Posts tagged with: christian theology

Blog author: dpahman
posted by on Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Today at Ethika Politika, I reflect on what it might look like to adopt thanksgiving as one’s orientation toward human experience and society:

We may think of gratitude … as an appreciation of the joy that uniquely comes from what is virtuous and the recognition of “what God has done or is doing.” Now we have a hermeneutic for our experience, grounded in the God-given “‘eucharistic’ function of man,” to borrow from Fr. Alexander Schmemann. It is not enough to simply appreciate what is given. One must submit what is given to the standard of the Good, be thankful for it to the extent that it measures up, and be critical of it to the extent that it does not. The goal is ultimately transformative: In thanksgiving we offer up to God the good things he has given to us and receive them back transfigured by his grace.

In the ancient Church, one of the common charges early Christians brought against Gnostics, who denied that the God they worshiped was the Creator of the world, was that they were being ungrateful. Whoever our Creator is, they reasoned, we owe him a great deal of gratitude. Thus, in this way they recommended a eucharistic worldview. (more…)

“‘I have the right to do anything,’ you say–but not everything is beneficial. ‘I have the right to do anything’–but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others” (1 Cor. 10:23-24).

Christians are called to productive service of others in our work. The fact that someone will pay you for your work is a sign that they value it, and we must say that they are better-positioned than anyone else (other than God) to decide what’s best for them. But human beings are not infallible. In fact, we are highly fallible. We deceive ourselves and desire things that are not good for us.

Does the provider of a good or service have a moral obligation not to provide certain goods (or bads) or services? When does a “service” become a “disservice”?
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The Holy Spirit is often described in the New Testament as a deposit, a down-payment. Thus Paul writes, “Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come” (2 Cor. 1:21-22).

This image is primarily a communication of comfort. What God has guaranteed he will surely reclaim in full. As Jesus says, “My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you may also be where I am” (John 14:2-3). This image of the Spirit as a deposit is the reason why some of these verses are my favorite Scriptures, because they resonate so closely with the identity of the Spirit as Comforter.

But this deposit is also something that God expects to be active, not passive. It is something he has entrusted to us and wants us to put to productive use. God, in this sense, expects a return on his investment in us. Like the owner in the parable of the talents, God has an ongoing interest in the deposit he has placed in us (see Luke 19:23).

We have been empowered by this Deposit to do good works, to offer up our service, our very lives, in grateful sacrifice to “him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb” (Rev. 5:13).

Praise and honor and glory and power, forever and ever, to him who gave us this deposit of comfort and encouragement!

Back in October, I was a guest on the radio show World Have Your Say on BBC World Service. The occasion was the suspension by the Vatican of the Bishop of Limburg, Germany, Franz-Peter Tebartz-van-Elst, known as the “bishop of bling.” The bishop had reportedly recently spent 31 million euros (roughly $41 million) for the renovation of the historic building that served as his residence, inciting his suspension and a Vatican investigation into these expenditures.

Using this as a springboard, the subject of the BBC discussion was “Should Religious Leaders Live a Modest Life?”

Today, Tim Roberts of the National Catholic Reporter records a similar, but perhaps more ambiguous, case with regards to the Camden Bishop Dennis Sullivan:

Camden Bishop Dennis Sullivan has purchased a new residence, an historic mansion that once served as the home of the president of Rowan University.

The New Jersey diocese purchased the 7,000 square foot home with eight bedrooms and six bathrooms for $500,000. The residence will provide Sullivan with more room for entertaining dignitaries, hosting donors and for work space, according to Peter Feuerherd, diocesan spokesman.

He said the bishop will live there “with at least two other priests, maybe more.”

The home, built in 1908, has been on the market for about two years. According to a report in the Camden Courier Post newspaper, the home was purchased in 2000 for Dr. Donald Farish, then president of Rowan University. Under the university’s ownership, the house underwent about $700,000 in renovations.

Some of the amenities include an in-ground pool, three fireplaces, a library and a five-car garage. (more…)

2013-12-20 15.27.57In my Christmas commentary this week, “Gratification and Civilization,” I examine the connection between making your kids wait until Christmas morning to open their presents and the development of civilization.

Self-denial and self-sacrifice form the basis of human life together. As Matthew Cochran puts it in a piece last week at The Federalist, “Civilization depends on the tendency of men to produce more than they consume for themselves.”

A key factor of driving forward the development of civilization, then, is the family unit. For Cochran rightly warns that civilization “depends on masculine ambition.” The ambition to grow a business for someone “could mean feeding himself & his workers, along with any family they might have. His ambition could be a huge boon to society. Take that away, and you have a bunch of men doing what they need to do to stay comfortable, but nothing more—nothing for any women or any increasingly hypothetical children.”

The Dutch Reformed theologian Herman Bavinck explores the link between family and civilization in his study of The Christian Family. Bavinck describes the triad of father-mother-child:

The two-in-oneness of husband and wife expands with a child into a three-in-oneness. Father, mother, and child are one soul and one flesh, expanding and unfolding the one image of God, united within threefold diversity and diverse within harmonic unity.

These relationships are of civilizational significance:

This three-in-oneness of relationships and functions, of qualities and gifts, constitutes the foundation of all of civilized society. The authority of the father, the love of the mother, and the obedience of the child form in their unity the threefold cord that binds together and sustains all relationships within human society. Within the psychological life of every integrated personality this triple cord forms the motif and melody. No man is complete without some feminine qualities, no woman is complete without some masculine qualities, and to both man and woman, the child is held up as an example (Matt. 18:3). These three characteristics and gifts are always needed in every society and in every civilization, in the church and in the state. Authority, love, and obedience are the pillars of all human society.

One can hardly discuss the family during this season of the year without also reflecting on the holy family, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Bavinck describes them as “the divine counterpart” to Adam, Eve, and their children. “The holy family is the example of the Christian home,” writes Bavinck.

And on this Christmas let us remember and be thankful for the greatest gift of all, the birth of Jesus Christ!

John Howard Yoder
Photo Credit: New York Times

Today at Ethika Politika, in my essay “Prefacing Yoder: On Preaching and Practice,” I look at the recent decision of MennoMedia to preface all of Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder’s works with a disclaimer about his legacy of sexually abusive behavior:

Whatever one thinks of MennoMedia’s new policy or Yoder’s theology in particular (being Orthodox and not a pacifist I am relatively uninterested myself), this nevertheless raises an interesting concern: To what extent ought the character of a theologian matter to their readers and students?

While I am unsure whether MennoMedia has handled this rightly, I appreciate the effort on their part not to turn a blind eye to the complexity of this issue. When it comes to theologians and teachers of morality, personal character does matter, though certainly poor character does not justify dismissing off-hand all a theologian says.

Yet, as I note at Ethika Politika, “while one may be able to study all the mechanics of swimming, for example, and teach them to others from a purely technical point of view, people would naturally be skeptical about the value of this teaching if they discovered their teacher could not actually swim.” Thus, I do not find it surprising or unfounded to be skeptical of Yoder. But what caused this situation? As Lord Acton wrote, “Power tends to corrupt.” (more…)

pilgrim, property rightsEach Thanksgiving brings with it another opportunity to pause, meditate, and express our gratitude for the great blessings in life. As one who recently welcomed a new baby boy to my family, it seems particularly evident this season that the greatest blessings are not, after all, material.

Yet material need is a persistent obstacle, the dynamics of which wield significant influence over the entirety of our lives, from the formative effects of our daily work to the time, energy, and resources we pour out out in the service of others. Thus, it should be no surprise that Thanksgiving is often accompanied with reflections on the material: how we’ve been blessed with food in our bellies, shelter from the cold, a means to provide, and so on.

In the spirit of such reflections, Reason.tv released a nice, albeit excessively cheeky, video aimed at prodding our gratitude beyond the bread on the table and toward one of the systemic features that helps bring it from the field to the baker to the boca: property rights. (more…)

Good now, sit down, and tell me, he that knows,
Why this same strict and most observant watch
So nightly toils the subject of the land,
And why such daily cast of brazen cannon,
And foreign mart for implements of war;
Why such impress of shipwrights, whose sore task
Does not divide the Sunday from the week;
What might be toward, that this sweaty haste
Doth make the night joint-labourer with the day:
Who is’t that can inform me?

–Marcellus, in Shakespeare’s Hamlet

Human beings, with our diversity of gifts, talents, and dispositions, were created to, as Adam Smith put it, “truck, barter, and exchange.” In other words, we were made to trade.

But we were not created to be constantly trucking, bartering, and exchanging. That’s the central truth about humanity that the commandment concerning Sabbath rest communicates:

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

Over at The Gospel Coalition today, I expand on the news of Amazon’s new delivery service on Sundays to discuss “Sabbath Rest and the Moral Limits of Consumption.”

Just as we sleep each night to give our bodies rest from daily labors, our souls (as well as our bodies) need rest from mundane and worldly activities. This is the kind of rest that the Sabbath is designed to provide. The Sabbath principle calls us to rest from the gratification of our earthly desires, whether they be morally permissible or not, and whether we consider them to be work or leisure.
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Tea-Party-Catholic-196x300Tea Party Catholic, the latest book by Acton’s Director of Research Sam Gregg, continues to garner attention. Fr. Gregory Jensen, at his Koinonia blog, reviews Gregg’s work in light of the experience of Orthodox Christians in the U.S.

For the American Orthodox Christian, patriotism, “the love of the true good of one’s country” is the core of the Church vocation relative to the larger culture. We cannot evangelize, as I’ve said before, those we don’t know, but we don’t truly know those we don’t love. Additionally, American Orthodox Christians can’t makes a lasting contribution to the Church in the Middle East, Greece, Eastern Europe or Russia if we don’t love those true and lasting goods that inform the American Experiment at its best. This doesn’t mean we are called to export American democracy. (more…)

economic-shalom-bolt

[The contest is now closed. The winners are Juan Callejas, Jacqueline Isaacs, and Jeff Wright. Congratulations! Please send your mailing address to joseph@remnantculture.com]

John Bolt’s new book, Economic Shalom, is now available from Christian’s Library Press. The book, which is the final in a four-part series of tradition-specific primers, offers a Reformed approach to faith, work, and economics.

To celebrate, CLP will be giving away three copies of the book. The rules are listed below, and you must comment on this blog post for your name to be in the running.

But first, to whet your appetite, here’s an excerpt from Bolt’s first chapter on whether there is a “Biblical economics”:

A balanced approach to using the Bible to inform our economic life is multifaceted and includes illumination of creation principles, biblical wisdom, a biblical anthropology and eschatology, and the incarnation and example of Christ. Reformed people do not turn to the Bible for specific economic programs or policies, because they believe that these are given in God’s order of creation; we must learn about the specifics of these laws by studying creation and human experience….Reformed people also make use of what they learn from Scripture and use it to understand concrete human experience.

Thus, informed about human nature (that it is created, fallen, and redeemed), and world history (that it is under divine judgment and grace) Reformed Christians form theories and propose policies that will do justice to biblical revelation. We should not say, therefore, that a particular system of economics is “the biblical system”; the best we can do is call attention to features that are consistent with or at odds with a biblical understanding of humanity and the world.

This is precisely what Bolt aims to do, offering a marvelous exploration of how a Reformed theological perspective impacts the way we approach our engagement with the world around us.

There are five ways to enter your name, and you must insert a comment in this blog post for each. The more comments you make, the better your odds: (more…)