Archived Posts January 2007 | Acton PowerBlog

This is, as millions already know, Super Bowl week. Nothing is hyped all across America quite like the Super Bowl. This game has reached amazing proportions when it comes to the viewing audience and massive commercialization. It is a stunning piece of popular culture and one doesn’t know whether to weep about it or celebrate. Some pietistic folk see this as clear evidence that there is little real difference between us and the ancient Romans in the Coliseum. Others think this is the greatest day of the whole year with the biggest event of all time at 5 p.m. Everything, so it seems, virtually comes to a halt for the Super Bowl.

Here in Chicago the event is, of course, really big with the Bears in the game. So, how important are the Bears this Lord’s Day? Well, big enough to alter many churches and their plans for the day. What few churches still have services of any sort on Sunday evening will cancel them this week, with only a few exceptions. One priest, whose parish does have an evening Mass (as several Chicago area Catholic congregations do) noted, “To tell you the truth, I don’t think we’ll have a lot of people show up. About the only ones I expect to see here praying are the Colts fans.” Another priest announced last week that there would be no Mass this coming Sunday evening and people wildly applauded. (His staff was less excited about the decision.) One priest noted that in 1985, the last time the Bears played in a Super Bowl, a congregation that normally numbered 500 was only 46!

All of this prompted Ed Fanselow, a staff writer for my local paper, to conclude, tongue in cheek I hope: “The Father, Son and Holy Spirit, it seems, are simply no match for Lovie, Rex and Brian Urlacher.”

What should we make of all this? First, only those of a rigid Sabbath-keeping persuasion see this watching this game as overt sin. I am not so persuaded.

Second, most Christians are not sure what to do with pop culture and this game is pop culture of the most obvious sort. We either embrace it uncritically or damn it as totally ungodly. Neither approach is healthy, at least in my view. What makes “high culture” OK and pop culture trash? Who are the people who determine the differences? A certain elitism still plagues the church at this point, as does an uncritical embrace of all things consumed by the general public and made popular. Older Christians are especially prone to trash the pop cultural forms of youth culture. This actually harms the mission of the church in some important ways by increasing the generational disconnect.

Third, some churches use the Super Bowl to stage evangelistic parties. When they turn these gatherings into “slick evangelistic sales techniques” I have a real problem. If you want to have a big party to view the game with your friends then have a big party. But please don’t do “bait and switch” evangelism with pop culture. It just cheapens the significance of the incarnation and the good news and turns many away. If people come to see the game they do not come to hear you preach!

Fourth, enjoy the day if your conscience allows it. Worship with fellow Christians and keep your priorities straight. This is your central priority this Sunday. But remember that Christian freedom allows you to enjoy this day for the glory of God.

I for one will watch the game and enjoy it, especially if the Bears win. But my life will be fundamentally no different next Monday regardless of what happens in this game. This is where the world misses the mark, placing ultimate meaning, in some sense, upon a football game. And if you hate football then ignore the hype and the game. While millions are watching think of all the time you have for something else that you might enjoy. Use your freedom to serve Christ and to love people. That is the purpose of the law, not to bind you to a particular set of (man-made) rules about this day.

About twenty years ago I was in India on Super Bowl Sunday. I remember preaching that day and then saying to myself, and in my journal: “While millions watched the big game today I had the greater joy, preaching to hundreds of people who had never heard the name of Jesus and seeing some of them enter the kingdom of God.” If this is kept in mind by serious Christians we can survive another day of pop cultural hype and maybe even enjoy it.

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."

In this week’s Acton Commentary, I review Will Smith’s latest movie, The Pursuit of Happyness, which stands as an extended argument underscoring the truth of conservative values. This may sound like an improbable anomaly given the traditional political, ethical, and social allegiances of Hollywood, but the power of the story lies in its basis in fact, the real-life story of Christopher Gardner. This in turn prevents it from being appropriated as a tool for liberal political ideology.

The movie’s depicts American life as a meritocracy, and after opening in mid-December, the film has grossed over $150 million domestically. The movie is up for only one Oscar, however, and this is perhaps a testimony to the incompatibility of the movie’s message with mainstream Hollywood political culture. Indeed, Will Smith is nominated for Best Actor, but this is perhaps as much due to the respect he commands from his peers as it is for his role in this particular film.

The Pursuit of Happyness grossed more than any of the nominees in any other of the major categories, most by a large margin. But what the Hollywood elites can’t see, the American public can, and they’ve voted with their feet.

S. T. Karnick reviews the film here, be sure to check it out. And you can read my review in full here.

This review has been crossposted to

Received an announcement today about this event to be held later this week, “Faith and International Development Conference,” at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., from February 1-3.

Check out the list of sponsors at the bottom of the page, including:

  • Bread for the World
  • Micah Challenge
  • Office of Social Justice and Hunger Action

Just a hunch, but I wouldn’t expect a lot of market-friendly perspectives to be included.

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, January 30, 2007

“ICANN Reviews Revoking Outdated Suffixes” (HT: Slashdot).

From the piece, “The Soviet Union’s ‘.su’ is the leading candidate for deletion.” A Google search turns up about 3 million sites with the .su suffix.

How exactly did the Soviet Union get a domain suffix? The Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 and wasn’t yet highly commercialized. But it seems that the administrative record for the .su suffix was created just in time, on September 19, 1990, a little over a year before the formal dissolution of the union on December 8, 1991.

Several months ago I was invited to serve on the board of the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD). Frankly, I was stunned by this invitation. I will attend my first meeting in Washington, DC, in a few months. IRD’s purpose statement says that it is: (1) An ecumenical alliance of U. S. Christians, (2) working to reform their churches’ social witness, in accord with biblical and historic Christian teachings, (3) thereby contributing to the renewal of democratic society at home and abroad. IRD board member Michael Novak has written that Alexis de Tocqueville observed in the 1830s that “the first political institution of American democracy is religion” (which of course meant the Christian religion at that time). Novak speaks, in a statement such as this, of the bedrock vision of IRD. I deeply share this vision thus my desire to work with and serve alongside the staff of IRD in Washington.

IRD was born among mainline churches and Christians who felt that the social witness of their respective churches had been captured by people who denied the strong link between public morality and orthodox Christian teaching. To this day IRD is hated by many on the far left in the mainline who seek to paint it as a group of far right fundamentalists. If IRD board members like Richard John Neuhaus, Fred Barnes, Michael Novak, Tom Oden, Robert George and Ephraim Radner are fundamentalists then the term has no cash value left at all. These are all well-respected church leaders from both Catholic and Protestant churches who are all biblical ecumenists who openly and seriously embrace the historic Christian gospel.

IRD believes in a truly “counter-cultural church” as its president James W. Tonkowich put it in the present issue (Fall/Winter 2006) of Faith & Freedom: Reforming the Church’s Social & Political Witness. You can learn more about IRD at You will find helpful resources on the Middle East conflict, Christian-Muslim dialogue, ecumenism, and democracy. Helpful news and analysis of the latest events and controversies within U.S. churches appears on a regular basis as do back issues of IRD publications that are extremely helpful.

One example of the kind of fair and balanced work that IRD does can be seen in its recent coverage of the environmental debate among Christians. I think both sides are fairly represented while the stewardship of the earth is taken seriously and at the same time many of the over-the-top conclusions about global warming are challenged.

I am grateful to share a small part in the future of IRD. I invite your prayers for me, your support for IRD, and your interaction with this valuable ministry.

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
Monday, January 29, 2007

The business of philanthropy education, teaching people how to give their money away, is a growth industry, according to Business Week (HT: The Wealth Report).

It seems that wealthy kids often have trouble realizing and meeting their moral duties to be good stewards of their inheritance. “With my inheritance, I felt a sense of guilt and responsibility,” says Jos Thalheimer, 24, whose great-grandfather founded the American Oil Co. (Amoco) in 1910.

John Stossel’s recent “Cheap in America” program examined this phenomenon, contrasting the attitudes of Fabian Basabe, the “male Paris Hilton,” with Ben Goldhirsh, son of a publishing mogul.

Basabe, it seems, is unwilling and uninterested in doing good: “I’m going to live forever, by the way, so I’m going to have a lot of time to work and get involved.”

Goldhirsh, by contrast, “used the inheritance to start his own magazine, ‘Good,’ and donates subscription fees to charity. His father taught him that work, and charity — not money — is the route to happiness.”

The Journal of Markets & Morality, Volume 9, Number 2.

The newest edition of the Journal of Markets & Morality is now available online and in print. You can pick up a single copy of the print version at the Acton Bookshoppe, or you can subscribe to the Journal.

This issue of the Journal features a new scholia. “Selections from the Dicaeologicae” is an original English translation of several key chapters of Johannes Althusius’ Dicaeologicae, the ground-breaking seventeenth-century work that systematized current civil law, Roman law, and Jewish law into one collective and cohesive legal system. Althusius was a key player in the development of political science as a disciplinary field of study and his Dicaeologicae was one of the first examples of the emerging field in the seventeenth century.

The new issue also features a publicly available editorial by Stephen Grabill. “The Fallacy of Adam’s Fallacy examines Duncan Foley’s best-selling Adam’s Fallacy: A Guide to Economic Theology. Grabill argues that Foley ignores the historical context of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations as well as his other relevant writings resulting in a poorly documented attempt to discredit Smith.

Coinciding with the release of issue 9.2, issue 8.2 has been released to the general “non-subscribing” public. Please feel free to browse the newly available content and pass links along to your friends!