Category: Christian Social Thought

Church-Social-Responsibility“Evangelicals are starting to believe in institutions again — and not a moment too soon.”

So begins Jordan Ballor and Robert Joustra’s introduction to a new collection of essays, The Church’s Social Responsibility: Reflections on Evangelicalism and Social Justice, which ponders the role of the church and the shape of its social witness.

Organized religion, long the object of derision by authenticity-addicted millennials and prophets of the new atheism alike, is losing its boogeyman status among younger generations,” they continue. “Thus has begun a minor renaissance in thinking about the church, less as a gathering of hierarchy-allergic spiritualists and more as a brick and mortar institution — something with tradition and weight and history.”

But what does such a renaissance imply for the church’s social responsibility? Historically, the church has started schools and hospitals and charities. It has taken up and transformed a range of areas and institutions. It has spoken out on injustice, launched political movements, and influenced public policy.

But why is the institutional church so powerful? How should it go about these matters in the current cultural and civilizational landscape? Who ought to speak on its behalf and how?

These questions are at the center of the exploration, including contributing voices such as Carl F.H. Henry, Richard J. Mouw, Vincent Bacote, Jessica Driesenga, David T. Koyzis, Stephanie Summers, and more. Together, they provide a rich portrait to inform and invigorate the social imagination of the church. (more…)

On Jan. 27, Acton’s Rome office sponsored a presentation of The International Property Rights Index at the Dominican-run Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas. The private seminar was a premier event in Rome for the index’s publisher, introducing data and case studies sampled from 129 industrialized and developing nations. It was attended by some 40 leveraged opinion makers from the ranks of legal, political, academic and religious sectors.

coverSpeakers included the university’s dean of social sciences, Fr. Alejandro Crosthwaite, who gave an excellent exposition of St. Thomas Aquinas’s treatise on property, including the medieval philosopher’s explanation of incentives for personal responsibility by way of individual as opposed to collective ownership. He also took time to explain what the Catholic Church teaches on the universal destination of goods, which is often misinterpreted as a contradiction to individual ownership. In referencing the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (quoted in part from No. 177), leaders in attendance were reminded:

“Christian tradition has never recognized the right to private property as absolute…The principle of the universal destination of goods is an affirmation both of God’s full and perennial lordship over every reality and of the requirement that the goods of creation remain ever destined to the development of the whole person and of all humanity. This principle is not opposed to the right to private property but indicates the need to regulate it. Private property… is in its essence only an instrument for respecting the principle of the universal destination of goods; in the final analysis, therefore, it is not an end but a means.” (more…)

umpFor many evangelicals, 2 Chronicles 7:14 has become a predictable refrain for run-of-the-mill civil religion, supposedly offering the promise of national blessing in exchange for political purity.

“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

If the nation returns to golden days of godliness, we are told, blessings shall abound and the land shall be restored. If policy follies are fixed and rampant rulers remedied, the garden will once again grow. We are to “take our country back,” saith the Lord, if grace and mercy are to enter the scene.

Yet as Russell Moore reminds us, to apply the verse in such a way amounts to little more than “theological liberalism” – “whatever one’s political ideology”:

This verse is a word written to a specific people – the people of God – who were coming home from exile. They were coming home from a time in which they were dominated and enslaved by a foreign power. At a time when they needed to be reminded of who they were, who God was and what he had promised to do, this passage was given to them to point them back to Solomon’s reign, reminding them of what Solomon did when he built the temple, the house of the Lord, the place of the gathering of the worship of God…

… When God said to them, “If my people who are called by name,” he was specifically pointing them back to the covenant that he made with their forefather Abraham. At a specific point in their history, God had told Abraham about his descendants, saying “I will be their God” and “They will be my people.” That’s what “My people” means.

God reminded a people who had been exiled, enslaved and defeated that a rebuilt temple or a displaced nation cannot change who they were. They were God’s people and would see the future God has for them.

But what future does God promise us?


Blog author: jcarter
Thursday, February 4, 2016

jesus_was_a_socialist_poster-ra50dbe5fff854b98ad170860c4976c88_wvg_8byvr_324The resurgence of socialism in America, especially among the young, seems to be based on a widespread form of wishful thinking and historical ignorance. Most people who support Bernie Sanders, for instance, do not realize that most of his ideas have been tried already—and discarded as unworkable.

Similarly, many Christians who support Sanders don’t realize that for centuries socialism has been considered incompatible with Christianity. Since the mid-1800s every Catholic pontiff—from Pius IX to Benedict XVI—has forthrightly condemned socialism. Protestants don’t have a single leader to make that judgment call, of course, but we too have determined that based on Scripture socialism is incompatible with biblical principles.

Yet despite the obvious disconnect between Christianity and socialism some people go even further and claim that Jesus himself was an advocate of socialism.

A solid, thorough rebuttal to this baffling notion can be found in Lawrence W. Reed’s essay, “Rendering Unto Caesar: Was Jesus A Socialist?


Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr. recently stirred up a bit of hubbub over his endorsement of Donald Trump, praising the billionaire presidential candidate as a “servant leader” who “lives a life of helping others, as Jesus taught.”

For many evangelicals, the disconnect behind such a statement is more than a bit palpable. Thus, the critiques and dissents ensued, pointing mostly to the uncomfortable co-opting of Trump’s haphazard political proposals with Christian witness.

As Russell Moore put it:

Richard Muow picks up on this same point over at First Things, noting that this “third temptation” has lured many Christians throughout church history, and was aptly warned against by Abraham Kuyper, the great Dutch statesmen and theologian. (more…)

UntitledA generation of Christians has been inspired and challenged by James Davison Hunter’s popular work, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World 1st Edition. Published five years ago, the book promotes a particular approach to cultural engagement (“faithful presence”) that stirred a wide and rich conversation across Christendom.

Its influence continues to endure, whether in stirring individual imaginations or shaping the arc of institutions. To reflect on that influence, The Gospel Coalition recently rounded up a series of essays on the topic, including a range of voices such as Collin Hansen, Al Mohler, Hunter Baker, and Greg Forster. Titled Revisiting Faithful Presence, the collection is available for free as an ebook.

The responses vary in praise and critique, uncovering new insights, posing new questions, and exposing lingering cracks and gaps. In doing so, they’ve inspired me to once again return to the book myself.

Though each offers its own compelling angle, it was Greg Forster’s essay (“To Love the World”) that stuck with me the most, reminding me of some of the key areas I initially wrestled with, particularly Hunter’s lopsided elevation of common grace and the embedded materialism in his framing of culture. (more…)

Blog author: jsunde
Friday, January 22, 2016

OneNationUnderGod_CVRChristians continually struggle to find the right approach, balance, and tone in their political witness, either co-opting the Gospel for the sake of political ends or retreating altogether out of fear of the same.

In their new book, One Nation Under God: A Christian Hope for American Politics, Bruce Ashford and Chris Pappalardo pave a fresh way forward. Though I haven’t quite finished it, thus far the book offers a refreshingly rich assessment of political ideology as it relates (or doesn’t) to the Gospel and Christian mission.

In a piece for Canon and Culture, Ashford whets our appetites on this same topic, providing a clear overview of how Christianity differs from conservatism and progressivism, as well as where and how we might engage or abandon each.

From my own experience, Christians seem to have an easier time discerning these distinctions with progressivism, most likely due to its overt rejection of or disregard for permanent truths. With conservatism, however, we tend to forget that without a particular focus on transcendence, conservatism languishes in its own shortsightedness and folly. (more…)