I had the opportunity today to take part in a discussion on the BBC program World Have Your Say, discussing the recent suspension by the Vatican of the Bishop of Limbu, Germany, Franz-Peter Tebartz-van-Elst, known in the German press as the “bishop of bling.” He is under investigation regarding expenditures of 31 million euros (roughly $41 million) for the renovation of the historic building that served, in part, as his residence. This story (which can be read here) served as a springboard for the broader question: Should religious leaders live a modest life?
I have written in the past on Christianity and wealth (here and here), and I think the discussion was quite fruitful and thankfully free of strong contention.
One point I wish had been examined a little more (though it is briefly mentioned at the end) is that of redemption. Much was said of how one needs to handle one’s wealth well, but little was said of what hope there may be for someone who has misused their wealth or even who may simply be overly attached to it. While Christ warned, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God,” he continues to condition this statement by saying, “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible” (Mark 10:25, 27). As St. Paul writes, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9) — rich in holiness and virtue, heavenly treasures that do not wear out.
Listen to the interview at BBC World Service here.
While many Americans are struggling to navigate healthcare.gov and some are fighting against the Affordable Care Act’s threat to religious liberty, an estimated 100,000 people are exempt from the legislation as members of a health care sharing ministry (HCSM); these organizations offer the opportunity for individuals with similar beliefs to share their health care costs.
HCSMs are not insurance companies, but nonprofit religious organizations that receive no government funding. Andrea Miller, the medical director for Medi-Share, one HCSM in the U.S., explained in a recent interview with NPR how the ministry works: (more…)
Peter Greer has spent his life doing good, from serving refugees in the Congo to leading HOPE International, a Christian-based network of microfinance institutions operating in 16 countries around the world. Yet as he argues in his latest book, The Spiritual Danger of Doing Good, “service and charity have a dark side.”
As a study from Fuller Seminary concluded, only one out of three biblical leaders finished well, despite the good they accomplished during their lifetimes. How can Christians avoid the spiritual dangers that persist in pursuing the good of our neighbors?
Greer’s book offers plenty of answers, and in an interview with On Call in Culture, he was kind enough to offer a glimpse.
As a young man, you noticed a certain brokenness in the aid industry—manipulation, phoniness, failure to uphold the dignity the human person. Yet you began to recognize these same traits within your own heart. Why does the position of the heart matter? Why isn’t it good enough to get busy?
In 2002, a volcano erupted in Congo. I went to help. Up high on a platform, I handed out blankets to refugees. And a photographer was snapping photos. But I wasn’t thinking about the refugees. My thought was: I can’t wait until people back home see these photos of me.
That moment helped me see how it’s possible to appear to be serving God but actually be making our service all about us. Unless we rediscover why we serve, our service can become a way to promote our image, heightening vanity and pride. (more…)
Often many on the political right believe that reform or change in the country is just one election or another president away. Some declare another Ronald Reagan can fix America’s problems, but entirely miss that there may be no culture left to support a president like Reagan. For almost every problem in this nation, there is not a political solution that will make any lasting impact or change for the better. This point is entirely missed by so many during all the political debates and shouting matches today. Politics is becoming a mere distraction from the deeper problems. Washington D.C. is the obvious and best example of this fact.
Today we are living through the dissolution of the greater truths that once permeated Western Culture. We are living through a repaganizing of the West that was transformed and lifted up by Christendom. It’s odd to think about the fact we are living through this very monumental time in history and most people are missing it or unaware of it entirely.
Only spiritual enlightenment and a recovery of these truths can transform society and culture today. The evangelistic and holiness revivals in 18th century England completely reformed an amoral and unjust culture. Many historians have concluded that it alone prevented another bloody revolution in that nation.
Below are excerpted remarks from then Vice President Calvin Coolidge to the New York State Convention of the Y.M.C.A. in Albany, New York in 1923. The title of the address is “The Place of Religion in National Life.” There is not a full copy of the address online but you can find it in The Price of Freedom: Speeches and Addresses by Coolidge.
If you follow national politics closely today you may find it odd to hear a political leader speak confidently about universal truths when it comes to government, man, and society. Unfortunately, we don’t normally hear this kind of language from American leaders today. But it’s a valuable reminder of the significance of religious revival if there is going to be any change in the culture, institutions, or government. Coolidge powerfully makes the point that culture drives law and politics. Change and progress ultimately is born in the human heart and does not emanate from the halls or palaces of power.
When we explore the real foundation of our institutions, of their historical development or their logical support, we come very soon to the matter of religious belief. It was the great religious awakening of the sixteenth century that brought about the political awakening of the seventeenth century. The American Revolution was preceded by the great religious revival of the middle of the eighteenth, which had its effect both in England and in the colonies. When the common people turned to the reading of the Bible, as they did in the Netherlands and in England, when they were stirred by a great revival, as they were in the days of the preaching of Edwards and Whitfield, the way was prepared for William, for Cromwell, and for Washington. It was because religion gave the people a new importance and a new glory that demanded a new freedom and a new government. We cannot in our generation reject the cause and retain the same result.
If the institutions they adopted are to survive, if the governments which they founded are to endure, it will be because the people continue to have similar religious beliefs. It is idle to discuss freedom and equality on any other basis. It is useless to expect substantial reforms from any other motive. They cannot be administered from without they must come from within. That is why laws alone are so impotent. To enact or to repeal laws is not to secure reform. It is necessary to take these problems directly to the individual. There will be a proper use of our material prosperity when the individual feels a divine responsibility. There will be a broadening scholarship when the individual feels that science, literature, and history are the revelation of divine truths. There will be obedience to law when the individual feels the government represents a divine authority.
It is these beliefs, these religious convictions, that represent the strength of America, the strength of all civilized society.
This encouraging & enlightening book provides us with the direction to achieve our goals & find fulfillment while maintaining our personal freedom & integrity. Dick DeVos, President of Amway, shows us how the values that make America great can be incorporated into our daily lives.
Last week the ruling party of the province of Quebec, Parti Québécois, unveiled a new charter which would prohibit public employees from wearing overt religious garb. The document states:
We propose to prohibit the wearing of overt and conspicuous religious symbols by state personnel in carrying out their duties. This restriction would reflect the state’s neutrality.
Included in their examples of “conspicuous signs would not be allowed to state personnel” is the dastar, the turban worn by Sikh men. The problem with such a prohibition, as Brandon Watson explains, is that banning the dastar makes the religious symbolism of Sikhism even more overt: (more…)
It’s become increasingly common for Christians to openly ponder and discuss the ways in which we might glorify God through our work. Yet even with this newfound attention, it can be easy to forget that the very businesses launched to harness and facilitate such work are themselves declaring the glory of God, albeit in subtle, unspoken ways.
In an essay posted at Christianity 9 to 5, author and theologian Wayne Grudem explores this angle a bit further, affirming the variety of ways we can glorify God through business — worship, evangelism, generosity, faith — but focusing more closely on one in particular: the act of imitating God. “God created us so that we would imitate him,” Grudem writes, “and so that he could look at us and see something of his wonderful attributes reflected in us.”
To imitate God is to glorify him, Grudem argues, and business, in its basic design and function, has enormous potential to imitate God through a variety of activities. Grudem offers the following five.
1. Producing Goods
We know that producing goods from the earth is fundamentally good in itself because it is part of the purpose for which God put us on the earth. Before there was sin in the world, God put Adam in the garden of Eden “to work it and keep it” (Gen. 2:15), and God told both Adam and Eve, before there was sin, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen. 1:28). The word translated “subdue” (Hebrew: kabash) implies that Adam and Eve should make the resources of the earth useful for their own benefit, and this implies that God intended them to develop the earth so they could come to own agricultural products and animals, then housing and works of craftsmanship and beauty, and eventually buildings, means of transportation, cities, and inventions of all sorts. (more…)
The piece explores in some depth the point that tithing is really about the radical call to Christian generosity, pointing to the biblical example of the Macedonian church: “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Corinthians 9:7)”
I was just reading from the Little House books last night to my son, and one of the chapters I read included the narrative of Laura’s missionary church in western Minnesota as the recipient of Christmas gifts from a church in the more established parts of eastern Minnesota:
There had never been such a Christmas as this. It was such a large, rich Christmas, the whole church full of Christmas. There were so many lamps, so many people, so much noise and laughter, and so many happinesses in it. Laura felt full and bursting, as if that whole big rich Christmas were inside her, and her mittens and her beautiful jewel-box with the wee gold cup-and-saucer and teapot, and her candy and her popcorn ball.
Giving can really mean the world to the recipient, and it is a significant spiritual exercise and discipline for the giver as well.
If American Christians simply gave a tithe rather than the current one-quarter of a tithe, there would be enough private Christian dollars to provide basic health care and education to all the poor of the earth. And we would still have an extra $60-70 billion left over for evangelism around the world.
As I’ve said before, seeing evangelism as something for “leftovers” isn’t quite right, but the point still stands that to whom much has been given, much is expected. And American Christians have certainly been given much.
In this week’s commentary, “Made to Trade,” I explore the natural dispositions that human beings have to produce, exchange, consume, and distribute material goods.
If you’ve ever noticed that a sandwich made by someone else tastes better than one you make yourself, you’ll know what I’m getting at: “Recognizing the satisfaction that comes from such a gift of service from another person illustrates an other-directed disposition that is a deep and constitutive part of human nature.”
There is a gracious foundation for giving and receiving, whether in the form of gifts and distributions or in exchange. As Benedict XVI writes in Caritas in Veritate, “Gratuitousness is present in our lives in many different forms, which often go unrecognized because of a purely consumerist and utilitarian view of life. The human being is made for gift, which expresses and makes present his transcendent dimension.”
Sometimes I think the ideas of gift and exchange can be too radically distinguished. Benedict describes a gift as something that “by its nature goes beyond merit, its rule is that of superabundance.” The relationship between love and justice, or between charity and merit, is complex and difficult to hold in proper balance. Emphasis of one at the expense of the other leads to errors of antinomianism or legalism.
What is clear, however, is the gracious foundation of all of our economics activities derive from God’s providential ordering. We give, receive, “truck, barter, and exchange,” as a manifestation of the constitutive sociality of our human nature, created in God’s image, male and female.
The Very Reverend Dr. Chad Hatfield, Chancellor of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, echoed the Rabbi Cohen’s statements, telling CNA that “I think that there is a clamp-down on religious liberty in this country, but it’s so incredibly simple that we aren’t catching the signs.”
“If one religious identity’s freedoms are taken, then all suffer,” he added.
He warned, however, against over-correction, such as moves by the Russian Orthodox Church to establish Russian Orthodoxy as the official state religion. “There is a problem when the Church relies on the fist of Caesar to protect it rather than the loving hand of Jesus,” he cautioned, although he noted that “the government should guarantee us our freedom to express ourselves.”
In a recent interview with Peter Enns, author and theologian N.T. Wright notes that in America, “the spectrum of liberal conservative theology tends often to sit rather closely with the spectrum of left and right in politics,” whereas, in other places, this is not quite the case:
In England, you will find that people who are very conservative theologically by what we normally mean conservative in other words, believing in Jesus, believing in his death and resurrection, believing in the trinity are often the ones who are in the forefront of passionate and compassionate social concern of a sort which if were you to transport it to America would say, oh, that’s a bit left wing.
I think what I want to do is to uncouple some of the connections which people have routinely made, particularly in America, and to say actually the whole idea of a spectrum, whether it’s theological or political, is probably very misleading because there are all sorts of insights that we need. We need to get them from bits of the Bible we don’t normally expect and perhaps from people in bits of the church we don’t normally expect.
Such liberal/conservative match-ups certainly exist, and tend to differ regionally as Wright indicates. But I’m not so sure the mere existence of such differences provides all that special of an occasion for “uncoupling” one’s connections. Though I can appreciate certain aspects of Wright’s various attempts to prod us outside of claustrophobic spectrum-think, he’d do well to stretch his own legs while he’s at it.
I, for one, have read far too many of Wright’s books and lectures, absorbing striking insights and compelling exegesis, only to find out by chapter 4 or 5 that all of his enriching talk of “putting the world to rights” crumbles apart in basic application. But alas, where I come from, being “in the forefront of passionate and compassionate social concern” is, well, a bit right wing. (more…)