What has Jerusalem to do with Wall Street? What has theology to say about economics? Is it appropriate? Is it possible? Is it nonsensical? At first glance, I had little to none expectations about this book, not because Kathryn Tanner is not a theologian par excellence (she verily is) but because economics is not an appealing field, personally. Yet, following the trajectory of her monograph, Tanner first explored the crossovers between economics and theology, which perked my interest a bit. If one expands the narrow frame of economics (money-centric) to a more general one (human interactions), then theology has much to say!
Responsible theology gleans nuggets from the theos (God)–the object of study and observation. In Tanner’s case, the historical interactions between the utterly transcendent-incarnated God and human beings draw two theological economic principles: unconditional giving and noncompetition. In other words, God’s grace is the unconditional giving to humans and the Creator-Creation distinction laughs at any competitive rivalry between divinity and humanity–hence, noncompetition. With these two theological economic principles, she reviews capitalism’s philosophical background (the rights of private property), idealistic scenario, and current reality with its imminent doom, if without major changes. Tanner is not a communist nor a socialist (in my limited opinion); she is not trying to dissipate capitalism. Actually, she is trying to reform it to work in our globalized, postcolonial, currency-exchange crazed, transnational corporate, hyper-technologically advanced, post-Fordism, and self-interested world. A daunting task to accomplish in 142 pages. Her response, in short, is that we could either let the current vicious cycle of decline (a ‘win/lose’ situation) continue to imminent doom or revitalize a cycle of mutual benefit (a ‘win/win’ situation).
In light of an impressive and meticulous scholarship, even on a foreign field of study, Tanner’s words should not be dismissed as “liberal,” “communistic,” or “inappropriate.” She has done her work. Her recent lectures with the prestigious Gifford Lectures of 2016, titled “Christianity and the New Spirit of Capitalism” (http://www.giffordlectures.org/lectures/christianity-and-new-spirit-capitalism), might prove to be an updated and more beneficial treatment. She does not claim definite nor authoritative word on economics. And neither do I! So, read carefully: she’s a tough writer on a tough subject.