In the Feb. 27 issue of WORLD Magazine, editor in chief Marvin Olasky interviews Anthony Bradley about his new book, Liberating Black Theology (2010, Crossway Books). Bradley is a research fellow at the Acton Institute, a professor at The King’s College in New York, and a contributor at WORLDmag.com. Excerpt:

Olasky: From what does black liberation theology have to be liberated?

Anthony Bradley

Anthony Bradley

Bradley: Black theology has to be liberated from itself. Its primary anthropological presupposition is that humans are victims of social oppression: That is the starting point of a person’s identity. I want to switch the conversation and say, “Slavery happened, injustice happened because the devil is real and the Fall is real, so you’ll always have injustice. But the core of a person’s identity is that of the Imago Dei, being made in God’s image.”

Olasky: Where does black theology fail?

Bradley: If theology emphasizes “victim status” and not something more ontological, the remedy is often short-sighted: When your theology is nothing but politics and sociology, it doesn’t help you when you get cancer or your husband leaves you. If your theology of liberation is grounded in the Imago Dei, you’re much more open to looking at the multiple ways in which the Fall affects human life.

Download the introduction to Bradley’s new book and the first few pages of Chapter One here.

Here’s the brief description of Liberating Black Theology from Crossway:

When the beliefs of Barack Obama’s former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, assumed the spotlight during the 2008 presidential campaign, the influence of black liberation theology became hotly debated not just within theological circles but across cultural lines. How many of today’s African-American congregations-and how many Americans in general-have been shaped by its view of blacks as perpetual victims of white oppression?

bradley_bookIn this interdisciplinary, biblical critique of the black experience in America, Anthony Bradley introduces audiences to black liberation theology and its spiritual and social impact. He starts with James Cone’s proposition that the “victim” mind-set is inherent within black consciousness. Bradley then explores how such biblical misinterpretation has historically hindered black churches in addressing the diverse issues of their communities and prevented adherents from experiencing the freedoms of the gospel. Yet Liberating Black Theology does more than consider the ramifications of this belief system; it suggests an alternate approach to the black experience that can truly liberate all Christ-followers.

Watch for it soon in the Acton Bookshoppe!

Blog author: ken.larson
Friday, February 19, 2010
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Jordan Ballor’s recent post “What Government Can’t Do” contained a quotation from Lord Acton worth revisiting:

“There are many things the government can’t do – many good purposes it must renounce. It must leave them to the enterprise of others. It cannot feed the people. It cannot enrich the people. It cannot teach the people. It cannot convert the people.”

On February 18th Barack Obama announced a “Debt Panel” – officially termed a Bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform – to be headed by former government veterans Alan Simpson of Wyoming and Erskine Bowles of the Clinton White House years by way of Morgan Stanley; and the university at Chapel Hill. (Wiki terms Bowles an “American Businessman” but the only business he’s been in is financial services. Bankers are money lenders. I know it’s a peculiar distinction but that’s hardly on a par with entrepreneurial spirt or creating wealth with an idea and a lot of sweat.) Bankers use OPM — other people’s money — and put it out for a fee.

Obama wants the debt panel to come up with a solution for dealing with too much government outflow versus what citizens are willing to pay in taxes. It’s a CYA venture and the two guys “leading” the discussion and the fellow appointing them are illustrative of what is wrong with what passes on multiple levels for both elected and hired government leadership in The United States of America these days.

The conceit that brings us debt panels starts with the presumption inherent in such concepts as “schools of government” that are fixtures in many of our leading universities throughout the country. At Texas A&M, there’s a school of public service with former President Bush’s name over the doorway. At Harvard there’s the Kennedy School of Government. At University of Maryland the department is called “Business, Government, Industry” — an interesting ordering of words don’t you think with “government” at the center. And on the left coast, The University of Southern California touts their school of Public Administration as being responsible for training more bureaucrats for city, county and state government jobs than any other in the region.

After three terms in the U.S. Senate Alan Simpson left to take a job as lecturer and Director of the Institute of Politics at Harvard’s Kennedy School whose mission is “studying public policy and preparing its practitioners.” They boast 27,000 graduates in 137 countries. The effort was “born in the midst of the Great Depression and on the eve of World War II. As government grappled with historic challenges both domestic and international” and no doubt has helped bring us such innovations as The World Bank and other drains on our national checkbook.

The cumulative graduate classes from these places has contributed to the burgeoning number of municipal jobs throughout our country. Think about the job fair at your kids’ high school. How many private businesses were there? Okay, maybe a major aerospace company came or JOHN DEERE, but mostly these assemblies are catered by the police and/or fire departments, local public works departments, a county hospital, or Teach for America. The private sector is conspicuous in its absence and that’s too bad because I think it’s one of the reasons the size of government and government’s workforce has become so large, intrusive and demanding on our nation’s treasure.

In a recent post former Bush guy Rich Galen puts the total cost of running Congress at $4,656,000,000 per annum and moans that they can’t or won’t do their job. I did some research last year and was told by the Congressional Budget Office that annual operating costs of the Senate is $800 million and the House $1.2 billion plus security. That’s half of what Galen writes but if you do the math even with the smaller number you get $3.7 million per Congress member. They make over $175,000.00 a year. In fact 19% of all federal employees make over $100K per year. In Los Angeles, California more than a dozen City Council members make $195,000 annually and the city is going broke.

In a neat little book titled Liberty And Learning, author Larry Arnn chronicles among other things, The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 and The Homestead Act in an effort to illuminate the importance of education to the American Founders. He adroitly makes the point that education was never given the high priority it had in the Founder’s lives in order to “provide skilled workers for a changing economy” or insure that citizens would “make more money.” Education, especially knowledge and understanding of this nation’s founding principles was acknowledged by the Founders to be a prerequisite for the insurance of individual freedom and their constitutional republic.

But where are we in this? In the shame of survey and test results such as provided by Intercollegiate Studies Institute that testify to our Civic Illiteracy, many citizens vote present at a time when our nation’s economic and spiritual solvency are at risk. And every day we are told by a fawning news media that Obama and his administration – which does not include one high level official formed by some private sector experience – are the most intelligent assemblage in our country.

Recently I had the chance to read and discuss a story by Flannery O’Connor – The Enduring Chill. In the story a 25 year old son named Asbury has returned to his mother’s farm from an attempt as a writer in New York. There’s an older sister. He’s sick and if you know O’Connor you’re likely to be able to guess what’s missing in his life. While they wait for a country doctor to examine Asbury and make a prognosis the narrative provides us this:

When people think they are smart – even when they are smart – there is nothing anybody else can say to make them see things straight, and with Asbury, the trouble was that in addition to being smart, he had an artistic temperament. She did not know where he had got it from because his father, who was a lawyer and businessman and farmer and politician all rolled into one, had certainly had his feet on the ground…. She had managed after he died to get the two of them through college and beyond; but she had observed that the more education they got, the less they could do.

I think we have to do more for ourselves. And it needs to begin NOW.

Blog author: hunter.baker
Friday, February 19, 2010
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Francis Beckwith is back with another book. He has written Politics for Christians: Statecraft as Soulcraft.

I’ve not yet had a chance to read it, but this may be the book people have been asking me for as a follow-up to The End of Secularism.

I made the negative case against secularism and here Beckwith makes the positive case for a Christian politics. Amazingly, the books are priced within a penny of each other on Amazon. Bundle us up!

In seriousness, I am really looking forward to reading this book. I profited immensely from being Francis Beckwith’s graduate student years ago and have been somewhat awestruck by a number of his previous works. Any Christian involved in politics as a citizen, candidate, critic, or office-holder would benefit from reading him. Certainly, the quality of our discourse would improve as a result.

As we’ve noted before, the Planet Money team is on the ground in Haiti getting a hands-on look at the economic situation after the disaster. Today they broadcast a moving story of an entrepreneur who lost all her capital in the earthquake. Now she totes a 30+ lbs. bin of chicken necks to make a few dollars a day.

The story is a testament to the power of micro-finance, the complications of an international import operation, and the bookkeeping practices of a purveyor of chicken necks. Check it out and visit the Planet Money blog tomorrow to get the follow-up on how Yvrose fared with her lender.

Blog author: kschmiesing
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
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The United States, unsurprisingly, has historically placed quite high on the economic freedom indexes released by various organizations. This year, the Heritage Foundation’s ranking saw the US drop. It’s still relatively high on the list, but the backward movement is disturbing. I try to explain why this development is significant in this week’s Acton Commentary:

If you’re known by the company you keep, then the United States may want to re-think its economic policy.

The 2010 Index of Economic Freedom, a joint publication of the Heritage Foundation and the Wall Street Journal, measures the world’s nations according to a range of criteria from the ease of starting a business, to protection of property rights, to various forms of government interventions. Among the 15 “biggest losers” during the past year was the United States, placing it among the likes of Libya, Uzbekistan, Mongolia, and Venezuela. (The inclusion of the relatively more respectable United Kingdom is cold comfort.)

America’s plunge in the rankings is the result of a range of misguided policies, including increasing tax rates and exorbitant government spending. The Bush White House deserves some blame for setting the trajectory, but the Obama Administration has only taken Bush’s economic mistakes and amplified them.

The United States for the first time dropped out of the Index’s “free” category and into the ranks of “mostly free.” Many Americans, who fail to understand how much of the world has recognized the benefits of market-friendly economic reform and government restraint while their country has moved in an opposite direction, will be shocked to learn that Australia, Switzerland, and even Canada rank ahead of the United States on an economic freedom index. Asian city-states Hong Kong and Singapore continue to top the chart.

Why does this matter? After all, freedom and economic prosperity are not the only or even the chief measures of well-being anyway. Amelioration of poverty and protection of the environment, some would argue, are the sorts of concerns that should take precedence over the grasping of ever greater economic freedom and material accumulation.

But this view takes the wrong perspective. Advancing scores on the Index’s criteria of economic freedom are, more often than not, concurrent with poverty reduction and environmental improvement. The Index itself notes the correlation in its Highlights summary. During the last decade, countries improving in economic freedom have reduced poverty levels faster than have countries whose economic freedom has declined. Nations that enjoy vigorous property rights protection and free trade score higher on the Environmental Performance Index.

Both of these correlations fit the evidence from a long history of academic studies and lived experience that demonstrate the causations at work here: The institutions of free markets, private property rights, and rule of law create conditions conducive to economic growth; economic growth lifts an increasing percentage of the population out of poverty; as the poor are relieved of the desperate search for daily sustenance, they are willing to allocate more attention to other goods, such as conservation of natural resources.

Social benefits extend beyond the areas of poverty reduction and environmental stewardship. “Economic freedom,” the Index observes, “is also strongly correlated to overall well-being, taking into account other factors such as health, education, security, and political governance.”

Thus economic growth may be “morally neutral” in the abstract, but it certainly has moral implications in the real world. The recent experience of Haiti confirmed this point in a grim fashion. Obviously the devastation there is not reducible to economic factors, but it should be equally obvious that the country’s poverty—reflected in shoddy infrastructure and weakness in the capacities of both public and private institutions—intensified the human and material destruction.

People of good will may differ on a wide range of policy details without impugning their character. The specific connections between various policies and economic improvement are often debatable. But when a compelling measure of economic freedom shows the United States in free fall, then every conscientious citizen should take notice. We’re headed in the wrong direction.

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
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A local food bank and distribution network was featured on a Michigan Radio piece the other day, and it really captures how to give to people in a way that respects their dignity. For one thing, when you are giving food to the hungry, you don’t just hand them wax beans and canned beets.

John Arnold, executive director of Feeding America West Michigan Food Bank, says that people shouldn’t be getting what he calls “bomb shelter food.”

“Products like powdered milk and dry beans and dried noodles sound and look nutritious but you never see in people’s shopping cart,” he observes.

Instead, as Kyle Norris reports, Arnold recognizes that “nobody eats that stuff, but somehow food agencies think that’s what they supposed to give people in need. Arnold says we need to get people good, nutritious food in a way that makes it fun.

Arnold also says agencies have to let people pick the food they want, as opposed to handing someone a box filled with a random assortment of food they may or may not eat. These things aren’t just his personal theories. He points to research from United Way and Michigan State University that backs these conclusions.”

One of the principles of effective compassion is that we are to discern and respect each person’s freedom, constitutive of their dignity as created in the image of God. In this concrete case, it means in part having people exercise their own autonomy and choose their own foods, rather than be handed what someone else assumes they need.

So this is a good rule of thumb for treating others as you do yourself: “When we do care for one another it should be with food we’d want to serve our own family.”

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Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
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NPR’s Morning Edition had a touching piece the other day that illustrated how great a blessing business can be, and just how terrible things can be when there’s no freedom to innovate, produce, and create wealth. Chana Joffe-Walt and Adam Davidson of Planet Money put together the narrative of George Sassine of Haiti and Fernando Capellan of the Dominican Republic, “Island Of Hispaniola Has Two Varied Economies.”

Both men shared the same dream: to open up a T-shirt factory. Sassine has had to struggle through all kinds of adversity in the attempt to realize his dream. And just as it was about to take off for good, to really get going, the earthquake hit. Says Sassine, “I’ve had a coup d’etats. I’ve had hurricanes. Now, I have an earthquake.” The “simple cut-and-sew factory” that Sassine had managed to put together lies in ruins.

Cappellan, on the contrary, started with a simple cut-and-sew operation, but in the interim has enjoyed great success; “His business now is, as they say, several steps up the value chain from the dream he started with.”

Sassine puts his finger on what differentiates him from Cappellan. It’s not ability, or ingenuity, or diligence. What has really prevented Sassine from doing for Haiti what Cappellan has done for the Dominican Republic?

Sassine asserts assuredly of Cappellan, “fortunately, for him, his country, his government was behind him. Me, I’ve been having governments against me all my life.” Political instability, corruption, and tyranny are what kill dreams like Sassine’s and Cappellan’s.

Blog author: jballor
Monday, February 15, 2010
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NJ Governor Chris Christie: “Today, we come to terms with the fact that we cannot spend money on everything we want.”

Lord Acton: “There are many things the government can’t do – many good purposes it must renounce. It must leave them to the enterprise of others. It cannot feed the people. It cannot enrich the people. It cannot teach the people. It cannot convert the people.”

Blog author: jballor
Monday, February 15, 2010
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Longtime Acton friend John H. Armstrong notes the recent discussion of Rowan Williams’ pronouncements on ethics and the economy here at the PowerBlog, commenting that “The archbishop of Canterbury is an extremely likable Christian gentleman, a first-class Christian scholar. He is also a leader who often fails to address some of the more difficult issues in our time with a straight, clear answer.”

Armstrong’s description of Williams coheres well with the overall picture of theologians engaging economics presented by Susan Lee, who says, “The habit of picking and choosing means that many theological discussions of economics take place under a cloud of incoherence, or at least to economists, ignorance.”

In this brief piece from APM’s Marketplace, “Bridging the theology-economy gap.” Susan Lee, “an economist and a theologian based in New York City,” passes along her experience at a public appearance that included Rowan Williams. She gets of some real substantive observations, including the following:

…ethics are the common ground for theology and economics…

Both theologians and economists are interested in improving the lives of all humans. Both groups agree on policy goals like low unemployment and sustainable growth. In fact, these goals are in harmony with a definition offered by the archbishop. He said: “An ethical economy is one where we care for our neighbor by creating conditions so the most vulnerable aren’t abandoned.” Well, this is a description of capitalism in the U.S….

Economists are interested in how to make the pie larger. Theologians are interested in how to divide the pie. And so many theologians treat capitalism like a Chinese menu. They pick the wealth-distribution parts and discard the wealth-creation parts….

Her commentary is brief, but worth reading or listening to in full. Jeff Walton at the IRD also provides some background for the Trinity Institute event, and includes fuller observations from Lee (HT).

Living In God's Creation: Orthodox Perspectives on Ecology (St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2009)

Living In God's Creation: Orthodox Perspectives on Ecology (St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2009)

Like many, my first encounter with Orthodox theology was intoxicating. Here, finally, in the works of thinkers such as Vladimir Lossky, John Meyendorf and Alexander Schmemann and others I found an intellectually rigorous approach to theology that was biblical and patristic in its sources, mystical in its orientation and beautiful in its language.

But over the years I have found a curious lacunae in Orthodox theology.

For all that it is firmly grounded in the historical sources of the Christian tradition, Orthodox theology often lacks what Elizabeth Theokritoff in her book Living in God’s Creation: Orthodox Perspectives on Ecology calls “the practical application” that is central to patristic thought. “There is a temptation [for Orthodox Christians] to say, ‘Look, it’s all in the Fathers'” as if somehow this solves all of life’s problems (p. 253). However fidelity to patristic theology requires more than simply reading the Fathers. As the Fathers did in their own time, I must wrestle with the intellectual and practical concerns of the contemporary world with an eye to redeeming the time (see Ephesians 5:16).

Theokritoff wrestles with the cosmological and anthropological implications of Orthodox theology as they apply to contemporary concerns about the environment. In so doing she sketches out what I would call a theory of natural law grounded in the Scriptures, the Fathers and the liturgical tradition of the Orthodox Church. For many outside the Orthodox Church, and for not a few within, the notion that there even is an Orthodox understanding of natural law might come as a surprise. But such tradition exists and while Theokritoff does not use the term, her work is very much a work concerned with natural law.

Following St. Maximus the Confessor, Theokritoff argues that as a “‘bond of unity’ in creation,” humanity’s vocation “is progressively to unite the disparate aspects of the created order, and ultimately to unite the whole with God” (p. 31). For this reason, “It is necessary to accept that human beings are the cause of the world’s plight.” Unlike many in the environmental movement however, the author does not  take this to mean that humanity is a blight or a cancer on the enviroment. Rather she argues “that we are also God’s chosen instruments through which all things are to be brought to fulfillment in Christ” (p. 32).

That said, it is not all together clear to me what, if anything, are the author’s specific environmental goals. What, in other words, does she hope us to accomplish as we work to bring all things to fulfillment in Christ? And how, in a practical way, are we to accomplish this?

These are not trivial questions. And to assert, as she does, that it is “not the task of theology to come up with such solutions” is less than satisfying. This is doubly the case given that she thinks policies such as fair trade, population control, and reduced consumption and production in the West are appropriate Christian means of caring for the environment (p. 30).

On the last page of the book there is a trivial illustration of the author’s uncritical identification of the tradition of the Orthodox Church with her own preferred environmental policies. Rightly, as the author reminds us, “there is no path to the Kingdom except through a thousand ordinary, humdrum decisions.” But is it also true to say, as she suggests, that “recycling a sheet of paper . . . is a practical assent to [God's] plan of salvation. . . . [and] signals our willingness to be co-workers with the Almighty in bring his creation to the fulfillment for which it was made” (p. 265)? Maybe, but not necessarily.

While I disagree with author’s progressive politics and policies, it is important to note that Theokritoff offers her suggestions in a spirit of humility. As she writes, “there will sometimes be genuine differences among Christians about the practicalities of remedying various ills” (p. 30). True enough, but I do wish that the author had left her own politics completely out of the book or, having included them, she engaged those who disagree with her.

While we certainly ought not to minimize the seriousness of Theokritoff’s policy suggestions, — especially what I would argue are her misguided and very dangerous flirtation with population control — the real strength of the book is in her articulation of an Orthodox approach to natural law grounded in Scripture and the Church Fathers and embodied in Christian worship and the lives and witnesses of the saints. Living in God’s Creation offers us a rich cosmological and anthropological vision that has implications not only for the environment but also economics and politics and it raises themes worthy of further exploration and study.