Category: Bible and Theology

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
Monday, January 13, 2014
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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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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.

Writing in The Detroit News, Rev. Robert A. Sirico looks at Pope Francis’ recent Apostolic Exhortation, the “much talked about, but little-read” document titled “The Joy of the Gospel” with a special emphasis on how the pontiff understands the problem of poverty. The president and co-founder of the Acton Institute notes how Francis “speaks boldly through effective and moving gestures.” Excerpt:

It is no surprise that the man who took as his model and name the model of il poverello of Assisi would place the poor as a central concern of his pontificate: their dignity, their rights and their sustenance. Yet, the spontaneous gestures and the impromptu manner in which they are displayed ought not to beguile us into thinking this pope is offering a superficial dichotomy between left and right; between capitalism and socialism. To think that any pope, but especially this pope, is animated in his concern for the poor and vulnerable by a particular political ideology is to miss him completely.

While renouncing the notion that the market alone is sufficient to meet all human needs, Francis is also prepared to denounce a “welfare mentality” that creates a dependency on the part of the poor and reduces the Church to the role of being just another bureaucratic NGO. The complexity of his thought surprises some, on both the Right (some of whom worry, needlessly, that he is a liberation theologian) and the Left (who are already using his words to foment a political “Francis Revolution” in his name). Such tendencies reveal a rather anemic understanding of this man but also of Catholicism, which has historically been comfortable balancing the tensions of apparent paradoxes (Divine/human; Virgin/Mother; etc.). It is too facile a temptation to collapse 2,000 years of tradition, commentary and lived experience into four or five politically-correct hot button sound bites that are the priority, not of the Church, but of propagandists with an agenda.

Read “Pope Francis, without the politics” by Rev. Robert A. Sirico in The Detroit News.

Related to some recent discussions about the market for Christmas trees, an irreducibly commercial aspect of the holiday, I ran across this delightful post about a little-known poem by T.S. Eliot, “The Cultivation of Christmas Trees.”

In this piece, Eliot introduces the Christmas tree as a source of wonder for children, a source which can be cultivated into maturity so that at the end of times the fullness of the Christmas message might be harvested. As Maria Popova introduces the verses, they “speak to a very secular concern: our struggle to hold on to our inborn capacity for wonder, that same essential faculty that fuels both science and spirituality.”

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Thus, for Eliot, as the poem opens,

There are several attitudes towards Christmas,
Some of which we may disregard:
The social, the torpid, the patently commercial,
The rowdy (the pubs being open till midnight),
And the childish — which is not that of the child
For whom the candle is a star, and the gilded angel
Spreading its wings at the summit of the tree
Is not only a decoration, but an angel.

The child wonders at the Christmas Tree:
Let him continue in the spirit of wonder…

Read the rest at “T.S. Eliot’s ‘The Cultivation of Christmas Trees.'”

2013-12-20 15.27.57In my Christmas commentary this week, “Gratification and Civilization,” I examine the connection between making your kids wait until Christmas morning to open their presents and the development of civilization.

Self-denial and self-sacrifice form the basis of human life together. As Matthew Cochran puts it in a piece last week at The Federalist, “Civilization depends on the tendency of men to produce more than they consume for themselves.”

A key factor of driving forward the development of civilization, then, is the family unit. For Cochran rightly warns that civilization “depends on masculine ambition.” The ambition to grow a business for someone “could mean feeding himself & his workers, along with any family they might have. His ambition could be a huge boon to society. Take that away, and you have a bunch of men doing what they need to do to stay comfortable, but nothing more—nothing for any women or any increasingly hypothetical children.”

The Dutch Reformed theologian Herman Bavinck explores the link between family and civilization in his study of The Christian Family. Bavinck describes the triad of father-mother-child:

The two-in-oneness of husband and wife expands with a child into a three-in-oneness. Father, mother, and child are one soul and one flesh, expanding and unfolding the one image of God, united within threefold diversity and diverse within harmonic unity.

These relationships are of civilizational significance:

This three-in-oneness of relationships and functions, of qualities and gifts, constitutes the foundation of all of civilized society. The authority of the father, the love of the mother, and the obedience of the child form in their unity the threefold cord that binds together and sustains all relationships within human society. Within the psychological life of every integrated personality this triple cord forms the motif and melody. No man is complete without some feminine qualities, no woman is complete without some masculine qualities, and to both man and woman, the child is held up as an example (Matt. 18:3). These three characteristics and gifts are always needed in every society and in every civilization, in the church and in the state. Authority, love, and obedience are the pillars of all human society.

One can hardly discuss the family during this season of the year without also reflecting on the holy family, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Bavinck describes them as “the divine counterpart” to Adam, Eve, and their children. “The holy family is the example of the Christian home,” writes Bavinck.

And on this Christmas let us remember and be thankful for the greatest gift of all, the birth of Jesus Christ!

Blog author: dpahman
Monday, December 23, 2013
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In my Acton Commentary today, “The Great Exchange of the Magi,” I reflect on the fact that, due to the material poverty of the holy family, the gifts of the magi can be considered alms in addition to homage:

The magi set forth an example of the heart that all of us need to have when it comes to stewardship of our material blessings. They knew their own poverty of spirit, and gladly gave the riches of this life for the blessing of eternity: worship. Their almsgiving, then, had a particular attitude attached to it. They did not see the holy family as mere victims of an unjust world, but as persons worthy of their investment, the Child whom they worshiped most of all.

As we approach the Feast of the Nativity of Jesus Christ (Christmas), I think an additional application is worth reflecting on: whenever we give alms, we, like the magi, also pay homage to God incarnate. (more…)