Archive for September, 2010

Heaven Misplaced: Christ’s Kingdom Now, Apocalypse Later

Heaven Misplaced: Christ's Kingdom on Earth by Douglas WilsonWhen we think of the End Times we usually think of earthquakes, floods, and nuclear explosions. From the hyper rants of Jack Van Impe to the silly scenes of Left Behind, evangelical culture has bombarded us with images of an apocalypse that is devastating and widespread — one that will be preceded by a big, cruel magic trick.

Small pockets of Christians will vanish across the globe, disappearing from busy streets, bustling malls and crowded airplanes. News anchors and political pundits will be left speechless, unaware that they are representatives of a world full of no-good sinners, left hopelessly to self-destruct under the grip of a soon-to-rise anti-Christ. The minority of good folks will be gone and everyone else will be doomed to hell.

But what if we’ve got it wrong? What if the events leading up to the Second Coming aren’t as grim as we suspect? There will almost certainly be a tribulation period filled with conflict, but before that happens, what if those busy streets are overwhelmingly Christian instead of overwhelmingly heathen? Yes, the above storyline often accepts that the Gospel will be proclaimed throughout the world, but what if most of the world will actually receive it?

It is this question that Douglas Wilson explores in his recent book, Heaven Misplaced: Christ’s Kingdom on Earth.

His answer? Before anyone goes to the Kingdom, the Kingdom is going to come to us — and with force.

As Wilson says:

[T]he striking thing about the Second Coming is that it will be the culmination of what is happening right here, right now. The new humanity is going to be finally and completely formed and born, but it is this world that is pregnant with that glory. The relief will be great, but it will be relief from the travail of this world.

For Wilson, our planet is simply one of the “colonies of heaven,” meaning that we are not to see ourselves as a “feeder town” for our colonizing power, as we so often do. Pointing to Paul’s metaphor of “citizenship” to the colonized Philippians, Wilson makes it clear that “the mother country feeds the Read the rest of this entry »

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Opting for the Artificial: “Just Do Something!”

Today at Ethika Politika I talk about the difference between artificial security and authentic struggle. As individuals, families, and communities, what is at stake?

Here’s a tidbit from the article:

We all want security and we want it now. It doesn’t matter if real value is being produced or if efficiency is being maximized. It doesn’t matter if a price floor is set, a dying industry is being propped up, or our neighbors are being forced to pay for it. “Just stop the bleeding,” they say.

We all want some kind of assurance – some tangible, visible, immediate sign – that everything will be okay. Thus, we are usually content if getting that assurance means settling for the artificial.

I center much of my discussion around Frédéric Bastiat’s essay, “What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen.” If you are familiar with the now-famous Broken Window Fallacy, it originates in the same place.

Bastiat talks about “man’s necessarily painful evolution” from ignorance to foresight — a struggle that eventually leads to authentic prosperity. Economics aside, what do we sacrifice when we cower from such a struggle?

To read my answer, check out the full article.

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Jesus Paid Taxes: Mark Dever on Rendering to Caesar

Mark Dever, senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist ChurchMark Dever recently gave a sermon at his church in Washington D.C. called “Jesus Paid Taxes,” in which he promotes what he believes to be the proper Christian approach to politics. I came across the sermon from Justin Taylor, who came across it from Collin Hansen.

Hansen provides some great notes on the sermon and even goes so far as to call it “the best sermon I know on Christianity and government.” I probably wouldn’t go that far, but it is indeed quite good. I listened to the sermon in full and found very little to disagree with.

Dever bases the discussion on Mark 12:13-17 (“Render to Caesar!”), and although his approach leaves quite a bit up to interpretation, I think his outlook would translate pretty well in application. His main points are as follows:

  1. Good Christians are good citizens (law-abiding, tax-paying, etc.)
  2. Christianity is international (spiritual ties transcend national ties)
  3. Christians are ultimately accountable to God (“Our duty to earthly authority is limited.”)

You can listen to the sermon here:

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I don’t have anything to add, but I thought I’d post some highlights for those who aren’t up for listening to the whole thing.

One of Dever’s most fundamental points has to do with authority — how it is Read the rest of this entry »

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Envy and Economics: Grieving the Good of Others

Victor ClaarLast Monday I had the great pleasure of participating in an event at the American Enterprise Institute titled “Grieving the Good of Others: Envy and Economics.” The event was organized by AEI’s Project on Values and Capitalism.

The primary speaker was Victor Claar, associate professor of economics at Henderson State University and co-author of the book Economics in Christian Perspective: Theory, Policy, and Life Choices (my review is forthcoming).

Claar offered many insights on envy, discussing its implications both as a personal sin and an economic motivator. Although he briefly touched on the envious impulse behind Marxism (a common tack), the majority of his talk focused on how unequal outcomes in capitalism can lead to envy.

The question? What, if anything, are we to do about that? Can we actually limit envy by forcefully suppressing “opportunities” for it to manifest? What are the secondary impacts of such a scheme?

After Claar’s talk, I was allowed a few minutes to respond along with AEI’s Emily Batman. In my response, I pulled the scope back a bit and talked about the overall limits economic policymaking has on shaping individual morality. To make my point, I talked about authentic morality vs. artificial morality, drawing a few economic parallels along the way (e.g. authentic prices vs. artificial ones).

Following our responses was a Q&A session, which led to its own assortment of insights.

I encourage you to check out the event for yourself, which is posted online in Read the rest of this entry »

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The Ultimate Exchange Rate: Real Value in a Material World

The Parable of the TalentsIt’s easy for us economist types to get caught up in earthly measurements of value — partly because it’s fun, but mostly because it’s important.

Even more important, however, is the pursuit of real value in heavenly terms. When it comes to this, we all struggle with getting the earthly “exchange rate” down, and as long as sin is around, we always will.

But Jesus gives us a pretty clear image of what it might ultimately look like in these back-to-back examples.

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.

In other words, no matter how much we have accumulated in our own lives, whether it’s wealth, skills, prestige, or status, none of it matches up to the value of a life transformed and saved through Christ.

But how do we purchase such a life? How do we make this ultimate trade-in?

The first and most important answer is that we can’t — Jesus already paid the ultimate price through his blood, which pays for our entrance into the “kingdom of [God’s] beloved Son.” It is only through this propitiation that we can be saved.

But there is still this central notion throughout the Gospel of obedience, which Jesus often illuminates by talking about trade. The question rises: If the ultimate price is already paid, what is left to trade in? What are we Read the rest of this entry »

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The Christian Origins of Social Justice: Pope Pius XI on Individual Freedom and the Common Good

Pope Pius XIAs I’ve discussed before, “social justice” can be a pretty slippery term (see here and here).

For some, social justice means exactly what it implies — plain and simple social justice, whatever that may look like in whatever situation it may manifest. For others, it’s a bit more specific — sometimes only concerned with poverty alleviation, other times only concerned with basic human rights.

In any case, it seems that much of the surrounding discussion fails at a fundamental level simply because nobody wants to talk about their personal definitions or perceived meanings or implications. People seem very anxious to say, “You’re against social justice!” despite the variety of approaches to the term.

Anthony Bradley recently wrote an article for WORLD Magazine in which he brings a bit of historical insight to all of the confusion. Bradley argues that although the term “social justice” originated in the Church, it has now assumed multiple definitions that are “antithetical to the concept of justice within the history of Christianity.”

I encourage you to read the full article, but here’s a starter:

According to Hinze, Italian theologian Luigi Taparelli D’Azeglio introduced the term into Catholic social ethics in the mid-1800s to rearticulate potentially misunderstood concepts like “legal justice” and “general justice.” Gustav Gunlac and Oswald von Nell-Breuning were particularly influential in inserting the language into QA. The concept was officially described later in 1937 in the encyclical Divini redemptoris, which attacked atheistic communism.

But what was so wrong with atheistic communism?

As Pope Pius XI wrote:

[T]here [is] social justice with its own set obligations, from which neither employers nor workingmen can escape. Now it is of the very essence of Read the rest of this entry »

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The Protectionist Impulse: “Why Do I Have to Share My Job with Jimmy?!”

Today at Ethika Politika I share my thoughts on how free trade and globalization lead to greater individual fulfillment and human flourishing.

More specifically, I encourage Americans to let go of their “protectionist impulse,” which is often evidenced by questions like these:

[W]hy is the broadening of [...] exchange necessary? Why must we share our beloved jobs with others at a lower price? Why are we sacrificing America’s long history of manufacturing for “mere profit”? Are we really willing to give up our call-centers, programming units, and esteemed automobile industry (don’t laugh!) just to earn an extra buck? If the greedy misers responsible for this migration are willing to “outsource our nation’s future” for their own individual gain, what will happen to the most illustrious of our traditional trades? What shall become of our “living wage”?

As I argue in the post, these responses can really be rolled up into one simple question:

“Why do I have to share my job with Jimmy?!”

To read my answer, check out the full article.

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Orphanages in America: Mourning the Loss of Community Impetus

Home Away From Home: The Forgotten History of Orphanages by Richard B. McKenzieIn modern-day America, orphanages are a thing of the past. Due to the emergence of foster care, the expansion of welfare, and an overall increase in life expectancy, orphanages are now seen to be largely unnecessary.

But there’s another reason for their demise which typically supersedes the rest: People tend to think that orphanages are bad.

Indeed, from Oliver Twist to Little Orphan Annie, we have long been bombarded by images of the lonely child living in cramped quarters with little to eat and even less to read. The masters are cruel, the children are loathsome, and the food is inedible.

But “not so” — or not necessarily so — says Richard B. McKenzie, editor of a recent collection of essays titled Home Away From Home: The Forgotten History of Orphanages. In the collection, McKenzie attempts to inform our common perceptions of orphanages by offering us a glimpse into what the orphanage life was really like.

The conclusion? Sometimes Dickensian, sometimes not. In either case, the McKenzian solution is a bit more cautious than we’re used to.

To build the collection, McKenzie assembled a number of academics to condense their works into more “manageable” chapters. As for McKenzie himself, he promotes a positive view of orphanages, particularly because he himself had a positive experience growing up in one.

“Critics of orphanages stress what the children there did not have.” McKenzie says. “Those of us who were there have a different perspective. We were, and remain, able to draw comparisons between what we had at The Home with what we would have had.”

But although McKenzie has his own opinions on the personal and socio-political benefits of orphanages, he has already edited a volume on that subject. Instead, this book is intended to bring clarity to a forgotten past. He is not trying to Read the rest of this entry »

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Biblical Justice vs. Worldly Justice: Avoiding the Scapegoat Mechanism

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Job's accusers were well aware of his innocence.

I am currently reading Douglas Wilson’s Heaven Misplaced: Christ’s Kingdom on Earth, and I was particularly struck by a chapter that focuses on what Wilson calls Christ’s “inexorable love.” The chapter’s fundamental argument is that Christ’s love is widely available to humanity and cannot be suppressed by natural forces.

Wilson begins by discussing the common approach that paganism has taken to achieving justice, namely scapegoating murder to achieve serenity:

Pagan civilizations have always been built on the bedrock of scapegoating murder — this kind of turmoil is managed until it gets to a crisis point, and then everyone wheels on the designated victim. After the murder of this victim, everything becomes tranquil again…For the carnal man, this is the most natural thing in the world. Accusation equals guilt, and condemnation for him equals salvation for us. (emphasis added)

But Christianity also has its fair share of scapegoating, so what’s the difference?

From beginning to end, the Scriptures stand squarely against this pagan mentality — the mentality that is always serene and self-confident about the guilt of the designated victim. Think of Joseph sold into slavery by his brothers, falsely accused. Think of Job, falsely accused by Satan in the heavenly courts and by his so-called comforters here on earth. Think of all the prophets, from Abel to Zechariah, son of Berechiah.

As we can see, Christianity is told from the perspective of the victim rather than the accuser. In addition to this, the victims are almost always innocent and are understood to be so by their accusers — a significant departure from paganism. On this point, many of Wilson’s arguments echo those of René Girard (see The Scapegoat). As we all know, Christianity’s history of scapegoating climaxes with the ultimate (and finally redeeming) murder of Read the rest of this entry »

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Materialism vs. Christianity: The American Dream, the Megachurch, and the Gospel

Lakewood Church, Houston, TXI have only recently heard of David Platt, but from what I have read, I am thoroughly intrigued.

Platt has a new book out called Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream, in which he accuses the American church of manipulating Christianity to fit its consumeristic culture.

If you can’t tell already, Platt’s core criticisms are particularly relevant to the issues discussed on this blog, and thus I am looking forward to reading and reviewing his book in the near future. In the meantime, however, David Brooks has offered a thought-provoking introduction to Platt’s ideas, which I think is worthy of response.

On the whole, it seems that Platt’s main criticism has to do with materialism: American Christians have become wrapped up in wealth creation and individualistic pursuits and have in the process confused their worship of Christ with a worship of themselves.

Platt’s primary targets? Brooks explains.

Target #1: The Modern American Church

Platt’s first target is the megachurch itself. Americans have built themselves multimillion-dollar worship palaces, he argues. These have become like corporations, competing for market share by offering social centers, child-care programs, first-class entertainment and comfortable, consumer Christianity.

Jesus, Platt notes, made it hard on his followers. He created a minichurch, not a mega one. Today, however, building budgets dwarf charitable budgets, and Jesus is portrayed as a genial suburban dude.

Target #2: The American Dream

Next, Platt takes aim at the American dream. When Europeans first settled this continent, they saw the natural abundance and came to two conclusions: that God’s plan for humanity could be realized here, and that they could get really rich while helping Read the rest of this entry »

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