As we head into the fall of 2014, the world seems to be a very dark and uncertain place for those who practice the Christian faith. Between the rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria (and the resulting slaughter and displacement of Christians in the middle east) and the seemingly relentless advance of secularism and rejection of traditional Christian values in the West, many Christians are wondering how Christianity can survive and advance in our modern world. In this edition of Radio Free Acton, Acton Institute Co-Founder and President Rev. Robert A. Sirico talks on this topic with Os Guinness, public intellectual and author most recently of Reniassance: The Power of the Gospel However Dark the Times. Guinness reminds us that our generation is not the first generation of Christians to face a world in flux, and gives advice on how Christians should face the uncertain future.
I’ve been following an interesting discussion at NRT, a Christian music website, regarding whether an artist is “really” Christian or not. NRT, on its Facebook page, had announced that singer Audrey Assad, known for her hauntingly beautiful Christian music, had made the decision to go mainstream. She gave her reasoning on her own blog. NRT had also commented on the band Switchfoot, who announced they’d be touring with Michael Gungor. Gungor is rather “notorious” in some Christian circles for stating that he does not take all of the Bible literally (for instance, he believes much of Genesis to be symbolic or allegorical in nature.)
Let the backlash begin.
Lots of folks chimed in on the NRT Facebook page with negative comments: “Don’t give me the mess about reaching a wider audience or not being full time into the ministry. Either you are or aren’t.” “To me, leaving Christian music to perform secular music is similiar to a dog going back to his vomit.” “Think I’ll pass until Switchfoot decides whom they serve.” You can read more there if you wish.
This raises an interesting question: must one be in full-time ministry to be a Christian? The answer is, of course not. Most of us Christians are NOT in paid, full-time, ministerial positions. We have regular old jobs: soccer coaches, secretaries, entrepreneurs, wait-staff, lawyers, landscapers. We don’t preach sermons or teach theology. We are active in are churches, sure, but that’s not our job. Why then are these Christian musicians being held to a different standard? (more…)
“If Christians cannot help prisoners find meaning behind bars,” wonders Stephen H. Webb, “how can they expect the Gospel to find an audience among those never convicted of a crime?” At First Things, Webb argues that revival of Christianity will only come when we reform America’s prisons:
Prisoners are test cases of how Christians deal with sinners in extremis. I don’t just mean that compassion for the imprisoned can serve as a corroboration of Christian charity, although that is surely true. I mean that the whole experience of imprisonment is absolutely central to the coherence and credibility of the Gospel message. How can captivity, a great biblical theme, have any meaning today if we treat incarceration as nothing more than “serving time”? How can salvation be proclaimed as the ultimate joy even in this life if we live in a society that continues punishing prisoners long after they have been released?
One of the strongest parallels between prisons and theology has to do with our conceptions of the afterlife. For example, many people treat the possibility of rehabilitation behind prison walls with the same skeptical indifference that even devout Catholics now bestow upon purgatory: We can’t even fathom how moral change happens, if at all, in either place, so we leave its remote possibility up to God. Cynicism at home breeds disbelief abroad. Nobody believes that isolation and humiliation reform criminals, just as nobody really believes that a cleansing fire burns away unconfessed sins in purgatory, yet without any plausible alternatives to humiliation or fire, the healing effect of punishment remains as mysterious for the Church as it does for the judicial system.
In the most recent issue of The City, I have an essay on Orthodoxy and ordered liberty. I argue that Orthodox theological anthropology, which distinguishes between the image and likeness of God and two forms of freedom corresponding to them, fits well with the classical understanding of ordered liberty.
In particular, I examine these freedoms with regards to the family, religious liberty, political liberty, and economic liberty, arguing that the Orthodox ascetic tradition has much to offer to modern Christian social thought with regards to how best to order the freedom we have by virtue of being created after the image of God toward that freedom from passion and sin that finds its fulfillment in the likeness of Jesus Christ.
Of interest to our readers here, with regards to economic liberty, I write,
We are created with a capacity for freedom, autexousio, to be used for the purpose of the moral freedom of theosis: eleutheria. Thus, just as we ought to offer up our bodies as living sacrifices to God (cf. Romans 12:1), so also we are to offer up God’s creation to him through our labor. God has given us the earth in order “to tend and keep it” in a paradis[ai]cal state (Genesis 2:15). Thus, acknowledging … our propensity for failure, we nevertheless have a duty to make of God’s creation what we can, imitating the creativity of God and exercising the dominion he gave us (Genesis 1:26).
We must, then, have liberty in society to freely cultivate the resources of the earth for the sake of the higher good of self-sacrificing love. Helen Rhee affirms in Loving the Poor, Saving the Rich, her study of wealth and poverty in the early Church, the consistent patristic teaching of both the affirmation of private property rights and our moral duties to use our property for the good of others (what is known in the West as the “universal destination of goods”)….
You can read the full article online here.
And while you’re at it, take the time to subscribe to The City. It’s free and published in print and online three times a year. Subscribe here.
The Accra Confession, a document arising out of the Reformed ecumenical movement, was promulgated ten years ago. At the time, Rev. Jerry Zandstra and I wrote with some rather harsh criticisms of the document.
In the meanwhile, the original group that organized the Accra Confession, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, merged with a smaller ecumenical group, the Reformed Ecumenical Council, to create the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC). At the Uniting General Council held at Calvin College in 2010, where the status of the Accra Confession for the new movement was to be determined, the Acton Institute distributed a packet of material, including a book-length engagement with the Accra Confession and the larger mainline ecumenical movement’s economic witness.
In Ecumenical Babel I devote a full chapter to the Accra Confession as perhaps the most imbalanced and skewed of all the mainline ecumenical documents on economic justice. For other critical engagements of the Accra Confession, I recommend Stan du Plessis, “How Can You Be a Christian and an Economist? The Meaning of the Accra Declaration for Today,” and Roland Hoksbergen, “The Global Economy, Injustice, and the Church: On Being Reformed in Today’s World.”
There are a number of celebratory posts recognizing the anniversary of the confession at places like Ecclesio, and for a critical engagement of Ecumenical Babel you can read an essay by Christopher Dorn in Perspectives. (Ecumenical Babel was also reviewed for Comment, Calvin Theological Journal, Journal of Markets & Morality, Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies, and Journal of Ecumenical Studies. I respond at some length to Dorn’s essay in my latest book, Get Your Hands Dirty.)
The World Communion of Reformed Churches purports to represent 80 million Christians of 229 member denominations in 108 countries. An ecumenical group of this significance and diversity can do better than the Accra Confession in its social witness, and after ten years, it must do better.
This summer during Acton University, I had the opportunity to be part of a recording for Moody Radio’s Up for Debate program, which has just recently been posted online. The subject for discussion was “Can Catholic, Orthodox, and Evangelical Christians Learn from Each Other?”
The participants were Jay Richards (Roman Catholic), Distinguished Fellow of the Institute for Faith, Work, & Economics and a Senior Fellow of the Discovery Institute, John Stonestreet (Evangelical), Fellow of the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview, and me (Orthodox), an Acton research associate and assistant editor of the Journal of Markets & Morality.
In answer to the question of the show, the short answer that we all seemed to come to was, yes, we do have a lot to learn from one another. Our talk ranged from issues of Scripture and the Tradition of the Church to the current discussion in the public square over same-sex marriage.
Head over to Moody Radio to listen to the program here.
Today the Department of Health and Human Services issued yet another revision regarding its contraception mandate. Details on the new regulations should be announced within a month. According to the Wall Street Journal:
Justice Department lawyers said in a brief filed Tuesday with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit that the federal government would issue new regulations in the next month that will apply to all nonprofit institutions that say the faith with which they are affiliated is opposed to the use of most forms of contraception.
“The Wheaton College injunction does not reflect a final Supreme Court determination,” the brief said. “Nevertheless, the Departments responsible for implementing the accommodations have informed us that they have determined to augment the regulatory accommodation process in light of the Wheaton College injunction and that they plan to issue interim final rules within a month. We will inform the Court when the rules are issued.”
A senior administration official said the details of the rules are still being worked out. But it is likely that the Supreme Court’s order will shape the new compromise arrangement, and that nonprofit institutions will be able to write a letter stating their objections, rather than filing a form. That would leave the federal government to work out how those employers get access to contraception coverage.
In reply to this news, Lori Windham, Senior Counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, says:
“A Christian society is not going to arrive until most of us really want it: and we are not going to want it until we become fully Christian… I cannot learn to love my neighbour as myself till I learn to love God: and I cannot learn to love God except by learning to obey Him.” –C.S. Lewis
In Economic Shalom, John Bolt’s Reformed primer on faith, work, and economics, he includes a chapter on how we might understand flourishing in the social order through “a biblical understanding of the human person, created in God’s image and living in God’s world.”
Bolt reviews a variety of different areas and approaches, providing a firm critique of top-down social planners who, in their attempts to impose utopia, far too often impede, distort, or destroy the positive manifestations of organic and spontaneous order that already exist, whether in churches, schools, businesses, communities, or the family. That’s not to say such planners don’t have some role to play or vocation to fulfill, but it must be constrained accordingly and focused toward that which is productive and possible.
As political theorist Kenneth Minogue explains: “We could never produce a crystal by directly placing [i.e., mechanically] the individual molecules from which it is built up. But we can create the conditions under which such a crystal will form itself. . . . Similarly, we can create the conditions under which a biological organism will grow and develop” (507–8). (more…)
Christians frequently talk about “stewardship,” but what do we mean when we use that term? And more importantly, what should we mean by it?
At The Gospel Coalition, Stephen J. Grabill, director of programs and international for the Acton Institute, discusses what it means to have a holistic understanding of stewardship and what it means to “make the kingdom of God visible and tangible to the world”:
Although Christians across denominational lines often use stewardship language to describe our calling to live out God’s mission in the world, what we mean theologically by “stewardship” varies greatly across religious traditions. Some think stewardship is tithing; others think it means volunteering or living a simple lifestyle. Still others identify stewardship with environmental conservation, social action of some kind or another, charitable giving, or making disciples through evangelism.
Each of these good and necessary activities points to an essential facet of stewardship, but each—on its own—falls shy of capturing the inspiring vision of biblical stewardship as a form of whole-life discipleship that embraces every legitimate vocation and calling to fulfill God’s mission in the world. In this sense, holistic stewardship, transformational generosity, workplace ministry, business as mission, and the theology of work movement all share a common point of origin in the biblical view of mission as whole-life discipleship. In other words, the essence of stewardship is about finding your place—that is, all the dimensions of your many callings—in God’s economy of all things (oikonomia).
It’s a sad fact that ISIS has become part of our vocabulary, but many of us still don’t know a lot about this terrorist movement. At Aleteia, news editor John Burger spent time with some people knowledgeable abaout this group, and created a top 10 list. Burger spoke to Father Elias D. Mallon, external Affairs Officer of the New York-based Catholic Near East Welfare Association; Jesuit Father Mitch Pacwa of EWTN, and William Kilpatrick, author of Christianity, Islam and Atheism: The Struggle for The Soul of The West.
Here is what you need to know:
1. What or who is ISIS? How did it come to be? ISIS consists of Sunni extremists who broke off from Al-Qaeda and are now claiming to be an independent state that includes part of Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon.
2. Why do they exist? Father Mallon gives both ideological and practical reasons for their existence. The ideological is based on what Mallon calls a “romantic” but brutal vision of Islamic history, the practical speaks to the feeling of disenfranchisement with leadership in Baghdad. (more…)