Category: Bible and Theology

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, December 16, 2013

Bhutan - Flickr - babasteve (2)At last week’s Acton on Tap, I discussed the economic teachings of the Heidelberg Catechism, beginning with the divine origin of material blessings as expressed in Lord’s Day 50, which explores the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread.” The catechism emphasizes God as “the only source of everything good,” echoing the classical Christian understanding of God as the fons omnium bonorum, a Latin phrase meaning the font or source of all good things. This formula appears in many places, notably in the work of John Calvin.

The conclusion from such an understanding is, as the catechism puts it, that we are “to give up our trust in creatures and trust in you [God] alone.” So even though the bread we normally consume each day is brought to us by the work of others, including farmers, millers, and bakers, we are to look beyond these secondary means to the origin of all good things, giving thanks to him.

In his guide to the Heidelberg Catechism, the Rev. Cornelis Vonk provides us with a powerful image connecting the divine origins and the human means by which our material blessings normally are provided. Vonk writes,

Someone might nonetheless ask, “How can we ask the Lord for bread when it is already prepared and ready on our table?”

We see the same thing when a child takes an apple from a bowl on the table, after first asking, “Mother, may I take an apple?” The child does this even though those apples were purchased for him. But Mother is the owner. In the same way, before we enjoy a finely furnished meal, we acknowledge our heavenly Father as the owner by saying, “Please.”

The Lord’s Prayer is a way of gratefully acknowledging that God has provided for our material needs, most often through the work of our neighbors, and asking in faithfulness that such provision continue.
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Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Thursday, December 12, 2013

slowjusticeAlthough the Slow Movement—a cultural shift toward slowing down life’s pace—began in the late 1980s, it has recently undergone a surge in popularity. Today there are numerous offshoots, including slow money, slow parenting, and slow journalism.

While I’m not quite ready to give up fast food or fast media, I’m eager to align myself with what Robert Joustra calls “slow justice”:

I’m trained to do slow justice. I do what Mike Gerson calls the banality of goodness. Slow, methodical, plodding, articulate and planned justice. Architectonic justice that (supposedly) lasts. Paul Wells said this week in Macleans of our Prime Minister, “Other people are moved by a sonnet or a perfect game. Stephen Harper mists up at the thought of long-term planning.” That’s me. I don’t sign petitions or march on capital hill(s). I grab drinks, take lunch meetings, ploddingly offer stats and case studies, voraciously track cultural and political conditions. I get more than 30 journals.

Those of us who do slow justice seem to be more conservative. Those who do fast justice, more radical, more alternative; less impressed with the systems that provide justice. Slow justice gets PhD’s, writes in journals, runs for office. Fast justice petitions, marches, mobilizes. Slow justice can resent fast justice. I’ve resented fast justice. It’s messy, annoying and – at times – hopelessly ignorant. It hasn’t done the work to get to the table.

Like Joustra, I tend to resent the fast justice approach. Too often it appears to be mainly what economists call signaling, i.e., conveying some meaningful information about oneself to another party. Typically, the information conveyed by the conscious-raising and awareness campaigns of the fast justice types is that the person is both caring and cool (or whatever the cool slang term for cool is nowadays) and is willing to help if it requires a minimal level of commitment.
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Today at First Things’ On the Square feature, I question the tone and timing of Patriarch Batholomew’s recent message on climate change. While I do not object to him making a statement about the subject in conjunction with the opening of the Warsaw Climate Change Conference, his initial reference, then silence, with regards to Typhoon Haiyan while other religious leaders offered their prayer, sympathy, and support to those affected, is disappointing. I write,

While other religious leaders offered prayer and tangible support, all that has come from the Phanar is an environmental statement. Hurting people need practical and pastoral help, not politics.

An additionally troubling aspect of the problem comes from his clear implication that the typhoon was caused, or at least intensified, by anthropogenic climate change, using this tragedy to advocate for a political cause through a disposition of fear: (more…)

In this short talk, Rev. Robert A. Sirico, co-founder and president of the Acton Institute, offers some general observations about the new “Apostolic Exhortation” published Nov. 26 by Pope Francis. Specifically, Rev. Sirico addresses the economic content of the work, titled “Evangelii Gaudium” (The Joy of the Gospel) and poses some questions for further reflection. And please take a moment to watch this PovertyCure trailer also posted here.

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Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Good now, sit down, and tell me, he that knows,
Why this same strict and most observant watch
So nightly toils the subject of the land,
And why such daily cast of brazen cannon,
And foreign mart for implements of war;
Why such impress of shipwrights, whose sore task
Does not divide the Sunday from the week;
What might be toward, that this sweaty haste
Doth make the night joint-labourer with the day:
Who is’t that can inform me?

–Marcellus, in Shakespeare’s Hamlet

Human beings, with our diversity of gifts, talents, and dispositions, were created to, as Adam Smith put it, “truck, barter, and exchange.” In other words, we were made to trade.

But we were not created to be constantly trucking, bartering, and exchanging. That’s the central truth about humanity that the commandment concerning Sabbath rest communicates:

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

Over at The Gospel Coalition today, I expand on the news of Amazon’s new delivery service on Sundays to discuss “Sabbath Rest and the Moral Limits of Consumption.”

Just as we sleep each night to give our bodies rest from daily labors, our souls (as well as our bodies) need rest from mundane and worldly activities. This is the kind of rest that the Sabbath is designed to provide. The Sabbath principle calls us to rest from the gratification of our earthly desires, whether they be morally permissible or not, and whether we consider them to be work or leisure.
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Blog author: rjmoeller
posted by on Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Picking up where we left off last time (in verse 9 of I Samuel 8), the prophet Samuel’s sons have given God’s system of judges a black eye with their corrupt behavior. Not wishing to be upstaged in the “Let’s Disappoint God” department, the people of Israel decide they want to up-the-sin-ante by rejecting God’s order and demanding a monarchy.

It’s now time for Samuel to share with the people what is in store for them should they refuse to course-correct.

In verse 9, at the behest of God himself, Samuel offers a “solemn” warning to his people. I note this at the start because I am of the opinion that it is always a worthwhile endeavor to give someone headed off of a cliff a fair warning. Even if you know they won’t listen, it’s always worth a shot. God knew the people had turned their hearts from Him, and He knew they would reject the council of His appointed mediator, but He told that mediator to warn them anyway.

Samuel’s task was to walk rightly with his God and obediently speak truth to his countrymen. The rest was in Yahweh’s hands. (more…)

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Tuesday, November 26, 2013

burden-bearingOver the past year, public discussion about the Affordable Care Act has led many Christians to question the proper roles of government and business in providing healthcare. Too often, though, the question left unexamined is what role the church should have in responding to the medical needs of the community.

Throughout the history of the church, Christians have been actively involved in the provision and funding of health and medical resources. But for the past 50 years, these functions have been treated as political problems reserved for the state rather than matters to be addressed by the church.

Some Christians though, are beginning to reassert this biblically mandated role by participating in health care sharing ministries (HCSM). HCSMs are not insurance companies, but nonprofit religious organizations that help members pay for medical treatments.

As the Alliance of Health Care Sharing Ministries explains, “A health care sharing ministry (HCSM) provides a health care cost sharing arrangement among persons of similar and sincerely held beliefs. HCSMs are not-for-profit religious organizations acting as a clearinghouse for those who have medical expenses and those who desire to share the burden of those medical expenses.”
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One of the profound realities of theology and ecclesiastical enclaves in which American Christians live is each tribal subculture views the world as if Christianity begins and ends with their tribe. Evangelicals are a great example of this trend. Some evangelicals write as if they are the only Christians doing God’s work in the world.

For example, Joy Allmond recently wrote a perplexing article about New York City asking “Is New York City on the Brink of a Great Awakening?” Allmond, a web writer for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, lives in Charlotte, NC, and after reading her article one is left wondering if Ms. Allmond is at all familiar with the religious and Christian landscape of New York City. The narrative she constructs for readers is that change is coming to New York City because evangelicals have arrived. The article begins with a factual impossibility:

20 years ago, Eric Metaxas knew practically every born again believer in Manhattan. “It was like a spiritual ghost town,” the cultural commentator, thought leader and author recalled. Yet, over the recent decades—particularly this last one—New York has seen a surge in evangelicalism. Some cultural experts believe the Big Apple to be on the brink of another ‘Great Awakening.’

I am not writing as an expert on Christianity in New York City, but there is no way Metaxas “practically” knew the thousands of “born again” believers in the Manhattan, especially among the black churches in Harlem and the Dominican churches in Washington Heights, and so on, in 1993. It is unclear why Allmond would make such a fanciful claim but it speaks to the tribal blind spot that some evangelicals have about their own importance. Allmond mentions several evidences of this hoped-for awakening, including the presence of Socrates In The City, The King’s College (where I’m employed), Redeemer Presbyterian Church, and Brooklyn Tabernacle, to name a few. While these do signal increased institutional movements in recent years among evangelicals, they do not suggest that anything spectacular is happening in America’s largest city. Are evangelicals really that important? Here’s why I say this: there have been Christians in this city faithfully preaching the Truth in word and deed for centuries before any church or institution named in Allmond’s article arrived.
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Blog author: rjmoeller
posted by on Friday, November 22, 2013

I recently posted some thoughts at The Power Blog on “God’s Problem With Centralized Power”, which took a macro view of what I believe to be God’s clear disdain for mankind pursuing their own ends instead of His articulated purposes when it comes to how we organize ourselves communally. This time I want to highlight a specific, micro-level example of that same general idea.

The story of Israel’s demand for a king in I Samuel 8 contains so many relevant, interesting nuggets of insight that I’ve broken it into two parts. This first post will cover verses 1-9; the second one (on Monday) will explore verses 10-22.

When the elders of Israel come to Samuel on behalf of their people to ask for a king to lead them, the decentralized governing system of “judges” had largely been in place since the Hebrew people’s return from exile in Egypt (some 400 years). What the people were asking for was a massive break with a God-ordained system and time-tested tradition. It marks a major shift in the history of God’s chosen people and, truly, the history of God’s plan for salvation. (more…)

Peter Robinson, host of the Hoover Institution’s Uncommon Knowledge program, interviews playwright David Mamet about his book The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture and his conversion to conservatism. The blurb on the video notes that, “Mamet explains how, by studying Jewish and Christian texts such as the Talmud and the Bible, he came to approach arguments from a new perspective that aligned itself with conservative politics.” Throughout the interview, which runs about 35 minutes, “Mamet discusses his newly found conservative position on several issues, including social justice and civil rights, the decline of the family and the sexual revolution, affirmative action and race, and domestic politics and foreign policy.”