Category: Faith and work

“Being Godly doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to be wealthy. God makes no such guarantees in the Bible, so goodbye, prosperity gospel…[But] God clearly is not opposed to wealth in a kind of blanket way. He’s not even opposed, necessarily, to tremendous wealth, gobstopping amounts of money.” –Owen Strachan

In a lecture for The Commonweal Project at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Owen Strachan tackles the tough subject of whether it’s morally wrong for Christians to make lots of money. His answer: “No. But it could be.”

Although the unprecedented prosperity of the last century has been accompanied by unprecedented amounts of guilt and self-loathing, Strachan argues that “the focus of a true Biblical theology of wealth would be on how money is a gift from God.” Surely we need to be wary of the unique temptations that come with wealth, but when dedicated to, consecrated by, and stewarded in attentive obedience to God and the Holy Spirit, “it can be nothing less than an engine, a mighty engine, for spiritual good,” Strachan argues. (more…)

81W0J14jZsL“Christ followers are to see the world differently and have a different posture toward it. Rather than safety from or capitulation to the world, the grand narrative of Scripture describes instead a world we are called to live for. This world, Scripture proclaims, belongs to God, who then entrusted it to His image bearers. He created it good and loves it still, despite its brokenness and frustration.” –John Stonestreet & Warren Cole Smith

Through the new film series, For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles, the Acton Institute has prompted a robust discussion on Christian cultural engagement, prodding Christians to stretch beyond our typical categories of fortification, domination, or accommodation, and instead toward an approach focused primarily on service and love.

How are we to be in the world but not of it? How do we seek the good of the city and serve our captors without compromising God’s truth? What is our salvation actually for?

In their forthcoming book, Restoring All Things, John Stonestreet and Warren Cole Smith explore these same questions and continue the conversation, calling Christians to reorient our attitudes, actions, and vocabulary around God’s “true story of the world.” For far too long, they argue, Christians have preferred the path of opposition (resisting, reacting, and rejecting) even though in Scripture, the most common “re” words have to do with what we are for (reconciling, redeeming, restoring). (more…)

RootedGod has clearly given us dominion over creation, yet a variety of divisions and distortions persist. Radical environmentalists dream of a world without us, even as hyper-consumerists wield God’s call as justification for undue exploitation and self-seeking.

Getting the relationship right not only impacts our stewardship, but gets to the core of what we believe about God, why he created us, and who he has called us to be. It’s no wonder, then, that Abraham Kuyper begins one of his sermons on the role of the church by examining humanity’s broader role in creation.

In his sermon, “Rooted and Grounded,” Kuyper proclaims that the church must be both rooted”in the “organism” of the Gospel, even while being grounded in various institutional forms. Yet insofar as we are “rooted” in “organic” life, we must ask: Which garden do we intend to cultivate? How do we plan to do it? Why? (more…)

stutzman-flowersChristian florist Barronelle Stutzman was sued last year for refusing to sell flowers for the purpose of a same-sex wedding. Last week, a Benton County Superior Court Judge ruled against her, stating that her religious beliefs do not “excuse compliance with the law.” The 70-year-old grandmother now stands to lose everything: her business, her home, and her livelihood.

Next came a settlement offer from the attorney general of Washington, who proceeded to dangle dollars in an attempt to tease Stutzman into submission. The offer: Reject your religious beliefs and agree to accommodate such requests, and life can go on as before (after paying $2,000 in penalties, that is).

Stutzman promptly refused, and did so quite stridently via letter. Joe Carter has already pointed to that response, but given the key themes and tensions that continue to define these battles, the following paragraph by Stutzman bears repeating:

Your offer reveals that you don’t really understand me or what this conflict is all about. It’s about freedom, not money. I certainly don’t relish the idea of losing my business, my home, and everything else that your lawsuit threatens to take from my family, but my freedom to honor God in doing what I do best is more important. Washington’s constitution guarantees us “freedom of conscience in all matters of religious sentiment.” I cannot sell that precious freedom. You are asking me to walk in the way of a well-known betrayer, one who sold something of infinite worth for 30 pieces of silver. That is something I will not do.

(more…)

The Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central America has published a new report on Orthodox Monastic Communities in the United States (here). The report contains a lot of great information (“great” for nerds like me, anyway), including a whole section entitled, “‘Monastic Economy:’ Ownership of Property and Sources of Income in US Orthodox Monasteries.”

According to the report,

In summary, the three most common sources of income in US Orthodox monasteries are:

  • Occasional private donations including bequests and offerings for performed sacraments (87% of all monastic communities mentioned this source of income);

  • Sale of religious items (except candles) that are not produced by monastery (52% of all monastic communities mentioned this source of income);

  • Production and sales of candles (24% of all monastic communities mentioned this source of income).

Thus, after private donations, the top two sources of income are through commerce: 52% sales of items not produced by the monastery and 24% candles produced by the monastery. Income from other items produced by monasteries, such as books, devotional items, and food items, was also significant. Our Merciful Saviour Russian Orthodox Monastery in Washington state, for example, lists sales of their “monastery blend” coffee as their primary source of income.

This does not come as a surprise to me.

The most recent volume (vol. 8, 2014) published by the Sophia Institute, of which I am a fellow, includes a paper by me entitled, “Markets and Monasticism: A Survey & Appraisal of Eastern Christian Monastic Enterprise.” While my paper is not a comprehensive history, it does include a section on modern Orthodox monasteries in the United States.

I write, (more…)

“If we’re not heaven bent on doing more, we’re hell bent on trying to escape all the stuff we have to do.”

In Evan Koons’ concluding vlog on the Economy of Wonder, he tackles the difference between sloth and what Josef Pieper has called “virtuous idleness.”

It turns out sloth isn’t just about being lazy or doing nothing or sleeping in till 2. That’s called college. Sloth, at its core, to paraphrase field scholar Josef Pieper, is when we give up on the very responsibility that comes with our dignity: that we do not want to be what God wants us to be, and that means that we do not want to be what we really, in the ultimate sense, are. Hishis very good, gratuitous, useless creations born out of nothing more than his love and abundance.

(more…)

Through Christian’s Library Press, the Acton Institute has published four tradition-specific primers on faith, work, and economics, including Baptist, WesleyanPentecostal, and Reformed perspectives. Each offers a distinct contribution to the subject, and when taken together provides a rich and coherent framework for Christian stewardship. The books are part of Acton’s growing Oikonomia Series.

primer-group1

This week, Acton and CLP will be giving away two complete sets of the series (that’s 4 books total for each winner!), including Chad Brand’s Flourishing FaithDavid Wright’s How God Makes the World a Better Place, Charlie Self’s Flourishing Churches and Communities, and John Bolt’s Economic Shalom.

The contest will end Friday night (February 13) at 11:59 p.m. To enter, use the interface below. To get started, all you need to enter is your email address! After that, there are five ways to enter, and each will increase your odds (with extra points for tweeting).

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Note: Due to certain constraints, print copies are only available to contestants who live North America. Winners who reside elsewhere will receive a digital copy.

1.21411In the latest addition to Mike Rowe’s growing catalog of pointed Facebook responses, the former Dirty Jobs host tackles a question on the minimum wage, answering a man named “Darrell Paul,” who asks:

The federal minimum wage is $7.25 and hour. A lot of people think it should be raised to $10.10. Seattle now pays $15 an hour, and the The Freedom Socialist Party is demanding a $20 living wage for every working person. What do you think about the minimum wage? How much do you think a Big Mac will cost if McDonald’s had to pay all their employees $20 an hour?

Rowe begins by recounting a job he had working at a movie theater for $2.90 per hour (the minimum wage in 1979). He served his customers, learned a host of new skills, and received several promotions in due course. Eventually, he decided to move on, pursuing areas closer to his vocational aspirations.

He worked. He learned. He launched.

Turning back to the present (and future), Rowe is concerned about the ways various labor policies have prodded many business owners to innovate ever-closer to full-blown automation, leading to ever-fewer opportunities for unskilled workers. “My job as an usher [at the theater] was the first rung on a long ladder of work that lead me to where I am today,” Rowe writes. “But what if that rung wasn’t there?” (more…)

primer-baptistI recently pointed to a helpful talk by Greg Forster to highlight how understanding economics is essential for developing a holistic theology of work, vocation, and stewardship. Economics connects the personal to the public, and prods our attentions and imaginations to the broader social order. In doing so, it alerts us to a unique and powerful mode of Christian mission.

In his latest book, Flourishing Faith: A Baptist Primer On Work, Economics, And Civic Stewardship, Chad Brand expands on this point, listing five reasons why pastors and seminaries (and thus, lay people) would do well to dig deeper into the realm of economics. (The following titles are paraphrased summaries, with the corresponding text pulled directly from Brand.)

1. The Bible Deals with Economic Issues

First, the Bible deals with economic issues…It addresses matters of stewardship of our world (Gen. 1–3; Gen. 9:1–7), of God’s ownership of creation (Matt. 6:25–30; Col. 1:16–20), and of economic shalom (Lev. 25:1–55; Acts 2:42–47; 2 Thess. 3:6–10), and other important issues given more detailed discussion in [this book].

2. Economics Helps Us Understand the Public Square

Second, an understanding of economics and especially of political economy can help us understand what is going on in the world around us. The general election…is impossible to follow without some understanding of the implications of Obamacare and its impact on Medicare, the federal deficit, and the long-term effects of continued deficit spending. The posturing on the part of Republicans and Democrats sometimes seems like little more than rhetoric, but the one who understands what is really at stake can help lead people to a better understanding of their responsibility in the public square.

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A friend of mine recently shared this short clip of Thomas Merton’s last lecture. He has some interesting things to say about communism and monasticism, as well as what is clearly a sly promo for Coca-Cola at the end.

“From now on, brothers, everybody stands on his own feet.” This would be a great summary statement of what the monastic vow of poverty actually meant to most monks, historically. With regards to monasteries being the only places that have ever fulfilled the socialist ideal “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need,” I would add that they were able to do this because they valued the division of labor and the potential good of enterprise.

Monasteries, ancient and medieval, were centers of production, invention, and exchange, in addition to faith and worship. We may often think of the Scriptures and works of literature, philosophy, or theology that they copied in their scriptoria, but these same communities have also left us volumes of financial records, documenting extensive holdings in land and capital, as well as ventures in banking, lending, and long distance trade.

For one monk’s take on the good of commerce, see my recent Acton Commentary, “The Monk as Merchant,” here.

Also, I’ll be lecturing again on “Markets & Monasticism” at this year’s Acton University, our summer conference. If you haven’t done so already, take the time to learn more about it here.