I have a book review in the latest edition of Crucible, an online journal of theology and ministry under the auspices of Ethos. It’s on one of my favourite Christian theological books engaging with questions of economics and consumerism.
Recently I had the privilege of taking part in a an episode of the UK podcast ‘Unbelievable?’, hosted by Justin Brierley, in which I discussed theologian Wayne Grudem’s new book on solutions to global poverty with Wayne Grudem himself. (Thanks to Justin for having me on the show). The podcast is now online, here. A special welcome to anyone visiting my blog for the first time, having heard the podcast – be aware that my blogging is both sporadic and diverse, but I hope you find something worthwhile!
The conversation with Professor Grudem gave me an opportunity to explore the intersection of theology and economics – a particular interest of mine – in a way that I haven’t for a while, and so I thought some follow-up blog posts might be in order. In my review of Professor Grudem’s book for the Bible Society I was only able to scratch the surface of these issues; in addition, some of Professor Grudem’s responses to my criticisms on the podcast were, I think, insufficient.
A review of The Poverty of Nations: a Sustainable Solution by Wayne Grudem and Barry Asmus. Published by Crossway.
All Christians can strongly affirm the premise of this book: God cares deeply for the plight of the poor, and the church must seek out ways to alleviate such suffering. Unfortunately, The Poverty of Nations represents an unpersuasively narrow engagement with economics instead of the robust economic and theological engagement that we need.
Theologian Wayne Grudem and economist Barry Asmus seek to present ‘a sustainable solution’ for the poverty of majority-world nations. Their solution, in short, is a particular brand of free-market capitalism, characterized by continuously creating more goods and services in order to enter ‘a path of ever-increasing prosperity’ (p. 25). The authors seek to persuade their readers by comparing alternative economic systems with free-market capitalism and proposing a series of policies nations can adopt to move from poverty to prosperity. In addition, they seek to show how the Christian scriptures affirm the economic policies they propose.
The Sydney University Evangelical Union, for whom I work, is currently in the midst of a three-week campus mission. Today (Friday August 2, 2013) we held an event called ‘500 Seconds,’ where speakers had 500 seconds to talk about spirituality as it relates to a particular area of life. Here’s my contribution.
In our world, the economy is king. It governs governments, directs our fortunes, makes and breaks our hopes and dreams. Newspapers devote whole sections to it; words like debt and deficit, budget and surplus, inflation and consumer confidence dominate our front pages.
As some of you will know, I’ve been thinking at writing about capitalism and Christianity in preparation for a seminar at the Sydney University Evangelical Union’s Annual Conference. The seminar went well, thanks for asking!
In the seminar I tackled the underlying assumptions of capitalist economy, and showed how they’re in opposition to the basic assumptions of a Christian worldview, which I termed and presented as ‘God’s economy’.
Something else I’ve been thinking about for a while is the way in which ‘financialization’ (the transformation of non-material commodities into financial assets) seeks to transcend material constraints. William Cavanaugh has many useful things to say on this idea. Here’s a quote from a recent article on the ABC’s Religion & Ethics site.
We have been sold on the imperative of economic growth at all costs. Such faith in growth is not just a material but a spiritual aspiration, an attempt to get beyond our damnable servitude to material reality, and so overcome human vulnerability and limitation.
It is vitally important that the church begins to realise the spiritual dimensions of modern economics, and the ways in which they shape our thinking about living in the world. The Western church too easily falls into capitalist modes of behaviour instead of Christian ones.
As some of you will know, I’ve been working this year for the Sydney University Evangelical Union, a student organisation. As part of my role I’m running a seminar at the EU’s Annual Conference. The topic this year is eschatology. To my delight, I’ve been able to convince the senior staff to allow me to run a seminar which nicely combines my studies in political economy with my love for theology & Christian living. My topic (as above): Christianity & Capitalism: The End and Economic Imagination.
I’ve had to write a blurb, so that the students can decide whether or not they want to come to my seminar. Here it is. Let me know what you think!
Wealth is a problem. On this the Old Testament Law and prophets, the New Testament writers and Jesus himself are unambiguous. How, then, are Christians to live in a world where endless economic growth and rising living standards are the norm, where social outcomes are measured by dollar-value?
If you’re a Christian living in a capitalist world (hint: that’s you), you need to wrestle with these questions. Exploring ‘the End’ according to capitalism and ‘the End’ according to the Bible, we’ll see how God’s economy of abundant grace can free us to imagine economic practices that promote human flourishing.
A seminar for anyone who has ever wondered what the Bible has to say about wealth. Students of economics, business and political economy may find themselves challenged to rethink everything they think they know!
A brilliant article I came across yesterday. A must-read if you’re interested in political theology and/or political economy.
At the always excellent ABC Religion website, Roman Catholic theologian William Cavanaugh writes that ‘Only Christianity Can Save Economics.’ A key quote:
Economy is not a separate sphere of life that only intersects with the religious sphere when people act immorally with their money or are unable to meet their needs. The idea that theology and economics are two separate pursuits is a thoroughly modern idea, the product of the last 250 years or so, an idea that Christians traditionally would have found bizarre.
I was planning a series of posts later this year on the interaction of political economy and Christian theology (particularly eschatology) in the realm of finance. I probably don’t need to now, ’cause Cavanaugh has said it pretty well!
I went to see the Academy Award-winning documentary Inside Job a few nights ago. See the trailer below. It’s a documentary about the global financial meltdown of 2008, focusing on the actions of the top finance and insurance firms and their executives in creating the environment in which such a catastrophic failure could occur.
Most quotable quote (although there are many contenders): ‘It’s a Wall St. government.’ Scary. Probably true.
In one sense it was nothing new: I the second half of last year studying the political economy of finance markets, and none of the ideas presented here are original. They are, however, presented well, and the interviews are excellent. The explanations of the complex financial products wrapped up in the crisis are also great; even after six months studying finance markets I find many of them nearly impossible to understand. (Which, incidentally, suits the finance firms quite nicely, thank you very much!)
Anyway, I have some thoughts related to the film sloshing around in my head: on greed, justice what Scripture says about the problem of the human heart. The film made me profoundly angry and deeply sad: great economic and social violence are done through our ‘self-regulating markets,’ and it can’t be fully explained without an understanding of the evil inclinations human beings are all prone to. One of the things I’ve loved about studying political economy is that it deliberately leaves economics open to contributions from all kinds of disciplines, including (much to my delight!) theology.
In the meantime, while I’m drafting and thinking through those issues, here’s a good review of Inside Job and Client 9 (a doco about the downfall of former NY Governor Eliot Spitzer, who made a valiant attempt to reform Wall St.). Check out the review at The Quietus.