Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Biblical-Theological Economics

Kathryn Tanner suggests that:

... the whole Christian story is a vision of economy, a vision of a kind of system for the production and circulation of goods, beginning with God and extending to the world, from creation through redemption..... Christianity is every bit as much about economic issues as an account of the way prices are determined by marginal utilities. The Christian story, after all, is a story about God as the highest good, a God constituted by exchange among the persons of the Trinity, a God who aims, in creating and saving the world, to distribute to it the good of God'’s own life to the greatest degree possible.”
Tanner, Kathryn, Economy of Grace (Minneapolis, Augsburg Fortress, 2005), page xi)
Even if we don't go along with Tanner's program (for a radical economy of grace and non-competitiveness), presumably there could be value in expressing the gospel in economic categories, such as profit and loss (c.f. Matthew 16:26) and cost (c.f. Luke 14:28). Cash conscious consumers can be called to invest in true treasure (Matthew 6:19-21).

Blog Etiquette - and Ethics

What is the etiquette of blogging and what are the ethical considerations?

For example, should people always be quoted by name and sources cited in full or is it acceptable to quote someone anonymously or allude to what they’ve said? Does it depend on whether one wants to praise or criticise?

How public should something be before its bloggable?

And although a blog is publicly available, isn’t rather like saying something behind someone’s back in many situations? When is this wrong?

And is there a sinful desire to have the last word that blogging serves?

What of plagiarism and copyright?

And is blogging a godless waste of time?

Not wanting to waste too much time, I made a quick search for blog etiquette on line.

Although some helpful stuff is included (e.g. remember your blog posts might follow you!; get your spelling right!), surely we can do better than Bella Online with its advice that one shouldn’t lie as you are likely to be found out and discredited.

More of a start is perhaps some blogging principles.

Evangelism and social action fallacies

It is sometimes said that modern conservative Evangelicals have a problem about relating words (evangelism) and deeds (social action), which would be unrecognisable to, say, an ancient Hebrew or many in the Majority World today, who are less dualistic, more integrated in their understanding and not guilty of this false dichotomy.

However, it is clearly true that evangelism and social action can be distinguished. Just to label their separation a false dichotomy is not enough. If they are inseparable, then we must show how and understand carefully how to relate them in practice.

And so what if it is “Western” to sharply distinguish words and deeds? We would not want to fall into a genetic fallacy: even if it is nasty old dualistic Western or Greeks philosophers who divide words and deeds and so on, that does not in itself discredit the distinction – or show us that we should just lump together evangelism and social action somehow.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

So Many Questions, Wright?

In his revealing little piece My Pilgrimage in Theology (originally Published in Themelios, January, 1993, 18.2, 35), Tom Wright comments that during his graduate work:

I learned to live with unanswered questions: one of the keys to staying sane and Christian in a lifetime of studying theology is to say ‘I don’t know the answer to this just now, but I’m prepared to wait’. Often the answer comes by an unexpected route, in a form that one wouldn’t have recognized at the original time of asking. Patience is a fruit of the Spirit much needed by theologians.

It’s all worth a read. The Eucharist is interestingly prominent:

I went to Canada in 1981 to teach NT studies at McGill, and to be involved with the Anglican College in Montreal. The Combination was superb: out of the lecture room, into chapel. My view of the Eucharist, which had started at a rock-bottom low as an undergraduate, had received an upward jolt through reading Calvin (yes, try it and see), and had been nurtured through my early years as a chaplain. It finally came together and started to approach that of Paul. . . . Passages I'd not understood before came alive. So did the joy of participating in the richest of all Christian symbols. Alone, I continued to read the NT in Greek and the OT Hebrew day by day, constantly finding a combination of personal address and intellectual stimulation which I have never been able to separate. (I was once advised to keep separate Bibles one devotional and one ‘academic’. Fortunately I took no notice.)

And I have the joy, during term, of a regular celebration of the Eucharist at which, again and again, everything else I do comes into focus. I find myself held within the love of the triune God able to receive fresh grace for fresh tasks.

And what does Wright see as “the most significant change of my theological life”?

In 1983 I started work on my Colossians commentary. By the time I finished it in 1985 I had undergone probably the most significant change of my theological life. Until then I had been basically, a dualist. The gospel belonged in one sphere, the world of creation and politics in another. Wrestling with Colossians 1:15-20 put paid to that. I am still working through the implications (and the resultant hostility in some quarters): my book New Tasks for a Renewed Church is a recent marker on this route.

Wright concludes the piece:

Unanswered questions remain. So does the frailty of my human self, as I struggle to be obedient to my multiple callings, both professionally and, more important (though not all Christians see this point), domestically. Who is sufficient for these things? Certainly not this muddled and sinful Christian. The great thing about that is what it does for your theology. The more I appreciate my own laughable inadequacy, the more I celebrate the fact of the Trinity. Without the possibility of invoking the Spirit of Jesus, of the living God, for every single task, what would keep me going? Pride and fear, I guess. I know enough about both to recognize the better way.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

The RC doctrine of Subsidiarity

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

“A community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to coordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good.” (Paulist Press, 1994, no. 1883)

This is a vision of hierarchy with preservation of autonomy, non-interference and assistance, with higher authorities helping not usurping the freedom of action of those below them (Gregg, Samuel, Economic Thinking for the Theologically Minded (Lanham, University Press of America, 2001), p43)

For example, families are primarily responsible for raising children:

“The principle of subsidiarity would suggest that the first call of assistance for… [a parent who is manifestly incapable of caring for his child] is his extended family or, failing that, a group of local parents, and – only in the absence of any other mediating institution (and as a last resort) – the state.” (p43)

Those closest to people in need are most likely to be able to help them – ideally help them to act for themselves, avoiding passive dependence (p43)

John Paul II said:

“By intervening directly and depriving society of its responsibility, the welfare state leads to a loss of human energies and an inordinate increase in public agencies, which are dominated more and more by bureaucratic ways of thinking than by concern for serving their clients, and which are accompanied by an enormous increase in spending. In fact, it would appear that needs are best understood and satisfied by people who are closest to them and who act as neighbours to those in need. It should be added that certain demands often call for a response which is not simply material but which is capable of perceiving the deeper human need.” (Centesimus Annus, no. 48.) This principle was first formally expounded in Roam Catholic social teaching in Pius XI, Encyclical Letter Quadragesimo Anno (15 May 1931), nos. 79-80. (Gregg, pp44-5)

Don’t cut my Economic Pie: free market & private property

Samuel Gregg argues that Christians would do well to think a little more about economics and bring their theological resources to the public economic debates:

“Should Christians, for example, simply accept that governments may use force to redistribute wealth without continually subjecting this proposition – in each and every instance – to rigorous ethical appraisal?” (p33)

“The very phrase the market makes some Christians nervous. Though often portrayed in very impersonal terms, the market is no more than the ongoing interaction of freely chosen material exchanges between human beings. Obviously, market transactions do not always facilitate just results. But before Christians dismiss it as a decidedly anti-human phenomenon, it would be useful to gain a greater appreciation of its complexity. Upon doing so, they may well come to the conclusion that, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, the market economy is the worst of all economic systems – except for all the rest.” (p34)

“In philosophical terms, the case for the market economy draws upon a number of intellectual sources for support. These include:

  • the Late-Scholastics (mainly Jesuits and Dominicans) associated with the Salamanca School of the late 15th and mid-17tf CC;
  • British classical economists such as Adam Smith; and
  • the ordo liberal school associated with the University of Freiburgh, especially convinced Christians such as the Protestant Wilhelm Ropke and the Catholic Walter Euken, who consciously integrated the natural-law tradition into their proposition.” (p37f)

“Nations that have developed the institution of private property have invariably been rich in material wealth, but this wealth extends also to the sciences, art, and literature. Such flourishing occurs, in part, because private property guarantees that people can rest secure, knowing that the fruits of their creative work are recognised as belonging to them. To this extent, private property helps to promote self-reliance and a certain degree of personal autonomy.” (p38)

Property need not be theft:

“private property does not in itself create a “zero-sum” situation. If one person owns property, it does not mean that another is worse off. In fact, many people are potentially better off when someone acquires property because the acquisition often requires productive action that is morally and materially beneficial to others…. Moreover, the prospect of private ownership provides people with the incentive to transform “useless” resources into productive capital, and then exchange that property in order to satisfy other unmet needs.” (p39)

Inequality of wealth is not necessarily unfair. Christianity has always affirmed that many factors must be taken into account when thinking about what constitutes justice in the material realm… such as need, merit, willingness to take risks, the function performed by a person, and the contribution made by a person.” (p39)

“… private property is actually a civilizing force.” (p39). It encourages free exchange without use of force, respecting of mutual rights etc.

We must count the costs of interference in the market for the redistribution of wealth:

“Economics tells us that changing the distribution of the fruits of economic activity is a costly business…. For reasons that economists can explain with some confidence, attempts by governments to alter the sizes of the individual slices of the economic pie tend to reduce the size of the pie itself, or at least prevent it from expanding as quickly as it might have otherwise.” (p50)

“… economic growth is the surest way to improve the material fortunes of those at the bottom end of the income and wealth distribution scheme. The best way to achieve some increase in the size of the smallest slices is to make the whole pie bigger. A rising (economic) tide lifts all boats.” (p50)

We must choose between equal-ness / sameness and efficiency / prosperity.

"… we have a substantial body of empirical evidence that favours the free market as a more efficient means of creating material wealth than any other economic system yet devised. Contemporary economists’ support for the free market is based more upon their acceptance of this evidence than upon ideological prejudice.” (p51)

“The market will create wealth with equal ease through the prostitution of women and children as it will through the design and manufacture of life-saving medical equipment. For this reason, many economists have acknowledged the need to place the market economy within a framework of law and upon a particular moral and cultural foundation.” (p51)

Economic Imperialism

Murray Rothbard (of the Austrian School of economics) reflects:

“In recent years, economists have invaded other intellectual disciplines and, in the dubious name of science, have employed staggeringly oversimplified assumptions in order to make sweeping and provocative conclusions about fields they know little about. This is a modern form of “economic imperialism” in the realm of the intellect. Almost always, the basis of this economic imperialism has been quantitative and implicitly Bethamite [i.e. Utilitarian], in which poetry and pushpin [American children’s game?] are reduced to a single-level, and which amply justifies the gibe of Oscar Wilde about cynics, that they (economists) know the price of everything and the value of nothing. The results of this economic imperialism have been particularly ludicrous in the fields of sex, the family, and education.” (from Gregg, Samuel, Economic Thinking for the Theologically Minded (Lanham, University Press of America, 2001), p33, quoting ‘The Hermeneutical Invasion of Philosophy and Economics’, Review of Austrian Economics 3 (1989), p45.)

Gregg argues that strictly economics is a utilitarian discipline like engineering or dentistry:

“Economists who exceed their mandate do the discipline a great disservice. Responsible economists are those who offer advice, when asked, on how to achieve specific objectives at minimal cost. This ensures maximum material benefit.” (p48)

Homo Economicus & Self Interest

Samuel Gregg, of the Acton Institute, writes about the imaginary construct homo economicus:

An “assumption [of modern economics, influenced by Bethamism / Utitilitarianism] is the anthropological model of homo economicus: the human person as the ultimate pleasure calculator.” (Economic Thinking for the Theologically Minded (Lanham, University Press of America, 2001), p.12)

The contrived character of “Homo economicus … utterly without spiritual dimension by design, this creature seeks only to maximise personal satisfaction from the consumption of goods and services.” (p13). He carries out a rational cost-benefit analysis of material self-interest. “In short, he is somewhat of a sociopath.” (p13).

Useful as such an analysis might be, we must not forget its limits. Economics is strictly descriptive and predictive rather than prescriptive. The is-ought fallacy must be avoided (p23-5).

Human behaviour motivation is more complicated than a pure homo economicus analysis might lead us to believe.

“… Adam Smith[‘s] … reflections on self-interest in The Wealth of Nations (1776) should always be placed in the context of his earlier, lesser-known work, The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759), which speaks of the primary, nonmaterial motivations of justice, benevolence, and prudence, of which desire for honour, respect, social advancement, and wealth are subsets. It should, therefore, come as no surprise that many Christians react negatively to what comes close to being an assertion by some economists that homo economicus is actually the closest approximation of human reality rather than simply an abstract intellectual tool.” (p25)

Self-interest need not necessarily be equated with selfishness…. Michael Novak reminds us, self-interest is understood as a commonsense duty to oneself.” (p15). Proper self-love is arguably implicitly required by “love your neighbour as yourself” command.

“Christians might rightly object to economists’ speaking on matters of public policy as if the economic calculus were the only legitimate basis for gauging improvements in social welfare, but they go too far when they reject that same calculus as having nothing of value to offer…. The key is recognising that good economics is not synonymous with good public policy. The latter demands attention to a wider set of criteria than the material.” (p27)

Economic models are similar to maps. Maps provide us with insight into aspects of the truth, they do not, in themselves, capture the whole truth.” (p27) Economics does not tell us where to go nor, on its own, how we ought to get there.

Monday, February 20, 2006

How Many Covenants?

Doug Wilson's book Federal Husband conatins a mini-crash course on Covenant Theology.

Here's a nice bit:

All of these covenants [with Adam, Abraham, Moses, David etc.] were a prelude to the coming of Christ. Believers should not think of separated pacts or contracts throughout history. The believer must think of a growing child, a fruitful tree, a bud unfolding into a flower. We must understand the organic continuity of the covenants. The continuity is found in a Person and reflects the solitary redemptive purpose of God from the beginning of history to the end of it, always expressed in a covenant. The Lord Jesus Christ is the Lord of the New Covenant now (Heb. 8:6); has always been the Lord of the New Covenant (1 Cor. 10:1-13); and ministers throughout all history (Heb. 9:15).

(Wilson, Douglas, Federal Husband (Moscow, Canon Press, 1999), p.14-15)

Nasty Old Testament "Law"?

The following, from Doug Wilson, is worth considering as an interpretative possibility when the New Testament seems to be polemical against the Old Testament Law:

... we [tend to] misunderstand New Testament refutations of the Pharisaical distortions of the law of Moses. They are commonly assaulted with their own (heretical) terminological distortions (i.e., with words like "law"). But the contrast in the New Testament is not between Old and New; the contrast is between Old distorted and Old fulfilled.

(Wilson, Douglas, Federal Husband (Moscow, Canon Press, 1999), p.14)

Thursday, February 09, 2006


Yous: a Northern English dialect idiom for the second person plural - :)

c.f. North American, "y'all"

Worthy of incorporation into standard English?

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Supper as Covenant Renewal

In my earlier post on the Lord's Supper as Covenantal Renewal, I had stupidly overlooked the Westminster Larger Catechism:

Q174: What is required of them that receive the sacrament of the Lord's supper in the time of the administration of it?

A174: It is required of them that receive the sacrament of the Lord's supper, that, during the time of the administration of it, with all holy reverence and attention they wait upon God in that ordinance, diligently observe the sacramental elements and actions, heedfully discern the Lord's body, and affectionately meditate on his death and sufferings, and thereby stir up themselves to a vigorous exercise of their graces; in judging themselves, and sorrowing for sin; in earnest hungering and thirsting after Christ, feeding on him by faith, receiving of his fulness, trusting in his merits, rejoicing in his love, giving thanks for his grace; in renewing of their covenant with God, and love to all the saints.

(emphasis added)

Thanks once again to learned Deacon Matthew (W. Mason) for pointing it out!

Jesus Christ Blasphemy

Tom Parsons mentioned that whenever he hears someone use the words "Jesus Christ" as a blasphemy, he loudly and heartily adds, "Is Lord!".

Sounds like a good, bold strategy that allows one to avoid pathetic whinging while also registering some kind of protest.

Martyrdom & Muslims

It seems that martyrdom is somewhat out of fashion - amongst Christians, if not amongst Muslims.

When was the last time anyone had to hide someone else's clothing (as Origen's mother did) to prevent his martyrdom?

Augustine's enthusiasm for martyrdom as a golden pathway to salvation seems like salvation by works to most Protestants, but then again perhaps giving up one's life to save it, in the hope of the unseen world, is a supreme act of faith.

This is all the more interesting when many Muslim's seem eager to die and earn entry into the paradise they have imagined.

It seems amazing too that we don't see more murders of Christians my Muslims in the UK since "Jesus Christ is Lord" and "I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me" would seem in pretty stark contrast to "There is no God but Allah and Mohamed is his prophet".


Roman Catholic? or Reformed catholic?

What else might RC stand for?

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Theology in the Second Person

Rev'd Christopher Ash pointed out (at the Latimer Trust Ability & Reliability day yesterday) that the first time someone spoke of God in the third person, the speaker said: “Did God really say?” This seems to be Satan’s characteristic theological voice.

So let’s do our theology in the second person, addressed to God. Like Augustine’s Confessions.

Drinking Habits of Anglo-Catholic Communion

Anglo- and Roman Catholics seem to do something about mixing water and wine in the Supper. Is it to suggest the water and blood that flowed from the Lord Jesus at the cross? To the Protestant mind, does it suggest the water of human good works being combined in a Semi-Pelagian manner with the blood of the saving work of Christ. Either way, mixing water and best wine seems to be a bad thing in Isaiah 1:22 so perhaps we ought to stop it. It tends to spoil good wine, doesn’t it? Jesus seemed to prefer not to pour water into wine but to turn water into wine (John 2:9).

Devaluing The Sacraments

Does it devalue the sacraments or the word “sacrament” to say that the Bible is sacramental (in some senses)?

No. Or at least not necessarily. Rightly done it elevates the sacraments and makes the word “sacrament” more useful because it enhances understanding of them.

Hebrew Distinctions

Dr Thomas Renz suggested (at the Latimer Trust Ability & Reliability day yesterday) suggested that in Hebrew one would characteristically say, for example, “God repents” and “God does not repent” to make a distinction and explain that in some senses God might be said to repent and in some ways he may not. This would be a way of expressing a doctrine of the immutability of God without implying that he is static and inert, without resorting to the kind of exact scientific terminology Systematic Theology has developed. Both methods have their place and we should take care to distinguish when we move towards making value judgements.

Sermons or meditations on Jonah?

Dr Thomas Renz suggested (at the Latimer Trust Ability & Reliability day yesterday) that Jonah doesn’t have a single clear message, or three definitive points for us to take away. Rather, the story of the book of Jonah is designed to get us to reflect in certain ways on particular themes and issues. Obviously this is a “points on a spectrum” type point not an absolute distinction (c.f. the so-called “beard fallacy”), but it still seems a valuable one which ought to affect how we understand and preach the book.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

The Grammar of True Virtue

This from Douglas Wilson on verbs of virtue:

We too often forget that in a world in which both good and evil exist, virtue cannot be found in a transitive verb. It is not enough to be told that a man loves, we want to know what he loves. If another man is tolerant, we do not know if this is virtuous or not. What does he tolerate? The same problem exists with the word “conserve.” To say that someone is a conservative does not tell us what they are interested in conserving. Within our lifetimes, we have seen hardline communists trying to conserve the Soviet Union, [and] fanatical Muslims trying to conserve ancient Islamic traditions…. The word itself does not communicate very much.

Jones, Douglas, and Wilson, Douglas, Angels in the Architecture: a Protestant Vision for Middle Earth (Moscow, Canon Press, 1998), p109f.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The Baby, the Bathwater, The Reformation and Mum

Of course the Reformation was a glorious triumph and a much needed return to the Biblical Gospel, but are there ways in which we have thrown out the baby with the bath water?

Jones and Wilson (Reformed Christians) seem right to suggest that any talk of genuine Church authority immediately makes Protestants think of abuses, inquisitions and popes. In an era of thousands of splintered denominations and when anyone can set up a church in their own home, worry about Church authority is like lonely orphans stubbornly avoiding Mum, they say. Mum (Mother Church) has been thrown out with the bathwater; baby sits alone.

Jones, Douglas, and Wilson, Douglas, Angels in the Architecture: a Protestant Vision for Middle Earth (Moscow, Canon Press, 1998), p93.

Science History Lessons

On the idolatry of modern science as arbiter of truth, Jones and Wilson say:

The odd thing is that science has a rather ridiculous track record to serve as such a powerful veto-house of truth. If we think in terms of centuries and millennia, few other disciplines turn inside-out so flippantly and quickly as the natural sciences…. The history of science provides great strength to the inductive inference that, at any point in its history, that day’s science will almost certainly be deemed false, if not laughable, within a century (often in much less time). As the saying goes, if you marry the science of today, you will be a widow tomorrow.

If the history of science were a single person, we certainly wouldn’t let that person drive heavy machinery or carry sharp objects. Nonetheless, he could serve some useful functions. And he might do some better than others. But to set him up as the premier standard and priest of rationality is a bit too much to ask. We need to evaluate science with a more long-term, medieval view.

Just one of the good moments in Jones, Douglas, and Wilson, Douglas, Angels in the Architecture: a Protestant Vision for Middle Earth (Moscow, Canon Press, 1998), p55f.

Wright on Reason as an Instrument!

How about this from Tom Wright, suggestive of the traditional Reformed understanding of Reason as an instrument:

Nor can 'reason' be casually conflated with 'the results of modern science', as though there were a straightforward route, a kind of natural theology, from what we find in a test-tube to what we can and must say about God and his kingdom. 'Reason' is more like the laws of harmony and counterpoint: it does not write the tunes itself, but it forms the language within which tunes make powerful sense.

In all this, 'reason' will not constitute an alternative, or independent, source to scripture and tradition. It is the necessary adjunct, the vital tool, for making sure that we are truly listening to scripture and tradition rather than to the echo of our own voices.
Wright, N. T., Scripture and the Authority of God (London, SPCK, 2005), p88, emphasis added.