Category: Bible and Theology

Anarchist punks are out and the socially-aware hipsters are in (even though they don’t want to say they’re “in”). A little over a decade ago, the hipster scene made its biggest comeback since the 1940s. Though they come in all shapes and sizes, many contemporary hipsters can be found riding their fixed-gear bikes to the farmers’ market or at a bar in skinny jeans drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon.

The Moneyed Yuppies. Source: Hipster Christianity

An interesting sub-category has emerged: Christian hipsters. According to Brett McCracken in an article titled Hipster Faith in Christianity Today, Christian hipsters are rebelling against the over-spiritualized Christian culture they were raised in. Some of them say they have been scarred by contemporary Christian music, door-to-door evangelism and the non-denominational megachurches of their childhood. McCracken, also the author of Hipster Christianity: When Church and Cool Collide, says Christian hipsters are rebelling against

…the stereotypical evangelical church of the 80s – 90s: The Republican, middle class, abortion-clinic-picketing, anti-gay, anti-welfare, legalistic, not-so-interested-in-art-or-books WASP evangelical.

McCracken says the Christian hipster culture is small, but influential. Christian hipsters are returning to a more intellectual, traditional and back-to-basics Christianity. They are Protestants who may secretly wish they were Orthodox or Catholic in some respects. Chances are they read books by C.S. Lewis and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and probably prefer traditional hymns and Sufjan Stevens to Hillsong. Christian hipsters might like shopping at thrift stores, studying abroad, reading philosophy, drinking organic coffee, smoking cigars and serving beer or scotch at bible study.

Christian hipsters also express themselves theologically:

…through preaching that often emphasizes covenantal and ‘new creation’ ideas and attempts to construct a more ecclesiological or community-centric view of salvation. Things like soul-winning and going to heaven are downplayed in favor of the notion that heaven will come down to earth and renew the broken creation. Thus, the world matters. It’s not a piece of rotting kindling that we will abandon for heaven one day. It’s the site of a renewed kingdom. All of this informs hipster Christianity’s attention to things like social justice, environmentalism, and the arts, because if God is building his kingdom on earth, then it all matters.

As mentioned in McCracken’s book, the theological beliefs of the typical Christian hipster can be linked with the Emerging Church, which is associated with authors and pastors like Donald Miller, Brian McLaren, and Rob Bell. According to an article in Christianity Today titled Five Streams of the Emerging Church by Scot McKnight, the doctrine of the Emerging Church is hard to define because systematic theology is viewed suspiciously. Since living out the Gospel is more emphasized than doctrinal beliefs, Christian hipsters who associate themselves with the Emerging Church are generally more focused on helping the poor rather than evangelism.

So what are the economic implications of the Emerging Church? They have been criticized for placing a heavier focus on the material world rather than the spiritual world, which is somewhat reminiscent of the Social Gospel movement in America led by Walter Rauschenbusch in the late 19th and early 20th century, according to McKnight:

Sometimes, however, when I look at emerging politics, I see Walter Rauschenbusch, the architect of the Social Gospel. Without trying to deny the spiritual Gospel, he led his followers into the Social Gospel. The results were devastating for mainline Christianity’s ability to summon sinners to personal conversion. The results were also devastating for evangelical Christianity, which has itself struggled to maintain a proper balance.

The Social Gospel promotes the postmillennial view that Christ will not return until social evils are rid by human effort. Rauschenbusch was very critical towards capitalism and viewed socialism as the means to achieve justice on earth. It is too soon to tell if Christian hipsters and the Emerging Church will reflect the Social Gospel movement as strong as the past, but certain figures in the movement certainly echo a similar economic theme.

In his controversial book, Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope, McLaren’s theological views have been criticized for twisting the Gospel and suggesting social and economic issues are more important than spiritual issues. On page 210 of his book, McLaren says,

Genesis provides a genealogy for all the pain and evil in the whole social structure of humans on planet Earth: it can be traced back to a problem of consumption beyond limits.

Some claim McLaren has replaced biblical themes with political and economic themes of consumption and class warfare (reminds me of someone named Karl Marx).

I do not fault McLaren’s desire to live in a better world. We all desire a better world because we were made for something far greater. Nevertheless, if McLaren believes human efforts can bring The Kingdom of God to earth, his beliefs are not biblical. In the words of Christ,

My Kingdom is not of this world. If it were, My servants would fight for Me. But now My Kingdom is from elsewhere. (John 18:36)

Though the Christian hipster culture might not have a definitive doctrinal theology or a sound economic philosophy, they do have a deep passion for the poor and the desire to live out the Gospel. As Christians, the question is not if we should care for the poor, but how to care for the poor. We cannot properly care for the needy if we over-spiritualize or over-materialize the world because the church is called to address both spiritual and physical needs. Effectively caring for the physical needs of the poor requires a solid economic philosophy that fosters competition, innovation and wealth creation.

In the current issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality (14.1), Brian K. Strow and Claudia W. Strow challenge the economic impact of our definition of society in their article, “Social Choice: The Neighborhood Effect.” It occurred to me that Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew implicitly challenges our definition of society on a different, though similar, level than Strow and Strow.  Strow and Strow analyze the changing results of economic utility functions based upon one’s definition of human society. In his book Encountering the Mystery (2008), His All-Holiness, however, broadens our definition of society not merely on the basis of relationship, geography, or voluntary associations, but on the basis of ontological groupings. This is not to say that he would equate a human child and a dog (or a dog and a flower, for that matter), but that, for the Patriarch, society includes the entire ontological hierarchy of all creation.

This perspective produces interesting results. For example, one may examine the case in recent years when Canada was still paying the state of Michigan to put Canadian trash in its landfills. Financially, Michigan was benefiting from the deal, but environmentally Canada succeeded in minimizing its trash and retaining unused landfill capacity. Economically, both can be considered capital, but they improve the respective societies in differing ways. The financial benefit of Michigan was purely a human benefit, whereas the environmental benefit of Canada benefited humans, animals, plants, air, and soil alike, even if only on a marginal level. As a country, rather than a state, Canada’s definition of society was not only broader in terms of humanity (whether relationally, geographically, or associatively), but also in terms of all creation.

However, as Strow and Strow’s analysis shows, if one were to expand the definition of society to the whole world, Canada did not succeed in producing any environmental benefit (the quantity of total world trash was not diminished at all, only geographically relocated). However, Michigan’s financial gain may have redistributed wealth in a way that still (again marginally) improved the world as a whole (raising per capita income, perhaps), while globally having an indifferent effect upon the environment.

The challenge of His All-Holiness Bartholomew, I believe, is to define society as broadly as possible, not only in terms of relationship, geography, or association, moving from individual to family to state to country to the world, but also moving from particular (one human) to group (family, state, or country) to species (all humanity) to genus (all animals or even all living things) to most general genus (all creation), to use classical categories. If one seeks to find a final say in the Patriarch’s work with regards to the relationship between economics and ecology, one may have many criticisms. However, if one takes his work as a starting point of discussion toward a Christian synthesis between these two disciplines, I believe one finds fertile ground for cultivating a productive engagement of economics and ecology on a global basis with such a cosmic view of society.

The Patriarch’s book Encountering the Mystery is published by Doubleday Religion and can be purchased at Amazon. The scope of the book is far broader than the subject at hand, but chapter VI, “The Wonder of Creation,” addresses his view of the relationship between economics and ecology from an Orthodox Christian perspective in detail. Additionally, his many talks, letters, and encyclicals related to environmentalism can be found here.

For more on Orthodoxy and Environmentalism, Very Rev. Fr. Michael Butler taught a session at this year’s Acton University, which can be accessed here.

For more on the ecological relationship of humanity to creation as a whole from a Christian perspective, see also Benjamin B. Philips, “A Creature among Creatures or Lord of Creation?” in the Symposium section of the current issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality.

You can subscribe to the Journal of Markets & Morality here.

Ralph Waldo Emerson quipped “There is properly no history; only biography.” It’s a line that lends to exaggeration for effect but speaks to the centrality of narrative and story. One of the great books I had the pleasure of reading about in regards to our story of independence is Paul Revere’s Ride by David Hackett Fischer. It was fascinating to read about how a group of men came together to defend their property, way of life, and community against the British Crown. Fischer does a good job at pointing out how many of the leaders of the skirmish on the roads to Lexington and Concord were Christian ministers. Ministers were often the most educated in a community and the colonists looked to them first for leadership, especially in a situation so grave where the taking up of arms was considered.

One of the experiences that shaped me deeply in my appreciation for this country was living overseas in Egypt. When you see deep subjugation of people and heartbreaking poverty it humbles you and helps you appreciate the opportunities and blessings freedom can provide. Right now, there is understandably a lot of uncertainty about the future of this country. This includes our massive debt, economic health, prosperity, and certainly the moral order. One of the things I think I try to articulate through some of my writing and talks here at Acton is the importance of getting back to first principles. It is something all of us here at Acton are intentional about focusing on in the work we do. A great example is our discussion about the budget and the proper role of government. It is evident that as government intrusion grows it becomes even more clear that politics and politicians are unable to solve our national ills.

In speaking about America and the story of America, another book that has had a tremendous impact on me and really is an essential story for thinking about what it means to be an American is When Hell Was in Session by Admiral Jeremiah Denton. For some, his story may appear to be one that has faded with time or was more important in a Cold War context. But as Christians know, while believers wouldn’t willingly choose suffering, there is something powerful that happens to us in Christ when we suffer. Denton suffered brutal beatings and mental anguish during his almost eight years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam from 1965-1973. He had plenty of time to grow in his faith under his communist captors. Under those extreme circumstances, he also came to a deeper understanding about the foundations, ideals, and way of life he was defending as an American and why they were so valuable.

In the colonies during the Revolution a common cry was “There is no king, but King Jesus.” It was certainly a slap at the Crown, but it also showed the revolution was grounded in first principles and freedom flows from God and not from a monarchy, or human power. Scripture declares, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” It of course refers to spiritual liberty and not political liberty. It’s ultimately a majestic reminder that through trials, breakdown of society, and all of our national despair on display so well in Washington and across this land, that our hope and grounding is found in Christ.

Many of the men, many of them not unlike us, afraid for their future and the direction of their colony, nervously huddled together on the Lexington and Concord road with muskets in hand to deliver the “shot heard ’round the world.” They understood that spiritual truth and that God was their hope and anchor. Edward Mote summed up the situation we all face well when he penned the hymn “My Hope is Built.” His simple words: “On Christ the solid Rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.”

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary and a member of the editorial advisory board for the Journal of Markets & Morality, has written a memoir reflecting on his introduction to and engagement with the thought of Abraham Kuyper. His book is titled, Abraham Kuyper: A Short and Personal Introduction, and in an essay appearing at the Comment site, Mouw writes about the significance of Kuyper for the evangelical world today.

“The interest in neocalvinist thought is growing beyond the Dutch Reformed world, especially in the broader evangelical movement,” writes Mouw. “And this means that there is a deep desire these days for an understanding of a robust cultural discipleship that is well-integrated with a concern for both sound doctrine and a vibrant piety.”

The ability of Kuyper’s thought to speak to this “deep desire” is one of the animating features behind the Common Grace Translation Project, which the Acton Institute has undertaken in partnership with Kuyper College. In his foreword to the Common Grace volumes, Kuyper concludes “concerning the relationship between the Christian life, as we understood it, and the life of the world in all of its manifestation and diversity,” that “everything came down to resuscitating the rich foundational idea embodied in the doctrine of common grace.”

Be sure to check out the Common Grace Translation Project page for more information, and connect with the project on Facebook. The first full volume is scheduled to appear in the Fall of 2012, but there are some more exciting developments that will be happening later this year.

R.R. Reno at First Things has written a moving meditation on the preferential option for the poor:

“In the Gospel of Matthew we find Jesus warning us about how our lives will be judged. His words are pointed. We are to feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, and visit the prisoner. For what we do to the poor and the destitute—“the least of these my brethren,” says Jesus—we do to the Lord himself.

It’s a sobering warning, and I fear that I’m typical. For the most part I think about myself: my needs, my interests, my desires. And when I break out of my cocoon of self-interest, it’s usually because I’m thinking about my family or my friends, which is still a kind of self-interest. The poor? Sure, I feel a sense of responsibility, but they’re remote and more hypothetical than real: objects of a thin, distant moral concern that tends to be overwhelmed by the immediate demands of my life. As I said, I’m afraid I’m typical.”

Reno points out something very interesting about the language used to describe our relationship to the poor:

“In Octogesima Adveniens (1971), an encyclical marking the eightieth anniversary of Leo XIII’s seminal treatment of modern social issues, Rerum Novarum, Paul VI evoked the fundamental importance of a transformative spirit of self-sacrificial love. “In teaching us charity,” he wrote, “the Gospel instructs us in the preferential respect due to the poor and the special situation they have in society: the most fortunate should renounce some of their rights so as to place their goods generously at the service of others.”

“Preferential respect” became the handier slogan “preferential option,” a formulation that first emerged from liberation theologies in South America but has percolated into a great deal of Catholic pronouncement on social ethics in recent decades. It captures a fundamental Christian imperative. When we think about politics and culture, our first question should be: “What are the needs of the poor?””

The late Fr. Pedro Arrupe, S.J. coined the phrase, ‘preferential option for the poor’ a few years prior to Pope Paul VI’s use of ‘preferential respect’ in his encyclical and both phrases bring out a different dimension of what the Christian’s relationship with the poor should be.

The language of Arrupe follows the Ignatian tradition in its emphasis on choice. It is a preferential option, a decision to be made, and a commitment to be lived. The language of Pope Paul VI is more ontological, a respect to be given to the poor as poor, possessing a dignity that also demands ones own renunciation of rights and claims before them.

When meditating on the preferential option, a relationship of action and choice, Reno is right to recall the words of Jesus when he speaks of the judgment, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”

When I think of Pope Paul VI’s language of respect my thoughts go to these words of Christ, “For ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will ye may do them good: but me ye have not always.”

The poor must never be reduced to a project or duty and they must never be ignored while simultaneously held in our esteem. They are our neighbors and all that that entails.


Blog author: kspence
Friday, June 24, 2011

Jeffery C. Pugh has landed every blogger’s dream: the book deal for a best-of collection of his musings. Devil’s Ink: Blog from the Basement Office is an answer to the question “What if Satan kept a blog?”—one of several (the opportunity to pun is apparently irresistible) all of which immediately invite comparison with C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters. Pugh anticipates that comparison in his book’s preface, saying he offers “another way of looking at evil,” a modern way that reflects how the “locale of evil has changed,” and confronts particularly its rise in popular culture.

He certainly offers a different perspective on evil; so different, in fact, that rather than avoiding comparison with Lewis, he forces it. Pugh presents only one kind of “evil” in his bloggings from the throne of Hell—and such is the nature of a blog that the action of evil can be nothing else than as he presents it. That evil is not the personal sin that Lewis explored in Screwtape’s letters on the art of temptation, but a kind of corporate, structural sin based on a view of human history as class conflict.

Pugh offers some insightful entries on pride and on spiritual community, but he is continually caught up in the idea that evil is found in the structures of society rather than in men’s sinful hearts. In fact he rarely uses the word sin, preferring the more ambiguous “evil.” Post after post deals with war, human suffering, and the vulgarity of popular culture—all of which are valid subjects of reflection, but which totally consume the author’s ethical thoughts.

One sees flashes of Lewis in postings like “Spiritual but Not Religious,” when he warns that “Spirituality pursued without the community of faith is easily dealt with and dispersed. Discipline pursued in the community of faith makes them stronger and less susceptible to us.” But the community is not the basic moral unity—that unit is the individual person, and when Pugh says in his preface that “it is difficult sometimes to see evil when one lives in the midst of it; it is usually in retrospect that one sees how evil manifested itself,” it becomes clear that he does not realize where evil—where sin—is first of all to be found. The Screwtape Letters draws the reader to look inward; Devil’s Ink lets him off the hook by directing his meditation at society.

This confused ethics comes from Pugh’s view of history as a narrative of class warfare. As he writes in a post about Utopia (in which he reveals a real misunderstanding of Thomas More’s work), the Devil scores a big victory when man ceases to see revolutions as “the historical eruptions of the masses who want more and desire what the other has.” Pugh is not the writer that Lewis was, and so it is often difficult to find his voice in the Devil’s, but in this case the context makes it clear: the author’s embrace of history-as-class-warfare leads him away from a proper understanding of personal sin.

A recent post on the Devil’s Ink blog illustrates Pugh’s confusion. He is right that attention paid Kim Kardashian, Lindsay Lohan, and Anthony Weiner is attention distracted from worthwhile pursuits, but he cannot resist seating evil in the popular culture that promotes those three. “The ways [humans] construct their society, the type of human beings those environments create, and the material effects of those communities” are the Devil’s prime victories, not the corruption of men’s souls. Such a view is not fundamentally different than those of Marx and Lenin, with Christianity sprinkled over the top.

What is to be recommended in the book? Some of Pugh’s irony is indeed funny, as the blurbs on the back cover note. Jabs at public figures are often landed to humorous effect, although each laugh is a reminder of the author’s search for moral fault anywhere but the self. Stanley Hauerwas is quoted on the back: “Pugh’s devil is indeed deadly serious, but in this hilarious and wise book we learn to laugh at Satan. Pugh teaches us how important it is to defy evil with humor.” One is instantly reminded of Screwtape’s advice on counterinsurgency: “The fact that ‘devils’ are predominantly comic figures in the modern imagination will help you.”

Judy Hill with her son James

A few weeks ago I made a phone call to Judy Hill at High Cotton Ties simply because I had a strong feeling she had a compelling witness to offer about entrepreneurship, vocation, and creativity. Picking up the phone was a wise decision. She agreed to an interview for readers of the PowerBlog. I had ordered a few bow ties from High Cotton Ties and was extremely impressed with the unique design and high quality. I had no idea of any of Judy’s values, or her beliefs about vocation and entrepreneurship. I didn’t know her at all. At the same time, I was not surprised to find that so much of her thinking aligned with Acton’s ideas and principles. Simply put, Judy is easily among the most gracious, kindest, and spirit-filled ladies I have ever conversed with. She has a radiant personality and a great story to tell about turning a passion into a business success. Below is the interview:

How did the idea for High Cotton develop and what are a few things that make this product so unique?

High Cotton Ties was born out of prayer and the financial needs of our family. Our family had just moved to Charlotte in 2007 after 22 years in the D.C. area. Upon moving, the recession hit our family hard and we found ourselves searching creatively for ways to provide for our family of five, two sons in college and one son in high school. I took a year off from teaching a young women’s Bible Study to devote myself to thinking creatively of ideas for work. Eight months later, it was Christmas time and, having sewn most of my life, I decided to make a pattern and sew a few colorful bow ties for my son Cameron, who is a medical student at the University of Virginia.

Not able to find any silk to my liking, I chose four colorful cottons with which to make the ties. Cameron thought this was a great idea because he would be able to wash the ties so they would be clean to wear when seeing patients in the hospital. I had no idea until then that a study had been done which showed the presence of germs such as H1N1 on the silk neck ties of doctors nor did I know that wearing silk ties was already being discouraged in the hospital.

My middle son, James, took the same bow tie to his fraternity at Carolina (UNC Chapel Hill) and it received an even more enthusiastic response. The college students immediately took to the idea of a comfortable, cotton bow tie. It was preppy, smart, and had its roots in the South. It began to take off on the college campus and that is where the High Cotton Ties culture eventually developed.

Our product is unique in that it is made of high quality, washable cotton and is the first line of bow ties and cummerbunds made exclusively of cotton. Our line is made in the South by Southerners to precise standards and specifications. Our designs are “Southern Mainstays”: traditional patterns and fabrics such as tattersalls, ginghams, madras and seersucker as opposed to novelties and tiny prints. Our bow ties and cummerbunds are hand cut and hand sewn here in North Carolina.

How does your faith or your own concept of a “calling” play a role in your business?

I believe that God has given me a gift in High Cotton Ties, to be able to create the bow ties, to work hand in hand with my sons and to put my mind and abilities toward the work He has given me. Because I see my vocation as a gift and calling from God, it definitely brings more satisfaction to my work. It helps me to see that I am not doing this alone, or even just with my boys, but I am in the process of creating something with the help of the very God of creation and that brings joy, excitement and pleasure in my work.

What do you think are valuable character traits and virtues needed for entrepreneurship?

Creativity, vision, perseverance, integrity, honesty, and willingness to take risks. Focusing on the needs of others is an essential trait of entrepreneurship and that is a crucial aspect for building relationships.

Do you feel like any of these qualities have helped to make High Cotton Ties a success?

High Cotton Ties is still a young company and so if we are considered a success, it would be because we had a vision from the start that was unwavering and clear. We decided early on that we wanted to be the best cotton bow tie on the market, to make a genuine product through a genuine process and we have done everything we can to stay true to that mission with integrity and honesty.

How has it influenced the actual product?

We have worked hard to perfect and improve our bow ties and cummerbunds. In fact, just last week, after a very successful first year and significant praise for our product line, we decided to redesign our bow tie pattern to make it truer to size at the urging of two friends, one a trusted mentor in the apparel industry, and the other, a store owner whom we greatly respect. The product was slightly off in actual neck size and so we made the necessary changes to the pattern, losing valuable time, money and inventory, but the end result was to have as fine a product as is on the market today. We always say we want to be able to sleep at night knowing that we have made a good product and the recent changes to our ties have helped us get that good night’s sleep.

You have said you want to help bring a revival to the North Carolina textile industry and your business is very organic. What does that mean?

Growing up in North Carolina around textiles, I have seen and felt the devastation that industry experienced in recent years. When we outgrew the individual seamstresses we were using, we began to look in North Carolina for a manufacturer, determined to keep true to our mission.

After a state-wide search, we found a textile manufacturing company in a small North Carolina town (population 1200). The owner had returned to North Carolina to open the factory after working with larger international textile firms and experiencing first hand the difficult conditions in the factories overseas. It was a perfect match for our mission. So, now our ties are produced on the still vibrant main street of a “three stoplight” North Carolina town using North Carolina seamstresses.

Our distribution/fulfillment center is also located in another small North Carolina town, Cherryville.

In June, we are releasing our first t-shirt that, again, has the common theme of High Cotton Ties: Made in North Carolina. The cotton for our t-shirts is grown on local farms and picked, ginned, spun, woven, dyed and sewn, all within the borders of North Carolina. In committing ourselves to a local product, we are encouraging jobs in the industry, hopefully for years to come.

Our business is organic in that we have used our own resources to build the company because of a long term commitment to growing High Cotton Ties.

What are you excited about for what the future holds for High Cotton Ties? What would you ultimately like to see develop out of this idea?

The future of High Cotton Ties is all about growing our product line, creatively using 100 percent cotton fabrics to make high quality products for our customers. We are looking at a variety of apparel and accessories to add to our line in the near future and, most importantly, of finding ways to manufacture cotton fabric once again in North Carolina.

We would ultimately like to see our product line continue to grow and be produced in North Carolina, bringing jobs to the textile industry of our great state. And, we would like to earn the respect of our customers, for unparalleled customer service and quality products.