by Brian Douglas
At the time I began my seminary studies, I was almost completely disinterested in political issues. I observed the various factions fighting amongst themselves and the capriciousness of the American public, and I concluded that the whole system is lost and getting involved in political issues is a waste of valuable time. It seemed much better to me to apply myself to studying God's Word, thus transcending, I thought, all the foolishness going on around me.
However, the more I learned about the truth and beauty of the gospel, the more I realized that my faith has consequences--my beliefs must radically alter every sphere of my life. I became convicted that if I am going to truly follow Christ, I must think about and do everything, including politics and citizenship, in a distinctively biblical way. I became increasingly interested in political philosophy, and the more I read, the more I realized how much I needed to learn.
That is why I am thankful to have had the opportunity to attend the Acton Institute's Toward a Free and Virtuous Society conference, which so clearly articulated the relationship between the Christian faith, politics, and economics. The only foundation for a truly free and virtuous society, taught the conference lecturers, is a biblical anthropology. God created man in his own image: man alone among the creatures has the ability to make choices based on reason, and man is meant to use his reason in virtuous and creative ways, just as God himself does. In order to reflect the dignity inherent in these distinctive attributes of man, society must be ordered to promote the freedom necessary for virtuous choices and fruitful labor. Accordingly, the coercive power of government must be limited and the marketplace must be kept as open as possible in order to protect that freedom.
Further, I have realized that our society has emptied such words as freedom, liberty, rights, and rule of law of any intrinsic meaning. These ideas were once the very foundation of Western society, and men were willing to pledge their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to defend them. But in our relativistic "post-Christian" age they have been severed from their origins and can now mean anything or nothing. Moreover, the church has largely allowed this to happen: these ideas emerged historically out of the application of Christian theology to the social realm, yet for the most part we have handed them over to the professional manipulators of our day. I believe that the church must recover these foundational ideas if it is going to effectively reshape society.
Even though the Acton conference was not the first time I had been exposed to some of these ideas, it was enlivening to hear them so effectively and winsomely presented and to learn more about how these ideas can be put into action. The lecturers were not only very knowledgeable about these subjects, but they were also clearly passionate about and committed to practicing them. The lectures were on such topics as biblical anthropology, the church and civil society, virtue, meeting the needs of the poor, theories of government, economic thinking, globalization, charity, and entrepreneurship. There were plenty of opportunities for questions after the lectures, at the panel discussions, and at meals.
The conference was held at the beautiful Rancho Capistrano in San Juan Capistrano, California. The Acton Institute made everyone very comfortable with nice rooms and an endless supply of good food and drink. The schedule was well-organized and the events went smoothly from beginning to end.
Perhaps the best thing about the conference was the all-too-rare opportunity to meet like-minded people who are at roughly the same point in their academic careers. Students of a wide variety of backgrounds and beliefs attended the conference: Catholics, Presbyterians, Baptists, Lutherans, and others came from California, St. Louis, Texas, Chicago, New Jersey, Minnesota, Tennessee, and West Virginia. I thought perhaps I would be the one who traveled the farthest, having flown in from South Florida, but two students, one from Belfast and another from Rome, had me beat by far. There were frequent occasions to talk with fellow students at meals, between lectures, and in the evenings when the conference had finished for the day. These fellow students will soon be fellow laborers with me in applying the truth of the gospel to our culture, so I am confident that we will meet and even work together in the future.
I am wholeheartedly grateful to the Acton Institute for the opportunity to attend this conference, and I pray that God would continue to bless their labors as they seek to further freedom and virtue in our society and around the world.