Archived Posts January 2012 » Page 3 of 4 | Acton PowerBlog

In connection with the current Acton Commentary, over the last week I’ve been looking at what I call the “the overlap and varieties of these biblical terms” like ministry, service, and stewardship. As Scot McKnight notes in his recent book, The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited, the theme of stewardship is absolutely central to the biblical message. In his summary of the gospel toward the conclusion of the book, he begins this way:

In the beginning God. In the beginning God created everything we see and some things we can’t yet see. In the beginning God turned what existed into a cosmic temple. In the beginning God made two Eikons, Adam and Eve. In the beginning God gave Adam and Eve one simple task: to govern this world on God’s behalf.

McKnight goes on to trace this stewardship theme through the further lenses of Fall, Redemption, and Consummation. With God’s “new creation people” were “Eikons like Adam and Eve but with a major difference: they had the Holy Spirit. This Holy Spirit could transform them into the visible likeness of Jesus himself. As Christlike Eikons they are assigned to rule on God’s behalf in this world.” We “now rule in an imperfect world in an imperfect way as imperfect Eikons. But someday the perfect Eikon will come back, and he will rescue his Eikons and set them up one more time in this world.”

The best resource I know of on stewardship in its comprehensive sense is the NIV Stewardship Study Bible. The Stewardship Study Bible includes an array of features to help clarify, explain, and develop the biblical theme of stewardship. At 1 Peter 4:10, for instance, which articulates wonderfully the variety of forms stewardship takes, Wesley K. Willmer, senior vice president of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA), describes stewardship as “God’s way of raising people, not man’s way of raising money.” And in the corresponding “Exploring Stewardship” feature identifies “hospitality” (v. 9) as one of the various ways in which we are to “serve others” (v. 10). As the feature explains, “hospitality is not outdated; in our world there are always those who need a room for a time or a home-cooked meal.”

It seems to me that one of the things we need to do is to begin to better appreciate common grace ministries like hospitality, and the crucial role that such “common” and concrete acts of service play in the Christian life. One of the problems with our world today is that such true expressions of common grace are all too uncommon.

David Theroux of the Independent Institute concludes his two-part article on “secular theocracy” here (the full article can be read here). In this second part, Theroux observes that “C.S. Lewis understood that natural law applies to all human behavior including government officials.”

Indeed, it is hard to see how the rule of law can function apart from a conception of the natural law. Now as Theroux shows, not just any conception of the natural law will do. It has to be one rooted in the divine lawgiver to those created in his image, with the implications for dignity and basic rights entailed by such.

Otherwise you might have a “natural law” that empowers the strong over the weak on the basis of their ability to dominate, or their intelligence, or their “fitness” to rule. See, for instance, Sam Gregg’s explanation of how Plato and Aristotle justified slavery.

A quick news and analysis digest here on the Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruling by the Supreme Court yesterday. Congratulations and thank you to the Becket Fund. To watch a two-hour Federalist Society panel discussion recorded in November on what is informally known as the Ministerial Exception case, visit YouTube.

Beckett Fund: Supreme Court Sides with Church 9-0 in Landmark First Amendment Ruling — Becket Fund wins greatest Supreme Court religious liberty decision in decades

The unanimous decision adopted the Becket Fund’s arguments, saying that religious groups should be free from government interference when they choose their leaders. The church, Hosanna-Tabor, was represented by The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and Professor Douglas Laycock, University of Virginia Law School. For years, churches have relied on a “ministerial exception” which protects them from employment discrimination lawsuits by their ministers.

“The message of today’s opinion is clear: The government can’t tell a church who should be teaching its religious message,” said Luke Goodrich, Deputy National Litigation Director at The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. “This is a huge victory for religious freedom and a rebuke to the government, which was trying to regulate how churches select their ministers.”

The Court rejected the government’s extremely narrow understanding of the constitutional protection for religious liberty, stating: “We cannot accept the remarkable view that the Religion Clauses have nothing to say about a religious organization’s freedom to select its own ministers.”

“This is a huge win for religious liberty,” said Professor Doug Laycock.  “The Court has unanimously confirmed the right of churches to select their own ministers and religious leaders.”

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Douglas Laycock, CNN:
Huge win for religious liberty at the Supreme Court

(CNN) – Wednesday’s Supreme Court decision holding that ministers cannot sue their churches for employment discrimination was a huge win for religious liberty. It was unanimous, it was sweeping and it was unqualified.

This decision was about separation of church and state in its most fundamental sense. Churches do not run the government, select government leaders, or set criteria for choosing government leaders.

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Emily Belz, WORLD: Church’s authority ‘alone’

The high court has never ruled on the ministerial exception before, a standard created in the lower courts, and the opinion shied away from defining who qualifies as a “minister,” saying simply that the teacher in question, a commissioned minister at the Lutheran church school, qualified.

“We are reluctant … to adopt a rigid formula for deciding when an employee qualifies as a minister,” Roberts wrote in the decision. Kagan and Alito, in their concurring opinion, wrote that the “title” of minister “is neither necessary nor sufficient,” given the variety of religions in the United States, but rather courts must defer to the religious organization’s evaluation of the employee’s role.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled in favor of the teacher, saying she did not qualify as a minister because she spent more minutes of the day teaching secular subjects than religious subjects. The Supreme Court scoffed at that idea. “The issue before us … is not one that can be resolved by a stopwatch,” Roberts wrote.

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Matthew J. Franck, First Things: What Comes After Hosanna-Tabor

There may be a straw in the wind in yesterday’s ruling, with respect to the Obama administration’s determination to compel the coverage of contraceptive and abortifacient drugs in health insurance policies, even ones for religious institutions. The only “religious exception” offered so far by the Department of Health and Human Services to its contraceptive coverage mandate is an exemption so narrow, for religious organizations that employ and serve only their own co-religionists, that even the ministry of Jesus would not qualify. It is as though the Obama administration is staffed by people who have never encountered the ministry to the world that is so common among religious folk—especially but not uniquely among Christians.

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Mark L. Rienzi, National Catholic Register: Religious Liberty 9, President Obama 0

Such an emphatic rejection of the administration’s crabbed view of religious liberty is likely to have broader consequences. The administration has aggressively used its narrow view of religious liberty in other contexts. For example, when issuing recent regulations to require all employers to pay for contraceptives, sterilizations and drugs that likely cause abortions, the administration issued the narrowest conscience clause in history — one that would exclude a Catholic hospital simply because it is willing to serve Jewish patients.

When attempting to explain its historically narrow protection for conscience, the administration echoed its arguments from the Hosanna-Tabor case, saying the clause is only meant to protect a church from being forced to offer the drugs to employees in “certain religious positions.” The administration argued that its clause sought only to protect “the unique relationship between a house of worship and its employees in ministerial positions.” Given the government’s stingy view of who counts as “ministerial,” it is clear the administration does not think the First Amendment provides much protection for religion.

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Thomas Messner, Heritage Foundation: Supreme Court Decision in Hosanna-Tabor a Major Win for Religious Freedom

First, the ruling unambiguously affirms the vital constitutional doctrine known as the “ministerial exception.”

Second, the Court expressly agreed with every federal court of appeals to have considered the question that the ministerial exception “is not limited to the head of a religious congregation.”

Third, the Court clarified that the protections of the ministerial exception are not limited to cases where a religious group fires a minister only for a religious reason.

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Thomas Berg, Mirror of Justice: More on Hosanna-Tabor

… although the majority is case-specific on who counts as a minister, three justices–including Elena Kagan!–endorse a broader definition.  Thomas would defer heavily to the religious organization’s characterization of an employee as a minister.  And Alito and Kagan say that ordained or “commissioned” status isn’t crucial, that the question is about religiously-significant functions (listing several of them), and that “the constitutional protection of religious teachers is not somehow diminished when they take on secular functions in addition to their religious ones.

What matters is that respondent played an important role as an instrument of her church’s religious message and as a leader of its worship activities.” (Concurrence at 8)  I can imagine imagine teachers in many Christian schools satisfying that test, and also many employees in many religious social services who explicitly communicate religious messages along with the services they provide.  With three justices explicitly taking the broader approach, all you need is a couple more (Roberts and Scalia, most likely) for a majority.  Hosanna-Tabor doesn’t give us a full-fledged broad definition for a “minister,” but it makes the route to such a definition much easier.

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Wall Street Journal editorial: Hosannas for the Court

As in so many of its policies, the Obama Administration’s position reflected both its default preference for government control and its secular indifference to American religious sensibilities. This has become obvious in the contraceptive and surgical sterilization mandates the Administration is trying to impose on Catholic charities and hospitals. In this case the Justice Department’s opinion was so radical that it might have provoked the broad and unanimous Court ruling.

Hosanna-Tabor is an important reminder that the core religious freedoms guarded by the First Amendment were not to protect the public from religion, but to protect religion from government. The case is arguably among the most important religious liberty cases in a half century, and the concurrence of Justices across the ideological spectrum will be felt for years. Hallelujah.

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With media attention focused on the Republican presidential primaries and how the race could change as it moves South, I thought it would be good to add an update to my 2007 post, “The Spirit of 76: Reagan Style.” The Mark Levin Show linked to the piece yesterday, helping to motivate me to add a few additional thoughts and highlight a newer article on that race.

In my original post, I noted the deep influence former North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms had on rescuing Reagan and in turn rescuing conservatism,

Tom Ellis and then Senator Jesse Helms helped resurrect Reagan’s campaign from the dead. By spearheading a grassroots movement and focusing on Reagan’s conservative credentials, it led to a shocking upset in the Tar Heel State. Reagan’s victory meant it was the first time a sitting president had been defeated in a primary of a state where he actively campaigned. Many more primary victories for Reagan would follow.

John Dodd, president of The Jesse Helms Center, elaborated on this in a 2011 piece in the Carolina Journal. Dodd explains,

Ignoring the Washington, D.C., professionals who wanted to feature Reagan’s resume, Helms focused on Reagan’s conservative views and the difference those views would make in the way the United States made decisions on national defense, control of the Panama Canal, and relations with the USSR.

In North Carolina, with the considerable help of his political ally Tom Ellis, Helms proved that voters cared much more about these issues than the Reagan operatives realized. Following Helms’ lead, the Reagan campaign won seven more primaries in May and three in June.

Very few have understood the power of grassroots politics and his electorate more than Jesse Helms. Having the pulse of his own state, he knew it was the power of conservatism and its ideas that could transform a presidential race that already seemed over. In my Spirit of 76 post, I added,

That Republican presidential candidates try to emulate Reagan only adds to his glory, but also creates an unrealistic expectation for themselves. But If conservatism is ever going to be revolutionary, anti-establishment, and popular again, the country and candidates will have to recapture some of the Spirit of 76.

While we have discussed Mitt Romney’s Mormonism extensively on the PowerBlog, it’s quite probable that his association with private equity firms could be a bigger issue in the South, where states like the Carolinas suffer higher unemployment than Iowa or New Hampshire. How he defends his record and articulates a vision for a free-market resurgence will be critical. I suspect statements where Romney has said he understands what it’s like to fear getting a pink slip may not help him in his endeavor. Helms understood that authenticity and conservative ideas were critical to electoral success, not pandering, where suspicion is often magnified in many Southern states.

A recent study by Millennial Branding reveals that

“Owner” is the fifth most popular job title [listed on Facebook] for Gen-Y [i.e., Millennials] because they are an entrepreneurial generation. Even though most of their companies won’t succeed, they are demonstrating an unprecedented entrepreneurial spirit.

The study does not speculate on the causes of this upsurge in enterprise and creativity among 18-29 year-olds, but no doubt “Mother Necessity” has her hand in it somewhere. Our country and world are facing serious financial crises and offering us little assurance of any positive resolution before we are handed the reins of the world. This last summer’s gridlock in Congress over our looming default was a case-in-point, and the Eurozone crisis continues to cast a gloomy shadow on our economic future.

That Millennials are becoming increasingly more entrepreneurial in light of this, however, is a glimmer of hope. While it will surely take key contributions from members of every generation in their various callings to steer clear of economic disaster (or recover from it), we can at least take comfort in the fact that with the increase of Millennial entrepreneurs (even if “most of their companies won’t succeed”), there is good reason to hope for future job and wealth creation so vital to economic stability and recovery.

In my post “The Church, Vocation, and Millennials,” I examined a recent Barna study’s analysis that one major reason that Millennials are leaving Christianity behind has been a neglect to link vocation and faith in much of their religious upbringing. This most recent Millennial Branding study highlights a specific vocation that ought not to be neglected: entrepreneurship. As Fr. Robert Sirico writes in The Entrepreneurial Vocation, the “chosen profession” of entrepreneurs “deserves to be legitimized by their faith.”

Christians once believed that their faith was a way of life (the Way, in fact). Assuming that this study is accurate, if Church leaders want their community to stop hemorrhaging Millennials, an increased focus on how that Way of Life, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, permeates their vocations—especially entrepreneurship—would be welcome.

In this week’s Acton Commentary, “Ministers of Common Grace,” I note that in addition to ministry, “Another scriptural term, that of stewardship, can helpfully describe the pluriformity of God’s grace, both special and common: ‘Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms’ (1 Peter 4:10 NIV).” I conclude by calling for “better attention to the overlap and varieties of these biblical terms.”

What I have primarily in mind is the way in which Scripture seems to use concepts like ministry, service, and stewardship somewhat interchangeably. This is undoubtedly true in the case of translations into English. As I noted in the commentary, the NIV and the ESV read Romans 14:6 alternatively as “servants” or “ministers.”

Bishops Bible Elizabeth I 1569And in sixteenth century editions of the Bible, the ministerial terminology was often preferred to that of stewardship, as in the NIV of today. For instance, in the Bishops’ Bible, 1 Peter 4:10 reads, “As euery man hath receaued the gyft, eue so minister the same one to another, as good ministers of the manifold grace of God.” Likewise the Geneva Bible renders the verse this way: “Let euery man as hee hath receiued the gift, minister the same one to another, as good disposers of the manifolde grace of God.”

It’s in Coverdale’s translation (“& mynister one to another, eueryone with the gifte yt he hath receaued, as good stewardes of the manifolde grace of God.”) and the Catholic Douay-Rheims bibles (“As every man hath received grace, ministering the same one to another: as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.”) that we find stewardship and ministry connected explicitly, and this follows through in the KJV text tradition.

It’s interesting to note that one of the updates to the NIV since the 1984 edition has been the integration of this stewardship terminology. The 1984 edition emphasizes the idea of service, “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms,” while the latest update I quoted in the commentary reads, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”

The relevant terms at play in the Greek here are words based on the roots διακονέω (“to serve”) and οἰκονόμος (“a manager of a household”; a steward). As Martin Luther reflects on the impact of this dynamic of ministry, service, and stewardship, he writes:

The Gospel wants everyone to be the other person’s servant and, in addition, to see that he remains in the gift which he has received, which God has given him, that is, in the position to which he has been called. God does not want a master to serve his servant, the maid to be a lady, a prince to serve the beggar. For He does not want to destroy the government. But the apostle means that one person should serve the other person spiritually from the heart. Even if you are in a high position and a great lord, yet you should employ your power for the purpose of serving your neighbor with it. Thus everyone should regard himself as a servant. Then the master can surely remain a master and yet not consider himself better than the servant. Thus he would also be glad to be a servant if this were God’s will. The same thing applies to other stations in life.

As good stewards of God’s varied grace.

God did not give us all equal grace. Therefore everyone should pay attention to his qualifications, to the kind of gift given to him. (LW 30:124)

The Puritan William Ames draws out three reasons and two uses of the doctrine gathered from 1 Peter 4:10 (pp. 98-99): “It is an office of charity to minister unto others the gifts which we have received, of what kinde soever they be.”

Reasons:

  1. Because the gifts of God do in their nature tend unto the glory of God in promoting the good of men.
  2. Because to this end are all the gifts of God committed unto us, as stewards of the grace of God, as it is in the text.
  3. Becuase this very thing doth the communion of Saints require, to the believing and exercising whereof all are Christians called.

Uses:

  1. This may serve to comfort us, in that there is no faithfull Christian, but hath some gift, whereby he may minister something unto others.
  2. To exhort us, every one to use that gift which he hath, to the good of others.

Should the President of the United States be seen as theologian-in-chief? That might be one way to understand Bryan Fischer’s claim that “we are in fact choosing a minister when we select a president.”

I explore some of the dimensions of understanding politicians as “ministers of God” in this week’s Acton Commentary, “Ministers of Common Grace.” It strikes me that those who seek salvation from politicians are making a significant category mistake. Politicians cannot save because politics cannot save. Politics cannot save because it is an arena of common or preserving rather than special or saving grace.

So it’s important to see politicians, as well as businesspersons, artists, scientists, teachers, and line workers as “ministers” in a broad sense: in their work they are means or channels of God’s common grace, his blessings on all people. This is an important insight into how God’s purpose for our lives finds expression in our daily lives. (A great source for exploring common grace in the areas of science and art is the recently-released Wisdom & Wonder by Abraham Kuyper.)

But it’s equally important to distinguish between common and special grace and see how the two relate. And this is one of the things that makes the institutional church and its ministers unique. The church is where we hear, see, touch, and taste Christ, proclaimed in the Word and sacraments. That’s why the Belgic Confession contends, for instance, that “every one ought to esteem the ministers of God’s Word and the elders of the Church very highly for their work’s sake.”

“Stupid is the new smart,” and “Pop culture is a wasteland” are just a few lines from Daniel J. Flynn’s introduction to Blue Collar Intellectuals: When the Enlightened and the Everyman Elevated America. Certainly, one does not need to read Flynn’s account to surmise that there are grave problems with our culture. But many would miss some great stories and a return to a people and time that crafted a great uplifting for mass audiences.

Flynn has profiled six intellectuals or thinkers who sprung out of the immigrant backgrounds and / or a working “blue collar” origins. They opened up and popularized the great works, theories, and conversations of Western Civilization for the everyman. It seems it is of little coincidence that in profiling Mortimer Adler, Eric Hoffer, Ray Bradbury, Will and Ariel Durant, and Milton Friedman, Flynn touches on diverse streams of thought such as history, literature, economics, philosophy, and popular story teller. Flynn laments that we do not see these type of public intellectuals today and we are surrounded by passive and meaningless entertainment that not only debases but detaches us from the great ideas and a common heritage.

Will and Ariel Durant popularized history with their widely popular 11-volume The Story of Civilization. Flynn lauds them as writers who “extracted history from the academic ghetto whither it had retreated, opening the conversation about the past to all comers.”

Mortimer Adler, who compiled The Great Books of the Western World set, once quipped, “The only education I got at Columbia was in one course.” That course studied the classic works of Western Civilization and Adler sought to package them for mass consumption. A brilliant mind, Adler received a Ph.D from Columbia without ever receiving a high school diploma, bachelor’s, or master’s degree. Adler held a disinterest and disdain for the academic bubble, and in turn academics turned their noses up at his work for packaging and popularizing the great works. “The Great Books Movement, for better or worse, offered education minus the middleman. It is no wonder the middleman objected so vociferously,” says Flynn.

The idea that somebody who took on entrepreneurial endeavors and worked a myriad of jobs in the economy might make a better or more notable economist makes sense. But it’s not always the case, when one looks at say the lifelong academic John Maynard Keynes. Flynn notes what many free marketers already know about Milton Friedman and that is he “waited tables, peddled socks door-to-door, and manned roadside fireworks stands. He attended the public schools and lived in rent controlled apartments.” Friedman harnessed his experiences, professorship, books, a “Newsweek” column, and a PBS series to popularize libertarian free-market economic principles. He transformed public policy and much of the economic lingo and ideas we borrow today directly comes from the free-market economist.

Eric Hoffer, the longshoremen philosopher, was the favorite author of President Dwight D. Eisenhower. His book The True Believer covers the psychology of mass movements. “Hoffer’s patriotism stemmed from the belief that America was the workingman’s country. That the everyman became president hardly proved America’s mediocrity; it proved the excellence of the American everyman,” says Flynn.

Ray Bradbury, still writing, and most noted for Fahrenheit 451, could not afford college. He has proudly said that he is an alumnus of the Los Angeles Public Library. Bradbury glamorized small town Midwestern life and the significance of books, while slamming the detached superficial culture that suffers from a lack of education and critical thinking.

Flynn has weaved together some wonderful stories to remind us that great culture and deeper ideas are accessible to the masses. I have often wondered how some history professors could turn a lively and passionate subject boring. History, and other academic subjects, have too often been turned into gender-bending, “evil colonialist” type studies, eschewing much of the established work of Western Civilization. They deliberately use their own inner language and codes. “The ivory tower has become a tower of babble,” Flynn says.

He makes the easy case that a vapid society is objectionable and bankrupt of purpose, meaning, and ideas. He also highlights the less known significance on society of six influential thinkers, who because of their background, were able to help uplift the masses to the great ideas and release those ideas from an academic ghetto. Outside of Friedman, I did not know much about these figures and the stories he tells are lively and I did not realize how some of these thinkers already had had an influence on me. Growing up, my family had the set of The Great Books of the Western World, so it was fascinating to hear the story behind it.

As somebody with a divinity degree, and as an observer of ministry and churches, I thought about this problem in our faith culture. Today, there is a serious issue with the need to see Church as a form of entertainment first. Too often churches reflect the very same problems that plague our culture. There is little use for serious deeper reflection in some churches, and little use for the study of doctrine and traditions. The consequences are that confusion abounds today about what Christianity teaches and its transformative power. A revival and renewal is not just needed in culture, but in many of our churches too. There is a great need for teachers and preachers to deliver that word in days such as these as well.

Acton On The AirJordan Ballor is a busy man. He serves as a research fellow here at Acton, as well as being the executive editor of the Journal of Markets & Morality. As if those duties don’t keep him busy enough, he also finds time to do the occasional radio interview, in this case on 101.5 WORD FM in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, discussing how Christians should react to the Occupy Wall Street movement.

For some additional perspectives on the issue, check out this Think Christian piece arguing that OWS is the appropriate Christian response to income inequality, and Dylan Pahman’s PowerBlog response to a Sojurner’s post arguing that OWS represents a “new Pentecost.”

To listen to the interview, use the audio player below:

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Jordan’s original article, “How Christians Ought to ‘Occupy’ Wall Street (and All Streets),” is over at the Evangelical Portal at Patheos.

On National Review Online, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg reacts to musings by conservative writers David Brooks and Michael Gerson about Rick Santorum’s political rise in the GOP primaries and how his social views might be expressed in government policy. Would a President Santorum usher in a smaller but more “transformational” role for the state in addressing social ills? Gregg:

On the one hand, self-described compassionate conservatives understand there is no such thing as morally neutral laws or morally indifferent government policies. At some level (even quite remote), all laws and policies embody some type of moral logic (which is either coherent or incoherent). Thus they cannot help but shape — for better and worse — a society’s moral culture. That’s just one reason among many why the legal treatment of issues like abortion, euthanasia, pornography, and marriage matters, and why they can’t, as some libertarians claim, be simply relegated to the private sphere.

At the same time, it seems to me that many compassionate conservatives don’t fully appreciate the moral, social, and legal urgency of reducing the state’s size and reach, instead of primarily focusing upon streamlining government’s role.

Read Samuel Gregg’s “The Problem with Compassionate Conservatism” on NRO.