Category: Christian Social Thought

Refo5002017 will mark the 500th Anniversary of Martin Luther’s posting of his 95 Theses on the door of Wittenberg Castle Church, the event that would eventually lead to what we now know as the Protestant Reformation. In anticipation of this very significant anniversary, churches, seminaries, colleges, and many other organizations have begun the process of examining the events leading up to and flowing out from the reformations of that time, and a great deal of those organizations have joined together to form Refo500, which describes itself as “the international platform for knowledge, expertise, ideas, products and events, specializing in the 500 year legacy of the Reformation.”

Dr. Herman Selderhuis – Director of Refo500 and professor at the Theological University of Apeldoorn in the Netherlands –  was recently our guest here at the Acton Institute, and he took some time to sit down with Paul Edwards and discuss the legacy of the Protestant Reformation and the work of his organization. You can listen via the audio player below.

The System Has a Soul: Essays on Christianity, Liberty, and Political LifeChristian’s Library Press has now released The System Has a Soul: Essays on Christianity, Liberty, and Political Life by Hunter Baker, a collection of reflections on the role and relevance of Christianity in our societal systems. You can order your copy here.

Challenging the notion that such systems are inevitably ordered by the “ultra-complex machinery of state power and corporate strategy,” Baker reminds us of the role of the church in culture and political life. Rather than simply deferring to and relying on the “internal logic” of various societal spheres, Christians are called to contribute something distinct and transcendent in its arc and aim — whether in business, politics, science, academia, or otherwise.

“The church is the soul of the system,” Baker writes, and springing from that root is a notion of freedom and the good that “transcends our worldly instrumentalities and principalities.”

As Baker explains:

Why not just leave out the church? Why not leave out that Christian particularity that you insist is so important to culture? Why can we not just have the freedom and democracy and ignore the rest? Fine, the faith may have helped us reach this point, but I do not know why we need it now. We have evolved socially and politically.

The simplest answer is to invoke Elton Trueblood’s magnificent metaphor of the cut-flower civilization. A flower grows and becomes beautiful because it is rooted in the ground where it can access the things it needs to live, such as nutrition and water. The roots are life. If you cut the flower at its stem and put it in a vase, it will remain beautiful for a time, but it will die and decay. What was beautiful will be lost. (more…)

Blog author: jcarter
Monday, August 4, 2014
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What is social justice? How should Christians advocate an effectual social justice rooted in Gospel and natural law? The Institute for Religion and Democracy is hosting a blog symposium in which millennial Christians examine those and other questions related to social justice.

In their first entry, Acton’s Dylan Pahman attempts to define social justice:

The term social justice, for many Christians today, has come to be synonymous with correcting economic inequalities (usually through the apparatus of the state) out of solidarity with the poor. As inspiration, no doubt many, such as the biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann, would cite the Old Testament prophets’ many denunciations of exploitation in ancient Israel and Judah. Others might also draw fromWalter Rauschenbusch’s A Theology for the Social Gospel (1917) orGustavo Gutierrez’s A Theology of Liberation (1971). And it is fair to assume that others, whether knowingly or not, are heavily influenced by the political philosopher John Rawls’s A Theory of Justice (also 1971).

Historically, discussions of what is today known as social justice were first occasioned in the industrial era by what was, in the nineteenth century, known as “the social question”—the plight of the factory worker in a time before unions, forty-hour work weeks, child labor laws, safety regulations, and so on. It expanded from there to include the problem of poverty in general, from localities to nations to worldwide. And today nearly any issue of justice in society, real or imagined, falls under the umbrella of social justice.

Read more . . .
 

Blog author: jcarter
Thursday, July 31, 2014
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“To achieve a moral ecology under which the dignity and solidarity of all peoples can thrive,” says Michal Novak, “we must take small steps, little by little—yet not lose sight of the goal.”

Caritapolis, the City of Caritas. That is, in effect, how St. Augustine defined The City of God. Obviously, most of the world is not Christian, nor even Western, so a term like Caritapolis is not native to much of humankind. Pope Paul VI and later popes preferred the expression “civilization of love.” That phrase, too, is apt, since even the pagan sage Cicero deemed friendship to be the cohesive inner bond that suffuses cities with trust. In other words, between the deeper, richer Christian view and the secular view there is an analogue. There is an earthy way of coming near to the idea of Caritapolis.

Read more . . .

Today at The Imaginative Conservative, Fr. Dwight Longenecker, in an excerpt from his recent book, bemoans what he sees as “The Spoiling of America.” While sympathetic to his support for self-discipline, I find his analysis of our consumer culture to be myopic. He writes,

Without even thinking about it we have gotten used to having it our way. Because excellent customer service is ubiquitous we believe it must be part of the natural order. The service in the restaurant is always friendly, efficient and courteous to a fault. The menus are perfectly written and professionally designed not only to inform, but to whet the appetite in a pleasing way. The re-fills on your drink are free, the food is tasty and reasonably priced, the decor is interesting and the ambiance carefully constructed. Is there a complaint? The footman-server will take the blame, the butler-manager will offer you a free dessert and quietly slip you a gift card to soften the price of your next visit as the porter opens the door.

The same delightful experience awaits you at the big box hardware store, the supermarket, the appliances store and every other major chain. Indeed, even the doctors, nurses and dentists have been trained in customer care. Communications with the customer are superb. You will receive thank you emails and polite enquiries about your experience. If you fill in a questionnaire you might win a free vacation or a hamper of other goodies. Pampering you further is not a nuisance. It becomes an exciting little game in which you might win a prize, for remember the customer is king and Everyman in America must be coddled and cuddled in one big Fantasyland where everything is wonderful all the time and everybody is always happy.

Longenecker reasons that we become addicted to fleeting pleasures and that this consumerist mentality has even corrupted religion. He continues, (more…)

Crucible of Poverty

Stuart Ray, Donn Weinberg, and Anielka Munkel discuss solutions to poverty – July 17, 2014

On July 17th, the Acton Institute hosted a panel discussion titled “The Crucible of Poverty: Perspectives from the Trenches.” The discussion examined the issue of poverty, with a focus on what strategies for poverty alleviation have worked, what strategies have failed, and how we can better help the most vulnerable among us.

The panelists for the discussion were Mr. Stuart Ray, Executive Director of Guiding light Mission in Grand Rapids, Michigan; Mr. Donn Weinberg, Executive Vice President of The Harry and Jeanette Wienberg Foundation; and Ms. Anielka Munkel, Project Manager here at the Acton Institute, and a co-producer of the PovertyCure DVD series.

The discussion ranged from analysis of the roots of poverty in west Michigan to questions of federal policy relating to poverty, and how foundations can ensure that grant recipients are actually pursuing the goals supported by foundations.

The full discussion is available via the audio player below.

pope washing feetArchbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia spoke recently at the Napa Institute on Pope Francis’ view of economics. Archbishop Chaput reminded the audience that the pope was not an economist, but spoke rather as a pastor and theologian. He went on to say that some of what the pope has to say about economics is “hard for some of us to hear” but told his listeners to read the pope’s writings for themselves, without the filter of the media.

Archbishop Chaput also stated that Pope Francis’ message is not so different from that of his predecessors.

In matters of economic justice, Francis’ concerns are the same as Benedict’s and John Paul II’s, and Pius XI’s and Leo XIII’s. He understands economic matters through the lens of Church teaching in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church.  Like his predecessors, he defends human dignity in a world that consistently threatens it. But Francis stresses more directly than they did that human solidarity is a necessary dimension of human dignity. We need both. Human dignity requires not just the protection of individuals, as in our prolife work, but an on-going commitment to the common good. (more…)

gleaners-milletIn recent years, we’ve seen a renewed focus on the deeper value, meaning, and significance of our daily work, particularly across the realm of evangelicalism. Yet as easy as it may be for some to alter old attitudes and begin appreciating the gift of creative service, it can be extremely difficult for others — and often for good reason.

Indeed, until the last few centuries, the bulk of humanity was confined to activities that, while often fruitful, meaningful, and God-glorifying in their basic aim and end, did not leverage individual “giftings” in ways we would deem “fulfilling” or “dignifying” today.

Our economic situation has surely improved in the years since, with vocational opportunities and overall prosperity continuing to expand and improve in profound and unexpected ways. But many still find themselves in positions or careers that are difficult to endure, from the anxieties of a Wall Street executive to those of an underpaid farm hand.

Each of us is going to encounter our own unique challenges, driven by and toward our own particular calling. Although we ought to try our best to improve the alignment of such service in a fallen world, the persistent need for hard and rough work is bound to remain as long as it remains a fallen world. (more…)

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, July 23, 2014
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Giotto di Bondone - No. 27 Scenes from the Life of Christ - 11. Expulsion of the Money-changers from the Temple - WGA09209Last month the New York Times hosted a discussion on the question, “Has Capitalism Become Incompatible With Christianity?” There’s lots to be said about the “Room for Debate” feature, including a note on the caption for the lead image in the introduction.

The image is a rendering of the classic scene from the Gospels, Jesus’ cleansing of the temple. The NYT caption reads thus: “Jesus comes down hard on the bankers of his day.” Perhaps that’s a bit of ideological balance for the phrasing of the debate question itself, which supposes that at least at one time that “capitalism” and Christianity were compatible, even if they are no longer.

Occasioned by the NYT feature, although not a direct response, is a piece today over at Think Christian, in which I introduce what I consider to be some important distinctions to keep in mind when thinking about the Christian faith and economics.
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Economy of LoveFor today and today only, you can watch Episode 2 of For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles for FREE over at Flannel.org.

Produced by the Acton Institute and spread across seven episodes, the series seeks to examine the bigger picture of Christianity’s role in culture, society, and the world. Episode 2 focuses specifically on the Economy of Love, and the grand mystery we find therein.

As host Evan Koons concludes: “Family is the first and foundational ‘yes’ to society because it is the first and foundational ‘yes’ to our nature, to pour ourselves out like Christ, to be gifts, and to love.”

Stream the full episode here for the rest of the day (July 23).

Watch the trailer for the series below, and purchase it here.

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