Our Economic Anxiety

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Today, the Acton Institute carries an article I co-wrote with Victor Claar on our age of economic anxiety:

This is not a mere selfish concern about who gets how much of what. It is a moral anxiety, a concern about what kind of people we are becoming. Is America still a country where it pays to “work hard and play by the rules,” in Bill Clinton’s famous phrase? Or have we become the kind of place where cheaters consistently get ahead and slackers get a free ride—where working hard and playing by the rules is for chumps?

The essay is adapted from a forthcoming special issue of the Journal of Markets and Morality Victor and I co-edited on the legacy of the Keynesian Revolution:

We are all Keynesians now, in a chilling sense. Through the cultural effects of the Keynesian Revolution, we have been taught to think of ourselves fundamentally as consumers, as bundles of desires striving to be satisfied, rather than as producers of good things that improve the world and serve humanity. We have been taught to think only of what satisfies present desires, not to build up good things over time so our grandchildren inherit a better world. “In the long run we are all dead,” Keynes said, banishing from our horizons any concern for what kind of world we leave our descendants when we go. And we have been taught to think of ourselves as cogs in a vast machine, under the control of managerial experts. To accommodate the experts’ demands we must all be ready to reorder our lives down to their very roots—since taking control of the economy necessarily involves exercising ever-greater control of all areas of human life.

There is a sense in which even the anti-Keynesians are all Keynesians now. The major schools of economic thought that have emerged to challenge Keynesianism—the Chicago and Austrian schools—developed within the amoral discourse incubated in the neoclassical period and consolidated by Keynes. They share, in a somewhat mitigated but essentially similar form, Keynesianism’s privileging of consumptive preferences over productive purposes, and its reductive inability to think cross-generationally. And while they strive to resist the Keynesian tendency to justify the encroaching powers of managerial technocracy, their acceptance of Keynesianism’s materialistic anthropology and morally shallow categories for thinking about economic activity leaves them unable to offer the effective resistance to creeping totalitarianism that is one of their primary goals.

Check it out!

The Question of Our Time

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Jeff Blehar asks the question of our time:

Why is Sen. Ben Sasse the only politician in America who even attempts to communicate to voters this way?

“This way” as in this way:

10. Bizarrely, many on the center-left seem not to see that there is little that some on the President’s team would love more than to transform this into a fight about historical monuments.

11. I wish more folks understood how many of the monuments now being debated are not really from the post-Civil War period as a way to remember war dead. Rather, contrary to popular understanding, many of these statues were explicitly erected as Segregation Monuments in the twentieth century, during Jim Crow…

12. But I’m also against mobs tearing down the statues, or city governments removing them in the middle of the night…

13. Every single place I’ve been this week, I’ve gotten a question like this:
**”Washington and Jefferson owned slaves; do we have to tear down their statues too?”
**”Explorer X didn’t treat native Americans the way he should have; do we abandon states west of the Appalachian Trail?”
**”Even Tom Osborne isn’t a saint; must we tear down the statute outside Lincoln’s Memorial Stadium?”

The people asking these questions (over and over and over) are not racist. Rather they’re perplexed by the elite indifference to their fair questions…

That’s a small sample of a very impressive essay.

When MLK was murdered, RFK heard the news just as he was about to step on stage and address a mostly black audience. His advisors urged him to cancel. Instead he stepped out onto the stage and extemporaneously gave a moving speech about how the forces of love and justice would ultimately prevail – a speech so powerful it’s still remembered. Off the top of his head he quoted Aeschylus.

That is the job we hire political leaders to do. The absence of leaders who can and will do this job is why our crisis is so out of control.

God Works as Our Warrior-King

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Continuing my series on biblical images of God as a worker at TGR, I consider the image of God as a warrior-king:

Today, a fresh vision of “the kingdom of God” is turning our theology upside down. How would that revolution itself be revolutionized if we considered God’s kingdom as his work?

I think it would, at minimum, put spiritual formation back at the center of this concept in a way that I don’t think has been adequately mantained. Dallas Willard, one of the original champions of a new emphasis on kingdom theology, put spiritual formation – the work of God inside us as our king – at the foundation of the kingdom. That’s where it belongs.

Heading toward a big finish with a surprise image in the final installment next time!

 

Mobile Ed Course on Work and Economics

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Skip this one if you’re paleolithic. But if you’re neolithic, or just plain lithic, enough to access Mobile Ed from Faithlife, the creators of Logos Bible software, check out my full-dress digital course on A Christian Perspective on Work and the Economy. At the link you’ll find a sample of me in all my glory in the Mobile Ed digital studio, talking about stewardship, along with a 21-unit course outline. You get a lot with these mobile courses! I had a blast recording this course for a full week out in Bellingham and am grateful to Faithlife for the opportunity.

God as a Farmer, Potter and Counselor

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I’m shamefully behind posting here on HT as my series on biblical images of God as a worker has continued at The Green Room.

God as a farmer:

God, like most farmers, is a no-nonsense kind of person. With the image of God as shepherd I emphasized that God has all practical knowledge; he knows how to change a tire as well as he knows the Pythagorean Theorem. God as farmer makes me think of God as “practical” in another sense; he’s task-oriented and he doesn’t put up with frivolous or irresponsible distractions.

To the unjust, God as farmer is downright terrifying. His winnowing fork is in his hands, and he will burn the chaff with unquenchable fire. The wicked tenants are massacred. I find that even the Parable of the Sower, which I cover in week 1 of my introductory small group class on Making Sense of the Bible, consistently makes people nervous.

Even on a lesser scale than that, though, God is very no-nonsense. In the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, the workers who complain to the boss that others were paid the same as them for less work are presumably God’s people. They’re workers in God’s field, and they’re not cast out in the end. But neither does God deal very gently with them. He addresses one of them as “friend” but then says: “Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?”

God as a potter:

No doubt there is an “art” to farming and shepherding and even to medicine. But that is something different from what we normally mean by “artistry.” The “art” of caring for living creatures is to cultivate and protect their organic life and nature, which grows of its own. To transform them into something other than what they are in themselves would be an offence against the life and nature within them.

There are exceptions on the margins. We groom and decorate our bodies, and within limits, that’s fine. With animals there is more room for such artistry on the margin – check out a dog show. With plants there is even more, as a garden will show.

But the “artistry” of work with inanimate nature is not on the margins of an otherwise fixed nature. Inanimate nature is completely open to reshaping by our work because it has no life of its own. And we are made to be artists in our work with inanimate nature.

God is an artist in this sense even with us, with our human nature and in our historical development, because God is God and he can shape or reshape our nature without offending against the intrinsic goodness of that nature (since he made it and is its only ultimate ground). We are not artists with humans and animals to this extent. But we do have such a great degree of dominion over inanimate nature (see point 1) that we can exercise artistry with it, and are called to be.

Such artistry is not just for “artists,” of course. Or, put another way, we’re all “artists” in this sense.

God as a counselor:

We are not related to God the way we are related to human counselors. God is the counselor who – to put it bluntly – owns us, and we can never really hear counsel from our cosmic owner the same way we would hear counsel from any human, however wise or influential.

At the same time, the Bible is clear that God really is a counselor – that God’s sovereignty does not simply swallow up all aspects of our relationship with him such that the only thing he ever does is command and the only thing we ever do is obey. God does want us to make our own choices and, by doing so, learn to be wise. And it is the nature of the mind and soul that it is essentially free and must make its own choices, in one sense (but only in one sense) unconstrained by compulsion.

We are living in a generation when it is especially hard to keep this semi-paradoxical quest for wisdom in submission to but not compelled by God at the center of the Christian life. That is where it belongs, as is clear from such passages as the Parable of the Sower or the first psalm.

But among Protestants, the mainline/evangelical split leaves us either overemphasizing the freedom of the quest for wisdom (reducing God to a mere advisor) or overemphasizing submission to God (reducing God to a mere dictator and removing the quest for wisdom entirely). Meanwhile, Roman Catholicism experiences a parallel split in which differing visions of the role of the church as mediator of God’s wisdom drive a parallel cycle of conflict.

Here we see how important God’s role as counselor is. Kings are not counselors, kings have counselors. Yet the coming of the divine savior-king is marked by the reign of a king who is himself a counselor. And his kingdom is built by the pouring of his Spirit, as counselor, into the hearts of his people.

And God, as our counselor, is a worker. God is at work building up our wisdom. I think that changes our whole mental image of sanctification if we take it seriously. And it may shed new light on the problem of how to seek wisdom freely, yet in submission to God.