Michael Novak Rebuts Progressive Religious Critiques of Capitalism


Over the past three weeks, on the First Things website, Michael Novak has posted an impressive series of rebuttals to progressive religious critiques of the American economy.

Each of these rebuttals is well worth reading.

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“Beyond the First Visit” by Gary L. McIntosh


beyondthefirstvisit.jpgInviting guests to your church is easy. Getting them to stay is not. Gary McIntosh’s new book offers concrete suggestions for getting guests to stay “beyond the first visit.”
 
I began reading Beyond the First Visit in January 2007 when my wife and I moved to California’s central coast to pastor a church. We didn’t know anyone in the area or the church, so for a while we felt like guests in our own congregation. I grew up in a pastor’s home and was associate pastor to a long-time friend, so this was a new feeling for me. But it was a very valuable feeling, for it gave me an important insight into how guests at our church feel all the time. (And I have a very friendly church!)
 
According to McIntosh, we need to “guesterize” our churches. That is, we need “to make a church more responsive to its guests and better able to attract new ones.” From the moment guests step foot on our campuses, they need to feel a welcome invitation to be there as well as opportunities to connect with others and get involved in the life of the church.
 
Each chapter of Beyond the First Visit includes numerous suggestions for making your church guest-friendly, real-life examples of what works and what doesn’t, and discussion questions that can be used individually or among leadership groups.
 
If your church has many guests, but few who stay, read Beyond the First Visit. It will open your eyes to your guests’ point of view.

Simple Church by Rainer and Geiger


simplechurch.jpgThe mission of the church is simple: “Make disciples” (Matt. 28:19). Unfortunately, the discipleship process in many churches is anything but simple. How do you know if your church’s discipleship process matches the simplicity of its mission?
 
Ask yourself the following four questions:
 
  1. Is my church’s discipleship process clearly stated and understood by all?
  2. Does it channel movement along a trajectory from unbelief toward mature belief?
  3. Are the church’s programs aligned with this process?
  4. Is the church focused enough on its process to eliminate programs that don’t align with it?
 If you can answer yes to each of these questions, then your church has a simple discipleship process.
 
If not, then you should read Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger’s Simple Church: Returning to God’s Process for Making Disciples. Using biblical teaching, true-life stories, and statistical analysis, the book shows the connection between the vibrancy of a church and the simplicity of its discipleship process. Rainer and Geiger drive home the importance of four basic concepts: clarity, movement, alignment, and focus. And they provide concrete suggestions for using these concepts to design and evaluate effective church programs.
 
As a new senior pastor, I found Simple Church to be very helpful for diagnosing what is and is not working at my church, and why. As I work with my church’s leaders to develop a new discipleship process, I will undoubtedly return to Simple Church regularly for good advice.

Atheists and Agnostics in America


The Barna Group released a new study of atheists and agnostics in America that is well worth reading, especially for what it reveals about the "no faith" commitment of younger Americans. Here are the opening paragaphs:

A new evangelistic movement has emerged in America. Yet this effort does not spring from those loyal to a particular faith or religious view.

The new evangelists are atheists. People who have determined there is no God or who doubt his existence (a group commonly known as agnostics) are adopting a more aggressive, intentional effort to discredit the notion that God exists and to critique people of faith. Widely reviewed new books such as The God Delusion and God is Not Great represent this movement.

Beyond the bestseller lists, however, a new survey shows there is indeed a significant gap between Christians and those Americans who are in the "no-faith" camp. For instance, most atheists and agnostics (56%) agree with the idea that radical Christianity is just as threatening in America as is radical Islam. At the same time, two-thirds of Christians (63%) who have an active faith perceive that the nation is becoming more hostile and negative toward Christianity. ("Active faith" was defined as simply having gone to church, read the Bible and prayed during the week preceding the survey.)

A new study by The Barna Group examines the numbers, lifestyles and self-perceptions of America’s atheists and agnostics, contrasting the no-faith audience with those who actively participate in the Christian faith. Surprisingly, not every measure shows points of differentiation; there was also some common ground between the two groups who are at opposite ends of the faith spectrum.

The Six Day War


Six-DayWar55.jpg

This year is the 40th Anniversary of the Six Day War between Israel and Egypt, Jordan, and Syria. For a useful introduction to the Six Day War, check out this website by CAMERA, which specializes in debunking myths about Israel and the Middle East. Also, check out this lecture on the ongoing ramifications of the Six Day War by Michael B. Oren at Jerusalem’s Shalem Center. Oren is the author of Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East.

Christian Socialism Is Dead. Long Live Christian Anti-Capitalism!


The always insightful Michael Novak has a great piece over at First Things regarding the wrongheaded anti-capitalistic arguments of the Christian left. It’s also a good primer on supply-side economics. Here are some key paragraphs:

In April 2007, the IRS received more tax dollars than in any month in its prior history. The new tax policies of the last few years are soaking the rich heavier than they have ever been soaked before. The rich are paying a larger percentage of the income tax than ever before (85 percent in 2004, compared to 65 percent in 1979). They are also paying higher amounts of raw dollars each year—but they have not been complaining.

Perhaps you have felt it in your own experience. If offered a thousand dollars for a freelance job, when the federal and state taxes were going to take $550 or more in taxes, it didn’t hurt much not to undertake the travel and the fuss. But when the government takes only $300 and leaves you $700, it feels like an obligation to your family, kids, and grandkids to accept it. Incentives affect decisions.

Since tax rates are lower than before, the rich gladly pay larger amounts of tax dollars at lower rates, than paying fewer dollars at higher rates. They hate the disincentives of the higher rates. The low rates make paying taxes hurt less. Meanwhile, lower tax rates also encourage fresh investment, to create even greater wealth (and later to pay even more dollars in taxes).

This seems to me a win-win-win outcome. The government gets higher and higher revenues; the rich pay higher and higher amounts of tax dollars; and the standards of living of the poor rise more quickly, as their rising percent of all federal spending—two years ago, 34 percent—brings in an ever more plentiful stream of actual dollars.

It seems to me that an economic system that works like this is far better than any prior economic system in history, whether landowning, agricultural, traditional, or early industrial—let alone the Mickey Mouse socialist systems of Eastern Europe and China. Whatever its faults, the American economy has proved itself capable of absorbing about ten million new immigrants every decade, nearly all of them poor, and helping them to rise out of poverty by themselves within ten years.

In fact, close study shows that if any American does the following three things—works even at a minimum wage all year round, stays married (even if not on the first try), and finishes high school—his or her chances of being poor are only 7 percent. He or she has a 93 percent chance of moving out of poverty fairly quickly. The vast majority of individuals at the bottom sure keep doing that, decade by decade. The actual population at the bottom keeps changing and churning.

Getting the Relationship between Faith and Reason Wrong…and Right


Over at First Things, Robert T. Miller comments on Senator Sam Brownback’s New York Times op-ed on the relationship between faith and reason. Miller’s critique is spot-on, in my opinion. Here are Miller’s crucial remarks:

Senator Brownback thus distinguishes faith and reason on the basis of subject matter, for in his view “they deal with very different questions”—faith treats “the spiritual order,” and reason “the material order.” This, however, is obviously wrong. For some people, of course, it’s a matter of faith that God created the world in six days about six thousand years ago; but it’s nevertheless knowable by natural science that this is not the case. Similarly, many people believe in faith that God exists, but Catholics hold (and Senator Brownback is a Catholic) that this proposition can be known by reason in philosophy. Hence, the subject matters of faith and reason in part overlap.

The distinction between faith and reason, correctly understood, is based not on a difference in subject matter but on a difference in epistemological warrant, that is, on the kinds of reasons a person may have for assenting to a particular proposition. On this view, a person holds a proposition in faith if he believes the proposition because he thinks it has been revealed in history by God—for example, on Mount Sinai through Moses or on the shores of the Lake of Tiberias by Jesus Christ. A person holds a proposition as a matter of reason if he thinks he has for that proposition the kinds of arguments properly accepted in a discipline such as natural science or philosophy, neither of which accept arguments based on purported divine revelation. Any one proposition, therefore, may be divinely revealed, or be knowable by reason in science or philosophy, or both of these, or even neither.

To say that there is no conflict between faith and reason, therefore, is to say that the propositions one holds to be divinely revealed do not contradict the propositions knowable according to the standards of science or philosophy. Whether this is really the case depends, obviously, on just which propositions one thinks were divinely revealed and which are knowable in science or philosophy. If it turns out that a proposition one holds in faith is contradicted by a proposition known by reason, then one must either rework one’s theology, giving up on the idea that God revealed the proposition in question, or else show that the scientific or philosophical arguments that contradict that proposition are in fact inconclusive by scientific or philosophical standards.

Also, it’s quite possible for one person to hold a proposition as a matter of faith while another holds the same proposition as a matter of reason. Take the existence of God. I think the philosophical argument for the existence of God is very strong, and so I think I know by reason that God exists. Other people, either because they don’t think the argument is very strong or perhaps because they’ve never studied philosophy, may believe in faith that God exists without knowing it by reason. Furthermore, it’s possible that there are some propositions that have been divinely revealed on which science and philosophy are simply silent, such as whether there are three persons in God. So too it’s possible that there are some propositions on which divine revelation is silent but about which science or philosophy can teach us much, such as whether copper is a good conductor of electricity or whether universals exist independent of the particulars that instantiate them.