On the drive over to Acton University this morning I heard an argument on the radio about how the economy would have been fixed if only the dollar amount of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 would have been doubled. What a sad statement to pin your hope to in order to fix the American economy. That argument is unlikely to be uttered at Acton University. Fixing economic problems and lifting up the human condition is not measured by dollars here. Present at Acton University is the strong sense that solving complex problems and failures in society are attainable outside of centralization or a materialistic worldview.

It is easy to walk outside the community and walls of AU and give up on society. But this week has been a powerful reminder that there are hundreds of people here who are certainly brilliant, but more importantly, empowered by our Lord. The conference convicts you that you can do more to transform a hungry and needy world.

It has been a blessing to converse and share fellowship with people like Michael Novak. Novak was speaking out aggressively about the free and virtuous society when free markets were even less popular in the intellectual and academic arena. In a lecture on Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn, Ed Ericson cited Novak’s brilliant essay in response to Solzhenitsyn’s Harvard Address in 1978. Novak, in responding to that address, notes that “the most serious seekers after truth come to unexpected and remarkable convergences.” I can’t think of a better summary for the community and fellowship here at Acton University. While there are certainly theological differences, we are all united and invigorated by the truth. And as Solzhenitsyn himself declared, “One word of truth outweighs the world.”

The Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA) held its annual synod this week, and among the items it dealt with were overtures and recommendations related to the issues of climate change and creation care. The synod adopted statements along the following lines:

  • There is a near-consensus in the scientific community that climate change is occurring and very likely is caused by human activity.
  • Human-induced climate change is an ethical, social justice, and religious issue.
  • The CRC is compelled to take private and public action to address climate change, especially since those who are already most impacted by it live in poor countries.

A broader report on creation care was also passed by the synod. I should echo this broadest sentiment of the synod, and note that there is no debate about whether or not the Scriptures mandate Christians to be good stewards of all of God’s gifts, including those of the natural order, environment, and resources. The first specific instance of the cultural mandate from Gen. 1:28, “to fill the earth and subdue it” and to exercise dominion, is given to Adam, when God “took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.”

But my concern here has to do more with the prudential wisdom of synod adopting specific statements like this as official policy of the denomination regarding climate change. In my lecture this week at Acton University, I dealt with outlining the role of the church as both institution and organism in God’s economy, his management of the entire world and all that is in it. I focused on the defining characteristic of the institutional church’s responsibility to be that of “proclamation” of the gospel, consisting of the closely interrelated activities of preaching, administration of the sacraments, and exercise of church discipline. This distinction is also present in my critique of the ecumenical movement’s particularly economic (rather than environmental) activism in Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church’s Social Witness.

So I was disappointed to read yesterday that my denomination had decided to speak so specifically to a social issue like climate change that really is so contentious and divisive. It seems to me that the discussion has not really advanced all that much in the last 5 years or more, and that the true situation is perhaps even less clear now than it was even a decade ago.

Blaise Pascal (1623-1662)

What really stuck out to me in reading some of the reports about the decision was the sentiment expressed by Rev. Steven Zwart, a delegate from Classis Lake Superior. Here’s what he said:

“I’m a skeptic on much of this. But how will doing this hurt? What if we find out in 30 years that numbers (on climate change) don’t pan out? We will have lost nothing, and we’ll have a cleaner place to live. But if they are right, we could lose everything.”

I think among those at synod who were (or are) inclined toward skepticism “on much of this,” Zwart’s sentiment was likely broadly shared. What, indeed, do we have to lose?

This sentiment is, in fact, almost precisely the argument in favor of action on global climate change made by Andy Crouch in a 2005 commentary for Christianity Today, “Environmental Wager: Why Evangelicals Shouldn’t be Cool Towards Global Warming.” Andy concluded:

Believe in God though he does not exist, Pascal argued, and you lose nothing in the end. Fail to believe when he does in fact exist, and you lose everything. Likewise, we have little to lose, and much technological progress, energy security, and economic efficiency to gain, if we act on climate change now—even if the worst predictions fail to come to pass. But if we choose inaction and are mistaken, we will leave our descendants a blighted world.

At the time I responded in a piece, “Pascal’s Blunder,” as I would now to the question, “How will doing this hurt?” One critical component of the answer has to do with the basic economic concept of opportunity cost…what other good might we do with the resources directed towards advocacy on climate change? That’s your answer. That’s what we have to lose: all the other good that we might or ought to be doing.

At the time Andy was generous enough to engage in a more extended conversation on these issues, and I’ll pass along the links for those who want to do more reading about the question, “But how will doing this hurt?” As I’ve said, I don’t think the analysis or discussion has advanced much in the last seven years, at least not in the CRC.

On the Patheos Evangelical channel, Joseph E. Gorra talks to Rev. Robert A. Sirico, Acton Institute president and co-founder, about the publication of his new book, Defending the Free Market: The Moral Case for a Free Economy. Gorra frames the interview with this question: “Countless detractors over the years have argued that capitalism is intrinsically immoral. Is it true?”

Patheos: As you know, “capitalism” and “free markets” often invoke all sorts of various (even contradictory) images and ideas for different people. I want to start by having you articulate what it is that you are defending in this book in order to help readers break through some of the “noise” that’s out there on this topic.

Sirico: The word “capitalism” itself has Marxist connotations and is, to my mind, too narrow for the free economy I am talking about. Every sort of state or crony capitalist venture gets to use the name capitalism, and I am as suspicious of corporate welfare as I am for other kinds of welfare—and for many of the same reasons.

Patheos: What would be a better way to nuance “capitalism”?

Sirico: I really find helpful Blessed John Paul II’s delineation between what might be called “capitalisms” in his 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus where he says that the kind of “capitalism” which should replace the collapsed Communist regimes in Central and Eastern Europe and recommended to the developing world ought to be one “which recognizes the fundamental and positive role of business, the market, private property, and the resulting responsibility for the means of production, as well as free human creativity in the economic sector…” but then he is quick to add, “even though it would perhaps be more appropriate to speak of a “business economy,” “market economy,” or simply “free economy” (see Centesimus Annus, no. 42). Such an expression of human liberty, grounded in ethical and religious tradition—especially natural law reasoning—and circumscribed by law, is to my mind, the best we can get on earth. This approach is neither libertine nor anarchistic.

Read “Is Capitalism Immoral? An Interview with Father Robert Sirico” on the Patheos Evangelical channel.

Blog author: jcarter
Friday, June 15, 2012
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One of the excellent presentations at Acton University today was Andreas Widmer’s class on “Business as a Moral Enterprise.” For those who missed it, Joe Gorra of the Evangelical Philosophical Society recently interviewed Widmer, a Research Fellow in Entrepreneurship at the Acton Institute, on that same topic:

Gorra: Entrepreneurship is in your bones. You are the co-founder of the SEVEN Fund, which is doing some remarkable work “to dramatically increase the rate of innovation and diffusion of enterprise-based solutions to poverty.” To start off, I want to have you address what might be aptly described as one of your life themes: business as a moral enterprise. Why is it a moral enterprise and not merely a profit-maximizing machine?

Widmer: There is a misconception in our society that business is amoral, or that the pursuit of profit is mutually exclusive to conducting business with virtue. A Moral Enterprise is one that approaches business in the spirit of co-creation: as we pursue entrepreneurship, we mirror God’s image as the creator, and pursue his invitation to participate in his creative power.

Read more . . .

Were you unable to attend Acton University 2012?  Want to hear a lecture you missed?  You’re in luck, because we have (almost) all of the lectures available so far.  Stay tuned to grab them as they’re posted to our digital lecture store. Here’s what’s available so far:

Day 1 – June 12

  • A Conversation with Michael Novak

Day 2 – June 13

  • Christian Anthropology (’12) – Dr. Samuel Gregg
  • Person and Property in the Pentateuch – Dr. David Baker
  • The Church and Urban Education – Dr. Anthony Bradley
  • de Vitoria and Economic Liberty – Dr. Alejandro Chafuen
  • The Role of Ideas in Economic History – Prof. Ross Emmett
  • Christian Vision of Government – Michael Matheson Miller
  • East Meets West: Consumerism and Asceticism – Rev. Gregory Jensen
  • Religion and the 21st Century – Rev. Raymond de Souza
  • The Unknown Solzhenitsyn – Dr. Edward Ericson
  • The Role of the Mega-Church – Rev. Dan Scott
  • The Economic Way of Thinking (’12) – Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse
  • The Church and God’s Economy – Dr. Jordan Ballor
  • Communitarianism: Theory and Critique – Dr. Kenneth Grasso
  • Corruption – Prof. Carroll Rios de Rodriguez
  • The Gospel of Luke – Prof. Chris Armstrong
  • Value Investing – Mr. David Bahnsen
  • 19th Century Reflections on Liberty – Michael Matheson Miller
  • Tensions in American Conservatism – Dr. Jay Richards
  • Biblical Foundations of Freedom – Dr. Charles Self
  • An Evening with Arthur Brooks

Day 3 – June 14

  • Economics and Human Action – Dr. Peter Boettke
  • Orthodoxy, Church and State – Very Rev. Michael Butler
  • Christianity and the Scottish Enlightenment – Dr. Samuel Gregg
  • Poverty in the Developing World – Michael Matheson Miller
  • The Church and Modern Civilization – Dr. Greg Forster
  • Vocational Stewardship and Community Transformation – Dr. Amy Sherman

Visit the digital lecture store here to buy individual lectures and to view additional descriptions. Be sure to bookmark it since we’ll be posting more into next week.

Wednesday was filled with learning at Acton University with courses running the entire day.  Here are some photos of the second official day.  If you see me around the event, don’t be afraid to ask for a picture.  We have other photographers covering the event as well and you’ll get to see their pictures later on.

Blog author: jcarter
Thursday, June 14, 2012
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The Acton Institute’s annual Acton University conference kicked off on June 12, 2012 with an evening plenary session featuring a conversation with public intellectual, author, and former US Ambassador Michael Novak.

Tuesday was the first official day of Acton University. I made my way around the Acton office and DeVos Convention Center capturing photos of the initial registration and arrival of participants.  Stay tuned for more posts about Acton University.

This is a huge week for us here at Acton. The annual Acton University kicks off tonight and runs through Friday with more than 700 attendees expected from dozens of countries. I’ll be blogging some of the scenes from this amazing event, starting with yesterday’s “prep rally” and breakfast at our offices in Grand Rapids. Stay tuned for more great postings on AU here on the PowerBlog and be sure to follow the Twitter feed on the right hand sidebar. If you’re at the event, make sure you connect with everyone with the #ActonU hashtag.

Today marks the 25th anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s stirring speech in front of Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate. Against the advice of the State Department, the National Security Council and the ranking U.S. diplomat in Berlin, the President challenged Mikhail Gorbachev, General Secretary of the Communist Party, to take his glasnost policy one step further with the demolition of the Berlin Wall.

The speech, which forecasted the wall’s 1989 destruction, remains one of the most iconic moments of Reagan’s presidency and a moment of victory on the path to world freedom.

Below is a video of the speech: