Posts Tagged worship

American Idealism and Economic Opportunity for the Glory of God

flag, crossFrench Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain once wrote that Americans “are the least materialist among the modern peoples which have attained the industrial stage.”

Drawing on this sentiment, George Weigel argues that although materialism may reign in America more than it once did, “there remains a link between money-making and idealism in these United States that is distinctive, and perhaps even unique.”

Pointing to President Calvin Coolidge (no fan of materialism), Weigel emphasizes that Coolidge’s famous line—“the chief business of the American people is business”—shouldn’t be taken by itself. For Coolidge, and for most Americans (even today), promoting the dignity-conferring effects of business is part of a larger, deeper idealism.

As Weigel explains:

As for wealth, consider Silent Cal’s remarks at the end of the same speech: “We make no concealment of the fact that we want wealth, but there are many other things that we want very much more. We want peace and honor, and that charity which is so strong an element in all of civilization. The chief ideal of the American people is idealism. I cannot repeat too often that America is a nation of idealists…”

And that, I suggest, is why Americans respond positively to presidential aspirants who lift up a vision of American possibility—prosperity linked to creativity, responsibility, and generosity—rather than candidates who play class-warfare politics, in whatever partisan form.

Weigel then explains how the market economy supports such idealism (emphasis added):

A robust economy is not only an economic imperative; it is a moral and cultural imperative. A robust economy makes honorable work possible for all who wish to be responsible for their own lives and the lives of their loved ones. And work, according to Blessed John Paul II in the 1983 encyclical Laborem Exercens, is an expression of our participation in God’s sustaining “creation” of the world.

A robust economy makes possible the empowerment of the underprivileged—the true “preferential option for the poor” in Catholic social doctrine, according to John Paul’s 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus—even as it helps conserve public resources by making the resort to welfare less necessary.

A robust economy is essential in supporting one telling sign of America’s enduring generosity and idealism: the remarkable philanthropy of the American people. Americans, these days, give some $300 billion a year to charitable organizations, including religious institutions that fund vast networks of education, health care, and social service serving people in real need. There is simply nothing like this anywhere else in the Western world; if you doubt that, go to Europe or Canada, where the tradition of the benign, caretaker state (the contemporary version of the benign, caretaker monarch) has severely eroded charitable instincts—meaning giving.

Yet many of today’s Christians will shrug at any talk of an “American ideal,” and in some sense, rightly so. Our ultimate aim should be a Christian ideal, and we have a natural disposition to self-construct the latter for purposes of satisfying the former. But while we should be careful to make such a distinction, we should also recognize that a careful concern for the Gospel demands a careful concern for culture and country. Catholic social teaching aside, Weigel’s “vision of American possibility” fits quite nicely into the most generic understandings of Christian mission.

But we must dig deeper, even still, for just as American idealism has been watered down by self-centered post-modern thinking, so has our Christian idealism.

Even more fundamentally, the Christian should be concerned with the glory of God—an overarching, not-of-this-world notion that shatters our convenient cultural obsessions with “individualism” and “collectivism” and pushes us toward a different orientation altogether. Living a life focused on lifting up the King of Kings in all things will mean producing plenty of fruits that fit the current categories—responsibility, self-control, hard work, sacrifice—but I fear that we’re getting to a point where we can’t discern the fresh from the rotten from the poisonous. This is why the market, like any institution, needs to be analyzed first and foremost by how well it enables and empowers transformation at the root of individual worship. Otherwise, the byproducts we’re seeking will soon be replaced by nothing more than hollow do-gooderism cloaked in the lingo of the church.

Pro-market Christians can and should tout the market as the best mechanism for Read the rest of this entry »

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Imagination Station: Grounding Church Innovation in Tradition

church, innovation, imaginationI have written previously on how Christians should embrace an entrepreneurial spirit in pursuing God’s will (here and here), grounding their innovations and risk-taking in a holistic Biblical worldview and executing their callings through active fellowship and spiritual discernment.

Over at Faith & Leadership, James K.A. Smith provides some related thoughts on Christian innovation, paying specific attention to the role of individual church bodies. For Smith, “good culture making” comes from a properly oriented Christian imagination, and such imaginations are most reliably fostered and achieved through “intentional, historic, liturgical forms.”

First, Smith’s survey of modern evangelicalism:

The entrepreneurial independence of evangelical spirituality leaves room for all kinds of congregational startups that require little if any institutional support. Catering to increasingly specialized “niche” audiences, these startups are not beholden to liturgical forms or institutional legacies. Indeed, many proudly announce their desire to “reinvent church.”

Clearly, the cultural labor of restoration requires imaginative innovation. Good culture making requires that we imagine the world other than as it is — which means seeing through the status-quo stories we have been told and instead envisioning kingdom come. Yes, we need new energy, new strategies, new initiatives, new organizations, even new institutions.

But if we hope to put the world to rights, we need to think differently and act differently and build institutions that foster such action.

Next, his solution:

If our cultural work is going to be restorative – if it is going to put the world to rights – then we need imaginations that have been shaped by a vision for how things ought to be. Our innovation and invention and creativity will need to be bathed in an eschatological vision of what the world is made for, what it’s called to be — what the prophets often described as shalom. Innovation for justice and shalom requires that we be regularly immersed in the story of God reconciling all things to himself.

That immersion happens most powerfully in worship — in intentional, historic, liturgical forms that “carry” the Christian story in ways that sink into our bones and become part of us. This is why the unfettered, undisciplined “reinvention” of the church actually undercuts our ability to carry out innovative, restorative culture making. The story cannot shape us, cannot become part of us, in a church that is constantly reinventing itself.

I certainly agree that “unfettered, undisciplined ‘reinvention’ of the church” diminishes our ability to “carry out innovative, restorative culturing,” but I’m curious as to how we might start (re)defining standards for Christian worship in modern evangelicalism—how we are to pick and choose “intentional, historic, liturgical forms” and how we are to gauge the success of any 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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The Sin Police: Can the State Redeem You?

If you haven’t heard yet, Republican candidate Rand Paul made some controversial remarks about the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Paul’s basic argument was that we should prohibit racial discrimination by the government, but we should not intrude on the right of private businesses to practice bigotry.

The media firestorm over Paul’s comments seems to have subsided (for now), but the massive reaction affirms how many people believe it is the role of the State to be the sin police.

Pastor and theologian Douglas Wilson was recently asked to comment on the controversy, and his response brings up many issues worth thinking about.

Watch the video of his response here:

Wilson begins by saying the reaction and hype was spawned by a root problem in our society:

The problem that plagues us in our political discourse is that we don’t understand the difference between sins and crimes.

What Wilson means is that we always rush to pass laws to prohibit things we don’t approve of.  For Wilson, this common perspective comes from a misplaced worship Read the rest of this entry »

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