Archive for June, 2010

Left & Right Christians

June 27, 2010

I think this thoughtful piece raises important questions, suggesting a solution to some of the warring between Christians of different political factions (though it doesn’t eliminate their disagreements!). It is critical of Jim Wallis’ argument and rhetoric, which makes the point clearly, but uncomfortably for those of us (like the author) who to a large degree respect him. There is a sometime asymmetry in these debates (though I’ve been in conservative circles that assumed those on the other side must be non-Christian too, so it’s not all one way, it seems at current to be flowing more the other direction). The basic point is here:

What separates Jim Wallis from the Tea Partiers is not a difference of moral quality, or the presence and absence of compassion, but a different vision of the society that biblical love and justice require.

I am weary of the battles between conservative and liberal Christians. Even in our disagreements, we should represent one another with honesty and charity.

To which I say, Amen.

The Internet and Religion

June 24, 2010

I’m mostly off the grid for a brief vacation, but since I’m online, I’ll make a quick post or two as I find something interesting. Here’s a discussion of the internet and religion, drawing on Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains. Certainly suggests we have some things to think about.

Acton Day 3

June 19, 2010

This was the final full day at Acton. A quick summary:

Evangelicals and the Green Movement – A helpful historical overview of Evangelical statements on the environment over the past sever decades. It was helpful to see the development, consensus and diversity among the statements. As always, it seems, there is no single view, but there are some areas of agreement we can start with.

Environmental Sustainability: Creature Care Beyond Stewardship – Probably the most eye-opening presentation of the conference for me. It highlighted some new trends in environmental thought – recycling is mostly bad (see Cradle to Cradle). Instead, we need to develop new ways of thinking about environmental issues. Consumption is not the problem; design is. New design approaches (including Biomimicry) can create products that are more natural and which don’t produce toxic byproducts in the life cycle of the product. In other words, we’re not only interested in the results after the product is used, but from the beginning of the design.

Business as a Moral Enterprise – This presentation discussed a number of business related things. One interesting feature was the model of the 7 forms of capital. One helpful thing was a very practical set of suggestions on how to develop and encourage virtue in business.

There were a few other closing things. We had a Kern Fellowship presentation on Business as a Spiritual Discipline (that’s a fresh and interesting way to think about it) and a session that introduced us to quite a few Acton resources. Hopefully, I can use a few of them over the next year.

After our closing meal, we heard again from Father Sirico who provided a personal biography and history behind the Acton Institute. A fine send-off.

I’ll try and give some post-Acton reflections later.

Acton – Evening 3

June 18, 2010

The presentation for the third evening was a presentation from C. William Pollard, formerly of Servicemaster. He has been a model of a Christian business leader and talked about that with some good stories. It’s encouraging to see the ideals being talked about during the more academic lectures of the day being lived out in the real world of the market. It’s a hopeful sign.

The other interesting part of the evening was a brief video tease of a new initiative Poverty Cure that the people of Acton are working on. It’s still in process and final details are coming – I hope it can have a great impact.

Science and Faith

June 18, 2010

News from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, where faith and science may be having more productive dialog. Jennifer Wiseman, director of the AAAS Dialog on Science Christian and Ethics is an astrophysicist and Christian. She says:

“I sense a real interest in religious communities to hear about science, participate in the excitement of discovery, and integrate the study of nature into a sense of awe and stewardship,” Wiseman said. “Scientists and religious leaders in dialogue can play major positive roles in forging constructive public understanding.”

One can hope.

Minnesota Governor Pawlenty on Online Education

June 18, 2010

Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty (R) is making a major push for online education to save Minnesota money.  His argument:

“Do you really think in 20 years somebody’s going to put on their backpack, drive a half hour to the University of Minnesota from the suburbs, haul their keister across campus, and sit and listen to some boring person drone on about econ 101 or Spanish 101?” Pawlenty asked Stewart, host of “The Daily Show.”

“Can’t I just pull that down on my iPhone or iPad whenever the heck I feel like it, from wherever I feel like it?” he said. “And instead of paying thousands of dollars, can I pay $199 for iCollege instead of 99 cents for iTunes?”

Certainly this suggests a changing educational environment will continue….

Acton Day 2

June 18, 2010

Today was another full program – where I was able to attend 4 elective sessions. A brief comment on each.

Evangelical Social Thought – This session, after noting that the idea of evangelicalism is a little fuzzy (hence there is no single evangelical social ethic), identified conversionism as one key element. It highlighted some impact of that on evangelical social ethics – especially the tendency on highlighting individual action and emphasizing evangelism over social engagement. Despite hesitancy arising out of the social gospel and church growth methodology, the presentation noted a variety of approaches to social thought among evangelicals. No clear conclusion was advocated and I ended up wishing for something a bit more robust and engaging some of the more recent discussions. For someone with no background it would have been a good start – but I was hoping for a bit more. Then again, it was only 1 session and some undoubtably needed a starting point.

Market Economics and the Family – An interesting discussion of how families contribute to (and really make possible) the life of the market. It emphasized studies that show the negative consequences of father and mother absence and argued that the family is necessary of true human freedom (which needs careful definition in our setting).

Social Justice: Fair and Victimless or Free and Virtuous? – It was an entertaining presentation. The basic point was very interesting – that there are competing visions of social justice that need to talk (and perhaps learn from each other). One vision highlights unfairness and the creation of victims, requiring the intervention of the government to overcome those problems (an example – the Civil Rights Act of 1964). The other vision (more prominent at Acton, it would seem) emphasizes individual freedom and the need to act virtuously. Both approaches have strengths and weaknesses (the presentation did SWOT analysis, for those who know what that is). As I said, an intriguing concept I’ll want to think about, though perhaps not fully developed.

Biblical Theology and Environmental Ethics – A solid discussion of some of the theological concepts (more systematic than biblical, I would say) that contribute to a developed (and orthodox) Christian environmental ethic. I’d like to have seen a bit more stress on the continuity of the created order with the renewed heaven and earth (it was slightly there, but discontinuity was more emphasized). Nevertheless, I thought it a good and well developed discussion.

Overall a solid day and useful. And I continued to have some good conversations and meet some new people. If only it hadn’t been such a lovely day outside…

BTW – Some of the lectures have been made (or will be made) available on the website at so if you’re interested, you might want to take a further look.

Acton Evening 2

June 18, 2010

Though slow, I post surely. Our second evening at Acton University included a lovely dinner. After our dinner, we heard from Immaculee Ilibagiza, a survivor of the Rwandan massacre of 1994, best selling author (Left to Tell), and model of Christian forgiveness. It was an inspiring account.

Acton University Day 1

June 17, 2010

I’ve completed the first full day at the Acton UniversityHere’s some highlights of the day. As it is my first time, I had the privilege of attending a set of standard “foundational” lectures providing a general orientation for all participants (before we break out to specific issues – which I’ll talk about over the next several days). The four lectures were:

Christian Anthropology – Not a lot new here for me (I teach anthropology, after all), but the emphasis on humans as embodied persons, human creativity, and the dual individual and corporate nature of the human person were important reminders. Based on this, we need to think about how particular societies and policies are consistent with this anthropology.

Limited Government and the Rule of Law – after a brief historical analysis, the presentation presented arguments for limited government from within the Christian framework. The goal of human flourishing was emphasized , as was the need for some governmental coercion because of human fallibility. Warnings about subsidiarity and the choice between governance and government in enforcing morality were also discussed.

The Economic Way of Thinking – A brief primer on economics. This highlighted a lot of the basic principles of economics you would get in an economics course. The absence of this knowledge is a general weakness among Christians; our discussion of economics have to start with some basic understanding (though throughout the day, it was repeatedly emphasized there is no one Christian system or set of policy prescriptions). The most interesting observation might have been the concluding observation that markets are consumer sovereignty systems – they give people what they want. From the perspective of Christian realism & morality, we need to say something more, which is why Acton combines freedom (including markets) and virtue.

Foundations of a Free society – Highlighted the tensions within Enlightenment liberalism (e.g., liberty and equality, individuality and community), the importance of general revelation and natural law for Christians to discuss public life and public theology.

Our final afternoon session was a wide-ranging question section with the panel of presenters from the day. Unlike many such sections, I felt the questions were of high quality and the answers helpful. Topics addressed ranged from the proper definition of nominalism, the distinction between what is moral & evil (i.e., how do we decide when to legislate morality), the notion of just prices (vs. market prices) and a reevaluation of Rousseau (perhaps…). Interesting stuff.

Tomorrow, I get to look at Social Thought, Market Economics and the Family, and Environmental ethics. Looking forward to it!

Acton University Introduction

June 17, 2010

I’m at the Acton University for a few days, so let me at least introduce the program. It’s a program from the Acton Institute and is (in my case) funded by the Kern Foundation (and thanks to them for that!). The focus of AU is to promote freedom and virtue; it is market oriented, but markets grounded in virtue and Christian values. We started last evening with a presentation from Rev. Robert Sirico, the President.

I especially enjoyed the chance to meet a few people (one of the best things about these meetings). Got to chat at length with Michael Wittmer, whose book Heaven is a Place on Earth I enjoyed a while back. It was a good time.