Given our tendency to veer too far in either direction (stewardship or economics), and to confine our Christian duties to this or that sphere of life, the diagram is particularly helpful in demonstrating the overall interconnectedness of things.
Over at the Kern Pastors Network blog, Greg Forster uses The Locust Effect – Gary Haugen’s new book on violence, poverty, and human trafficking – as a springboard for discussing the reach and interconnectedness of various Christian commitments.
“The moral commitments that mobilize evangelicals to fight human trafficking have much broader application,” he writes, “and point to the possibility of a larger Christian vision for the public square.”
Yet, for whatever reason, we continue to stall when it comes to expanding, integrating, and applying things such a direction:
These days, trafficking is the only public issue evangelical leaders are comfortable identifying as a gospel imperative. As a result, our people are highly mobilized and accomplishing a lot. On every other public issue, however, we’re paralyzed by endless debates. There are no shared commitments, nothing we’re allowed to agree on; there is only division between the Right and the Left. So we produce a lot of heated rhetoric, and nothing gets done…
…This perpetual division over everything has to change if the gospel is going to speak to the culture, if Christians are going to have an impact in the public square, and if local churches are going to be forces for flourishing in their communities. The human trafficking issue proves there is a way out of this dilemma, because it shows that we do have shared moral commitments. “The Locust Effect” is a good example of how to apply those commitments beyond just trafficking. The Kern Pastors Network, the Oikonomia Network, and others who are working to integrate faith, work, and economics can carry these principles even further.
Forster proceeds accordingly, applying such commitments to the realms of work and economics. (more…)
“Christianity can and should be a leading influence in human culture,” says Greg Forster, “We do this not by seizing control of the institutions of culture and imposing Christianity on people by force, but by acting as cultural entrepreneurs.” A prime example of a cultural entrepreneur in the Bible, notes Forster, was Job:
Job was a cultural leader because he served human needs. The connection is reinforced in the following verses, where Job seamlessly transitions back from his deeds of service to his position of cultural leadership. “Men listened to me and waited and kept silence for my counsel…” etc.
We become cultural leaders not by seizing control of institutions but by inventing new ways of serving human needs and proving that they work better than the anti-Christian alternatives. We are able to invent new ways of serving human needs because the Spirit has empowered and equipped us in unique ways – through the revelation of the Bible that gives us “inside information” about how the world works, and through the transformation of our hearts and lives. When Christians and Christian institutions serve human needs better than secularists and anti-Christian institutions do, people stop looking to them for leadership and start looking to us.
Christian’s Library Press has just released the first-ever English translation of Abraham Kuyper’s Our Program (Ons Program), under the title Guidance for Christian Engagement in Government.
First published in 1879, Ons Program served as an outline for Kuyper’s Anti-Revolutionary Party. As Greg Forster argues in his endorsement, the work is as “equally profound and equally consequential” as Edmund Burke’s response to the French Revolution. Read additional praise for the book here.
To celebrate the release, CLP will be giving away three copies of the book. To enter, use the interface below. There are three ways to enter, and each will increase your odds. The contest will end Thursday night at 11:59 p.m.
A Translation of Abraham Kuyper's "Our Program"
For Labor Day weekend, Peggy Noonan wrote a column pointing to the critical connection between the spiritual value of work and the moral strength of our culture. But as Greg Forster notes, her “search for a beacon of hope that can point us back toward the dignity of work, she neglects the church in favor of less promising possibilities.”
In her column, she argues that to restore dignity and hope to our culture, we need politicians who celebrate – sincerely, not as a focus-group-tested messaging gimmick – the extraordinary possibilities of work, enterprise, and entrepreneurship to transform our lives and our culture for the better. I think she’s right that politicians who did that would be a positive cultural force. However, turning to politicians as our primary cultural hope is a mistake.
As Willard pointed out, the very fact that we mostly turn to politicians to tell us what the good life is – and to provide it for us – is itself a sign that we’ve turned away from God. We will never get away from catastrophic political conflict as long as people turn mainly to politicians when they seek hope. Government has an important social role to play, of course, and not just in forbidding force and fraud – libertarianism is as much a false hope as socialism. But “the American character” will never recover until we look to pastors as our primary guides and teachers in building a culture (which includes the economic system) that provides hope, dignity, and flourishing.
Noonan herself laments that “the old priests used to say” that “to work is to pray.” Why then does she now look only for politicians to say it? Are there no more pastors? Are today’s pastors incapable of saying it, mired in a truncated vision of their role in our lives, permanently stricken with prophetic laryngitis? Or is it that we no longer believe pastors matter?
A new report by Greg Forster of the Friedman Foundation finds that of all the “gold standard” research on children who utilize school vouchers, 11 of 12 studies conclude all or some of those students achieve better educational outcomes. No study found choice participants were worse off than those remaining in traditional public schools:
The evidence points clearly in one direction. Opponents frequently claim school choice does not benefit participants, hurts public schools, costs taxpayers, facilitates segregation, and even undermines democracy. However, the empirical evidence consistently shows that choice improves academic outcomes for participants and public schools, saves taxpayer money, moves students into more integrated classrooms, and strengthens the shared civic values and practices essential to American democracy.
These results are not difficult to explain. School choice improves academic outcomes by allowing students to find the schools that best match their needs, and by introducing healthy competition that keeps schools mission-focused. It saves money by eliminating administrative bloat and rewarding good stewardship of resources. It breaks down the barriers of residential segregation, drawing students together from diverse communities. And it strengthens democracy by accommodating diversity, de-politicizing the curriculum, and allowing schools the freedom to sustain the strong institutional cultures that are necessary to cultivate democratic virtues such as honesty, diligence, achievement, responsibility, service to others, civic participation, and respect for the rights of others.
Over at the Hang Together blog, Greg Forster takes a long look at the images of the gospel as “pearl” and “leaven” and the implications for Christian engagement and creation of culture, particularly within the context of the Great Commission and the Cultural Mandate:
The main difficulty we seem to have in discussing Christian cultural activity is the strain between two anxieties. These anxieties create unnecessary divisions between brothers, because those who are more worried about making sure the gospel is leaven view those who are more worried about making sure the gospel is pearl as people who are leading the church astray, and vice versa. We treat people as opponents when we could be treating them as allies, if we could just get over our fears.
The question of what it means to be a Christian line worker on a factory floor gets precisely at many of the thorny issues that have led to so many debates, disputes, and controversies over cultural engagement (or transformation), the “two kingdoms,” natural law, and faith and work.
In an effort to foster goodwill amid fiscal cliff negotiations, Starbucks aimed to send a message to Congress by instructing its D.C.-area employees to write “Come Together” on every cup of coffee sold.
“Room for smarm in your latte?”Isn’t there something creepy about Starbucks’ CEO Howard Schultz having [in Politico's words] “asked his Washington-area employees to write ‘Come Together’ on each customer cup today, tomorrow and Friday, as a gesture to urge leaders to resolve the fiscal cliff”? Did Schultz take a poll of his employees–sorry, “partners,” he calls them–before ordering pressuring asking them to join in this lobbying effort? What if he were, say, the CEO of Chick-fil-A and he “asked” his “partners” to write “Preserve the Family” on the outside of cups and containers?
…if you go to work for a HuffPo outfit like AOL or Patch, that’s the sort of thing you’d expect. But Starbucks? Maybe Schultz’s baristas came for the (admirable) health benefits, not because they wanted to join him in some mushy Tom Brokawish corporate budget crusade.
Over at the Hang Together blog, Greg Forster says not so fast, arguing that although many businesses “don’t currently do a good job of stewarding their cultural role,” it’s largely because “we’ve spent more than half a century trying to teach businesses to pretend they’re not moral and cultural.”
For Forster, we should “set businesses free to be culture makers,” not tie them down. As cheesy, ineffective, or “creepy” as the Starbucks campaign may be (it’s all of the above, in my opinion), only when we’re comfortable with the inherent cultural purpose of business will we be able to “re-humanize” companies accordingly. (more…)
The “culture war” is going to determine the future direction of evangelical political engagement, says Greg Forster. But Forster wonders why we can’t fight for justice in politics and build civic solidarity with our unbelieving neighbors:
We have a moral imperative to be the church militant and fight for justice; we also have a moral imperative not to impose Christianity on people by force. God did not create a chaotic universe. Therefore, a way to do both at the same time must exist. Our job is to find it.
I am a political guy and always have been. Politics affects every aspect of human life. The things we say and do in politics are the most important single factor controlling what people throughout society perceive to be just and unjust. That’s why we have such an important responsibility both to be involved in politics and also to keep our involvement faithful to real justice.
However, I have also come to realize how dangerous it is when political people like myself start to view everything in society as merely “downstream” from politics. Church, family, the economy, and other social spheres also have an effect on every aspect of human life, just as much as politics does. We have to preserve the integrity of these other spheres rather than merely subordinating them to politics.
On Nov. 18, at the General Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in Atlanta, Gene Edward Veith of Patrick Henry College gave a lecture titled, “Vocation: The Doctrine of Christian Life.” In the lecture, he explains why theological educators can’t fulfill their own vocation until they recover the vocations of those around them. The lecture was sponsored by the Oikonomia Network, a project of the Kern Family Foundation, dedicated to integrating discipleship with everyday life by developing a biblical perspective on work and economics. The event was hosted by Greg Forster, the Foundation’s program director for American history, economics and religion.
Gene Edward Veith is the Provost and Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity and culture.