Blog author: dwbosch
posted by on Thursday, November 16, 2006

[UPDATE: Goldberg at the Corner invokes a variation on the skepticism theme: "Anti-clericalism was certainly partly driven from the suspicion that priests and other clergy were preaching their versions of the gospel simply to empower themselves. I've long argued that one of the reasons Washington-based reporters are liberal, or statist, is that if the subject they cover is considered hugely important, then they in turn will be considered hugely important." A reader responds with Cui bono.]

University of Colorado’s R. Pielke Jr. (hat tip)

If climate scientists ever wonder why they are looked upon with suspicion among some people in society, they need look no further in their willingness to compromise their own intellectual standards in policy debate on the issue of disasters and climate change.

What he’s saying is that the scientific method involves both establishing an hypothesis, and making a diligent effort towards disproving that hypothesis to see whether one’s original assumptions still hold up.

I’m not sure many of the outstpoken global warming moralists in evangelical circles today get this. That’s because people of faith don’t normally operate like this.

Other than notables like McDowell who found Christ while trying to disprove him, Christians are geared from children’s church onward to absorb and apply church doctrine based on the concerted studies of biblical authorities, or in the case of Scripture, first-hand witnesses inspired by the Holy Spirit. While we might critically analyze biblical truth as it applies to our lives today, we rarely set ourselves toward disproving the Bible itself as a way to establish it’s veracity.

There is an important distinction, then, between aggressively promoting environmental stewardship as a God-ordained moral ethic (which it is), and aggressively promoting a particular area of human-derived environmental science as a moral ethic (which it is not).

Being salt and light in the world means making this distinction evidently clear to all.

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world… — 1 John 4:1

[Don's other habitat is The Evangelical Ecologist.]

Blog author: mvandermaas
posted by on Thursday, November 16, 2006

From time to time, I come across something that forces me to stop, step back, and marvel at the wonder of human creativity. The movie below is one of those things.

Airplanes are so commonplace that we often take them for granted. Here at Acton, many of my colleagues are regularly catching flights to all sorts of points on the globe, and it isn’t unusual for me to hear some grumbling about the airlines and the annoyances that come along with modern air travel. But you won’t hear that from me – I have never lost the fascination with airplanes that I had as a young child, and I treasure the opportunity to fly.

Imagine – I could get onto an airplane today, climb to an altitude over five miles above the surface of the earth at speeds approaching 800 feet per second, all while balanced on a point where the opposing forces of thrust, drag, lift and gravity are in perfect harmony, and all in relative comfort. And in doing so, I would join into an intricate international choreography of aircraft that end up creating the delicate and beautiful patterns that you see above.

Take a moment today to appreciate the gift of liberty that can unleash human creativity. And then take some time to stand in awe of the Creator who our human creativity only dimly reflects.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, November 16, 2006

Things were busy here yesterday at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in Washington, D.C. With over 1800 registered attendees and 600+ papers being presented, the ideas are flying fast and furious. My paper on Bonhoeffer’s views of church and state went well. A few people asked me to send them copies of the paper, so expect a series of blog posts containing the text in coming days (once I clean up the textual apparatus).

One highlight of the day was the brief chance to visit the exhibitor’s booths. There are some great book deals to be had. In fact, Stephen Grabill’s book, Rediscovering the Natural Law in Reformed Theological Ethics, sold out in an hour and a half! (Never fear, you can get yours from the Acton Book Shoppe today.)

Last night J. Budziszewski delivered a challenging and thoughtful plenary address on competing views of tolerance. He juxtaposed what he calls the classical/patristic view over against the modern/liberal grounding of tolerance, finding in favor of the former over the latter.

I also found out yesterday that another Acton adjunct scholar, Eric Schansberg, is giving a paper today, so that can be added to the slate of Acton activities at ETS (updated here). Today’s schedule is full again, starting bright and early with sessions beginning at 8:30 am.

The Hugh Hewitt/Andrew Sullivan kerfuffle has been mentioned a few times on the PowerBlog (here and here, for example), and while the dust has largely settled from that event, the issues that it raised continue to be addressed in various corners of the blogosphere. The most interesting (and extensive) commentary that I’ve read on Sullivan and his new book is by the Rev. Dr. Mark Roberts, who serves as Senior Pastor of Irvine Presbyterian Church in Irvine, California. Roberts’ critique is well worth a read in full, but here’s a sample to get you going:

I find Sullivan’s thoughts about Christianity fascinating for several reasons. One is that he epitomizes something I’d call “Retrofitted Christianity.” What do I mean by this? If you look up “retrofit” in the dictionary, one definition reads: “To provide with parts, devices, or equipment not in existence or available at the time of original manufacture.” If you retrofit a classic car, for example, you might give it a new engine that wasn’t available when the car was first built. So retrofitted Christianity is a version of classic faith that includes new parts that weren’t there at first. Some people, like Andrew Sullivan, think this is a better or even more authentic version of the faith. Others, like me, for example, are concerned that the retrofitted version of Christianity exemplified by Sullivan lacks some essential parts, even though it gets some things right.

Susan Stabile, a law professor at St. John’s University and a contributor to Mirror of Justice, analyzes the current state of health coverage in the United States in light of Catholic social teaching in this article. I have quibbles here and there along the way, but on the whole the approach and the conclusions are sound. She is probably right that Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) have limited value, though my reasoning would be a little different. I would say that, in principle, they represent a helpful idea—increase the operation of the market within health care—but they are such a small foray into a vast and complicated world beset with market distortions on every side, that they end up exhibiting the deficiencies that Stabile identifies.

The verdict is obviously still out on the Massachusetts plan but I am willing, with Stabile, to give it the benefit of the doubt as a generally well-conceived step to try to solve a difficult problem.

One issue that Stabile and so many others writing on this subject fail to take into account is distinguishing between necessary and elective health care. This is a critical issue that simply must be a part of our ongoing debate about health coverage. She rightly insists that Catholic social teaching views health care as a right. But does that right imply a monthly medical check-up? An annual one? Plastic surgery to make wounds less noticeable? Botox treatments to take the lines out of one’s aging countenance?

Probably we could come to consensus that the last item in that list is not a right. But what about the others? It’s not an easy distinction and there will be a lot of different views about where to draw the line. As soon as we take health care out of the realm of the market (where every person gets just what he is willing to pay for personally), it seems to me that we have to answer not only the question, How is the community going to ensure that everyone receives health care?, but also the question, Which forms of health care will the community pay for? To think that everyone can have every bit of medical treatment he or she wishes is pie-in-the-sky utopianism. Health care is a scarce commodity like anything else, and its distribution at some level must somehow be tied to market pricing.

I think we need to stop thinking about health care as a special case and think about it more as just another basic good necessary for human wellbeing. Take nourishment as an example. No one (or nearly no one) advocates that any person be left to starve to death. And no (or nearly no one) argues that everyone must have access to five-star restaurants. Instead, people take up positions along a spectrum. Some argue that private charity can provide the needed safety net; some insist that government programs are necessary; some say that a mixture of the two is best. But with health care, it seems that many people believe that everyone must be able to afford the equivalent of the five-star restaurant; otherwise there is unconscionable inequity. It’s an impossible goal.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The UN has been busy updating the Chicken Little fable into a contemporary context. You know the story where the little chick runs around crying, “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!”

In this edition, however, the looming disaster is (predictably) climate change. The news comes courtesy of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (HT: NewsBusters).

Sedna, the Mother of the Sea

The Gaia motif is perhaps the most revealing part, as in “Tore and the Town on Thin Ice,” (PDF) the title character is visited by “Sedna, the Mother of the Sea” who claims to be “the one who created and cares for the sea creatures – whales and walruses, seals and fish.”

Sedna is the Inuit goddess of the sea, and apparently the link between environmentalism and paganism is a natural one at the United Nations Environment Programme.

Of course the Christian faith provides a more than adequate basis for true stewardship of the environment, which neither divinizes the creation nor absolutizes human power over the world.

The Lord who “created the great creatures of the sea and every living and moving thing with which the water teems, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind” also made man the “ruler over the works” of his hands, including “the fish of the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas.”

If it is true that the sea life is suffering, I think it is less a sign of the distress of Sedna than it is something else…the day of the Lord, perhaps? See what some of the prophets have to say about this, particularly Ezekiel and Zephaniah.

But perhaps that story is too scary for the UN. It prefers the Chicken Little myth and the illusion both that human action is the direct cause of and the potential solution for all disasters.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, November 14, 2006

A number of us who are affiliated with the Acton Institute in various ways will be traveling to Washington, D.C. this week to attend the 58th annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, “Christians in the Public Square.”

I hope to bring you updates from some of the more interesting and engaging presentations. With that in mind, for your interest below are the papers scheduled to be given by Acton scholars:

Wednesday, November 15

E. Calvin Beisner, “Scientific Orthodoxies, Politicized Science, and Catastrophic Global Warming: Challenges to Evangelicals Navigating Rough Waters in Science and Policy,” 2:30-3:10 pm (Jr. Exec. C: “The Church in the Public Square”).

Jordan J. Ballor, “Bonhoeffer on Church and State,” 2:30-3:10 pm (Georgetown West: “Church History and Historical Theology”).

Thursday, November 18

Stephen J. Grabill, “Evangelical Public Theology and Natural Law: Rediscovering the Theological Resources of the Reformation,” 8:30-9:10 am (Hemisphere: “Natural Law and Evangelical Theology”).

Jay Richards, “Don’t Just Care. Think: Fallacies Christians Believe about Wealth and Poverty,” 8:30-9:10 am (Adams: “Ethics, Politics, and the Public Square”).

D. Eric Schansberg, “Turn Neither to the Right nor to the Left: A Consistent Christian Philosophy of Government,” 2:10-2:50 pm (Adams: “Ethics, Politics, and the Public Square”).

Friday, November 17

Anthony B. Bradley, “Beyond Bono and Jim Wallis: Politics and Economics For Post-Conservative Social Justice,” 10:00-10:40 am (Monroe East: “Ethics, Politics, and the Public Square”).

Anthony B. Bradley, “Emerging Ethos Does Not Mean Anti-Traditional Theology,” 10:50-11:30 am (Monroe East: “Pastoral Theology Study Group”).

If you’re planning on attending, please stop by and hear the ones that interest you.

This post concludes my series on the largely forgotten catholicity of Protestant ethics, with a few brief remarks and reflections.

My goal for this series, as stated in Part 1, was to show that voluntarism and nominalism are not the same thing, that two important Reformed theologians (Peter Martyr Vermigli and Jerome Zanchi) had more than a passing interest in Thomism (or intellectualism as Pope Benedict XVI referred to it in his now famous Regensburg address), and that evangelicals need to revisit their wariness on the capacity of reason to discern moral truth. Much more could be written on each of these topics, and likely will be on this blog and some others, but the fundamental point should not be missed that two significant sixteenth-century Reformed theologians break the modern mold for Protestant ethics. Among the thinkers and writers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, I can assure you there are numerous others who also break the mold.

For almost one hundred years now, Protestant theologians and ethicists have held natural law at arm’s length. During this same period, Protestant theologians have also largely shunned any vestige of the scholastic and metaphysical base of Reformation-era theology in order to gain acceptance in the modern Academy and to increase their contemporary cachet. Whether this strategy has been successful, or if it is even coherent to begin with, is beyond this blog series to determine, but I have my doubts.

It is enough to simply point out that natural law is tied to philosophical realism — the belief that the created world is the external foundation of knowledge for all science. (Read Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 1, pp. 223-33). And that a realist metaphysic, was the agreed upon philosophical approach from the very beginning of Christianity to somewhere in the eighteenth century when modern currents of thought began to chip it away. (For those who doubt whether this is so, take up and read Augustine’s On Christian Doctrine). According to the Belgic Confession, the world “is a beautiful book in which all creatures, great and small, are as letters to make us ponder the invisible things of God.” It is high time that Protestants recover a sense of their connectedness with the broader and older Christian moral tradition and take up once again “the invisible things of God.”

“If nominalism is correct,” as Bavinck warned, “we can forget about science altogether.”

This entry has been cross-posted to my blog, Common Notions.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, November 13, 2006

In an op-ed last week, Acton senior fellow Jerry Zandstra argues that in Michigan, even though the GOP lost, conservatives won. In “GOP loses, but conservatives win in Michigan” Zandstra explains the phenomenon that “Conservative positions won in the ballot initiatives but Republican candidates lost.”

Some more evidence that Republicans have generally abandoned conservative economic principles comes from Cato@Liberty’s examination of the voting records of ousted GOP lawmakers (HT: AmSpec Blog).

The conclusion? “The great majority of losing Republicans were economic moderates or liberals. Few of the losers were above the 70th percentile in their votes on economic issues.”

In preparing for the paper I’m giving this week on Bonhoeffer’s views of church and state, I ran across the following quotes, which nicely illustrate his view of the gospel and its relation to alleviation of social oppression and suffering. In his essay, “Ultimate and Penultimate Things,” he writes,

It would be blasphemy against God and our neighbor to leave the hungry unfed while saying that God is closest to those in deepest need. We break bread with the hungry and share our home with them for the sake of Christ’s love, which belongs to the hungry as much as it does to us. If the hungry do not come to faith, the guilt falls on those who denied them bread. To bring bread to the hungry is preparing the way for the coming of grace.

But even more important than feeding the hungry is the spiritual bread of the gospel. The physical bread derives its importance, in fact, from its value in “preparing the way” for the reception of the gospel. Giving mere bread is a penultimate thing.

Thus he writes, “Preparing the way is indeed a matter of concrete intervention in the visible world, as concrete and visible as hunger and nourishment. Nevertheless, everything depends on this action being a spiritual reality, since what is finally at stake is not the reform of worldly conditions but the coming of Christ.”

This coheres pretty well with a traditional view of the social responsibility of the Church as an important, albeit secondary, aspect of gospel proclamation. Richard Baxter once wrote,

Do as much good as you are able to men’s bodies in order to the greater good of Souls. If nature be not supported, men are not capable of other good. We pray for our daily bread before pardon and spiritual blessings; not as if it were better, but that nature is supposed before grace, and we cannot be Christians if we be not men: God hath so placed the soul in the body, that good or evil shall make its entrance by the bodily senses to the Soul.

It seems to me that Bonhoeffer and Baxter are in close agreement on these issues, in contradistinction to the so-called “social gospel,” which confuses the penultimate with the ultimate.