Tuesday, September 9, 2014 | 5:00 p.m. – Wednesday, September 10, 2014 | 8:00 p.m.
On September 9–10, the Values & Capitalism program welcomed 249 evangelical writers, pastors, parachurch workers, college students, think tank professionals, and business leaders to AEI for series of discussions on how Christians can seek the flourishing of their cities and communities. Twenty-nine keynote speakers, panelists, and moderators covered topics ranging from the meaning of social justice to redemptive uses of power to the pursuit of true and lasting happiness.
The summit opened on Tuesday night with a keynote presentation from Rep. Steve Southerland (R-VA) on overcoming poverty through faith, family and work, and continued the following morning with a discussion between AEI president Arthur Brooks and Sojourners president Jim Wallis on a healthy social justice agenda. Wallis offered work, family and education as critical factors for poverty alleviation. Drawing on the parable of the talents in Matthew 25, Brooks emphasized that free enterprise is the system that best allows people to use their God-given gifts, earn their own success, and share it with others. “It was good to see this being brought forward: free enterprise can and does help the poor,” responded one summit attendee, “Too many of us have been sold the idea that capitalism is heartless.”
Wise stewardship of power was another prominent theme of the summit. Ambassador Tony Hall and Congressman Frank Wolf (R-VA) shared about the influence of faith and friendship on three decades public service and how their shared love of Jesus Christ translated into effective, bipartisan advocacy for the poor and vulnerable both at home and abroad. Andy Crouch, executive editor of Christianity Today, followed with a discussion of power and human flourishing, demonstrating how imbalanced concentrations of authority and vulnerability can lead to idolatry and injustice, while high authority and high vulnerability result in image bearing. The greatest calling for the Christian, he said, is to exercise redemptive power to restore the image-bearing capacity of others.
Other panel sessions included Byron Johnson and Bob Woodson on public-private partnerships and community initiatives in poverty alleviation, Brian Grim, Russell Moore and Tim Shah on prospects and challenges for religious freedom at home and abroad, Charlie Peacock and Laura Waters Hinson on Christian cultural engagement through the arts, Victor Boutros and Richard Stearns on the pursuit of justice overseas, and Christopher Brooks and Mark Dever on the role of the local church in seeking the flourishing of the city.
The conference concluded with a dinner conversation between Arthur Brooks and New York Times–bestselling author Eric Metaxas, moderated by Gregory Thornbury of The King’s College, which explored Christian perspectives on the good life, eudaimonia, and the transitory nature of human happiness. Both panelists agreed that the modern definition of happiness has evolved from “a good life well-lived” to an emotional state. A greater virtue is joy, which can be possessed in the midst of suffering. Brooks noted that man’s search for happiness—often expressed through the acquisition of money, power, pleasure, and honor—is actually a search for God. The discussion also touched on the often-conflicting ideals prized by liberals and conservatives, the crisis of modern cynicism, and the cultivation of civic virtue.
This year’s summit attendees included college students from the American Studies Program of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, an international delegation from the Transatlantic Christian Council, the Patrick Henry College Presidential Fellows, the 2015 class of the Trinity Forum Academy, and representatives from the Acton Institute, Bread for the World, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, Bonhoeffer House, Capitol Hill Baptist Church, Christian Embassy, the Christian Post, the Colson Center for a Christian Worldview, the Consortium of Christian Study Centers, Evangel Ministries, the Heritage Foundation, Focus on the Family, the International Justice Mission, the Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics, the J. Dennis Hastert Center at Wheaton College, National Association of Evangelicals, Pepperdine University, Navigators, Sojourners, World Vision, and many others.
“Evangelicals aren’t always known for spending a whole day talking about poverty, social justice, power, and community engagement, especially in a bipartisan way,” one guest commented, “I’m grateful to AEI for starting this conversation, and I hope it continues.”