Posts tagged with: protestantism

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, December 28, 2016
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Makers FrontIn this week’s Acton Commentary I examine the foundations of what is today identified as the “preferential option for the poor” in writings that appeared 125 years ago, Pope Leo’s Rerum Novarum and Abraham Kuyper’s “The Social Question and the Christian Religion.” These two texts have appeared in an anniversary volume, Makers of Modern Christian Social Thought: Leo XIII and Abraham Kuyper on the Social Question, now available from the Acton Book Shop.

In the introduction to that volume, I touch on important themes that arise from these foundational texts, such as subsidiarity, solidarity, sphere sovereignty, stewardship, and property. In today’s essay, “The Christian Preference for the Poor,” I examine another theme that runs throughout both texts: the overt concern for the marginalized that is required within the context of any social order.

As Leo and Kuyper both observe, the wealthy, the well-connected, and the powerful can fare well under any regime. They can help to shape or reform laws and policies in their favor. But the poor and the marginalized have little influence and are least able to draw on their own reserves, whether capital or otherwise, in times of need.
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thomas-odenThomas Oden, considered by many to be one of the premier Methodist theologians in America, died yesterday at the age of 85.

Oden was the author of numerous theological works, including the three-volume systematic theology The Word of Life, Life in the Spirit, and The Living God. He also served as the director of the Center for Early African Christianity at Eastern University, St. Davids, Pennsylvania, and was the general editor for both the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture and the Ancient Christian Doctrine series.

As Mark Tooley says, Oden “was uniquely distinguished and admired not just within Methodism but also within wider Protestantism, evangelicalism, and even among Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox. He was arguably one of America’s most important Christian theologians over the last 50 years.”

In 2011 Ray Nothstine interviewed Oden for the Acton Institute’s Religion & Liberty:
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6cdb603ec737f3efb860aedefd6e4b88In the newly translated Pro Rege: Living Under Christ the King, Volume 1, Abraham Kuyper reminds us that Christ is not only prophet and priest, but also king, challenging us to reflect on what it means to live under that kingship in a fallen world.

Written with the aim of “removing the separation between our life inside the church and our life outside the church,” Kuyper reminds us that “Christ’s being Savior does not exclude his being Lord,” and that this reality transforms our responses in every corner of cultural engagement, both inside the church walls in across business, educations, the arts, and so on.

Kuyper was writing to the church in the Netherlands over 100 years ago, but over at Gentle Reformation, Barry York helpfully connects the dots to the American context, particularly as it relates to the current debates over religious liberty and our lopsided emphasis on worship within the church.

“You can sing whatever you want in church, but you can’t come out of church and act on those beliefs—at least not with any special protection from the law,” York writes, pointing to a recent doctrine from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. “That legal viewpoint—already put into action in recent court and regulatory rulings—threatens public funding and tax breaks that now support Christian colleges, K-12 schools, poverty-fighting organizations and other charities.” (more…)

Appletons' Wesley John.jpg

By Jacques Reich (undoubtedly based on a work by another artist) – Appletons’ Cyclopædia of American Biography, 1900, v. 5, p. 438, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8565386

“You are the spring that puts all the rest in motion; they would not stir a step without you.”

John Wesley (1703–1791) was talking about the slave trade and was impugning the buyers and owners of slaves as equally culpable as those who captured and sold them, those who “would not stir a step” without buyers for their wares.

But his observation applies to all transactions in a market economy, whether morally permissible or impermissible. The customer is king, whether he is buying illegal drugs or organic, cage-free eggs.

Recognizing the primacy of the buyer in the market economy is a key step in making appropriate moral judgments as well as formulating sound public policy.

work-life“If all of our working and all of our resting serves the same vocation of love, why do we so often feel out of balance?”

In a recent talk for the Oikonomia Network, author and church historian Dr. Chris Armstrong offers a fascinating exploration of the question, challenging the common Christian responses on “work-life balance” and offering a holistic framework for vocation, service, and spiritual devotion.

Recounting a situation where he himself was faced with frustrations about work and family life, Armstrong recalls the advice he received from his church at the time: “You need work-life balance,” they said, or, “You just need to put God first, family second, and work third.”

Despite the popularity of such refrains, Armstrong suggests there may be a deeper tension at play, pointing to the Apostle Paul’s famous admonition to the Colossians: “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord.” (more…)

Lehner_CatholicActon Research Director Samuel Gregg reviews a new book at the Library of Law and Liberty that demolishes the canard that religious figure were “somehow opposed holus bolus to Enlightenment ideas is one that has been steadily discredited over the last 50 years.” In his review of The Catholic Enlightenment: The Forgotten History of a Global Movement by by Ulrich L. Lehner, Gregg points out that the new book shows how “the Enlightenment argument for freedom was embraced by many Catholic Enlighteners.”

One of Lehner’s central themes is that the roots of Catholic Enlightenment thought are to be found in that most reforming of Church councils: the Council of Trent (1545-1563). Trent’s impact in terms of clarifying church dogmas and doctrines, curbing laxity among the clergy, implementing an extensive seminary and university reform program, and propelling the rise of dynamic religious orders (to name just a few changes) is hard to underestimate. Trent facilitated the development of a thoroughly orthodox, intellectually rigorous, and disciplined clergy; a renewed emphasis upon addressing social and economic problems; a repudiation of superstitious customs; and, perhaps most significantly, an emphasis that lay people were also called to holiness. This idea pervades, for instance, Saint Francis de Sales’ immensely influential Introduction to the Devout Life (1609).

Trent was therefore about improvement. And comprehensive efforts to better the human condition was a central leitmotif of the various Enlightenments and one to which, Lehner shows, many Catholics were naturally well-disposed. In some areas, such as enhancing women’s legal status and education, it turns out that Catholic reformers were well ahead of their Protestant and more secular-minded counterparts. (more…)

I was reading through Abraham Kuyper’s inaugural speech at the founding of the Free University in Amsterdam, in which he lays out his vision of “sphere sovereignty,” and this passage struck me as particularly noteworthy. It is reminiscent of the appeal that Aslan makes to the “Deeper Magic” wrought at the dawn of creation in Narnia (and by which, incidentally, he overcomes the tyrannical claims to absolute sovereignty made by the White Witch):

Sphere sovereignty defending itself against State sovereignty: that is the course of world history even back before the Messiah’s sovereignty was proclaimed. For though the Royal Child of Bethlehem protects sphere sovereignty with His shield, He did not create it. It existed of old. It lay in the order of creation, in the structure of human life; it was there before State sovereignty arose.

Kuyper goes on to say much more about sphere sovereignty, including the historical form the struggle between sphere and State sovereignty has taken.

Read “Sphere Sovereignty” in Abraham Kuyper: A Centennial Reader, ed. James D. Bratt (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998). There’s also another version of the speech available here.

And check out more details on the ongoing work of the Abraham Kuyper Translation Society.