As we head into the fall of 2014, the world seems to be a very dark and uncertain place for those who practice the Christian faith. Between the rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria (and the resulting slaughter and displacement of Christians in the middle east) and the seemingly relentless advance of secularism and rejection of traditional Christian values in the West, many Christians are wondering how Christianity can survive and advance in our modern world. In this edition of Radio Free Acton, Acton Institute Co-Founder and President Rev. Robert A. Sirico talks on this topic with Os Guinness, public intellectual and author most recently of Reniassance: The Power of the Gospel However Dark the Times. Guinness reminds us that our generation is not the first generation of Christians to face a world in flux, and gives advice on how Christians should face the uncertain future.
“If Christians cannot help prisoners find meaning behind bars,” wonders Stephen H. Webb, “how can they expect the Gospel to find an audience among those never convicted of a crime?” At First Things, Webb argues that revival of Christianity will only come when we reform America’s prisons:
Prisoners are test cases of how Christians deal with sinners in extremis. I don’t just mean that compassion for the imprisoned can serve as a corroboration of Christian charity, although that is surely true. I mean that the whole experience of imprisonment is absolutely central to the coherence and credibility of the Gospel message. How can captivity, a great biblical theme, have any meaning today if we treat incarceration as nothing more than “serving time”? How can salvation be proclaimed as the ultimate joy even in this life if we live in a society that continues punishing prisoners long after they have been released?
One of the strongest parallels between prisons and theology has to do with our conceptions of the afterlife. For example, many people treat the possibility of rehabilitation behind prison walls with the same skeptical indifference that even devout Catholics now bestow upon purgatory: We can’t even fathom how moral change happens, if at all, in either place, so we leave its remote possibility up to God. Cynicism at home breeds disbelief abroad. Nobody believes that isolation and humiliation reform criminals, just as nobody really believes that a cleansing fire burns away unconfessed sins in purgatory, yet without any plausible alternatives to humiliation or fire, the healing effect of punishment remains as mysterious for the Church as it does for the judicial system.
The Acton Institute has just launched Oikonomia, a new blog at Patheos’ Faith and Work Channel, which will provide resources specific to the intersection of faith, work, and economics. Other partners at the channel include The High Calling, Steve Garber’s Visions of Vocation, and Theology of Work Project, among others.
The blog will include a variety of content from across the Acton ecosystem, including articles, commentaries, video clips, and book excerpts, providing a centralized source of information on whole-life discipleship, stewardship, and human flourishing.
For the Life of the World is an entertaining film series that explores the deeper meaning of Salvation. Have you ever wondered, “What is my Salvation actually FOR?” Is it only about personal atonement, about getting to heaven, or something that comes later? Is it just to have a “friend in Jesus?”
Join Evan Koons and his friends – Stephen Grabill, Amy Sherman, Anthony Bradley, Makoto Fujimura, John M. Perkins, Tim Royer and Dwight Gibson – as they discover a “new perspective,” the BIGGER picture of what it means to be “in the world, not of it.” This seven-part film series will help you, your friends, church or organization investigate God’s Economy of All Things – OIKONOMIA (a Greek word that has a lot to say about God’s plan for his creation, the world, and us.)
This Combo Pack includes a letter from Evan and two discs for your player of choice: DVD and Blu-ray. Enjoy seven episodes around 20 minutes each, along with episode teaser videos, a series trailer, and bonus content.
Explore how God’s purposes are woven into every area of our lives: family, work, art, charity, education, government, recreation and all creation! The Bible calls us Strangers and Pilgrims, living in "the now and not yet" of God’s Kingdom Come on earth. We are also called to be salt and light, to have a transforming presence among our neighbors. Rediscover the role of the church and how our lives lived on earth matter in God’s plan for the world.
Designed for deep exploration, the series invites viewers to watch the series again for new insights. Also, check out the companion Field Guide to jump-start group and individual investigation and enhance the film experience! FOR THE LIFE OF THE WORLD Field Guides are available in print or via streaming access at StudySpace.org.
Christians from a broad range of traditions — from Chaldean Catholics to Southern Baptists — are uniting in a call for military action against a common enemy: ISIS. As Mark Tooley notes, the persecution of religious believers by the Islamic extremists has “reanimated talk about Christian Just War teaching.”
Citing the call by Iraq’s Chaldean Patriarch for military intervention, a group of prominent Christian thinkers, with others, has declared that “nothing short of the destruction of ISIS/ISIL as a fighting force will provide long-term protection of victims.” Urging U.S. and international help for local forces against ISIS, they assert that “no options that are consistent with the principles of just war doctrine should be off the table.” They want expanded U.S. air strikes against ISIS and U.S. arms for the Kurds, among others. The most prominent church official on this list is the Southern Baptist Convention’s chief public policy spokesman.
Pope Francis has seemingly agreed, at least obliquely, about the morality of force against ISIS. He said on Monday in flight home from South Korea:“In these cases, where there is an unjust aggression, I can only say that it is licit to stop the unjust aggressor.” Plus, “I underscore the verb ‘stop.’ I’m not saying ‘bomb’ or ‘make war,’ just ‘stop.’ And the means that can be used to stop them must be evaluated.” Pope John Paul II is recalled speaking similarly during the 1990s Bosnian genocide. But typically pontiffs speak unequivocally against war.
Obedience to God is a fundamental requirement of the Christian life. With our constant recitations of “thy will be done,” it may seem a rather obvious point, but while many of us are comfortable with the basic aims and directives of the Gospel – feed the poor, serve the needy, steward your talents, love your enemies – when it comes to the actual implementation, we tend to defer to our own designs and desires.
Yet no matter how much spiritual frosting we may apply, that basic question still longs to be asked: “Lord, what would you have me do, and how would you have me do it?”
In a free society, wherein individual choice and action are largely uncontrolled and often empowered, we have increased opportunities to align our lives and actions to God, and thus to others. But this same elusive freedom can also mean heightened temptations to become wise in our own eyes. For the Christian, such freedom is only as authentic as it is subservient to the true and the good — a perplexing and paradoxical notion, to be sure. (more…)
The first kind of religious freedom to appear in the Western world was “freedom of the church.” Although that freedom has been all but ignored by the Courts in the past few decades, its place in American jurisprudence is once again being recognized.
Notre Dame law professor Richard Garnett explains how we should think about and defend the liberty of religious institutions:
To embrace this idea as still-relevant is to claim that religious institutions have a distinctive place in our constitutional order—and not only a distinctively worrisome or harmful one. It is to suggest that churches are not “just like the Boy Scouts” and that, while they to a large extent function in civil society in the same way and deliver the same Tocquevillian benefits as any number of voluntary associations, they are, in the end, different.
True, it is increasingly difficult, within the boundaries of argument set down by some versions of liberal political theory, to justify, on principled grounds, special treatment for religious liberty. Still, in our history and tradition, “religious” institutions and authorities have acted, and have been regarded, as special and distinct, whether or not “religion” has been understood as neatly separate from “culture,” “conscience,” or “morality.” We live under a written Constitution that “singles out” religion and we inhabit a tradition in which “church” and “state” have, in a special way, cooperated and contended. If it is anachronistic to invoke the freedom of the church, it seems even more ahistorical to deny the distinctive (for better or worse) place and role of religious actors in that tradition, and today.
Today at The Imaginative Conservative, Fr. Dwight Longenecker, in an excerpt from his recent book, bemoans what he sees as “The Spoiling of America.” While sympathetic to his support for self-discipline, I find his analysis of our consumer culture to be myopic. He writes,
Without even thinking about it we have gotten used to having it our way. Because excellent customer service is ubiquitous we believe it must be part of the natural order. The service in the restaurant is always friendly, efficient and courteous to a fault. The menus are perfectly written and professionally designed not only to inform, but to whet the appetite in a pleasing way. The re-fills on your drink are free, the food is tasty and reasonably priced, the decor is interesting and the ambiance carefully constructed. Is there a complaint? The footman-server will take the blame, the butler-manager will offer you a free dessert and quietly slip you a gift card to soften the price of your next visit as the porter opens the door.
The same delightful experience awaits you at the big box hardware store, the supermarket, the appliances store and every other major chain. Indeed, even the doctors, nurses and dentists have been trained in customer care. Communications with the customer are superb. You will receive thank you emails and polite enquiries about your experience. If you fill in a questionnaire you might win a free vacation or a hamper of other goodies. Pampering you further is not a nuisance. It becomes an exciting little game in which you might win a prize, for remember the customer is king and Everyman in America must be coddled and cuddled in one big Fantasyland where everything is wonderful all the time and everybody is always happy.
Longenecker reasons that we become addicted to fleeting pleasures and that this consumerist mentality has even corrupted religion. He continues, (more…)
Yesterday the State Department released its International Religious Freedom Report for 2013. A wide range of U.S. government agencies and offices use the reports for such efforts as shaping policy and conducting diplomacy. The Secretary of State also uses the reports to help determine which countries have engaged in or tolerated “particularly severe violations” of religious freedom in order to designate “countries of particular concern.”
“In 2013, the world witnessed the largest displacement of religious communities in recent memory,” is the depressing introduction to the report. “In almost every corner of the globe, millions of Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and others representing a range of faiths were forced from their homes on account of their religious beliefs.”
Last month the New York Times hosted a discussion on the question, “Has Capitalism Become Incompatible With Christianity?” There’s lots to be said about the “Room for Debate” feature, including a note on the caption for the lead image in the introduction.
The image is a rendering of the classic scene from the Gospels, Jesus’ cleansing of the temple. The NYT caption reads thus: “Jesus comes down hard on the bankers of his day.” Perhaps that’s a bit of ideological balance for the phrasing of the debate question itself, which supposes that at least at one time that “capitalism” and Christianity were compatible, even if they are no longer.
Occasioned by the NYT feature, although not a direct response, is a piece today over at Think Christian, in which I introduce what I consider to be some important distinctions to keep in mind when thinking about the Christian faith and economics.
As economic prosperity has increased, and as the American economy has transitioned from agrarian to industrial to information-driven, manual labor has been increasingly cast down in the popular imagination.
When our youth navigate and graduate from high school, they receive pressure from all directions to excel in particular areas and attend a four-year college, typically in pursuit of “white-collar” work. The trades, on the other hand — including brickmasons, plumbers, butchers, and carpenters — are not high on the minds of many, whether parents, pastors, teachers, or politicians.
In the latest issue of Christianity Today, Chris Horst and Jeff Haanen offer a challenge to this trend and the supporting stereotypes, arguing that the church has a particular precedent to build on when it comes to the ways we approach “work with the hands.”
Not only does a thriving economy and society need craftspeople, but the Bible elevates these occupations as filled with worth and dignity. Craftspeople are image-bearers, they argue, reflecting “the Divine Craftsman who will one day make all things new”:
Craftspeople (harashim)—masons, barbers, weavers, goldsmiths, stonecutters, carpenters, potters—are replete in the Bible. The first person Scripture says was filled with the Spirit of God was Bezalel, who was given “ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze” (Ex. 31:1–5, ESV). Passages like these suggest God cares about craftsmanship, above all in his most holy places. From the tabernacle to the temple, what was built was meant to reflect and reveal God’s character. The temple was not just a majestic building; it spoke powerfully of his holiness. (more…)