I’m currently in Grand Rapids, Michigan attending the Acton Institute’s “Acton University”—an annual four-day conference focused, broadly, around two topics: Religion and Liberty. Acton is often pegged as a free-market think-tank, but after two days of discussion, it is evident that any discussion of economic theory within Acton is first and foremost a discussion grounded in a robust Christian anthropology.
Acton University gathers a wide demographic of people from across the world and across the great traditions of Christendom and immerses them in a cross-section of lectures taught by a stellar grouping of world-class scholars on issues ranging from Christian political theology, anthropology, economics, and their effect on virtuous Christian citizenship.
For myself, yesterday’s schedule consisted of four fundamental courses:
- Christian Anthropology
- Christianity and the Idea of Limited Government
- Economic Ways of Thinking
- Scriptural Foundations of a Free and Virtuous Society
It is popular to remark how “the church” lacks serious theological reflection—as if that generalization itself is even fair. If the people gathered at Acton are any indication of the layman’s interest in complex theological matters, vague broadsides against “the church” fall flat. The 625 individuals at the conference, it is apparent, have chosen to attend this conference for a purpose. As a result, the intellectual seriousness and gravity of the issues at hand presents a palpable sobriety within the conference rooms. It’s not “the Christian worldview” that’s in crisis for Acton participants, but justice, goodness, liberty, and freedom. Participants recognize that healthy civilization and liberty is at stake and that Christianity has long stood as the greatest catalyst for economic and political liberty.
I have been particularly struck by the ecumenical nature of the conference and the respectful tone offered by the different traditions (Protestant, Reformed, Orthodox). The presence of all three traditions leaves me hopeful that the body of Christ is still intensely interested in the different lands we inhabit. No one has expressed a tinge of lament, but a careful optimism that the Church is indeed resurgent and triumphant, even when statistics in Western Europe and America tell of the opposite.
Father Sirico kicked-off the event on Tuesday evening with a keynote address on the importance of establishing a proper basis for the week’s activities: Failing to address the identity and essence of man, Father Sirico stated, will result in a failure of offering any meaningful prescriptions on how to advance an understanding of liberty chastened by a proper morality. Is man autonomous? Is man material? Can man transcend himself? Does man inhabit his body? All these questions and others like them depend on getting man’s essential nature correct. There’ll be further reflection on my time at Acton, but for now, I will end my remarks by saying how refreshing it is to involve one’s self in discussions about economics and statecraft that begins not with addressing debt and deficits or political parties, but with theology.