Posts Tagged sacrifice

Beyond the Noble Savage, Beyond Economic Man

Economic ManThe topics of self-interest and sacrifice are commonly discussed on this blog—my own view being that any form of either is bound to lead to selfishness unless both are aligned to God’s will (through good, old-fashioned obedience).

I’m currently reading Love & Economics: It Takes a Family to Raise a Village, in which author and economist Jennifer Roback Morse takes a unique approach to the subject, arguing that our views of “rational” man have been severely lacking on both sides (if your ideological buckets are that neat and tidy, that is).

Without incorporating love into our usual assumptions about the self and the other, argues Morse, we will structure a philosophy of life around a fantasy and be doomed to a mechanistic, regressive society.

First, the not unique part—i.e. a summary of the context:

The decentralized market economy is probably the most celebrated self-regulating social institution. Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” insight shows that people pursuing their own self-interest can actually end up furthering the public interest through no intention of their own. Since Smith’s time, free market economists have developed the Invisible Hand concept further through a construct called homo economicus, or economic man. Economic man is a rational person who calculates the costs and benefits of each potential action and chooses the action that brings him the most happiness.

The obvious problem is that we are not, and can never be, fully rational, no matter how much Ayn Rand wishes it were so (though we can certainly be more rational than we are).

On the other side is a similar problem, one which, though more obvious, is plagued by increasingly abundant misunderstanding: other people have an even smaller chance of being “fully rational” on our behalves.

The lofty bureaucrat on top of the hill may think he has a better idea than we do about the appropriate price of an orange (or a cup of coffee), but our personal preferences would likely differ if Grocer Bob had the chance to experiment. Of course, the implications lead to deeper struggles than the prices of oranges and coffee, which is why more fundamental, philosophical variations on Rousseau’s “natural goodness of man” have long served as platforms upon which many a tyrant has constructed his moralistic authoritarian palaces.

Yet even critiques of centralized approaches to knowledge and decisionmaking—Hayek’s, most notably—seem to only get us back to square one: that individual choice would be better (and it would!).

Yes, our knowledge is limited, and yes, our definitions of the “good” will not naturally conform. These are crucial realities to confront, but do they mean that Read the rest of this entry »

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Aspiring to Nothing: Millennials and Christian Vocation

"Good" according to whom, and for what?

"Good" according to whom, and for what?

The Barna Group has released more research findings on the reasons behind Christian millennial migration, this time delving into the topic of vocation-building.

From the summary:

In particular, 84% of Christian 18- to 29-year-olds admit that they have no idea how the Bible applies to their field or professional interests. For example, young adults who are interested in creative or science-oriented careers often disconnect from their faith or from the church. On the creative side, this includes young musicians, artists, writers, designers, and actors. On the science-oriented side, young engineers, medical students, and science and math majors frequently struggle to see how the Bible relates to their life’s calling.

This week at AEI’s Values and Capitalism, I offer my own thoughts, noting that such a fundamental disconnect should shake Christians to their cores:

Although it’s encouraging to hear that millennials are actually aspiring to careers—no offense, folks!—such disconnect and confusion among Christians makes me wonder what they are aspiring for in the first place. If the Christian life is a constant, daily struggle, and our daily lives are highly consumed by professional interests and “career” activity, what does it mean for us to divorce the two?

It would seem that either one or the other would suffer—either our Christian walks or our professional careers—but when I survey the landscape of “Generation Y,” the confusion seems to be impacting both.

As for why the confusion persists, I don’t think it’s due to lack of discussion. Indeed, the topic of “Christian living” and “Christian mission” has become wildly popular as of late. What, then, is wrong with the message?

As I’ve previously argued regarding David Platt’s popular book, Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream, even where the church has gotten its theology right (itself unusual), it has still proven resilient in getting its application wrong.

Yes, we are called to obey God. Yes, this will involve sacrifice and struggle. But does this mean that we are called to sacrifice and struggle for the mere sake of sacrificing and struggling?

That’s where the popular message is directing us, and as long as this is the case, it should be no surprise when those of us aspiring to something (often through a “professional career”) find it confusing to be told by Christian leaders that this something is really nothing. If we are finding fulfillment in what we do, and if we feel called by God to do the work we’re doing, why wouldn’t we be confused if we are being told to flush any personal ambition down the toilet?

Far too often, such imperatives toward “missional living” treat our missional directives as though the material realm is an insurmountable obstacle rather than a tool for us to own and wield appropriately.

The result: a form of spiritual escapism from our day-to-day socio-economic activity—a full-throttle rejection of the material world, rather than a pursuit of appropriate Read the rest of this entry »

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Chosen Instruments: Obedience and Socio-Economic Decision Making

Ananias restoring the sight of Saint Paul, Pietro De Cortana, 1631I have received a bit of criticism for my constant claim that obedience is the defining factor of the Christian life (e.g.), with most of critiques rooted in the belief that we are to instead focus on “sacrifice” or “love” (as if obedience to God would not involve either).

My questions are most simply: (1) love according to whom and (2) sacrifice for what?

I recently wrote about this very thing, emphasizing the need to follow the Holy Spirit in all that we do (hint: that’s why he’s here).

To further solidify this point, I wanted to take a moment to look at the Apostle Paul — a man who understood that “following the way of love” was interconnected with “eagerly desiring the gifts of the Spirit” (i.e. learning to hear his voice, discern it, and do what it says). As I have also previously noted, such an approach is extremely difficult because there is no hard-and-fast, legalistic solution. The Christian life is not a one-stop, altar-call sort of thing.

Paul had a good grasp of this, and made clear in his letter to the Philippians. Following a summary of his personal trials, Paul provides encouragement to the believers by honing in on the value that obedience will yield while also reminding them of the tensions it implies for their work here on this earth:

Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.

We all know what this means for our post-earth destination (or, I hope we do), but what does this mean for our own personal callings and struggles today? What does this mean for our socio-economic engagement with others?

First, it is clear that Paul has a purpose and that purpose is not his own. He did not endure imprisonments and beatings for nothing, yet he also did not endure them for personal glory or some lofty martyrdom status. Paul was not standing in the streets and blocking traffic for the mere purpose of being hauled away and lauded in the annals of do-gooder history. Paul was not offering himself as a firstborn calf on some altar of cultural symbolism or earthly greatness.

Paul was arrested for speaking the truth and doing what God told him to do. He was not seeking suffering as an ideal for himself (or anyone else). He was seeking the Glory of God to the point of suffering.

Likewise, Paul’s impetus did not come from some fleeting passion for “social justice.” Paul did not discover his life’s purpose from reading Barbara Ehrenreich in undergraduate school and getting worked up about class divisions and money-grubbing sinners. His purpose came from Read the rest of this entry »

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Government Need Not Wash the Terrorists’ Feet

Jesus, Osama bin laden, George Bush, washing feetBy Josh Lowery, Guest Contributor

On the 10th anniversary of 9/11, remembrance took many forms around the country and even the world. For my own part, 9/11/11 was more emotional than 9/11/01.

Ten years ago, the most lasting image came from sitting in an over-crowded student lounge where I watched the events live, along with about one hundred other people, on a big screen TV. As the first of the two towers began to actually fall, it was surreal, and as a self-absorbed, 20-year-old college junior who had a small world view and a very small frame of reference for tragedy, I watched in stunned numbness.

Ten years later, at about the same time in the morning as when the second plane hit, I found myself rehearsing music for my church’s 10:00 a.m. service. During a brief break on stage, the media guy played about 10 seconds of a video to test the sound. The video was a roughly 2-minute-long audio montage of distress calls, media reaction and on-the-street sound bites from that terrible day, coupled with a stream of quotes from world leaders and dignitaries encapsulating the unity, resolve and general “oneness” that we all experienced in the immediate aftermath. After hearing a mere five seconds worth of audio, I found myself cascading quickly into a visible emotional state. I began nervously pacing around in a 5-foot radius of where I was standing (I was wearing a guitar that was plugged in at the time). I’d been caught off-guard by those sudden, interrupting sound bites and had a much more emotional reaction in a very short period of time than I did on 9/11/01 when the tragedy itself was unfolding. 

What followed throughout the rest of that morning at church was a time of reflection ranging from inspirational to downright uncomfortable. There was an open mic (which is all you need know in order to imagine the possibilities), but all in all, the morning was memorable and served a good and proper purpose.

I then came home and was treated, courtesy of Facebook, to a host of 9/11 “reflection” articles representing an array of political persuasions. One in particular came from Tony Campolo’s blog, in which Kurt Willems, a self-identified Anabaptist, discusses the Last Supper.

Willems notes that despite Jesus’ “intel” on what Judas had already done (and was soon to do), Jesus nonetheless washed his feet along with those of the other disciples. Willems’ marveling of this as one of the most profound enactments by Jesus of his command that we love our enemies is something I absolutely resonate with. I would even go so far as to say that, short of perhaps the Crucifixion itself, this act stands above all other Gospel anecdotes in this regard. 

But after this point, the writer and I sharply diverge. Willems takes what is a beautiful, practical, spiritual lesson from the life of Jesus and uses it as a political springboard. It surpasses the ironic that this would come from someone who belongs to a community of writers and activists who sanctimoniously criticize the “religious right” for its uneasy marriage of faith and patriotism. According to Willems, we should view Jesus Christ Himself as equal parts God and policy wonk. We are to look on Jesus’ washing of Judas’ feet as an all-encompassing metaphor for how national foreign policy should be executed.

After conceding that “this humble act was contextual in its application for people in the First Century,” Willems abruptly changes his tone, ambiguously chastising a myriad of nameless American churches for Read the rest of this entry »

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Embracing the Mundane: Radical Discipleship vs. Spiritualized Escapism

I have often argued that radical individualism — i.e. radical obedience to God — often translates into unradical earthly action: building a family, giving to others, befriending a stranger, starting a business, working at a factory, etc. Whether or not our obedience is “radical” can only be defined by the extent to which we are willing to deny our earthly sentiments for the divine.

This, of course, says nothing about what the divine is actually demanding.

Yet many seem to miss this basic point, believing that following God to the fullest should automatically translate into things like preaching to millions or giving away all our possessions to the poor (insert cherry-picked Biblical anecdotes here). The popularity of David Platt’s recent book, for example, indicates that for many, radical obedience needs to translate into action that feels radical in some tangible, earthly way (going on a missions trip, capping one’s income at $X, building a church without air conditioning, etc.).

In a recent article for Relevant Magazine, Andrew Byers does a nice job of countering such thinking, arguing that “radical can be dangerous” and “monotony can be its own mission”:

Scripture calls us into radical service — but that does not allow others to eviscerate tedious, less “spiritually” glamorous tasks of their meaning in God’s Kingdom. Scripture also calls us to embrace the mundane and ordinary as holy and beautiful: “… aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands” (1 Thessalonians 4:11).

Many of us want to do something awesome, something epic. We tend to think that the more normal, the less “spiritual.” So it is quite possible that our aspirations to be radical stem from dangerous ambitions to perform biography-worthy feats of global glory.

But radical discipleship is not adventure tourism.

Then, in a move that leads to some striking socio-economic parallels (unintended, to be sure — see here and here), Byers describes the real Christian pursuit as a bottom-up struggle, one filled with risk, relationship, faith, and Read the rest of this entry »

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Privilege: A Means to Do Good

Conservatives and libertarians like to downplay privilege and focus mostly on merit. “Just work hard,” they’ll say, which is indeed part of the solution. Yet it is not the only element in play.

This week at Common Sense Concept, I discuss the issue in light of a recent talk by Anthony Bradley for Marketplace One.

Watch the video here:

Here’s an excerpt:

[A]lthough our efforts certainly play a part in how well we succeed in life—and although they may indeed be a primary factor in some or most cases—are we really to ignore where we came from and how that came to be? After all, isn’t our ability to triumph and overcome obstacles only inspiring insofar as it contrasts with whatever little amount of privilege we had in the first place? What are “obstacles,” anyway, if not the things that don’t come easy? Do we marvel over the relative accomplishments of John D. Rockefeller’s children as much as we marvel over the striking ascendance of Rockefeller himself?

Yet while many in the “pro-capitalism” crowd downplay privilege too much, those in the Marxist camp twist it to be the determining factor of our existence: either our weapon or our prison:

Whereas the pro-capitalism crowd likes to pretend class privilege is a non-issue, the Marxist crowd likes to pretend that such privilege determines our very actions. If you are born poor, you are incapable of becoming wealthy, because if you are born wealthy, you are incapable of not Read the rest of this entry »

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Torah and Social Justice: Anchoring Prophetic Rhetoric

The Prophet Isaiah, RaphaelI have recently been discussing the ways in which our anti-poverty and “social justice” efforts need to be properly guided, noting that our execution of God’s will is not as simple as robbing the rich or cherry-picking our favorite warm-and-fuzzy verses. At its root, helping others is about sacrifice, and — as I continue to emphasize — sacrifice is fruitless without obedience.

But obedience to what/whom, and with what as a foundation?

In my last post, I argued that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is a big piece of the puzzle, and at First Things, Peter Leithart adds to this approach by reminding us that it also has something to do with the Word itself. What is the long-view of Biblical truth in application, and what else should be taken into account when considering our mandate to help the widow and the orphan?

Calling out folks like Jim Wallis and Ron Sider, Leithart begins by examining the Biblical bases to which they refer, explaining that much of their rhetoric is based in nothing more than rhetoric. Yes, Israel’s prophets condemned the exploiters of their day, but what was the substance behind their fervor? What was the back story, the underlying foundation, and the overarching goal? Was there anything grounding that rhetoric?

As Leithart explains:

For the prophets, care of the poor is a matter of righteousness or justice, not mercy. Yahweh Himself maintains “justice for the poor” (Psalm 140:12), and rulers (Isaiah 10:2) and people (Ezekiel 22:29) are expected to do the same. Filled with the Spirit, the Messianic Branch will judge the poor with righteousness and act for the afflicted (Isaiah 11:4).

Protection and defense of the poor is embedded in Israel’s defining exodus story: Because Yahweh delivered His people from bondage, Israel is to be a liberating people. And this demand is imprinted on the Mosaic law. From an exhaustive survey of the Old Testament laws on wealth and poverty, David L. Baker concludes that, in comparison with other ancient Near Eastern codes, “Old Testament law is more concerned to ensure that widows and orphans are not abused, nor exploited in law courts or in financial dealings.” As Jesus said, the weighty things of Torah are justice, mercy, and truth (Matthew 23:23).

Leithart then moves ahead with the modern-day application:

That connection with the institutions and practices of Torah is fundamental to grasping what the Bible tells us about justice and poverty—fundamental, and neglected. Unless prophetic rhetoric is anchored in Torah, it Read the rest of this entry »

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Divine Generosity: Making “Good Intentions” Good

God So Loved, He Gave, Divine Generosity, Kelly Kapic, Justin BorgerI have previously written on the importance of the Holy Spirit in aligning our lives to God’s perfect will and have also noted the limits of a spiritually dead worldview as it relates to generosity. What I haven’t done, however, is examined what will emerge — and how it will emerge — if we get all of our ducks in a row.

What might it look like if we were to actually succeed in avoiding the desires of the flesh, producing the fruits of the Spirit, and leveraging the subsequent alignment toward reaching the Lost, healing the sick, and helping the needy? What might it look like if our actions were guided by the Love of God rather than the Love of Man?

My friend Robby Moeller recently wrote eloquently about having a “head for the poor,” but while this is an important point, I am also concerned that our hearts might be further off than we think (hint: we’re sinners). Like anyone else, Christians are prone to what the Apostle Paul calls “futile thinking” and “foolish hearts.” We are constantly struggling to overcome a debased, idolatry-prone worldview.

In short, I fear that we often give our “good intentions” the benefit of the doubt.

What is “good” in the first place, and according to whom? Does it have anything to do with truth, and if so, how does that impact our view of love? What does “effective” mean under such a framework, or what about “compassion”? Are there any intentions worth esteeming if they fail to orient themselves correctly?

We need to correct our brains, yes, but more fundamentally, we need a spiritual revival that aligns our hearts and minds accordingly. This will certainly impact our perspectives on loftier political and philosophical levels, but more importantly, it will transform the way we approach our most mundane of day-to-day tasks and choices. Unbeknownst to many, God actually speaks, and we have the amazing opportunity to listen. Sound “radical” yet?

As Kelly Kapic argues in his recent book, God So Loved, He Gave, we have been called into a movement of divine generosity — one in which we reject bondage of this world and embrace God’s absolute ownership over our lives. “When captured by the depths of God’s gifts in the gospel,” Kapic states, “we discover that he frees us to participate in his work of grace, hope, righteousness, and love. This is the generous life: this is what belonging to God is all about.”

Sin is all around us, and although we are typically good at talking about it in church (or at least we used to be), we seem to forget that it’s a constant competing force in our fundamental decisionmaking. “No human relationship is free from this corrosive power,” as Kapic states, yet in our attempts to build relationships and community we seem to think that “good intentions” are all Read the rest of this entry »

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Atomic Communitarianism: The Control Freak’s Biggest Nightmare

Individualism is constantly misunderstood, which is a big reason I started this blog. To value the individual, we are told, is to disdain community.

LearnLiberty recently released a video to dispel this myth, and this week at Common Sense Concept, I provide some additional commentary. The thesis: Properly understood individualism is what makes community possible.

Watch the video here: (my comments here)

After building on Dr. Skoble’s critique of communitarianism, I examine some popular concerns over “atomic individualism,” setting forth what I believe to be the real issue: “Real individualism results in atomic communities, not isolated hermitdom, and this is what the control freaks are worried about.”

The argument ties into several points I’ve been harping at recently (here, here, and here), but the most recent connection would be with Jim-Wallis’ “Circle of Protection” confusion.

Given that many Christians seem lost on the nasty implications of communitarianism, I thought it might be a good time to connect the dots:

For the admirers of utopian scheming, the big impressive tower will never be constructed if the project is left to free individuals pursuing their petty mutual ends. Heaven on earth will never be achieved if Read the rest of this entry »

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What Can Christians Learn from Ayn Rand?

Ayn Rand, atheism, Objectivism, Christianity, ethicsOver the last few weeks, Ayn Rand has been a frequent topic on the blog (see parts 1, 2, and 3). Thus, I thought it might be beneficial to wrap things up with what I believe to be the key takeaways for Christians.

“For Christians?” you ask? Yes, for Christians.

Atheist and Objectivist William Schultz has done a great job of providing insight into the basics of Randian ethics and how they fundamentally differ from those of Christianity (see here and here). But rather than get into a deep debate over the merits and demerits of such an ethical framework (and/or it’s assumptions, conclusions, etc.), I figured I’d assess what the Christian might learn simply by examining it, assuming one retains their view of God, Christ, “objective” truth, etc. (I hope you have!)

In other words, what I believe we can learn from Rand would most certainly be rejected by Rand herself. In my own spiritual and intellectual journey, Rand has, most simply, challenged me to reconsider and build upon, though not abandon, specific features of my beliefs, and has, in turn, contributed more depth and dimension to the way I, as a Christian, view the individual and his subsequent relationship to God and man.

So, without further explanation, here’s what I think we can learn:

1. Truth matters. This may seem like a given, but today’s Christians have a tendency to elevate “love” above “truth,” as if one can exist without the other (e.g. Love Wins). Rand’s entire premise is that we must strive to discover the truth (the “objective” kind) and by doing so we will somehow achieve happiness (her highest value). For the Christian, our “objective” truth differs drastically from Rand’s. Ours is, shall we say, “super-objective” in the sense that it is supernatural. In addition, “happiness” — either our own or that of others — is not to be our highest end or “value”; the Glory of God is. In many ways, however, Rand seems more concerned with discovering, defining, promoting, and incorporating truth (itself) than Read the rest of this entry »

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