Posts tagged with: public square

[Editor's Note: We welcome Ken Larson, a businessman and writer in southern California, to the PowerBlog. A graduate of California State University at Northridge with a major in English, his eclectic career includes editing the first reloading manual for Sierra Bullets and authoring a novel about a family's school choice decisions titled ReEnchantment, which is available on his Web site. For 10 years Ken was the only Protestant on The Consultative School Board for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange near Los Angeles and chaired the inaugural Orange County Business Ethics Conference in support of needy parish schools in the diocese. He enjoys sailing and singing in the choir at the Anglo-Catholic church at which he and his wife worship.]

With Memorial Day and July 4th fast approaching I found myself thinking over the weekend about the recent past.

Several years ago we moved to a tony neighborhood in Orange County, California. At the time it was easily eligible for the term “Reagan Country” but in the last election Obama out polled McCain in our Congressional District. A neighbor had a Hillary fundraiser at her home a few years ago. There’s a lot of soccer on Sunday but our family always opted for church.

Around 1996 I was asked to chair the neighborhood’s July 4th parade. It was one of those tasks that occur in small communities where many folks pitch in to help from time to time and I was flattered at the invitation. But as is the case with lots of things we have the opportunity to participate in, I noticed this parade and the accompanying festivities — a barbecue and day at the beach with food and drinks available — were missing what I knew they needed. They were missing an invocation.

I ran the idea of having a local pastor from the church at the edge of the community where our family worshiped deliver that invocation and the denizen who had tabbed me as chairmen thought it a splendid contribution. Plans went forward with the same old “same old stuff” and I extended an invitation to the cleric. He was available. (more…)

For those concerned with a vigorous intellectual engagement of the religious idea with the secular culture, these past 12 months have been a difficult period.

On February 28, 2008, William F. Buckley, Jr. the intellectual godfather of the conservative movement in America, died. Only last month, Avery Cardinal Dulles, SJ, passed away at 90 years old. Cardinal Dulles was one of the Catholic Church’s most prominent theologians, a thinker of great subtlety, and a descendent from a veritable American Brahmin dynasty.

Father Richard John Neuhaus

The third in this towering intellectual triumvirate is Father Richard John Neuhaus, who died in New York after an on and off again battle with cancer, about which he had written in his now mini-classic, As I Lay Dying: Meditations Upon Returning.

This book is unlike any written in our time in that it is a profoundly serious reflection on questions everyone has, issues everyone thinks about in private, but hardly anyone is willing to speak about or perhaps capable of writing about. Fr. Neuhaus confronts it to the point in which we feel discomfort – and he did this on nearly every issue he wrote about in his long writing career.

How will we be held accountable at death for what we did in life? What does mortality mean? What does it mean to face judgment? How should we live with the questions we have about eternity, and what is the impact on culture and responsibility?

In times past we had a greater clarity about these questions than we do today. Today, if we think about death at all, it is only to keep it as far away as possible, to forestall it, to deny it, and pretend that it doesn’t happen to others and will not happen to us.

Fr. Neuhaus wrote the following:

We are born to die. Not that death is the purpose of our being born, but we are born toward death, and in each of our lives the work of dying is already underway. The work of dying well is, in largest part, the work of living well. Most of us are at ease in discussing what makes for a good life, but we typically become tongue-tied and nervous when the discussion turns to a good death. As children of a culture radically, even religiously, devoted to youth and health, many find it incomprehensible, indeed offensive, that the word ‘good’ should in any way be associated with death. Death, it is thought, is an unmitigated evil, the very antithesis of all that is good. Death is to be warded off by exercise, by healthy habits, by medical advances. What cannot be halted can be delayed, and what cannot forever be delayed can be denied. But all our progress and all our protest notwithstanding, the mortality rate holds steady at 100 percent.

Fascinating, provocative, fearless, counter-cultural, and absolutely impossible to ignore. It puts matters of faith at the center, making them impossible to deny. That is the power of Fr. Neuhaus’s mind at work, and it worked for many decades producing an incredible literary legacy. (more…)

Acton has been called upon from several different outlets to provide commentary and analysis on Mitt Romney’s December 6 “Faith in America” speech. Following is a quick list of links to our various responses (which we’ll keep updated):

Audio:

News:

Background

A new blog has been added to our blogroll sidebar (along with a much-needed round of housecleaning on old and out-of-date links). Announcement below:

The Social Science Research Council is pleased to announce the launch of The Immanent Frame, a new SSRC blog on secularism, religion, and the public sphere.

The blog is opening with a series of posts on Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age, including recent contributions from Robert Bellah, Wendy Brown, Jose Casanova, Elizabeth Shakman Hurd, and Colin Jager. Robert Bellah has called A Secular Age “one of the most important books to be written in my lifetime,” and there will be more to come on Taylor’s major work in the weeks ahead, with posts by Rajeev Bhargava, Akeel Bilgrami, Hent de Vries, Amy Hollywood, Tomoko Masuzawa, Joan Scott, and others. Meanwhile, Charles Taylor himself has just made his own contribution to the already ongoing conversations.

But The Immanent Frame won’t be limited to discussions of A Secular Age. Later this fall we’ll also host a series of posts responding to Mark Lilla’s The Stillborn God: Religion, Politics, and the Modern West. And there will be posts on a variety of other topics too-from pluralism and the “post-secular” to international relations theory, religious freedom, and the future of shari’a.

This new SSRC blog will draw on, and is closely linked to, the Council’s expanding work on religion and the public sphere. We invite readers to email us with comments or questions at religion@ssrc.org.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Saturday, November 18, 2006

Got back from the annual ETS meeting yesterday and finally have a chance to sit down and summarize the events of the last couple days. Thursday morning was highlighted by parallel sessions. I attended one on Melanchthon and his shifting view of free will, in addition to papers on economic imagery in the Scriptures and the prospects for natural law theory as a strategy for political discourse. The latter was part of a session that revolved around evangelicals and natural law, and began with a paper presented by Acton’s Stephen Grabill, author of Rediscovering the Natural Law in Reformed Theological Ethics.

The plenary session on Thursday at the lunchtime hour featured a talk by prominent radio host and blogger Hugh Hewitt, who gave an exciting overview of the power of new media. Hewitt also spoke about the views evangelicals have toward the participation of those from other religious and theological traditions in governing. Using the case of Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who is Mormon, in particular, Hewitt challenged those in the audience to respond to him via email in their answer to this question: “Would you vote for a Mormon president?”

The afternoon sessions I attended revolved around the relationship between liberal Protestant theology and the rise of National Socialism in Germany. These were very informative and valuable papers, and generally highlighted the possibility that existed for liberal theology to be co-opted by neo-pagan Nazis, while also underscoring the fact that there is no necessary logical connection between liberal theology and National Socialism. All this is contra, for instance, the view of Karl Barth, which I juxtapose with the view of Dietrich Bonhoeffer in my recent article, “The Aryan clause, the Confessing Church, and the ecumenical movement: Barth and Bonhoeffer on natural theology, 1933–1935,” Scottish Journal of Theology 59, no. 3 (August 2006): 263-280.

I attended a lecture sponsored by Crossway Books given by John Piper, which focused on William Tyndale’s efforts to translate the Bible into English from the best contemporary Hebrew and Greek editions available at the time. Thursday night was a dinner and plenary address by outgoing ETS president Edwin Yamauchi, who has been at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio since 1969. This marked the end of the formal events I participated in, as I left to return to Grand Rapids early yesterday morning. Since Friday was pretty much a travel day for me, there’s not much of interest to tell.

All in all, my experience at ETS was excellent, having learned a great deal from the papers presented as well as meeting new folks or putting faces to names that I had only previously met via email or the Internet. I look forward to attending and participating in future ETS meetings.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, November 16, 2006

Things were busy here yesterday at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in Washington, D.C. With over 1800 registered attendees and 600+ papers being presented, the ideas are flying fast and furious. My paper on Bonhoeffer’s views of church and state went well. A few people asked me to send them copies of the paper, so expect a series of blog posts containing the text in coming days (once I clean up the textual apparatus).

One highlight of the day was the brief chance to visit the exhibitor’s booths. There are some great book deals to be had. In fact, Stephen Grabill’s book, Rediscovering the Natural Law in Reformed Theological Ethics, sold out in an hour and a half! (Never fear, you can get yours from the Acton Book Shoppe today.)

Last night J. Budziszewski delivered a challenging and thoughtful plenary address on competing views of tolerance. He juxtaposed what he calls the classical/patristic view over against the modern/liberal grounding of tolerance, finding in favor of the former over the latter.

I also found out yesterday that another Acton adjunct scholar, Eric Schansberg, is giving a paper today, so that can be added to the slate of Acton activities at ETS (updated here). Today’s schedule is full again, starting bright and early with sessions beginning at 8:30 am.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, November 14, 2006

A number of us who are affiliated with the Acton Institute in various ways will be traveling to Washington, D.C. this week to attend the 58th annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, “Christians in the Public Square.”

I hope to bring you updates from some of the more interesting and engaging presentations. With that in mind, for your interest below are the papers scheduled to be given by Acton scholars:

Wednesday, November 15

E. Calvin Beisner, “Scientific Orthodoxies, Politicized Science, and Catastrophic Global Warming: Challenges to Evangelicals Navigating Rough Waters in Science and Policy,” 2:30-3:10 pm (Jr. Exec. C: “The Church in the Public Square”).

Jordan J. Ballor, “Bonhoeffer on Church and State,” 2:30-3:10 pm (Georgetown West: “Church History and Historical Theology”).

Thursday, November 18

Stephen J. Grabill, “Evangelical Public Theology and Natural Law: Rediscovering the Theological Resources of the Reformation,” 8:30-9:10 am (Hemisphere: “Natural Law and Evangelical Theology”).

Jay Richards, “Don’t Just Care. Think: Fallacies Christians Believe about Wealth and Poverty,” 8:30-9:10 am (Adams: “Ethics, Politics, and the Public Square”).

D. Eric Schansberg, “Turn Neither to the Right nor to the Left: A Consistent Christian Philosophy of Government,” 2:10-2:50 pm (Adams: “Ethics, Politics, and the Public Square”).

Friday, November 17

Anthony B. Bradley, “Beyond Bono and Jim Wallis: Politics and Economics For Post-Conservative Social Justice,” 10:00-10:40 am (Monroe East: “Ethics, Politics, and the Public Square”).

Anthony B. Bradley, “Emerging Ethos Does Not Mean Anti-Traditional Theology,” 10:50-11:30 am (Monroe East: “Pastoral Theology Study Group”).

If you’re planning on attending, please stop by and hear the ones that interest you.

In my previous article, Part One, I showed how a conservative political and social movement has evolved over the past fifty years in America and how the evangelical church began to get involved in this movement. This movement led to what has been commonly called the “Christian Right.” This abused, and misused word, is now used to disparage almost everything conservatives attempt to do in the larger culture. The result of this political debate over the past thirty years has been an increased partisanship in America that threatens to derail the church both missionally and culturally. As a result we seem to have reduced the public witness of the church to support for the Republican Party, or at least to a set of a few talking point issues, in some cases. It is time to take a new look at all this and ask, “How do we engage the public square in a more effective way?”

(Continue reading the rest of the article at the ACT 3 website…)

John H. Armstrong is founder and director of ACT 3, a ministry aimed at "encouraging the church, through its leadership, to pursue doctrinal and ethical reformation and to foster spiritual awakening."

The role of evangelicals in the public square has been a major development in American life over the past twenty-five or thirty years. A recent spate of popular books has looked at this phenomenon very critically. The number of books from the political and religious left, arguing against the rise of the newer evangelical right, makes for a full shelf of books by now. Most of these popular and poorly written books sound like dire warnings about a coming religious takeover of the country. (Do not fear, blue state America is still pretty strong and this feared religious change is about as likely as a snow storm in Chicago on July 4th!)

The actual history behind all of this is really much more interesting than the fears. Historically, fundamentalism led conservative churches in America, since the 1920s, to pull away from public life in general, especially from politics. While mainline liberalism embraced a “social gospel,” evangelicals gave up on social and public involvement almost entirely. (The late evangelical scholar Carl F. H. Henry called upon evangelicals to re-enter the public sphere, writing several important books to that effect, more than fifty years ago, but few listened seriously to his intelligent plea until the popular revolts of 1980s gained traction.) In addition to this tendency to react to liberalism social gospel emphasis, evangelicals also developed escapist and over-realized millennial theories that fed a basic social passivity about the culture. This emphasis said, in effect, “Christ is coming soon so our only role in culture is to rescue as many souls as possible before he comes.” Many liberal Christians continued to engage the political process, even embracing a politics of personal destruction by the 1960s. But evangelicals, at least in my early years, saw politics as “dirty business” and not worth their time as serious Christ-centered Christians.

(Continue reading the rest of the article at the ACT 3 website…)

John H. Armstrong is founder and director of ACT 3, a ministry aimed at "encouraging the church, through its leadership, to pursue doctrinal and ethical reformation and to foster spiritual awakening."