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Religion & Liberty Article Listing

Rediscovering the Natural Law in Reformed Theological Ethics

After completing Stephen J. Grabill's book on the natural law in the thought of the Protestant Reformers, I wished - briefly - that he did not work at the Acton Institute. He has written a very important book, and I didn't want my recommendation of it to be tainted by favoritism toward a colleague and friend.

That said, Grabill's book can more than stand on its own. It is a work of true scholarship; its origin as a doctoral thesis means that it is not a breezy read. The scholarly apparatus is heavy, as it needs be, for Grabill is out to challenge the conventional wisdom.

The concept of “natural law” in Christian ethics is generally considered to be a Catholic way of thinking. The natural law does not refer to the law of the nature - where the strong lion eats the sick antelope - but to what reason alone, reflecting upon human nature, can conclude about how we should act....

America's Challenge


Chuck Colson

What intellectual tools do Christians need to effectively protect the truth in a post-Christian world, and do Christians have those tools?

The first part of the answer is more complicated, so I'll answer the second part first. First, no, Christians do not have the tools today. Most people don't realize what a central issue this is. And Schaeffer used to preach about this a generation ago, and he would say, “The issue is truth! Flaming truth! True truth!” And people listened to him. Typical of all evangelical churches, they say, “Oh, that's great he's doing that,” but nobody takes him seriously. Through the Centurions Program, I'm trying to teach people how to teach truth. I think it can be done,...

Politics and Independence


Rev. Robert Sirico

On the question of religion and politics, it seems like the Christian community is forever sliding between two errors. On the one hand, there is a long tendency to eschew politics as too worldly and unbecoming to Christian piety. If we place our hopes in the afterlife, why should we dedicate ourselves to political change now? This is the error of quietism, which calls for quiet contemplation and prayer and totally eschews any action. Yet God calls some to a political role in the hope of making a difference in the world. There is nothing wrong with this. Indeed, our faith calls for a cultural transformation. It is not satisfied with individual piety alone.

On the other hand, there is the...

Recovering the Catholicity of Protestant Theological Ethics


Stephen Grabill

The following has been excerpted from Recovering the Natural Law in Reformed Theological Ethics , released last autumn from Eerdmans.

While the Protestant Reformers inherited the natural-law tradition from their late medieval predecessors without serious question, their later heirs have, more often than not, assumed a critical stance of discontinuity in relation to natural law. In fact, according to one scholar whose views —though well documented and respected —still typify a minority position in contemporary Protestant historiography, “There is not real discontinuity between the teaching of the Reformers and that of their predecessors with respect to natural law.” With the possible...

Double-Edged Sword: The Power of the Word

Isaiah 52:8—15

“Hark! Your watchmen raise a cry, together they shout for joy, for they see directly, before their eyes, the Lord restoring Zion. Break out together in song, O ruins of Jerusalem! For the Lord comforts his people, he redeems Jerusalem. The Lord has bared his holy arm in the sight of all the nations; all the ends of the earth will behold the salvation of our God. Depart, depart, come forth from there, touch nothing unclean! Out from there! Purify yourselves, you who carry the vessels of the Lord. Yet not in fearful haste will you come out, nor leave in headlong flight, for the Lord comes before you, and your rear guard is the God of Israel. See, my servant shall prosper, he shall be raised high and greatly exalted. Even as many were amazed at him—so marred was his look beyond that of man, and his appearance beyond that of mortals—so shall he startle many...

Editor's Note

In our feature interview in this issue of R&L, Chuck Colson makes reference to the now-famous lecture Pope Benedict XVI gave at Regensburg last September. The heart of that lecture was the relationship of faith and reason. In the course of arguing that each needs the other, Benedict raised questions about Islam which garnered worldwide attention.

But Benedict's point was not principally about Islam. His point was that religious faith, when not purified by reason, can lose its way, even to the extremes of fanaticism and violence. He reminded his listeners that the temptation to neglect reason has been faced in the history of Christianity - mentioning by name the Catholic philosopher Duns Scotus and some currents of thought animating the Protestant Reformation.

One of the areas where faith meets reason is in the encounter between religion and science. The work of...

Jewish Theology and Economic Theory

This article has been excerpted from the upcoming monograph, Judaism, Markets, and Capitalism: Separating Myths from Reality.

There has been very little work by orthodox Jewish scholars on the relationship among socialism, capitalism, and Judaism. Careful reading of the relevant literature, however, suggests that it is possible to posit five basic axioms of Jewish economic theory from which many economic policy implications can be deduced. Although not exhaustive, our five axioms represent, to the best of our knowledge, the first attempt to formulate a parsimonious list of basic principles that help systematize the foundations of what we are calling Jewish economic theory.

Participation in the Creative Process

The first axiom of Jewish economic theory that we posit is: “Man is created in God's image.” In Judaism, this statement is...

The Creative Imperative


Dr. Samuel Gregg

This article was excerpted from Samuel Gregg's The Commercial Society—Foundations and Challenges in a Global Age , a new book published by Lexington Books.

Commercial society's impact upon poverty is not simply a result of the unintended consequences of market exchange. It owes much to commercial society's particular moral foundations. By moral foundations, we mean particular values and habits of action indispensable for the workings of commercial society. What follows is an attempt to describe commercial society's basic moral foundations. Taken together, these habits and values do not suffice for a society that wishes to merit the title humane or civilized. Nor are they exclusive to commercial...

The Challenge of Globalization to the Church

The Acton Institute is midway through a series of lectures—eight in Rome and one in Poland—celebrating the fifteenth anniversary of Centesimus Annus , Pope John Paul II's landmark social encyclical. The lecture series started in October 2005 and will continue through 2007. The following is taken from Centesimus Annus, Globalization, and Individual Development , an upcoming monograph itself [expanded] from Lord Griffiths's address delivered on October 19, 2006, in Rome.


© Hilary Quinn. Image from Stock.xchng.com

The church has the potential to tackle world poverty and to change the culture of globalization in a way that governments and international institutions do not. It is very easy in considering...

How does Acton's Rome office contribute to the mission of the Acton Institute?

The Acton Institute has a number of affiliates around the world, but when it came time to establish a presence in Rome, the institute opted not to start another affiliate, but to open a new Acton office, Istituto Acton. This allows the institute and its Grand Rapids staff to work closely with the Rome staff on a number of important projects that further our mission to promote a free and virtuous society on the international stage.

A large part of the execution of Acton's mission is to serve future religious leaders. Obviously, Rome is an important place to forge relationships with future Catholic clergy from around the world. Just like in the United States, we offer a number of lectures and conferences—most notably our recent series of Centesimus Annus conferences—that bring seminarians that blend of theological insight and economic truth for which Acton is known...

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Born on February 4, 1906, in Breslau, then part of Imperial Germany, Dietrich Bonhoeffer began his theological education in 1923 at the University of Tübingen. He later trained under liberal theologians Adolf von Harnack and Reinhold Seeburg.

Following what he would later call a conversion experience, Bonhoeffer intensified his focus on contemporary theological problems facing the church. With the ascendancy of the Nazi party in Germany, Bonhoeffer was among the first of the German theologians to perceive the pervasiveness and significance of the looming Nazi threat.

When the pro-Nazi German Christian party won the church elections in the summer of 1933, Bonhoeffer quickly opposed the anti-Semitism of the Nazis in an...

From the Gulag to the Killing Fields

In a personal account of his internment in the Albanian gulag, Nika Stajka catalogued the fourteen types of torture that communist authorities used against prisoners. These ranged from shooting by firing squad to sleep deprivation to the cutting of flesh with scissors and knives.

In his memoir, published in 1980, Stajka recalls:

We were all labeled as “enemies of the people,” reactionaries, traitors, saboteurs, criminals, villains ... that is why the “popular government” had no mercy for anyone of us, although we had been told at first that work was a great privilege for us, with the “socialist emulation” on our empty stomachs and enduring club blows on our backs, worse off than animals, since we were all between the ages of sixteen and forty-five years, while the aged and handicapped, unable to work, “ate the government bread as parasites.” They said that “it...

Exporting Hope

Growing up in Estonia, when was the first moment that you realized there was something wrong with the Soviet system?

I couldn't actually say the exact moment. It was very early, but not too early, because my grandfather has told me some stories that I don't remember myself. I was born on the twenty-second of April, the same day Vladimir Lenin was born. I nearly gave my grandfather a heart attack when he asked once whom I loved most in the world. There are a lot of beautiful [people I could have named], including my grandfather, but I shocked him, saying that I most loved Lenin. He was really shocked that his grandson was so brainwashed. But it didn't last very long. Because when you're honest, you understand the Soviet system very quickly because the truth is so clear. The contrast between the truth and Soviet propaganda is very clear and seeable for...

Editor's Note

It is a measure of how radically the situation of Europe has changed in the past generation that one regularly encounters seminars and symposia with grand but gloomy titles such as “Whither Europe?” or “The European Future?”

The question mark is key. There is much doubt about the health of Europe. Part of that is a demographic issue with plunging birthrates and mass immigration, the specter has been raised of a European future that is lacking Europeans. But it is more than that. If the European body is weak, the cause might be in the European soul.

This issue of Religion & Liberty looks at that question, benefiting from the insights of some of Europe's leading voices. Our lead interview is with Mart Laar, the former Estonian prime minister, who talks about “exporting hope” in the context of his country's post-communist transformation. A view from Western...

Europe Is Losing Its Soul


© Orthodoxy News Images

Europe is a unique cultural and spiritual phenomenon that was formed over the course of centuries and is currently undergoing fundamental changes. Why does the fate of Europe concern us, representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church? Because Russia, while possessing a distinctive culture and self-consciousness, is also an integral part of Europe. It is not by chance that Dostoevsky, who like nobody else was conscious of Russia's uniqueness, nevertheless called Europe his second home. In the Russian soul, Europe occupies a special place, primarily because of its Christian roots. I would like to stress that these roots go back not only to Western Christianity, but also to Eastern Christianity, mainly through...