Category: Christian Social Thought

himmel_actonBiographers suffer from a myriad of temptations. Gertrude Himmelfarb, in her bibliography to the newly republished Lord Acton: A Study in Conscience and Politics, recalls how Acton’s first biographer, Ulrich Noack struggled mightily to reconcile contradictions and tensions in Acton’s thought and in doing so lost much of the man himself. Later, Monsignor David Mathew succumbed to the opposite temptation of frequently digressing into trivialities and going off on tangents and as a result losing Acton in the great sea of nineteenth century Catholicism. Himmelfarb’s Lord Acton: A Study in Conscience and Politics is one of those rare biographies which manage to thread the needle. It is an intellectual biography which limits itself to the main threads of Acton’s thought as a historian, a Catholic, and a Classical Liberal.

As a historian Acton is brilliant but his work is often inaccessible to the general public. It is buried in collections of lectures, obscure periodicals, personal correspondence, and unpublished notes. By the time he was 40 years old …

He had mastered a variety of disciplines related to the history of politics, culture, ideas and religion. His style combined the sharp, colourful writing, the sense of immediacy and timeliness, of the informal essay, with the precision (degenerating occasionally into pedantry) and the susceptibility for the ancient and the universal of academic history. In addition to some 400 reviews and short articles, he had already published or delivered in the form of lectures the equivalent of almost 1,000 pages of serious essays ranging in subject from the early Christian Church to the American Civil War and the Italian Revolution.


Blog author: jsunde
Tuesday, November 10, 2015

colson-way-owen-strachan“I’ve done my best to popularize Kuyper, because that’s what’s so desperately needed in Western civilization today: a looking at all of life through God’s eyes.” –Chuck Colson

Given the recent release of Abraham Kuyper’s 12-volume collection of works in public theology, it’s worth noting his influence on modern-day shapers of Christian thought and action.

From Francis Schaeffer to Cornelius Van Til to Alvin Plantinga, Kuyper’s works have expanded the cultural imaginations of many. Another devotee was the late Chuck Colson, author, founder of Prison Fellowship and BreakPoint, and past recipient of Acton’s Faith and Freedom Award.

In The Colson Way, Owen Strachan’s new book on Colson’s model and enduring influence, we learn how Kuyper’s works had a profound impact on Colson’s perspective (joined by the likes of Wilberforce, Carl F.H. Henry, and Schaeffer).

In the late 1970s, Michael Cromartie (at that time, on Colson’s staff) introduced him to the “reformed  world-and-live view,” reconciling the City of God with the City of Man.

“In this tradition,” Strachan writes, “Colson found the theological orientation he craved”:

Fox News anchor Shepherd Smith in the studio

Yesterday at The Federalist, I examined the claims of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz during last week’s GOP primary debate that the “mainstream media” is dominated by “liberal bias.”

While there is some truth to this claim, as I point out in my article, the data paints a more complicated picture: Conservative outlets such as Fox News and (editorially) the Wall Street Journal outperform the closest left-leaning ones, CNN and the New York Times, by wide margins.

I write,

It would be fair to counter that cable news is not the only source on television, and not even the most-watched. Fox has no evening news like ABC, NBC, CBS, and PBS. The fact that, according to a recent study by the American Press Institute, “Democrats are more trusting of news from the three broadcast networks and the newswires, while Republicans are more trusting of news from cable” suggests the slant there tends to favor the Left.

However, people divide their news consumption today between mediums. That same study notes, “The 24-hour cable channels … are the source most often cited for four of the topics probed: politics, international news, business and the economy, and social issues.” So when it comes to political issues, the most common source, 24-hour cable news, is fairly evenly divided: Fox News generally has a Nielsen rating about equal to CNN’s and MSNBC’s combined.

A bit later on, I return to this point: (more…)

Hand On Well Used Old Bible Under Painted Light“If any of you has a dispute with another, do you dare to take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the Lord’s people?” The Apostle Paul asked the church in Corinth. “Or do you not know that the Lord’s people will judge the world?” Paul continues,

And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life! Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, do you ask for a ruling from those whose way of life is scorned in the church? I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers? But instead, one brother takes another to court—and this in front of unbelievers!

Paul’s mandate is clear: matters between Christians should be mediated within the Church. This should be a rather uncontroversial standard, at least for Christians. And yet aren’t we more surprised when Christians attempt to handle legal disputes in this manner?

Since we don’t often respect the value of Christian mediation we should not be surprised to find secular outlets that find the practice unreasonable. Take, for example, the recent New York Times article, “In Religious Arbitration, Scripture Is the Rule of Law.” The authors can barely hide their contempt that some Americans might actually put their religious faith ahead of the legal system:

The BBC reported today that China is ending its one-child policy, providing the following overview:

  • Introduced in 1979, the policy meant that many Chinese citizens – around a third, China claimed in 2007 – could not have a second child without incurring a fine
  • In rural areas, families were allowed to have two children if the first was a girl
  • Other exceptions included ethnic minorities and – since 2013 – couples where at least one was a single child
  • Campaigners say the policy led to forced abortions, female infanticide, and the under-reporting of female births
  • It was also implicated as a cause of China’s gender imbalance

Before everyone celebrates, China did not, however, eliminate all limits but changed the limit to two children. Certainly this is a huge improvement and a step in the right direction, but it is not without its own economic, ethical, and political problems. (more…)

consumptionNote: This is the latest entry in the Acton blog series, “What Christians Should Know About Economics.” For other entries in the series see this post.

The Term: Consumption

What it means: Consumption is the use of goods and services by households.

Why it Matters: Consumption is an ugly word for a beautiful concept.

Since the Middle Ages, the word “consumption” has referred to wasting diseases, such as tuberculosis, which “consume” the body. More recently, consumption has often been confused with consumerism, a useful and related term that has regrettably taken on a wholly negative connotation.

But in its most basic economic sense, consumption is a purely neutral term that refers to the use of goods and services by households. If you arrange for a babysitter to watch your toddler so that you can eat a steak dinner with your spouse, you are “consuming” both goods (the steak) and services (the babysitter’s time and attention). While you pay for these goods and services it’s merely their use that marks them as “consumption.” (We’ll come back to that point in a moment.)

Consumption is arguably the first (or maybe second) economic concept mentioned in the Bible. After creating Adam and Eve and giving them the cultural mandate (“Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.”), God says to them,

During CNN’s Democratic debate, presidential candidate, senator from Vermont, and self-proclaimed socialist Bernie Sanders promised that if elected he would work to “raise the [federal] minimum wage to $15 an hour.”

From an economic point of view, this policy would run the risk of sparking a wage/price spiral, where wages are tied to a cost-of-living index and their increase, in turn, raises the cost of living, sending inflation out of control and ultimately working against the intended goal of helping low-wage workers.

The Neo-Calvinist theologian Abraham Kuyper, however, offers a challenge not just to the economic consequences of such a policy but to its consistency, in principle, with another of Senator Sanders’ positions: his support for unions. (more…)