Archived Posts November 2006 - Page 4 of 10 | Acton PowerBlog

Two new and intriguing books from Cambridge University Press have crossed my editorial desk recently. Anticipate reviews to appear in the Journal of Markets & Morality sometime next year; but in the meantime I wanted to give them each a plug.

Both draw on the philosophical tradition of the natural law to address contemporary debates in social/political thought. The argument of Christopher Wolfe’s Natural Law Liberalism is summed up in a blurb by Notre Dame law professor Gerard Bradley: “No one who reads this book should continue to think that natural law is somehow incompatible with liberty, human equality, and limited democratic government.”

Speaking of Notre Dame, Mary Keys is an associate professor of political science there, and she offers a treatise on Aquinas, Aristotle, and the Promise of the Common Good. Her point of departure is the inadequacy of contemporary efforts to articulate a compelling vision of the common good, such as John Rawls (liberal), Michael Sandel (communitarian), and William Galston (pluralist).

The following is the text of a paper presented on November 15, 2006 at the Evangelical Theological Society 58th Annual Meeting in Washington, DC, which was themed, "Christians in the Public Square." Part 2 of 3 follows below (series index).

Relationship between Church and State

It must first be noted that Bonhoeffer’s conception of mandates was a statement about the ontological ordering of God’s rule in the world, not a particular statement about the precise form that rule would or should take in any given context. Bonhoeffer’s distinction between “government” as a divine mandate and “state” as a particular form of that mandate help us get at this difference. (more…)

The following is the text of a paper presented on November 15, 2006 at the Evangelical Theological Society 58th Annual Meeting in Washington, DC, which was themed, "Christians in the Public Square." Part 1 of 3 follows below (series index).

Bonhoeffer on Church and State
by Jordan J. Ballor


Ever since his untimely death in 1945, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s life and work have gone through a variety of appraisals and reappraisals in the succeeding scholarship. The fragmentary and partial nature of his Ethics manuscripts, as well as the attention paid to other works, such as his Letters and Papers from Prison, combined to leave his mature ethical work relatively ill-treated. This necessarily had effects on the overall reception of Bonhoeffer’s theology, as the pervasively concrete orientation of his dogmatic theology makes understanding his ethical thought indispensable to gaining a comprehensive view of his theological approach.

With the work over the last decade, especially by the International Bonhoeffer Society, to bring authoritative critical translations of his entire corpus into English, we are currently experiencing an increase in the quality and quantity of engagement with Bonhoeffer’s theology in English-speaking countries.[i] It is in this spirit of increasing critical engagement with Bonhoeffer’s thought that I offer this paper.

A brief comment is in order about the treatment of Bonhoeffer’s views on “Church” and “State.” We will note some of the potential for us to be misled by the use of this second term, “State,” in particular later. But at this point, I want to simply observe that while these two realities usually occupy places in what we call “social ethics,” Bonhoeffer himself would have probably resisted such categorization. One overriding emphasis of his life-long ethical thought was unity and wholeness, something which he felt was undermined by an artificial separation between personal and social ethics. Bonhoeffer always contends that institutions or social realities are at their core made up of individual persons who each have their own moral duties. Here’s a representative quote: “Human beings are indivisible wholes, not only as individuals in both their person and work, but also as members of the human and created community to which they belong.”[ii]

My own approach in addressing the topics of Church and State in Bonhoeffer’s thought is justified, not only because of the prominence of these two themes in his thinking, but because they occupy distinct and unique positions within his mature ethical framework. We begin with a brief sketch of this framework. (more…)

Blog author: jballor
Saturday, November 18, 2006

Got back from the annual ETS meeting yesterday and finally have a chance to sit down and summarize the events of the last couple days. Thursday morning was highlighted by parallel sessions. I attended one on Melanchthon and his shifting view of free will, in addition to papers on economic imagery in the Scriptures and the prospects for natural law theory as a strategy for political discourse. The latter was part of a session that revolved around evangelicals and natural law, and began with a paper presented by Acton’s Stephen Grabill, author of Rediscovering the Natural Law in Reformed Theological Ethics.

The plenary session on Thursday at the lunchtime hour featured a talk by prominent radio host and blogger Hugh Hewitt, who gave an exciting overview of the power of new media. Hewitt also spoke about the views evangelicals have toward the participation of those from other religious and theological traditions in governing. Using the case of Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who is Mormon, in particular, Hewitt challenged those in the audience to respond to him via email in their answer to this question: “Would you vote for a Mormon president?”

The afternoon sessions I attended revolved around the relationship between liberal Protestant theology and the rise of National Socialism in Germany. These were very informative and valuable papers, and generally highlighted the possibility that existed for liberal theology to be co-opted by neo-pagan Nazis, while also underscoring the fact that there is no necessary logical connection between liberal theology and National Socialism. All this is contra, for instance, the view of Karl Barth, which I juxtapose with the view of Dietrich Bonhoeffer in my recent article, “The Aryan clause, the Confessing Church, and the ecumenical movement: Barth and Bonhoeffer on natural theology, 1933–1935,” Scottish Journal of Theology 59, no. 3 (August 2006): 263-280.

I attended a lecture sponsored by Crossway Books given by John Piper, which focused on William Tyndale’s efforts to translate the Bible into English from the best contemporary Hebrew and Greek editions available at the time. Thursday night was a dinner and plenary address by outgoing ETS president Edwin Yamauchi, who has been at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio since 1969. This marked the end of the formal events I participated in, as I left to return to Grand Rapids early yesterday morning. Since Friday was pretty much a travel day for me, there’s not much of interest to tell.

All in all, my experience at ETS was excellent, having learned a great deal from the papers presented as well as meeting new folks or putting faces to names that I had only previously met via email or the Internet. I look forward to attending and participating in future ETS meetings.

Blog author: mvandermaas
Thursday, November 16, 2006

Milton Friedman

December 10, 1976:

My science is a late-comer, the Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel having been established only in 1968 by the Central Bank of Sweden to celebrate its tercentenary. That circumstance does, I admit, leave me with something of a conflict of interest. As some of you may know, my monetary studies have led me to the conclusion that central banks could profitably be replaced by computers geared to provide a steady rate of growth in the quantity of money. Fortunately for me personally, and for a select group of fellow economists, that conclusion has had no practical impact… else there would have been no Central Bank of Sweden to have established the award I am honoured to receive. Should I draw the moral that sometimes to fail is to succeed? Whether I do or not, I suspect some economists may.

Economist Milton Friedman dies at 94

Update: Read a special edition of Acton Commentary by Rev. Robert A. Sirico, “Milton Friedman and the Human Element.”

Blog author: dwbosch
Thursday, November 16, 2006

[UPDATE: Goldberg at the Corner invokes a variation on the skepticism theme: "Anti-clericalism was certainly partly driven from the suspicion that priests and other clergy were preaching their versions of the gospel simply to empower themselves. I’ve long argued that one of the reasons Washington-based reporters are liberal, or statist, is that if the subject they cover is considered hugely important, then they in turn will be considered hugely important." A reader responds with Cui bono.]

University of Colorado’s R. Pielke Jr. (hat tip)

If climate scientists ever wonder why they are looked upon with suspicion among some people in society, they need look no further in their willingness to compromise their own intellectual standards in policy debate on the issue of disasters and climate change.

What he’s saying is that the scientific method involves both establishing an hypothesis, and making a diligent effort towards disproving that hypothesis to see whether one’s original assumptions still hold up.

I’m not sure many of the outstpoken global warming moralists in evangelical circles today get this. That’s because people of faith don’t normally operate like this.

Other than notables like McDowell who found Christ while trying to disprove him, Christians are geared from children’s church onward to absorb and apply church doctrine based on the concerted studies of biblical authorities, or in the case of Scripture, first-hand witnesses inspired by the Holy Spirit. While we might critically analyze biblical truth as it applies to our lives today, we rarely set ourselves toward disproving the Bible itself as a way to establish it’s veracity.

There is an important distinction, then, between aggressively promoting environmental stewardship as a God-ordained moral ethic (which it is), and aggressively promoting a particular area of human-derived environmental science as a moral ethic (which it is not).

Being salt and light in the world means making this distinction evidently clear to all.

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world… — 1 John 4:1

[Don’s other habitat is The Evangelical Ecologist.]

Blog author: mvandermaas
Thursday, November 16, 2006

From time to time, I come across something that forces me to stop, step back, and marvel at the wonder of human creativity. The movie below is one of those things.

Airplanes are so commonplace that we often take them for granted. Here at Acton, many of my colleagues are regularly catching flights to all sorts of points on the globe, and it isn’t unusual for me to hear some grumbling about the airlines and the annoyances that come along with modern air travel. But you won’t hear that from me – I have never lost the fascination with airplanes that I had as a young child, and I treasure the opportunity to fly.

Imagine – I could get onto an airplane today, climb to an altitude over five miles above the surface of the earth at speeds approaching 800 feet per second, all while balanced on a point where the opposing forces of thrust, drag, lift and gravity are in perfect harmony, and all in relative comfort. And in doing so, I would join into an intricate international choreography of aircraft that end up creating the delicate and beautiful patterns that you see above.

Take a moment today to appreciate the gift of liberty that can unleash human creativity. And then take some time to stand in awe of the Creator who our human creativity only dimly reflects.