The refreshing difference at #ActonU

The refreshing difference at #ActonU June 17, 2015


Lots of exciting things around here this week–in addition to the great debate about evangelizing in the workplace going on between the Faith and Work and Progressive Channels on Patheos Head-to-Head, my husband is also live-tweeting and blogging from Acton University in Grand Rapids, MI. Here’s his first post!

By Edwin Woodruff Tait

First of all, I should make it clear that I come to Acton University as a skeptic. My views on economic and political matters, such as they are, line up primarily with the tradition of “distributism,” the supposed third way between capitalism and socialism (though I’m not sure that’s the best way to describe it). I am, by disposition, extremely impractical and suspicious of any argument that rests too heavily on appeals to efficiency. It seems to me that many defenders of the free market have a faith in market forces that borders on the idolatrous, and don’t do justice to the extent to which human sinfulness warps (and even perhaps  forms the basis of) the economic order as we know it.

At the same time, I am in agreement with the Acton Institute’s emphasis on “subsidiarity” and suspicion of centralized, bureaucratic solutions to economic and social problems. I also agree with their robust understanding of Christian anthropology (more on that later), their confidence in reason as a reflection of the divine Logos, and their commitment to the idea of “ordered liberty.” I also am coming to realize just how diverse the viewpoints expressed here are. There isn’t a lockstep “Acton ideology,” although the speakers (and most of the attendees) do share certain basic convictions and have a lot of broad common ground.

The most striking and stimulating aspect of Acton University so far has been my interaction with the other participants.   On the plane from Atlanta to Grand Rapids, I had a long and fascinating conversation with a retired Lutheran (LCMS) businessman who is considering conversion to Catholicism and loves G. K. Chesterton. (My wife and I initially became friends due to our love of Chesterton, so that’s not a trivial subject with me.) On the other side sat an aide to a Columbian legislator. On the bus I had a conversation with Dr. Ken Collins of Asbury Theological Seminary. This morning I had breakfast (and a very intense conversation about politics, economics, and theology) with a Presbyterian (PCA) from Pittsburgh who is a naval veteran, a businessman, and a lobbyist on issues regarding trade and globalization.

Other new acquaintances include a Hispanic Pentecostal pastor from California, a Missouri Synod pastor from Queens (of South Indian ethnicity), a Catholic high school teacher from Atlanta, and the pastor of a “missional congregation” in downtown Portland, just to name a few. The high proportion of pastors in the above list is not coincidental. Many (though by no means all) of the participants are pastors, priests, members of religious orders, or otherwise involved in what my Holiness tradition would call “full-time Christian service.” Many of these also have advanced academic credentials and do a good deal of teaching. But people who primarily identify themselves as tenure-track academics appear to be a fairly small minority.

This makes Acton University quite different from most of the conferences I’ve attended, and the difference is refreshing. It is a community of people deeply committed to serious intellectual inquiry for the sake of truth and the common good rather than as part of a resume-building exercise. It is, in many respects, what the university ought to be and so rarely is.

Stay tuned for the next post later tonight on the opening lecture!

Edwin Woodruff Tait is a freelance writer, farmer, and consulting editor for Christian History magazine. He blogs at Ithilien and tweets as @Amandil3. (Extra points if you get the Tolkien reference.)


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