Archived Posts October 2006 - Page 3 of 9 | Acton PowerBlog

Blog author: jarmstrong
Wednesday, October 25, 2006

We have had a book called God’s Politics, by Jim Wallis. Now we have one called The Politics of Jesus: Rediscovering the True Revolutionary Nature of Jesus’ Teachings and How They Have Been Corrupted, by Obery M. Hendricks, Jr. Does anyone on the Left, who so freely decries the Right for their excessive claims to truth, ever stop to think that they have no more claim on God’s truth than the Right does?

While the Left assaults the Right for partisanship they continue to produce books that tell us “how to rediscover the true revolutionary nature of Jesus’ teachings.” The hubris in such a claim is quite staggering. Hendricks spends most of this book arguing that the two primary culprits in our lifetime, men who both attacked the true revolutionary teaching of Jesus, were Ronald W. Reagan and now George W. Bush. Surprise, surprise!!!

Former moderate Republican senator John Danforth (MO), an Episcopal priest, gets a lot closer to the truth in his new book, Faith and Politics: How the “Moral Values” Debate Divides America and How to Move Forward Together. Danforth suggests that it is simply wrong to equate “faith with political agenda.” The Right has done its fair share of equating God’s law with their politics for the past twenty-five years but the Left was doing this for fifty years before the Right decided to join the partisan parade that now badly polarizes America.

The sad reality is that the Left now acts like they have always held the moral high ground and the Right is thus a movement filled with self-righteous idiots who want to take over America for God. I sure wish these folks would talk to the intelligent conservatives I converse with day-to-day but they often choose to focus on a few public figures in the Christian media (Falwell, Robertson, et al.) that are not true representatives of thoughtful and serious conservatism. (It is much easier to demonize your opponents than to face hard and serious issues honestly. Just accuse Republicans of not caring for the poor and the game is over if you buy this approach.)

I am sometimes asked why I am not impressed with Sojourners magazine and the editor, Jim Wallis. My answer is that when Wallis endorses this kind of book by writing, “In The Politics of Jesus, Obery Hendricks articulates a critical prophetic message that interrogates our nations politics according to the values of Jesus…. This book is a must-read for everyone who seeks to understand and live out the revolutionary implications of following Christ,” I am frankly staggered by how much he lacks credibility as a Christian thinker or serious political voice. And he claims, cleverly times ten I would add, that “God is not a Republican.” I agree! But Mr. Wallis, please, God is not a radical liberal Democrat either!

A touch of humility in all of this public philosophical debate would be a helpful step toward fruitful discussion among Christians. I have a number of real friends who disagree with me politically but the reason they remain my friends is that they treat me with respect. I think I return the favor. I wish people on the Right and the Left would stop this kind of moral triumphalism. It is poison to the nation.

John H. Armstrong is founder and director of ACT 3, a ministry aimed at "encouraging the church, through its leadership, to pursue doctrinal and ethical reformation and to foster spiritual awakening."

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Pie in the Sky (Image source)

The market can be a pretty amazing thing. Matt Tomter, a former Alaskan bush pilot, saw a market niche and jumped at the opportunity. His Airport Pizza delivers a pie anywhere in Alaska for just $30…that includes free delivery.

As reported on the CBS Evening News, “Flying in pizza may seem like a pie in the sky idea, but it’s proving really popular. An average of 10 pizzas each day goes flying out to the villages. There’s even on-time delivery — as long as the planes are on time.” (Check out the video here.)

What’s not included in the price? A purchase from TerraPass to offset the carbon emissions of the flight. That might come out to about a buck per pie, if a trip from Nome to Kotzebue (366 miles) is any indication. It does appear, however, that the pies are simply some extra cargo on flights on Frontier Flying Service. That is, the pizza is travelling on flights that would already be going out.

Blog author: jcouretas
Tuesday, October 24, 2006

NASHVILLE – The event was billed as an “appreciation” for the volunteers at the Christian Women’s Job Corps of Middle Tennessee and the theme for the evening was set by St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians: Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up (Gal. 6:9).

By the time the program wrapped up, everyone in attendance was reminded of the plain truth that making real change in a life is hard work. It’s not a job for quitters. And it often involves many, many helping hands.

The Samaritan Guide – Clicking this link will open a new window with a video player.

The Oct. 19 program to honor CWJC volunteers at the Forest Hills Baptist Church also included the presentation of the 2006 Samaritan Award by Acton’s Karen Woods. CWJC, which was awarded a $10,000 cash prize, was recognized along with nine other honorees in the annual competition that searched for the nation’s best private charities. Check out the Samaritan Guide online scorecard on CWJC.

The CWJC in Nashville, now in its tenth year, is aimed at improving the job skills of the working poor and moving them up the economic ladder. These women may be recovering from addiction, ex-offenders, or just in need of deeper employment skills or more education. The women are assigned a volunteer mentor who commits to working at least a year with them, usually for 2-4 hours per week in the evening. The program participants and mentors work out a set of goals, and take employment and “life skills” classes that might involve subjects such as computer training or preparation for a GED. Mentors, who approach the job as mission work, are required to be at least 25 years old and in possession of an “active” faith.

Rebekah Sumrall, executive director of the Nashville-based CWJC, said the work of the organization begins with “a relationship where you understand their goals and what their dreams are.” By bringing the program participants into new relationships with mentors and other volunteers, the CWJC addresses one of the most pressing needs of the women it serves. Often, the women in the CWJC program are mired in poverty because, through their own mistakes, or because of the brokenness around them, they have little in the way of healthy relationships with family, friends and community to call on. The CWJC approach shows that true caring for others is personal, and often involves immediate and direct “hands on” help. That can be complicated and messy and involve much more of a commitment than simply offering a few soothing words or mailing a check.

“We create the potential for transformation of body, mind, heart and spirit for the working poor and the Christian volunteer,” Sumrall said. “And we think we’re the best at that.” (more…)

As promised in Part 3, this post will begin a discussion of natural law in the thought of the Reformer Peter Martyr Vermigli (1499-1562), but first I want to touch on the broader issue of natural law in the context of Reformation theology.

More than any other Reformer, John Calvin is appealed to for his insight on natural law. This is probably due to the stubborn persistence among scholars to single him out as the chief early codifier of Protestant doctrine. While this approach is understandable given the force of habit, the discussion should be widened beyond Calvin to include those Reformers who either preceded him or were contemporaries of his and the later representatives of Protestant orthodoxy. Though Calvin talks a fair bit about natural law, his treatment of it is unsystematic and imprecise compared to the medievals and some of his contemporaries. Susan Schreiner, a Calvin expert and University of Chicago Divinity School professor, thinks Calvin’s discussion of natural law should be seen as an extension of his doctrine of providence. In her view, Calvin uses natural law for the practical purpose of explaining how order is preserved after the fall in society, law, and morality.

As time passes in the sixteenth century, however, Protestant theologians develop increasingly sophisticated doctrines of natural law that they situate in the wider context of the grand moral tradition with Aristotle, Cicero, Augustine, Aquinas, Scotus, and many others. What is striking here is the degree to which Martyr and his fellow Reformer and former student Jerome Zanchi, for example, show continuity with Thomas and Scotus. The Jesuit historical theologian John Patrick Donnelly expresses a similar viewpoint. “Does Martyr’s scholasticism have affinities to any particular medieval school? Yes. Martyr cannot fairly be called a Thomist, yet his scholasticism stands far closer to Thomism than to any other major school of the Middle Ages. His training was mainly Thomistic and he cites Aquinas far more than any other scholastic except Lombard.”

The astonishing thing about the rise of Reformed scholasticism in the 1540s and 50s is that its medieval roots run heavily to Thomism and Scotism, hardly at all to nominalism. This challenges the opinion of several prominent contemporary Roman Catholic and Protestant intellectuals, who credit the emphasis on the will in Protestant ethics to the influence of William of Occam rather than to medieval Augustinian antecedents.

Use of traditional natural-law terms in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Protestant orthodoxy show significant points of continuity with the thought of Thomas and Scotus. The discontinuities stem from disputes over the interpretation of key biblical passages, an expanded sense of how sin affects reason and human nature, and a criticism of works righteousness, to mention a few key areas. Calvin, Martyr, and the Reformed scholastics all share the conviction that Scripture is the cognitive foundation of theology and that moral arguments can be based on precepts drawn from that foundation.

Part 5 will begin to sketch out Martyr’s view of natural law.

This entry has been cross-posted to my blog, Common Notions.

I ran across the following quote from Søren Kierkegaard recently (HT: the evangelical outpost):

The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world? Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Oh, priceless scholarship, what would we do without you? Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes, it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament.

On the surface, Kierkegaard’s critique of so-called “Christian scholarship” is quite powerful. The depiction amounts to a view of rationalizing Christianity that uses the wiles of reason, which Martin Luther in some of his more polemical moments said was “the Devil’s greatest whore,” to escape the implications of the gospel.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer likely had Kierkegaard’s complaint, or something very much like it, explicitly in mind when he wrote in Discipleship that “we in our sophistry differ altogether from the hearers of Jesus’ word of whom the Bible speaks.” He goes on to say, “If Jesus challenged us with the command: ‘Get out of it,’ we should take him to mean: ‘Stay where you are but cultivate that inward detachment’.” The point is that “all along the line we are trying to evade the obligation of single-minded, literal obedience.”

Herman Bavinck, on the other hand, writes,

There are also many words put down in Scripture which God spoke to a definite person in peculiar circumstances, but which are not directed to us, and therefore need not be followed by us. Thus He commanded Abraham to offer his son, Phinehas to kill the adulterous man and woman, Saul to bring Agag, and, so as not to mention more, thus Jesus commanded the rich young man to sell everything he had and give it to the poor. Human society would be in a sad state if Christians had to follow this example literally and had to apply this in their surroundings. Yet a few have indeed tried this and have displayed by this their wrong interpretation of Scripture.

At this point he might have in mind the sort of radical pacifism practiced by certain kinds of Anabaptist groups, highlighted most recently in the case of the Amish and their reaction to the recent schoolhouse shootings. Article 36 of the Belgic Confession in its original form denounced the Anabaptists as anarchists, in part because they denied the power of retributive justice to the civil government: “And on this matter we denounce the Anabaptists, other anarchists, and in general all those who want to reject the authorities and civil officers and to subvert justice by introducing common ownership of goods and corrupting the moral order that God has established among human beings.”

Part of the difficulty comes in properly understanding what is a particular command or duty in an individual circumstance and what is a general and universally binding divine law. In agreement with Kierkegaard and Bonhoeffer, I don’t think we should simply be able to move facilely and simply from the explicit and clear teaching of Scripture to something completely opposite. The interpretation of difficult passages in light of the whole of Scripture’s testimony, which may ultimately result in a doctrine like just war, should be as genuinely and equally principled as the Amish interpretation of commands to peace and non-violence.

I conclude with a final note I gleaned from my reading of Timothy Wengert’s study of the the debate between Philip Melanchthon and John Agricola over contrition and repentance, Law and Gospel:

As important as it may be to notice the commentaries on an exegete’s writing desk, it is equally crucial to pay attention to the controversies raging outside the study door. In the days before it became stylish to pretend that exegesis was pure science or simple description of a long-dead world, the interpreter of Scripture, especially evangelical theologians like Melanchthon and Agricola, thought their task incomplete until they brought the word of God to bear on the issues that confronted them on every side.

With regard to the relevance of God’s Word to our times, I am in complete agreement. And as Bonhoeffer also said, “Do not try to make the Bible relevant. Its relevance is axiomatic…. Do not defend God’s Word, but testify to it…. Trust to the Word. It is a ship loaded to the very limits of its capacity!”

Sirico: No moral conflicts with rooting for the Tigers

On Friday afternoon, Rev. Robert A. Sirico addressed an audience of Acton Supporters at the Detroit Athletic Club in Detroit, Michigan. His address was titled Capitalism and the Common Good: The Ten Pillars of the Moral Economy, and we are pleased to make it available to you here (10.5 mb mp3 file).

I would be remiss if I failed to note that the event took place on the eve of the 2006 World Series – and right across the street from the location of the first two games, Comerica Park. In the spirit of the event, some of our guests presented Father Sirico with the Tigers cap pictured in this post. Being the good sport that he is, he declared that he had no moral conflicts with rooting for the Tigers… as long as the Mets were out of the playoffs.

Blog author: dphelps
Monday, October 23, 2006

Zenit published the following this weekend, a commentary by Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa on this Sunday’s liturgical readings (Isaiah 53:2a.,3a.,10-11; Hebrews 4:14-16; Mark 10:35-45). Well worth the read.

After the Gospel on riches, this Sunday’s Gospel gives us Christ’s judgment on another of the great idols of the world: power.

Power, like money, is not intrinsically evil. God describes himself as “the Omnipotent” and Scripture says “power belongs to God” (Psalm 62:11).

However, given that man had abused the power granted to him, transforming it into control by the strongest and oppression of the weakest, what did God do?

To give us an example, God stripped himself of his omnipotence; from being “omnipotent,” he made himself “impotent.”