Blog author: jcouretas
Monday, April 5, 2010
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First Principles, the excellent Web-based resource from the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, has posted another “classic” from its extensive archive of journal articles, this one by Wilhelm Roepke. I’m snipping a kernel from “The Economic Necessity of Freedom” (Modern Age, Summer 1959) because it so succinctly and powerfully sums up why a moral framework — and our “highest values” — are necessary for a market economy that is not only efficient, but humane. These values flow out of the “classic-Christian heritage of Europe” and are rooted, for Roepke, in an orthodox Christian anthropology.

… I came to see that socialism did not have the cure for our social ills, that indeed socialism was a heresy which aggravated these ills the more men acted on it. The economic “orthodoxy” according to which I adjudged socialism a heresy was historical liberalism, and with this liberalism I am quite willing to take my stand. What such liberalism advocates in the economic realm can be very simply stated. It holds that economic activities are not the proper sphere of any planning, enforcing, and penalizing authority; these activities are better left to the spontaneous co-operation of all individuals through a free market, unregulated prices, and open competition.

But there is more to the matter than the advocacy of a certain economic technique. As an economist, I am supposed to know something about prices, capital interests, costs, and rates of exchange, and all of them supply arguments for free enterprise; but my adherence to free enterprise goes to something deeper than mere technical grounds, and the reason for it lies in those regions where each man’s social philosophy is ultimately decided. Socialists and nonsocialists are divided by fundamentally different conceptions of life and life’s meaning. What we judge man’s position in the universe to be will in the end decide whether our highest values are realized in man or in society, and our decision for either the former or the latter will also be the watershed of our political thinking.

Thus my fundamental opposition to socialism is to an ideology that, in spite of all its “liberal” phraseology, gives too little to man, his freedom, and his personality; and too much to society. And my opposition on technical grounds is that socialism, in its enthusiasm for organization, centralization, and efficiency, is committed to means that simply are not compatible with human freedom. Because I have a very definite concept of man derived from the classic-Christian heritage of Europe in which alone the idea of liberty has anywhere appeared, because that concept makes man the image of God whom it is sinful to use as a means, and because I am convinced that each man is of unique value owning to his relationship to God but is not the god declared by the hybris of an atheistic humanism — because of these things, I look on any kind of collectivism with the utmost distrust.

And, following from these convictions along the lines of reason, experience, and the testimony of history, I arrive at the conclusion that only a free economy is in accordance with man’s freedom and with the political and social structure and the rule of law that safeguard it. Aside from such an economic system (for which I make no claims of automatically perfect functioning), I see no chance of the continued existence of man as he is envisaged in the religious and philosophical traditions of the West. For this reason, I would stand for a free economic order even if it implied material sacrifice and if socialism gave the certain prospect of material increase. It is our undeserved luck that the exact opposite is true.

resurrection_241Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. – 1 Peter 1:3

John Wesley said of the new birth, “It is the change wrought in the whole soul by the almighty Spirit of God when it is created anew in Christ Jesus.” A message he often preached was “Since we were born in sin we must be born again.” The resurrection of Christ affirms the everlasting power of Christ to save and deliver humanity from sin and death.

This Easter, Christians all over the world celebrate an event that points to our present and future hope and glory. In American slave and Appalachia culture, the afterlife was always celebrated and stressed through their words and music, because of difficult trials on earth. The resurrection is the real theology of liberation, as Samuel Medley wrote in his great hymn “I Know that My Redeemer Lives:”

He lives to silence all my fears,
He lives to wipe away my tears
He lives to calm my troubled heart,
He lives all blessings to impart.

The resurrection was foundational everyday preaching for the Apostles in the early Church. As witnesses, their focus on the resurrection was also the cause of their persecution by the ruling authorities (Acts 4:3,4). Today some who claim to be ministers of the Gospel deny the miracle of the resurrection or dismiss it as “merely symbolic.” Sadly, they deny Scripture and Church teaching.

The Apostles knew that when they saw the risen Christ they were looking at the beginning and the end of history. The complete purpose and promise of Christ and humanity was made known and it’s an incomparable comfort. Humanity has a purpose and a place to call home. One of the most perplexing and haunting aspects of life is death. Life on earth is all we know and death for so many is very troubling and a topic to be avoided. Many churches and houses of worship avoid it. This is sad and it shows a wide displacement from the early Church and Church Fathers. For the believer, they will share in the resurrection of Christ and “death will be swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor. 15:42-54).

Often in the burdens that afflict our inner most being we can only find meaning in the resurrection. The trials, despair, and pain of this life crushes us too much. But when we spend our time dwelling on the risen Lord, our despair turns to hope. We know that he will not abandon us or forsake those who love and worship him, especially beyond the grave. The resurrection is a cause for endless celebration. It is the seal that we will fully dwell in the everlasting with the Triune God who created us for relationship with him for his glory.

Today is hung upon the Cross, He Who suspended the Earth amid the waters. A crown of thorns crowns Him, Who is the King of Angels. He, Who wrapped the Heavens in clouds, is clothed with the purple of mockery. He, Who freed Adam in the Jordan, received buffetings. He was transfixed with nails, Who is the Bridegroom of the Church. He was pierced with a lance, Who is the Son of the Virgin.

We worship Your Passion, O Christ. Show us also, Your glorious Resurrection.

From the Matins of Great Friday in the Orthodox Church.

CBN News interviews Acton Research Fellow Anthony Bradley on “Theology, Politics & the African-American Community.” His new book, Liberating Black Theology — The Bible and the Black Experience in America, is now available from the Acton Book Shoppe.

Blog author: ken.larson
Thursday, April 1, 2010
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During Holy Week many Christians supplement their religious observances. Some, continuing in a denial that marks Lent; and others choosing to add something to their life in Christ’s worship and ministry. One of the things one can add that for many is sadly not a staple of their daily life is morning and/or evening prayer. In the prayer book that Anglicans use there are many prayers and thanksgivings but on Wednesday I was drawn again to the one “for our country.”

ALMIGHTY God, who hast given us this good land for our heritage; We humbly beseech thee that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of thy favour and glad to do thy will. Bless our land with honourable industry, sound learning, and pure manners. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion; from pride and arrogancy, and from every evil way. Defend our liberties, and fashion into one united people the multitudes brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues. Endue with the spirit of wisdom those to whom in thy Name we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that, through obedience to thy law, we may show forth thy praise among the nations of the earth. In the time of prosperity, fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in thee to fail; all which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord.Amen.

Sadly, I haven’t given up the world to the extent I can turn from the topics of the day. Barack Obama has announced an “energy plan” that was almost immediately characterized by those who know about these things as a political gimmick aimed at getting the “Cap ‘n Tax” anti-energy Obama bill through Congress. You know, the one that most experts say will add $1700 to your annual utility bills. (What you should visualize here is me sighing, shaking my head and beating my chest.)

Coincidentally, Psalm 94 was listed in the lectionary for Wednesday’s Morning Prayer.

Deus ultionum

O LORD God, to whom vengeance belongeth, * thou God, to whom vengeance belongeth, show thyself.

Arise, thou Judge of the world, * and reward the proud after their deserving.

LORD, how long shall the ungodly, * how long shall the ungodly triumph?

How long shall all wicked doers speak so disdainfully, * and make such proud boasting?

They smite down thy people, O LORD, * and trouble thine heritage.

They murder the widow and the stranger, * and put the fatherless to death.

And yet they say, Tush, the LORD shall not see, * neither shall the God of Jacob regard it.

Take heed, ye unwise among the people: * O ye fools, when will ye understand?

He that planted the ear, shall he not hear? * or he that made the eye, shall he not see?

Or he that instructeth the heathen, * it is he that teacheth man knowledge; shall not he punish?

The LORD knoweth the thoughts of man, * that they are but vain.

Blessed is the man whom thou chastenest, O LORD, * and teachest him in thy law;

That thou mayest give him patience in time of adversity, * until the pit be digged up for the ungodly.

For the LORD will not fail his people; * neither will he forsake his inheritance;

Until righteousness turn again unto judgment: * all such as are true in heart shall follow it.

Who will rise up with me against the wicked? * or who will take my part against the evil doers?

If the LORD had not helped me, it had not failed, * but my soul had been put to silence.

But when I said, My foot hath slipt; * thy mercy, O LORD, held me up.

In the multitude of the sorrows that I had in my heart, * thy comforts have refreshed my soul.

Wilt thou have any thing to do with the throne of wickedness, * which imagineth mischief as a law?

They gather them together against the soul of the righteous, * and condemn the innocent blood.

But the LORD is my refuge, *and my God is the strength of my confidence.

He shall recompense them their wickedness, and destroy them in their own malice; * yea, the LORD our God shall destroy them.

Don’t you just love the Psalms?

Acton Institute President and Co-Founder Rev. Robert A. Sirico recently delivered a talk on social justice and socialism at St. Thomas More Academy in Raleigh, N.C. The school’s mission is “dedicated to continuing the vital tradition of Catholic education by integrating the very best academic curriculum with the deepest spiritual wisdom of Catholic Christianity.” Rev. Sirico’s talk was part of the school’s Robert L. Luddy Speaker’s Series.

Father Sirico at STMA from Randy Luddy on Vimeo.

Blog author: jcouretas
Wednesday, March 31, 2010
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In a new commentary, “Beck Vs. Wallis,” Acton Research Fellow Marvin Olasky takes another look at the dispute between Glenn Beck and Jim Wallis over the meaning of social justice. Olasky, provost at The King’s College in New York, offers suggestions on how to respond to those who would define social justice as merely the expansion of the welfare state.

I can understand Glenn Beck’s frustration. As the Beck-Wallis tempest swirled on March 11, I spent 3½ hours in a long-arranged debate with Wallis at Cedarville University. He kept trying to position himself as a centrist rather than a big government proponent. Furthermore, modern usage by liberal preachers and journalists is thoroughly unbiblical: Many equate social justice with fighting a free enterprise system that purportedly keeps people poor but in reality is their best economic hope.

How to respond? I’d suggest four possible ways, one of which is a variant of Beck’s: Challenge those who speak of “social justice” in a conventionally leftist way. If your local church is committed to what won’t help the poor but will empower would-be dictators, pray and work for gospel-centered teaching. If necessary, find another church.

A second: Try to recapture the term by giving it a 19th- (and 21st?) century small-government twist. The Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute are trying to do this. I wish them success.

A third way: Accept the left’s focus on systemic problems but not its faulty analysis. Learn about the biggest institutional hindrance to economic advance for the poor: the government’s monopoly control of taxpayer funds committed to education and welfare. Work for school vouchers and tax credits that will help many poor children to grow both their talents and their knowledge of God.

Fourth and best: Tutor a child. Visit a prisoner. Help the sick. Follow Christ.

See the “note” at the end of Olasky’s column for more resources on social justice.

And add these Acton events to your calendar:

– “Must Social Justice & Capitalism Be Mutually Exclusive?” March 31 (***tonight***), Grand Rapids. Acton on Tap with Rudy Carrasco. Details: 6 p.m. casual start time; 6:30 p.m., Rudy speaks! Location: Derby Station (formerly Graydon’s Crossing), 2237 Wealthy St. SE, East Grand Rapids 49506. No registration required.

— “Does social justice require socialism?” with Rev. Robert A. Sirico. Acton Lecture Series in Grand Rapids on April 15; Chicago luncheon on April 29.

ECPA Christian Book AwardsEarlier this week the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association announced that the NIV Stewardship Study Bible was one of five finalists in the Bibles category for the 2010 Christian Book Awards.

If you are like me, the question begs, “Exactly how many new Bibles are published every year?” That question is quickly followed by another, “How many Bibles does the Christian world need anyway?” You may or may not be surprised to know that there is a Bible for just about every audience and subject. There is a Bible for NASCAR enthusiasts. There is a Bible for Grandmothers (itself a finalist for the ECPA award in 2009). There is even a Duct Tape Bible (perhaps this one addresses all the times caulk and duct tape are used in Scripture?).

For whatever reason or motivation, Christians and non-Christians alike gravitate to the Word of God and seek new insights as to how to apply Scripture to their lives. At that, God’s Word is a healthy place to gravitate. Given the current moral and economic climate of our world, stewardship––and specifically God’s design for our stewardship of his resources––weighs heavy on the minds of many around the world. What is the appropriate Christian response to health care? How can we best serve the poor and war-torn regions of our world? What is a proper Biblical perspective to environmental concerns? What would God call us to do in the wake of destruction and brokenness brought about by earthquakes in Haiti, or tsunamis in Indonesia? Where do personal finances and generosity fit into my Christian life in light of economic uncertainty?

NIV Stewardship Study BibleAll of these are ultimately questions of stewardship that bombard us regularly. The NIV Stewardship Study Bible fills a very real void as Christians seek to understand effective stewardship through the lens of Scripture.The Bible’s release last fall could not have been more timely in light of world events and concerns. As our world wrestles with multiple challenges rippling throughout man’s economy, the NIV Stewardship Study Bible illuminates God’s economy and helps us personally navigate through the issues of our day in order to become effective stewards by God’s design.

The Stewardship Council and its strategic partner, the Acton Institute, are honored to see the NIV Stewardship Study Bible considered as one of the finalists for this year’s Bibles category. Our measurement of success, however, is not ultimately based upon its initial impression, but rather on its impact in and through lives of those seeking to become faithful and effective stewards.

If you want to check out the helpful resources within this Bible, this video is worth watching. And if you are on Facebook, become a fan of the NIV Stewardship Study Bible, or follow our Twitter stream @Oikonomeo, which means “to be a steward.”

NIV Stewardship Study Bible Guided Tour from Brett Elder on Vimeo.

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, March 31, 2010
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In this week’s Acton Commentary I examine some of the issues surrounding concern for our planet’s growing human population. In “The Science of Stewardship: Sin, Sustainability, and GM Foods,” I argue that increased food production, augmented by advances in genetic modification, has a key role to play in meeting the needs of future generations. And in this way companies like Monsanto have contributed greatly to our ability to address the need for increased yields.

They have done so in great measure by combining tech with technique, or as the Forbes piece puts it, “marrying conventional breeding with genetic engineering.” Just as important as getting seeds that have the right genetic “tech” is mastering all the variables and skills needed to make plants grow properly, from soil makeup, to cultivation techniques, to timing. On the question of timing, for instance, there’s always more research being done on the best time to plant different kinds of crops.

A recent Popular Science feature, for instance, labeled the “bean counter” one of “The 10 Worst Jobs In Science” for being “most tedious.” So that even “after 10,000 years of intensive agriculture, we still don’t understand key things, like the best moment to plant soybeans.” And that’s why graduate students like Andrew Robinson at Purdue will “spend the next few years hand-counting beans from about 750 plots.”

But the question of increased population isn’t as innocent as might first appear. On the one hand, it’s certainly true that concern about the increase of the world’s human population often masks latent or not-so-latent misanthropy.

And on the other hand, as many have pointed out, it’s not the number of people in itself that largely determines global environmental impact, but rather the lifestyle of those people, their consumption habits, as well as the underlying economic structures, that function as determinative factors.

But even so, increased yields might help alleviate some of the difficulties with realizing large-scale urban farming, for instance. And while “complete self-reliance” of cities on local food sources “is not currently sensible,” and perhaps really shouldn’t be pursued, the prospects of getting significant produce from smaller plots looms large as an economic possibility given advances in both biotech and technique. There is real hope here economically and environmentally for places like Detroit.

As I also note in the piece, there are certainly moral limits that provide us space within which to pursue scientific advances and progress, but beyond which we “run the risk of aggravating our offense against God.” And it is not only up to scientists themselves, no matter how concerned, to recognize and articulate those limits.

On this the Bible has much to say. I made an attempt about 5 years ago to come to grips with these limits within which responsible stewardship occurs in the form of “A Theological Framework for Evaluating Genetically Modified Food.” I followed up that framework, which articulates a view largely affirming the instrumental use of plants, with a series denying a similarly instrumental use of animals.

denton“We can add our testimony to that of great heroes like Solzhenitsyn and Sakharov, who have vividly related what Communism is really about.” – Admiral Jeremiah A. Denton, Jr.

World Net Daily Books has republished the classic When Hell Was in Session, the chilling account of Admiral Jeremiah Denton’s almost eight years as a prisoner of war of the North Vietnamese (1965-1973). The book, cowritten with Ed Brandt, was reissued in November 2009 with a new epilogue. A naval aviator, Denton and his navigator Bill Tschudy were shot down over North Vietnam in 1965.

One of America’s greatest heroes, Denton became the face of the prisoners because of two events: he spelled out the word torture in morse code through eye blinks in a North Vietnamese propaganda film; He was also the first POW off the first plane upon their 1973 release. As he stepped off the plane at Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines, he spoke for all the former prisoners:

We are honored to have had the opportunity to serve our country under difficult circumstances. We are profoundly grateful to our Commander-in-Chief and to our nation for this day. God bless America.

“Under difficult circumstances” was an understatement. Denton and his fellow military captives faced extreme torture and brutal beatings because of their insistence on following the military code of conduct and not giving in to their captors. He was awarded the Navy Cross for his hard line defiance against the North Vietnamese propaganda machine and his courageous leadership despite prolonged physical and mental agony.

Denton’s account is more than a record of his imprisonment and torture, it is a deeply spiritual chronicle about his unshakable commitment to America and its ideals. He wonderfully contrasts this with the evils of atheistic communism. It is also a window into his own heart, as he depicts his faith in God despite extreme suffering. Denton spent over four years of his captivity in solitary confinement, with his hands and feet in chains during much of that time. During one heinous torture session Denton declared:

I was nearing despair. I offered myself to God with an admission that I could take no more on my own. Tears ran down my face as I repeated my vow to surrender to Him. Strangely, as soon as I made the vow, a deep feeling of peace settled into my tortured mind and pain-wracked body, and the suffering left me completely. It was the most profound and deeply inspiring moment of my life.

Denton talks about how many of the prisoners embraced their faith and it was what sustained them in their captivity. It has been chronicled on the PowerBlog before in a review of General Robinson Risner’s The Passing of the Night.

The obvious reason that makes this account such a tremendous defense of freedom is because of the extreme price that was paid for defending it. But with words, Denton too is skilled in discussing the rarity of freedom and the significance of the American experiment. The updated epilogue discusses his work with President Ronald Reagan as a United States Senator from Alabama in defeating Marxist dictatorships in Latin America. In 1980 Denton was the first Republican elected to the Senate from Alabama since reconstruction and also the first Roman Catholic. In the new epilogue Denton offers a defense of the founding principles of the nation and laments the moral decay and secularization of America. He calls these factors a situation that is making America’s survival “extremely perilous.”

In his book there is another contrast that depicts his shock about the moral and cultural decline of America. After he left the Navy much of his work has focused on defending religious liberty and working to deliver global humanitarian aid through the Admiral Jeremiah Denton Foundation. 85 years old now, Denton spoke at The National United States Marine Corps Museum in February of this year, where he quoted the Marine mottoSemper Fidelis,” in telling the assembled to stay faithful in the fight for the future of this country.