Editor's note: On Tuesday of this week, Pope Benedict XVI issued "Charity in Truth," a new encyclical or general letter to the Roman Catholic Christians around the world. Popes use encyclical letters to teach the church what they believe is the Christian viewpoint on key issues.

In the past, evangelical Christians have sometimes cheered, sometimes demurred, when an encyclical has been issued. Among the encyclicals evangelical Protestants have welcomed are John Paul II's "The Splendor of Truth" and his "The Gospel of Life." They were less thrilled with his 1987 letter, "The Mother of the Redeemer."

The new papal letter is being touted as an instruction on global economics—a subject it addresses at length. But Benedict XVI is not backing a particular school of economics so much as laying the theological and ethical foundation for an approach to the economic, social, technological, and moral development of peoples. Benedict's fundamental point is that you cannot do good for people without a proper understanding of what people are—that is, what God made them to be and destined them to be.

CT asked Baylor University philosopher Frank Beckwith to examine the document, analyze its theology, and explain why evangelical Christians should care.

* * *

Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical, Caritas in Veritate (or “Charity in Truth”) is a brief against secular materialism in its economic and metaphysical forms, and its harmful consequences on the human family’s common good. Secular materialism in an ideology that maintains that there are no theological truths that can be known. Among these unknowable theological truths is the nature of human beings, and their intrinsic purpose and natural ends that help us understand the common ...

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