Category: Virtue

Golden-Calf-Painting1Last week, I wrote about the danger of self-chosen sacrifice, channeling evangelist Oswald Chambers, who warns us to “never decide the place of your own martyrdom.”

“Always guard against self-chosen service for God,” he continues. “Self-sacrifice may be a disease that impairs your service.”

As an example of how the process ought to go, Chambers looks to the story of Abraham and Isaac. God demanded something quite peculiar — the sacrifice of Abraham’s son —  and Abraham simply obeyed. “God chose the test for Abraham,” Chambers writes, “and Abraham neither delayed nor protested, but steadily obeyed.”

In Cornelis Vonk’s primer on Exodus, part of CLP’s growing series, “Opening the Scriptures,” he highlights an example of the opposite.

Moses had gone up to Mount Sinai, where God was to send down his law in written form. Yet down below, even as the Israelites had quite visibly witnessed the supernatural power of God — whether through the plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, the fire by night, etc. — they gave way to their humanistic impulses. Anxious and impatient for Moses to return and eager for guidance and direction, they could wait no longer.

“Make us gods who shall go before us,” they said. (more…)

KuyperEtch (1)The Obama administration’s HHS mandate has led to significant backlash among religious groups, each claiming that certain provisions violate their religious beliefs and freedom of conscience.

Yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling was a victory for such groups, but other disputes are well underway, with many more to come. Even among many of our fellow Christians, we see a concerted effort to chase religious belief out of the public square, confining such matters to Sunday mornings, where they can be kept behind closed doors.

In navigating these tensions, Abraham Kuyper’s Our Program (Ons Program) offers a wealth of perspective, particularly when it comes to how Christians ought to think about their role in the broader society. Recently translated under the title Guidance for Christian Engagement in Government, the book contains an entire chapter in opposition to a “secular state,” including a marvelous bit on freedom of conscience that’s worth excerpting at length.

“There should be freedom of expression, freedom of belief, freedom of worship,” Kuyper writes, “but above all, the root of all these freedoms: freedom of conscience.”

The conscience marks a boundary that the state may never cross.

The limits to state power reside in the will of God. Government has as much power as God has assigned to it. No more; no less. It sins if it leaves unused a portion of the power assigned to it, but also if it arrogates to itself any power that is not assigned to it.

There is only one power without limits: the power of God, whence it is called almighty power. Anyone who accords the state the right to exercise power as if it had no limits is guilty of “deifying” the state and favoring “state omnipotence.” That is not indulging in “oratorical phraseology” but simply indicating a purely logical concept. [emphasis added, here and in any bolded text hereafter]

Kuyper certainly believes that government has a role to play, noting that “government alone has public power,” granted by God, “whereas all other organizations in and of themselves are of a private nature.” (more…)

thenativity-WebIn the first episode of For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles, Evan Koons discovers a new approach to Christian cultural engagement. Revolving around “God’s economy of all things,” he proceeds to explore six key areas of human engagement, one in each episode, including the economies of love, creative service, order, wisdom, and wonder, and, finally, through the church herself — an organism and institution that runs before and beyond all else.

But it’s no wonder that the first of Evan’s subsequent explorations begins with the family — the economy love — for it is here, in the transcendent exchange of love and nurture and sacrifice, that deep and long-term transformation begins.

The family sets the stage for our service and the scope for our gift-giving. It is in the family where we first learn to love and relate, to order our obligations, and to orient our activities toward other-centered ends. It is in the basic, mundane exchanges between husband and wife, brother and sister, parent and child that we learn what it means to flourish.

As Koons explains in FLOW: “Family is the first and foundational ‘yes’ to society because it is the first and foundational ‘yes’ to our nature, to pour ourselves out like Christ, to be gifts, and to love.” Or, as he says elsewhere in the episode, the family is the “school of love.” (more…)

Jamie Bérubé

Jamie Bérubé

In a powerful profile of his son Jamie, a young man with Down syndrome, Michael Bérubé explores some of the key challenges that those with disabilities face when trying to enter the workforce:

The first time I talked to Jamie about getting a job, he was only 13. But I thought it was a good idea to prepare him, gradually, for the world that would await him after he left school. My wife, Janet, and I had long been warned about that world: By professionals it was usually called “transitioning from high school.” By parents it was usually called “falling off the cliff.” After 21 years of early intervention programs for children with disabilities…there would be nothing. Or so we were told.

At 13, Jamie reported that he wanted to be a marine biologist. A very tall order, I thought; but he knew the differences between seals and sea lions, he knew that dolphins are pinnipeds, and he knew far more about sharks than most sixth graders. And despite his speech delays, he could say “cartilaginous fish” pretty clearly. Perhaps he could work at an aquarium?

Bérubé goes on to tell the story of Jamie’s education and upbringing, which includes the unfortunate descent from that lofty childhood dream to his current unemployment at age 22. “By the end of the year [at age 13]…Jamie had lowered his sights from ‘marine biologist’ to ‘marine biologist helper,’ Bérubé writes. “And by the end of eighth grade…when he was asked what he might do for a living when he graduated, he said dejectedly, ‘Groceries, I guess.’”

Despite testing at rather high levels for his disability, and despite having years of experience working in various low-wage and volunteer jobs, Jamie continues to struggle in his search for a career, even in areas like factory work, food service, or hospitality. (more…)

NPG D681,Richard Baxter,by; after Jonathan Spilsbury; John Riley Richard Baxter, profiled in the latest issue of Religion & Liberty, penned The Saints Everlasting Rest in 1647. In the book’s dedication, Baxter wrote that he had no intention of serving God other than preaching. But he recalled, “sentenced to death by the physicians, I began to contemplate more seriously on the everlasting rest which I apprehended myself to be just on the border of.”

Baxter noted that because he was so near death that it quickened his “sluggish heart to speak to sinners with some compassion, as a dying man to dying men.” Baxter survived the ordeal, not dying until 1691, but he continually faced debilitating sickness and suffering. He was even imprisoned for refusing to cease preaching. Baxter is perhaps the most prolific author of theology in English history. He wrote 140 books, many of them while serving as a pastor. Baxter was a monumental influence on C.S. Lewis, who borrowed the title ‘Mere Christianity’ directly from his work.

The Saints Everlasting Rest
focuses on heavenly and holy pursuits, pushing us away from the fleeting priorities and agendas of our lives on earth. In an age of entertainment, with gadgets like smart phones, while great technology, cause many people to focus their gaze downward and not upward. With the myriad of distractions and moral chaos we face, Baxter’s writings easily retain their relevance. Below is an excerpt from The Saints Everlasting Rest on private meditation that is included in the book, From the Library of C.S. Lewis: Selections from Writers Who Influenced His Spiritual Journey: (more…)

Soup-NaziIn an article in the Journal of Markets & Morality, Ryan Langrill and Virgil Henry Storr examine “The Moral Meanings of Markets.” They argue that “traditional defenses of the morality of the market tend to inadequately articulate the moral meanings of markets.” Such defenses tend to argue from practical, even pragmatic or utilitarian, grounds.

But for Langrill and Storr, “markets depend on and promote virtue.” Evidence of this virtue in the marketplace, they argue, is that “consumers are often willing to pay a premium and workers are often willing to work at a discount in order to interact with honest, trustworthy, faithful, and even loving (i.e., charitable) brokers and merchants.”

A recent study seems to contradict this finding, however, noting that at least in some circumstances rude behavior by retail clerks increases sales. Today at Think Christian in “The Paradoxical Appeal of Rude Sales Clerks,” I explore these findings and put them within the broader context of what it might mean to “ration by rudeness.”

Read more: Ryan Langrill and Virgil Henry Storr, “The Moral Meanings of Markets,” Journal of Markets & Morality 15, no. 2 (Fall 2012): 347-362

In a short video that recently went viral, Academy Award-winning actor Denzel Washington offers some spontaneous career advice to a group of young actors.

Although the setting is informal and his remarks are off-the-cuff and unrefined — sure to beg questions among theological nit-pickers — his general view aligns rather well with a healthy approach to Christian stewardship.

Watch the video here:

In keeping with the theme of “All is Gift” that runs throughout Acton’s new series, For the Life of the World, Washington emphasizes that we are created to be gift-givers, and that our gifts are not to be neglected due to our own idleness and fear, and neither are they to abused for our own personal privilege or gain: (more…)

AllamericanArmy and Navy have met for battle on the football field 114 times. The two service academies have played big time college football for well over a century. Navy leads the series by nine games and holds the current and longest winning streak at 12 games. Army hasn’t won since quarterback Chad Jenkins led the Black Knights to a 26-17 victory in 2001. That game was played just a few months after 9/11 and many of those on the field would soon lead men in combat and a few would make the ultimate sacrifice.

In All American: Two Young Men, The 2001 Army-Navy Game and The War They Fought in Iraq , author Steve Eubanks tells the story of Chad Jenkins (Army) and Brian Stann (USMC) on the gridiron and their multiple combat deployments to Iraq. The patriotic fervor that swept the nation after 9/11 was extended to the football field, as Army and Navy were wildly celebrated and cheered by opposing fans and teams.

The game in 2001 had raucous pregame speeches from General Norman Schwarzkopf for Army and Senator John McCain for Navy; both men are alumni of the service academies in the military branches they served. Eubanks does a superb job of capturing the emotion and meaning of the game for the cadets and midshipmen. Everybody understood that after graduation, many of these young men would soon be sent to the field to fight and sacrifice in defense of their country. (more…)

Calvin_Coolidge_and_Israel_Moore_Foster“The Power of the Moral Law” is the title of an address delivered by Calvin Coolidge at the Community-Chest Dinner in Springfield, Massachusetts on October 11, 1921. Published in The Price of Freedom, the text is only available online through Google Books.

Coolidge’s main point in his remarks was to reinforce the truth that it is prosperity not grounded in a deeper meaning that threatens our American Republic. Displaying his conservative thought, he challenges materialism of government interventionists and reminds proponents of business and the market that material success alone is insufficient. True progress must have a deeper foundation.

There are many lines that stand out in his address, but perhaps few stand out more than this simple sentence: “Ideals and beliefs determine the whole course of society.” Currently, we see this playing out powerfully in our culture today. The ideals that have held our Western and American civilization intact for centuries have largely eroded. Ideals and commonly held standards, especially in the academy, are attacked as backwards and oppressive.
(more…)

On The Catholic World Report, Acton’s Michael Matheson Miller offers a personal reflection on the recent canonization of Pope John Paul II.

There were pilgrims from all parts of the world: Spaniards, Australians, a remarkable number of French (including a couple whose five young children wore matching jackets), a large group from Equatorial Guinea were also matching with commemorative traditional garb marked with images of Pope John Paul. I saw Slovaks, Americans, Nigerians, Lebanese, Italians, and legions of Poles young and old, waving red and white flags and holding banners. More than one million Poles came to Rome to see their native son raised to the altars. A risk-taking American couple had brought along three of their children, including a five-month-old in a baby carriage. At moments it was unnerving to stand in such a crush of people, yet despite the multitude, nearly everyone kept their calm and minded their manners. It was no European football match.

The love that John Paul II evokes has long perplexed journalists. George Weigel tells the story of a reporter who was stunned to see ninety thousand people in Denver’s Mile High Stadium chanting “JP II We Love You!” She attempted to explain away the faithful as “Vatican plants.” There is an attractiveness about sanctity that doesn’t fit into our normal categories. Perhaps this is why it is easier for the media not to deal with it.

I think we love John Paul II for a very simple reason—because, as St. John says of Christ, “he loved us first.”

Read more of “The Love of Saint John Paul II” by Miller on The Catholic World Report.