Posts Tagged Jordan Ballor

You Didn’t Build That: The Logical Ends of Collectivist Idolatry

In a recent campaign speech, President Obama doubled down on what has become a streak of denigrating business and pooh-poohing individual initiative.

The quote in question:

There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me because they want to give something back…If you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own. I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something — there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.

If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen…The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.

Although the President’s “you didn’t build that” line is the center of attention, such a response is only logical for those who believe, more fundamentally, that enduring excessive tax hikes is an ideal way to “give something back.” When from the government all blessings flow, then to the government all things must go.

On a more practical level, the notion of “giving back” through increased taxes assumes that any funds we have “given” to the government are somehow being over utilized—that we are getting too big of a bang for our buck, particularly if we go do something leechy like start a business. For Obama, it seems as though rich people and business owners in particular are getting above and beyond what they have contributed to our bloated federal bureaucracy, so how dare they push back when asked to “give back”? By this logic, our federal deficit is really a deficit of “giving back.” The federal government has not overpromised and under-delivered; we citizens have overly devoured and under-“given.”

Talking this way quickly becomes problematic, particularly because the word “give” is being used to describe something that “giving” is not (thus my excessive use of quotation marks thus far—my apologies). President Obama is not talking about business owners “giving something back” through charity, community service, social entrepreneurship, environmental sustainability, or, God forbid, value creation. He is talking about business owners submitting to his coercive political agenda, a primary plank of which happens to be making rich people pay for things they don’t want to pay for by getting non-rich majorities to throw stones at them.

Sounds like a good model for “giving something back.”

Yet I’m not one to say that we can’t give something back through government, or even that we shouldn’t. We should be thankful for the successes of government—for the positive achievements it has made toward maintaining social order and creating conditions for human flourishing. Plenty of people gave something to make these achievements possible, material or not. Indeed, as an example of purely material “giving,” Warren Buffett and Rep. Scott Rigell have participated in just that, donating freely and willingly to the IRS. If this is what Obama is advocating—voluntary contributions to the federal deficit—it would be far less problematic, though perhaps still inadvisable (show me the cuts).

So yes, we can and should give back to our communities and institutions, including government, and we should recognize that others have contributed to our successes through their own generosity and commitment (a point aptly made by Jordan Ballor).

But Obama is saying something quite different, for when this notion of “giving something back” is wielded as Obama wields it—toward his own narrow, explicitly coercive purposes—we should recognize that Read the rest of this entry »

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Small Is Beautiful (Except When God Asks for Big)

Jordan Ballor wrote a marvelous piece for Comment Magazine highlighting some of the key areas of tension between pro-globalization “market conservatism” and the more localism-driven “communitarian conservatism.”

His conclusion:

Conservatism at its best recognizes the fundamental relationship between appreciation for markets and economic freedom on the one side, and morality and social responsibilities on the other. Far from a temporary alliance, this deep and real connection guarantees that the essence of the fusionist program, despite calls to the contrary, will continue to animate the future of conservative social thought.

Yet, as is evident throughout the piece, the connection is not so clear to some, and although divisions exist on both sides, Ballor spends much of his time focusing on the concerns of the communitarian side, pointing to the ways in which markets can and should be oriented toward the common good.

To illuminate some of the core problems of the localist framework, Ballor sets his sights on conservative journalist Rod Dreher, whose radical shift to a small-town lifestyle was recently showcased by David Brooks, and whose popular book, Crunchy Cons, “includes a ten-point ‘Crunchy Con Manifesto,’ with propositions like, ‘Small, Local, Old, and Particular are almost always better than Big, Global, New, and Abstract,’ and, ‘Beauty is more important than efficiency.’” After focusing on some ironies in Dreher’s situation, most particularly his frustration with his small town’s slow internet speeds (read the full piece for more on this), Ballor observes that “even the most dedicated advocates of communitarian conservative values at some level realize that the flourishing they experience is, to a great extent, made possible by global markets.”

Here, we can see the value that each “pole” provides the other:

Business activity that provides goods and services truly is, in this way, an enterprise that does good and serves others. This is why John Wesley famously said that the “first and great rule of Christian wisdom, with respect to money,” was the dictum, “Gain all you can.” But he immediately noted that this rule was qualified: “Gain all you can by honest industry” (emphasis mine). If market conservatives help us to remember that we are to gain all we can, communitarian conservatives help us remember that we are to do so honestly, and that morality is not reducible to mere legality.

Yet for the Christian—and here is where I’m going to veer off a bit—it seems that both positions (as stated here) still lack an overarching spiritual component—namely, “gains” according to whom, and “honesty” and “morality” for what/who’s purpose? For the Christian, the market conservative’s message that “we are to gain all we can,” need not be limited to mere earthly value, and likewise, the communitarian conservative message that “we are to do so honestly” is not where our moral/theological discussions of “gains” and “values” should end.

We are fundamentally and above all else called to be oriented around obedience to God, whatever he might Read the rest of this entry »

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The Circle of Protection: A Round-Up of Christian Responses

Jim Wallis, What Would Jesus Cut, Circle of Protection, SojournersLast week I weighed in on all of the “Circle of Protection” mumbo-jumbo being tossed around at the White House, arguing that Jim Wallis and his progressive brethren are once again warping the “least of these” into political tools and confusing bureaucratic blubber with genuine compassion.

Although the budget talks are finally coming to a close — for better or for worse — there have been a flurry of other Christian responses to Wallis & Friends that are well worth reviewing. Given the evident persistency of the social (gospel) engineers and the relatively mild implications of last night’s news, such a discussion will certainly not fall off our radars any time soon.

Thus, here’s a quick look at what others have been saying about the Christian’s role in approaching an unsustainable economic future.

  • Friend of the blog Eric Teetsel has joined several other Christian leaders in writing a letter to the president in hopes of realigning the discussion away from Wallis’ perversions. The question: “Whom would Jesus indebt?” (Add your signature here.)
  • At National Review Online, Rev. Robert Sirico argues that “in the moral calculus of Jim Wallis and his Circle of Protection supporters, there’s no problem with prostrating yourself, your Church, and your aid organization before Caesar.” Also, catch Rev. Sirico’s interview with NRO on the same subject.
  • Although he doesn’t focus on Wallis directly, Douglas Wilson does a marvelous job illuminating precisely why such talks inevitably result in such bizarre and petty squabbles over this program or that. The reason? We lack honesty, integrity, and above all, a sense of reality. “Paper promises, like paper money, require honest men to execute them,” says Wilson. “And that, as it turns out, is where our real shortage is.”
  • At the Institute on Religion & Democracy, Mark Tooley concludes that Wallis did not go to the White House to represent the poor, but to represent “the secular permanent governing class.” “For its denizens,” Tooley says, “Big Government is apparently the only deity that Read the rest of this entry »

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Intergenerational Justice: What Is the Church’s Role?

Up until now, I have avoided any in-depth discussion about the Center for Public Justice’s Call for Intergenerational Justice, a document which “demand[s] that Washington end our ongoing budget deficits.” The document was signed by a variety of Christian leaders from across the political spectrum, and was designed to “start of a biblically grounded movement in which grandparents, grandchildren and everyone in between can join hands to promote a just solution to our debt crisis.”

The Call has garnered both praise and criticism, with much of the latter coming from friend-of-the-blog Jordan Ballor. To discuss their disagreements, Gideon Strauss of CPJ recently joined Ballor for a discussion at the Acton Institute. This week, Common Sense Concept took the conversation a step further by hosting a panel on the Christian’s role in the budget crisis. Included on the panel were Strauss, Ballor, Jennifer Marshall, Ron Sider, Ryan Streeter, and Pastor Jonathan Merritt.

Catch the conversation here:


The discussion is engaging across the board, and as Daniel Suhr has noted in his recap, there is plenty of room for consensus.

But as an evangelical, I’d like to focus specifically on Pastor Merritt’s concers, particularly his (mis)perception of how conservatives and libertarians view poverty solutions — a misunderstanding that permeates evangelicalism at large.

Merritt, himself a self-proclaimed conservative, begins his response by countering Ballor’s claim that the Call does not do enough as far as “putting the church on the hook.” In an initially shocking statement, Merritt says that he’s tired of putting the church on the hook, wrongly assuming that Ballor wants the church to ramp up its political involvement. Going further, Merritt Read the rest of this entry »

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Economics, Ecumenism, and the Church: An Interview with Jordan Ballor

Jordan Ballor, author, Ecumenical Babel, Acton InstituteI recently reviewed Jordan Ballor’s new book, Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church’s Social Witness, in which Ballor aims to promote (and initiate) a “critical engagement” of the modern-day ecumenical movement.

Ballor’s argument is careful and thorough while also being engaging and precise, and although the book’s primary focus is on the way we approach ecumenism, it also stirs broader questions about the role of economic ideology in the church at large:

  • What is the proper role of ideology in the church’s social witness?
  • Do ecumenical organizations “count” as churches, and if so, how should we understand their place in the broader “playing field”?
  • How do we as Christian individuals — or even as private Christian enterprises — differ from the church in our responsibilities regarding socio-economic ideology and God’s social purposes?

To expand on these questions (and plenty more), Ballor was kind enough to engage in an interview with Remnant Culture. As in his book, Ballor offers a healthy dose of criticism while providing some clear-cut ways to promote a healthier ecumenism going forward.

Q. As you mention in the book, there is not much “transdenominational authority” in Protestant Christianity. How influential has the ecumenical movement been in establishing such authority?

Not nearly as influential as it might have been, especially over the last three decades or so. There’s an instinct in Protestantism to look outside of institutional groups for leadership and authority, and when such groups squander their standing by spending their time talking about prudential issues in imprudent ways, they do a great deal of damage to their own credibility. The lack of influence that ecumenical groups have these days is largely due to these dynamics. This is more the case for the “mainline” ecumenical bodies, such as the World Council of Churches, than it is for some of the “evangelical” ecumenical efforts, such as the Lausanne Movement. But there’s generally a suspicion of such “transdenominational” authority, and in many cases for good reason.

Part of why I wrote Ecumenical Babel was to try to articulate why recovering such Read the rest of this entry »

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Ecumenical Babel: Economic Ideology and the Church

Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness, Jordan BallorWhen we survey today’s global economic environment, there are few observations that all of us can agree on.

Here’s a start:

  • Gigantic transnational corporations are out of control, exploiting their workers and rendering consumers and governments powerless to their manipulative forces.
  • Venerable local cultures, along with their esteemed mom-and-pop shops, are under attack, besieged by an ever-homogenizing monster, eager to suck away their uniqueness and transplant it with Western saliva.
  • Economic globalization — the root of such evils — is fattening the pockets of the rich, emptying the pockets of the poor, and threatening earth’s most vital life support systems in the process.

On the whole, modern-day capitalism and free trade have resulted in rampant greed and moral depravity, leading society to sacrifice its most vulnerable members on an altar of economic neoliberalism.

Oh, and when I say that all of us can agree on this, I mean all of us Christians.

I wish I could say that the above rant was constructed from articles in the Daily Kos, The Huffington Post, or The New Republic. Unfortunately, it was compiled from ideas found in the recent proclamations of three major ecumenical organizations: the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC), and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC). (Yes, I did have a bit of fun with them.)

The problem, of course, is that all of us don’t agree — a point not lost on theologian Jordan Ballor, author of the new book, Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church’s Social Witness.

For Ballor, the ecumenical movement has become far too narrow in its ideological underpinnings and far too politicized in its public stances. Although its role should be focused on fostering church unity around a set of grounded beliefs, the movement’s overt participation in Read the rest of this entry »

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Laxy Praxy: Doing vs. Learning in Liberation Theology

Given that I recently reviewed Anthony Bradley’s Liberating Black Theology, I thought this video would be a valuable follow-up to the discussion. Although Bradley’s book focuses specifically on black liberation theology, this is only one manifestation of a larger theological trend among oppressed minorities.

In the video, Acton Institute’s Michael Miller interviews other Acton thinkers (Samuel Gregg, Anielka Munkel, and Jordan Ballor) on the history of liberation theology, as well as its recent resurgence among evangelicals.

You can watch the video here:

What I find most noteworthy is the overarching discussion about liberation theology’s emphasis on doing vs. learning.

As Gregg puts it:

One of the things that liberation theologians talked about was this idea of praxis — you have to act, you have to do things — to which the response of people like John Paul II or then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was, “Yes, action is important, but it has to be informed by correct thought.” In other words, orthodoxy, which means right thought, has to inform orthopraxy. Orthopraxis in itself would not give you a coherent reason for doing what it is you’re doing. So theologically, and even just in terms of its own logic, I think liberation theology was always destined to fall apart.

As far as where exactly liberation theology is resurfacing, Ballor provides some 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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