Posts tagged with: christianity

Last Friday, January 6, marked the Orthodox Christian feast of Theophany (Epiphany in the West). It commemorates the baptism of Jesus Christ by John in the Jordan river, the manifestation of the Trinity to those present, and the sanctification of the waters through their contact with God incarnate.

Every year this last aspect of the feast stands as a reminder of the Christian viewpoint of God’s concern for the world he created. Indeed, according to a hymn from the Great Blessing of the Waters by St. Sophronios of Jerusalem, “Today the nature of the waters is sanctified.”

In the Orthodox tradition, there is a sense in which, while all of nature was made for the use and care of humankind, the ultimate purpose of the material world is sacramental. As the Russian Orthodox moral philosopher Vladamir Solovyov wrote, [M]atter has a right to be spiritualised.

This view contrasts with two rival views of ecology. One view, which continually crops up in popular culture, is that humans ultimately are doing more harm than good. Our efforts to master nature and use it for humanity’s benefit will cause its (and our) destruction someday. The second is the view against which the first is reacting. It is the modern view of a limitless use of natural resources with little concern for their preservation.

The vision given to us in Theophany is something else entirely. Through his baptism, Christ sanctifies the waters so that we might be sanctified by the waters of baptism. Water becomes a means by which humanity is perfected and the world as a whole reflects the glory of God to a greater degree.

In the Orthodox Church, this is not only true of the water, either. Bread and wine are used in the Eucharist, oil in Holy Unction and Chrismation (Confirmation), wood and gold and egg tempera paint in the making of holy icons, etc. The list goes on and on. The world is not meant to be left as is, nor is it meant to be carelessly depleted of its resources; it is meant to be spiritualized. It is a means and manifestation of divine grace and beauty.

How does this relate to economics? Economically, natural resources are material capital, and according to Vladimir Solovyov, we err if we seek to divorce them from their spiritual and moral purpose and make them independent, existing in and for themselves. He writes,

Alienation from the higher spiritual interests becomes inevitable as soon as the material side of human life is recognized to have an independent and unconditional value. One cannot serve two masters; and socialism naturally gives predominance to the principle under the banner of which the whole movement had originated, i.e. to the material principle. The domain of economic relations is entirely subordinated to it, and is recognised as the chief, the fundamental, the only real and decisive factor in the life of humanity. At this point the inner opposition between socialism and the bourgeois political economy disappears.

To misunderstand the material world, to fail to view it as the good creation of God with its own spiritual and moral purpose and, instead, to give it absolute value, ultimately leads to its degradation. It is, in fact, the definition of greed to value material things as something to be desired in and of themselves, apart from morality. The bourgeois that Solovyov criticizes are the type of people who act out of greed through manipulation of the market. The socialists, on the other hand, act out of greed through a call for revolution. Both, ultimately, make the same ecological error.

As Solovyov writes,

Socialism really stands on the same ground as the bourgeois régime hostile to it, namely, the supremacy of the material interest. Both have the same motto: “man liveth by bread alone.”

The Feast of Theophany, by contrast, calls Christians to adopt a higher, spiritual view of themselves and the world in which they live. And it is my contention that such a view is a far superior starting point for a Christian understanding of material capital. Anything less tends to degrade the world or ourselves.

For more on Vladimir Solovyov, check out the newest issue of Religion & Liberty.

Additionally, the Journal of Markets & Morality recently issued a Call for Publications on Orthodox Christian economic thought. Scholarly submissions on Vladimir Solovyov or Orthodox views of ecology would be welcome. View the full Call for Publications here.

For more on Orthodox Christianity and environmentalism, check out my post from last summer “Cosmos as Society.”

Blog author: dpahman
Wednesday, January 4, 2012
By

Source: Wikimedia Commons, Photography by shakko

Over at the Sojourners blog, Harry C. Kiely boldly considers whether the Occupy movement can be considered “the New Pentecost.” However, there are a myriad of problems with his comparison.

First and most importantly, from a Christian point of view, there already has been a “New Pentecost.” It is found in Acts 2. The Christian Pentecost was the fulfillment of the Jewish Pentecost. The giving of the Law (which the Jewish Pentecost commemorates) found its fulfillment in the giving of the Holy Spirit to the Church to write the Law on the hearts of God’s people (see Jeremiah 31:33). Thus, for Kiely to proclaim the Occupy movement a New Pentecost is to already fail to understand what he is attempting to describe.

The theological flubs do not end there, unfortunately. He goes on to write,

In Acts, the emergence of new power occurred when the “gossip” about the Resurrection became a life-empowering message that transcended all lingual differences: “each heard in his own language.” Likewise in Occupy Wall Street: in the development of a new means of communication, people of diverse backgrounds both spoke and heard in a common language. It was, indeed, a New Pentecost.

Apparently the Holy Spirit of God was a “new power” that emerged from “the ‘gossip’ about the Resurrection” and is analogous to the iPhone.

He continues,

Deprived of loud speaker technology, for example, they invented a more human method of broadcast. Because they lacked appointed or elected leaders, the newly evolved community devised ways of organizing. In contrast to Wall Street methodology, the newly resurrected human community shared their food and goods with one another.

Actually, people in the ancient world did have “loud speaker technology”: they called them amphitheaters. As for the supposedly “more human method of broadcast” that “they invented,” I would love to hear how the disciples, in fact, “invented” the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, Kiely’s claim that “they lacked appointed or elected leaders” overlooks the fact that the Apostles were appointed by Christ himself (see Matthew 10:1-4), and, in fact, immediately before the story of Pentecost in Acts 2, the disciples had just deliberated over who would fill Judas Iscariot’s office in the Church and chose Matthias to be his replacement (see Acts 1:12-26).

In addition to misunderstanding the Christian Pentecost in Acts 2, Kiely also misunderstands the Occupy movement, which, despite some criticisms I may have for it, to its credit has never claimed to be a religious awakening of any sort. Indeed, no one in my generation would view it that way, whether they are for or against it. As one commentator (“Crazywulf”) wrote,

Please…please…please…… while whole heartedly supporting Occupy, I don’t believe anyone involved have actually been chosen by our saviour to be part of His inner circle… I know that wasn’t the intention of the author (or I hope it wasn’t)  but it could come off that way….

By contrast, after having completed his comparison, Kiely concludes with, perhaps, the most “Dominionist” statement I have ever read:

Emerging out of the New Pentecost [i.e. Occupy] is the promise of a New Creation that will transcend the endless, hollow, self-destructive promises of raging empires.

Yikes.

At the Daily Beast yesterday, Michelle Goldman Goldberg muses on the movement of “the ultra-right evangelicals who once supported Bachmann” over to Ron Paul. This is in part because these “ultra-right evangelicals” are really “the country’s most committed theocrats,” whose support for Paul “is deep and longstanding, something that’s poorly understood among those who simply see him as a libertarian.” (Goldberg’s piece appeared before yesterday’s results from Iowa, in which it seems evangelical support went more toward Santorum [32%] than Paul [18%].)

Goldberg shows some theological sensibilities as she tries to trace the connections between Christian Reconstructionism and libertarianism. Better informed readers will recognize some of the holes, however, as Goldberg describes proponents of Reformed or “covenant theology” as those who “tend to believe its man’s job to create Christ’s kingdom before he comes back.” Christian Reconstructionism becomes, then, “The most radical faction of covenant theology,” and, “a movement founded by R. J. Rushdoony that seeks to turn the book of Leviticus into law, imposing the death penalty for gay people, blasphemers, unchaste women, and myriad other sinners.” (For an opposite reading of Paul that criticizes him precisely for not seeking to legislate biblical morality and his “opposition to moral legislation,” see D. C. Innes’ piece over at WORLD, “Christian, why Ron Paul?”)

So while Goldberg is right to note the interesting connections and tensions between libertarianism and Reconstructionism, the connection of Reconstructionism to broader evangelical and Reformed “covenant theology” is rather more tenuous. In part this must be because she relies primarily on Steve Deace, “an influential Iowa evangelical radio host,” for her mapping of the intellectual and theological landscape. But it’s also due, of course, to the impulse to paint any conservative Christian who draws political implications from their faith as a kind of theocrat, whether a theonomist, Reconstructionist, or the latest term bandied about by Goldberg in connection with Michelle Bachmann and Rick Perry, “Dominionist.”

On the one hand, you rarely if ever hear this sort of worrying over the influence of those on the religious Left, who very explicitly want to make an American government in line with their image of biblical justice. On the other, Goldberg’s connection between Christian Reconstructionism and libertarianism, especially in the person of Gary North, is quite legitimate. This can be seen in more detail and with more nuance in one of the few academic articles to explicitly address this connection, “One Protestant Tradition’s Interface with Austrian Economics: Christian Reconstruction as Critic and Ally,” by Timothy Terrell and Glenn Moots. And as pieces from David Bahnsen and Doug Wilson from earlier this year show, the connections between reconstructionists and libertarians are deep, in part because, as Wilson puts it, “We are talking in many cases about the very same people.”

But as Terrell and Moots point out, the place of Christian Reconstructionism within the broader context of American evangelicalism, and Reformed covenant theology in particular, is hotly disputed. Indeed, write Terrell and Moots, “Some of the most notable critiques of Christian Reconstruction come from within conservative Presbyterianism.” So while Christian Reconstructionism might self-identify as a kind of Reformed covenantal thinking, this doesn’t mean that all Reformed covenant theology is either postmillennial or prone to theonomy. As no less than John Calvin writes in his Institutes,

The allegation, that insult is offered to the law of God enacted by Moses, where it is abrogated, and other new laws are preferred to it, is most absurd. Others are not preferred when they are more approved, not absolutely, but from regard to time and place, and the condition of the people, or when those things are abrogated which were never enacted for us. The Lord did not deliver it by the hand of Moses to be promulgated in all countries, and to be everywhere enforced; but having taken the Jewish nation under his special care, patronage, and guardianship, he was pleased to be specially its legislator, and as became a wise legislator, he had special regard to it in enacting laws.

This is a sentiment commonly shared by Reformed theologians of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the theological forebears of Reformed “covenant theology.”

Terrell and Moots conclude with an emphasis on the importance of taking religious motivations and theological convictions seriously:

Recent history demonstrates that the considered prescription of a free society has advanced best when it is a broadly ecumenical and pluralistic discussion. This means that it not only includes secular and religious justifications but also takes into consideration the breadth and depth of religious viewpoints.

So I think we should applaud Goldberg for taking into consideration the religious viewpoints and influences of candidates like Ron Paul, Rick Perry, and Michelle Bachmann, but we should also take her to task for not being a bit more sensitive to the complicated theological landscape. Christian Reconstructionists are a vocal minority, a “fringe” as Goldberg calls them, among politically conservative Christians, but their specific views about biblical laws and punishments are simply not attributable to every evangelical candidate.

Unfortunately this kind of conflation is all too common in the media and popular entertainment. As Russell Moore writes of “dominionism” (and by extension all of the charges of theocracy against conservative Christians) in the latest issue of The City,

the menace of this movement is routinely exaggerated by the media. All this is quite rare, a movement on the far fringes of faithful life. And the scare tactics are made worse by ignorance, particularly among those who don’t understand ‘dominion theology,’ and assume the use of the word ‘dominion’ itself as a call for theocracy as the consolidation of Christian political power — when the case is so exactly the opposite.

And as I conclude in the same issue, “Those in our day who level the baseless charges of suspicion against Christians for undermining the public good deserve to be branded as the real dissemblers and enemies of common good.” Or as Calvin put it, “It is not we who disseminate errors or stir up tumults, but they who resist the mighty power of God.”

Civil War gravestones, Vicksburg, Miss.

2011 kicked off the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War. At the beginning of 2011, I began seeing articles and news clippings to commemorate the anniversary. While not a professional historian, I took classes on the conflict at Ole Miss and visited memorials and battlefields on my own time. I must give recognition to Dr. James Cooke, emeritus professor of history at the University of Mississippi, for his brilliant and passionate lectures that awakened a greater interest in the subject for me. After reading a lot of anniversary coverage, I noticed unsurprisingly, the topic of faith was neglected.

I thought it would be a good idea to feature a few articles on the Civil War in Religion & Liberty. I asked Mark Summers, a historian from Virginia to pen something on the topic. I have known Summers for over a decade and I knew that he understood the Acton Institute and Religion & Liberty enough to deliver. He is a first class historian and the ideas for the articles were entirely his own.

The first piece, “The Great Harvest: Revival in the Confederate Army during the Civil War” is a fascinating look at the evangelical revivals that spread through the Confederate ranks. The revivals, and of course the war itself, definitely played a significant role in shaping today’s strong religious vibe in the American South. Summers says himself in the piece,

Prior to the American Revolution, New England had been the “Bible Belt” of America, while church attendance in the South was scant. The Second Great Awakening shifted the culture of Dixie, and America as a whole. The revivals took hold in the “backcountry” amongst the yeoman. Southern evangelism reflected the charismatic and independent character of the Appalachian farmers. Southern yeomen declared their independence from the staid faith of the plantation gentry. While planters dominated politics and business, humbler folk shaped the culture of Southern Sundays.

Summers wrote about the Catholic Church and Catholic soldiers in the Fall 2011 R&L. He primarily focused on Catholics in the North and how the Church was unique from American Protestantism with its ability to stay unified despite the horrific conflict. Those who have studied American Protestant history are well aware that many denominations split along sectional lines and many of the divisions we have today resulted or were exacerbated by the Civil War. Summers notes,

Indeed, it was this unity of the Catholic Church which proved unique among American Christianity. While Protestant denominations split over theological and sectional lines, the Catholic Church stood as the only major church which remained united during the war, even if its congregants fought on opposite sides.

These two articles tell powerful stories about faith in this country during its bloodiest, most heartbreaking period. The country had never seen or experienced such a massive slaughter of life. The pieces authored by Summers tell a story about our own American history but they also tell the story that points to the ancient truth, and that is that God is at work redeeming that which is separated, broken, and in despair. In the words of Isaiah:

Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the LORD rises upon you and his glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. (Isaiah 60:1-3)

Václav Havel

Václav Havel, playwright, anti-Communist dissident and former president of the Czech Republic, died yesterday at the age of 75. There has been an outpouring of tributes to the great man today. In light of that, I’d like to point PowerBlog readers to the September-October 1998 issue of Religion & Liberty and the article “Living Responsibly: Václav Havel’s View” by Edward E. Ericson.

Ericson says that Havel offers a particularly penetrating analysis of our times based on the understanding that, in Havel’s words, “we are going through a great departure from God which has no parallel in history.” It is no coincidence that, Havel adds, that “the first atheistic civilization” has produced the bloodiest century in history.

In 1998, Ericson wrote that Havel could not be described as a believer but admitted to “an affinity for Christian sentiment” and that he tries “to live in the spirit of Christian morality.” Yet Havel’s understanding of Christianity’s formative work in building what is today Europe was deep. He praised the “blending of classical, Christian, and Jewish elements” that has created “the most dynamic civilization of the last millennium.” The news report linked above said that Havel spent his last moments in the company of his wife, Dagmar Havlova, and a Catholic nun.

Ericson:

According to Havel, ordinary people everywhere can live in the truth only by embracing the “notion of human responsibility.” Responsibility is “that fundamental point from which all identity grows and by which it stands or falls; it is the foundation, the root, the center of gravity, the constructional principle or axis of identity.” Thus, Havel declares, “I am responsible for the state of the world,” and he means a “responsibility not only to the world but also ‘for the world,’ as though I myself were to be judged for how the world turns out.” Citing Dostoevsky’s spiritual dictum that all are responsible for all, he points to that “‘higher’ responsibility, which grows out of a conscious or subconscious certainty that our death ends nothing, because everything is forever being recorded and evaluated somewhere else, somewhere ‘above us,’ in … an integral aspect of the secret order of the cosmos, of nature, and of life, which believers call God and to whose judgment everything is liable.”

Read “Living Responsibly: Václav Havel’s View” by Edward E. Ericson.

Attend Acton University 2012 where Ericson will lecture on Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

A recent study by the Barna Group examines the generation gap within various Christian traditions in the United States. The Millennial Generation (roughly anyone currently 18-29 years old) has become increasingly dissatisfied with their Christian upbringing. According to the study,

… 84% of Christian 18- to 29-year-olds admit that they have no idea how the Bible applies to their field or professional interests. For example, young adults who are interested in creative or science-oriented careers often disconnect from their faith or from the church. On the creative side, this includes young musicians, artists, writers, designers, and actors. On the science-oriented side, young engineers, medical students, and science and math majors frequently struggle to see how the Bible relates to their life’s calling.

There is, it appears, an urgent need for Christian traditions to develop and employ a robust theology of vocation, especially with regards to arts and science related professions. Indeed, according to the article, “The Barna study showed that faith communities can become more effective in working with the next generation by linking vocation and faith.”

As a Millennial myself, I found the study especially fascinating. The approach when I was a teenager was that the bigger the sound system or video screen or the more “alternative” sounding the music, the more likely a church was to keep us around. Maybe I am not a good representative of my generation as a whole, but I remember finding this approach especially shallow and even a little insulting. I wanted a deeper faith, something that stands out from the world around me, not something nearly indistinguishable from it. Perhaps if more churches would take the time to show how the Gospel of Jesus Christ permeates all facets of life, especially our vocations, fewer of my peers would be leaving those churches behind.

The most recent issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality (14.1) contained two contributions in our Symposium section specifically on the subject of vocation. Anyone interested may read them here:

Gene Edward Veith, “Vocation: the Theology of the Christian Life”

Theology of Work Project, Inc., “Calling in the Theology of Work”

Tertullian

Tertullian (c. 160 – c. 220 AD)

The following section from Tertullian’s Apology has been illuminating some of my thinking about Christian social engagement lately:

So we sojourn with you in the world, abjuring neither forum, nor shambles, nor bath, nor booth, nor workshop, nor inn, nor weekly market, nor any other places of commerce. We sail with you, and fight with you, and till the ground with you; and in like manner we unite with you in your traffickings—even in the various arts we make public property of our works for your benefit.

This passage, in which Tertullian describes the involvement of Christians in all the workings of Roman life, first occurred to me awhile back when there was the brief flurry of worry over undue Christian influence, particularly “Dominionism,” on politics. The essay I wrote in response to that phenomenon has now appeared in The City, which you can check out here, “Christians, Citizens, and Civilization: The Common Good.” In this piece I make the claim that “the commitment to Jesus Christ as another prince, the ‘prince of Peace,’ makes us better, not worse, citizens.”

I had been thinking that contra the New Atheism and virulent secularism of much discourse in the public square, including that of the recently passed Christopher Hitchens, we need a kind of Tertullian for the twenty-first century. In the meantime this piece appeared from Al Mohler, which I thought articulated quite well just how evangelicals are (and are not) “dangerous” to the secular establishment: “We’re dangerous only to those who want more secular voices to have a virtual monopoly in public life.”

And as Mohler also notes, “over recent decades, evangelical Christians have learned that the gospel has implications for every dimension of life, including our political responsibility.” But in addition to political responsibility, the gospel also has implications, as I write, for “those Christians who occupy the pews every Sunday morning and pursue various occupations throughout the week. The range of cultural engagement by Christians is therefore coextensive with the panoply of morally legitimate activities in the world.” This latter piece, “How Christians Ought to ‘Occupy’ Wall Street (and All Streets),” is the other recent item in which I use the quote from Tertullian.

If you haven’t read the Apology before (or haven’t done so lately), take another look and see what you think about the prospects for a similar defense of the Christian faith and life in the contemporary world.

“Wisdom begins in wonder.” This is a popular paraphrase of Socrates from Plato’s Theatetus, which focuses on the relationship between philosophy and knowledge. Dr. Mel Flikkema, provost at Kuyper College, reminded us of this justly famous quotation as he introduced the launch event for Wisdom & Wonder: Common Grace in Science & Art by Abraham Kuyper this past Saturday morning.

Vincent Bacote describes "Another Amazing Grace."

This was a splendidly appropriate introduction to the morning’s event, as the talk by Dr. Vincent Bacote, “Another Amazing Grace,” focused on the relevance of the doctrine of common grace for today’s church and Christian social engagement. Part of what common grace does, said Bacote, is allow us to explain why good things remain in the world after the Fall into sin. The world is not as bad as it could be, and it is because of this common, preserving grace that God prevents everything from falling into complete and utter chaos.

In Wisdom & Wonder Kuyper discusses the insights of the ancient Greeks as a bit of evidence for the existence of common grace. This is especially relevant for the pursuit of truth in philosophy and science. As Kuyper writes, “Anyone who ignores common grace can come to no other conclusion than that all science done outside the arena of the holy lives off appearance and delusion, and necessarily results in misleading anyone listening to its voice. Yet the outcome shows that this is not the case.”
(more…)

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
By

Abraham KuyperAbraham Kuyper (1837-1920), the multi-talented Dutch theologian, statesman, and journalist, is dead. But a new group has formed to make sure that his ideas and legacy are not.

As Chris Meehan of CRC Communications reports, the Abraham Kuyper Translation Society has been formed to “translate and promote books, articles and other materials written by Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper.” Kuyper College will act as the host institution for the society, which involves scholars from a variety of institutions around the world.

As Meehan writes, “Also deeply involved in formation of the society is the Acton Institute, a Christian research, educational and outreach organization in Grand Rapids.” Acton’s director of programs Stephen Grabill has had a leading role in developing the current Common Grace Translation Project, which marks the first of many proposed projects undertaken by those forming the translation society.

The first fruits of this project and this broader initiative have already arrived. With Wisdom & Wonder: Common Grace in Science & Art we have the first downpayment on the larger three-volume series. We’re hosting a public launch event this Saturday at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids. (You can connect with the event as well as the Common Grace translation project on Facebook.) This event will feature a talk by Dr. Vincent Bacote of Wheaton College, “Another Amazing Grace.” I’ll also be moderating a Q&A session following the talk with Dr. Bacote, Dr. Nelson Kloosterman (who translated Wisdom & Wonder), and Dr. Mike Wittmer of Grand Rapids Theological Seminary.

Dr. Bacote appeared on The John & Kathy Show on WORD FM in Pittsburgh last Wednesday to talk about the importance of Kuyper’s work in general and Wisdom & Wonder in particular:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.


He’s also scheduled to appear tomorrow at 5pm (Eastern) to talk with Paul Edwards, so be sure to tune in to hear more about how the doctrine of common grace influences Christian engagement with broader issues of work and culture.

As the famed sociologist Peter Berger observed just today with respect to Calvinism in the Southern Baptist Convention,

The New Calvinists have shown a particular interest in a Dutch theologian whose work seems particularly relevant to the American situation. Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920) also used the term New Calvinism to define his position. He combined orthodox Calvinist theology with a strong commitment to the separation of church and state (he split with the official Dutch Reformed Church over this issue)…. He taught the sovereignty of Christ over all realms of reality, but he believed that, if grounded in a strong Christian culture, Christians could participate in a pluralist society and a democratic state. He visited America and lectured at Princeton. Kuyper founded a political party, and he was prime minister of the Netherlands from 1901 to 1905. One can understand how Kuyper would appeal to Baptists, who always held a strong belief in the separation of church and state.

Berger comes to a rather bizarre conclusion about the future of Calvinism and the SBC, but the influence that Kuyper has had (mostly) indirectly on American evangelicalism is undeniable. One glance at the list of those who have endorsed Wisdom & Wonder is enough to confirm that fact. The Abraham Kuyper Translation Society is poised to help make that influence more direct by providing direct access to a broader range of material from Kuyper’s expansive body of work.

Abraham Kuyper is dead. Long live his legacy.

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, November 24, 2011
By

Most gracious God, by whose knowledge the depths are broken up and the clouds drop down the dew: We yield thee hearty thanks and praise for the return of seed time and harvest, for the increase of the ground and the gathering in of its fruits, and for all other blessings of thy merciful providence bestowed upon this nation and people. And, we beseech thee, give us a just sense of these great mercies, such as may appear in our lives by a humble, holy, and obedient walking before thee all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with thee and the Holy Ghost be all glory and honor, world without end. Amen.

“Thanksgivings for the Natural Order,” Book of Common Prayer