Category: On Call in Culture

???????????????????????????????????The economic consequences of changing family structure are beginning to emerge, and as they do, it can be tempting to focus only on the more tangible, perceivable dangers. For example: “How many new babies are needed to keep Entitlements X, Y, and Z sweet and juicy for the rest of us?”

Such concerns are valid, particularly as we observe the lemming-like march of the spending class. But as harsh as the more immediate shocks of family collapse may be, we’d do well to consider the longer view of how we got here and how we might go about shifting things going forward.

As Nick Schulz points out in his latest book, the family serves a deeper, more formative function when it comes to cultivating human and social capital. “The family is the first institution within which we learn about empathy,” Schulz writes. “A healthy, well-functioning family is an extended exercise in self-control” — “the ability to put immediate needs aside for longer-run interests.” Indeed, without a properly grounded citizenry, economic prosperity and social stability will soon be squandered at the altars of blind hedonism and rash consumerism. (more…)

A new generation of evangelicals is beginning to re-think and re-examine the ways they have typically (not) engaged culture, with theological concepts like Abraham Kuyper’s common grace leading many to stretch beyond their more dispensationalist dispositions.

Over at Comment, James K.A. Smith offers some helpful warnings for the movement, noting that amid our “newfound appreciation for justice and shalom,” we should remain wary of getting too carried away with our earthly-mindedness. “By unleashing a new interest and investment in ‘this-worldly’ justice,” Smith argues, “the Reformation also unleashed the possibility that we might forget heaven.”

In strange, often unintended ways, the pursuit of “justice,” shalom, and a “holistic” gospel can have its own secularizing effect. What begins as a Gospel-motivated concern for justice can turn into a naturalized fixation on justice in which God never appears. And when that happens, “justice” becomes something else altogether—an idol, a way to effectively naturalize the gospel, flattening it to a social amelioration project in which the particularity of Jesus as the revelation of God becomes strangely absent…

…As a former fundamentalist, it was heirs of Abraham Kuyper who taught me the biblical vision of a holistic Gospel. But I’ve come to realize that if we don’t attend to the whole Kuyper, so to speak—if we pick and choose just parts of the Kuyperian project—we can end up with an odd sort of monstrosity: what we might call, paradoxically, a “Kuyperian secularism” that naturalizes shalom. (more…)

Faithful in All God's House DeKosterIn Faithful in All God’s House: Stewardship and the Christian Life, Lester DeKoster and Gerard Berghoef explore the range and reach of Christian stewardship, emphasizing that the practice of stewardship extends far beyond the handling of our money, stretching into life and time and destiny.

The practice of stewardship is “the supreme challenge of the Christian life,” they argue, and thus, we must strive to properly orient our thinking and behavior accordingly. The forms of stewardship are submitted to all of us. “None is beyond our reach — if the heart is aware, and the will bent to do God’s service wherever and whenever.”

Such awareness begins with a basic understanding of the fundamentals of stewardship, and DeKoster and Berghoef set forth five distinct principles to help lay the groundwork for their discussion. These principles, as revealed in Scripture, are summarized as follows:

  • God creates, sustains, and thus owns all things — man included. Not only in the beginning, but always. Every child born into the world receives life from God.
  • God brings us to life within this vast, beautiful, and challenging world and permits us to use and enjoy all that he sustains.
  • He intends, however, that his will shall govern our wills and his desires shall control our desires. He reveals his will in inspired Scripture. As we walk in his world, his word is a lamp to our feet and a light for our paths (Ps. 119:105).
  • Our use of God’s property, whether as faithful or rebellious stewards, is, therefore, what life is all about.
  • Our obedience, or disobedience, to God’s will revealed in his Word becomes the basis for the last judgment, which is the prelude to heaven or hell. (more…)

nfcoLast month, I had the pleasure of interviewing the folks at Neighborhood Film Company, a company that melds for-profit with non-profit to train, mentor, and employ adults in recovery through the process of filmmaking.

This week, Tim Høiland has an article for Christianity Today’s This is Our City project that expands on NFCo.’s story, digging deeper into the ins and outs of their business model and further exploring the dynamics of their community-oriented approach. Though big can sometimes be better, the founders of NFCo. believe they are called to orient the process of transformation in their business as they observe it in Jesus’ approach to discipleship.

Høiland summarizes:

Numbers are intentionally kept small; there are currently three apprentices, with plans for three more next year. “For us, the philosophy is shrinking our focus to people with names and faces and stories that we know,” says Dan Walser, 29, executive director of Working Film. “This is what we see when we look at Jesus and his ministry with his disciples.”

By working with a limited number of trainees at a time, NFCo. and Working Film can personalize the program while holding each apprentice to a high standard of excellence. “We tell our guys, ‘Look, the bottom line is that we need to run a company. So if you can’t cut it as an employee, there are plenty of nonprofit programs that will babysit you,’ ” Staub, 29, says. “That may seem harsh, but if I start looking at you like you can’t be the best, I’m not giving you full human dignity…” (more…)

In a lecture at Acton University titled “Business and the Common Good,” Dr. Scott Rae of Biola University examined the role of business in serving the common good.

Rae began by examining some of the common criticisms lobbed against business, namely, that it promotes greed, inequality, and consumerism. As Michael Miller often notes, these are human vices, not economic ones, and thus business, properly understood, is not immoral in and of itself.

On the contrary, business has great potential for serving and contributing to the common good. Though some believe profit-seeking enterprises are only valuable insofar as they can “give something back” out of what’s leftover, Rae emphasized how business advances the common good right from the get-go.

Rae offers four primary ways this occurs:

  • By peaceably providing needed goods and services that allow human beings to flourish and enhance their well being
  • By providing meaningful work that allows human beings to flourish and enhances their well being
  • By facilitating wealth creation and economic growth
  • By enabling the poor to lift themselves out of poverty

By leveraging business, we not only yield profits that can be used for the glory of God outside of business, we can serve our neighbors in the here and now. “God is not just redeeming individuals,” Rae concluded. “He is redeeming all of creation. He is redeeming the marketplace.” (more…)

Over at the Institute for Work, Faith and Economics, Dr. Vincent Bacote follows up on a previous post on business as Christian cultural engagement, explaining how such engagement needn’t be separated from our view of discipleship:

If we regard discipleship as the “spiritual” part of our life, we are certainly correct that it has everything to do with how we relate to God in our internal life. We would also have only a partial understanding of the extent of discipleship.

Jesus came pronouncing the arrival of the Kingdom of God, a reign that will ultimately be both in the hearts of people and the very structure of society itself. As we wait for the fullness of the Kingdom to arrive, we live as followers of Jesus who call him “Lord.” This means that he reigns over everything, including our external, every day lives beyond Sunday worship.

To be a disciple is to be a truly spiritual person, where “spiritual” does not mean “non-material” but directed by the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:3-16; Galatians 5:17-19)…Christian disciples are people who pursue all of life with and under the Lordship of Christ. The fact of Christ’s Lordship does not equate to churches micromanaging the business affairs of congregants, but it should mean that churches are helping businesspeople have an increasingly greater vision for how their “business life” is an expression of the rich life of discipleship.

Indeed, and just as churches mustn’t speak only to a “spiritual” life apart from culture, those in business mustn’t see their work as only material or temporal in significance. Whatever earthbound benefits our business endeavors yield, being spirit-led in the work of our hands will make room for a host of spiritual contributions to the economy at large and those working within it. (more…)

prayer“How is religion related to entrepreneurial behavior?”

As Joe Carter pointed out last week, a new study by Baylor University sought to examine this very question.

Focusing specifically on American entrepreneurs, researchers Mitchell J. Neubert and Kevin Dougherty found that although entrepreneurs “appear no different than nonentrepreneurs in religious affiliation, belief in God, or religious service attendance,” they do “tend to see God as more personal, pray more frequently, and are more likely to attend a place of worship that encourages business activity.”

Baylor recently posted some interviews with the researchers to get their thoughts first-hand (HT). Dougherty, an associate professor of sociology, emphasizes that in a time of economic recovery, we should pay close attention to any area that might impact those looking to start a business:

We’re at a particularly important time for the promotion of entrepreneurship, coming out of a recession, not just in our country, but globally, so if there’s a time period where we need people engaging in new business creation, now is the time, and if religion has something to do with that, it’s important to know what that is and how that occurs.

Neubert, an associate professor of business and entrepreneurship, notes that although this particular study doesn’t get into why entrepreneurs pray more or what exactly they pray about, he hopes that future research will examine these areas more fully. (more…)

downloadOver at Rough Trade, the always intriguing James Poulos celebrates the increased attention  now being given to the “relationship between economic and religious life,” pointing to the Acton Institute’s very own Samuel Gregg to kick things off.

Yet he remains unsatisfied, fearful of a return to what he views to be unhelpful “conceptual frameworks and cultural antagonisms” of the past, and urging us to push toward “a new mode of analysis that breaks away from the old, exhausting debates.” For Poulos, this means embracing an “economics of grace,” an interrelated component of something he has called “radicaltarianism” in the past (see more on this here and here).

Poulos observes the typical divides among Christians as follows:

Christians who accept these teachings [about the fall of man and grace] tend to split into two economic camps: those who lean toward an uncritical embrace of free-market capitalism, and those who tilt toward a far more skeptical, suspicious attitude. For the first group, the social upshot of Christianity is an institutional framework that supports flourishing with minimal reliance on the state. Christianity supplies a good foundation for market activity. For the second, the most durable and authentic institutional frameworks supplied by Christianity raise damning questions about the sustainability of neoliberalism — the secular “democratic faith” that gives market capitalism its modern philosophical foundations. For both groups, the key is that, ultimately, religion drives sustainable economic life. The difference is that the first group typically understands religion in a Protestant way, as a driver of explosive, and morally legitimate, economic growth, while the second takes a more Catholic view, doubtful of the moral purity of explosive growth, and focused much less on growing capital than other sorts of things, like families.

Although I disagree with where precisely Poulos draw his lines — sharing much of Rodney Stark’s skepticism about an explicitly Protestant ethic (etc.) — such divides do exist, labels aside.

Describing the state of the debate more broadly, Poulos argues that our political factions have also proven unhelpful, using terms like “economic growth” based on limited materialistic assumptions. (more…)

At The Gospel Coalition’s 2013 National Conference, Tim Keller kicked off a Faith at Work post-conference by exploring what it means to be a Christian in the marketplace.

Keller argues that we have to view our work through the larger Biblical story of Creation > Fall > Redemption > Restoration. If God is the creator of all things, and if through Christ all things are made new, that process of restoration must include our work.

Keller proceeds to offer five ways that the  theology of the Bible shapes the way we work. (more…)

Ricky Staub and Anders Lindwall were on a steady path to success in the film industry. Ricky was working for a big producer and Anders was freelancing as a commercial director. Then, God called both of them to leave their jobs and start a company of their own — one focused on leveraging the process of filmmaking toward whole-life transformation for adults in recovery.

Creating a unique business model founded on a concept called “family ratios,” NFCo melds for-profit with non-profit to train, mentor, and employ adults in recovery, a group they felt was particularly marginalized and left with few opportunities. Founding a separate non-profit called Working Film Establishment to serve as “a training ground to prepare adults in recovery for thriving employment,” Ricky and Anders now use NFCo as a for-profit wing for employing newly trained workers to “create content as a means of restoration, dignity, and hope.” As the above video notes, “in 2014, NFCo plans to enter into production on their first feature film with an entire crew recovering from homelessness, addiction, or incarceration.”

The founders of NFCo have followed the call of God on their lives, and through their daily work are actively impacting culture, the arts, and the economy through community-building, one-on-one discipleship, and creative output. Though it can be tempting for us to take the work we have for granted, NFCo offers a clear example of how God uses entrepreneurship and business to lift people up, transform relationships, and contribute to the common good.

Ricky and Anders were kind enough to share more about their story with On Call in Culture and discuss the ways God continues to use NFCo to impact the lives of others. (more…)