Work, Economy, and Theology

 

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I’m working on my final-year research project, looking at a theology of work. It’s been a fun little exercise in bringing together the theological and exegetical skills that have been developed throughout college, with some of my own interests in Christian theological ethics and political economy.

The first full-length draft (15,000w) is due this Friday (yikes!), and the looming deadline has given me a little more clarity about the logic of my argument. Here are two short paragraphs describing what (I think) the project is about (today).

The experience of work is intrinsically connected to our conception of the economy.A theological account of work must therefore engage the concept of economy; that is, in order to give us practical purchase on the lived experience of work in our world as a significant sphere of Christian living, we need to give an account of how work and economy are related. Such an account, if it is to be properly evangelical, will resist the temptation to be founded in a single doctrine—such as creation or new creation—but will instead be shaped by the whole sweep of salvation history as it coheres in the good news of the redemption of creation in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah.

Such an account is suggested by the interplay of economy (οἰκονομία)  and good works (ἔργοις ἀγαθοῖς) in the Apostle Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians. There we find an account of God’s economy of redemption, fulfilled in his Messiah-Economist and displayed in the redeemed humanity of the church. Within this economy, the experience of work in a fallen world—work cut off from its social function, exemplified by the extremes of thievery and slavery—is redeemed and reoriented as a gift received from God. Thievery and slavery provide categories for Christian practical reason in the sphere of work as experienced in our late-Capitalist  context, and a basis for engaging contemporary economic thinking about labour, motivation, and identity.

Along the way we’ll touch on some political economic theories about work/labour (Smith, Marx, Polanyi, maybe Keynes), interrogate three contemporary theologies of work (Karl Barth in Ethics, Miroslav Volf in Work in the Spirit, and Oliver O’Donovan in Entering Into Rest), outline some precedents for a theology of economy (via M. Douglas Meeks’ God the Economist, Sergei Bulgakov’s Philosophy of Economy, and Giorgio Agamben’s The Kingdom and the Glory). Then — finally! — we’ll get to some bible stuff in Ephesians, before rounding it all out in a theological engagement with some recent works in economics (George Akerlof & Rachel Kranton’s Identity Economics and Samuel Bowles’ The Moral Economy.)

I don’t know about you—I’m excited. But that really might just be me.

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Politics: Some Recent Articles

In the lead-up to the recent Australian Federal election I had a few short pieces published how to work out how to vote on Christian principles—and how to cope with it! They won’t be directly relevant for another three years or so now, but I thought I’d put the links up here anyway.

‘How to Vote When No Party is Perfect’ at the Bible Society—Thinking about how to weigh up (apparently) competing concerns as we decide how to vote.

‘Voting: An Exercise in Faith, Love, and Hope’ at Common Grace—Coming to terms with our disquiet about voting for people we don’t like all that much, with reference to the great Oliver O’Donovan and 1 Corinthians 13.13.

‘God on Campus’: Podcast on ABC Radio National’s ‘Earshot’

Late last year I was privileged to be part of a conversation about studying theology in a secular culture. We talked about questions such as ‘What contribution does theology make to the common good in a secular age?’ and ‘Should secular governments fund education in private religious colleges?’

The program is brilliant. In addition to myself, a number of other theology students, and religious studies students, the podcast features theologians like James K. A. Smith and Sydney’s Michael Jensen, as well as religious studies professor Christopher Hartney from the University of Sydney. Producer Allison Chan has done a terrific job.

You can download/listen online here. If you have a listen, let me know what you thought in the comments below.

SOCIETAS 2014: Into All The World

Societas 2014 Cover ThumbnailMoore Theological College, where I’ve started studying this year, has an annual student publication named Societas. It’s an opportunity for students to do some writing, as well as acting as a prayer resource for the College’s supporters.

I have an article in this year’s edition, investigating the scriptural shape of Christian political witness: ‘Justice Spoken, Prayed, Embodied’. You can read it online here (my article begins on page 41). There are a bunch of other excellent articles inside, as well as profiles of my fellow first-year students (and the other years, too).

A Theological Reflection on the Legacy of Gough Whitlam

GoughThe Bible Society of Australia have kindly published a short piece I wrote on Gough Whitlam’s legacy and the Christian doctrine of common grace. Apart from the fact that he’s one of my favourite Australian Prime Ministers, the death of any political leader presents an opportunity not only to assess their political legacy, but to reflect on how God works for the good of his creation through the secular authorities he has ordained.

You can read it here.

Economics & Theology: A Conversation with Wayne Grudem

Unbelievable?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.

Continue reading “Economics & Theology: A Conversation with Wayne Grudem”

When Economics & Theology Don’t Mix: A Review of ‘The Poverty of Nations’

This piece was originally published by the Bible Society of Australia‘s Eternity Newspaper. You can read the original post here.

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.

The Poverty of Nations: A Sustainable SolutionTheologian 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.

Continue reading “When Economics & Theology Don’t Mix: A Review of ‘The Poverty of Nations’”

Spirituality & Economics: The Meaning of Growth

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.

Continue reading “Spirituality & Economics: The Meaning of Growth”