Category: Christian Social Thought

Blog author: jcarter
Tuesday, August 19, 2014
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The_Church_is_a_PartyChristians frequently talk about “stewardship,” but what do we mean when we use that term? And more importantly, what should we mean by it?

At The Gospel Coalition, Stephen J. Grabill, director of programs and international for the Acton Institute, discusses what it means to have a holistic understanding of stewardship and what it means to “make the kingdom of God visible and tangible to the world”:

Although Christians across denominational lines often use stewardship language to describe our calling to live out God’s mission in the world, what we mean theologically by “stewardship” varies greatly across religious traditions. Some think stewardship is tithing; others think it means volunteering or living a simple lifestyle. Still others identify stewardship with environmental conservation, social action of some kind or another, charitable giving, or making disciples through evangelism.

Each of these good and necessary activities points to an essential facet of stewardship, but each—on its own—falls shy of capturing the inspiring vision of biblical stewardship as a form of whole-life discipleship that embraces every legitimate vocation and calling to fulfill God’s mission in the world. In this sense, holistic stewardship, transformational generosity, workplace ministry, business as mission, and the theology of work movement all share a common point of origin in the biblical view of mission as whole-life discipleship. In other words, the essence of stewardship is about finding your place—that is, all the dimensions of your many callings—in God’s economy of all things (oikonomia).

Read more . . .

FLOW-gifOver at Capital Commentary, Byron Borger offers some valuable reflections and rather extensive praise for the Acton Institute’s new educational DVD series, For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a visually enjoyable Christian educational video curriculum,” he writes, “and I know I’ve never seen one so thoughtfully inspiring about a foundational Christian view of creation, culture, social life, and redemption.”

Indeed, FLOW offers a peculiar blend of artistic beauty and educational oomph. FLOW excels and exceeds at both showing and telling, and does so in a way that not only captures the mind, but instills a deeper, meditative longing in the heart for restoration and renewal across all spheres of life.

As Borger aptly captures, the series is unique in the way it unleashes the imagination toward a fuller, more nuanced vision for cultural engagement.

The teaching interviews and bold cinematography are so artfully expressed, though, that the blend of neo-Calvinist and conservative Catholic social theories that form some of the theoretical/theological background of the films are hardly noticeable; they are what Calvin Seerveld would call “suggestion-rich” and allusive. And they are often illustrated, not preached, with curious narratives and fantastic footage in settings as diverse as Makoto Fujimura’s art studio and Dr. Tim Royer’s Neurocore clinic which studies brain-related neurological issues. (more…)

Rembrandt_Jeremiah_lamentingThe barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers, said Alasdair MacIntyre, they have already been governing us for quite some time. About the best we can hope for at this stage of history, he wrote in his influential book After Virtue, is “the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us.”

“We are waiting not for a Godot,” concluded MacIntyre, “but for another—doubtless very different—St. Benedict.”

My friend Rod Dreher has built upon this insight by suggesting Christians consider the “Benedict Option”: communal withdrawal from the mainstream, for the sake of sheltering one’s faith and family from corrosive modernity and cultivating a more traditional way of life.

While the Benedict Option is somewhat appealing, I’ve always found as an evangelical a sufficient reason for rejecting that approach: my people tried it; it didn’t work.
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Photo Credit: Washington Post

In a time when U.S. journalism too often feels dominated by infotainment on television and blog/opinion pseudo-news in print and on the internet, it is sad to see instances of real journalism, seeking to act as a check on corruption in the public sphere, being suppressed by that very corruption. But such has been the case, recently, in Ferguson, Mo.

In the wake of the death of the unarmed teenager Michael Brown, shot by Ferguson police (according to witnesses with his arms raised in the air), protests and riots have erupted in the suburb.

In the midst of this, many reporters gathered to cover the story. On Wednesday, however, two reporters would become the story. Wesley Lowrey of the Washington Post and Ryan Reilly of the Huffington Post were arrested while they were taking advantage of the free WiFi at a local McDonald’s. Lowrey tells his story: (more…)

Blog author: ehilton
Thursday, August 7, 2014
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Archbishop Charles J. Chaput

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput

There are days when I almost give into despair. When I read stories like this, I think all is lost. Humanity is not worth a bucket of warm spit.

Thankfully, good men like Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia beg to differ. Today at Public Discourse, Chaput offers his thoughts on how culture can be saved, and the answer is Christianity. (Please read the entire piece; it is worth every moment of your busy day.)

Chaput begins by stating the basic facts of natural law, and how good human law must stand on this. He reminds us that, without natural law, “human rights have no teeth.” Rights separated from natural law become “inhuman.” Chaput recalls another basic of political and legal philosophy: laws are meant to help us be good. They may restrict us, but only in positive ways. They create justice, peace and ultimately freedom. He then discusses the argument that one should not force one’s morality on anyone else. (more…)

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…)