The Vocation Revolution. Martin Luther and 500 Year Reformation Anniversary

 

2017 is the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther is more or less the “Hamilton” of Germany this year–with a strange crossover merging pop culture and history.

What follows are my notes from a lecture at Acton University 2017 by Jordan Ballor (PhD Zürich); including some of my insights and comments. 

What is your vocation?

Before Martin Luther, the medieval view distributed the population into somewhat static “roles” (the military and clergy always being the exceptions; avenues of flexible upward mobility). One did one’s duty within the expectations of one’s place, and was rewarded with being worthy of approval.

There were mundane professions, on the one hand, and the way of perfection on the other.

Many look at the 1517 Reformation in economic terms, but the focus on vocational revolution was stronger.

Luther, personally, walked through a vocational transformation at the same time he was transforming Europe. This had theological, social, economic, and political implications. The “rood screen” between the “robed ones” in the choir and clergy and the unwashed laity sitting on the floor (religious and mundane), was removed, shuffling the ordered deck of medieval “role” cards.

Luther expounded the Bible texts “QVIA HODIE” (for today). He opposed the popular and libertine wings of the Reformation, asking rather “What is the faithful Christian to do…today?”

He appealed to the Christian nobility, and to Charles the emperor, in vocational terms. He called Charles to his vocational duty as emperor to call a great council (as Constantine had done), basically saying, “You can reform the oikumene.”

Martin Luther’s vocation: faithful exposition of scripture. 1520: temporal authority needs to act. But he knew Charles might fail to do so, and felt it correct, in this case, for local authorities and universities to do so in response to the emperor’s vocational failure.

What started as a theological dispute became a project for reforming all of life.

Luther held a pre-modern, pre-enlightenment worldview. He saw there being two kingdoms (sacred and secular); each consisting of three estates:

  • Household/oikonomia
  • State/polis
  • Church/ekklesia

Max Weber, in his study of the “Protestant work ethic,” was “off” in many ways. Capitalism existed long before the Reformation. But why only in the West was there thorough organization of labor and rational bookkeeping?

Weber explored the motivations behind Protestants. Why would they work so hard and in this way?

Weber traced some of it back to Luther, who equalized all vocations in the eyes of God. In doing so, he brought dignity to everyday work. Our “jobs” acquired a spiritual aspect, whether or not our vocations had anything to do with religious work.

Luther introduced the idea that all Christians have an equal vocation of following Christ, and thus their various forms daily work (some glamorous–some not) was of parallel value.

Luther never fully worked it out–this was left to the Reformed tradition, including Kuyper, and others.

But the wheels were set in motion and the train had left the station…

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Please go back to the main page and scroll down to see all the Acton University lectures I attended.

Hamilton and Jefferson–Beyond the Musical

 

No one can get tickets to the Hamilton musical, but we can get the book and learn how their relationship affects us…

Each was a colossus whose footsteps color our daily lives…

Lecture by John Pinheiro from Aquinas College given at #Acton2017.

 

We can look at Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson through two lenses:
  • Lived Experience. How their lives and upbringing affected their philosophy.
  • Philosophy and Principle. Whom they were reading and by whom they were influenced.
LIVED EXPERIENCE

JEFFERSON: Born into a planter aristocracy. Mother’s family (the Randolphs) were stratospherically rich and remained his main patrons throughout his career. Father was an educated aristocrat.

Jefferson had a solid classical education and even spoke 8 or 9 Native American languages. In 1775 he was one of the wealthiest men in America and had 200 slaves.

HAMILTON: Very broken home in the Caribbean. Worked hard as a clerk and got a scholarship to King’s (Columbia) in NYC. John Adams called him the “bastard brat.” Saw the bad side of people and slavery. Felt that we needed order and control to curb this.

PHILOSOPHY and INFLUENCERS

JEFFERSON: The French Enlightenment. People naturally good unless corrupted by commerce. Yeoman farmers are the key to freedom because they don’t have employers. Thus, have a small and weak central government and an agrarian paradise. Disperse the population westward. Emmerich de Vattel’s The Law of Nations influenced Jefferson–how sovereign states can participate in a union. Jefferson always used plural verbs and pronouns with “United States.” The Physiocrats (France) also influenced Jefferson. They stressed agriculture and coined the term “laissez-faire.” Land is the source of all wealth.

HAMILTON: The Scots Enlightenment. Especially Adam Smith. Looked not to France, but rather the British Empire. Always accused of being a royalist. Capital and division of labor, not land, are the source of wealth. Bernard Mandeville wrote the Fable of the Bees, which influenced Hamilton. Where do you look for a financial model? London! Protective tariffs. Centralized bank. Financed national debt a good thing. Hard work and ambition, not inheritance, is the path to power and wealth.

Conclusion

Jefferson and Hamilton continue to be the twin pillars of American social, political and economic thought. Jefferson’s party won most of the elections for the next couple of generations. His expansionist/agrarian vision led to the purchase of Louisiana. Enhanced by Jackson and Polk who steamrolled the country to the Pacific with “Manifest Destiny.” Homesteading and the checker boarding the Midwest USA are monuments to this thinking.

Hamilton won the economic battle however, with New York being a second London in terms of global finance, and the industrial north beat the agrarian south in the Civil War. Lincoln was a Hamiltonian and used his principles to further unite and solidify central authority.

Both believed that a virtuous society is necessary to maintain a republic.

 

How Far Does Religious Freedom Go?

 

According to the First Amendment, do we Americans have the right to freedom of worship? Or something more: freedom of conscience and freedom to ACT upon that conscience…..

Sam Gregg, Director of Research at the Acton Institute in Grand Rapids, kicked off the 2017 Acton University with a plenary talk about religious freedom and truth.

Some of his main points:

  • The agenda of secularists is to soften freedom of religion into “freedom of worship.” In other words, you can praise God behind closed doors of the church, but don’t bring this into public life. Full freedom of religion is:
    • Liberty to search for and teach the full truth
    • Liberty to act according to this truth
  • “Power corrupts and power point corrupts absolutely.” Thus, no power point. But hey, he only had one day notice as the main speaker was not able to be here because of weather delays.
  • Religion/Truth/Freedom is being replaced with Caesar/Lies/Slavery
  • “Progressive theologians who read way too much Karl Rahner….”
  • In 2016, 96,000 Christians were killed (!) for their faith. One every six minutes. We must remind people of this persecution, which for whatever reason is not covered by the mainstream media.
  • Secularists are trying to marginalize and stigmatize our teaching.
  • Why should we accept that happiness = hedonism? Why should we accept a dictatorship of relativism?
  • Be careful when you take government funds. It comes with a leash. Tell Pharaoh to keep his money.
  • We must always remember that there is such a thing as truth and religious liberty without a search for truth is not helpful. Religious freedom means liberty to search for the truth free of coercion from the government in any direction.
  • Without freedom from government in searching for truth, we cannot have free assent. Without free assent we cannot have true faith.
  • Martyrdom (not always deadly–sometimes just social) must become a real option again.

My thoughts:

  • Gregg seems to be good at playing a “Home Game.” I would be interested in hearing his “Away Game” when he’s not among like-minded people.
  • “Thomas Jefferson was not a Christian.” I beg to differ. Jefferson was the biggest proponent of Natural Law on earth at the time, and a great admirer of Aquinas. Of course, he was not a conservative Evangelical. but he insisted on grounding our natural rights in the “Creator” as he penned the Declaration. If you aren’t conflicted about Jefferson, you aren’t paying attention. Was he a Christian? Yes and no.
  • “Muslims, Jews and Christians have a different concept of God.” Yes and no. Sure their view of God is different but there is only one God; only one God of Abraham, and many Christians waffle on this monotheism. Not sure if Gregg is waffling or not. There’s only one mailbox with “God” on it. One Creator, one creation. False gods? How does that square with one God? Do the false gods exist? Sure, our VIEW of God varies. But I don’t believe that God is all that impressed with our constructs, which theologians tend to glorify.