Category: Christian Social Thought

The Apostle Peter and Cornelius the centurion

The most recent issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality (16.1) features an updated translation of “The Moral Organization of Humanity as a Whole,” the last chapter of the Russian Orthodox philosopher Vladimir Soloviev’s major work on moral philosophy The Justification of the Good. Writing in 1899, Soloviev offers an insightful reflection on the centurion Cornelius, the first Gentile convert to Christianity (Acts 10), regarding the military vocation and the kingdom of God, appropriate to consider as we celebrate Veterans Day today:

Neither the angel of God nor the apostle Peter, the messenger of the peace of Christ, nor the voice of the Holy Spirit himself suddenly revealed in the ones converted, told the centurion of the Italian cohort that which was, according to the latest notions about Christianity, the most important and urgently necessary thing for this Roman warrior. They did not tell him that in becoming a Christian he must first of all cast away his weapons and without fail renounce military service. There is neither word nor allusion about this ostensibly indispensable condition of Christianity in the whole story, even though the point is precisely about a representative of the army. Renunciation of military service does not at all enter into the New Testament concept of what is required of a secular warrior in order that he become a citizen enjoying full rights in the kingdom of God.

While this may appear to be an argument from silence, Soloviev notes,

When Peter came, Cornelius said to him, “Now, therefore, we are all present before God, to hear all the things … commanded you by God” [10:33]. But in this all that God commands the apostle to communicate to the Roman warrior for his salvation, there is nothing about military service.

Taking seriously that the Apostle Peter did not leave anything out when he told Cornelius everything he needed to begin the Christian life, the omission of any command to renounce military service is a significant silence. (more…)

Creation Heart ManBeginning today, Acton is offering its first monograph on Eastern Orthodox Christian social thought at no cost through Amazon Kindle. Through Tues., Nov. 12, you can get your free digital copy of Creation and the Heart of Man: An Orthodox Christian Perspective on Environmentalism (Acton Institute, 2013). The print edition, which runs 91 pages, will be available later this month through the Acton Book Shop for $6. When the free eBook offer expires, Creation and the Heart of Man will be priced at $2.99 for the Kindle reader and free reading apps.

A summary of Creation and the Heart of Man:

Rooted in the Tradition of the Orthodox Church and its teaching on the relationship between God, humanity, and all creation, Fr. Michael Butler and Prof. Andrew Morriss offer a new contribution to Orthodox environmental theology. Too often policy recommendations from theologians and Church authorities have taken the form of pontifications, obscuring many important economic and public policy realities. The authors establish a framework for responsible engagement with environmental issues undergirded not only by Church teaching but also by sound economic analysis. Creation and the Heart of Man uniquely takes the discussion of Orthodox environmental ethics from abstract principles to thoughtful interaction with the concrete, sensitive to the inviolability of human dignity, the plight of the poor, and our common destiny of communion with God.

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Blog author: rjmoeller
posted by on Friday, November 8, 2013

King Solomon. Georgian MSSWhen given the choice to possess whatever he asked for, the young King Solomon asked God for wisdom. Not “the ability to ask for more things,” or “x-ray vision,” but wisdom. An overview of the wisdom Solomon accrued in his memorable life was, for our sake, recorded in the book of Proverbs.

Proverbs has some definitive things to say about matters related to how we might, as Christians, organize our lives (and communities) economically. The concept of wealth is a tough one for Christians to wrestle with. We cannot serve both God and money, but the discussion about economics is more complex than the “money = wealth and therefore wealth = bad” mantra reiterated by progressives. Wealth cannot be reduced to purely monetary terms.

In their 2009 book, Calvin and Commerce, David W. Hall and Matthew D. Burton identify a number of general teachings about wealth found in Proverbs (among other books of the Old Testament) that supply modern Christians with principles that can be directly applied to our worldview regarding economics, business, and personal finances. Below are two of the general teachings the authors flesh out.
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Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Thursday, November 7, 2013

ChristendomOur ideal as Christians is a social world that encompasses everyday life but is oriented toward God and the good, beautiful, and true in all its aspects, says James Kalb. “In our time,” says Kalb, “the phrases ‘culture of life’ and ‘civilization of love’ have been used to refer to basic aspects of such a world, but Christendom seems the best name for it overall.”

Has this ideal of Christendom gone away?

Christendom may be gone as a matter of public law, and perhaps in the consciousness of most believers, but it’s still here as a substantive reality. Obedience and loyalty form a hierarchy for Christians, with God at the top, the Church and secular connections farther down, and natural law helping to sort and order the pieces and hold together the ones that can be used. If something in our present life finds a place in that hierarchy, it’s part of Christendom.

Read more . . .

Royal Coat of Arms of the NetherlandsDrawing on some themes I explore about the role of the church in providing material assistance in Get Your Hands Dirty, today at Political Theology Today I look at the first parliamentary speech of the new Dutch King Willem-Alexander.

In “The Dutch King’s Speech,” I argue that the largely ceremonial and even constitutionally-limited monarchy has something to offer modern democratic polities, in that it provides a forum for public leadership that is not directly dependent on popular electoral support. In the Dutch case, the king broached the largely unpopular subject of fundamentally reforming the social democratic welfare state.

This is in rather sharp contrast to the social witness of the mainline of Dutch church leaders, at least over the last few decades. But the churches, too, have a role in acting as makeweights against democratic majoritarian tyranny.
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Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Bansky No StoppingOver at the University Bookman today, I review John Lanchester’s novel Capital. I recommend the book.

I don’t explore it in the review, “Capital Vices and Commercial Virtues,” but for those who have been following the antics of Banksy, there is a similar performance artist character in the novel that has significance for the development of the narrative.

As I write in the review, the vice of envy, captured in the foreboding phrase, “We Want What You Have,” animates the book. Capital “provides a richly textured and challenging narrative of the challenges of affluence, the temptations of materialism and envy, and the need for true human community expressed in a variety of social institutions.”

I note the insights of my friend and colleague Victor Claar in the review, and for a more thorough academic engagement of the ethics and economics of envy, check out our co-authored paper recently accepted for publication in Faith & Economics, “Envy in the Market Economy: Sin, Fairness, and Spontaneous (Dis)Order,” as well as my piece slated to appear in Philosophia Reformata, “The Moral Challenges of Economic Equality and Diversity.”

I and Jordan Ballor have already commented on Ender’s Game this week (here and here), but the story is literally packed with insightful themes, many of which touch upon issues relevant to Acton’s core principles. Another such issue is that of the problems with Neo-Malthusianism, the belief that overpopulation poses such a serious threat to civilization and the environment that population control measures become ethical imperatives.

Such a perspective tends to rely on one or both of the following fallacies: a zero-sum conception of economics ignorant of the last 200 years of sustained economic growth, which have allowed humankind to escape the Mathusian trap; or a belief that people are the problem when it comes to poverty.

In Ender’s Game, the story begins (more obviously in the book) with the fact that Ender Wiggen (Asa Butterfield) is a “Third,” a third-born child in a time when the international government of Earth had adopted a two-child policy. His parents had received special permission to have a Third because their first two children, Peter (Jimmy Pinchak) and Valentine (Abigail Breslin), had shown so much promise. Unfortunately, Peter had proven too aggressive and Valentine too compassionate. The government hoped that Ender would be a happy middle. (more…)

Blog author: dpahman
posted by on Monday, November 4, 2013

Today at Ethika Politika, I explore the relevance of the work of Immanuel Kant for conservative Christians:

Immanuel Kant does not always receive the fairest treatment among self-styled conservative theologians.

I have read works in which his whole philosophy is caricatured and dismissed in a single paragraph — hardly charitable treatment of one of the most brilliant minds of the modern era. The motivation tends to be that Kant’s philosophy creates problems for some traditional Christian convictions, such as the possibility of recognizing supernatural revelation or obtaining knowledge of God or the importance of historicity to the Christian religion. Rather than engage his philosophy justly, giving it credit where due and honestly struggling with such problems, many take the easy road of rejecting it off hand.

Doing so, however, runs the risk of overlooking areas of concordance in which conservative theologians and Kantian philosophers may have something to offer one another. Oddly, the second century Christian saint and apologist Athenagoras defended the doctrine of the resurrection on — we may anachronistically say — Kantian grounds that may serve to demonstrate the value of such dialogue between ancient theology and modern philosophy, Kant in particular. (more…)

At Public Discourse, Nathan Shlueter takes an unusual approach in his review of Acton’s Director of Research Sam Gregg’s Tea Party Catholic — it’s a memo to the faculty of Georgetown University as written by Sen. Paul Ryan:

As Gregg’s book makes clear, defending market economies does not make one a libertarian. And, in fact, no libertarian or Randian egoist would approve of my budget plan, which—whether you agree with it or not—is a sincere attempt to preserve and improve a financially endangered social safety net, not destroy it. Nor should defense of the market be confused with crony capitalism, which is profoundly unjust, and which I have spoken out against strongly and repeatedly. Finally, the market is not a panacea for all our ills, and is even a source of a few of them. There are common goods that can only be secured by good government. And, like government, the market will only be as good as the human beings who act within it.

The fact that we disagree on some matters of policy does not necessarily mean that either of us is outside Catholic social teaching. As Gregg points out, in most cases, Catholic social teaching only provides the correct principles for resolving complex social and economic questions, rather than specific policy requirements. This means that in most cases there is room for legitimate disagreement on the correct application of those principles.

Read more . . .

Babel-2000In a recent review of Christena Cleveland’s Disunity in Christ: Uncovering the Hidden Forces that Keep Us Apart, Paul Louis Metzger wonders, “What leads people to associate with those who are similar, while distancing themselves from diverse others? What causes us to categorize other groups in distorted ways?”

I remember reading H. Richard Niebuhr’s The Social Sources of Denominationalism early in my seminary career, and Niebuhr’s analysis made a very strong impression on my admittedly impressionable sensibilities. It was clear to me then, and still is now, that much of what constitutes disunity in the Christian church is imported from the broader culture and has nothing to do with a people in which there is “neither Greek nor Jew.” These concerns for principled ecumenical unity are in large part what animated my later book Ecumenical Babel.

And yet in denouncing the tribalism that is an endemic temptation for all forms of fallen human community, we must be careful not to embrace a simplistic, milquetoast version of Christianity that papers over our real differences, and our uniqueness as individual persons created in the image of God, each one of us with our own perspectives, callings, hopes, fears, and trials.

We need to embrace an understanding of diversity without falling into disunity, a diversity within unity that mirrors in our own creaturely way the call to unity expressed in Jesus’ high priestly prayer.
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