I just read a great little book by Jesuit scholar Thomas Massaro called Living Justice: Catholic Social Teaching in Action.
The heart of the book is looking into the content of the thirteen social encyclicals written from 1891 to 2009 issued from the Pope of the time. The Popes have written far more than 13 encyclicals, but these 13 are the “social” ones, aimed at the world at large – written as sort-of Christian manifestos on the issues of the day (the first one for example, Rerum Novarum, in 1891, addressed worker’s conditions in the newly industrialized Europe, and argued for humane conditions and economic justice in the new factory systems). The encyclicals represent mature Christian thought on issues such as human rights, subsidiarity and the proper role of government, solidarity and the common good, a theology of private property, war, peace and disarmament, the effect of globalization on the poor and vulnerable in the world, etc. Wesleyans and Anglicans will recognize Massaro’s use of Scripture, Reason, Tradition and Experience as the four underpinnings of Catholic Social Teaching (and we called it ‘the Wesleyan Quadrilateral”!)
Although evangelicals have tried to write on social issues, we find a whole other level of theological maturity in Catholic Social Teaching (CST). When you have been around for 2,000 years, you tend to have good resources to draw on. Rather than trying to re-invent the wheel, evangelicals would do well to start familiarizing themselves with the body of CST. They may just find that the heavy lifting has already been done, and they can sign on to what work these fellow Christians of ours have blessed us with. Massaro reminded me again of something I noted long ago: the 1994 Catechism of the Catholic Church (all 700 pages!) is one of the best pieces (may be the best!) of Christian theology assembled, on the entire planet, period. Those of you who are Nazarene may be surprised to find that the Catechism reads as simply a bigger, stronger, faster, better-written Nazarene theology. What I mean is, you find very few places where you can’t say “Man they said that incredibly well! That’s exactly what we think!”