Economic Shalom: A Reformed Primer on Faith, Work, and Human Flourishing by John Bolt is now available from Christian’s Library Press. Intended to raise questions and create discussion, Bolt explains the Reformed perspective on stewardship, property, capital, and morality. Economic Shalom explores a variety of issues, including the human need for liberty, the challenge of consumerism, concerns about fairness and justice, and evangelicalism’s mixed history in applying Christian compassion in politics and economics. (more…)
During the late 1970s and early 1980s I spent two extended periods living below the poverty line. The first experience came as I entered the first grade. My father was a chronically unhappy man who was skillful and ambitious, yet prone to wanderlust. Every few months we would move to a new city so that he could try his hand at a new occupation—a truck driver in Arkansas, a cop in West Texas, a bouncer at a honky-tonk near Louisiana. We were always on the move, always a few weeks away from the next paycheck. At the lowest point we had nothing to eat but a half-loaf of Wonder Bread, a five-gallon bucket of unshelled peanuts, and tap water. That lasted for a two-week period in August that stretched across my seventh birthday.
Eventually my father settled down, found steady work, and we inched our way slowly toward the lower rungs of the working class. This period of financial tranquility lasted until I was eleven, when my father walked out on my mother, my younger brother, and me. Brokenhearted and dead broke, we packed the car and moved again, my mother having acquired the nomadic tendency to run away from adversity. (By the time I graduated high school, I had changed schools thirteen times.) Single parenthood tipped the scales and we slipped, once again, beneath the poverty threshold. We survived with the aid of food stamps and government housing until my sophomore year, when my mother remarried and our lives returned to a level of economic normalcy.
I’m always hesitant to share this story because we in America tend to have a knee-jerk sympathy for the “down-and-out.” There are, however, many times, as in my family’s case, when pity is completely unwarranted. A lifetime of foolish decisions by my parents, rather than a dismal economy or lack of opportunity, led to our being poor. We reaped what they had sown.
James D. Bratt recently released Abraham Kuyper: Modern Calvinist, Christian Democrat, the first full-scale English-language biography of the influential Dutch theologian, minister, politician, newspaper editor, etc. The book has spurred plenty of discussion across the web, and now, Calvin College is hosting a special event to celebrate its publication.
The event, “Abraham Kuyper for the 21st Century,” will explore the questions, challenges, and opportunities that Kuyper’s work raises today, as well as how Bratt’s biography helps us respond.
In addition to Bratt himself, speakers will include Yale University’s Nicholas Wolterstorff and Calvin College’s Tracy Kuperus. The event will take place on Wednesday, September 18, from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. in Calvin College’s Covenant Fine Arts Center. You can find more details at the event’s web site or via the event flyer. (more…)
Though primarily a theologian, the famous Reformation figure John Calvin had much to say about the application of biblical principles to politics. His focus on the sovereignty of God in all aspects of Creation led Calvin to believe in God’s ordinance not only in the spiritual realm, but also in civil government. Citing Scriptural passages such as Proverbs 8:15-16 – “By me kings reign, and princes decree justice. By me princes rule, and nobles, even all the judges of the earth” – Calvin demonstrated that all governments are ordained by God. In Calvin’s mind, therefore, the rule of civil authority was paramount to the governance of society.
Law had been the subject of Calvin’s studies before he joined the Reformation movement. Although originally decided for the priesthood, Calvin had been sent to Orleans to study law by his father following a dispute with a local bishop in Paris. It was in Orleans that the importance of the legal order was first engrained into his mind. From there, he moved to Bourges to study under Andrea Alciato, an ingenious Italian humanist lawyer who taught Calvin new ways of studying and analyzing historical legal sources. Calvin would later use these skills in his analysis and interpretation of the Bible. All his training in France would prepare Calvin for a life of theology and statesmanship in Geneva. (more…)
Over at Christianity Today, Andy Crouch confronts modern society’s increasing skepticism toward institutional structures, arguing that without them, all of our striving toward cultural transformation is bound to falter:
For cultural change to grow and persist, it has to be institutionalized, meaning it must become part of the fabric of human life through a set of learnable and repeatable patterns. It must be transmitted beyond its founding generation to generations yet unborn. There is a reason that the people of God in the Hebrew Bible are so often named as the children of “Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” Like divine intervention in history, true cultural change takes generations to be fully absorbed and expressed.
Indeed, the best institutions extend shalom—that rich Hebrew word I paraphrase as “comprehensive flourishing”—through both space and time. Take one of my favorite institutions: the game of baseball. It is a set of cultural patterns that has lasted for several generations now, played at a professional level on several continents. A great game of baseball is mentally, physically, and emotionally taxing and fulfilling in the way that all deeply human endeavors are. It embodies the playfulness and competitiveness that reflects our God-given creativity and ambition for excellence. It is an institution, larger than any individual player.
But alas, such suspicion exists for a reason. As Crouch goes on to note, a competing temptation often prevails — that of “succumbing to institutionalism,” wherein we seek the perpetuation of institutions as ends in themselves. “If the biblical language of principalities and powers is taken seriously,” Crouch says, “it seems that human institutions can become demonic, opposed to the purposes of God.” (more…)
A new generation of evangelicals is beginning to re-think and re-examine the ways they have typically (not) engaged culture, with theological concepts like Abraham Kuyper’s common grace leading many to stretch beyond their more dispensationalist dispositions.
Over at Comment, James K.A. Smith offers some helpful warnings for the movement, noting that amid our “newfound appreciation for justice and shalom,” we should remain wary of getting too carried away with our earthly-mindedness. “By unleashing a new interest and investment in ‘this-worldly’ justice,” Smith argues, “the Reformation also unleashed the possibility that we might forget heaven.”
In strange, often unintended ways, the pursuit of “justice,” shalom, and a “holistic” gospel can have its own secularizing effect. What begins as a Gospel-motivated concern for justice can turn into a naturalized fixation on justice in which God never appears. And when that happens, “justice” becomes something else altogether—an idol, a way to effectively naturalize the gospel, flattening it to a social amelioration project in which the particularity of Jesus as the revelation of God becomes strangely absent…
…As a former fundamentalist, it was heirs of Abraham Kuyper who taught me the biblical vision of a holistic Gospel. But I’ve come to realize that if we don’t attend to the whole Kuyper, so to speak—if we pick and choose just parts of the Kuyperian project—we can end up with an odd sort of monstrosity: what we might call, paradoxically, a “Kuyperian secularism” that naturalizes shalom. (more…)
Say, did you hear about the big Acton University Audio Fire Sale that’s going on now in the Acton Institute’s Digital Downloads Store? 68 presentations from Acton University 2012 have been marked down a full seventy-five percent, giving you access to an amazing range of talks on topics ranging from Christian Anthropology to Corruption, from Abraham Kuyper to Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, from Biblical Foundations of Freedom to Tensions in Modern Conservatism, all for just fifty cents per lecture!
New to Acton and wondering what we’re all about? This is a fantastic way to get to know us. Been with us for the long haul and interested in brushing up on your ethics or economics? Here’s your chance to do that while supporting the work of Acton in the process!
The sale is on right now, and will continue through Monday! Head on over to the Digital Download Store and check out the Acton Audio Fire Sale – you won’t be sorry. What can you expect when you get there? My prediction – savings.