A think tank that works from 2,000 years of Christian social thought spends most of its time on theoretical concepts. Corporately, we try to apply justice, responsibility, freedom, dignity, and community to the issues of today.
The good news is, we stand on the shoulders of giants. There is much to be learned from the Christian social theorists who have gone before us. They’ve not been made irrelevant by technology or post-modernism, and I’m not embarrassed to admit that I have learned more from dead people than living ones. My reading strategy aims for 1/3 works more than 100 years old that stand the test of time, 2/3 divided between topical and biographical works taking the broad view of history.
But there are times when the big picture, the broad sweeps, are not quite enough.
In the Pennings family as we approach Christmas 2013, the Christian word is focused more personally than in the social lessons that frame our daily work. Kathy and I have been blessed with the loving and faithful guidance of parents who have provided both examples and wisdom for us throughout our lives. Yet as I write this, Kathy’s dad is resting in palliative care, while my mom awaits surgery to deal with a newly diagnosed cancer.
Our December conversations have been personal and somber, especially as we 3500 km away from our parents and suffer each goodbye with pain and uncertainty. But we are also profoundly hopeful.
Cardus speaks of two thousand years as an explicit reference to a real historical event that occurred an ocean away in a culture far removed from ours. Yes, we believe the biblical account of a baby born to a virgin in a Bethlehem stable—this is real history with significant social and personal import. The perfect life of Jesus Christ of Nazareth formed a substitute for the lives that we have not properly lived; his death satisfies the justice of God and relieves us of our debts.
We are not an evangelical organization whose mission is proselytizing all to believe in the Christian gospel. We are an organization focused on the social and cultural implications of that gospel. But without the birth, life, and death of one Jesus of Nazareth, 2,000 years ago in Bethlehem, our work would be nonsensical. And without the birth, life and death of Jesus of Nazareth, both the Cardus family and the Pennings family would be facing the end of 2013 with despair. But we aren’t.