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.
I’ve been following an interesting discussion at NRT, a Christian music website, regarding whether an artist is “really” Christian or not. NRT, on its Facebook page, had announced that singer Audrey Assad, known for her hauntingly beautiful Christian music, had made the decision to go mainstream. She gave her reasoning on her own blog. NRT had also commented on the band Switchfoot, who announced they’d be touring with Michael Gungor. Gungor is rather “notorious” in some Christian circles for stating that he does not take all of the Bible literally (for instance, he believes much of Genesis to be symbolic or allegorical in nature.)
Let the backlash begin.
Lots of folks chimed in on the NRT Facebook page with negative comments: “Don’t give me the mess about reaching a wider audience or not being full time into the ministry. Either you are or aren’t.” “To me, leaving Christian music to perform secular music is similiar to a dog going back to his vomit.” “Think I’ll pass until Switchfoot decides whom they serve.” You can read more there if you wish.
This raises an interesting question: must one be in full-time ministry to be a Christian? The answer is, of course not. Most of us Christians are NOT in paid, full-time, ministerial positions. We have regular old jobs: soccer coaches, secretaries, entrepreneurs, wait-staff, lawyers, landscapers. We don’t preach sermons or teach theology. We are active in are churches, sure, but that’s not our job. Why then are these Christian musicians being held to a different standard? (more…)
Acton’s Director of Research, Samuel Gregg, recently wrote about ‘Our Sentimental Humanitarian Age’ at the American Spectator. He argues that “soft liberalism is incapable of confronting the evil in man.”
Sometimes, however, an event occurs that highlights the more fundamental crises that bedevil a civilization. The rise of a movement as diabolical as ISIS, for instance, has surely underscored the bankruptcy of what might be called the sentimental humanitarian outlook that dominates so many contemporary shapers of the West’s cultural consensus.
Sentimental humanitarianism has several features. One is the mind-set that reduces evil to structural causes. “Man is born free; and everywhere he is in chains,” proclaimed Rousseau in his Du contrat social. From this, many concluded that evil would disappear if the right people were put in charge to change the structures.
Sentimental humanitarianism also assumes that all religions are more-or-less the same and, given the right conditions, will vacillate their way towards something as innocuous as today’s Church of England. But as a wise recently retired pope once wrote, a major failure of imagination since the 1960s has been the disinclination to concede that there are “sick and distorted forms of religion.” (more…)
“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.
In this week’s edition of Radio Free Acton, Paul Edwards welcomes Acton Institute Research Fellow Jordan Ballor to the microphone for a discussion on the dignity of our work. Is it more Christian to be a minister than a muck farmer? Does the work of the farmer have spiritual value? Ballor and Edwards explore these questions and more in this podcast, which you can listen to via the audio player below. And if you haven’t done so already, check out Jordan’s book on the topic, Get Your Hands Dirty.
Update: We had a problem with the podcast this afternoon; after some behind the scenes labor, hopefully the issue has been addressed.
What is a “community?” What are the boundaries of a community or organization? And – most important – why is community important?
Andy Crouch, writer, musician and Acton University plenary speaker, says we need to ask and answer these questions. He begins his discussion with the recent Supreme Court decision regarding Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Woods. While the decision was sound, Crouch says it speaks to something beyond the law:
It reminds us that fewer and fewer of our neighbors understand how religious organizations—and all communities smaller than the state—contribute to human flourishing and the common good.
One essential question in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby was the extent to which a for-profit corporation can hold to a religious (in this case, Christian) identity. In her dissent, Ruth Bader Ginsburg cited approvingly the idea that for-profit groups “use labor to make a profit, rather than to perpetuate a religious-values-based mission.”
The words rather than are key. In Justice Ginsburg’s view, it seems, corporations cannot serve—or at least the law cannot recognize that they serve—any god other than Mammon. She articulated an equally small view of nonprofits when she wrote that “religious organizations exist to foster the interests of persons subscribing to the same religious faith.”
A second reporter has been killed by ISIS, Steven Sotloff. Women are being sold off as “brides.” Teen girls are raped repeatedly. Thousands are murdered. There are plenty of news reports, but in some quarters, the silence is deafening.
Kathryn Jean Lopez asks what can we do, what must we do, in the face of evil, at National Review Online.
I don’t want to have on my conscience that I was complicit in something as horrendous as this simply by being quiet,” is how Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington, D.C., reflected on the persecution being conducted against Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq and Syria — which are far enough away from the U.S. that we mostly go on with our lives, perhaps without even a thought or a prayer.
The President plays golf, Beyoncé is applauded for her “women’s power” performance that is laden with sexual imagery, we worry about our favorite celebrities as their nude photos get leaked. And people die. En masse. For their faith, for where they live, for their willingness to say “I believe” when someone with a sword demands they recant. (more…)
In a review by Micah Watson of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) earlier this year at The Gospel Coalition, Watson described the book as “akin to a social event with heavy hors d’oevres served throughout the evening.”
There were, however, some offerings in this tapestry of tapas, so to speak, that Watson thought deserved an entree presentation. For instance, Watson wonders about distinguishing principle from prudence, a framework that runs throughout the book and broader Christian social thought. What distinguishes, for instance, the biblical view of marriage, abortion, and poverty and the various ways to respect these teachings in practice?
Thus, argues Watson,
Christians must often determine what the genuinely Christian position is in a given context, taking stands on particular issues and even legislation—as they did during the struggle to end racial segregation in the American civil rights movement or in affirming the Barmen Declaration in 1930s Germany. Exercising such discernment may or may not require identifying who is in and out of the tent, but it surely requires determining what moral stands constitute authentic Christian witness.
He goes on to observe that “a season of uncomfortable but necessary clarification will be necessary” in today’s world.
I’m happy to add a bit here to that season of clarification, or what might better be called a season of suffering for righteousness’ sake (1 Peter 3:14), a season of searing away the dross from our life and witness, which is just another name for sanctification.
How might this distinction between principle and prudence work out in particular cases?
The Accra Confession, a document arising out of the Reformed ecumenical movement, was promulgated ten years ago. At the time, Rev. Jerry Zandstra and I wrote with some rather harsh criticisms of the document.
In the meanwhile, the original group that organized the Accra Confession, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, merged with a smaller ecumenical group, the Reformed Ecumenical Council, to create the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC). At the Uniting General Council held at Calvin College in 2010, where the status of the Accra Confession for the new movement was to be determined, the Acton Institute distributed a packet of material, including a book-length engagement with the Accra Confession and the larger mainline ecumenical movement’s economic witness.
In Ecumenical Babel I devote a full chapter to the Accra Confession as perhaps the most imbalanced and skewed of all the mainline ecumenical documents on economic justice. For other critical engagements of the Accra Confession, I recommend Stan du Plessis, “How Can You Be a Christian and an Economist? The Meaning of the Accra Declaration for Today,” and Roland Hoksbergen, “The Global Economy, Injustice, and the Church: On Being Reformed in Today’s World.”
There are a number of celebratory posts recognizing the anniversary of the confession at places like Ecclesio, and for a critical engagement of Ecumenical Babel you can read an essay by Christopher Dorn in Perspectives. (Ecumenical Babel was also reviewed for Comment, Calvin Theological Journal, Journal of Markets & Morality, Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies, and Journal of Ecumenical Studies. I respond at some length to Dorn’s essay in my latest book, Get Your Hands Dirty.)
The World Communion of Reformed Churches purports to represent 80 million Christians of 229 member denominations in 108 countries. An ecumenical group of this significance and diversity can do better than the Accra Confession in its social witness, and after ten years, it must do better.
This summer during Acton University, I had the opportunity to be part of a recording for Moody Radio’s Up for Debate program, which has just recently been posted online. The subject for discussion was “Can Catholic, Orthodox, and Evangelical Christians Learn from Each Other?”
The participants were Jay Richards (Roman Catholic), Distinguished Fellow of the Institute for Faith, Work, & Economics and a Senior Fellow of the Discovery Institute, John Stonestreet (Evangelical), Fellow of the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview, and me (Orthodox), an Acton research associate and assistant editor of the Journal of Markets & Morality.
In answer to the question of the show, the short answer that we all seemed to come to was, yes, we do have a lot to learn from one another. Our talk ranged from issues of Scripture and the Tradition of the Church to the current discussion in the public square over same-sex marriage.
Head over to Moody Radio to listen to the program here.