“The past year has marked a shift in religious liberty debates,” notes Sarah Pulliam Bailey at Christianity Today, “one that previously centered on hiring rights but became focused on health care requirements.” Bailey put together a helpful timeline that shows a number of actions the government took in the past year, setting precedents and priorities on various issues affecting religious freedom.
Over the past decade the model of Business as Mission (BAM) has grown into a globally influential movement. As Christianity Today wrote in 2007, the phenomenon has many labels: “kingdom business,” “kingdom companies,” “for-profit missions,” “marketplace missions,” and “Great Commission companies,” to name a few.
What are the best ways to help the poor in developing countries?
Answering that question is not as straightforward as you might assume, says development economist Bruce Wydick in Christianity Today. As Wydick notes, most relief and development organizations carry out self-assessments and measure impact based on self-studies, methods that are neither unbiased nor empirically rigorous.
Anarchist punks are out and the socially-aware hipsters are in (even though they don’t want to say they’re “in”). A little over a decade ago, the hipster scene made its biggest comeback since the 1940s. Though they come in all shapes and sizes, many contemporary hipsters can be found riding their fixed-gear bikes to the farmers’ market or at a bar in skinny jeans drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon.
An interesting sub-category has emerged: Christian hipsters. According to Brett McCracken in an article titled Hipster Faith in Christianity Today, Christian hipsters are rebelling against the over-spiritualized Christian culture they were raised in. Some of them say they have been scarred by contemporary Christian music, door-to-door evangelism and the non-denominational megachurches of their childhood. McCracken, also the author of Hipster Christianity: When Church and Cool Collide, says Christian hipsters are rebelling against
…the stereotypical evangelical church of the 80s – 90s: The Republican, middle class, abortion-clinic-picketing, anti-gay, anti-welfare, legalistic, not-so-interested-in-art-or-books WASP evangelical.
McCracken says the Christian hipster culture is small, but influential. Christian hipsters are returning to a more intellectual, traditional and back-to-basics Christianity. They are Protestants who may secretly wish they were Orthodox or Catholic in some respects. Chances are they read books by C.S. Lewis and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and probably prefer traditional hymns and Sufjan Stevens to Hillsong. Christian hipsters might like shopping at thrift stores, studying abroad, reading philosophy, drinking organic coffee, smoking cigars and serving beer or scotch at bible study.
Christian hipsters also express themselves theologically:
…through preaching that often emphasizes covenantal and ‘new creation’ ideas and attempts to construct a more ecclesiological or community-centric view of salvation. Things like soul-winning and going to heaven are downplayed in favor of the notion that heaven will come down to earth and renew the broken creation. Thus, the world matters. It’s not a piece of rotting kindling that we will abandon for heaven one day. It’s the site of a renewed kingdom. All of this informs hipster Christianity’s attention to things like social justice, environmentalism, and the arts, because if God is building his kingdom on earth, then it all matters.
As mentioned in McCracken’s book, the theological beliefs of the typical Christian hipster can be linked with the Emerging Church, which is associated with authors and pastors like Donald Miller, Brian McLaren, and Rob Bell. According to an article in Christianity Today titled Five Streams of the Emerging Church by Scot McKnight, the doctrine of the Emerging Church is hard to define because systematic theology is viewed suspiciously. Since living out the Gospel is more emphasized than doctrinal beliefs, Christian hipsters who associate themselves with the Emerging Church are generally more focused on helping the poor rather than evangelism.
So what are the economic implications of the Emerging Church? They have been criticized for placing a heavier focus on the material world rather than the spiritual world, which is somewhat reminiscent of the Social Gospel movement in America led by Walter Rauschenbusch in the late 19th and early 20th century, according to McKnight:
Sometimes, however, when I look at emerging politics, I see Walter Rauschenbusch, the architect of the Social Gospel. Without trying to deny the spiritual Gospel, he led his followers into the Social Gospel. The results were devastating for mainline Christianity’s ability to summon sinners to personal conversion. The results were also devastating for evangelical Christianity, which has itself struggled to maintain a proper balance.
The Social Gospel promotes the postmillennial view that Christ will not return until social evils are rid by human effort. Rauschenbusch was very critical towards capitalism and viewed socialism as the means to achieve justice on earth. It is too soon to tell if Christian hipsters and the Emerging Church will reflect the Social Gospel movement as strong as the past, but certain figures in the movement certainly echo a similar economic theme.
In his controversial book, Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope, McLaren’s theological views have been criticized for twisting the Gospel and suggesting social and economic issues are more important than spiritual issues. On page 210 of his book, McLaren says,
Genesis provides a genealogy for all the pain and evil in the whole social structure of humans on planet Earth: it can be traced back to a problem of consumption beyond limits.
Some claim McLaren has replaced biblical themes with political and economic themes of consumption and class warfare (reminds me of someone named Karl Marx).
I do not fault McLaren’s desire to live in a better world. We all desire a better world because we were made for something far greater. Nevertheless, if McLaren believes human efforts can bring The Kingdom of God to earth, his beliefs are not biblical. In the words of Christ,
My Kingdom is not of this world. If it were, My servants would fight for Me. But now My Kingdom is from elsewhere. (John 18:36)
Though the Christian hipster culture might not have a definitive doctrinal theology or a sound economic philosophy, they do have a deep passion for the poor and the desire to live out the Gospel. As Christians, the question is not if we should care for the poor, but how to care for the poor. We cannot properly care for the needy if we over-spiritualize or over-materialize the world because the church is called to address both spiritual and physical needs. Effectively caring for the physical needs of the poor requires a solid economic philosophy that fosters competition, innovation and wealth creation.
The green movement has had a dramatic, long lasting impact on public policy, individuals, and even religion. But many people of faith have criticized supporters of the green movement, equating its strong followers with those who practice a pagan religion in support of Mother Nature.
As Christians we are called to be environmental stewards and to care for God’s creation. However, putting aside the perceptual paganism of a too dedicated support of the green movement, one must ask, is the green movement really accomplishing its mission and gaining support or is it actually turning people away from protecting the environment?
Reflecting upon my time spent at college I remember many of my Christian and conservative friends would throw a plastic water bottle in the trash when a recycling bin was right next to it, smirking and saying that’ll show all the environmental hippies. They admitted they were turned off by the aggressiveness and rhetoric of the green movement while also saying it fails to take into account that human beings also reside on the planet. Instead, they felt the green movement communicated that plants and animals were more important than people.
Many green movement policies seem counterintuitive to protecting the environment. From wind mills killing birds, which according to the Wall Street Journal, it is estimated 75,000 to 275,000 birds are killed by wind mills in the U.S. per year including the golden eagle in California which taxpayers spent a large sum of money on to protect. Now there are plans in the works for killing feral camels in Australia. Why? They damage vegetation and produce a methane equivalent to one ton of carbon dioxide a year.
Green movement policies have many unintended consequences. However we must decide whether the consequences are worth enacting the policy. Are killing feral camels going to save the planet, and is that even responsible? Are we to decide what part of God’s creation is a “productive” contributor to the earth, and if it isn’t do we really have the right to decide what part of God’s creation is to live and die?
Many Christians are now seeking a more positive expression of being an environmental steward and also a follower of the green movement. Marvin Olasky states in an article published by World Magazine that in the call to environmental stewardship, “The Bible teaches that human beings have an obligation to be stewards and gardeners in a way that benefits other men and women and also other creatures.”
While they are full of good intentions, green policies may alienate the centerpiece of God’s creation: the human person. Failing to take into account the person, green policies put a burden on people in order to protect the environment and the creatures of this planet; the green movement needs to recognize that people are just as much a part of this planet as the trees, flowers, bugs, polar beers, and every other creature and planet we are blessed with. Environmentalist Peter Harris explains in Christianity Today that the green movement often fails to take into account the human relationship with creation:
There is a radical environmentalism that wishes people were not on the planet. That’s not the biblical view at all. A Rocha in the United Kingdom actually works in the most polluted, urban borough of the country, because creation isn’t absent just because people are there. The Challenge is how to restore a right way of life, rather than escaping to some wilderness paradise. Fifty percent of the planet now lives in cities. That is where we live out our relationship with creation.
Yes we need to care for creation. The environment is a gift and we are responsible to care for and preserve God’s creation. However, we must not lose sight of the fact that we ourselves are a part of God’s creation and we are called to more than just environmental stewardship. We are called to be financial stewards and many forms of alternative energy are not cost efficient or financially responsible. We are also called to care of the poor, understanding that stringent environmental standards may make it harder for the poor to rise out of poverty. And finally, we are called to live as images in the likeness of God.
Marvin Olasky states that, “The Bible teaches that human beings have an obligation to be stewards and gardeners in a way that benefits other men and women and also other creatures.” Such an obligation to environmental stewardship can be as simple as being responsible, from not littering to recycling old cell phone batteries. We know the negative consequences that littering and cell phone batteries have on the environment, even though they may strike some as small things. When we are knowledgeable of such negative consequences we are responsible to act in the correct manner to preserve the environment. Not only are we taking care of God’s creation, but we are also showing our love for our neighbors by taking care of the same planet that they too call home.
Before I got wrapped up in ongoing conversations here, there, and seemingly everywhere about the nation’s budget, I noted that the ripple effects from the economic downturn were beginning to hit churches in a serious way. Christianity Today passes along a piece that speaks to a much more particular phenomenon: the decline of church steeples in America.
There are a number of contributing factors. The economic downturn has affected giving, which has in turn forced churches to make hard decisions about maintenance. In other cases, churches that are most likely to have traditional buildings (including steeples), are losing membership. As Cathy Lynn Grossman writes, “Architects and church planners say today’s new congregations meet in retooled sports arenas or shopping malls or modern buildings designed to appeal to contemporary believers turned off by the look of old-time religion.” Goodbye, steeple. Goodbye, people.
Some other interesting factors include the potential decline of steeplejacking as a profession. “It’s sad. I’m not doing the same thing my grandfather did. We used to do six to eight steeples a year—painting, repairing, waterproofing, regilding the crosses on top. Now I do one or two a year,” said third-generation steeplejack Jim Phelan. Other churches are leasing their steeple space to serve as cell phone towers, which can bring in tens of thousands of dollars a year.
Speaking of the budget debates, I have asserted the importance of Christian charity in relieving the burdens of the welfare state, and also have argued that the local church needs to be the primary locus of Christian giving. But I’ve also noted that even though Christian charity begins with the local church, it doesn’t end there. A discussion of this point, especially as related to the idea of tithing, is going on over at Scot McKnight’s Jesus Creed blog.
I took some issue with a quote from an otherwise fine piece about food banks in the December issue of Christianity Today. So let me follow-up with a recommendation without reservation for this profile of the work of the Big Reach Center of Hope in the current issue of CT by Nicole Russell, “A God-Sized Food Bank.”
Big Reach is “a food pantry and distribution center situated in a town so small it’s an unincorporated dot on the Ohio map. But its reach is indeed big: The center, which serves five counties, has provided food and clothing to nearly 150,000 individuals since its inauspicious opening in 2004, including 70,000 individuals in 2010 alone, making it one of Ohio’s biggest food pantries.”
Power Line has a post over at its site titled “Why Don’t Christians Care?” Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit also linked to the post today. Powerline’s question refers to the lack of concern from the “mainstream” Christian community on Christians being massacred by Muslims in the Middle East and Africa. It’s a great question to ask.
Just for the record, we want to remind people that the Acton Institute cares. Last month I wrote a piece that received a lot of attention on the plight of Egypt’s Coptic Christians. It’s also an issue we heavily address in the next issue of Religion & Liberty, which features an interview with Nina Shea. Shea talks about many pressing issues concerning global Christian persecution. An exclusive preview of the interview is currently available on the PowerBlog. Christianity Today referred to Shea as the “Daniel of Religious Rights.”
This month’s Christianity Today features a cover package devoted to the challenge faced by non-profit ministries amidst the recent economic downturn. The lengthy analysis defies any easy or simplistic summary of the state of Christian charity. There are examples of ministries that are scaling back as well as those who are enjoying donations at increased levels.
Compassion International and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship are cited as those bucking the conventional logic that giving to charities decreases during a recession. “So far, many parachurch ministries are not facing the same income declines as other organizations. In fact, some are forging ahead with bold initiatives that seemingly defy the dour economic tone,” writes John W. Kennedy.
At the same time, Prison Fellowship laid of 40 staffers in January as part of a 12% budget reduction. And in a more recent move, International Aid, based in Spring Lake, Michigan, announced the resignation of Myles Fish as president and CEO. Following a sharp decline in donations, the agreement for Fish to resign is part of a larger restructuring plan to deal with decreased income.
Fish reported that revenue fell by about $600,000 in December of 2008. “People are perhaps more focused on the needs of the local agencies than the international ones,” he said.
So while the results reported by CT might well give us a less pessimistic perspective on the landscape of Christian giving, it also seems true that the economic downturn is changing not only spending habits but also giving patterns. Charities with more marginal loyalties are more likely to suffer than those with a “family-like link,” and there also appears to be a correlative move toward local rather than international needs.
This may not be all bad. I’m not in principle against voluntary wealth transfers between citizens in richer and poorer nations, and I support the work of groups like Compassion International and Five Talents. But the ability for givers to be significantly involved in keeping tabs on the oversight and administration of an agency is usually reduced as the focus moves away from local involvement.
In response to the question, “What is the future of the faith-based initiative?”
As part of Christianity Today’s Speaking Out (web-only) feature, Stephen V. Monsma and Stanley Carlson-Thies, of Calvin College’s Henry Institute and the Center for Public Justice respectively, address the future of the faith-based initiative under President Obama.
Monsma and Carlton-Thies outline five “encouraging signs” and one “major concern.”
The encouraging signs include the naming of the office executive director (Joshua DuBois) and advisory council (including “recognized evangelicals” like Richard Stearns, president of World Vision; Jim Wallis of Sojourners; Frank Page, past president of the Southern Baptist Convention; and pastor Joel Hunter of Northland Church in Longwood, Florida).
The major concern? “The hiring issue. The status quo remains in effect but without a strong administration defense of it.”