Note: This article describes one of the seven Economic Wisdom Project talks on theology and economics, designed to be used as class assignments.
In “Christian Personalism,” Anthony Bradley, associate professor of Religious Studies at The King’s College and director of The Center for the Study of Human Flourishing, provided a look the social fallout of the culture wars and how American Christians can respond.
Bradley tells the story of “Caleb,” a smart, young evangelical Christian who left the church after graduating from King’s College. In the culture wars, Caleb saw a tribalistic church “conflat[ing]…faith with politics,” which drove him away from Christ. Caleb’s story is a common one, as a large portion of the millennial generation – trained to be “culture warriors” – is leaving evangelicalism.
Bradley argues that the culture war mindset forgets Christ’s call to love our neighbors and the church’s call to form ambassadors, not warriors. In contrast to this misguided anthropology, Christian personalism provides a way for the church to both love its neighbors and form its youth well.
Christian personalism, articulated by the French theologian Emmanuel Mounier and others, argues that since the human person (who is both individual and social) is created in the image of God, the political, economic and spiritual structures of society should be formed so that free and creative people can thrive in their image-bearing capacities. Bradley discusses two businesses – an Ohio restaurant with a prison re-entry program and the Guinness family’s beer brewery – that embody the tenants of Christian personalism.
Bradley ends by arguing that the evangelical church must do more than reach out to those who have become “disillusioned and disconnected” from the faith. Through Christian personalism, the church must disciple its youth not as culture warriors, but as loving ambassadors who are free to creatively follow Christ in every area and aspect of life.
Below is a brief outline of the talk, with a few sample excerpts. We hope you will find this a useful tool to provide your students with an understanding of the culture wars, their impact on young Christians and how Christian personalism provides a faithful and sustainable mode of discipleship.
Leaving the Church
SAMPLE: “The one thing that these students all have in common that I’ve encountered over the last 20 years is that they’re been discouraged and soured by an evangelical Christianity that’s conflated faith with politics. It is that conflation that has caused them to simply walk out of the church. They’ve been soured by a faith that is primarily tribalistic. It is contentious with the culture instead of leading in grace, and they want none of it.”
What is Personalism?
SAMPLE: “Personalism helps us understand that because men and women are made in the image and likeness of God, they matter. As we think about society, we are to keep people in the center because they are created free and creative…Personalism is driven by this central question: what moral and economic and political, and social, and psychological, and spiritual contexts are best suited for men and women who are made in God’s image to thrive and be the people that God has created them to be?”
Brandon Chrostowski and Personalism
SAMPLE: “Brandon Chrostowski chose the way of love and he designed a restaurant with inmates in mind to give them a second chance. What he did is he created a restaurant that had a prison re-entry program as a part of the model. This program in Cleveland is a six-month program where men and women who are ex-offenders come, and they learn various aspects of the restaurant industry….If you talk to Brandon Chrostowski today, he’ll tell you that of the 114 or so men and women who have processed through that program, 90% of them have jobs? Why? They’re motivated, they’re trained, and they have their dignity.”
The Importance of the Church
SAMPLE: “In churches, you have people who are in the marketplace who have opportunities to use their vocation, their space, to offer someone a second chance. In the church, you have people who have the category to allow someone to be nurtured in the virtues that changed them from the inside out so they can thrive and be the kinds of people that God has created them to be.”
Guinness and Personalism
SAMPLE: “Why did the Guinness family [provide so many social services to their employees]? It wasn’t because the government made them. It wasn’t because of some idea of corporate social responsibility. They did that because they cared more about people than beer. They did those things because they kept people at the center. What are you doing as pastors and as teachers and as parents to help your children see that the marketplace is a place.”
The Next Caleb
SAMPLE: “[I]f we do not begin to teach our children that love is what categorizes our faith, not politics, I can promise you that the next Caleb will be your son. He will come from your church, he will come from your Christian school, he will graduate from your Christian college and even your seminary if we don’t get this right. It is a tradition of Christian personalism that can help us get there.”