Posts tagged with: heidelberg catechism

AOTDid you miss Acton on Tap? You really shouldn’t miss Acton on Tap. That’s a bad idea. For instance, if you missed last night’s event, you passed up an opportunity to hear Jordan J. Ballor, Executive Editor of the Journal of Markets & Morality and author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action), speak at San Chez Bistro in Grand Rapids, Michigan on the topic of the economics of the Heidelberg Catechism. He focused on Lord’s Days 50, 42, and 38 as the origin, essence, and goal of economic activity, and it was a really worthwhile talk.

But we’re nothing if not forgiving here at Acton, so if you weren’t able to be there, we’re posting the audio of Jordan’s talk below. Enjoy, and watch this space for info on our next Acton on Tap event!

Jordan J. Ballor speaks at Acton On Tap

Jordan J. Ballor speaks on the economics of the Heidelberg Catechism

Call for Papers: “The Spirituality of the Heidelberg Catechism”

June 21-22th 2013, an international conference will take place in Apeldoorn on The Spirituality of the Heidelberg Catechism. The Heidelberg Catechism has a characteristic spirituality, which will be explored from historical and theological perspectives, as part of the commemoration of the 450th anniversary of this Catechism.

Call for Papers: “Scientiae 2013: Disciplines of Knowing in the Early Modern World”

University of Warwick (UK), 18th-20th April 2013. The premise of this conference is that the Scientific Revolution can be considered an interdisciplinary process involving Biblical exegesis, art theory, and literary humanism, as well as natural philosophy, alchemy, occult practices, and trade knowledge. As such, Scientiae will bring together scholars working in the diverse fields associated with early modern knowledge, all taking early-modern science as their common intellectual object. The conference will offer a forum both for the sharing of research and the sparking of new interdisciplinary investigations, and is open to scholars of all levels.

Article: “Nature is Prior to Us: Applying Catholic Social Thought and Anabaptist-Mennonite Theology to the Ethics of Stakeholder Prioritization for the Natural Environment”
Cathy A. Driscoll, Elden Wiebe, and Bruno Dyck, Journal of Religion & Business Ethics

We develop a spiritual and ethical based understanding of stakeholder theory that treats the natural environment as a primary stakeholder. We consider how Catholic social thought and Anabaptist-Mennonite theology can be seen as important resources for stakeholder thought and management, especially as they pertain to the natural environment as a primary stakeholder. We provide a discussion and implications for academics and practitioners in terms of dignifying both ecology and humanity, and creating solidarity between them. We also discuss how managers can become more attuned to the environment as a primary stakeholder through the development of relationships with the land and communities.

Book Review: “Remedying Overstated Assumptions about Governance in the Developing World”
Thomas Risse, ed. Governance without a State? Policies and Politics in Areas of Limited Statehood. New York: Columbia University Press, 2011. Reviewed by Bridget Coggins (Dartmouth College)

Today, effective governance is not the sole provenance of the state. Indeed, it may never have been. From governments unable to provide a stable macroeconomic environment to those that fail to provide the most rudimentary human security to those whose healthcare systems are supplemented by foreign nongovernmental organizations during natural disasters, most people live in areas of “limited statehood” where the state’s domestic sovereignty is circumscribed in some way (pp. 4-5).

Fellowship: “Robert M. Kingdon Fellowship”

Robert M. Kingdon Fellowship, Institute for Research in the Humanities, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Through a generous bequest from Robert M. Kingdon, a distinguished historian of early modern Europe, the Institute offers 1-2 external, academic-year Kingdon Fellowship(s) to scholars outside the University of Wisconsin-Madison working in historical, literary, and philosophical studies of the Judeo-Christian religious tradition and its role in society from antiquity to the present. Projects may focus on any period from antiquity to the present, on any part of the world, and in any field(s) in the humanities; can range widely or focus on a particular issue; and can explore various forms of Jewish and/or Christian traditions; the interaction of one or both of these religious traditions with other religious traditions; and/or the relationship of one or both of these religious traditions to other aspects of society such as power, politics, culture, experience, and creativity.

Pundits and politicians have been having a field day with President Obama’s speech given in Roanoke, Virginia, last Friday. The quote providing the most fodder is the president’s assertion, “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.” (Here are a couple recent examples from Paul Ryan and Larry Kudlow.)

This has been widely understood to mean that the president is saying that if you have a business, you didn’t build it…and certainly not on your own. Earlier this week I pointed out a way of granting that there is some broader truth in the president’s remarks, even if they betray his own largely statist political assumptions.

But what if the “that” in “you didn’t build that” doesn’t refer to the business directly at all? What if instead it refers to the “roads and bridges” the president had just mentioned? Check out the video and decide for yourself:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vz59sXwgoYQ

Still not sure what the “that” refers to? Watch it again. I think the video conveys something the text on its own doesn’t.

The case may not be airtight, but the most natural (and certainly the most charitable) understanding of the “that” in “you didn’t build that” is in reference to the roads and bridges, not the businesses.

Why does this matter? For starters, as Christians its important that we do justice to our responsibilities as expressed in the Ninth Commandment, “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor,” or more commonly simply, “Do not lie.” As the Heidelberg Catechism puts it, one of the positive obligations arising out of this commandment is that I am to “love the truth, speak it candidly, and openly acknowledge it,” as well as to “do what I can to guard and advance my neighbor’s good name.”

I realize that latter duty in particular is often difficult, if not impossible, to fulfill in the context of political campaigning. But if the president didn’t really assert that business people didn’t build their businesses, then it’s wrong to construe his words as if that’s what he meant.

This leads to another reason that it’s important to deal with what the president actually said: many of his own assertions are problematic enough without being turned into something they aren’t. The real problem is that the president simply dichotomizes between market and state, leaving no real room for the institutions of civil society. The real problem is that the president conflates “community” with the “government.”

Charles Krauthammer gets it right: the president’s assertion is about the relationship of infrastructure (and thereby government) to economic growth, not about entrepreneurship as such. The president is attempting to make the case for infrastructure spending, something he’s been keen on for quite some time (remember all those “shovel-ready” jobs?). But as Krauthammer writes:

Obama’s infrastructure argument is easily refuted by what is essentially a controlled social experiment. Roads and schools are the constant. What’s variable is the energy, enterprise, risk-taking, hard work, and genius of the individual. It is therefore precisely those individual characteristics, not the communal utilities, that account for the different outcomes.

The ultimate Obama fallacy, however, is the conceit that belief in the value of infrastructure — and willingness to invest in its creation and maintenance — is what divides liberals from conservatives.

Conservatives do themselves and their cause a disservice when they react so vociferously to a straw man, or to an assertion that was never really made, and thereby miss engagement of the position that is really held.

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, August 16, 2007
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Stanley Cohen, the Martin White Professor of Sociology at the London School of Economics, is quoted as saying that “good intentions become bad practices.”

In his critique of rather lame attempts to realize justice in the world (related to faulty definitions of justice), Herman Bianchi writes, “Even more dubious is another frame in which the formula is often couched: ‘Justice is the constant intention to give everyone his due.’ Never is it said, ‘See to it that everyone really gets his due!’ No, the constant intention apparently suffices; the result of the action is not worth mentioning. As Ovid suggests, ‘though strength may fail, intention should be praised.'” Bianchi concludes that there are many such examples of this kind of thinking in the modern world.

In searching out the source for the disconnect between intentions and consequences, Bianchi has provided us with one classical source (Ovid). I’d like to point to some others, particularly within the Christian tradition, as possible sources for this phenomenon.

One place to look, I think, for a source of the contemporary (typically liberal) valuation of intentions over outcomes is the perfectionist doctrine of John Wesley. One strategy for those who teach that perfect moral action or sinlessness is possible in this life is to restrict the notion of sin into some smaller category than it is generally taken. So, for instance, a literal interpretation of the Decalogue could allow the rich young ruler to claim that he had kept the law from his youth.

Jesus’ presentation of the law in the Sermon on the Mount radicalizes these commandments, to include not only the external aspects of the commandment, but the internal spiritual condition and intention as well. This is where Wesley’s strategy is the precise mirror of that of the legalistic ruler. Where the ruler focused only on the literal commandments, Wesley is concerned with interior intent.

So for Wesley, “Christian Perfection is that love of God and our neighbour, which implies deliverance from all sin.” Sin is narrowly defined here to only include those acts of the will that spring from “envy, malice, wrath, and every unkind temper.” There is a separation here between the intellect and the will, however, so that a defect of the intellect is not to be considered sin, properly speaking. That is, perfect sinlessness consists in the Christian’s “one intention at all times and in all places…not to please himself, but him whom his soul loveth.”

But of course if there is an error in the intellect, but no defect in the will, it is still an evil, and Wesley acknowledges this: “Yet, where every word and action springs from love, such a mistake is not properly a sin. However, it cannot bear the rigour of God’s justice, but needs the atoning blood.” So there are deeds that are not considered sins but still need to be atoned for.

Clearly the great emphasis here is on the purity of intentions and the valuation of motives over consequences. In an extreme version, intention is completely disconnected with effect and consequence. This is what I’m calling Wesley’s ditch, although Wesley is not alone in the Christian tradition on this score. Compare, for instance, Reinhold Niebuhr: “Nothing is intrinsically immoral except ill-will and nothing intrinsically good except good will.”

You do not need to be a consequentialist in order to care about consequences. I submit that Jesus’ teachings on the Sermon on the Mount, in radicalizing the nature of sin to include intentions, motives, and will, do not abandon concern with the intellect, consequences, or external effects. So, says Augustine, “there are two reasons why we sin, either because we do not see what we ought to do, or because we do not do what we know we ought to be done: the first of these evils comes from ignorance, the second from weakness.”

This is why the Heidelberg Catechism, in its description of what meets the qualification for Christian good, includes not only considerations of intentions or motives, but the external norm of God’s law. In answer to the question, “What do we do that is good?”, the Catechism answers: “Only that which arises out of true faith, conforms to God’s law, and is done for his glory; and not that which is based on what we think is right or on established human tradition.”

Good intentions are not enough.

Blog author: jballor
Monday, March 5, 2007
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At the beginning of his journey down from the mountain of enlightenment, Nietzsche’s Zarathustra runs across an old saint living in the forest. The saint confesses to Zarathustra, “Now I love God: men, I do not love. Man is a thing too imperfect for me. Love to man would be fatal to me.”

By contrast to the saint’s view, it has long been the tradition of a major strand of American Christianity that engagement in practical ministry is an important way to express one’s love and devotion for God. But the once vibrant synthesis between doctrine and practice seems to be under serious threat.

In modern times, things have been different: “we take for granted that there must be an absolute divide between vital Christian experience on the one hand, and careful doctrinal theology on the other,” writes Fred Sanders. “To us, action and reflection seem mutually exclusive, especially when it comes to Christian faith.”

Indeed, many post-modern evangelicals or participants in the emerging church movement eschew the importance of doctrine, hearkening rather to the primary importance of acts of love. But either extreme, that doctrine can be separated from practice or vice versa, skews the great Christian tradition in troubling ways. The “absolute divide” between doctrine and practice is a false dichotomy.

Augustine wrote a handbook on faith, hope, and love, illustrating that the Christian religion involves not only things to be believed and hoped for, but also things to be done. The Apostle Paul advised Timothy, “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.”

One of the best examples of the way to relate doctrine and practice in my opinion is the symbol of Reformed Christianity, the Heidelberg Catechism. Dr. Lyle Bierma, professor of systematic theology at Calvin Theological Seminary, writes of the catechism, “The staying power and worldwide popularity of the Heidelberg Catechism can best be explained by this marvelous blend of doctrine and piety.”

For more on how creeds and confessions can function in a contemporary context, check out Carl Trueman’s essay in Reformation21, “A Good Creed Seldom Goes Unpunished.”

You may know that a traditional way of interpreting the Ten Commandments involves articulating both the explicit negative prohibitions as well as the implicit positive duties. So, for example, the sixth commandment prohibiting murder is understood in the Heidelberg Catechism to answer the question, “Is it enough then that we do not kill our neighbor in any such way?” by saying, “No. By condemning envy, hatred, and anger God tells us to love our neighbors as ourselves, to be patient, peace-loving, gentle, merciful, and friendly to them, to protect them from harm as much as we can, and to do good even to our enemies.”

This method of interpretation is not unique to the Reformed, and is also exemplified in the Roman Catholic exposition of the Decalogue in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. See, for example, what the Catechism says in the context of this commandment about the duty toward the human person, including the embryo: it “must be defended in its integrity, cared for, and healed, as far as possible.”

As part of its exposition of the positive duties enjoined by this commdandment, the Heidelberg Catechism states, “I am not to harm or recklessly endanger myself either.”

It is with this in mind that I want to raise the question of the validity of extreme sports. You can see what I consider to be some rather uncritical approaches by Christians to the topic in this cover story from the January 2006 Banner, “Going to the Extreme,” and this from Leadership Journal, “Planes, Chains, and Automobiles,” about the combination of extreme sports and church.

Now clearly this is a matter for prudential judgment. Not all extreme sports are created equal. Snowboarding is probably less dangerous than bungee jumping. It would be much more dangerous for me, an untrained amateur, to try and go climb a mountain than it would be for a trained and seasoned climber.

And surely John Stossel’s observations about the real dangers we face everyday are relevant. When asked to do stories on sensational topics, like exploding BIC lighters, Stossel did some digging to find out what kinds of things really are dangerous. As he writes in Give Me a Break, “I found the accident data fascinating. Turns out hot tap water, stairs, bunk beds, and drowning in bathtubs kills more people than most risks we hysterically warn people about.”

Even so, there’s something about the intentional seeking of danger that is at best morally questionable. This moral reality is I think part of what Stephen King’s story The Running Man is about. Even the most experienced and seasoned extreme sport aficionado cannot eliminate all the risk, and that’s of course part of the appeal. Does attempting to scale Mt. Everest count as reckless endangerment?

Clearly extreme sports are big business, as ESPN now has devoted a lot of coverage to the so-called X Games, and there is even an extreme sports cable channel. But do these sports, at least in some of their permutations, violate the sixth commandment?