Posts tagged with: christianity

picedenAs reported by the Wall Street Journal, Iraq’s largest oil refinery for domestic use has been overtaken by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the radical jihadi terrorist group aiming to establish an Islamic caliphate in these two nations. As Iraq’s most lucrative resource is now siphoned off by a radical organization, the global oil market risks destabilization while financially empowering ISIS. Economic stability facilitates greater religious freedom – establishing an ISIS controlled government as detrimental to Iraq’s advances toward a stable and secular democratic state. The Christian population has been a primary target of this fundamentalist movement, with ISIS demanding they must convert to Islam, pay a fine, or face “death by the sword.” It was in here, in ancient Babylon, where political and economic institutions took stead; today these have been condemned while the Biblical story of Exodus is being retold with 50,000 Christians fleeing their homes.
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sisters of charityIn a gutsy, thoughtful article at the American Thinker , Danusha V. Goska describes her intellectual journey from a family of card-carrying Communists to discovering she wanted to spend time with people “building, cultivating, and establishing, something that they loved.”

There’s a lot to mull over in Goska’s piece, but it was her discovery of a moral and religious framework that struck me. Rather than a “nihilistic void” that had been her life, Goska encountered people whose faith informed their actions in concrete and truly helpful ways. They weren’t just protesting against something; they were working towards something. She recounts her time with both the Peace Corps and the Sisters of Charity:

Peace Corps did not focus on the “small beginnings” necessary to accomplish its grandiose goals. Schools rarely ran, girls and low caste children did not attend, and widespread corruption guaranteed that all students received passing grades. Those students who did learn had no jobs where they could apply their skills, and if they rose above their station, the hereditary big men would sabotage them. Thanks to cultural relativism, we were forbidden to object to rampant sexism or the caste system. “Only intolerant oppressors judge others’ cultures.”

I volunteered with the Sisters of Charity. For them, I pumped cold water from a well and washed lice out of homeless people’s clothing. The sisters did not want to save the world. Someone already had. The sisters focused on the small things, as their founder, Mother Teresa, advised, “Don’t look for big things, just do small things with great love.” Delousing homeless people’s clothing was one of my few concrete accomplishments.

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Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, July 16, 2014
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icon_41487So the “Young Adult Leadership Taskforce” (YALT) of the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) and Reformed Church in America (RCA) put out a list of their top 40 under 40 (20 from each denomination), and they put me on it. I am still under 40 by a few years, but that cutoff is approaching quickly. I figure that once you turn 40 you aren’t eligible for lists like this anymore. You start to be “over 40″ and part of the “irrelevant” nation.

Angst about kids these days isn’t anything new, of course, and goes to show that teenagers don’t have a monopoly on such anxiety. As Marvin Berkowitz, professor of character education at University of Missouri at St. Louis, puts it, “There are quotes going back at least three or 4,000 years in which adults lament that today’s youth are the worst, morally, ever.”
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In the latest issue of Faith and Economics, a bi-annual journal from the Association of Christian Economists, Dr. Robert Black reviews two of CLP’s four tradition-specific primers on faith, work, and economics: Chad Brand’s Flourishing Faith (from a Baptist perspective), and David Wright’s How God Makes the World a Better Place (from a Wesleyan perspective).

Black reviews each book quite closely, aptly capturing the key ideas and themes in each, and concluding that both are “well suited as a non-technical introduction to biblical and theological aspects of work, wealth, church history, and economic systems.”

Wright - Copy

As a sample, here’s Black’s summary of the Wesleyan connection between Christian conversion and broad-scale human flourishing:

The final section of [Wright’s] book…contrasts an unconverted will at work with the converted will at work. While we may wish not to work at all, we are not freed by conversion from work. Instead, we are freed to enjoy work, “to experience work as the expression of all that is most beautiful and magnificent about us.” Instead of a “lifetime of self-centered pursuit,” Wright encourages us to “use [our] influence to nurture the kind of economic and legal systems that favor meaningful, rewarding work.”

What kinds of people are Christians called to be and how do those characteristics affect economic activity? Chapters 1, 2, and 3 of Part Three develop three character traits to which converts to Christ are called to be: people of assurance, people of integrity, and people of authenticity; Assurance of God’s calling overcomes the “[i]nsecurity and fear [that] are terrible burdens to carry into our work” (p. 28). In a “world … awakened to the desperate need for the renewal of ethics,” personal integrity is most welcome (p. 35). Authentic Christians, who are true to the character of Jesus Christ, the original ideal for us, are an antidote to those people who seek to be authentically true to their own selfish hopes and misguided desires. (more…)

Rousseau Geneve

Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Earlier this Spring at The Gospel Coalition I reviewed Moisés Naím’s The End of Power: From Boardrooms to Battlefields and Churches to States, Why Being in Charge Isn’t What It Used to Be.

Naím explores in a variety of fields and with a great diversity of examples the way in which, as he puts it, “the powerful are experiencing increasingly greater limits on their power” and “power is becoming more feeble, transient, and constrained.” I think there’s a real sense in which Naím has identified a real phenomenon. Power is becoming more and more diffused.

But as I argue in my TGC review, that’s really only half the story. Naím often has to provide a caveat that in spite of much of the centralization that we see, power really is eroding full stop. My contention, however, is that what we’re really seeing is the eroding of power in civil society, an evacuation of the power and place of mediating institutions, in two directions: toward centralized structures and authorities and toward individuals. The inability to see this leads to conclusions that would only hasten and exacerbate the evacuation of power from such mediating structures.

Some of this echoes what Ross Douthat has been saying recently about individualism, following Nisbet in particular: “In the increasing absence of local, personal forms of fellowship and solidarity, he suggested, people were naturally drawn to mass movements, cults of personality, nationalistic fantasias.” I take my own proximate inspiration from Röpke and his identification of “enmassment,” but there are certainly resonances with Nisbet as well as older thinkers like Tocqueville.

I should note in response to Douthat’s observation that “from the Protestant Reformation onward, individualism and centralization would advance together,” this dialectic certainly cannot be explained solely in terms of the Reformation, as perhaps Brad Gregory would argue. The role of the Renaissance more generally, and particularly the renewed engagement with the varieties of ancient and pagan philosophy has as much, if not more, to do with the Enlightenment project of the liberated individual constrained by the collective than the Protestant Reformation.

Exodus36As economic prosperity has increased, and as the American economy has transitioned from agrarian to industrial to information-driven, manual labor has been increasingly cast down in the popular imagination.

When our youth navigate and graduate from high school, they receive pressure from all directions to excel in particular areas and attend a four-year college, typically in pursuit of “white-collar” work. The trades, on the other hand — including brickmasons, plumbers, butchers, and carpenters — are not high on the minds of many, whether parents, pastors, teachers, or politicians.

In the latest issue of Christianity Today, Chris Horst and Jeff Haanen offer a challenge to this trend and the supporting stereotypes, arguing that the church has a particular precedent to build on when it comes to the ways we approach “work with the hands.”

Not only does a thriving economy and society need craftspeople, but the Bible elevates these occupations as filled with worth and dignity. Craftspeople are image-bearers, they argue, reflecting “the Divine Craftsman who will one day make all things new”:

Craftspeople (harashim)—masons, barbers, weavers, goldsmiths, stonecutters, carpenters, potters—are replete in the Bible. The first person Scripture says was filled with the Spirit of God was Bezalel, who was given “ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze” (Ex. 31:1–5, ESV). Passages like these suggest God cares about craftsmanship, above all in his most holy places. From the tabernacle to the temple, what was built was meant to reflect and reveal God’s character. The temple was not just a majestic building; it spoke powerfully of his holiness. (more…)

“Politics makes strange bedfellows,” said Charles Dudley Warner. And nowhere is that more true than in the political alliances that form around regulation.

In a 1983 paper, regulatory economist Bruce Yandle coined the catch-phrase “Bootleggers and Baptists” for the observation that regulations are often supported by peculiar alliances who have very different end-goals in mind.

Yandle explains the Bootleggers and Baptists theory of regulation in this video by LearnLiberty.

(Via: Art Carden)

Andrew White, Anglican Vicar of Baghdad

Andrew White, Anglican Vicar of Baghdad

While you’re munching on hot dogs, chasing the kids around the yard with a Super Soaker and generally enjoying a 3-day weekend benefit of the Founding Fathers, remind yourself (at least once) what a gift religious liberty is. Come Friday night, Saturday or Sunday morning, you can (or not!) go to the mosque, synagogue or church of your choice and peacefully enjoy the service. You can sit and be a vaguely interested participant or you can go full-throttle with song and prayer. You can go home and ponder whatever you’ve learned, or not give it another thought. You are free to pray, praise, worship, meditate.

Sometime while you’re doing all of this, think about a man named Andrew White. If (God forbid!) all our religious liberties disappeared this weekend, Andrew White would be the guy who stayed behind to tend to the flock, the faithful who are forced to sneak about to pray and worship. How do I know this? Because that is exactly what Andrew White does for his flock in Iraq. (more…)

[Part 1 is here.]

That most colossal blunder of Marxist experiments, the Soviet Union, collapsed more than twenty years ago, and yet Marxist thinking still penetrates the warp and woof of contemporary culture, so much so that it’s easy even for avowedly anti-Marxist conservatives to think from within the box of Marxism when considering the problem of cultural decay. Breaking out of that box means emphasizing but also stretching beyond such factors as insider cronyism, class envy, and the debilitating effects of the welfare state.

So, for instance, the influential 18th century philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau rejected the doctrines of the trinity, the deity of Christ, miracles, and the idea of original sin, writing that at one point as a young man he suddenly felt very strongly “that man is naturally good” and that it was only from the institutions of civilization “that men become wicked.” Rousseau’s view has had enormous cultural consequences, giving credence to the perennial human impulse to do whatever feels natural, never mind how stupid or destructive.

The English writer and psychiatrist Theodore Dalrymple put it this way in an interview he gave for The Truth Project: (more…)

titiaan_abraham_izaak_grtIn our efforts to serve others and do good in the world, we humans have a remarkable tendency to fall short, no matter how carefully constructed or well intended our plans and designs may be.

When failure occurs, economists are likely to point to some kind of knowledge problem, noting that, for instance, Western Congregation X didn’t (and perhaps couldn’tknow or foresee that sending hundreds of free shoes to Developing Nation Y would put several local merchants out of business.

To mitigate these types of ripple effects, we can work to be more careful in a variety of ways, but throughout that process, Christians have a unique responsibility to order our concerns within a particular context of transcendent obedience to a particular God and Savior. “To obey is better than sacrifice,” as Samuel once said, “and to listen than the fat of rams.”

When we seek to do good on behalf of others, we certainly ought to consider the various modes of “natural” analysis and observation — reason, history, science, tradition, etc. — but we are also commanded to consult and consider the voice of God himself, whether delivered through his Word, the inward witness of the Holy Spirit, a prophetic church community, or otherwise.

This is not to call for some form of anxious and nit-picky legalism, of course, though that temptation is sure to endure as well. It’s to say that ours is a service uniquely empowered to stretch beyond the ways of this world, which are far too aimless, far too arbitrary, and ultimately beholden to the self.

When we neglect transcendent sources of knowledge, danger and destruction will persist, both in our spiritual lives and the witness we bear in the world. As the great teacher and evangelist Oswald Chambers once cautioned, “Always guard against self-chosen service for God,” which “may be a disease that impairs your service”:

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