Category: Christian Social Thought

kuyper-kellerWhat do Doug Wilson, William Evans, and I have in common? We’re all puzzled by the intramural attention D.G. Hart and Carl Trueman are paying to Tim Keller, Abraham Kuyper, and the “problem” of “transformationalism.” Trueman links Hart while raising concerns:

I was struck by [Hart's] account of Abraham Kuyper. Here was a (probable) genius and (definite) workaholic who had at his personal disposal a university, a newspaper and a denomination, and also held the highest political office in his land. We might also throw in to the mix that he did this at a time when European culture was far more sympathetic to broadly Christian concerns than that of the USA today. And Kuyper failed to affect any lasting transformation of society. Just visit Amsterdam today, if you can bear the pornographic filth even in those areas where the lights are not all red.

Trueman referencing the failure of Kuyper having a lasting “transforming” influence in contemporary Amsterdam seems to ignore the profound cultural and religious shifts in the Netherlands during and following World War II. Purdue University’s Jennifer L. Foray helps us understand some of these shifts in her recent article, “An Old Empire In A New Order: The Global Designs Of The Dutch Nazi Party, 1931–1942″ in the journal European History Quarterly. One would be hard pressed to assume that Kuyper’s influence could neutralize or supercede the effects of World War II in Dutch society in light of how the war affected Christianity in Western Europe in general. The University of Utah’s John G. Francis is also helpful in the 1992 article, “The Evolving Regulatory Structure Of European Church-State Relationships” published in the Journal of Church and State in understanding those shifts. There’s simply more to the story than Kuyper circa 1905 and Amsterdam in 2013.
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St. Ignatius of Antioch was martyred at the jaws of wild beasts in the Roman colosseum sometime around 110 AD.

In her historical study of wealth and poverty in the early Church, Loving the Poor, Saving the Rich, Helen Rhee offers the following interesting historical tidbit with regards to how early Christians were able to minister to their imprisoned brothers and sisters who awaited martyrdom:

Bribing the prison guards, which must have cost a certain amount, features frequently enough in the Christian texts. The impressive visiting privileges and hospitality Ignatius [d. 110] enjoyed at Philadelphia and Smyrna with the local Christians and the delegations from three other churches were likely gained by bribery as well…. It apparently did not raise any moral qualms among Christians; rather, it constituted a necessary part of supporting the prisoners since it enabled the churches to maintain contact with them (and thus to tend to their needs) and allowed the guards to be more favorably disposed to the Christians. Thus the Didascalia (19) … ordered the community members to spare no efforts to procure both nourishment for the condemned Christian prisoner and bribes for the guards so that everything possible might be done for his or her relief.

For those who are curious, the text from the Didascalia, a third century Christian community manual, reads as follows:

You shall not turn away your eyes from a Christian who for the name of God and for His faith and love is condemned to the games, or to the beasts, or to the mines; but of your labour and of the sweat of your face do you send to him for nourishment, and for a payment to the soldiers that guard him, that he may have relief and that care may be taken of him, so that your blessed brother be not utterly afflicted. [italics mine]

While Rhee notes that bribery “apparently did not raise any moral qualms among Christians” in the early Church, no doubt readers today may not so easily approve of the above direction to make provision for bribing guards. How might we better understand this anomaly? What measure of prudence guided this practice? (more…)

Pope-Ecumenical-Patriarch-Bartholomew-2013-03-20-620x320In Crisis Magazine, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg discusses how Pope Francis and the Catholic Church engage other religions and philosophies:

“Dialogue, dialogue, dialogue.”

That, according to Pope Francis, is the response he gives when leaders ask him for advice about how to resolve their societies’ internal differences. It is, he recently told a gathering of prominent Brazilians, the only way for societies to avoid the dead-ends of what Francis called “selfish indifference” and “violent protest.”

Throughout the twentieth century, the Church provided powerful examples of how to proceed along this path. A case in point was the manner in which the Catholic Church in Poland in the face of constant—and, at times, extreme—provocation never ceased talking to the Communist regime, despite the fact that the conversation was with people who were generally of ill-will and who supported an evil political system.

Read more . . .

jobless-menRecent news reports on unemployment, underemployment, and the high level of dissatisfaction among those with full-time work are an opportunity for the church, says Michael Jahr. People are looking for meaning, fulfillment, opportunity – and the church has answers that no one else can provide.

At a 2013 Oikonomia Network seminary faulty retreat, Pastor Dan Scott, author of “The Emerging American Church,” said, “American workers are having an increasingly difficult time competing with their Polish, English, Spanish, Russian, Indian, Korean, and Brazilian counterparts in a globalized economy. … The solution is a spiritual one, although at present few of our churches are offering it because too many of them are focused on lesser things.”

A dualism that neglects to address the workplace – where most Christians spend the bulk of their waking hours – is at odds with the theology of vocation. As British theologian and author Lesslie Newbigin wrote, “The congregation has to be a place where its members are trained, supported, and nourished in the exercise of their parts of the priestly ministry in the world. The preaching and teaching of the local church has to be such that it enables members to think out the problems that face them in their secular work in light of their Christian faith.”

Read more . . .

Blog author: jcouretas
Tuesday, August 13, 2013
By

Howard Zinn

Howard Zinn

In an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal, David J. Bobb examines the way in which Howard Zinn has been elevated by Hollywood and the academic left to make “the late Marxist historian more influential than ever.” Bobb, the director of the Hillsdale College Kirby Center for Constitutional Studies and Citizenship in Washington, begins with the campus furor that erupted among Zinn supporters when former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, now president of Purdue University, criticized Zinn after the historian died in 2010. Bobb writes that “90 faculty members hailed Zinn as a strong scholarly voice for the powerless and cast the former governor as an enemy of free thought.” Yes, predictable but difficult to see how these charges have any substance when you consider that Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States (described aptly by Daniels as “execrable”) has sold 2.2 million copies to date and most in the past decade. A healthy share of these copies, I’d wager, were purchased by secondary schools and colleges.

Bobb describes in “Howard Zinn and the Art of Anti-Americanism” how his ideas are spreading throughout the educational system: (more…)

Domenichino Adam and Eve(1623-25)Courtesy of Web Art GalleryThere are two prominent schools of thought within conservative Protestant circles that continue to clash over what Christianity is about because their starting points comprise different biblical theological visions. I use the word “prominent” here because I fully recognize that there are other more nuanced voices in the Christian diaspora. No “binaries” or “false dichotomies” are intended here. This is simply a distinction between the two dominant voices in a choir of others.

One begins by constructing an understanding of the Christian life orientated around Genesis chapters 1 and 2 and the other begins with Genesis chapter 3. A Gen 1 and 2 starting point views the gospel as a means for human beings to have a realized experience of what their humanity was meant to be and to do, whereas a Gen. 3 orientation sees the gospel as a means of saving us from our humanity in preparation for the eschaton (heaven).

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popeThe day Pope Francis was elected, I went directly to the bar. It was about noon when I first got word that white smoke had been spotted outside of the Sistine Chapel.  Soon after, my phone began to flood with texts declaring “Habemus Papam!” I called up a few of my Catholic friends and we decided that the best place to watch the announcement at St. Peter’s was none other than our favorite college pub.

The bar was empty so we asked the bartender to change the TV channel and ordered our first round. Our celebration had begun.

I remember the intensity in the room leading up to the reveal of our new Holy Father. When the announcement finally came, it was followed by a dramatic “Who?” None of us had heard of this beloved Cardinal from Argentina nor considered him in our discussions about possible Papal contenders. (more…)

Charitable giving, for the most part, involves money. But not always. The auto manufacturer, Toyota, donates efficiency. The car company’s model of kaizen (Japanese for “continuous improvement”) was one their employees believed could be beneficial beyond the manufacturing business.

Toyota offered to help The Food Bank of New York, which reluctantly accepted their plan. The charity was used to receiving corporate financial donations to feed their patrons, not time from engineers. But the non-profit quickly saw results.

Toyota’s engineers helped reduce the wait time for dinner from 90 minutes to 18.

Instead of having clients stream into the cafeteria 10 people at a time, the company recommended that diners take a seat just as soon as one becomes available. Toyota also set up a waiting room where diners could pick up trays and designated one employee whose job is to scour the dining room for an available space.

Toyota has ‘revolutionized the way we serve our community,’ Margarette Purvis, the chief executive and president of the Food Bank…

Toyota also worked with the Food Bank in their outreach distribution services following Hurricane Sandy, as the video below shows.

Gerard Berghoef & Lester DeKoster, in their book Faithful in All’s God’s House: Stewardship and the Christian Life, say this about work:

It is of the nature of work to serve the community. Whether work is done in the home, on the land, or in the countless forms of enterprise developed across the centuries, work is doubly blessed: (1) it provides for the family of man, and (2) it matures the worker.
Both of these points are well-illustrated in the video.

DSC_0167For a few years now, I have been puzzled by why Rachel Held Evans remains popular among many younger evangelicals and why the secular media finds her credible. I was struck by Evans’ recent CNN article “Why Millennials Are Leaving The Church.” When reading the post it becomes evident that Evans is not talking about the “holy catholic church,” but a narrow subculture of conservative American evangelicals. The post does not address why young adults in America are leaving the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, broad evangelical, nor mainline churches. Moreover, after reading this opinion piece it became clear to me that what Evans is saying Millennials want from “the church” is fully found in the United Methodist Church (UMC).

Evans rightly argues that conservative evangelical churches will not be able to bait-and-switch young adults with “cool” gimmicks in order to keep them in the doors. Historically speaking, American Christians have always panicked about teens and young adults leaving the church. For example, anxiety over fledgling youth attendances in churches served as the catalyst for the creation of the YMCA and the Boy Scouts. In the 1960s, making church cool led to the introduction of jazz into youth group culture in many Catholic and Protestant churches. After making this good point Evans claims that Millennials are leaving the (evangelical) church because Jesus cannot be “found” in it. This is the point where the post takes an odd ecclesiastical turn.

Evans says that what Millennials really want from “the church” is:

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Ed Stetzter thinks so. In a Christianity Today article, Stetzer says our fundamental rights – rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights – are getting abused. He says alarm bells should be sounding among Christians, but that doesn’t seem to be the camerascase.

Our Founding Fathers saw the Bill of Rights as providing barriers against government overreach and abuse.

People (particularly people in governments with power) could not be trusted to have no checks on their power. Why? Well, some of it had to do with history. For example, a bill of rights was an English concept preceeding the American experiment. But, some of those colonists held the view because of biblical convictions about fallen nature and the need to protect rights that some might want to take away.

Yet, Christians today do not sound much like the Christians then.

While Big Brother’s eyes grow stronger, some Christians just shut their eyes tighter. Perhaps if we better understood current events, we might consider their skeptical approach to the government power.

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