truth, goodness, and beauty. You just do it. It’s like, “How do you love? How do you pray? How do you live?” Just do it.


“Stewardship is far more than the handling of our money. Stewardship is the handling of life, and time, and destiny.” –Lester DeKoster and Gerard Berghoef

Faithful in All God's HouseStewardship as a term is tossed around rather widely and routinely, and even (or especially) in church settings, its presumed definition is often surprisingly narrow. Though often used in reference to tithing, fundraising, or financial management (and rightly so), we mustn’t forget that at a more basic level, stewardship is simply about our management of God’s house. All of his house.

“God makes man the master of his temporal household,” write Lester DeKoster and Gerard Berghoef in Faithful in All God’s House. “Like all stewards, man is not the owner. He is the overseer…The quality of stewardship depends on obedience to the Master’s will.”

As Evan Koons learns in Episode 1 of For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles, our various earthly economies— or the “modes of operation that God has designed us to work within” — include our families, jobs, governments, schools, charities, and institutions. Each area has its own distinct role, its own distinct “sound,” its own mode of operation. But each was meant to played in harmony with others. God calls us to be stewards across all of life, and assuming that responsibility begins with expanding our imaginations.

Over at Oikonomia, the Acton Institute’s new blog at the Patheos Faith and Work Channel, the first chapter of Faithful in All God’s House is offered in full, helping lay a basic foundation on how we might consider the reach of these things. (more…)

Putin in ChurchIn Christianity Today, Mark R. Elliott offers an interesting and balanced report that goes a long way to explaining why “evangelicals in Russia have become ardent fans of President Vladimir Putin because of Russia’s efforts to maintain its influence in Ukraine, its takeover of Crimea in 2014, and the widespread Russian belief that the West is to blame for the present economic woes on the home front.” I’m not a fan of Putin, but neither am I suffering from Russophobia. Can 85 percent of Russians — those filling the nation’s pews — be wrong about the Russian president? I’ll have more to say in another post to follow about the regrettable business of an Eastern Orthodox “jihad” and the unholy mystical-magical alliance of Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church that we read about here on the PowerBlog.

But for now, here’s Elliott explaining “Why Russia’s Evangelicals Thank God for Putin.” It gets very complicated, very fast:

People are suffering in eastern Ukraine at the hands of both Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainian army units, and Western media often overlook the dual cause of suffering. A pastor friend in Moscow has a new member in his congregation, a recently widowed pastor and tent evangelist from Lugansk, eastern Ukraine. A Ukrainian artillery shell took his wife’s life as she was standing on their apartment balcony. This grieving father of two shared, “After that, we almost immediately moved to Moscow. There are difficulties with citizenship. By God’s mercy there will be a job for me.”

To date, fighting in eastern Ukraine has claimed over 4,700 lives and wounded more than 9,900. Refugees displaced by the fighting number nearly one million. Separatists in eastern Ukraine who see Russian Orthodoxy as the only legitimate faith have closed dozens of Protestant and Catholic churches and the Protestant Donetsk Christian University.

Rogue pro-separatist units have kidnapped, tortured, and killed evangelical pastors. At the same time, in central and western Ukraine, some Orthodox parishes and priests loyal to the Moscow Patriarchate have been harassed and pressured to switch their allegiance to one of the two Ukraine-based Orthodox jurisdictions. Piecing together a balanced picture of the Ukraine tragedy can only be achieved with a careful, inclusive reading of Russian, Ukrainian, and Western sources.

Blog author: ken.larson
Wednesday, January 7, 2015

I’m not one of those folks who are glued to the tube, but some things on television grab and hold my attention. One is Masterpiece Theatre’s Downton Abbey, that just began its fifth season in the United States this past Sunday night. I was one of millions watching according to trade journal reports. As a promotion to the new season the producers created a supplemental trailer so to speak – oldsters might call it a “double bill” – titled Manners of Downton Abbey. You can see it online here.

The manners as depicted in portrayals of either Victorian or Edwardian England do clash quite abruptly with what most of us encounter and or display in our lives today. In the Manners Special we are allowed to view and listen to the various actors and actresses in the show as they comment with gestures and expressions that coincide with the major contradictions in the behavior they present on screen and the one they live in their private lives. Expressions like stiff formality, odd set of rules, no slouching, sitting up straight, wearing gloves at the dinner table, tend to characterize the dialogue.

Our tour guide for this show is a guy the producers hired at the start to make sure that the actors accurately portray their parts. Alastair Bruce is an “expert on British Royal Ceremony” and has a resume and Royal Order of the British Empire to prove it.

Nearly eight minutes into the Manners Special I heard Mr. Bruce say something that knocked me back. In describing the dining room etiquette he puts things in context with,

They say Grace at the beginning [of the meal] and that makes it the Lord’s table and all the detail and sumptuous display and the manners reflects the struggle they all have to achieve a similarly perfect moral approach to life. An immaculate presentation was a statement of moral correctness to all.

Granted, we do not – I don’t recall, ever – see the Crowley’s or for that matter anyone else actually say Grace in these Downton Abbey episodes. After all, this is public television, not Duck Dynasty. But it is comforting to know that Mr. Bruce has grounded intentions. Something to think about the next time you sit down with the family or have guests for dinner.

Blog author: johnteevan
Tuesday, December 23, 2014

nativity1We know how God approached mankind: the surprising incarnation as a baby at Christmas. But how ought we to approach Him? Here is a wide range of 14 ways we often try, along with a benefit for each:

  1. Love the right things and you will find your way home to God
  2. Think the right things and you will know the sovereign God
  3. Believe the right things and you will live at peace
  4. Obey, obey, obey and you will not go to hell
  5. Withdraw from the world and you will know God best
  6. Keep these sacraments and you will be part of the kingdom of God
  7. Feel the right things and you will be blessed in your spirit
  8. Follow these steps and you will prosper
  9. Serve the Lord your God by serving people and you will honor God
  10. Once you have suffered enough you will know God
  11. Meditation is the path to knowing God
  12. Go with the culture and God will go with you
  13. There is no God, but there ought to be one, so I’ll “believe”
  14. We are all God’s children so let’s be nice to everyone


In the latest video blog from For the Life of the World, Evan Koons offers Christmas greetings and a few timely reminders with his usual dose of humor.

“He made himself nothing to be with us.”

Indeed, by entering the Earth in human form, nay, in infant human form, born to the house of a carpenter, Jesus provides a striking example of the order of Christian service — of the truth and the life, yes, but also of the way. (more…)

Over at the Calvinist International I’ve posted the text of a Christmas meditation from Abraham Kuyper, made possible by the work of Jim DeJong and the Dutch Reformed Translation Society. It’s a rich devotional reflection inspired by the text of Luke 2:8, “And there were shepherds in the fields nearby keeping watch over their flock at night.”

Using the pastoral trope, Kuyper enjoins his readers to:

Think only about your own situation. Think about your shepherding. Think about the flock entrusted to you. Think about your own responsibility to keep watch over that flock at night. What does your conscience say to you about that? The year is coming to a close. Days are flying by. Give an account of yourself; hold a reckoning of your own soul. Brothers and sisters, what, I ask what, have you done with your flock? What have you done with those about whom the Lord said to you, “I entrust these to you!”

Each one of us has been entrusted with the care of something. That’s the basic stewardship reality taught in Scripture. And the waiting of the shepherds, like the Advent waiting of Zechariah, was done in faithful commitment to their stewardship responsibility, whether in the field or the temple. So too must our waiting be a faithful waiting.

Or as John Milton put it in Sonnet 19, alluding to the parable of the workers in the vineyard, “They also serve who only stand and waite.” Let us wait in ready anticipation of the Jesus. Of him Kuyper confesses: “The Shepherd of all shepherds is the Lord, the great Shepherd of our souls.”

StJohnsAshfield StainedGlass GoodShepherd Portrait

AzpilcuetaCoverCLP Academic has now released On Exchange, a new translation of a key section in Martín de Azpilcueta’s Manual de confesores y penitents, his most influential work.

Originally published in 1549, the section was included as one of four appendices to the Manual, offering commentary on Gregory IX’s prohibition of nautical usury. The release is part of the growing series, Sources in Early Modern Economics, Ethics, and Law.

Azpilcueta (1492-1586), also known as Doctor Navarrus, was a leading canonist and moral theologian of the early modern period. Although On Exchange was meant to provide moral guidance for pastors and penitents, it has drawn the attention of economic historians for its indirect analysis of 16th-century economic realities, including explorations on exchange practices, supply and demand, and the nature of money. As noted in the book’s overview, Azpilcueta’s “account of the fluctuation of the value of money marks a significant development in early modern economic thought.” (more…)