Friday, 27 February 2009

Divine Economy: Theology and the Market

Anglican Theological Review, Summer 2004 by Elshtain, Jean Bethke

Divine Economy: Theology and the Market. By D. Stephen Long. London and New York: Routledge, 2000. xii + 321 pp. $90.00 (cloth); $27.99 (paper).

Stephen Long, who teaches theology at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, has fashioned a complex hook that challenges not only traditional approaches to economy, currently and historically, but also rejects nearly all the approaches of Christian scholars who deal with economic matters. The problem, for Long, lies in the fact that most begin by asking the wrong question. That question is: how do I put theology and economics together? Economics and theology become co-equal interlocutors. Most often, the "truths" of economics are assumed and theology is brought on board to "critique."

What Long offers as an alternative is nothing less than to evaluate economics, and everything else, from the standpoint of theology. he writes: "theology has the task of evaluating the ends of all other discourses. That theology must evaluate the ends all other discourses serve cannot be maintained if economics is conceded a non-historical autonomous function" (p. 2). If theologians attempt to meet economists on the terms of economics, they sacrifice theology, he insists. Long's book begins with a rejection of many of the presuppositions with which economics begins, including the fact-value, is/ ought distinctions, and the imputation of a kind of timeless ahistoricity to economics.

His wide-ranging argument proceeds, in part 1, by evaluating theologians who, in his view, have conceded too much to economics by accepting a "Weberian strategy," including Michael Novak, Max Stackhouse, Ronald Preston, and Philip Wogaman. Christology is subordinated to some other good in the thinking of each, he claims. In part 2, Long explores the protest traditions of both the household and the polity, including Marxism, anti-slavery, feminism, black theology, and liberation theology. These, too, he finds wanting. Often thinkers in these categories (James Cone, Rosemary Ruether, among others), see liberation "thwarted by an elitist conspiracy," a view that is insufficiently probative.

In his constructive argument, part 3, Long turns variously to virtue theory and to the writings of John Milbank. Strangely enough, in his recuperation of Christian sources, he neglects John Paul Us great "Laborem Exercens" as well as other significant papal writings on culture and economy. he calls for a "true economic order," a goal that requires the dismantling of capitalism in favor of a liberatory version of Christian socialism that does not rely, as all historic socialisms have, on a plenipotentiary state.

The church assumes a central place as the "basis for a political economy that will flow out of Gods original plenitude and not be grounded in an inevitable scarcity." Only a "theological poetics" will get us to the goal of "the abolition of capitalism and the recovery of a Christian socialism" (p. 260). How this is to come about is unclear, as Long cites but one ministry in North Carolina dedicated to non-market agricultural relations. His vision requires the church to be an altera civitas within the vastness of market relations, an alternative that suffers from vagueness and appears to require consistent and heroic counterculturalism from believers.

The University of Chicago
Chicago, Illinois

Copyright Anglican Theological Review, Inc. Summer 2004
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