Category: Christian Social Thought

“For Christians who wish to restore our society,” says Acton senior research fellow Jordan Ballor, “the writings of Leo XIII and Abraham Kuyper can provide a set of guiding principles.”

“When a society is perishing,” wrote Pope Leo XIII in 1891, “those who would restore it . . . [should] call it to the principles from which it sprang.” These words are as true today as they were 125 years ago. In our own time of social upheaval, insecurity, and anxiety, we ought to take Leo’s guidance to heart. To help us remember the principles on which Christian social reflection has been founded in the modern age, it is worth returning to two texts that appeared in 1891: Leo XIII’s encyclical on the relationship between labor and capital, and Abraham Kuyper’s speech to the first Christian Social Congress in Amsterdam,“The Social Question and the Christian Religion.”

These two works are foundational sources for twentieth-century Christian social thought in their respective traditions—Roman Catholic and Reformed. Although many of the particular circumstances and the dynamics at play are different today from what they were more than a century ago, the thought of these two theologians—one an Italian scholar-pope and the other a Dutch Reformed pastor, professor, and politician—provide enduring wisdom for developing and articulating a Christian witness in the modern world.

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Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, December 28, 2016
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Makers FrontIn this week’s Acton Commentary I examine the foundations of what is today identified as the “preferential option for the poor” in writings that appeared 125 years ago, Pope Leo’s Rerum Novarum and Abraham Kuyper’s “The Social Question and the Christian Religion.” These two texts have appeared in an anniversary volume, Makers of Modern Christian Social Thought: Leo XIII and Abraham Kuyper on the Social Question, now available from the Acton Book Shop.

In the introduction to that volume, I touch on important themes that arise from these foundational texts, such as subsidiarity, solidarity, sphere sovereignty, stewardship, and property. In today’s essay, “The Christian Preference for the Poor,” I examine another theme that runs throughout both texts: the overt concern for the marginalized that is required within the context of any social order.

As Leo and Kuyper both observe, the wealthy, the well-connected, and the powerful can fare well under any regime. They can help to shape or reform laws and policies in their favor. But the poor and the marginalized have little influence and are least able to draw on their own reserves, whether capital or otherwise, in times of need.
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Makers Front Cover 10_19_16This year marks the 125th anniversary of two key documents in the development of modern Christian social thought: the papal encyclical Rerum Novarum by Pope Leo XIII and the speech “The Social Question and the Christian Religion” by Abraham Kuyper. To mark this anniversary and to commend these works to readers today, Acton Institute has recently released Makers of Modern Christian Social Thought: Leo XIII and Abraham Kuyper on the Social Question.

This volume consists of the texts of these two key sources, along with an introduction that provides some background on the social question in the nineteenth century as well as the thematic similarities and convergences between the two works. There is also some additional bibliography for further reading and research, making this volume an ideal resource for students and others interested exploring the foundations of modern Christian social thought in Roman Catholic and Reformed traditions.

One of the essential features of this edition is its inclusion of the full text of Kuyper’s published speech, complete with its extensive reference apparatus. Earlier editions have appeared in English and have served well to make Kuyper’s insights accessible and readable. These earlier versions sometimes omitted or elided Kuyper’s notes, however, which can obscure the depth and detail of Kuyper’s insights and his engagement with the literature of his time.
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genesis-bible“In our search for economic principles in the Bible, we need to begin with the story of Creation found in the first two chapters of Genesis,” says Hugh Whelchel. “Here we see God’s normative intentions for life. We see life as ‘the way it ought to be.’ Man is free from sin, living out his high calling as God’s vice regent in a creation that is ‘very good.’”

Whelchel lists three major economic principles laid out in Creation, the first being creativity and freedom:

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Thanksgiving_Turkey_Dinner_With_Paper_Plates_free_creative_commons_(4139402176)Today at Mere Orthodoxy, I have an essay building on some of my recent posts here exploring a healthy Christian response to the complex results (other than “Trump won; Clinton lost”) of the 2016 presidential election. In particular, I focus on how to be true to the exhortation of St. Paul: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15).
I write,

Writing to early Christians in Rome, St. Paul the Apostle offered a succinct summary of the Christian ethic in the twelfth chapter of his epistle. It is worth reading the whole thing with the events of the last week in mind, but here I’ll just look at one verse: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). Many are weeping and rejoicing after last Tuesday. A Christian who weeps ought to know how to rejoice with those who rejoice. One who rejoices ought to know how to weep with those who weep.

I realize that this is hard to do. Rejoicing with those we agree with is easy. Weeping with those we agree with is easy. Weeping with those who mourn the very thing that we celebrate – that’s hard. Rejoicing with those who celebrate the very thing that we mourn – that’s hard. But that is “the way which leads to life.”

This way is especially difficult, given the self-aggrandizement and demonization of others that have so often characterized this election cycle. Do you think everyone who voted for President-elect Donald Trump is racist, xenophobic, misogynist, Islamophobic, and homophobic? If so, I doubt you are rejoicing with those who rejoice right now. Do you think everyone who voted for Sec. Hillary Clinton is a pretentious, radically pro-choice, uber-progressive, out-of-touch, sore loser? Then you probably aren’t weeping with those who weep today.

As many of us look forward to sharing Thanksgiving dinner with friends and family of diverse political opinions, I submit that this approach could, at the very least, help avoid meltdown and strife this holiday.

Read the whole essay here.

Blog author: jcarter
Monday, November 21, 2016
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acts2-5“The early church was socialist.”

Talk about economics and the church and you’ll eventually hear a Christian make that claim. The idea that the early chapters of the Acts of the Apostles supports the idea that Christians should be socialists is an oft-repeated as if it were both obvious and true.

But is it? Art Lindsley explains why those passages do not pertain to socialism:
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Blog author: jcarter
Wednesday, November 16, 2016
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stewardship-houseHere on the Acton PowerBlog we frequently talk about stewardship. But what is stewardship? And what does it mean in a Christian context? As R.C. Sproul explains, stewardship is a concept in the New Testament that describes and defines what it means to be a servant before Christ:

Economics and the ethical and emotional issues that surround it are frequent topics of discussion and front-page news items. This is particularly true in an election year, when much of the debate focuses on economic issues. What we don’t see initially is that other issues, such as education and abortion, are also questions of economics. Broadly understood, economics has to do not only with money or taxes or business but with the management of resources. That includes all of our resources, such as the resource of our unborn children and educational materials and policies.

In other words, how we use our resources is the subject of economics, and in a biblical sense it is the chief concern of stewardship. Consider the verbal link between stewardship and economics. The English word economics and economycome from the Greek word oikonomia, which is made up of two parts: oikos, the word for “house” or “household,” and nomos, the word for “law.” So, oikos and nomos together literally mean “house law.”

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