Category: Christian Social Thought

power-over-churchIn theaters this week is a new film about an FBI agent who goes undercover to find and stop white supremacists. While the movie looks like a standard thriller the title is unusual: Imperium.

Imperium isn’t a word we hear very often today. It comes from the Latin for “command” or “empire” and referred to the supreme executive power in the Roman state, involving both military and judicial authority. The word would later be adopted for the term imperator (emperor), a title for the supreme authority within a state.

Today, in Western nations, the state itself is often viewed as the imperium. As Jonathan Leeman points out, the state alone has the power over life and death—the power of the sword.

So if you want to start a business or a school, you need the state’s permission. The same is true for soccer clubs, trade unions, or charity organizations. They exist by permission of the state, and the state regulates them. They don’t regulate the state. They don’t have imperium.

While the state has ultimate power over soccer clubs and trade unions, does it have the same authority over churches? No, it doesn’t. As Leeman explains,
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jonathanedwardsAsk most Americans what they know about Jonathan Edwards and they are most likely to mention reading “”Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” in high school. Being known for preaching the most famous sermon in U.S. history is no small accomplishment. But Edwards was one of our country’s foremost intellectuals and (arguably) our greatest Protestant theologian.

He was also, as Greg Forster notes in an article for TGC, a champion of economic justice. As Forster says, Edwards believed that economic justice and gospel proclamation should not be separated:
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pro_regeHow do we live in a fallen world under Christ the King?

In partnership with the Acton Institute, Lexham Press has now released Pro Rege: Living Under Christ the King, Volume 1, the first in a three-volume series on the lordship of Christ.

Originally written as a series of articles for readers of De Herault (The Herald), the work was designed for “the rank and file of the Calvinist community in the Netherlands,” not academic theologians, offering a uniquely accessible view into Kuyper’s thinking on the role of the church in the world.

In their introduction, editors John Kok and Nelson Kloosterman describe it as “fundamentally correlative and complementary” to Kuyper’s other seminal volumes on this topic, the Common Grace series and his 1898 Lectures on Calvinism. As with those other works, the Pro Rege series offers evangelicals a robust framework for cultural engagement, including a range of specific teaching and guidance on how to be “in but not of the world.” (more…)

Bill-of-Rights-672x372Our rights as Americans are considered unalienable, says Heritage Foundation president Jim DeMint, only because they were inherent in the natural order of life established by the laws of nature and nature’s God.

While musing on the writings of author and philosopher G.K. Chesterton in his personal notebook, a young John F. Kennedy wrote, “Don’t ever take a fence down until you know the reason why it was put up.” Fences hold things in we want to keep close, and protect us from things we want to keep out. But Chesterton and JFK were not making a point about physical fences. They were speaking of the ideas, principles, and institutions that surround the things that make life worth living, and protect us from threats to those things we value and love.

This is sort of fence we are currently “taking down” in America. Since its inception, America has been surrounded and protected by a unique set of ideas that created the strongest, most prosperous, most secure and compassionate land of opportunity that has ever existed. These ideas were considered by America’s founders to be “self-evident” because they were based on the “Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” (from the first sentence of the Declaration of Independence).

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almsDavid Schelhaas, Professor Emeritus of English at Dordt College, recently published an article titled “What Does Social Democrat Mean?” Schelhaas suggests that “Christians should seriously consider the merits of social democracy.” Schelhaas is quick to point out that he does not advocate socialism, with state control and management of the means of production, coupled with the redistribution of wealth. Instead, he advocates for the lighter “social democracy.”

Schelhaas goes on to outline his vision of social democracy, including the state’s role in “creating a good and just society” and “using taxes to pay for…other social changes they desire.” His chief concern is wealth inequality, and claims it is the underlying cause of “virtually all social problems that plague a society, things like infant mortality, life expectancy, criminality, mental illness, etc.”

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Evangelicalism historically has always been embroiled in political and social movements in the West. Because of the effective reach church leaders have in reaching the masses in past history, politicians take particular interest in the church during political campaigns. Donald Trump’s new found interest in evangelicalism, then, makes historical sense. Winning over evangelicals could translate into votes. In fact, in the post-Nixon era evangelicals were very useful tools in the growth of the GOP as some Christian leaders unintentionally sold out the mission of the church to win a “culture war.”

In the wake of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, evangelical figures like Harold O. J. Brown, Francis Schaeffer, and C. Everett Koop, joined forces in the mid-1970s to call evangelicals to fight against the proliferation of abortion. Matthew Miller does a wonderful job of explaining how these men woke evangelicals up to an issue that Catholics were already fighting against.

In 1975, Brown and Koop launched The Christian Action Council which became the first major evangelical lobbying organization on Capitol Hill. In 1976, Francis Schaeffer’s film and lecture tour, How Shall We Then Live, served to awaken many evangelicals to the decline of Western culture on issues like abortion, materialism, secularism, the influence of evolution in public schools, the increasing coercion of government power, and so on.

Under the leadership of Brown, Schaeffer, and Koop, evangelicals officially launched their first offensive in the culture war as the pro-life movement recruited more crusaders. In the years that followed, the second generation of evangelical culture warriors were deployed. Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, D. James Kennedy, James Dobson, and so on, established a solid pro-life movement. These leaders would be key figures in the formation of The Moral Majority movement of the 1980s which enlisted Christians in the culture war for traditional family values, abortion, prayer in schools, among others.
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god-and-man-at-yaleIf a classic, as Mark Twain claimed, is something that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read, then William F. Buckley, Jr.’s God and Man at Yale is the epitome of a conservative classic. Few who have read it (and they are indeed few) would dispute its importance to the founding of modern conservatism. As the historian George Nash said, God and Man was “probably the most controversial book in the history of conservatism since 1945 and it’s importance for this movement is manifold.”

Still, it’s a book about the failings of Yale in the mid-twentieth century. If you suspect it’s an anachronistic cultural artifact you won’t be wrong. Buckley spends a considerable portion of the book calling out Yale professors and administrators for being irreligious and socialistic. The perverse appeal of watching the impish young Yalie naming names is muted by the fact that few of the names are people you’d recognize.

This was what made the book controversial. But what made it truly outrageous at the time — and makes it even more scandalous now — is the primary thesis. God and Man is a polemic with a simple, inflammatory proposal: Because Yale actively undermines the students’ faith in Christianity and the free market, the alumni should withhold financial support from the university. The corollary was obvious: Yale should do something about these professors.

Consider, for a moment, the audacity of the suggestion. The idea that an Ivy League school should restrict academic freedom when teachers use it to erode confidence in economic freedom and Christianity is even more peculiar now than it was in 1951. Today, even assistant professors at podunk Bible colleges think they should have the right to undermine the faith of their students. At a school like Yale, you would be shocked if the professors didn’t denigrate conservative religious and economic beliefs.
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