Eclectically Orthodox

Ralph Waldo Beeson was legendarily cheap when it came to treating himself. Once, when given some new corduroys, the insurance executive turned them down on account of already owning a pair. At his modest house just south of Birmingham, he often chose not to operate the air conditioning during brutal Alabama summers, saying it “costs a fortune to run that thing.” But just down the hill from his house, he had a view of Samford University—to which he was nothing but generous.

As a 29-year-old life insurance salesman, Beeson had poured his savings into the stock of his company, Liberty National, just after the crash of 1929. The bet paid off handsomely, and he cashed in for $100 million in the 1980s. Continue reading “Eclectically Orthodox”

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Imperial Might vs. Widow’s Mite

In A.D. 313, just one short decade after a massive, bloody persecution of Christians, the Emperor Constantine granted religious toleration to the small Christian churches in the Roman Empire. Flash forward two centuries. In 476, the Emperor was deposed at Ravenna, effectively ending the Roman Empire in the West. On the former date, the empire was vast and Christianity was marginal; by the latter, the empire was fractured, and Christianity had become the dominant religious and social movement in the Mediterranean world.

How?

In his magisterial new study of this era, acclaimed classical historian Peter Brown attributes this transformation to the evolution of wealth and, in particular, philanthropy in Christian churches. Continue reading “Imperial Might vs. Widow’s Mite”

Pilgrims’ Progress

This article originally appeared as a sidebar to “New U.”

Desires—like Tom Monaghan’s—to strengthen religious faith are responsible for a flurry of new colleges in recent decades. In 1990, Pope John Paul II issued Ex Corde Ecclesiae, a decree on Catholic identity for new Catholic colleges and universities. Ex Corde colleges submit to the authority of their local bishops and to the teachings of the Church. Twenty-three institutions now adhere to it, including several founded prior to its promulgation, like the Catholic University of America. But nine have been founded since 1970, and five since 1990—most recently John Paul the Great University, a media-focused school in San Diego, and Wyoming Catholic College in the small town of Lander. Continue reading “Pilgrims’ Progress”

As Rwanda Forgives

How does a country that loses up to 20 percent of its population to genocide heal the scars of hatred? Perhaps more concretely, how does a country like that deal with the challenge of criminal justice when 2 percent of its population is in prison for perpetrating genocide—killing their one-time friends and neighbors?

These very questions vexed leaders in Rwanda. Families and communities needed to heal and rebuild, and the criminal justice system would never be able to deal with the backlog of genocide trials.

Rwanda opted for the path of forgiveness. Continue reading “As Rwanda Forgives”

Illuminated Giving

Oklahoma City
“It’s been banned; it’s been burned,” says Steve Green. “It’s been loved and hated. It’s the best-selling book of all time, the most-translated book of all time, and, I think, the most important book of all time.” He is referring, of course, to the Bible.

Green is president of Hobby Lobby, a nationwide chain of arts-and-crafts stores founded by his father, David. The Good Book informs his family’s business and inspires their philanthropy. It is also the centerpiece of their latest charitable project: the creation of the country’s first museum devoted to telling the story of how the Bible came to be, recounting its effects on the world, and relating its message. Continue reading “Illuminated Giving”

Eye of the Needle

Jesus of Nazareth didn’t make it easy on his rich followers.

One devout young man, satisfied that he led a worthy life, was told to sell all he had and give it to the poor. He went away sad, for he was very rich.

In a parable, a rich man built massive barns to store his bumper crops and went to bed happy in his wealth, only to die that very night. “So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God,” concluded Jesus.

Continue reading “Eye of the Needle”

The “Great Commission” or Glorified Sightseeing?

This past summer, from evangelical churches nationwide, more than one million of the faithful departed for the mission field, taking up Jesus’ “Great Commission” to “go and make disciples of all nations.” The churchgoers hoped to convert souls, establish churches and meet other human needs. But they did not intend to serve for years or whole lifetimes, like such pioneers as Jim Elliott, who was killed in Ecuador in 1956 evangelizing to native people; or Hudson Taylor, the founder of the China Inland Mission; or even the awful fictional caricatures of African missionaries in Barbara Kingsolver’s novel The Poisonwood Bible. These new missionaries came home after only a week or two.

Short-term mission trips to Africa, South America and Southeast Asia have become very popular in the past few years. They are a keystone strategy of evangelical pastor Rick Warren’s plans to help Rwanda. These trips, like Christian missionary endeavors overall, encompass a wide variety of activities, from evangelization and “church planting” to health care and economic development. The billion-dollar question, however, is whether they’re worth the cost. Are short-term missions the best way to achieve the goals of Christians? Continue reading “The “Great Commission” or Glorified Sightseeing?”

The Economy of God

Everywhere in the United States, people have more consumer choice in their exercise of religion than they do in almost any other sector of the economy. Individual parish churches, regardless of denominational affiliation, function as independent contractors of salvation in America’s religious free market. Christianity in the United States is dynamic, and American church history is littered with the relics and ruins of denominational change and theological innovation.

The brewing schism in the Episcopal Church, for example, should surprise no one familiar with the workings of America’s religious free market. Continue reading “The Economy of God”