Category: Christian Social Thought

"In the Beginning" artist Mako Fujimura

“In the Beginning”
artist Mako Fujimura

The hubby and I were watching TV when a commercial for Fiji Water came on. The voiceover expounded all the wonderful features of this water, and then said something about it being “untouched by man.”

I turned to my husband and said, “Did I hear that right? ‘Untouched by man?'” He nodded.

Indeed, that’s the selling point for this water:

On a remote Pacific island 1600 miles from the nearest continent, equatorial trade winds purify the clouds that begin FIJI’s Water journey through one of the world’s last virgin ecosystems. As the tropical rains fall on a pristine rain forest, it filters through layers of volcanic rock, slowly gathering the natural minerals and electrolytes that give FIJI Water its soft, smooth taste. The water collects in a natural artesian aquifer,  deep below the earth’s surface, shielded from external elements by confining layers of rock. Natural pressure forces the water towards the earth’s surface, where it’s bottled at the source, untouched by man until you unscrew the cap. [emphasis mine]

First, let’s all agree that this is heavy-handed prose for water. Second, the folks at Fiji seem to think they are doing something not only extraordinary, but revolutionary. Sorry to tell you, folks: you’re doing something people have been doing since, well, as long as people have been around: getting water out of a well.

Now back to the “untouched by man” thing. Why is this a selling point? Why is something touched by a human being bad? (more…)

loan treeThere are three possible futures for American Evangelicalism. These diverse destinies depend upon the moral, social and theological convictions of the communities and leaders of the different streams. They also represent patterns found in three centuries of American Evangelical history. These futures will also determine whether or not particular communities flourish economically and socially.

American Evangelicalism has never been a uniform subculture. The term “Evangelical” denotes adherents of historic Christian faith within a Protestant ethos.

Remembering the Past

Synthesizing the insights of historians George Marsden and Mark Noll, the Awakenings that gave shape to the Evangelical ethos between 1730 and 1840 focused on five key attributes: (1) Biblical authority and inspiration, (2) affirmation of historic creedal theology, (3) the necessity of personal conversion, (4) commitment to local and global evangelization/missions, and (5) integration of personal piety and public charity and engagement in making the world a better place.

Integrating personal faith with deliberate generosity of material and spiritual resources for the common good was normal discipleship for Evangelicals. John Wesley, founder of the Methodists, eschewed any separation of piety and public charity, insisting that members develop relationships with the recipients of their largesse. He also commended entrepreneurship and hard work, enjoining friends to “earn, save, and give” in proper proportion.

The three reactions mentioned above have their origins in the 18th century. One group resisted change and rejected the affective experiences of renewed believers and their insistence that their ministers display sufficient enthusiasm and fidelity to Scripture. These were the “Old Lights.” They eventually split into two camps, with some retaining historic creedal faith and others embracing Deism and/or Unitarianism as the Enlightenment calls for eschewing old superstitions gave way to modern scientific understanding.

By 1800, reactions to change are established: (1) retrenchment and rejection of new experiences and ideas, (2) revision of the faith itself, including questioning cardinal doctrines, and (3) renewal leading to reform and revival of biblical faith. (more…)

Not the Only “Option”

This is the question I ask in response to Rod Dreher et al. at Ethika Politika today. By liberalism, of course, I mean the (classical) liberal tradition as a whole, not just progressive forms of it common on the social and political left.

I write,

So in one sense Benedict Option enthusiasts are not all wrong. Liberalism is the problem the same way “culture” is the problem, or “society,” or “religion,” or “secularism,” or any other general noun that mutually admits of several concrete forms with varying degrees of moral worth. And it’s everywhere.

… Even our anti-liberals are liberals. Long ago, most gave up on their respective utopias and decided that reform from within liberal societies was a more prudent path than violent revolution or quietist withdrawal. So [Jeff] Guhin is right when he says, “We are all liberals now.”

Why, again, is that a bad thing?

Read my full essay, “The Liberal Option’s Answer to the Benedict Option,” at Ethika Politika here.

JMM_18.1 front cropOur most recent issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality has now been published online and print issues are in the mail.

Volume 18, no. 1 is a special issue. Guest editor Shirley Roels details the origins of the contributions in her (open access) editorial:

To highlight the 2013–2014 English publication of the first volume of [Abraham] Kuyper’s theological commentary on common grace, the Calvin College Business Department organized an October 2014 symposium, which was co-sponsored by the Acton Institute. Faculty, business practitioners, and students gathered to think about the meaning of Kuyper’s common grace theology for twenty-first-century business. Over an exceptional day of discourse, presentations and panels were woven into a robust discussion about the light of faith for business when that life is shared together by Christians and those who follow other paths. Leaders from banking, manufacturing, natural resources, film, food, and floral industries, among others, joined with business educators to shape the current intertwining of common grace and business.

The symposium was framed around three themes that emerge from Kuyper’s writings about common grace. Its planners described these as the protective, constructive, and imaginative functions of common grace. Through such grace, God protects remnants and echoes of his good created order as gifts for all people despite continuing human perversity. God designs the expectation and possibility that together humans will construct institutions to respond to needs and support social order. God provides continuity between the values and virtues of all people so that Christians as well as those in other faith traditions can work together imaginatively.

The article contributions to this journal issue originated in that October 2014 symposium. Peter Heslam’s opening article provides some of Kuyper’s less-known commentary about business life. Then eight articles, all authored by Christian business educators, articulate the implications of Kuyper’s common grace theology for business ethics, strategic planning, global debt markets, entrepreneurship, market pricing, the accounting profession, operations management, and human resource frameworks. Richard Mouw’s closing article enjoins us to bring robust Christian faith to the business spaces where God’s light can readily flood. (A separate review essay unrelated to the symposium also appears as part of the journal’s regular publication schedule.) Finally, integrated into the journal’s book review section are four reviews of recent books about faith and business that highlight resources to deepen this intersection of faith and business.

In addition to Dr. Roels’ editorial, I have made my review of The Common Good: An Introduction to Personalism by Jonas Norgaard Mortensen open access as well. You can read it free here.

If you are interested in a subscription to the Journal of Markets & Morality, subscription directions and prices can be found here.

Once you’ve purchased a subscription, you can read our most recent issue, volume 18, no. 1, here.

FLOW_EXILEIn the various discussions surrounding the Acton Institute’s film series, For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles, a common response has been to call into question the basic notion of Christians existing in a state of “exile.”

The general complaint is that it’s somehow hyperbolic, given the privileged position of the modern West in the scope of human history. From here, things typically descend into detailed historical debates about the realities of America vs. the Middle East vs. the Roman Empire vs. Babylonian rule, and so on.

But as Russell Moore now helpfully points out, such a critique assumes a false definition of “exile” that most simply misses the point.

Exile has nothing to do with some temporal decline from this earthly rule to that — in our case, from some nostalgic memory of a “Christian nation” to the present “post-Christian” dysphoria. “The political and cultural climate of America does not make us exiles,” Moore reminds us, and such a perspective “just continues the triumphalist rhetoric of the last generation.”

Indeed, Christians have never been “at home” in America: (more…)

Today at the Library of Law & Liberty, I examine Pope Francis’s recent speech in Bolivia, in which he calls for “an economy where human beings, in harmony with nature, structure the entire system of production and distribution in such a way that the abilities and needs of each individual find suitable expression in social life.”

I have no objection to that, but what he seems to miss is that the very policies he criticizes all characterize those countries in the world that most closely resemble his goal. I write,

So what stands in the way, according to the pontiff?—“corporations, loan agencies, certain ‘free trade’ treaties, and the imposition of measures of ‘austerity’ which always tighten the belt of workers and the poor.” Really?

Business, credit, trade, and fiscal responsibility are marks of healthy economies, not the problem, popular as it may be to denounce them. Indeed, these are also marks of economies that effectively care for “Mother Earth,” whose plight the Pope claims “the most important [task] facing us today.” That’s right, more important than the plight of the poor, to His Holiness, is the plight of trees, water, and lower animals.

That moral confusion aside, is there any way we could study what policies correlate with the Pope’s laudable goals? As it turns out, there is. The United Nations Human Development Index (HDI) ranks countries based upon an aggregate rating of economic growth, care for the environment, and health and living conditions—precisely the measures the Pope seems to care most about. Yet of the top 20 countries on the most recent HDI ranking, 18 also rank as “free” or “mostly free” on the most recent Heritage Index of Economic Freedom.

Read my full article, “Show Me the Way to Poverty,” here.

VATICAN-POPE-AUDIENCEPope Francis has said that he’s generally “allergic” to financial matters. Yet that hasn’t stopped him from criticizing capitalism and suggesting radical changes for a global economic order. During his recent trip to Latin America, the pontiff has been especially denunciatory, saying the unfettered pursuit of money is “the dung of the devil.”

Not surprisingly, many critics have complained that Francis is presenting a distorted, incomplete, and naive view of capitalism. To his credit, the pontiff has vowed to consider these reactions before his trip the U.S. this September. “I heard that there were some criticisms from the United States. I must begin studying these criticisms, no?” he said. “Then we shall dialogue about them.”

It’s encouraging to hear Pope Francis say he’s interested in dialogue on the topic. Naturally, since we share many of the same values and concerns, an ideal partner in such discussion would be the Acton Institute. As Acton co-founder Rev. Robert Sirico has said,

From the inception of the Acton Institute . . . we have always been concerned that economic education–a real understanding of how a market functions–will first and foremost help the most vulnerable, so we’ve done various things over the years to attempt to demonstrate or teach or model that for people.

If the pope is interested, we even have a branch in Rome—Istituto Acton—that he can visit. It’s a mere 20 minute walk from Vatican City or about 5 minutes by mini-popemobile. We’d also be willing to send him any resources he might find useful, such as our PovertyCure DVD series or Rev. Sirico’s book, Defending the Free Market: The Moral Case for a Free Economy.

In the meantime, though, I think Pope Francis could gain a lot of insight by simply pondering these three points: