Posts tagged with: Religion/Belief

Blog author: aknot
posted by on Thursday, May 10, 2012

Why the disconnect between work and worship? To reckon with this question, the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics (IFWE) blog recently launched a series on “Work and the Church Today.”

In part one, Hugh Welchel, Executive Director of the IFWE, addresses the widening distance between the pew and the cubicle and, in response, prods the Church to invest itself in the lives of its businesspeople. Without any integration of faith and work, he says, professionals will continue to feel discord between their religious and working lives.

Welchel concludes with a widened definition of vocation. He cites Tim McConnell, formerly of the Center for Christian Study, to advocate a view of vocation that groups Sunday and Monday morning under the same umbrella of Christian service. According to McConnell, vocation should be “an element of Christian discipleship; a habit of the mind and heart of listening for and responding to the voice of the Lord.”

IFWE’s introduction to the topic is a helpful one. It is also worthwhile to check out parts two and three. And while on the topic, be sure to check out the work of Abraham Kuyper, who has written extensively on Christian engagement across spheres. His work is featured in Wisdom and Wonder, part of a Kuyper translation project with which the Acton Institute is affiliated.

You only have a few days left to visit the website and register for the 2012 Acton University conference – the registration deadline is next Friday, May 18. Guided by distinguished, international faculty, Acton University is a four day experience (June 12-15) held in Grand Rapids, Mich. During the conference, our goal is to offer you an opportunity to deepen your knowledge and integrate rigorous philosophy, Christian theology and sound economics. If you have ever had the opportunity to attend Acton University, I’m sure that you’ll agree that it is a life-changing experience. If you haven’t had the chance to attend in the past, make this the year that you do!

The 2012 conference is shaping up to be bigger and better than ever. We’ve packed the conference schedule with over 80 sessions given by top-notch daytime and evening speakers. But you don’t need to take my word for it; take a look at our faculty list and course list to see for yourself what all the hype is about.

Over on The American, Eric Kaufmann, a professor of politics at the University of London, argues that population change is reversing secularism and shifting the center of gravity of entire societies in a conservative religious direction:

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Dr. Kuypers zorg voor de kleine luyden

Albert Hahn: Dr. Kuyper's care for the little people (1905)

In yesterday’s post I highlighted a pair of articles that cover the transition over the last 120 years or so in the Netherlands from an emphasis on private charitable giving to reliance upon the welfare state. In some ways this story mirrors a similar transformation in American society as described by Marvin Olasky in his landmark book, The Tragedy of American Compassion.

Olasky’s work does double-duty, however, not only chronicling this transition but cogently arguing the superiority of voluntary aid and charity, which can effectively address both spiritual as well as material aspects of poverty.

In the special issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality on “Modern Christian Social Thought,” we also find a wonderful resource on this topic in the form of Abraham Kuyper’s reflection from 1895 on the relationship of Christ and the gospel to material concerns, “Christ and the Needy.”
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“Walter Hooper once said of C.S. Lewis that he was the most truly converted person he had ever met,” says Baptist theologian Timothy George. “The same thing can be justly said of Charles W. Colson, who came to faith in Christ through reading Lewis’ Mere Christianity.”

In an article for the National Catholic Register, George examines the legacy of his friend, a man who helped forge Evangelicals and Catholics Together and the ‘Manhattan Declaration.’:

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I recently came across an interesting academic journal, Diaconia: Journal for the Study of Christian Social Practice. One of the sample articles available is by Herman Noordegraaf of the Protestant Theological University in Leiden. His piece is titled, “Aid Under Protest? Churches in the Netherlands and Material Aid to the Poor” (PDF).

The latest issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality is a theme issue on “Modern Christian Social Thought,” and a series of pieces take up a line of recent history in the Netherlands. A significant article by Rolf van der Woude, senior researcher at the Historical Documentation Centre for Dutch Protestantism at the VU University Amsterdam, examines the changes in Reformed thought on the social question from the First Social Congress in 1891 to the Third Social Conference in 1952. As van der Woude concludes, in the post war era, “A new generation believed that the beast of the state, caged for so long, had now been tamed. At the end of the 1950s, Van den Heuvel’s generation retreated, the Netherlands entered a period of economic boom, and a generous welfare state was rapidly erected from the ground up wherein welfare was no longer a matter of charity but a matter of justice guaranteed by the government. The beast of the state had become an ally.”

Noordegraaf’s piece can be read as a companion article to van der Woude’s, tracing the development (or lack thereof) in Christian social thought in the Netherlands over the last half century. As Noordegraaf writes, the situation has largely remained the same, in that the church’s primary responsibility is understood not merely to have to provide material assistance to the poor, but rather advocate for reliance on the welfare state for such provision. As Noordegraaf writes, a declaration on the problem of poverty in 1987 codified the approach of “aid under protest,” in which the churches provide aid to the poor but only under protest that the government was not meeting welfare needs appropriately. The statement reads:

We reject the way people are once again made dependent on charity. We plead for social security that is not charity but a right that is fully guaranteed by government. For this reason, financial aid given by churches in situations of need should be combined with protest against the causes of this need to government and society.

Noordegraaf’s observation is that the churches, both locally and denominationally, have been too concerned with meeting the momentary concrete needs of the poor and need to pay more attention to the mandate to lobby the government for more expansive social welfare programs. The point is that the need for Christian or church-based charity indicts the lack of justice under a modern constitutional state, where freedom from need and want ought to be simply guaranteed.

As Nordegraaf concludes concerning recent trends, “More and more, as the above mentioned reports show, churches have been involved in material aid: when people are in need and ask for help, you give it. It is a kind of safety net under the increasingly porous safety net of the state.” He continues, “The fact that the churches found this problematic reflects their belief that the principles of the welfare state are worth fighting for. This has to do with a vision of the task of the state to promote the general welfare and to secure the basic needs of people in society.” Noordegraaf concludes that “it is in harmony with the calvinist approach of the responsibility of the state that churches try to make clear to government and to society at large that they have helped with material aid. This signalizing can take many forms: in letters, reports, talks, discussions, programmes in the media, articles in newspapers and so on. In this way, individual aid is combined with advocacy in the public domain.”

I commend these two articles to your reading: Rolf van der Woude, “Taming the Beast: The Long and Hard Road to the Christian Social Conference of 1952,” and Herman Noordegraaf, “Aid Under Protest? Churches in the Netherlands and Material Aid to the Poor.”

They will make clear just how much things have changed over the last 120 years in the Netherlands, when Abraham Kuyper emphasized the priority of Christian giving in 1881, arguing that “the holy art of ‘giving for Jesus’ sake’ ought to be much more strongly developed among us Christians. Never forget that all state relief for the poor is a blot on the honor of your savior.” Such emphasis on private Christian charity is now understood to be retrograde and obsolete.

In his new book, Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of HereticsNew York Times columnist Ross Douthat explores the present decline—economic recession, a divisive, stagnant political climate and a deteriorating moral structure—of American civilization. Rather than citing religious excess or wide scale secularization as the problem, Douthat points his finger at what he calls “bad religion,” or, four basic heresies that present faux-Gospels contrary to the Christian faith.

Douthat’s solution, presented in the book’s conclusion, comes in the form of Christian orthodoxy, what one might call Good Religion. Without delving too far into critique, readers of all ecumenical stripes—even those without any—can profit from a quick examination of Douthat’s four points essential for traditional Christianity to reclaim a respected voice in the American public square.

First, Douthat calls for Christian engagement in the sphere of politics that is “political without being partisan,” marked by a “clear Christian difference.” He allows room for political disagreement while professing the necessity of Christian principles to mark the Christian ballot or campaign.

Second, Douthat endorses a Christianity that is “ecumenical but also confessional.” Douthat desires broader Christian discourse and unity, but vibrant doctrinal debate and a steadfast upholding of characteristic theological standards.

Third, Douthat calls for Christians to cut against the grain of contemporary society with a faith that is “moralistic but also holistic.” To present the Bible’s ethical system as a desirable path for a life, rather than a condescending rulebook, he says, is the great challenge for the Church of today.

Finally, Christian orthodoxy must be “oriented toward sanctity and beauty.” Christians occupy too sparse a share of today’s aesthetic landscape, he argues, calling for more distinctly Christian art the mirrors the novels of Marilynne Robinson or the poetry of Christian Wiman.

Douthat’s book will no doubt stimulate much discussion about Christianity’s place in politics, ethics and art. And voices like Douthat’s are an integral part of the debate. With any providence, both the Church and society will benefit greatly from a wider appreciation of Douthat’s hope:

 “My hope throughout has been to persuade even the most skeptical reader that traditional Christian faith might have more to offer this country than either its flawed defenders or its fashionable enemies would lead one to believe.”

Blog author: dpahman
posted by on Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Portrait of a Child Prince, Wikimedia Commons

“Anyone concerned with the future,” wrote Sergius Bulgakov,

is most anxious about the younger generation. But to be spiritually dependent on it, to truckle to its opinions and take it as a standard, testifies to a society’s spiritual weakness. In any case, an entire historical period and the whole spiritual tenor of intelligentsia heroism are symbolized by the fact that the ideal of the Christian saint, the ascetic, has been replaced here by the revolutionary student.”

Bulgakov is writing in 1909 about the young, sectarian intellectuals of Russian society, who according to Nicholas Berdyaev were “artificially isolated from national life.” They had taken upon themselves a sort of megalomania, assuming to be the heroic saviors of Russia, a sort of atheistic incarnation of Providence. The student, full of passion and idealism, had become the Übermensch for educated Russians, only barely subdued by the failed revolution of 1905. To Bulgakov, this idealizing of the youth amounted to a “spiritual pedocracy.” Russian society looked to the youth—the least experienced and therefore least wise—for spiritual leadership. Are we making the same mistake in America today? (more…)

Susan Jacoby and Dinesh D’Souza met here in Grand Rapids at Fountain Street Church on Thursday, April 26, to debate the merits of religion in public discourse. The debate, co-sponsored by The Intercollegiate Studies Institute and the Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies, was titled, “Is Christianity Good for American Politics?”

Susan Jacoby is program director at The Center for Inquiry and author of The Age of American Unreason and Alger Hiss and The Battle for History. She argued for the total removal of religious matters from the public square to avoid any tendency toward establishment of a particular religion.

Dinesh D’Souza is president of The King’s College in New York and author of What’s so Great About Christianity? His argument repeatedly returned to the difference between recognition and establishment and the contested meaning of the phrase “separation of church and state.”

Here’s a sample from their exchange:

Jacoby: The first amendment was intended to protect religion from government … Our whole tradition prohibits supporting an establishment of tradition. What would happen in this society, if the government were forced to consider every religion? It would require absolutely equal treatment … We are not allowed to make judgments about which religions to favor or not.

Dinesh: You can’t simply chant separation of church and state and declare the matter settled. What we’re trying to figure out is why we have a prejudice against religious figures who have had an historical, moral, political, and even lawful impact, while we don’t have that prejudice against secular figures similarly situated. You keep chanting the same phrase from the constitution, when it is the meaning of that phrase that is up for discussion … My question is the meaning of the word establishment.

Joe Carter recently posted a summary of a new study conducted jointly by Public Religion Research Institute and Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs that shows that college-aged Millennials (18-24 year olds) “report significant levels of movement from the religious affiliation of their childhood, mostly toward identifying as religiously unaffiliated.” He also noted the tendency of college-aged Millennials to be more politically liberal.

Just yesterday, the same study was highlighted by Robert Jones of the Washington Post, who wrote,

According to a newly released survey, even before they move out of their childhood homes, many younger Millennials have already moved away from the religion in which they were raised, mostly joining the growing ranks of the religiously unaffiliated.

Jones goes on to say, “These findings have profound implications for the future of religious denominations that have, in the past, dominated American religious life.”

But is this true? I am not entirely convinced. (more…)