Posts tagged with: culture

3-ways1How are we to be in the world but not of it? How are Christians to live and engage, create and exchange, cultivate and steward our gifts and relationships and resources here on earth? Beyond getting a “free ticket to heaven,” what is our salvation actually for?

These questions are at the center of Acton’s film series, For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles, which begins with a critique of three common approaches to Christian cultural engagement: fortification (“hide! hunker down!”), domination (“fight, fight, fight!”), or accommodation (“meh, ok whatever”).

The framework comes from Pastor Greg Thompson’s paper “The Church in Our Time,” in which Thompson summarizes the paradigms as follows (bold emphasis added):

The fortification paradigm suggests that the fundamental calling of the church is to guard the integrity of its divinely wrought life against the assaults of the world. In this view, the basic task of the church is vigilant preservation and the basic threat to the church is the destructive character of the larger culture…

…The domination paradigm suggests that the fundamental calling of the church is to triumph over her cultural enemies. In this view the basic task of the church is to extend its own values into the world while the basic threat to the church is those whose values differ from its own…

…Contrary to fortification, the accommodation paradigm suggests that the fundamental calling of the church is collaboration with the world in the service of the larger good. From this perspective the basic task of the church is active partnership with its neighbors in the interest of social renewal, and the basic threat to the church is its own separatist tendencies.

Each stems from a legitimate theological starting point, but each also tends to falter, in part due to the typical confusions and conflations between the sacred and secular. In Thompson’s paper, he seeks to avoid these pitfalls, attempting to pave a “fourth way” forward by drawing on James Davison Hunter’s notion of “faithful presence.” In For the Life of the World, we see a similar but slightly different path, one framed around embracing a position of Christian exile and “seeking the welfare of the city.” Rod Dreher has been busy exploring yet another. And the list goes on. (more…)

Radio Free ActonOn this edition of Radio Free Acton, Jordan Ballor – Acton Research Fellow, Director of Publishing, and Executive Editor of the Journal of Markets and Morality – talks with Benjamin Domenech, publisher of The Federalist, about the current populist moment in American politics, the roots of American populism, and what the possible outcomes of the current populist uprising may be for the United States.

For more from Ben Domenech, be sure to check out The Federalist Radio Hour, and subscribe to The Transom. After the jump, I’ve included video from Domenech’s excellent Acton Lecture Series address, which is well worth your time if you haven’t yet had the opportunity to check it out.

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strong-weak-chart-andy-crouch12In our discussions about politics, society, and culture, the vocabulary of “human flourishing” has become increasingly popular, moving dangerously close to the status of blurry buzzword.

Yet at its best, the term captures the connective tissue between the material and the transcendent, the immediate and the eternal, pointing toward a holistic prosperity that accounts for the full complexity of the human person.

In his latest book, Strong and Weak: Embracing a Life of Love, Risk and True Flourishing, Andy Crouch examines the broader ideal. ‘“Flourishing’ is a way of answering the first great question,” he writes. “What are we meant to be? We are meant to flourish—not just to survive, but to thrive; not just to exist, but to explore and expand.”

In order to actually embody that answer, Crouch believes we have to grasp the underlying “paradox of flourishing.” “Flourishing comes from being both strong and weak,” he writes, requiring us to “embrace both authority and vulnerability, both capacity and frailty – even, at least in this broken world, both life and death.”

In truth, most of us tend to elevate one to the detriment of the other, relishing in abuse of power or pursuit of poverty. Yet as humans created in the image of God, and as citizens of an upside-down Kingdom, we are called to embrace and combine each together. Such is the path to real life and abundance, both in the now and not yet. (more…)

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, October 11, 2016
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Athenebrunnen-Stuttgart Athene+ZeusOver at the Gospel Coalition last week I reviewed Larry Siedentop’s Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism. As I conclude, “The story he tells is true, but at some points only half-true. The half-truth is still valuable, though, if for no other reason than that it runs so counter to much contemporary self-understanding. Siedentop’s interpretation helpfully casts doubt on the dominant narrative of secularism’s emergence from the oppressive claims of God and religion.”

One way of understanding the half-truth of Siedentop’s narrative is that he is right to point out the Christian roots of liberty and liberalism in the modern West, but incorrect in his understanding of Christianity and Christian liberalism. There is more than one kind of liberalism, and some of them end up in not liberty but tyranny.

Confusions abound, and much of our understanding turns on proper definitions. Take, for instance, the word liberalism. For many, this conjures up images of secular, progressive politicians and ideologues. While this may be the dominant contemporary political identification, there is also a classical understanding of liberalism that is worthy of engagement. And in the religious realm, liberalism has yet different meanings, such that J. Gresham Machen’s classic work Christianity and Liberalism would identify in the following way: “the many varieties of modern liberal religion are rooted innaturalism–that is, in the denial of any entrance of the creative power of God (as distinguished from the ordinary course of nature) in connection with the origin of Christianity.”

In this way our understanding of the relationship between Christianity and liberty, whether in historical or normative terms, will depend upon our definitions. And as Machen would have it, proper definitions are a laudable, if controversial, place to start: “Clear-cut definition of terms in religious matters, bold facing of the logical implications of religious views, is by many persons regarded as an impious proceeding.”

For more on the relationship between Christianity and liberty, see Sam Gregg’s review essay, “How Christianity Created the Free Society.”

“Our problem [with education] today is not to enforce conformity; it is rather that we are threatened with an excess of conformity. Our problem is to foster diversity.” –Milton Friedman, Capitalism & Freedom

800px-France_in_XXI_Century._SchoolThe education reform movement has set forth a range of strategies to combat the leviathan of public education. Yet more often than not, those solutions are couched only with boilerplate about the glories of markets and competition.

There is plenty of truth behind such rhetoric, but as Greg Forster outlines in an extensive series of articles at EdChoice, a revival in education policy and educational institutions is going to require much more than free-market talking points and surface-level solutions.

“It’s not that the things we’re saying are wrong,” he writes. “We just aren’t getting to the heart of the matter because we are not challenging our nation to re-ask itself the big questions about education: What is the purpose of education? Who has final responsibility for it and why?”

Indeed, while our aversion to technocratic solutions has prodded us to focus on things like improving accountability, expanding competition, and removing barriers to information, many of the subsequent reforms have fallen prey to the same technocratic temptations. As Forster reminds us, in education, “technocracy fails more importantly because it is based on a wrong understanding of what education is for.” (more…)

Blog author: jsunde
Tuesday, September 20, 2016
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pearl-and-leavenIn its 2,000-year history, the church has actively integrated evangelism and social action in powerful and transformative ways. Yet for many of today’s Christians, we feel as though we must choose between a life of ministry and cultural engagement, that our vocational paths are inevitably torn between “saving souls” and “serving justice.”

In the Bible, however, we see both calls woven together — “fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen. 1:28) and “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19). They were not meant to be taken separately, pieced apart and divided up among believers based on our individual strengths or giftings.

We are called to a life of holistic discipleship, filled with a faith that’s integrated with cultural witness. We are called to be both “a pearl and a leaven,” as Jessica Driesenga puts it in The Church’s Social Responsibility, a new collection of essays on evangelicalism and social justice.

“When we survey Christians’ posture toward the world, it can seem as though there is an either-or decision to be made: either choose to be a part of the world or separate yourself from it for the sake of the gospel,” Driesenga writes. “But these tasks ought to be seen as necessary counterparts to each other.” (A partial excerpt of Driesenga’s essay is available at Letters to the Exiles blog.)

Pointing to a metaphor used by theologian Herman Bavinck, Driesenga reminds us of Jesus’ parables comparing the kingdom of heaven to a leaven (Matt. 13:33) and a pearl (Matt. 13:45–46). “These two metaphors, mixed as they may seem, are Bavinck’s way of understanding the dual tasks given to humanity: to preserve and preach the good news of Christ and to take the world that has been given to us and make something of it.” (more…)

How much value does religion add to the U.S. economy? According to a new study the effect of religion exceeds the revenue of the ten largest tech companies—including Apple, Google, Amazon, and Facebook combined.

The study, recently published in the Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion, provides three estimates of the value of faith to U.S. society. The first and most conservative estimate takes into account only the revenues of faith-based organizations falling into several sectors (education, healthcare, local congregational activities, charities, media, and food). The second estimate takes into account the fair market value of congregational social services and contribution of businesses with religious roots. Their third, higher-end estimate based on the annual household incomes of America’s religiously affiliated population.

By their most conservative estimate, the economic contribution of the religion sector to the U.S. society is roughly $378 billion a year: healthcare ($161.0 billion), local congregational activities ($83.8 billion), education ($74.0 billion), charities ($44.3 billion), media ($0.9 billion), and food ($14.4 billion).

At ERLC, I have more more on this study and how they determined how religion affects the economy.