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Category: Christian Social Thought

In the latest issue of Faith and Economics, a bi-annual journal from the Association of Christian Economists, Dr. Robert Black reviews two of CLP’s four tradition-specific primers on faith, work, and economics: Chad Brand’s Flourishing Faith (from a Baptist perspective), and David Wright’s How God Makes the World a Better Place (from a Wesleyan perspective).

Black reviews each book quite closely, aptly capturing the key ideas and themes in each, and concluding that both are “well suited as a non-technical introduction to biblical and theological aspects of work, wealth, church history, and economic systems.”

Wright - Copy

As a sample, here’s Black’s summary of the Wesleyan connection between Christian conversion and broad-scale human flourishing:

The final section of [Wright’s] book…contrasts an unconverted will at work with the converted will at work. While we may wish not to work at all, we are not freed by conversion from work. Instead, we are freed to enjoy work, “to experience work as the expression of all that is most beautiful and magnificent about us.” Instead of a “lifetime of self-centered pursuit,” Wright encourages us to “use [our] influence to nurture the kind of economic and legal systems that favor meaningful, rewarding work.”

What kinds of people are Christians called to be and how do those characteristics affect economic activity? Chapters 1, 2, and 3 of Part Three develop three character traits to which converts to Christ are called to be: people of assurance, people of integrity, and people of authenticity; Assurance of God’s calling overcomes the “[i]nsecurity and fear [that] are terrible burdens to carry into our work” (p. 28). In a “world … awakened to the desperate need for the renewal of ethics,” personal integrity is most welcome (p. 35). Authentic Christians, who are true to the character of Jesus Christ, the original ideal for us, are an antidote to those people who seek to be authentically true to their own selfish hopes and misguided desires. (more…)

baby-budgetI’m sure Willie Nelson was not thinking about surrogacy issues when he wrote “If You’ve Got The Money, Honey,” but it’s applicable. $100,000? Check. 9 months? Check.

If you’ve got the money honey I’ve got the time
We’ll go honky tonkin’ and we’ll have a time
We’ll have more fun baby all way down the line
If you’ve got the money honey I’ve got the time

While surrogacy is a huge industry in India, it’s becoming a growing business here in the U.S. now. In Austin, Texas, one couple from New Jersey awaits the birth of their children via a surrogate:

A nurse spread gel on Nicole Benham’s pregnant belly and slowly moved a sonogram wand over it, describing the images on nearby monitors. This scene, in which parents get an early glimpse of baby, is played out many times a day in medical offices across America, but this plot has a twist.

Benham is carrying twins, but they are not her babies. They belong to Sheila and Kevin McWilliams, a New Jersey couple who lost their firstborn and can’t have another child together. They provided the eggs and sperm, and they will bear all costs, which average $75,000 to $100,000 and include fees to the surrogate, the matchmaking surrogacy company and lawyers for both parties, experts said.

Despite such costs, U.S. surrogate births have jumped 250 percent in eight years, and experts expect them to continue rising because of advances in reproductive technology, increasing numbers of same-sex marriages and growing acceptance of surrogacy.

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Blog author: jcarter
Tuesday, July 8, 2014
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FLOW_EXILE (1)Christians are called to be in the world but not of it (John 17:14-15). But what does that mean for how we should live?

At TGC Stephen J. Grabill, the director of programs and international at the Acton Institute, explains why living faithfully in exile and seeking the shalom of our cities are two big ideas that the church needs to embrace in order to recover a robust “in-but-not-of” theology of culture:

God’s people have always been—and are now—living in a permanent state of “in between.” The prophet Jeremiah gives us the essence of living faithfully in this state: “To seek the shalom of the city where I have sent you into exile” (Jer. 29:4-7). In City of God, Augustine builds on this exilic theology. His metaphor of the city of God and the city of man with their different loves and orientations is the archetypal expression of the tension and anxiety that characterizes our “in between” existence.

More recently, people like David Kim and James Davison Hunter have used the concept of exile to articulate an understanding of culture that takes a long-view of engagement, vocation, and public discipleship—that is, the concept of exile retires the church’s short-term, winner-take-all, scorched-earth, culture-war approach to addressing the hostile forces of secularization that are working to eradicate the imprint of Christianity in the West.

Being in “exile” means that God’s people live somewhere other than their true home. For example, God’s people were in “exile” when they were banished from the Garden, lived as slaves in Egypt, and were carted off to Babylon. Similarly, after the resurrection of Christ, God’s people were scattered throughout the world to live as “sojourners and exiles” (1 Pet. 2:11). So, too, for Christians today.

Read more . . .

KuyperEtch (1)The Obama administration’s HHS mandate has led to significant backlash among religious groups, each claiming that certain provisions violate their religious beliefs and freedom of conscience.

Yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling was a victory for such groups, but other disputes are well underway, with many more to come. Even among many of our fellow Christians, we see a concerted effort to chase religious belief out of the public square, confining such matters to Sunday mornings, where they can be kept behind closed doors.

In navigating these tensions, Abraham Kuyper’s Our Program (Ons Program) offers a wealth of perspective, particularly when it comes to how Christians ought to think about their role in the broader society. Recently translated under the title Guidance for Christian Engagement in Government, the book contains an entire chapter in opposition to a “secular state,” including a marvelous bit on freedom of conscience that’s worth excerpting at length.

“There should be freedom of expression, freedom of belief, freedom of worship,” Kuyper writes, “but above all, the root of all these freedoms: freedom of conscience.”

The conscience marks a boundary that the state may never cross.

The limits to state power reside in the will of God. Government has as much power as God has assigned to it. No more; no less. It sins if it leaves unused a portion of the power assigned to it, but also if it arrogates to itself any power that is not assigned to it.

There is only one power without limits: the power of God, whence it is called almighty power. Anyone who accords the state the right to exercise power as if it had no limits is guilty of “deifying” the state and favoring “state omnipotence.” That is not indulging in “oratorical phraseology” but simply indicating a purely logical concept. [emphasis added, here and in any bolded text hereafter]

Kuyper certainly believes that government has a role to play, noting that “government alone has public power,” granted by God, “whereas all other organizations in and of themselves are of a private nature.” (more…)

[Part 1 is here.]

That most colossal blunder of Marxist experiments, the Soviet Union, collapsed more than twenty years ago, and yet Marxist thinking still penetrates the warp and woof of contemporary culture, so much so that it’s easy even for avowedly anti-Marxist conservatives to think from within the box of Marxism when considering the problem of cultural decay. Breaking out of that box means emphasizing but also stretching beyond such factors as insider cronyism, class envy, and the debilitating effects of the welfare state.

So, for instance, the influential 18th century philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau rejected the doctrines of the trinity, the deity of Christ, miracles, and the idea of original sin, writing that at one point as a young man he suddenly felt very strongly “that man is naturally good” and that it was only from the institutions of civilization “that men become wicked.” Rousseau’s view has had enormous cultural consequences, giving credence to the perennial human impulse to do whatever feels natural, never mind how stupid or destructive.

The English writer and psychiatrist Theodore Dalrymple put it this way in an interview he gave for The Truth Project: (more…)

[Part 1 is here.]

Economic freedom does generate certain challenges. The wealth that free economies are so effective at creating brings with it temptation. Wealth can tempt us to depend on our riches rather than on God. The temptation can be resisted, as we see with wealthy biblical characters like Abraham and Job. But it’s a challenge the church should be mindful of, helping its members cultivate a balanced view of money and of our responsibility and opportunities as stewards of the things God has given us.

The free society also can be hard on communities, since the free enterprise system makes for such a mobile society. Michael Miller talks about this: the opportunities and demands generated by a complex market economy mean that people often end up moving far away from their childhood homes and the network of relationships that surrounded that home. In seeking to meet this challenge, we need to ask ourselves what strategies would effectively address the problem, and are there well-intended policies that are likely to make the problem worse. In essence, we need to exercise the virtue of prudence.

The sociologist Robert Nisbet has some useful insights here. In his 1953 work The Quest for Community, he developed the case that greater centralized political authority and social safety net spending beyond a certain minimal level actually begin to undermine civil institutions and community, since people depend less and less on their family and community bonds and more and more on state-sponsored humanitarian assistance.
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titiaan_abraham_izaak_grtIn our efforts to serve others and do good in the world, we humans have a remarkable tendency to fall short, no matter how carefully constructed or well intended our plans and designs may be.

When failure occurs, economists are likely to point to some kind of knowledge problem, noting that, for instance, Western Congregation X didn’t (and perhaps couldn’tknow or foresee that sending hundreds of free shoes to Developing Nation Y would put several local merchants out of business.

To mitigate these types of ripple effects, we can work to be more careful in a variety of ways, but throughout that process, Christians have a unique responsibility to order our concerns within a particular context of transcendent obedience to a particular God and Savior. “To obey is better than sacrifice,” as Samuel once said, “and to listen than the fat of rams.”

When we seek to do good on behalf of others, we certainly ought to consider the various modes of “natural” analysis and observation — reason, history, science, tradition, etc. — but we are also commanded to consult and consider the voice of God himself, whether delivered through his Word, the inward witness of the Holy Spirit, a prophetic church community, or otherwise.

This is not to call for some form of anxious and nit-picky legalism, of course, though that temptation is sure to endure as well. It’s to say that ours is a service uniquely empowered to stretch beyond the ways of this world, which are far too aimless, far too arbitrary, and ultimately beholden to the self.

When we neglect transcendent sources of knowledge, danger and destruction will persist, both in our spiritual lives and the witness we bear in the world. As the great teacher and evangelist Oswald Chambers once cautioned, “Always guard against self-chosen service for God,” which “may be a disease that impairs your service”:

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