Trey Dimsdale: ‘Adam Smith and the Invisible Hand of God’ by Brendan Long

The first time that I read a serious academic work about Adam Smith and The Wealth of Nations, I recall being stuck by just how compatible his metaphor of the invisible hand was with the Christian doctrine of providence. It seemed to me then that a project that sought to harmonize the two would be a worthy undertaking. Of course, Smith and his works have been the subject of significant scrutiny and debate by both philosophers and economists, and this has resulted in myriad theories about his own personal religious beliefs and how those religious beliefs may have factored into his work. Some insist that Smith was an atheist, others insist that he was a devout Christian bordering on modern evangelical fervor, with dozens of positions falling in between.

 

Long takes on this issue with erudition and clarity. The opening chapters provide helpful overviews of several preliminary issues. First, the author surveys the state of the academic conversation that has accompanied a resurgence of interest in Smith. Next, he moves on to summarizing the various philosophical and theological influences on Smith and the various perspectives among scholars as to the nature of Smith’s faith. Only at this point does Long make his own argument regarding the Christian faith and Adam Smith’s thought.

Subscribe to receive book reviews by email

It is important to note that this particular field of Smith studies has been defined by what is known as the ‘Adam Smith problem.’ Given that his two most notable works, Theory of Moral Sentiments and Wealth of Nations, are central works of two different fields—philosophy and economics, respectively—it is easily lost on even academics engaging in one field or the other that Smith’s tone, references, and methodology engage with Christian theology in very different ways. Many within the field have attempted to bridge the gap and provide a universal theory that harmonizes the two approaches. Frankly, my own engagement with Smith has been quite siloed, so I found Long’s discussion of this issue to be quite helpful and enlightening.

 

But, who cares? Are Smith’s theories any more or less helpful as a result of the role that religion played in his own thinking and intellectual formation? Prior to engaging in his own analysis, Long argues that it does matter: ‘side-stepping…Smith’s theism has led to an impoverishment in Smithian studies.’ Only when we understand the origin of Smith’s thought can we appreciate the unitary goal of his writing, which according to Long, ‘is ultimately an attempt to produce a coherence theory of human nature that deals with the tension between altruistic love of neighbour, a Christian interpretation of morality, and the reality of self-love through a complex narrative of unintended human action which is part of a providential plan written into the moral fabric of human relationships.’ Teleologically, Smith’s project is anthropological in nature before it is either philosophical or economic. Understanding it rightly, Long argues, ‘represents a call for contemporary philosophy of economics to return to its source in the moral philosophy which is a complex synthesis of the individual’s moral constitution and the role that it plays in the development of the common good.’

 

Long convincingly argues that the ‘Adam Smith problem’ is solved by recognizing ‘a unifying philosophical core’ in Smith’s diverse works rather than a common methodology, as others have attempted. According to Long, the ‘underlying and organizing principle is…a particular reading of the human as an ethical person.’ Smith understands people to be moral agents who are complex. Self-interest, a theme in Smith’s work that is often criticized as being incompatible with Christian ethics, can be rightly understood as a complex concept with moral and material concerns interwoven when Smith is read through this lens.

 

Long asserts that ‘in the world of contemporary economic theory people are reduced to variables in a system of linear algebra and differential calculus.’ While most economists, especially Christian ones, would likely take issue with this assertion, it is undeniable that most quantitative research in the field requires the reduction of complex circumstances, motivations, etc. to very narrow, specific, and measurable variables. The value of this type of research is certain, but also limited. It often provides a snapshot of just one narrow aspect of a much more complex issue. That type of work shouldn’t be abandoned. Long’s proposition, however, is that understanding Smith’s work on its own terms, which includes certain theological and philosophical assumptions, has explanatory power that a ‘ruthless mechanistic system’ simply does not have. A recovery of a right understanding of Smith’s work will provide a framework for understanding the economic decisions made by moral agents who ‘operate in a complex world of interpersonal subjectivity driven by a combination of personal and social motivations and by ethical principles.’

 

One weakness of many approaches to harmonizing Smith’s works is that many seem to be hampered by anachronisms of one variety or another. Smith wrote before the dawn of modern psychology and died well before the emergence of various religious movements. As a result, attempting to square any of his thought with these subsequent developments presents problems. Long, however, has carefully avoided this. I expected to find some indicators of bias driven by the author’s prior assumptions, but these are absent in this work. His analysis is clear, serious, and without any obvious bias to make Smith ‘say’ what Long might hope he would say. His work is not driven by a desire to land at a place with a particular bent toward or against capitalism or Christian theology, but proceeds from what is commonly known about Smith’s life and influences and remains closely tied to the text of Smith’s various writings. Long has contributed something quite helpful to those interested in the fields to which Smith studies belong.

 

‘Adam Smith and the Invisible Hand of God’ by Brendan Long was published in 2023 by Routledge (ISBN: 978-1-03-207336-1). 178pp.


Trey Dimsdale is an associate fellow with CEME as well as the Executive Director of the Center for Religion, Culture, & Democracy (CRCD), the educational and cultural initiative of First Liberty Institute. He is also an contributing editor at Providence, a magazine focused on Christianity and international relations. He holds a law degree from the University of Missouri-Kansas City, as well as degrees in ethics and political science.

Andrew Studdert-Kennedy: ‘God’s Good Economy: Doing Economic Justice in Today’s World’ by Andrew Hartropp

Andrew Hartropp, an Anglican Minister with doctorates in both theology and economics, has written this introductory book to help equip people to ‘live and speak for Jesus Christ in today’s world’ with the underlying conviction that doing economic justice is indeed part of this living and speaking for Christ. Its arguments are laid out clearly and the book is well written and accessible.

The balanced tone is set in the opening chapter which recognises that there are alternative foundations for justice (rights, needs and merits) and that in a pluralistic world an agreed understanding of justice can be elusive. Accordingly, Hartropp outlines a biblical understanding of economic justice which provides the framework for the book as a whole. It’s an understanding that rests on the claims that justice, including economic justice, is rooted in who God is, that God has built justice into creation and that the Bible discloses to us what justice is (page 12).

Hartropp identifies four key aspects of a biblical understanding of economic justice. ‘It means treating people appropriately, according to the norms and principles given by God; it requires a special concern for people who are poor, needy and economically weak; it emphasizes the quality of relationships – notably one-to-one relationships; and it means that everyone participates in God’s blessings, including material blessings’ (page 148).

Sign up to receive new reviews by email

Part One of the book looks at how we do economic justice in our own relationships as consumers, in the workplace and in local church communities.

The reader is challenged to look critically at the dominance of consumerism in today’s culture and to be aware of how this is at variance with God’s values before considering how their money should be spent. In the workplace, the emphasis is on the relationship with the whole person and the requirement for employees to be treated with respect, to have a fair wage, good working conditions and opportunities for personal development. At the same time the responsibility of the Christian employee to work hard and give of their best because their work will be pleasing to the Lord (Colossians 3) is a valuable reminder that doing economic justice entails mutual obligations between employee and employer (page 66) and also between borrower and lender (Psalm 37.21 page 25). The prompt settlement of invoices could have been included amongst these mutual responsibilities.

The second part of the book focuses on doing economic justice in wider society and the influence ‘that followers of Christ can have in and through the organizations and structures of which they are a part’ (page 89). In successive chapters, Hartropp looks at what this might mean in firms and corporations, banks and financial institutions and the place of government both nationally and globally.

The principles that were earlier espoused in the workplace are played out again on a larger scale when looking at firms and corporations. There is an admirably even-handed discussion about flexible working and zero hours contracts (page 108) and disquiet at, though not outright condemnation of, the levels of Chief Executive Officer pay in UK companies and the huge pay ratio between them and the average employee – 148:1 in 2014 among FTSE 100 CEOs (page 111).

When looking at banks and other financial institutions, the author includes a useful summary of the run-up to the 2007-8 financial crisis and helps us see excessive lending, borrowing and debt as a failure of the kind of relational justice that biblical economic justice requires. He seeks to adapt and apply the ancient biblical principle of Jubilee as a way of restoring relationships and offering hope for those trapped with burdensome debt and he is realistic about the way that a prevailing culture preys on fallen humanity’s susceptibility for greed, pride and folly. Wisely, there is no guide for a banking policy but rather the chapter aims to equip people with ways of thinking about some of the major challenges of finance (page 142).

This same caution is displayed when exploring the role of government in tackling the challenges of poverty and inequality both in the UK and globally. Returning to the four principles of biblical economic justice, Hartropp writes, ‘The call to do justice is to all people. Therefore it is not intrinsic to doing economic justice that the state must have a part to play’ (page 148, my emphasis). At the same time, he does not adopt a libertarian position but rather argues that, adhering to biblical principles, leaders should uphold relational economic justice, focus on the poor and act against economic oppression (page 163), an oppression which may or may not have been caused by market failure. In a brief section towards the end of the book, there is reference to Catholic Social Teaching and how its notion of subsidiarity can challenge the centralizing tendency of modern government (page 167).

The book introduces the reader to complex subjects and never over-reaches itself. It is balanced and has plenty of reminders not just of the obligations that fall on the economically advantaged, but also the responsibilities that remain with the disadvantaged. It is aware of prevailing culture and calls on Christians to counter aspects of it, not least by daring to believe that all work is for the glory of God.

Since, as the author says, ‘Much of what the Bible teaches about economic justice is common sense’ (page 19), it is not entirely clear who the book is for. Even if our common sense does sometimes desert us, the thoughtful reader – Christian or otherwise – will surely have worked out already many of the principles espoused in the first part of the book.

The second part of the book, looking at wider society or the ‘Public Square’, avoids any attempt to be a manual, but to help people in their thinking would have benefitted from a deeper consideration of economic forces at work. In particular, the potentially idolatrous nature of money, the way it is ‘made’ and the way it functions  makes it such an important part of today’s culture that it cannot be ignored. Likewise, the ever-expanding role of the state and the consequences of government debt are matters that need illumination.

The author can rightly point out that this was deliberately beyond the remit of the book and also that this review in 2024 is of a book first published in 2019. The prevailing culture which so shapes us has changed considerably since then, all of which would encourage an updated and expanded second edition of this introductory book which the author is well qualified to produce.

‘God’s Good Economy: Doing Economic Justice in Today’s World’ by Andrew Hartropp was published in 2019 by Inter Varsity Press (ISBN: 978-1-78359-764-2). 215pp.


Rev Canon Andrew Studdert-Kennedy is Team Rector of Uxbridge in the Diocese of London. Before ordination, he studied PPE at Oxford and during the 1980s worked in the City and as a Researcher for two MPs. He has retained his interest in such matters.

Clara Piano: ‘Catholic Social Thought, the Market and Public Policy: Twenty-First-Century Challenges’ edited by Philip Booth and André Azevedo Alves

‘Nobody can be a great economist who is only an economist – and I am even tempted to add that the economist who is only an economist is likely to become a nuisance if not a positive danger.’

― Friedrich Hayek

Economists often lament the general public’s lack of economic understanding. Yet only a small fraction of economists sacrifice their own scarce resources to change this. Philip Booth and André Azevedo Alves are part of those few, and their efforts to apply economic insights engage the oldest institution in human history: the Catholic Church.

In Catholic Social Thought, the Market and Public Policy, the authors combine their knowledge of economics and Catholic social thought (CST) to contribute to today’s most challenging policy discussions. This ends up being a powerful marriage, as economics and CST contribute very different yet complementary insights. Where economics assumes that people act rationally toward an end, CST adds that this end is ultimately union with God, so some choices bring us closer to this goal than others. Where economics can identify the effects of specific policies, CST helps us to weigh these effects as good or bad. 

This edited collection consists of fourteen essays, six of which are authored or coauthored by Booth or Alves, with the other essays contributed by experts in related fields. The topics of these essays center upon policy debates related to Catholic social thought, such as globalization or the state’s role in education. The final chapter attests to the earnest practicality of the collection’s editors, as it provides a list and reference for the various sources of Catholic social thought so that the reader can continue to engage with these ideas himself.

For the remainder of this review, I will focus on the four principles of Catholic social thought – human dignity, solidarity, subsidiarity, and the common good – as they relate to the topics of these essays. Unsurprisingly, each of these principles makes an appearance in all of the essays as the authors apply them – in addition to a good dose of economic facts and literacy – to the often thorny policy questions at hand.

Sign up to receive new reviews directly in your email inbox via Substack

The first and foundational principle of CST is human dignity: ‘A just society can become a reality only when it is based on the respect of the transcendent dignity of the human person. The person represents the ultimate end of society, by which it is ordered to the person’ (Compendium of the Catholic Church, para. 132). This principle helps to explain the Church’s consistent condemnation of communism since it values the collective over the individual. It is also the reason the Church defends the right to private property and a just wage, as Alves, Chelo, and Gregorio explain in their chapter on the economic thought of Thomas Aquinas and the Late Scholastics. Importantly, human dignity helps explain the natural limits of the right to private property. Because the right to private property exists for the sake of human life, the right to life has superiority – in extremis, a parent is permitted to ‘steal’ food to feed his starving child. Fr. Schlag’s chapters deal with the principle of human dignity as well, as he argues that virtuous business practices embody respect for the dignity of all employees, clients, and customers. Moreover, he reminds readers that the dignity of the human person is closely linked to the dignity of work: ‘[the excellence in Jesus’s public ministry] must also have defined the level of effort Jesus put into His work as a carpenter. His professional vocation so much shaped Him that even His redeeming death was perpetrated with hammer, wood and nails, the tools of His profession’ (page 164).

The next principle of Catholic social thought is solidarity, which might also be understood as ‘friendship’ (Compendium, para. 103). This is the natural communion that arises between persons when they treat each other with dignity and the harmony of society that results. While the principle of solidarity is woven throughout each chapter, there are three topics in particular where it features more prominently: globalization (Booth), cronyism (Richards), and government debt (Booth, Numa, and Nakrosis). Booth points out in his chapter on globalization that the Catholic (meaning universal) Church has a special appreciation for globalization while also warning about its negative consequences should human dignity and solidarity not guide these relationships. In the words of John Paul II: ‘Globalization must not be a new version of colonialism’ (‘Address to the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences,’ 2001). When reflecting on cronyism, Richards illustrates how artificial constructions of solidarity, such as the Council for Inclusive Capitalism, may ultimately be misguided because of how special interests can shape well-intentioned policy. Finally, if there is to be any natural communion in society, we would expect it first to arise within the family. As Booth, Numa, and Nakrosis show in their chapter on government debt, current generations tend to indulge in governmental overspending, which places undue burdens on their children and future grandchildren, thus disrupting the solidarity between generations.

Subsidiarity is the third principle of Catholic social thought, in which the Church clearly teaches that the voluntary institutions of civil society should be respected and supported in their respective domains. In the words of the Compendium: ‘Subsidiarity, understood in the positive sense as economic, institutional or juridical assistance offered to lesser social entities, entails a corresponding series of negative implications that require the State to refrain from anything that would de facto restrict the existential space of the smaller essential cells of society. Their initiative, freedom and responsibility must not be supplanted’ (para. 186). The book’s chapters on the environment (Booth), healthcare (Sparkes), and education (Franchi) all apply this principle to important areas of contemporary policy. For example, Booth shows how the communal management of natural resources discussed in the work of Nobel Laureate Elinor Ostrom illustrates the power of subsidiarity in promoting the care of the environment. With respect to healthcare and education, the fierce controversies over what constitutes healthcare (e.g., abortion or euthanasia) or education (e.g., religious education) might be ameliorated to some extent if the role of civil society in providing these goods was supported rather than supplanted by the state.

Finally, I was struck by the fact that nearly every chapter cites the principle of the common good: ‘the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfilment more fully and more easily’ (Compendium, para. 164). The chapters on the right to migrate (Yuengert), taxation (Kennedy), and finance (Gregg) provide interesting applications of this principle. For example, Yuengert’s chapter wrestles with the question of how to pursue the common good when the needs of particular groups (e.g., native and migrant workers) seem to conflict. Crucially, the principle of the common good contains the national common good but extends beyond it. When considering taxation, Kennedy points out that the three purposes of taxation – revenue raising, behavior modification, and redistribution – have different merit when assessed from the perspective of the common good, the former having a clearer justification than the latter. The common good must also inform the Church’s approach to the financial sector, as Gregg emphasizes, since finance does provide a legitimate function in society and ‘by nature, the fundamental functions are the financial sector are, potentially, very “pro-poor”’ (page 227).

In conclusion, economics has never been nor will ever be enough for policy discussions. It does not proscribe ends—only a system of values can do that—and Catholic social thought offers one such account. I cannot recommend Catholic Social Thought, the Market and Public Policy highly enough for anyone interested in intelligent conversations about pressing public policy issues. My only regret is that it did not include chapter on what I would argue is the most important policy debate in the coming years: assisted reproductive technologies. Beyond its intellectual contributions, the book is a much-needed reminder of the religious insistence that civilizations exist to serve humans, not the other way around. In the words of C.S. Lewis: ‘Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors’ (The Weight of Glory, 1941).

 

‘Catholic Social Thought, the Market and Public Policy: Twenty-First-Century Challenges’ edited by Philip Booth and André Azevedo Alves, was published in 2024 by St Mary’s University Press (ISBN: 978-1-9167-8600-4). 302pp.


Clara Piano received her Ph.D. from George Mason University and will be joining the Economics Department of the University of Mississippi in Fall 2024. Her research and teaching focus on family economics and law and economics.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Richard Godden: ‘Capitalism and Christianity: Origins, Spirit and Betrayal of the Market Economy’, by Luigino Bruni

In Capitalism and Christianity, Luigino Bruni provides a sweeping overview of various strands of Christian thinking about economic and, to some extent, social matters over the past 2,000 years and seeks to assess their impact. The book is short, comprising only 109 pages, but it covers a significant amount of ground and needs to be read slowly and reflectively. It is not for the casual reader or someone who is only interested in down-to-earth everyday economic issues but those who are interested in the history of ideas and want to think about their impact today will find much in it that is worth pondering.

Bruni accurately describes his work as an essay and some of its strengths and weaknesses reflect its nature. In particular, Bruni does not seek carefully to support all of his assertions and many of his statements are highly contentious (e.g. is it really true that ‘Christianity was not the mass culture of the Middle Ages’, [page 90] and that ‘we had to wait until the second part of the second millennium for Christianity to become, at least a little, popular culture in the countryside’ [page 97]?). He also has a tendency to make statements that sound impressive without their meaning being clear (e.g. the statement that: ‘The medieval man was in general much poorer than we are, but he lived in a richer world, denser with life’ [page 36]) and he does not define his terms closely, the most serious omission being his failure to explain precisely what he means by ‘capitalism’. However, the other side of this point is that Bruni makes suggestive links between things that might otherwise be regarded as discrete and draws attention to long-term trends that might otherwise be missed.

He briefly considers the teaching of the New Testament but focuses primarily on that of Christian thinkers down the ages, starting with an interesting contrast between the economic thinking of Augustine and that of Pelagius before taking in that of well-known figures such as Dante, Luther, Calvin, Hobbes and Smith. There is plenty to take issue with in his analysis (e.g. his suggestion that, thanks to Hobbes, ‘European society…went from the community without individuals, to the individual without community’ [page 72], surely attributes far too much influence to Hobbes). However, much of what is said is thought provoking and a lot of it relates to matters that are only rarely covered in English language publications.

His discussion of medieval monasticism is a good example of this. He rightly points out the significance of the monasteries to the medieval economy and the long-term impact of the Benedictine motto ‘Ora et Labora’ (prayer and work), particularly as taken up and applied to everyday life in Lutheran thought. As often, Bruni is guilty of some exaggeration (e.g. the statement that ‘capitalism was not only generated by monasticism, but would not have been borne without it’, [page 14]) but his contention that, at least as originally conceived, the monastic emphasis on the value of work for a free person helped generate a wider acceptance of the value of work in society as a whole is well worth considering.

Bruni’s discussion of the late medieval Monti di Pieta is also interesting. Few Anglo-Saxon readers will know much (if anything) about them but they deserve to be taken into account in any consideration of historic models of the use of credit in the alleviation of poverty. Franciscan friars provided the impetus for their creation as not-for profit organisations which, nonetheless, were not charities and which sought to make credit available to the poor whilst still charging interest and seeking sustainability in their business model. Bruni clearly sees some lessons for today in this model, although he does not give detail of precisely what these lessons might be.

It is also good to see a discussion of the now largely forgotten contribution of Jansenists to the theological and economic debate. Jansenist theology was in many ways similar to Calvinism (albeit located within Catholicism) and it is interesting that it produced some recognisably similar economic thinking. This in some ways anticipated Adam Smith and classical liberal economics. For example, Pierre Nicole, writing a hundred years before Adam Smith, noted that those who served travellers did not act from charity but nonetheless provided the assistance that travellers required, whilst Pierre Boisguilbert, writing slightly later, commented that ‘All the trade of the land, both wholesale and retail…is governed by nothing but the interests of entrepreneurs who have never thought of doing someone a favour’ (cited by Bruni on page 60).

Bruni is Professor of Economics at the Università di Roma LUMSA, which states that it was ‘formed on Catholic principles’ and, in some places, his Catholic background shines through his writing. However his views on the impact of Catholicism on economics will not make comfortable reading for many of his Catholic colleagues. Although he is critical of the impact of the Reformation, he reserves his most strident criticism for the Counter-Reformation. He attacks both its theology and practices (suggesting that it was so concerned to react against Luther that it failed to deal with the aspects of Catholicism that were the most in need of true reform [page 44]) and sees its influence on the economy in almost wholly negative terms: ‘the Counter-Reformation blocked the process which had started in the middle-ages and which resulted in civil humanism, a capitalism that was both personalist and communitarian, which was able to fuse together individual freedom and common good’ (page 87) and ‘the Counter-Reformation set the moral evaluation of economic activities back a few centuries’ (page 88). Overall, he has very little positive to say about the contribution of Christian thought to appropriate economic structures over the past few hundred years.

It is less easy to be sure of what Bruni favours. He often quotes other authors without being clear of the extent to which he agrees with them. However, he is no other-worldly theorist. For example, he refers to ‘An entirely biblical and evangelical secularity…which still leaves all those who (like me) believe that there are few things more “spiritual” than double-entry method and a construction site, breathless’ (page 24). Furthermore, his most favourable tone is reserved for what he refers to as ‘civil economy’. He quotes at length from Fénelon’s ‘Les Abeilles’ (the precursor of Mandeville’s more famous Fable of the Bees) and he contrasts what he understands Adam Smith to be saying unfavourably with a different approach in which ‘the fundamentally economic principle…is instead that of “mutual assistance”, where each individual, in addition to his own interest, intentionally wishes for the interests and well-being of the other party as well’ (page 79).

Bruni writes openly from the perspective of Catholic Southern Europe and he clearly feels personal involvement in the matters about which he is writing. Capitalism and Christianity is not a mere academic essay: Bruni cares deeply about his subject and, as the book draws towards its conclusion, he begins from time to time to write in the first person.

Sadly, he is not able to offer much hope for himself or others. Referring to the people of the South (and, one suspects, primarily, Italy), the book concludes: ‘the capitalism of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the capitalism based on the factory and labour, could not then be seductive enough to buy our souls. But that of the twenty first century based all on consumption and finance, seduced us to a point that we did not need to buy our souls because we gave them for free’ (sic; page 108).

This is perhaps a surprising conclusion, especially from a writer who clearly regards Augustinian theology as much too pessimistic about human nature. It may be influenced by the slightly Romantic tendency that may be detected in some of what Bruni says. However, Bruni might fairly counter by saying that his essay is not intended to offer a way forward but merely to enable people to think about how we have arrived where we are and thus be able to pose questions that will facilitate the fashioning of the future.

Much of what Bruni says is contentious and one might take strong exception to his negative assessment of particularly early Protestant thinking, Adam Smith’s views and more recent Catholic social teaching. However, the issues that he raises deserve careful reflection and Capitalism and Christianity is a serious and worthwhile contribution to a vital debate.

 

Capitalism and Christianity: Origins, Spirit and Betrayal of the Market Economy’ by Luigino Bruni was published in 2024 by Routledge (ISBN: 978-1-03-252401-6). 109pp


Richard Godden is a Lawyer and has been a Partner with Linklaters for over 25 years during which time he has advised on a wide range of transactions and issues in various parts of the world. 

Richard’s experience includes his time as Secretary at the UK Takeover Panel and a secondment to Linklaters’ Hong Kong office. He also served as Global Head of Client Sectors, responsible for Linklaters’ industry sector groups, and was a member of the Global Executive Committee.

 

 

 

 

Neil Jordan: “Faith in Markets: Abrahamic religions and economics”, edited by Benedikt Koehler

In Faith in Markets, Benedikt Koehler (PhD), a fellow of the Institute of Economic Affairs, has brought together a series articles that consider the ways in which Christianity, Judaism and Islam have encouraged adherents ‘towards behaviours that tended to market economics’ (page 7). The collection discusses the three major Abrahamic faiths and also a contains a chapter looking at eastern religious traditions more broadly, but the focus in this review is on the Judaeo-Christian tradition specifically. The first part of the book considers the mutual influences of religious practice or belief and the market, with three of the chapters in this section being written by the volume editor himself. One of these shows how the teaching of Moses revolutionised the economic behaviour of the Israelites and was unique in basing economic norms on theology. Extending the Sabbath principle to economic life, together with a ban on usury, Moses implemented what amounted to an egalitarian approach to commerce and a de facto system of welfare. Of particular interest in this part of the book was Koehler’s chapter addressing the development of property rights in early and mediaeval Christianity. This piece provides a fascinating overview of the dispute between the Franciscans and the Papacy on the subject of ownership, showing how Pope John XXII established a view, supported by scripture, that grounded property rights in the divine will, independent of and prior to any rights granted by the state – a view which contrasted with the earlier tendency among both pagan and Christian thinkers to link property rights with human convention. Esa Mangeloja and Tomi Ovaska continue the examination of Christian thought in their discussion of the common-property-based economic and political system of Thomas More’s Utopia, showing that the work is in fact full of economic concepts and that Utopia lends itself to a proper analysis in economic terms, just like other economic systems.

The second part of the book consists of chapters that highlight difficulties or paradoxes in the teaching of each of the Abrahamic faiths as they interpret or apply ancient authorities and again, my focus is on the Judaeo-Christian context. David Conway’s contribution examines the manner in which, by rigidly applying the provisions of the Pentateuch regarding poor relief and education, Israel’s ultra-orthodox communities (Haredim) have created an unsustainable welfare burden for the state. This is the result of low labour market participation caused in part by publicly funded specialist schooling, in which men engage in near-perpetual religious study while ordinarily core subjects such as mathematics are not taught – thus exacerbating the employment problem. This arrangement is traced to the requirement in the Hebrew scriptures that those without means be provided for and that the Levites be supported by a tithe in return for their provision of education in national history and divinely mandated law. As honoured in contemporary Israel, however, these obligations place a huge strain on the public finances and ignore the spirit of the original laws themselves, which favoured economic activity, required recipients of poor relief to work where possible and sought to restore those who had fallen on hard times to economic independence and liberty as soon as possible.

In a very engaging chapter, Martin Rhonheimer considers the subject of social justice, beginning with the modern tendency to use this concept in the criticism of inequalities of wealth. The author agrees with F.A. Hayek, that the notion of ‘justice’ makes no sense when applied to the outcomes of economic systems because they are simply outcomes of a particular order and are not aimed at by any individual or group. However, he adds that it does make sense to talk about the systems themselves as just or unjust, insofar as they are devised or at least allowed to persist by human beings. In short, if the rules of the system are unjust – for instance by discriminating against a particular group such that that group cannot engage in economic activity on equitable terms – then we can change the rules in the interests of fairness. Moreover, we quite legitimately use the term ‘just’ in relation to freely acting individuals, insofar as their actions have some positive bearing on society. Rhonheimer’s point is that ‘social justice’ refers to the social or common good, and we would consider businesses, charities and voluntary organisations who contribute to this as being involved in the exercise of social justice as virtue. Thus, while the term ‘social justice’ might have no purchase in distributive terms (with reference to ‘outcomes’), it certainly can be applied to economic orders, organisations and individuals – and it is here that the tension in Christian thought emerges. Rhonheimer contends that the teaching of the Catholic Church has moved away from an understanding of social justice that is broadly compatible with this perspective, towards a view that is closer to the contemporary ‘distributive’ attitude. As such, it has in recent decades become more inclined to favour redistributive social policies and seems less inclined to take account of the very real benefits of a market economy in contributing to the common good. Thus, the Church’s traditional teaching recognised social justice as a moral virtue from which actions conducive to the common good flow, but we must now wonder how easily this sits with its increasingly ‘(re-)distributivist’ view of ‘social justice’ and the statism that this implies.

Overall, this collection contains several interesting studies and for the most part, the writing is very accessible, though some chapters – such as that considering Utopia – would require a degree of prior knowledge in order for the reader to fully appreciate the proffered analysis. More difficult is identifying a general argument or unifying narrative that runs through the book. The individual chapters have previously appeared in the journal Economic Affairs and some reflect the brevity of the article format, but more significant is the overall feeling that they have not been entirely integrated so as to compose a single, unified volume. As can be the way with edited collections, while each chapter is interesting, the book as a whole lacks a clear sense of overall purpose to pull the individual studies together. Perhaps, however, given the subject, this would be to ask too much in this case. Since it deals with three of the world’s largest religions and is not limited to a particular historical period or geographical region, it would be impossible to give more than a series of studies demonstrating different ways in which the Abrahamic faiths have steered their adherents towards practices that tend to market-oriented behaviours and outlooks. A unified account that shows how this occurred frequently and consistently over the centuries would require a much longer book – most likely in several volumes.

While perhaps lacking a sustained argument to bring the entire book together, as a collection that provides thematically organised snapshots of certain strains of thought and practice within major faiths, while considering tensions that have arisen in relation to market principles, this volume will appeal to those with interests in the overlap between religious and economic thought and practice.

 

‘Faith in Markets: Abrahamic religions and economics’, edited by Benedikt Koehler, was published in 2023 by the Institute for Economic Affairs (ISBN: 978-0-255-36824-7). 240pp

 


Neil Jordan is Senior Editor at the Centre for Enterprise, Markets and Ethics. For more information about Neil please click here.

 

 

Andrei Rogobete: “Faith Driven Investing – Every Investment Has an Impact–What’s Yours?” by Henry Kaestner, Timothy Keller et al.

At first glance some readers (myself included), might be mistaken to assume that Faith Driven Investing is another “how to” guide on ethical investing – it is not. In fact, the book has very little to say about investing per say and rather focuses on the “faith driven” investors themselves and the wider role of the Christian faith: What makes a Christian investor? What drives them? How do they influence change? How should a Christian think about risk? How are Christians in the financial sector or in business called to engage with the capital markets and money more generally? (pages 3-4).

These broader questions are tackled in the book by a collection of authors (seventeen to be exact). The contributors are mostly prominent practitioners within the field such as Cathie Wood, Luke Rousch and Richard Okello, as well as those with more of a theological/pastoral background such as Timothy Keller and Andy Crouch.

The structure of the book therefore comprises fourteen chapters representing individual essays that are collated within two larger sections. The first is called “Faith Driven Investors are…” while the second is titled “Therefore, They…”, reflecting the overarching intention of exploring who faith driven investors are and what they are called to do. The main audience of the book is Christian investors and entrepreneurs but those with a wider general interest in business as a force for good will find it worthwhile. The various essays use minimal technical jargon (be that in respect to theology or finance), making the book accessible to the layperson and specialist alike.

Timothy Keller (1950-2023), the late pastor and theologian from New York opens up the discussion in Chapter 1 with an intriguing take on personal identity and what it means to have an identity that is rooted in Christ. Keller writes that “…an identity that flows from who he is and what he has done for us changes everything. It radically transforms the way we work, the way we invest, the way we view money, all of it” (page 14). He then goes on to list four different ways in which this happens. We won’t enumerate all here but the third makes an interesting and important point: God (being omnipotent) could provide for our material needs directly yet he chooses not to do so and instead uses human work as a means of provision (page 15). This raises profound implications for the nature and value of work which, according to Keller, means that: 1. All work carries great dignity, even the most menial; 2. Through work we are “…God’s hands and fingers, sustaining and caring for his world”; 3. One of the main ways of pleasing God is simply to do our work well (page 16).  These assertions are consistent with the historic Protestant view of work of which Martin Luther was an early advocate.  Those who wish to explore them further could read other books reviewed on our website such as Why Business Matters to God, Business for the Common Good and Tides of Life.

In Chapter 4 Luke Rousch, cofounder of Sovereign Capital brings a fresh challenge to some established normative positions that many Christian investors take. Rousch spent his entire career in large scale business commercialisation and development and argues that for too long faith driven investors have become known for what they are against, rather than what they are for (page 59). He rightly points out that this is a missed opportunity for Christian investors to become better known for what they stand for in the world and not merely for what they stand against. Part of the problem, Rousch argues, is “that it’s easier to avoid things than it is to engage with them. That’s also true in life, not just investing” (page 62). Avoiding “sinful” industries altogether such as tobacco, adult entertainment and so on is perhaps the most obvious example. The risk is that we end up steep in legalism and behaving like the Pharisees did. Sure, negative screening is important when it comes to constructing an investment portfolio but “…we are called to lean in, with truth shared in love, and celebrate the great things God is doing in and through the marketplace. We must seek out, embrace, and pour ourselves into the creation of new things” (page 62). Rousch thus argues for a more proactive approach where we should seek “…a balance between negative screens, positive screens and active engagement” (page 63).

Casey Crawford, CEO and founder of Movement Mortgage concludes the discussion with a reminder to seek God’s larger perspective rather than our own, “…are we working for our return of for God’s return?” (page 198). In the Parable of the Tenants we have the example of the tenant who did nothing with what was given to him, Crawford argues that we must maintain an attitude of expectancy of the coming new Kingdom. This doesn’t necessarily mean “…working harder so we’ll have more success to show God. It’s about seeking our work as an act of service to the Master” (page 199).

In summary, “Faith Driven Investing: Investment Has an Impact–What’s Yours?” is not a “how to” guide on ethical investing and those seeking investment strategies or advice should look elsewhere. It is however a compelling collection of essays that stand at the intersection of finance, theology, and the broader implications of truly living out the Christian faith. A thoroughly recommended read for all those with an interest in the subject.

 

“Faith Driven Investing – Every Investment Has an Impact–What’s Yours?” by Henry Kaestner, Timothy Keller et al. was published in 2022 by Tyndale House Publishers (ISBN 1496474481, 9781496474483), 240pp.


Andrei E. Rogobete is Associate Director at the Centre for Enterprise, Markets & Ethics. For more information about Andrei please click here.

 

 

Richard Godden: “Faith, Finance, and Economy” by T. Akram and S. Rashid (eds.)

Faith, Finance, and Economy is a collection of essays broadly related to the relationship between faith and financial or economic matters. The editors state that their overall aim “is to convince the reader that faith and finance are not disjoint entities” (page 3). They do this by serving up a collection of essays that provide different examples of the connection between faith and finance rather than by developing a single theme.

The result is a fascinating miscellany containing material that should engage, and probably challenge, most people who are interested in considering the way in which faith does, or may, or should impact financial and economic and, hence, political, matters. Inevitably, however, different readers will be interested in different essays and, although the book includes chapters on some of Gandhi’s philosophical ideas, on attitudes to consumerism in Communist China, on Islamic finance and on the accommodation of faith of all kinds in the workplace, approximately half of it relates to the issue from a specifically Christian perspective, which readers may or may not find helpful.

The essays that focus on Christianity are diverse. The first two (by Ronald Sider and Anne Bradley, respectively) describe how a biblical world view can provide a framework for economic thought. Their views differ materially but both express these views in careful moderate terms and readers who are only familiar with Sider’s famous “Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger” and Bradley’s strong free market views may be surprised by the degree of convergence in what they say. For example Sider concedes basic merits of the free market, commenting that “The market mechanism of supply and demand simply works better” (page 23), adding that “always, government activity must be shaped in a way that nurtures self-sufficiency, not dependency” (page 27). Conversely, Bradley stresses inter-dependency and the dangers of greed, commenting that “The word that best describes God’s creation is inter-dependence” (page 34) and asserting that “We need a society where greed is mitigated (not fuelled by a system of incentives)” (page 44).

The essays thus help to clarify the issues on which bible-believing Christians disagree. Furthermore, all type of Christians would do well to listen to Sider’s warning that the mere fact that they seek to ground their agenda in a normative biblical framework does not guarantee that their concrete proposals will be wise and effective (page 28).

Some of the themes identified by Sider and Bradley are relevant to Heath Carter’s essay entitled “Christianity and Inequality in the Modern United States”, which describes itself as “a concise introduction to the history of social Christianity” (page 175). Unfortunately, however, despite the author’s claim to be writing history, he has produced something akin to a polemical tract, concluding “American Christians played pivotal roles in getting us into this New Gilded Age and we are in urgent need of a renewal of Christian economic thought and practices today if we are to have any hope of finding out way out” (page 192). The essay has heroes and villains, the latter comprising Christians who do not share Carter’s left-wing social gospel views. It is unlikely that it will assist readers understanding the views of those with whom they disagree or perceiving potential weaknesses in their own views.

In contrast, Michael Naughton’s essay, which brings the book to a conclusion, is balanced and carefully argued. It discusses what comprises “good wealth” from within the tradition of Catholic social teaching. Naughton separately analyses the issues of wealth creation, wealth distribution and wealth dispersion (i.e. charity) but recognises that, as he puts it, “The principal challenge is not dividing these three areas…but providing a social vision of how they are related” (page 232). Some readers may legitimately object that his essay does not advance the debate but it is nonetheless a useful reminder of the component parts of the issues involved.

Salim Rashid’s essay is the most specialist of those relating to Christian perspectives. It considers the contribution of Anglican clergy to economic thought in the 18th century. It is probably because this subject might sound dry that Rashid and his co-editor decided not to place it first in the collection but it serves well as an illustration of the book’s primary thesis and, indeed, of Rashid’s contention that “Christianity is the backbone of European economic growth” (page 108).

Rashid particularly focuses on three Anglican clergymen: George Berkeley (whose economic insights included the observation that national debt can stabilise the entire monetary system), Jonathan Swift (who established what may have been the world’s first micro credit facility) and Josiah Tucker (who raged against the economic absurdity of 18th century mercantilism and, consequently, favoured US independence at a time when many feared that it would be economically disastrous).

The essays dealing with issues unconnected with Christianity are even more diverse. Bearing in mind the importance of China and Muslim countries in the world economy today, Karl Gerth’s essay “Consumerism in Contemporary China” and Faisal Kutty’s essay “Islamic Finance, Consumer Protection and Public Policy” are well worth reading. The former comprises an interesting description of the changing policies and attitudes (official and unofficial) to consumer goods over the past 70 years of Communist rule in China; the latter explains the theological issues underlying Islamic finance and discusses some of the issues that such finance faces. Each contains surprises for those unfamiliar with the relevant subject. For example, Gerth suggests that the Mao era promoted rather than quelled consumerism and Kutty gets beyond the common view that Islamic finance is solely about dressing up interest as something else.

Akeel Bilgrami’s essay is the most philosophical of the collection. It considers the relevance of Gandhi’s thinking to the apparent conflict between equality and liberty. Bilgrami suggests that Gandhi’s conception of individual liberty as a form of self-governance and his desire to make overcoming “alienation” the chief goal of politics and social life could provide the key to resolving this conflict. He analyses Locke’s concept of liberty and the “Tragedy of the Commons” and suggests that the pursuit of an un-alienated life undermines the former and renders the latter irrelevant, claiming that even to raise the question “would my efforts and contributions to the collective cultivation (or restraint from over-cultivation) be wasted if others don’t also contribute?” is already to be thoroughly alienated (page 69).

The bringing of an Indian perspective to a debate is interesting but Bilgrami’s style is dense in places and his thesis is ultimately unconvincing. Indeed, it is legitimate, if unpopular, to ask whether Gandhi’s economic thought was ultimately damaging to the alleviation of poverty in India.

The book’s final author, David Miller, addresses a radically different subject. His essay seeks to make the case for employers embracing faith in the workplace: being, as he puts it, “faith-friendly” rather than “faith-avoiding”, “faith-tolerant” or “faith-based”. Although Miller’s contribution is in places shallow and perhaps naïve, it contains a lot of worthwhile analysis and suggestions and deserves to be considered by employers. It may be that the current catchphrase “Bring your whole self to work” may make it easier than has historically been the case for those of strong faith to be open about this (and its consequences) even if their views may not be popular.

Overall, the essays more than adequately demonstrate the relevance of faith, and more broadly, a person’s world view, to finance and economics. Politicians and economists ignore this at their – and our – peril.

 

“Faith, Finance, and Economy” edited by Tanweer Akram and Salim Rashid was published in 2020 by Palgrave Macmillan (Springer Nature Switzerland) (ISBN-13:9783030387860). 232pp.


Richard Godden is a Lawyer and has been a Partner with Linklaters for over 30 years during which time he has advised on a wide range of transactions and issues in various parts of the world. 

Richard’s experience includes his time as Secretary at the UK Takeover Panel and a secondment to Linklaters’ Hong Kong office. He also served as Global Head of Client Sectors, responsible for Linklaters’ industry sector groups, and was a member of the Global Executive Committee.

Edward Carter: “The Biblical Entrepreneur’s Experience” by S Leigh Davis

Much of The Biblical Entrepreneur’s Experience comprises a rather simplistic and selective use of scripture to support a particular world-view, namely a North American free market system. As such, it could almost be categorised as espousing a prosperity gospel, in which correctly following biblical methods will necessarily bring success in business (see Chapter 2 for Davis’s “system”). The examples given in the book, of entrepreneurs such as Sarah Breedlove (Madam C.J. Walker), Strive Masiyiwa and Scott Harrison, tell this story in an often engaging way, but at times verge on a parody, which attempts to represent the complex riches of the Christian faith in an unreflective manner. One example is the song “The Hairdresser’s Ode to Madam C.J. Walker”, to the tune of “Onward, Christian Soldiers”, which the author cites approvingly (pages 72-73). The ‘mission’ of beautifying hair is conflated completely with the great Christian Commission in a manner that I found both disturbing and shallow.

Davis’s central metaphor, akin to a sermon illustration, is that of ‘bees and fleas’, and the author uses the bee/flea imagery to invite the reader into his world-view. BEEs (Biblical Experiential Entrepreneur) are good, and FLEAs (in-Flexible Learnt Entrepreneurial Antagonist) are bad. At the heart of Davis’s analysis is the proposition that “A BEE creates; a FLEA takes” (page 22). The book is peppered with “fun facts”, such as, “The honeybee has a heart!” (page 143), and side-bar notes, for example, “Strive – to devote serious effort or energy; to struggle in opposition” (page 115). Taken together, the above makes the overarching style of the book quite propositional and un-nuanced.

However, at times the book is also informative and every now and again I was pleased to find an interesting comment or statement that, I felt, contributed in a thoughtful way to a theological consideration of the subjects of enterprise and of entrepreneurial behaviour. For example, on the theme of entrepreneurial endeavour, Davis suggests: “It is to prepare the entrepreneur for the next life: a venture more fulfilling than its worldly counterparts” (page 5). This statement sketches out an idea which could be developed into some deep vocational thinking on the kingdom of heaven, and the place for enterprise within God’s enduring purposes. In another intriguing statement Davis comments: ‘…through grace we are given a great opportunity to provide others with a needed product or service to glorify Him – not ourselves” (page 11). Here, the themes of God’s grace, human need (not desire), and divine glory are all connected together under the umbrella of enterprise.

In Chapter 6 biblical examples are used to support the practice of “active listening”, as a way of harnessing God’s messages imparted through others, and Davis interestingly adds some thoughts about the challenges of fear and pride (pages 46-47). This “active listening” to others is to be set alongside the need for regular meditation on scripture (Chapter 15), not mere uncritical proof-texting, which appears elsewhere in the book. Separately, Chapter 10 plays with the “beehive” imagery and the way hexagons fit together perfectly, an illustration of how a project should work, a line of discussion that concludes with this communitarian statement: “…an individual cannot save the world; however a swarm of BEEs in each city can rebuild areas, then blocks of areas, followed quickly throughout a city. Multiple cities make up a country. Multiple countries make up a region. Multiple regions make up the world” (page 104).

A different book might have taken some of these statements and developed them by placing them alongside (and sometimes in tension with) the thinking set out by other authors who have considered the place for enterprise within the Christian world-view. The reader is left to do this work for themself. For example, the rich and in my mind helpful concept of the vocation of the entrepreneur, as proposed by Davis, could have been explored within a more general discussion on vocational calling, and specifically the nature of work within God’s providence.

In a way, the most inspiring section of this book for me was Section 6 (Chapters 16, 17 and 18), which describes empirical research about the distinctiveness of Christian-led and Christian-inspired businesses. Such enterprises typically have greater productivity, staff loyalty, and general outperformance. In this regard, I found the story of Walker Mowers engaging, not least the way in which the owners and directors of this business deliberately attempt to tell the story of the company within the bigger context of the story of salvation history (page 155). An enterprise is thus no longer a means to an end (profit), but is part of an over-arching narrative that embraces God’s purposes. This theme alone could have been developed into a major piece of thinking that I believe would be incredibly timely and helpful for business in today’s world.

In sum, this is a “popular” rather than “scholarly” book. It is, in the main, an easy read with occasional thought-provoking nuggets. With rather less “prosperity gospel” and rather more theological reflection on the important themes that are hinted at, it would have been much improved upon.

 

 

“The Biblical Entrepreneur’s Experience” by S Leigh Davis was published in 2021 by River Birch Press (ISBN-13: 9781951561802).  260pp.


Edward Carter is Vicar of St Peter Mancroft Church in Norwich, having previously been the Canon Theologian at Chelmsford Cathedral, a parish priest in Oxfordshire, a Minor Canon at St George’s Windsor and a curate in Norwich. Prior to ordination he worked for small companies and ran his own business.

He chairs the Church Investors Group, an ecumenical body that represents over £10bn of church money, and which engages with a wide range of publicly listed companies on ethical issues. His research interests include the theology of enterprise and of competition, and his hobbies include board-games, volleyball and film-making. He is married to Sarah and they have two adult sons.

 

 

Richard Godden: “The Wealth of Religions” by R. M. McCleary and R. J. Barro

The Wealth of Religions is an unusual book. It is subtitled, “The Political Economy of Believing and Belonging” and its authors, one an economist and the other a moral philosopher (who, as it happens, are married to one another), seek to present a multidisciplinary approach to issues at the interface between religion and economics. They say that they “are interested in the economic costs and benefits of holding certain religious beliefs and the influence of those beliefs on behavior” (page 4) and that their central approach “is the application of economic and political principles to the study of religions across countries and over time” (page 9).

The book is divided into two sections: the first looks at the interplay between religion and economic growth whilst the second deals with issues associated with the connection between religion and political economy. The first takes as its starting point Max Weber’s famous argument relating to the protestant work ethic, although the authors’ arguments are not by any means identical to those of Weber; the second is particularly indebted to what the authors regard as Adam Smith’s ingenuity in applying his market model to religious goods and services “as if they were analogous to brands of toothpaste” (page 106).

The book has severe limitations. It is based on short articles published over the past couple of decades and it fails to disguise this; despite only being a short book (172 pages), there is a significant amount of repetition and there is an element of miscellany about its contents, particularly in the second section. Some of the material is frustratingly general (e.g. the section relating to the impact of religion on economic growth) whilst some of it is so specific that it will not interest many readers (e.g. the 23 page chapter relating to beatifications and canonisations by the last three popes). The result is that the book lacks an overarching argument or sense of direction, and it is unlikely that many readers will be interested in all of it.

Nonetheless, the book addresses interesting and thought provoking questions and the diversity of its material has an upside: any reader who is interested in either the interaction between economics and religion or the way in which economic concepts may have an impact upon organised religion will find something engaging in it.

This mixture of the unsatisfactory and the engaging is exemplified by the second chapter, which explores how the economy and the regulatory system influence religion in society. John Wesley famously observed that, as people become richer, they become less devout and the authors wish to test this observation (the so-called “secularisation hypothesis”). Many readers will be impatient that it takes the authors 12 pages to come to what they will regard as a blindingly obvious conclusion: “we find a strong negative effect on all measures of religiosity from higher economic development” (page 28). However, the authors also discuss some less obvious issues and reach some interesting conclusions including, contrary to the views (and perhaps hopes) of some vociferous atheists, “there is no evidence in cross-country data that more years of education reduce religiosity” (page 31).

The third chapter (relating to the impact of religion upon economic growth) is likewise a mixture of the disappointingly superficial and the tantalisingly interesting. The Weber thesis is explained and various religious views of salvation surveyed in a mere eight pages, which include some highly contentious statements (e.g. the assertion that Calvin did not believe in the possibility of assurance of salvation, which is justified by a statement in his Institutes that is taken out of context and fails to notice that, in the very same section of the Institutes, Calvin states that faith is “a firm and sure knowledge of the divine favour toward us, founded on the truth of a free promising Christ, and revealed to our minds, and sealed on our hearts, by the Holy Spirit”). However, from this unpromising start, the authors go on to discuss their own analysis of detailed international data and come up with some interesting conclusions. For example, they show that this data suggests that belief in heaven and hell (and particularly the latter) is positively correlated to economic growth but belief in God or a general posture of being religious is not. Furthermore, for any given belief in hell, an increase in monthly church attendance appears to lead to a decline in economic growth and, to put the matter the other way up, for any given church attendance, an increase in belief in hell leads to an increase in economic growth. The authors also provide a brief survey of various pieces of academic research that suggest that the oft-repeated suggestions that the positive impact of Protestantism is either associated with “belonging” or to Protestantism’s promotion of human capital via education are misconceived.

Of course, Weber’s thesis related to the impact of Christianity and, specifically Protestantism, in Europe and any globally applicable theories relating to the impact of religion on economic growth (or vice versa) need to take account of the impact of other religions. The authors recognise this issue and, to some extent, seek to address it, particularly in chapter 4, which relates to Islam and economic growth. However, these parts of the book are again superficial. The entire sweep of Islamic economic history is dealt with in 10 pages and the authors fail to provide convincing evidence of the impact of Islam on the economy; other major religions are scarcely considered. The result is that a number of major questions of significant importance in the modern world are not addressed at all (e.g. the impact of Hinduism on the economic development of India).

More generally, the application of economic concepts to organised religion, whilst potentially thought provoking, is contentious and may even be offensive to some people. For example, one does not need to be a Roman Catholic to raise eyebrows at the statement that “our assessment is that the increased numbers and geographical spread of persons named as blessed and the targeting of popular ex-Popes are clever innovations aimed at raising the enthusiasm of Catholics” (page 154); and one does not need to be a Buddhist to feel somewhat uneasy when reading the title of chapter 6: “Religious Clubs, Terrorist Organisations, and Tibetan Buddhism”. Furthermore, many Christians will consider that the “supplier and consumer” model of religion presented by the authors is indicative of precisely what is wrong with much Christianity today rather than an indication of fundamental features of its success or failure.

That said, despite all of its inadequacies, and having regard to its relative brevity, The Wealth of Religions is worth reading and, having read it, some readers may well find that there is plenty to interest them in the bibliography, which reflects the cross disciplinary nature of the book itself.

 

“The Wealth of Religions” by Rachel M. McCleary and Robert J. Barro was published in 2019 by Princeton University Press (ISBN – 13:9780619217109). 172pp.


Richard Godden is a Lawyer and has been a Partner with Linklaters for over 25 years during which time he has advised on a wide range of transactions and issues in various parts of the world. 

Richard’s experience includes his time as Secretary at the UK Takeover Panel and a secondment to Linklaters’ Hong Kong office. He also served as Global Head of Client Sectors, responsible for Linklaters’ industry sector groups, and was a member of the Global Executive Committee.

 

 

Richard Godden: “Management as a Calling” by Andrew J. Hoffman

Management as a Calling is aimed primarily at business students but it has far wider relevance.  Andrew Hoffman says that he wants “to personally challenge every business student, every business executive, and every business school professor to think about the system in which students are beginning their careers and to push back when it is steering them away from their calling” (page 18).

Hoffman is the Professor of Sustainable Enterprise at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business. His basic thesis is simple: there is a crisis in capitalism of which the symptoms are income inequality and climate change; governments have a role to play in providing solutions to the relevant issues but the leading role has to be played by business since “if there are no solutions coming from business, there will be no solutions” (page 4); treating the sustainability challenges as mainstream business issues and fitting them into the market as it exists will not provide solutions; what is needed is not incremental change but a radical change of values and culture involving future business leaders being taught “to consider management as a calling – one that moves away from the simple pursuit of a career for private personal gain and toward a vocation that is based on a higher and more internally derived set of values about leading commerce and serving society” (page 5); and this requires that we should be turning “to religion and philosophy as a way to augment the market in making this shift” (page 116).

At times, the book loses its business focus and cannot seem to decide whether it is about business management or about the best way to build a political and societal consensus that permits the tackling of climate change. Nonetheless, Hoffman pursues his theme with evangelistic fervour, concluding with an alter call: “You, the next generation of business leaders, have been born into this reality, and you have no choice but to respond. You did not choose this reality but you must embrace it. The nobility of your lives will be determined by how you respond to the challenges you face” (page 138). This is an inspiring message but as a rule evangelists have weaknesses as well as strengths and Hoffman is no exception to the rule.

On the negative side, some of his attacks target Aunt Sallies. For example, he points to the growth in the Stock Market in recent years as evidence that share values are divorced from underlying economic reality and he dismisses Gross Domestic Product growth as a measure of wellbeing or even a reliable measure of economic success, but few would dispute these things and they do not assist in proving his case. On occasions he is also guilty of overstatement or misrepresentation. For example, his linking of the Wells Fargo, Volkswagen and Sackler scandals with Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” does grave injustice to the sophistication of Smith’s economics, let alone his moral philosophy. Conversely, when advocating change, Hoffman is on occasions guilty of dubious logic (the most egregious example of which is his twice stated assertion that “Our problems are manmade – therefore, they can be solved by man”, page 118). Furthermore, his discussion of issues relating to inequality is very brief and superficial. Indeed, no issue is covered in great detail, the book being only 138 pages long.

Hoffman’s vision of the future is both vague and, by his own admission, Utopian. He asserts that “perpetual growth is not possible and its continued pursuit is self destructive”, quoting with approval Naomi Klein’s statement that we have to “come face to face with the hard truth that the conveniences of modern consumer capitalism [are] steadily eroding the habitability of the planet” (page 33): he calls on us to be radical and attacks those who believe that the solution lies in technology, such as electric cars. However, his positive suggestions sound surprising incremental rather than revolutionary. They even include the use of electric cars and, despite quoting Naomi Klein’s challenge, he never discusses in detail what we have to give to up to deal with the problem that he perceives and how our living standards will change in consequence of this.

Having said that, there is much that is commendable and thought provoking in the book. Hoffman does not pretend that he has all the answers, recognises the fact that we do not currently have the infrastructure to be ecologically neutral and criticizes over simplistic debate; he notes that “social media outrage” increasingly drives social discourse and laments that the resulting behaviours and emotional perspectives “are not conducive to the kind of tempered, thorough, and compromise seeking discourse that democratic government needs in order to function well” (page 61); he recognises that part of the reason why the public ignores scientists is because there are some within the scientific community who hold the public in low regard and others “who subscribe to a view of scientism that elevates the natural scientists in relation to all other ways of knowing the world around us” (page 75); he is also cautious about the role of so-called “activist CEOs” and recognises the danger that theoretical accountability to everyone in practice means accountability no-one (i.e. the danger that the effect of weakening accountability to shareholders will be precisely the reverse of the effect that its proponents desire); and, most importantly, he calls for business thinking to encompass more than growing the bottom line without regard to the means or consequences of doing so.

Hoffman’s aim is not to set out a road map to Utopia or to some less desirable but at least sustainable future. Instead, he wants to add new dimensions to the business debate, change mindsets and provoke productive discussion, starting in the business schools. He aims, in this way, to generate new business models that “begin to coalesce around a composite model that brings the full scope of market transformation into greater clarity” (page 39).

Readers of Management as a Calling may well disagree with a number of Hoffman’s assertions, particularly one or two of the more left-leaning of these but few will doubt the need for business discourse to encompass fundamental values as well as ethics in a narrower sense. Unlike Socialism, Capitalism does not, or at least should not, claim to be an all embracing philosophical, social and economic system.  It needs to be supplemented by well thought through values. Despite its failings, Managing as a Calling is a valuable reassertion of this point and an important call to both existing and future business leaders to think more broadly about what they are seeking to achieve. It is well worth reading.

 

“Managing as a Calling – Leading Business Serving Society” by Andrew J. Hoffman, was published in 2021 by Stanford University Press (ISBN – 13:9781503614802). 138pp.


Richard Godden is a Lawyer and has been a Partner with Linklaters for over 25 years during which time he has advised on a wide range of transactions and issues in various parts of the world. 

Richard’s experience includes his time as Secretary at the UK Takeover Panel and a secondment to Linklaters’ Hong Kong office. He also served as Global Head of Client Sectors, responsible for Linklaters’ industry sector groups, and was a member of the Global Executive Committee.

 

 

 

 

Edward Carter: “Servant Leadership, Social Entrepreneurship and the Will to Serve” Eds. Luk Bouckaert & Steven C. van den Heuvel

This book is a collection of eighteen separate but thematically connected papers which were given at an international academic conference in Belgium in May 2018. The organising principle is an enquiry as to whether the ‘will to serve’ must always be ‘crowded out in the real economic arena of hard competition’ (page vi). The authors are very diverse, with global perspectives offered, although there is an inevitable impression at certain moments that one is eavesdropping on a room full of academics talking to one another and there is some repetition, notably when it comes to the description of what ‘servant leadership’ might be.

I found some of the papers stronger than others but I enjoyed reading all of them, and was left with ideas and questions about re-discovering a wider view of how businesses and companies operate within society. Originally the granting of ‘limited liability’ was seen as a privilege that brought responsibilities towards the community. Those responsibilities have at times been largely overlooked in the single-minded search for profit, which in turn has shaped the kind of leadership the corporate sector has embraced and this volume is a helpful contribution to a growing literature that urges a wider view of what makes for good leadership (whether described using ‘servant’ language or not), as well as a broader view of the very purpose of business and enterprise itself.

It is difficult to summarise such a diverse set of essays, and even the over-arching theme of servant leadership seemed not to be dominant. There are three sections: (1) Philosophical and Spiritual Foundations; (2) Social Entrepreneurship: Serving the Common Good; (3) Servant Leadership in the Context of Business. The general movement through the collection is from concepts to practice, although there is plenty of overlap.

 

Section 1 (Philosophical and Spiritual Foundations)

I found the most thought provoking of the seven essays in Section 1 to be Ipseistic Ethics Beyond Moralism: Rooting the “Will to Serve” in “The Reverence for Life” by Chris Doude van Troostwijk and The Dark Side of Servant Leadership: Power Abuse via Serving by Volker Kessler. 

Despite its title, the former is very readable. It uses Albert Schweitzer’s life-story as a vehicle for the author’s argument, which is an attempt to answer this question: ‘Is there a way that respects both the self-centered impetus of human life and the altruistic needs of life in general?’ (page 82) I was especially intrigued by the author’s appropriation of Darwin’s ‘survival of the fittest’ theme so as to re-evaluate ‘fit’ as a social idea – the cooperation needed for someone to be a ‘good fit’ within an organisation.

Volker Kessler’s paper contrasts strongly with the others, in that the author (a practitioner with his wife Martina) draws upon a data-base of stories to describe eight mechanisms of power abuse in Christian organisations. The main issues are those of inappropriate obligations and commitments, and a culture of dependency masked as being reciprocity. This sentence stood out for me: ‘Many of the misuses listed… could be avoided if leaders would not call themselves servants.’ (page 119) Every Christian leader would benefit from reading and reflecting on this article.

Several of the other essays are also interesting. Two take a Christian perspective: Patrick Nullens’ paper (The Will to Serve: An Anthropological and Spiritual Foundation for Leadership) looks at the moral aspects of servant leadership, and makes theological links to Christian love and Christ the servant/slave. Nullens raises human fallenness, and therefore the need also for justice – a wider concept linked to the common good; and Heiko Wenzel’s essay (Reading Exodus 18 and Robert Greenleaf) refers to Exodus 18 (Moses’ leadership) as a way of exploring the differences between hierarchical leadership and a ‘first among equals’ model. Issues of organisational culture and participation, and how they are shaped, are considered. In contrast, in Simone Weil and a Critical Will to Serve Michael J. Thate draws on Simone Weil’s thought, in which the theme of ‘creative attention’ is prominent – this being attention towards the world, and a kind of ethical awareness that avoids rigidity.

The other two essays in Section 1 are disappointing. First, Servant Leadership Beyond Servant and Leader: A Buddhist Perspective on the Theory and Practice of Servant Leadership by Ernest C. H. Ng sketches out a model called ‘Interdependent Leadership’. This suggests that changes can be delivered only when confronting thoughts are transcended and any place for opposites or ‘contest’ is removed, but I struggled with understanding how this analysis might become a practical tool.  Secondly, Christianity and Servant Leadership by Peirong Lin among other things considers the concept of the ‘leadership moment’ (page 124), and the need to hold leader, follower, purpose and context together. I liked the phrase, ‘Normal things have parable character’ (page 135), borrowed from Dutch priest and professor Tjeu van Knippenberg, but overall this article felt fairly general to me.

 

Section 2 (Social Entrepreneurship: Serving the Common Good)

All six essays in Section 2 provoke thought, especially for Christians. The section opens with Emilio Di Somma pushing back against the Milton Friedman version of economics, and seeking to find a place for power-relations, politics, and human dignity within the discussion (Protecting the Weak and Creating Community). Serving is therefore mainly characterised as relinquishing power, and the example of Adriano Olivetti as an exemplary and socially responsible entrepreneur is used. I found myself arriving at the interesting conclusion that ‘making things well’ might be more important than making a profit, although the two are of course not mutually exclusive.

Foundations for Social Entrepreneurship: An Integrative Indian Perspective by Sharda S. Nandram, Puneet K. Bindlish, Harsh Purohit, Ankur Joshi, & Priti Hingorani explores the idea that entrepreneurs might be drawn towards social entrepreneurial activities because of themes lying within Indian philosophy. There is some methodology and interpretation, although I was left wanting more of this. The most interesting concept is that of the ‘public domain’, and why some entrepreneurs seem willing to gift their ideas and creativity to the world, for example Tim Berners-Lee and the world wide web.

Workplace Spirituality in Social Entrepreneurship: Motivation for Serving in the Common Good by Natasha Gjorevska describes ‘spiritual entrepreneurs’ as a category, and explores a complementary relationship between the concepts of social enterprise and workplace spiritual leadership. ‘Spiritual’ here is not necessarily ‘religious’, but embraces themes such as ‘meaningful work’, ‘purpose’, and a ‘sense of community’. However, there are plenty of resonances with Christian thinking about vocation, and the common good.

Mindful Servant Leadership for B-Corps by Kevin Jackson provides some helpful (for me) background information about B-Corps, which are essentially public benefit companies that also exhibit non-instrumental motivations: ‘…ethics for their own sake…’ (p.213). The other main strand within this paper concerns ‘mindfulness’, which keeps a leader’s view wide, and therefore overlaps with the bigger societal purposes of a B-Corp. I translated this for myself into a Christian understanding of prayerfulness, and the big-picture view of creation, and new creation in Christ. With a bit of interpretation this article would be of interest to Christian business leaders and entrepreneurs as they look to the wider purposes of their organisation.

In The Religious Leader as Social Entrepreneur, Jack Barentsen begins by raising the concern that an apparently ‘servant’ religious leader might only or mainly be motivated by the need to proselytise. However, the argument is put that this is usually not the case, and that a broader view of the common good is in mind. One specific example is peacebuilding. Barentsen notes the well-known fact that people of faith are much more likely to volunteer (‘serve’), and therefore contribute to social capital, and he has a useful section, albeit descriptive rather than analytical, on religious leaders as entrepreneurs. I liked his final question asking, are religious leaders helped and trained to be social entrepreneurs, or common-good-builders. My sense is that in the church I belong to the answer is, ‘No’.

Serving the Poor: The Case of the EoC Enterprise ‘Mercurio Net’ by Mara Del Baldo & Maria-Gabriella Baldarelli is very different from the other essays. EoC stands for ‘Economy of Communion’, which is a network of companies initiated in Brazil in 1991 by Chiara Lubich, and which connects to the Roman Catholic Focolare Movement. Lubich’s vision was based on reducing poverty and the need for a broad understanding of happiness and ‘human flowering’. (page 256) She wanted to see a new generation of companies producing wealth on behalf of those in poverty by providing good work. The authors tell us that there are now almost 1,000 EoC firms around the world. I knew none of this, and was grateful to learn, as well as being reminded that the place for servant leadership is critical when it comes to an attentiveness to the poor.

 

Section 3 (Servant Leadership in the Context of Business)

The third section of the book begins with Jakob Willem (Pim) Boven’s observation (with which I agree) that a theory of leadership (entrepreneurship) is very under-represented in the standard neo-classical economic theories (Servant Leadership in Market-Oriented Organizations, Does that Make Sense? An Evaluation from an Economic-Organization Theory Perspective). The author therefore suggests that we need to take seriously the institutional reality of the company, and he points us to the growing body of research into Organizational Economics. His main point is that there are resonances between Organizational Economics and the theme of ‘Servant Leadership’.

The next two essays in this final section seek to learn from specific situations. The first, The Importance of Calling in Realization of Life Projects: The Case of Maverick and Serial-entrepreneur Hans Nielsen Hauge with Implications for Business Education by Knut Ims, Truls Liland, & Magne Supphellen is the more analytical.  It is essentially a very interesting case study of Hans Nielsen Hauge (1771-1824), who was an influential entrepreneur in Norway – a preacher and businessman whose impact is still felt today. I did not know his story before reading this article, and found it inspiring. Of note for me was the feudal context out of which Hauge sprang, and which he implicitly challenged, as was the link between the spiritual experience of his ‘call’ (described on page 313) and his practical entrepreneurship. The authors point to these key ingredients in Hauge’s life: self-determination (an intrinsic motivation); meaning; persistence. These combine to give prominence to a holistic view of life, rather than life as a series of attempts to optimise choices. This rallying cry towards the end of the paper seemed powerful and important to me: ‘We need a type of business education and business training, which assists students in defining life goals and life projects.’ (page 325).

Rethinking Fashion Retail: The Case of MrSale by Gabor Kovacs takes the form of a qualitative mini research project focused on a small private company called MrSale, which was founded in Budapest in 2000. Kovacs is seeking evidence about the source of genuine ethical commitment in business. The answer is to do with the motivations of serving society and contributing to social well-being, with a link to meditation and Buddhism. The often-observed benefits of an ethically run business are, in this case, seen to be those of satisfied employees, increased innovation, higher levels of trust with suppliers, growth, and ultimately profits. Case studies are always engaging, but I was hoping for more critical comment and interpretation.

The final two essays consider the thinking of two very different people: Aldous Huxley, who was famously the author of Brave New World in 1932, which took a pessimistic view of the rise of science and a mechanised economy; and John Wesley the prophetic teacher and preacher, who created a large-scale business and who had links to the world of commerce and trade.

In Aldous Huxley’s Anarchist Entrepreneurship Based on Spiritual Capital, Gerrit De Vylder plays Huxley’s fiction off against the theme of servant leadership – a creative endeavour which yields surprisingly rich results. The idea which most caught my eye was the value ascribed to localism and the link to the ‘small is beautiful’ economics of E.F. Schumacher. This paper, and indeed the entire book, pre-dates the covid-19 pandemic, but I wondered if the new post-pandemic desire to build more resilient supply chains and to reduce dependence on global trade routes might have added to the discussion.

In the final chapter of the collection (John Wesley: Prophet and Entrepreneur), Clive Murray Norris gives a concise description of John Wesley’s ministry and observes that Wesley’s prophetic voice had a dual focus: personal spiritual renewal, and the need to address the problems and injustices faced by society. This in turn meant that Wesley avoided the trap of a ‘prosperity gospel’, and instead demonstrated a strong sense of stewardship and the fruitfulness of good works in a broad, societal sense. My knowledge of John Wesley’s activities was improved by reading this paper, and the conclusion, with four points for reflection aimed at today’s social entrepreneurs, made for a fine ending to the entire book. Summarised, these are: (i) the need for a holistic view of humanity’s spiritual and physical needs; (ii) the desirability of borrowing ideas from others, accepting that not every idea will work, and focusing on practical action; (iii) the importance of having friends and partners across the community, both rich and poor; and (iv) the imperative that all share a common purpose, that all are welcome, that anything is possible, and that action must start now.

 

“Servant Leadership, Social Entrepreneurship and the Will to Serve – Spiritual Foundations and Business Applications”, edited by Luk Bouckaert and Steven C. van den Heuvel, was published in 2019 by Palgrave Macmillan (ISBN-13: 9783030299385). 394pp.


Edward Carter is Vicar of St Peter Mancroft Church in Norwich, having previously been the Canon Theologian at Chelmsford Cathedral, a parish priest in Oxfordshire, a Minor Canon at St George’s Windsor and a curate in Norwich. Prior to ordination he worked for small companies and ran his own business.

He chairs the Church Investors Group, an ecumenical body that represents over £10bn of church money, and which engages with a wide range of publicly listed companies on ethical issues. His research interests include the theology of enterprise and of competition, and his hobbies include board-games, volleyball and film-making. He is married to Sarah and they have two adult sons.

 

 

 

Richard Godden: “Christianity and the New Spirit of Capitalism” by Kathryn Tanner

 

Christianity and the New Spirit of Capitalism is, in one sense, inspired by Max Weber’s famous suggestion that Protestant Christian beliefs gave rise to a work ethic that provided the foundation of modern capitalism. Weber believed that the Protestant ethic produced what he called the “Spirit of Capitalism” and Kathryn Tanner agrees that “religious beliefs (Christian beliefs specifically) have the capacity to provide powerful psychological sanctions for economic behavior” (page 4). She also adopts the concept of the “Spirit of Capitalism” but her aim is far removed from that of Weber: she seeks “to show how Christian beliefs … might undermine rather than support the new spirit of capitalism” (page 7).

Tanner’s thesis is that capitalism is now finance-dominated and has cultural commitments that are at odds with Christianity. She thus wants “to provide a Protestant anti-work ethic” (page 30). With this objective in mind, each chapter of her book (other than the first) comprises a description of an aspect of what Tanner considers to be the spirit of “finance-dominated capitalism” followed by a contrasting description of what she considers to be the relevant Christian philosophy. She concludes by expressing the hope that she has “shown the coherence of a whole new world to be entertained as an imaginative counter to the whole world of capitalism as it presently exists” (page 219).

A number of Tanner’s criticisms of the extremes of some forms of capitalism would be widely accepted. For example, she criticises the demand for total commitment to paid work that leaves no time for reflection, the maximising of profit at the expense of everything else, the regarding of people as mere economic property, short termism in management and the devastating social consequences of personal debt among the poor. Furthermore, many Christians and other theists will agree with her starting point in relation to commitment, identity and value: “Commitment to God and the conversion that brings it about interfere with total commitment to anything else, thereby limiting the degree to which I could ever be completely personally invested in a company’s aims” (page 86); “the tasks one undertakes at work cannot be taken to exhaust one’s identity – and should not be pursued in any all-consuming fashion that would suggest as much” (page 98); and “What matters in the end is one’s relation with God, one’s value in God’s eyes and not one’s relative worth measured against others” (page 204). Put simply, capitalism cannot be accepted as an all embracing world view.

That said, however, Tanner’s thesis does not hold together. She states that her accounts of finance-dominated capitalism and its spirit “are offered as ideal types in a Weberian sense of that phrase: that is, they are analytical constructs that accentuate certain aspects of the messy reality of the current economic and cultural scene and show how they might be brought together into relationships with an internal consistency” (page 10). However, what she offers is a muddled caricature.

She fails to distinguish between situations that are fundamentally different: comments that could only relate to investment banks are mixed in with comments that appear to relate to industrial companies without the distinction being acknowledged; she fails to distinguish between the activities and motives of market-makers and other dealers, those of corporate users of the financial markets and those of long-term investors; and comments relating to people fail to identify the exact groups to which they relate, with the result that the problems faced by professionals, other white collar workers, skilled and unskilled workers are jumbled together as though they represented problems common to the mass of humanity exposed to modern capitalism.

Many of Tanner’s statements are absurdly extreme. She makes modern corporations sound like Maoist states, commenting that “Workers themselves are to want nothing more than what corporations ask of them; their own desires are to be brought into complete compliance with finance-dominated corporate interests” (page 64) and “Workers are to be encouraged to want for themselves what the company wants from them” (page 70). It seems that corporations can do nothing right in her eyes: she laments the pushing down of responsibility for decision making, continual assessment, the use of relative rather than absolute measures of performance, the need for workers to perform increasingly complex tasks and even multi-skilling!

Her criticisms of the financial markets are similarly exaggerated. She recognises that derivatives may be a form of insurance and, on occasions, makes comments that suggest that she may have an inkling that the reality is more complex than her thesis suggests. However, she spends many pages asserting, essentially, that the financial markets are divorced from underlying economic reality and that they offer “promises of a defanged future” that “turn out to be spurious” (page 156).

Tanner is also critical of governments suggesting that they too have become finance-dominated and are reneging on “previously accepted obligations to guarantee the welfare of the population, through medical or unemployment benefits, for instance” (page 22). However, the bogeymen in relation to this are clear: she says that “government policy can easily be taken hostage by foreign investors and the increasingly few rich among its own citizens with the ability to make significant purchases of government bonds” (page 23). Absurdly, she asserts that “Only efficiently run governments, which means governments run like finance-dominated corporations so as to cut costs to the bone, are deemed credit-worthy on the open market” (page 48). If this were true then the majority of governments around the world would find it impossible to secure finance!

Many Christians will take issue with Tanner’s theology. Some aspects of this are peripheral to her thesis. However, her theology of work is central to that thesis and is highly contentious. She asserts that “there is surprisingly little reason to think Christianity has a direct interest in developing a work ethic at all” (page 198) and she rejects the idea of secular vocation (i.e. the view that “one can serve God directly in economic pursuits because those are thought to be themselves divine vocations, part of God’s specific plans for one’s life”, page 200). Unfortunately, once again, she caricatures the view that she is criticising and never engages properly with the arguments in its favour. She asserts that “The problem with direct assignment of religious value to economic pursuits is that it provides religious sanction for whatever form of employment society happens to saddle one with, no matter how limiting or degrading” (page 201), which is blatantly untrue of most forms of the Protestant work ethic. She then justifies her “anti-work ethic” on the basis that one’s individual worth comes from God and not from comparison with other people, which is true but beside the point.

She never engages with the statements of Jesus and St. Paul and other biblical writers that appear to ascribe real value to secular work (e.g. “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not human masters”, Colossians 3:23, NIV). She also asserts that “God…does not create and save people for the sake of some objective they are tasked with pursuing” (page 206) without engaging properly with parts of the Bible that appear to assert that part of the objective of creation and redemption is productive work. She says that “there was no need for extreme effort in Eden before the disordering of the world as God intended it” (page 207) and appears to believe that she has thereby demonstrated that those who appeal to the Genesis account in support of the Protestant work ethic are wrong. However, the inclusion of the word “extreme” results in her attacking an Aunt Sally. She does not deal with the fact that the Bible indicates that, prior to the Fall, God intended people to work (Genesis 2:16) or the fact that we live in a fallen world.

Even those who accept Tanner’s basic thesis are likely to find the book unsatisfactory since it lacks suggestions as to what Christians should do about the mismatch between the spirit of modern capitalism and that of Christianity. Bizarrely, the only specific practical suggestion in the whole book is that employers should make “no-interest advances on worker’s paychecks in a routine fashion … rather than leaving them with high-interest payday loans as their only option” (page 128), a suggestion that misses the point that such advances would simply bring forward the monthly payday without solving the financial problems of employees that result in the recourse to payday debt.

Tanner may object that her purpose is merely to encourage Christians (and, perhaps, others) to adopt an ethic that it is at odds with what she perceives to be the spirit of modern capitalism. She says that she is suggesting “that the financial approach to the future is part of the present world to be left behind, a world to be repudiated in all the very basic ways it counsels people to relate to themselves and others, in favour of a whole new world to come that will be as different from this world as possible” (page 166). This is fine sounding but it is hard to see how it will help anyone decide how to behave in relation to their everyday work. If one accepts her rejection of the view that secular work can be a calling, one has to determine the role that it should play in one’s life and the relationship between it and other aspects of life.  Furthermore, if one wishes to have an influence on companies and governments, then one needs to have some specific policy suggestions to offer.

Those looking for help in relation to these things would be better off reading some of the other books reviewed in the section of this website entitled “The Business World” (see, in particular, those mentioned under “The Purpose of Business”).

 

“Christianity and the New Spirit of Capitalism” by Kathryn Tanner was published in 2019 by Yale University Press (ISBN 9780300219036). 219pp, plus notes.

 


Richard Godden is a Lawyer and has been a Partner with Linklaters for over 25 years during which time he has advised on a wide range of transactions and issues in various parts of the world. 

Richard’s experience includes his time as Secretary at the UK Takeover Panel and a secondment to Linklaters’ Hong Kong office. He also served as Global Head of Client Sectors, responsible for Linklaters’ industry sector groups, and was a member of the Global Executive Committee.

Andrei Rogobete: “The Gospel at Work” by Sebastian Traeger & Greg Gilbert

 

“The Gospel at Work” by Sebastian Traeger & Greg Gilbert is a relatively recent addition (published 2018) to the cohort of literature that aims to focus on faith within the workplace. This is a topic that likely stirs interest from secular and religious audiences alike. What role does a person’s faith have at work? How should work be understood by Christians? How can we develop a biblical understanding of work? These are just a few of the main questions addressed in the book.

The authors bring together relevant and varied knowledge on the issue. Sebastian Traeger is a former technology entrepreneur and current Vice President of the International Mission Board for the Southern Baptist Convention. Greg Gilbert is the author of several books and currently serves as the senior pastor of Third Avenue Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky.

The central message or ‘thesis’ of the book is that, regardless of your job, you are ultimately working it for God, “Who you work for is more important than what you do” (page 17). This is, as the book points out, contrary to what “the world” considers successful and important.

The premise is based on the words of the apostle Paul in Ephesians 6:7 where he calls to Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people”. Yet the focus is not just on the action itself, but also the attitude of heart. In Colossians 3:22 Paul calls people to work with “…sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord” (page 16).

“The Gospel at Work” is devised into eleven main chapters and here we will touch upon some of the main points that arise.

Chapters I and II start with a dichotomy that sets the tone for the rest of the book: “The Idolatry of Work” versus “Idleness in Work” (pages 13 & 23). Traeger and Gilbert capture well the two extremes that many Christians risk falling into: making work their idol on one end, or rejecting it as anathema to God’s purpose for their lives on the other end.

There is nothing wrong with ambition or determination in our careers. However, the authors rightly point out that “trouble starts when our pursuit of enjoyment or influence or status in our work begins to make our work the source of ultimate satisfaction or meaning for us” (page 25).

Equally damaging on the other end of the spectrum is ‘idleness’ at work. Idleness here does not necessarily mean to be idle per se (while others provide for you), but rather a more subtle expression “that has less to do with productivity of our hands and everything to do with the motives and desires of our hearts” (page 35).

Chapters III to V take the discussion further and develop guidance on issues such as the gospel in work, God’s purpose for us, and choosing a job or career path. An interesting point is made on the correct order of priorities when making career choices expressed in the form of a pyramid. God sits at the foundation, serving others is in the middle, and loving the ‘self’ is the tip of the pyramid coming third (page 75). The book recognises that in reality, these priorities are often reversed: the self comes first, pleasing others is second, and serving God is third (page 79). The authors propose that as a remedy Christians must keep the right perspective: work is temporary, God is eternal (page 81).

Chapters VI to VIII continue with practical applications such as balancing work with faith and family, managing work relationships, and what it means to be a ‘Christian boss’. A useful discussion can be found on the nature of competitiveness in the workplace where the authors (rightly) argue that, “It’s not competition the Bible forbids, but rather the world’s playbook for competition. […] Win by running faster not by tripping all your competitors” (page 106).

The final chapters IX to XI take a more outward look and consider topics such as sharing the gospel in a secular space, the value of full-time ministry, calling, and defining success. On the latter the book makes the point in not defining ‘success’ by what the world considers ‘success’ but rather in the ability to one day stand before Jesus and say “Lord, where you deployed me, I served well. I gave it my all. I worked at it with all my heart because I was working for you, not for human masters” (page 158).

In concluding, “The Gospel at Work” is an excellent resource for anyone interested in the topic of faith within the workplace. It combines practice and theory well, using clear examples and principles that are backed by scripture. One point of contention could be that the authors write with great certainty. On one level this is perhaps not bad thing but on another it does, at times, make the book read like a ‘self-help’ piece of literature – one that was made to hit bestselling charts. Problem A is solved by doing X, Y, Z. I am sure, however, that this was not the author’s intent.

It is perhaps more of an observation than a direct critique. Yet one cannot help but feel that God’s “…ways are above [our] ways…” (Isaiah 55:9). There is an element of God’s mystery in life that often cannot be solved by simply following a clear set of instructions (good and correct though they may be). This perhaps an aspect that could have been developed more in the book. Nonetheless, it is a recommended read for anyone with an interest in the subject.

 

“The Gospel at Work” by Sebastian Traeger & Greg Gilbert was published in 2018 by Zondervan, 160pp.


Andrei E. Rogobete is the Associate Director of  the Centre for Enterprise, Markets & Ethics. For more information about Andrei please click here.

 

 

 

 

 

Richard Godden: “Global Poverty: A Theological Guide” by Justin Thacker

 

Dr Justin Thacker describes Global Poverty: A Theological Guide as “In essence … a systematic theology of global poverty” (page 2). He explains that, in terms of the public apologetic content of the book, he has two primary aims: first, to issue a “plea for a reformed capitalism” and, secondly, to suggest “on theological grounds” that aid is not a long-term solution and should rather be viewed as “an essential but temporary measure” (page 4). He states that global poverty is complex and that there are no quick fixes and, in the course of a wide ranging discussion of theological, ethical and economic issues, he endeavours to draw out the implications of the big themes of the Bible, critique the views of other writers, analyse different approaches to development and comment on practical matters. The result is a book that is deeper and more conceptual than many Christian books on poverty. Unfortunately, however, it does not live up to its promise.

The book is arranged around the Biblical themes of creation, fall, Israel and redemption (the inclusion of Israel reflecting Thacker’s adoption of Christopher Wright’s view of the paradigmatic role of ancient Israel and the Old Testament law). In relation to each of these, Thacker seeks to draw out the implications in relation to poverty and our response to it of core Biblical truths.

There is much in the theological analysis that is well founded and helpful but there is also much that is highly contentious. Some of the contentious statements are of little importance (e.g. the statement that the purpose of the Jubilee regulations in the Old Testament “is that the nation might be a holistic blessing to all the nations”, page 116) and some, while of greater theological importance, are not fundamental to Thacker’s argument (e.g. his adoption of the Christus Victor model of atonement, page 148). Others, however, are both important and fundamental (e.g. the statements that “spiritual liberation is one of the fruits of political liberation”, page 109, and that “perhaps sin is not an individual concept at all”, page 56). It is hard to see how such statements can be squared with the Bible. Indeed it is hard to square them with other things that Thacker says (e.g. his critique of liberation theology). The result is that the theological underpinning of his conclusions is shaky.

Thacker’s statements relating to economic issues are also confused. He accepts things that are often ignored by those in Church circles: he recognises that “this side of the new heaven and new earth, there is no perfect and just political and economic system” (page 180), the inherent dignity of work (page 25) and the fact that corruption has a devastating impact on many low income countries (page 89); he acknowledges that inequalities between countries are decreasing and that this decrease is not as a result of the giving of aid (page 240); and he warns against “a victim mentality that denies agency” (page 167). Yet he refers to “systemic issues that keep the poor, poor” (page 65), he appears to believe that the poverty in low income countries is linked to the consumer lifestyles of high income countries (page 83), he asserts that “The core, wealthier nations are not accidentally wealthy but wealthy precisely because the peripheral nations are poor” (page 165) and he devotes considerable space to the alleged impact of “the colonial legacy” (e.g. “at least part of the reason Britain is wealthy today is because we stole from India during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries”, page 70, and “we enjoy the fruits of … slavery”, page 80). Hence, he comments “I wonder if Cynthia Moe-Lobeda actually speaks the truth when she says, ‘when I donate money to an agency working in Mozambique, dare I consider a gift what is frankly stolen goods?’” (page 76). It is hard to reconcile all these statements. Indeed, one gets the impression that Thacker has found himself compelled to accept some important economic truths yet cannot bring himself to accept their implications.

Despite Thacker’s acknowledgement of the complexity of his subject, much of his analysis is simplistic. He often asserts a particular view without adequately analysing the arguments for and against it, his comments relating to price controls being an obvious example of this (page 119). He also falls into the common trap of leaving people feeling guilty about their behaviour (e.g. for what they buy) on the basis of statements that fail to recognise the complexity of the situation or provide a practical and problem free alternative.

Thacker wants to present his analysis as a via media but it ends up well to the left of centre. He appears to have bought a lot of Thomas Piketty’s analysis and might do well to consider the fact that even left-leaning economists doubt much of what Piketty has said (see After Piketty, which is reviewed on this website). Conversely, he caricatures free market approaches, criticising extreme statements that few Christians would seriously believe (e.g. the suggestions that “individuals sin within a basic structure that is righteous”, page 62, and that it doesn’t matter that we engage in morally questionable behaviour since avoiding it “will make no difference because everyone else is engaging in it anyway”, page 103). He also appears to believe that the only Christian free market approach on offer is that advocated by Wayne Grudem and Barry Asmus in The Poverty of Nations, which he attacks obsessively throughout the book. As the review of The Poverty of Nations on this website makes clear, it is a flawed book and a number (but certainly not all) of Thacker’s criticisms of the views expressed in it are well deserved. However, attacking Grudem and Asmus, does not dispose of the arguments in favour of a free market approach and against some of the things that Thacker advocates.

It is one of his attacks that reveals most clearly Thacker’s defective economics. He summarily dismisses Grudem and Asmus’ view that enlarging a nation’s overall gross domestic product is ultimately the only way of eliminating poverty (page 120) and, later in the book, baldly asserts that “continual economic growth is simply not a sustainable solution for the whole planet; it is only a solution for the rich minority” (page 245). He presumably believes the earth’s resources to be limited and the environmental costs of their use to be unacceptable. What he appears not to have considered is the possibility that human ingenuity (and in particular, scientific and technological advances) will release more resources and satisfactorily mitigate the environmental costs of their use. To recognise this, one only needs to imagine the impact that the harnessing of nuclear fusion would have.

Of course, Thacker is right that there is much more to human flourishing than can be provided by economic growth but, as the past 200 years demonstrate, economic growth is an engine that drives, even a precondition for, many desirable human outcomes.

The above litany of criticisms may give the impression that there is nothing good about Global Poverty but this is not the case. It contains some worthwhile analysis of various issues, such as paternalism, the concept of a moral obligation existing when no moral responsibility for a particular situation exists and the manifestation of sin in societal structures. The final third of the book is also better argued and more insightful than what proceeds it.

Thacker’s critique of secular and theological theories of development is particularly worth reading. It includes a discussion of the theologies of Christian Aid and Tearfund, two high profile UK based Christian aid agencies. Thacker commends the practical work of both of them and has included them among the charities to which he is generously donating the royalties from his book. However, whilst he rightly commends the theological grounding of Tearfund, he is (again rightly) highly critical of that of Christian Aid. It is thus unsurprising that it is the Global Advocacy and Influencing Director of Tearfund, Ruth Valerio, who is quoted on Global Poverty’s cover, saying “This is a superb book and I encourage you to read it”.

It would be nice to be able to agree with Valerio or, at least, to say that the stronger parts of the book outweigh its defects. Sadly, however, this is not the case, those wishing to consider an economically and theologically sound approach to poverty would be well advised to look elsewhere, perhaps starting with some of the other books reviewed on this website.

 

“Global Poverty: A Theological Guide” by Justin Thacker, was published in 2017 by SCM Press (ISBN 978 0 334 05515 0). 257pp.


Richard Godden is a Lawyer and has been a Partner with Linklaters for over 25 years during which time he has advised on a wide range of transactions and issues in various parts of the world. 

Richard’s experience includes his time as Secretary at the UK Takeover Panel and a secondment to Linklaters’ Hong Kong office. He also served as Global Head of Client Sectors, responsible for Linklaters’ industry sector groups, and was a member of the Global Executive Committee.

 

 

Edward Carter: “Theology for Changing Times”, edited by Chris Baker & Elaine Graham

 

Theology for Changing Times is a diverse collection of essays by different authors, all responding to a greater or lesser extent to the work of John Atherton, who died in 2016. Atherton was one of the leading practitioners of his generation when it came to Anglican ‘public theology’, part of a tradition that included William Temple and Ronald Preston, and is now represented by Malcolm Brown and others.

It is rather a piece-meal book and, for me, it did not really in the end describe a coherent or systematic Anglican method for doing public theology, or for engaging theologically with themes such as the economy and enterprise – perhaps this is impossible or even undesirable. However, it conveys in a hopeful and optimistic way the challenge of the task, and illustrates convincingly the kinds of ways in which the Church (perhaps especially the Church of England) might continue to engage in this ministry. Taken as a whole, it captures well the importance of the Anglican “public theology” tradition, as well as the sense that the Church of England increasingly has other preoccupations, perhaps more focused on the perceived need to attend to internal, rather than ‘public square’, matters. It also contains a good number of valuable nuggets.

There are twelve chapters, the first and last being provided by the editors, Christopher Baker and Elaine Graham, in traditional festschrift style. These set out a clear description of Atherton’s programme, using summary statements such as this 1992 description of Christian social thought: ‘A dynamic interaction between the understanding of God’s purposes mediated through Christian tradition, but equally through the secular realities of life’ (page 7). Such an approach allows for collaboration with people of all faiths and none, and sketches out a ‘big picture’ way of doing public theology which takes seriously inter-disciplinary studies. Atherton was deeply familiar with the study of economics, history and politics, as well as theology.

For those interested in the work of the Centre for Enterprise, Markets and Ethics, the section in Chapter One on the Morality of the Market (pages 10-14) will be of particular interest. This covers themes such as human flourishing, the problem of scarcity, the role for the market, questions of interconnection and integration, as well as Atherton’s attempt to use the language of transfiguration when it comes to describing Christianity’s potential effect on the market. Although Atherton strained some of his personal friendships with his increasingly broadly sympathetic stance towards the market economy, I found myself wondering at one or two points whether he was really willing to work with the raw competitive power within it. In more general terms, the well-made point in the Chapter Twelve ‘Afterword’, that the Holy Spirit is bigger than the Church, even while the Church is a necessary part of the picture, serves as a kind of framework or backdrop for the entire Athertonian approach.

Chapter Two is a revised version of an Atherton article published in Sweden in 2017, being one of the last things he wrote. It contains some fascinating economic history, and espouses a desire to develop a theological methodology that can be fit for purpose in the face of ever-increasing economic change. I was struck by how ‘secular’ this chapter was; the themes of change and progress were presented through the lens of economic history, which raised questions for me about other ways of describing growth and ‘pilgrim’s progress’, which seemed to be missing.

Chapter Three, by Hilary Russell, offers a warm appreciation of Atherton’s method and how it evolved over time. Complementing this is Peter Sedgwick’s piece (Chapter Four) on the ‘Manchester School’ of public theology, which involves the University, the Cathedral, and the William Temple Foundation. John Atherton embodied all of these aspects, and without him this ‘School’, or ‘story and a place’ (page 57) as Sedgwick prefers, might not have gained such prominence. Of interest here are the attacks on the ‘Manchester School’ approach by theologians such as the late John Hughes, springing out of the Hauerwas tradition which places more emphasis on ecclesial ethics.

Chapter Five, by Carl-Henric Grenholm (Atherton had strong links to academia in Sweden), addresses the question of globalization. It was pleasing to find Brian Griffiths, the Chairman of the CEME, mentioned as part of the discussion. Then Chapter Six, by Malcolm Brown, turns to the subject of Industrial Mission. Brown always writes clearly and engagingly, and his survey of the history of Industrial Mission in England is informative and set well within the bigger context of theological shifts.

Chapter Seven, from Ian Steedman, comes from a rather different perspective. Steedman is an economist, and as such is happy to argue for a place for efficiency – and to suggest that Atherton could accept this. However, the heart of Steedman’s discussion focuses on the role of advertising, and the way in which ‘wants’ are generated in the economy. I feel sure Steedman’s themes could be productively engaged with in a more theological way, exploring the place for persuasion and education within human interactions and the forming of societal norms.

In Chapter Eight, John Reader makes an attempt at wrestling with the consequences of the digital revolution, which he describes as ‘blurring the boundaries between the physical, digital and biological spheres.’ (page 110) I was pleased to find a section of this kind in the book, as otherwise it might have felt slightly behind the curve in terms of the impact of social media and other recent developments. Reader’s best elucidated comments connect to the significance of speed in economic life, and the loss of space for critical reflection and even silence.

William Storrar, in Chapter Nine, addresses the current ‘angry’ nature of public discourse. I learnt a great deal about Kant and his theories of ‘publicity’ and ‘transition’, by which a steady but slow formation of opinion and of the public view can come about. The need for a richer and more nuanced political discourse is argued for eloquently by Storrar, and his connection to the Manchester School’s ‘middle axioms’ is intriguing.

Chapter Ten, by Anna Ruddick, is focused on urban mission, and she draws approvingly on the Sam Wells ‘being with’ theme. Her definition of human flourishing stood out for me: ‘…a stronger love of self, a more positive approach to life choices, an increased ability to act, increasing awareness of a good God, and mutuality.’ (page143) Finally, Chapter Eleven, by Maria Power, concerns the need for a Roman Catholic public theology for Northern Ireland, and looks to resources within Atherton’s incarnational and practical methodologies.

My sense is that the ever-increasing pace of change within the economy and within politics will be a challenge for the kind of Public Theology done by the William Temple Foundation. The recent emergence of the HeartEdge network, led by St Martin-in-the-Fields, and which my own church is a member of, perhaps points to another model which is both theologically rich but also potentially more nimble and responsive. It would have been fascinating to ask John Atherton for his view on this initiative, which has only emerged since his death.

 

“Theology for Changing Times – John Atherton and the Future of Public Theology”, edited by Christopher R Baker & Elaine Graham was published in 2018 by SCM Press (ISBN-13: 978-0334056959). 192 pp.


 

Edward Carter is Vicar of St Peter Mancroft Church in Norwich, having previously been the Canon Theologian at Chelmsford Cathedral, a parish priest in Oxfordshire, a Minor Canon at St George’s Windsor and a curate in Norwich. Prior to ordination he worked for small companies and ran his own business.

He chairs the Church Investors Group, an ecumenical body that represents over £10bn of church money, and which engages with a wide range of publicly listed companies on ethical issues. His research interests include the theology of enterprise and of competition, and his hobbies include board-games, volleyball and film-making. He is married to Sarah and they have two adult sons.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trey Dimsdale: “Missional Economics – Biblical Justice and Christian Formation” by Michael Barram

Some of the most important conversations in Christianity today involve questions of justice and how Christians should not only respond as individuals and as members of the “holy catholic church” to injustice, but also be positive catalyst of just societies and social institutions.  It is heartbreaking for those of us within the camp of Christianity to look into the past and see ways in which those who have come before in our tradition have sometimes actively contributed to injustice due to cultural blinders, a lack of familiarity with social or technological developments, or any number of other factors.  Economic issues are no exception to this and in an age of unparalleled prosperity among some, there is no doubt that questions of justice as they relate to economics is a necessary part of this conversation.  Barram is to be applauded for engaging in such a worthy dialogue.

In this work Barram begins by describing an emerging field in biblical studies that takes the name “missional hermeneutics.”  Given that I am not a scholar in the field, I can attest that his discussion is helpful for the non-specialist and there are some aspects of this approach for which I have great enthusiasm.  This approach recognizes that the church has a “calling as a community sent into the world to bear witness to God’s holistic purposes.” (page 25).  Such a corrective is needed in all traditions as Christians often become narrowly focused on particular aspects of our mission to the detriment of others.  It is also laudable that he turns to Scripture as a primary source of Christian formation. (page 12).

But not all that the author lays out is helpful in the analysis.  Primarily I am referring to his advocacy for “the contemporary Christian community as the locus of biblical interpretation.” (page 33).  I am always cautious to read such claims because, as Barram concedes, such claims often accompany a “loss of objectivity.” (page 34).  It is not possible, as the author argues, to approach hermeneutics without bias influenced by time and space, but the solution is not to understand questions posed to Scripture as novel and therefore demanding a “new” interpretation.  This approach seems to understand the Christian tradition as a strand of discreet epochs defined by the culture in which the church is immersed rather than an organic and interconnected flow of generations of the faithful in different times and places, which is inherent in the concept of catholicity.  Making this assumption leaves open the grave possibility of introducing contemporary biases without any external referent to provide a corrective.

Serious moral reflection guided by biblical considerations is vitally important for Christians if the church is to be a vehicle for accomplishing God’s mission in the world.  But the proper definition of the problems about which we reflect is the starting point for this reflection, and it appears in places that Barram makes assumptions that reveal a bias.  In fact, his conclusion to the book states it clearly.  He asserts that our “contemporary economic environment…encourage[s]” us to “choose death,” followed by a litany of caricatures of the positions held by proponents of free market capitalism. (page 241).  At one point he even suggests that the biblical ideal is a communal Christian socialism, an idea that has been addressed and rebutted by a number of authors (page 165).  The author also often uses terms critical to his arguments that are never clearly defined such as “justice” and “injustice” (page 120).

There is no doubt that there are excesses in our society that require moral and ethical correction, and for the Christian that correction should be rooted in Scripture. Barram makes these points well, but this project reads very much like a thinly veiled critique of market economics that never directly engages the field in an honest and fair way.  As stated above, Barram does makes some accurate and important observations, but does not do quite as well in attempting to diagnose the root causes.  But there are other sources from those within theological studies and the social sciences alike that more honestly and fairly examine the application of the biblical text to real and pressing social and economic problems.

 

Missional Economics: Biblical Justice and Christian Formation by Michael Barram was published in 2018 by Wm. B. Eerdmans (ISBN-13: 978-0802875075). 232pp.


Trey currently works for the First Liberty Institute, one of the the largest public interest law firms in the United States. He holds degrees in law, theology, and ethics and has worked as an attorney, educator, non-profit administrator, and pastor. He is the co-editor of Work in Christian Perspective (SCM, 2018), and the author of several articles, essays, and editorials on a wide range of topics. He has spoken around the world on issues as diverse as housing policy, philosophy of law, and religious freedom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Richard Godden: “Quakers, Business and Corporate Responsibility”, Nicholas Burton and Richard Turnbull (Editors)

Many books about business management or corporate responsibility use historical situations to illustrate or, at least to the satisfaction of their authors, prove their theories. Quakers, Business and Corporate Responsibility adopts the opposite approach: it examines a particular historical model of business management and corporate responsibility (that of the Quakers) and seeks to draw conclusions and raise questions that are of wider relevance.

It comprises a collection of essays relating to Quaker business practices and their economic and social views, which cover “topics that encompass both a historical and contemporary perspective” (page 1). In particular, as its sub-title (“Lessons and Cases for Responsible Management”) implies, it seeks to address the question, “What are the insights for responsible business practice that may interest contemporary scholars and practitioners?” (page 1).

This may suggest that the book will not interest less specialist readers. However, any such impression would be misleading. There is plenty in the book to engage any intelligent reader who is interested in business and social issues. Several of the essays deal with narrow subject areas (e.g. Karen Tibbals’s essay on the Quaker Employer Conference of 1918, Sue Kozel’s essay on Thomas Jefferson and Paul Anderson’s essay on John Bellers) but all of the essays, even those of limited scope, raise important issues of continuing relevance and most reward careful reading and thought. For example, Anderson provides fascinating insights into the origins of Karl Marx’s views (which may be of greater relevance today than most people would have expected or desired a few years ago).

Many of the authors are Quakers and, in a few places, one may question whether they have been sufficiently critical of the group to which they belong. However, overall the book succeeds in its aim of presenting “a sympathetic, but not uncritical view” (page 2) and, by admitting the difficulties experienced by Quaker businessmen and politicians, assisting in consideration of the problems that face business and society as a whole today.

Books comprising collections of essays by different authors are almost always of uneven quality and this one is no exception. It has obvious weaknesses. There are some simple inaccuracies, such as the statement by Donncha Kavanagh and Martin Brigham that the business innovations pioneered by Quakers include bills of exchange (page 113): medieval Italian bankers would disagree! There are also some overstatements, such as the assertion that the Quakers held “the pre-eminent position” in the commercial world for much of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (again in Kavanagh and Brigham’s essay, page 125) and the assertion that “Friends were far-sighted…. in anticipating centuries ago the importance of spirituality to every human being in all aspects of life including corporate life” (in Georgeanne Lamont’s essay, page 18): the pre-eminence of Quakers, whilst highly impressive, was in fact limited to certain business areas, such as banking and confectionary, and the application of spirituality to all areas of life was by no means a discovery of the last few centuries or one to which the Quakers can lay exclusive claim.

More seriously, whilst most of the essays proceed in a cautious and scholarly manner, carefully extracting tentative conclusions from their analysis, some appear to be squeezing the facts into a theory (e.g. Andrew Fincham’s competing values model, page 44) or drawing conclusions that relate only loosely to their analysis (e.g. Tibbals’s “Lessons for the Future”, page 75).

Some of the individual essays suffer from particular defects. In places, Lamont’s essay reads like an advertisement for her consultancy business, whilst Mike King, in his essay about the role of the state (“Honey I Shrunk the State”), self consciously presents his views as a middle course between extremes but defines those extremes (the views of Karl Marx and Milton Friedman, respectively) in such a way as to pre-determine a soft-left landing. He also fails to examine his unspoken assumption that the state can in fact deliver the benefits demanded of it (which history suggests it often cannot) and is prone to ex cathedra statements of a contentious nature (e.g. the statement that “The far-right libertarian assumes that the means of production can be conjured into existence by anyone if given sufficient freedom”, page 83; and his similarly unsupported statement that “the passage of time [has] endorsed the logic of Cadbury [i.e. an interventionist model] rather than Bright [i.e. a more free market approach]”, page 91).

Several of the essays also, rather irritatingly, assume that everyone agrees that “paternalism” (never defined) is a very bad thing without ever considering fairly the possibility that it was the right response to the conditions of the time. Fortunately, in his essay, Richard Turnbull spots this point and, in the context of his comments on voluntary societies, suggests that scholarly criticism of the power relationships, the paternalism and the guilt complexes of the middle class is unfair “not only because of a reading back of contemporary social values but also because it fails to recognise the real impact that such societies had” (page 106). As he then recognises, the spirit of this comment applies more generally to some of the criticism of Quaker businessmen.

Inevitably, the defects take some of the gloss off the book. However, it contains a considerable amount of fascinating and thought-provoking material. John Kimberley pithily and successfully rebuts the suggestion of Hobsbawm and Ranger that Quakerism is an ‘invented tradition’ and this paves the way for the essays that follow. Kavanagh and Brigham’s essay on “The Quakers and the Joint Stock Company”, despite the defects mentioned above, is particularly interesting. It provides a brief but fascinating overview of both Quaker contribution to business from the late seventeenth to the early twentieth centuries and of the history of the modern limited liability company. It should be of interest to anyone who would like to know a little more about these matters and to apply an historical perspective to challenge modern presuppositions about business organisation.

As might be expected of an essay from the Director of the Centre for Enterprise, Markets and Ethics, Turnbull’s essay, “Quakers, Free Trade and Social Responsibility”, performs a similar role. It begins by pointing out that there is “a conundrum” to be solved: Quaker businessmen “were compassionate employers with a genuine concern for their workforce” (page 106) yet Quakers opposed social legislation. For example, Joseph Pease and John Bright were among the leaders of the opposition to Ashley’s 1844 Factories Bill and (as King points out, page 82) Bright opposed legislation to combat food adulteration. Turnbull examines the beliefs and experiences of the Quakers, showing how these things may have led to the combination of paternalist concern and extreme libertarianism that was characteristic of Quaker thinking prior to the late nineteenth century. This leads to a conclusion that would have been suitable as a conclusion for the whole book: the Quaker businessman had many strengths; they “may not have been unique in [regard to their social concern], but that does not make them any less genuine” (page 106); some Quaker employers were more pioneering than others but, as a whole, they were among the pioneers of good employment practices; yet there were failures and blind spots of which “the most important one is the use of child labour in at least some Quaker factories against the increasingly prevailing national opinion” (page 107); more work needs to be done on specific companies but, overall, “We should neither condemn or whitewash” (page 107). We should learn!

 

“Quakers Business and Corporate Responsibility” edited by Nicholas Burton and Richard Turnbull was published in 2019 by Springer Nature Switzerland AG (ISBN – 13:978-3030-04033-8). 181pp.


Richard Godden is a Lawyer and has been a Partner with Linklaters for over 25 years during which time he has advised on a wide range of transactions and issues in various parts of the world. 

Richard’s experience includes his time as Secretary at the UK Takeover Panel and a secondment to Linklaters’ Hong Kong office. He also served as Global Head of Client Sectors, responsible for Linklaters’ industry sector groups, and was a member of the Global Executive Committee.

 

 

Andrei Rogobete: “Rethinking Poverty” by James Bailey

 

James P. Bailey is Associate Professor of Theology at Duquesne University. In his book entitled, “Rethinking Poverty: Income, Assets, and the Catholic Social Justice Tradition”, James Bailey explores the political, social, and economic reforms that are needed to promote the alleviation of poverty. As the title may suggest, the book also incorporates Catholic social teaching on this issue.

Although the book shares the same title as Barry Knight’s Rethinking Poverty, Bailey’s argument takes a markedly different approach. He starts from the premise that the role of assets and asset-building has been vastly undervalued in the development of public policy on poverty and addressing the needs of the most vulnerable in society. His central argument therefore is that poverty “must be conceived more broadly in terms of both insufficient income and deficient assets. A robust, effective, and morally adequate response to poverty must go beyond traditional income-enhancement strategies to include complementary efforts aimed at enabling asset development in the poor” (pages 1-2). The book is structured in five chapters and it would be useful to touch upon some of the main points in each.

The first chapter lays out the broader contextual framework for the lack and necessity of asset-building for the poor. Bailey presents two main paradigms: the asset and the income paradigm. He rightly argues that for too long the welfare state and poverty alleviation initiatives have been defined in terms of income – i.e. what ‘goes in’ to a household, and too little emphasis has been placed on what remains in the household – i.e. assets and savings. Bailey argues that the goal therefore, is “developing a more permanent and enduring remedy to poverty, […] distinguishing asset-building approaches from other policy initiatives over the last thirty or forty years” (page 13).

The second chapter looks at asset-building for the poor in light of Catholic Social Thought. Catholic teaching benefits from a rich tradition of thought and discussions on public issues and this shows throughout the chapter. For instance, Catholic teaching stresses the importance and virtues of ownership. From Pope Leo XIII to John Paul II there has always been an explicit defence of the right to private property and the expansion of private ownership across the social classes (page 27). Bailey also touches upon several key concepts in Catholic thought such as, human dignity (page 44), the social nature of the person (page 46), the common good (page 49), and human freedom (page 50).

The third chapter provides an interesting discussion on the relationship between assets and human capabilities. It starts from the Church’s premise that the dignity of the human being starts from a universal threshold of minimum material well-being – one that includes not only income, but also savings and assets (page 61). Here Bailey rightly points out that public policy that is asset driven is less about addressing short-term needs and more about developing an ability to withstand economic shocks in the long-term. This in turn enables households to “…secure adequate housing, to provide a stable household environment for one’s children, to benefit from educational attainment, to be able to devote one’s time and energy to a chosen vocation or speciality, to have the security take risks for those things which one values” (page 83), and the list goes on.

Chapter four looks at historical narratives of ‘asset discrimination’. From the onset Bailey affirms that “…the Church’s social teachings have rejected the idea that optimal economic conditions will be obtained so long as the market is left to its own devices; economies are not governed by impersonal and unalterable laws but are, rather, human institutions which need to be subordinated for the good of all” (page 85). This will no doubt prove to be a highly contentious issue for many readers. The remainder of the chapter builds upon the historical narrative of asset discrimination driven by race and class segregation in the US.

The fifth and final chapter concludes with strengthening the case for asset-driven public policy in combating poverty. Asset building should be a shared goal throughout society and not just reserved for the middle and upper classes. Bailey’s final two chapters are rather US-centric. He addresses US initiatives such as the Individual Development Account (IDA) and explores steps toward passing asset-driven policy through Congress.

To conclude: James Bailey’s Rethinking Poverty is a welcome addition to the body of literature that promotes the alleviation of poverty. It is clear and for the most part, well-researched. But its true strength lies in the rarity of its thesis – there has not been much literature that so clearly and explicitly argues for asset building as a means to fighting poverty. No doubt readers may take issue with some of Bailey’s more ideologically inclined statements (mostly found in chapters four and five), but for its larger message alone, the book is certainly a worthwhile read.

 

 

“Rethinking Poverty: Income, Assets, and the Catholic Social Justice Tradition” by James P. Bailey was first published in 2010 by the University of Notre Dame Press (ISBN-13: 9780268022235), 192 pp.

 


Andrei RogobeteAndrei Rogobete is a Research Fellow with the Centre for Enterprise, Markets & Ethics. For more information about Andrei please click here.

Kishore Jayabalan: “Aquinas and the Market” by Mary L. Hirschfeld

 

Aquinas and the Market: Toward A Humane Economy is a pleasant surprise because it takes both economics and theology very seriously. There are probably not many scholars who have doctorates in economics (Harvard) and theology (Notre Dame) and even fewer who can write an academic book that is almost entirely free of academic jargon. It is readable without oversimplifying the subject matter. Sensible and profound at the same time, Mary Hirschfeld’s work may be in a class of its own.

Even more surprising is that she began her career interested in feminist economics, admits to having learned “the wisdom of conservative and libertarian thought even though [she] never fully embraced it” and eventually converted to Roman Catholicism. Her dissertation director at Notre Dame, Jean Porter, steered her away from “pure theology” and towards theological, specifically Thomistic, economics.

Most theologians and philosophers tend to look down upon economics, but not Hirschfeld. She attempts to create a dialogue between theology and economics, something many religious leaders say is necessary but are themselves incapable of doing. How many of them would be able to see the economic downsides of rent control and the minimum wage as Hirschfeld does? The trick is in taking into account the objective reality of God and the subjective preferences of human beings expressed in the everyday operations of the marketplace.

Hirschfeld’s interest in feminist economics and especially theories of household consumption may have helped her bridge this divide. It is somewhat of an intellectual mystery how the ancient and medieval study of household management become the dominant, mathematical-laden social science of the modern age. While Christian concern for the human person and individual conscience had much to do with it, it is not a sufficient explanation.

If there is one shortcoming of this work, it is a neglect of the mediating ground between theology and economics, i.e. politics. Neither religion nor business is a completely private or individual affair; each takes place within a social context that at least implicitly aims towards some sort of common good. Hirschfeld is well aware of the need for a hierarchical ordering of goods in any kind of Thomistic economics. It seems unlikely that such an ordering can take place without some kind of authority behind it. Who this authority would be and how it would govern are matters of politics rather than economics. 

While theologians such as Thomas emphasized the need for order, modern political philosophers such as Machiavelli, Hobbes and Locke blamed them for its opposite and failing to deliver earthly peace and prosperity. Adam Smith described feudalism harshly in order to promote what he called the commercial society based on some combination of self-interest and sympathy. The Reformation and Counter-Reformation led to religious-political conflicts that eventually created the conditions for modern pluralism and tolerance.

Absent political mediation, the theological order of Thomas cannot coexist with the spontaneous order of the marketplace. Liberal democracy offers such one such form of mediation but, as our contemporary populist movements reveal, functions in an increasingly unsatisfactory way. As an economist, Hirschfeld knows the problems of command-and-control economies; as a feminist, she is a proponent of liberty and equality. One may ask if she does not also harbour a certain longing for a more aristocratic society that would be in tension with her liberal democratic preferences.

Like all modern rationalists, the economist tends to aim for mathematical precision precisely because theology and philosophy are so disputatious and politically utopian; the economist favours the practical over the theoretical. Modern economics has done much to raise material living standards all over the world, failing only where it has not yet been implemented. Such progress is real and ought to be celebrated, as Hirschfeld does.

Economists, however, cannot avoid theorizing in order to be able to predict human behaviour and influence public policy. They start to create “rational choice” models that are as abstract as those developed by the Scholastics minus the metaphysics. These models neglect virtue ethics as unrealistic if not hypocritical, never asking if some good did not come from at least pretending to be good. We are materially well-off but spiritually destitute. The result is what Leo Strauss called retail sanity and wholesale madness.

Hirschfeld the economist is aware of the costs as well as the benefits of modernity. Her theological training has given her the language and concepts to address these concerns. A convert’s faith makes her realistic about what may be possible here on earth and what is not. It is very rare to see such common sense and deep learning in one place.

 

“Aquinas and the Market: Toward A Humane Economy” by Mary L. Hirschfeld was published in 2018 by Harvard University Press (ISBN-10: 0674986407). 288pp.


Kishore Jayabalan is Director of Istituto Acton, the Acton Institute’s Rome office. For more information about Kishore please click here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Edward Carter: “Theology Reforming Society – Revisiting Anglican Social Theology” edited by Stephen Spencer

Theology Reforming Society – Revisiting Anglican Social Theology arose out of a 24-hour conference held at Mirfield (a monastic community where Anglican ministers are also trained) in January 2017, on Anglican Social Theology. The various contributors were admirably swift in shaping and adapting their papers into a publishable form, and, for those who had not attended such as me, the resulting book brings the conference to life in a manner that is sometimes difficult to do. I found myself wishing that I’d been there.

Stephen Spencer’s introduction sketches out a loose definition of Anglican Social Theology (AST) as being something that attempts to ‘change the structures of society as a whole through changing relationships across social groups’ (page xii), and then outlines the historical shape of the tradition with reference to certain key people and church bodies. This sets the scene for eight different authors’ varied but complimentary chapters, followed by an Afterword from Peter Manley Scott. Each contribution stands alone, but there are good cross-references made.

Chapter 1 is by Jeremy Morris, and looks at F.D. Maurice, often felt to be the founding father of AST in the nineteenth century. I found this to be scholarly but very readable. Alison Milbank, in chapter 2, then takes the Maurice heritage and interprets it for today. I found at least two gems in her contribution, not least her comments on the proper place for nationalism.

Chapter 3, not in fact part of the January 2017 conference, is a short interpolation by Diane Ryan on Octavia Hill, who was deeply influenced by Maurice and is famous for her work as a reformer of the Victorian era, notably in social housing. This chapter is a clear and straightforward description drawing skillfully on a number of sources, but for me the comments Ryan makes about Hill’s emphasis on natural beauty, and its link to the inner, moral ‘beauty’, were particularly interesting. I found myself engaged by Ryan’s suggestion that this is perhaps one of the distinctive features of an English, if not Anglican, theology.

Chapter 4 is a very informative contribution from Paul Avis, shedding light on the significance of Brooke Foss Westcott, Henry Scott Holland, and Charles Gore, all in some sense inheritors and developers of the F.D. Maurice tradition. While broadly descriptive, Avis opens up plenty of ground for thoughtful engagement. For example, his account of Westcott on ‘progress’ (pages 59-60) set off all sorts of ideas in my own mind. Gore comes across as a thoroughly modern Bishop, ‘an inspirer and organiser of initiatives and projects – a strategist…’ (page 71), with probably too strong a focus on the life of the church. I had the feeling he would have thrived in today’s Church of England.

In chapter 5 Stephen Spencer describes William Temple’s towering role within the AST tradition. However, I found this chapter to be especially skillful in tilting history forwards so that it meets the present. Spencer achieves this by putting Temple in dialogue with Rowan Williams so as to elucidate an attractive description of how an individual relates to the state, and in some sense is superior to the state. Christianity and Social Order, Temple’s well-known 1942 book, is brought into the discussion, and I enjoyed reading again the eight policy recommendations that Temple added in an appendix (page 100). They suddenly seemed extremely current and relevant, for example the suggestion that labour should be represented on the directorates through the Unions, which is once again the subject of a lively political debate. I found myself re-assessing Archbishop Justin Welby’s September 2018 speech to the TUC as flowing directly from Temple. Spencer, of course, is not engaged in hagiography. Rather, he ends by pointing out that the Temple approach has become very influential in almost every space except the church.

Chapter 6 sees Susan Lucas bringing the Temple legacy more deliberately into dialogue with today’s world, and as a tool in the hands of today’s rather different church. I felt Lucas was the most successful contributor in making the AST tradition live, as a central part of the task facing Christians today, post-Brexit and in the Trump (if not quite Corbyn) era, perhaps because she is a parish priest in East London. Her description of the church needing to ‘recover again a vocation to be gracious at the margins…’ (page 110) with true prophetic imagination made me nod in agreement, and her concise description of the problems with neoliberalism is brilliant.

In chapter 7 Malcolm Brown has space to reflect on the 2014 book, Anglican Social Theology, which he put together and edited in response to a request from a number of Bishops. This allows him to develop the suggestion that the need to locate the evangelical tradition securely within (or alongside) AST has become the most pressing task. The changing political landscape also allows Brown to propose the idea that Anglicanism, a ‘contested tradition’ (page 126) is uniquely placed to speak into the highly contested contexts of today’s world.

Matthew Bullimore brings the main series of contributions to a close with chapter 8, a discussion weaving together Augustine’s two cities, William Temple, and the contemporary ecclesial way of doing ethics. I found this slightly pedestrian and somewhat defensive of the Hauerwasian method. This is followed by Peter Scott’s afterword, in which the idea that AST is distinctive for its pastoral style is floated and discussed.

I enjoyed this book, which while being properly scholarly has a liveliness that hints at its genesis at what was clearly a fine conference. For someone who knows relatively little about AST, or indeed public theology, it would make a challenging but good introduction that feels contemporary and relevant. In places the book also hints at the rapidly changing landscape, and so leaves me hopeful that there will be increasingly more to come from these and other authors, and that AST will be something of a strengthening counter-weight to the church’s tendency to look inwards and become preoccupied with its own initiatives, however laudable they seem to be.

 

“Theology Reforming Society – Revisiting Anglican Social Theology” Edited by Stephen Spencer was published in 2017 by SCM Press (ASIN B079KXQYB).  188pp.


Edward Carter is Vicar of St Peter Mancroft Church in Norwich, having previously been the Canon Theologian at Chelmsford Cathedral, a parish priest in Oxfordshire, a Minor Canon at St George’s Windsor and a curate in Norwich. Prior to ordination he worked for small companies and ran his own business.

He chairs the Church Investors Group, an ecumenical body that represents over £10bn of church money, and which engages with a wide range of publicly listed companies on ethical issues. His research interests include the theology of enterprise and of competition, and his hobbies include board-games, volleyball and film-making. He is married to Sarah and they have two adult sons.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Edward Carter: “Anglican Social Theology – Renewing the vision today” edited by Malcolm Brown

 

Anglican Social Theology – Renewing the vision today, published in 2014, consists of four heavy-weight essays, by Alan Suggate, John Hughes, Jonathan Chaplin and Anna Rowlands, each of which wrestles in a different way with the idea that there has been and remains such a thing as a distinctive ‘Anglican Social Theology’. These four contributions are sandwiched by a thoughtful and helpful introduction and conclusion from Malcolm Brown, the Director of Mission and Public Affairs for the Archbishops’ Council of the Church of England.

Suggate and Hughes take the influential work of Archbishop William Temple in the years before and during the Second World War as a kind of sounding board, on which to explore the ways in which Anglicans have thought about social and political questions. Chaplin specifically considers the part that the evangelical tradition has played in this story, while Rowlands places Anglican Social Theology in dialogue with Catholic Social Teaching. The overall effect yields a book that combines a broad historical review with an instructive theological and philosophical treatment of Christian responses to the Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment world.

As Brown states (page 188), the book aims to ‘…set out the claim that the continuities in the tradition of Anglican social theology are sufficiently robust to have a great deal to offer the Church in its relationship to society, culture and politics today.’ As such, all of the authors are essentially optimistic, even if some notes of caution are sounded.

There were a number of specific points of interest for me. I enjoyed Brown’s description of Archbishop Justin Welby’s intervention over Wonga (page 20), with his acknowledgement that this was a new and fresh way of the Church speaking into a real and pressing situation. I was persuaded by Suggate’s argument and evidence that William Temple was rather less of a patrician than I’d previously thought (see especially page 66). I nodded as I read Hughes’ description of how both the world and the church have changed in very different ways since Temple’s day. I found myself reassured if not surprised by Chaplin’s suggestion that one of the main gifts to Anglican social theology from evangelicalism has been and remains an ‘associationist’ model of social transformation, based on self-governing voluntary societies. I was struck by the parallels Rowlands drew between the 1930s and today, within her discussion of what a proper vision of a national community might look like, especially in the face of fascistic tendencies (page 147).

The above are mere snap-shots, to illustrate the richness and quality of the discussion throughout all the contributions. However, I was left with two main concerns as I finished the book. First, I remained unsure who would read it. On one level it feels as though its purpose is to defend the need for such a tradition within today’s Church of England, and even to defend the work of the Mission and Public Affairs Department. If so, it should be read by members of the House of Bishops and the General Synod of the Church of England. My feeling, however, is that this probably hasn’t been the case; it is more of a theologians’ book than that. Similarly, it would be somewhat too abstract and theologically dense to give to someone thinking about setting up a food bank, not withstanding Bishop John Packer’s words of praise for the book in this direction (page 190). Is it then a book for theologians? Perhaps, although many of the themes are set out in general terms and would be familiar to anyone working in this field. Might it be helpful for a certain kind of thinking politician to read it? Again, this would be a possibility, but my hunch is that the jargon and assumed knowledge is rather too strong. I was left not entirely sure who the audience is supposed to be, although I would certainly recommend it to anyone seriously studying political theology.

My second concern connects to the fact that this book is now four years old. It was written prior to the ‘Brexit’ event and debates, prior to the election of Trump in the USA, and prior to the rise of Corbyn as Labour leader in the UK, and the outcome of the 2017 UK general election. The genesis of the book as it stands has more to do with the financial crisis of 2008 rather than the political crises to do with national identity, refugees, and protectionism. A few hints are tucked away within the book, for example when Suggate flags up the identity question: ‘what it means to be an ‘I’…’ (page 37), and an oblique reference to space/place by Rowlands (page 145). My own reflection was that the optimistic conclusions about the state of Anglican social theology had been found somewhat wanting by the weak and cautious public voice of the Church of England in the face of the EU referendum, and the rather impoverished theological discussion about the nature of geographical places in a world where huge population movements are of growing concern. Brown, with admirable prescience, worries in his conclusion that the Church of England may be poorly placed: ‘…today’s culture demands much greater clarity about identity and boundaries…’ (page 185), but on balance he feels able, in 2014 anyway, to set these worries largely to one side.

As an Anglican myself, I am confident that the theological resources are there to be found, and in that sense this book is helpful, by way of an intelligent reminder that the Church of England should speak and act in the public square. It would be interesting to ponder how a 2019 version should be updated.

 

“Anglican Social Theology – Renewing the vision today” edited by Malcolm Brown was published in 2014 by Church House Publishing (ISBN-10 0715144403). 226pp.


 

Edward Carter is Vicar of St Peter Mancroft Church in Norwich, having previously been the Canon Theologian at Chelmsford Cathedral, a parish priest in Oxfordshire, a Minor Canon at St George’s Windsor and a curate in Norwich. Prior to ordination he worked for small companies and ran his own business.

He chairs the Church Investors Group, an ecumenical body that represents over £10bn of church money, and which engages with a wide range of publicly listed companies on ethical issues. His research interests include the theology of enterprise and of competition, and his hobbies include board-games, volleyball and film-making. He is married to Sarah and they have two adult sons.

 

Richard Godden: “Redeeming Capitalism” by Kenneth J. Barnes

Kenneth Barnes currently holds the Chair in Work Place Theology and Business Ethics at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. As might be expected, therefore, Redeeming Capitalism is about the theology and ethics of business. Its basic argument is simple: the capitalist economic system that now exists is not the same as that which has existed in the past and, specifically, is not that endorsed by Adam Smith; it suffers from serious flaws that derive from a “moral vacuum” (page 1), which is itself a product of post-modern thinking; yet no other economic system provides a better workable alternative, the thinking of writers such as Picketty and Poole is hopelessly Utopian (pages 81 and 86, respectively) and the solution does not lie in regulation (page 59); what is needed is, essentially, moral reformation and the replacement of “post-modern capitalism” (Chapter 6) with “virtuous capitalism”, being capitalism based on Aquinas’s cardinal virtues (Chapter 13).

There is little to criticise in this as an overall thesis. However, below this very high level, much of what Barnes says is superficial, questionable or simply wrong. Indeed, it is an example of the kind of thing that, a generation ago, Peter Bauer memorably described as “ecclesiastical economics”.

The book is littered with errors. Some of these are minor (e.g. the statement on page 23 that the lingua franca throughout most of the Roman empire was Greek). However, others are more serious. In particular, Barnes’ attack on the behaviour of investment banks in the run up to the Global Financial Crisis is undermined by mistakes such as his definition of derivatives as instruments predicated on the “anticipated performance, or cashflow” of the underlying assets (page 4, emphasis added) and his assertion that, whilst what people do with their own money is largely their business, the problem is that “investment banks deal with other people’s money, and the morality of gambling in the context, is at best, questionable” (page 7). The definition is only true of some derivatives; the assertion fails to recognise that it was proprietary business (i.e. banks dealing for their own account) that lay at the heart of the Global Financial Crisis, not agency business.

Overall, Barnes’ attack on modern capitalism is long on eye-catching statements and short on justification. His stark statement that “the cause of the Global Financial Crisis and the recession that followed was corporate greed and mismanagement” (page 71) is a case in point, as is his assertion that there is a “consensus that the financial services sector is rigged and that corruption and collusion between banks, central banks, regulators, and politicians is rampant” (page 75).

Furthermore, scattered through the book are remarks about particular issues that fail to engage with the underlying arguments. For example, his statement that “on average, women are paid about 20% less than men across the entire spectrum of the economy” (source unstated) followed by the assertion that “the numbers are simply too extreme not to be attributable, at least in part, to gender discrimination” (page 127) is inadequate. His statement (this time sourced) that “nearly eight per cent (7.8%) of Morgan Stanley’s employees went to Ivy League schools even though they represent less than one half of one per cent. (0.4%) of university students” (page 127) is not in itself problematic. However, he implies that the success of Ivy League students is the result of nepotism and is an “economic injustice” (page 128) but he never presents evidence to support these claims.

Barnes’ comments on the living wage are likewise superficial. He says that “Those who oppose this concept argue that it interferes with the free market and is therefore a fundamentally bad idea” (page 138) and later asserts that “It seems obvious to some … that the only real objection to the establishment of the living wage is the short-term effect it would have on company profits” (page 138). He has clearly not absorbed the writings of those like Thomas Sowell who presents cogent reasons for thinking that the living wage harms those it is supposed to protect.

A substantial part of the book is taken up by what Barnes concedes is “a very concise history” of economics (Chapter 2) and analyses of the views of Adam Smith, Karl Marx, Max Weber and some modern writers (Chapters 3 to 7). These chapters contain interesting material. Barnes highlights some points raised by Adam Smith that many today forget and rightly pinpoints some serious deficiencies in the views of others. However, the result of this is that Barnes doesn’t turn to his proposals until page 91 of his 207 pages. Rather less history would have left room for rather more precision in Barnes’ analysis of the current situation and his proposed remedies.

Unfortunately, the proposed remedies rarely go below a high level of generality and such specificity as he provides is unconvincing. For example, he mentions credit unions and micro finance initiatives but clearly they cannot constitute the solution to the macro problems of the world economic system. More seriously, his suggestion that we need to move from a system based on contract to a system based on covenant is bizarre. He suggests that “covenants are sacred oaths of mutual inter-dependents and fealty between two parties dedicated to a common cause” and that “Unlike contracts, which are based upon suspicion and anticipate violation, covenants are built upon mutual respect and trust and presume co-operation” (pp 164/5). Barnes never explains what he believes should happen in the commercial world in consequence of this but, in any event, what he says is not true. One can define words to mean anything but, in the commercial world, contracts are by no means always based on suspicion and by no means always anticipate violation. Indeed, normally, they simply define with precision the subject matter of the transaction, allocate risk and generally record the mutual understandings of the parties. Disputes are the exception not the rule.

The reader is provided with no ideas as to how in practice “virtuous capitalism” might be brought into being and, having finished the book, is likely to be left wondering whether he has simply been asked to favour moral good against immorality. Indeed, the reader might wonder whether, despite Barnes’ attacks on Utopianism, he has merely had his own dream of Utopia.

Barnes may have anticipated this criticism since, right at the end of the book he asserts that “This book is not the manifesto of a movement, but is the credo of a community that refuses to underestimate the power of God to do the impossible against great odds” and continues “Redeeming capitalism is not a project; it is a mission” (page 206). Giving people the desire to effect change and the hope that it can be achieved is worthwhile yet, after 200 pages, one might have hoped for more than simply “I believe in virtuous capitalism”!

 

“Redeeming Capitalism” by Kenneth J. Barnes, was published in 2018 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. (ISBN 978-0-8028-7557-0). 207pp.


Richard Godden is a Lawyer and has been a Partner with Linklaters for over 25 years during which time he has advised on a wide range of transactions and issues in various parts of the world. 

Richard’s experience includes his time as Secretary at the UK Takeover Panel and a secondment to Linklaters’ Hong Kong office. He also served as Global Head of Client Sectors, responsible for Linklaters’ industry sector groups, and was a member of the Global Executive Committee.

Kishore Jayabalan: “God and the Evil of Scarcity: Moral Foundations of Economic Scarcity” by Albino Barrera

God and the Evil of Scarcity: Moral Foundations of Economic Scarcity was written in 2005, its central question is timeless. Why would an omnipotent and benevolent God permit evil? Theologians and philosophers have long struggled to explain why God would permit the suffering of innocents or natural disasters. Most conclude that God permits evil so some greater good may come forth. Ultimately, however, it is the belief that such a God exists and that He knows what is best for us which settles the argument. “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?” is the beginning of God’s answer to Job (38:4).

Stronger faith and trust in God’s goodness is a pious response to the problem of evil, one that is perhaps most applicable to overwhelming evils such as those that afflicted Job. But what about those “lesser” evils, where the good God seeks involves human action of the mundane economic sort? Could it be that we are too fatalistic in the face of evil, cursing the stars when the fault is in ourselves? On the other hand, those who think they can “solve” the problem of evil may come to see themselves as gods, the self-creating masters of their own existence rather than humble servants of God.

Albino Barrera is a theologian as well as an economist. He grapples with the problem of material scarcity as a “participative theodicy” as opposed to a Malthusian one. Malthus (wrongly) predicted that population growth would outstrip the supply of the earth’s resources, leading to widespread penury and death. Barrera sees scarcity as an opportunity for human beings to partake in God’s goodness by learning through economics how to allocate scarce resources with alternative uses and sharing the resulting wealth for the common good of all, especially the less fortunate.

Actually, for Barrera, fortune has little to do with it. Material poverty is a moral evil that God wants us to eradicate through the redistribution and transfers of wealth to the poor. God commands that we care for the poor. Since we now have the means to lift people out of poverty, any shortcomings must be someone’s fault. (Presumably, the greedy rich are to blame, rather than certain policies that may keep their poor destitute.)  Barrera’s economics is moralistic, in contrast with the technical studies of mainstream economics today. It is therefore part of an older tradition than modern social sciences which refuse to make “value judgments” about how human beings should live.

God gave us the material world to thrive and flourish together. Contra Malthus, Paul Ehrlich and other population control advocates, human beings are more than mouths to feed; they also have minds that can think and hands that can build, as well as hearts that feel pity for the poor. God does not simply give us what we need without our own effort and striving; faith and works complement each other. Barrera makes a strong case of the Catholic work ethic and the spirit of capitalism.

The bulk of this book, however, deals with metaphysics, not economics. The appendices contain extensive discussions of the three types of causation (formal, efficient and final) to explain how God can exercise providence, govern and still leave human beings free to act in accordance with His will. Human activity takes place within a twofold order (the whole and its parts) of the universe. These are philosophically dense but necessary treatments if one desires to bring the worlds of theology and economics together.

Yet between theology and economics, there is a yawning gap. Politics, the question of who should rule, determines the types of communities we have, how we promote the common good and much more. Law and history shape how we divide our public responsibilities. Who, for instance, will protect property rights and enforce contracts that make the creation of wealth possible? Who will ensure that wealth is not only produced but also adequately distributed? In addition, who will decide when goods such as national defense or social cohesion, to say nothing of religious observances, take precedence over material prosperity?

Barrera’s treatment of politics, law and history focuses on the Bible, especially the Old Testament. The covenantal politics of Israel offers many insights into its persistent disobedience and ingratitude towards God as well as His unbounded mercy and love for His chosen people. The political drama of the New Testament is less evident but vexing issues of Church and State are still with us. Jesus repeatedly denies to rule as an earthly king, despite the subsequent attempts of Christians to rule in His name. There have been many different forms of Christian rule, i.e. monarchic, aristocratic and democratic, through the ages. It is hard to believe that they shared the same metaphysical principles of economics, irrespective of their political arrangements.

It is unfortunate that Barrera does not engage with thinkers other than Malthus, who explicitly denied divine providence and turned out to be mistaken about economics as well. John Locke would have been a much worthier adversary, since he formulated a theological-political economy in the Two Treatises of Government, yet he only receives two brief mentions in the book. Adam Smith similarly receives short shrift, with just one citation. Both were much more influential in prescribing the transformation from feudal to commercial societies, likely contributing to the decline of metaphysics among the moderns.

It is unfair to criticize Barrera for the book he chose not to write, so let me conclude by recommending this important work to anyone seeking a deeper foundation to economics than self-interest or the profit motive. As an academic work, it is primarily intended for those who have had some exposure to, and some taste for, metaphysics and therefore not for the average entrepreneur and businessperson. It will serve its purpose if it helps high-minded theologians and philosophers understand the importance of economics in doing God’s will.

 

 

“God and the Evil of Scarcity: Moral Foundations of Economic Scarcity” by Albino Barrera was published in 2005 by University of Notre Dame Press (ISBN-10: 0268021937). 304pp.


Kishore Jayabalan is Director of Istituto Acton, the Acton Institute’s Rome office. For more information about Kishore please click here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Richard Godden: “Christianity & Social Service in Modern Britain” by Frank Prochaska

 

Frank Prochaska describes Christianity & Social Service in Modern Britain as “an interpretative study, which seeks to contribute to the history of social service, religious decline, and democratic traditions” (page (vii)). There is no doubt that, between the late Victorian years and the twenty-First century, the voluntary provision of social services in the UK was substantially replaced by State provision and, over the same period, Christianity in the UK declined. Frank Prochaska seeks to examine the connection between these two processes.

He does this by first examining the beliefs that underlay nineteenth century Christian social action and providing a general overview of the nineteenth century philanthropic landscape before moving on to consider four specific areas: schooling, visiting, mothering and nursing. In each case, he examines the motivation, nature and growth of voluntary Christian action during the nineteenth century and the changes (principally, the decline) that occurred between the last quarter of that century and the years following the Second World War and, to some extent, beyond. In the final chapter, he turns to examining post-war attitudes and endeavouring to draw broader conclusions.

These conclusions are damming of UK Christian leaders, especially those in the Church of England. Prochaska suggests that, by the post-war years “The ministerial, civil service state had dislodged civil pluralism, whose foundations lay in Christian notions of individual responsibility” (page 150) and that “Christian leaders failed to appreciate the consequences of endorsing a collectivist secular world without redemptive purpose” (page 151). Referring to the Church of England, he comments that “rarely has a British institution so willingly participated in its undoing. The Bishops blew out the candles to see better in the dark” (page 152).

Bishops and other Christian leaders would do well to reflect on this but they are not the only ones who should pause for thought. The book raises important questions about the impact of the Welfare State on moral responsibility, freedom and democracy. Prochaska’s conclusions should be considered by all those who have enthusiastically supported its creation and enlargement. He asserts that “in what may be seen as the welfare equivalent of urban renewal, comprehensive reconstruction ravaged much of the historical fabric of the voluntary social services” (page 150) and that, in the post-war years, “Individuals could take satisfaction from paying their taxes, but they were in many ways more impotent in an age of universal suffrage and Parliamentary democracy than their disenfranchised ancestors had been under an oligarchic system” (page 149).

Prochaska concedes that, to some extent, the landscape has altered in the past 40 years but he does not believe that the change is fundamental and he discusses with concern the increasing channelling of Government money through charities, suggesting that it undermines the essence of voluntarism. He suggests that “whether a voluntary sector increasingly funded and regulated by government will promote freedom remains an issue” (page 174).

Those of a left leaning disposition may well recoil from this kind of analysis but it would be wrong to conclude that Prochaska is on a crusade against the Welfare State. He does not in fact analyse the merits and de-merits of it. That is not his subject. Furthermore, whilst he clearly has respect for nineteenth century voluntarism and for what he calls “the religious temper and its role in society and politics” (page (vii), he is not starry eyed about it and his comments on the impact of Christianity and its decline come from outside the Church since he says that he has no personal religious faith (page (vii)).

The book has a number of failings. As the quotes above suggest, Prochaska has a penchant for big statements and many of these are less closely tied to the evidence that he has presented than might be expected of a senior Harvard-based academic. Furthermore, some of his assertions relating to Christianity are misguided. For example, on the basis of his understanding of John Wesley’s theology, he appears to believe that Arminianism had replaced Calvinism within British Evangelicalism by the end of the eighteenth century (page 7), which is certainly not the case.

More seriously, whilst many of the connections he draws between the rise of the Welfare State and the decline of Christianity are thought provoking, most readers are likely to be left questioning whether he has truly demonstrated a relationship of cause and effect between the two. The verdict on his fundamental thesis must be “unproven”.

That said, his examination of nineteenth century voluntarism is fascinating. It will be an eye opening to many readers who will have no idea of the enormous scale of Christian (largely Evangelical) voluntary endeavor in the nineteenth century. The description of the beliefs and societal structures that underpinned this (including the role of women) is of great importance. Any discussion of the Welfare State in the twenty-first century needs to take account of these things if it is to avoid proceeding on the basis of false premises as to what is and what is not possible.

More generally, few people today (whether or not Christian) have a clear appreciation of the extent to which the values and culture of the UK have changed over the past 125 years. In common with most generations, we have a tendency to dismiss our predecessors as ignorant or at least unenlightened and uncritically to equate change and progress. As Prochaska says, “As we reject the pieties and social hierarchies of our ancestors, we tend to forget that benevolence and neighborliness, self-help and helping others, were among the most urgent Christian values. We also tend to forget that much of Britain’s idealism and democratic culture grew out of these values” (page 2). Prochaska helps us to remember and understand.

What is more, the book is a good read and contains an informative and engaging mix of statistical and anecdotal evidence, the latter bringing the subject to life in a way that mere statistics can never do. Even those who fundamentally disagree with what Prochaska is saying should enjoy reading the book and benefit from doing so.

 

“Christianity & Social Service in Modern Britain” by Frank Prochaska, was published in 2006 by Oxford University Press (ISBN-10: 0199539790). 228PP.


Richard Godden is a Lawyer and has been a Partner with Linklaters for over 25 years during which time he has advised on a wide range of transactions and issues in various parts of the world. 

Richard’s experience includes his time as Secretary at the UK Takeover Panel and a secondment to Linklaters’ Hong Kong office. He also served as Global Head of Client Sectors, responsible for Linklaters’ industry sector groups, and was a member of the Global Executive Committee.

 

Steve Morris: “Entrepreneurial Leadership” by Richard Goossen and Paul Stevens

I have to begin by declaring something of an interest. Before becoming a priest in the Church of England I was an entrepreneur and writer of business books. For the majority of the time I ran my brand agency I was a non-Christian. Looking back, I think we managed to be a highly ethical business with no direct input from Christian sources. At one point I hired an ex-priest who came to work for us. I remember him saying that we were far more ethical than any Christian organisation that he had ever worked for. In fact he said that we were the most Christian place he had ever worked.

So you’ll probably realise why I have a few problems with this book by Goossen and Stevens, who at times seem to make a claim for the moral high ground for especially Christian entrepreneurial leaders.

But let’s begin at the beginning. This is certainly an admirable enterprise and it sets out to ask and answer some pertinent questions. Are entrepreneurs born, not made? What difference does a Christian faith make to being an entrepreneur? Where does leadership come from?

The book begins with some interesting section on what entrepreneurialism is – what is its essence. This is clearly an important issue for the church. There is perhaps an inherent dualism whereby church is seen as a place of holiness and work a place of toil and compromise. The authors are keen to help us torpedo this.

The authors are persuasive in their conviction that entrepreneurialism is a process more than a genetic or societal disposition. This is liberating and helps us see that we all have the ability to innovate and embrace change. They draw on the work of that great hero of modern management, Peter Drucker who argues that there is no such thing as an entrepreneurial personality. The authors suggest there are five tenets that make up the essence of entrepreneurship – innovation, seizing opportunities, enjoying it, doing risk analysis and developing good habits.

The book is interesting in its dissection of what makes a leader and the particular challenges of being a Christian leader. This is especially true when we begin to grapple with what it is to be a servant leader. There could have been much more on this – perhaps a whole book.

Goossen and Stevens move onto the thorny issue of what exactly is the difference between the Christian entrepreneurial leader and the secular one. This had me gripped and although I didn’t agree with it all, it is a discussion that needs having. The authors highlight a major difference between the two categories in terms of worldview. Thinking back to my time as a non-Christian entrepreneur, that does hold water.

The authors suggest that the worldly entrepreneur tends to spin a narrative of self-making, eliminates God from the equation and does it mainly for self-fulfilment. I wonder if this is just too partial. Many non-Christian entrepreneurs I know are driven by far more complicated and also altruistic motives for their work. It is so easy to sound self-righteous. The authors position the Christian entrepreneur thus. They,credit God, they look to their faith for ethical anchors (the ten Commandments come in handy), and they develop spiritual gifts in themselves and others for the glory of God.

The book covers much important ground. It looks at how being a Christian adds meaning and purpose the work. It gives a blueprint for how to put practical Christian entrepreneurial leadership to work. And this is perhaps the most useful and cogent part of the book. This is no trot through the Bible it is a programme for how to become the leader God wants you to become. It is in these chapters that we begin to get a sense of the author’s passion and deep scholarship.

I have a few minor quibbles. The points for reflection and discussion are a little twee and seem grafted on. But this is the case for many Christian books that try to cram a bit of interaction and perhaps to open up their market to home groups and other discussion groups.

What does work well is the tone. The book is beautifully written by people who thought long and hard and prayed about it. There could have been more about being an entrepreneur in church perhaps, but the authors are on the money when they describe the world of work and commerce as the great mission field and testing ground. You have only to spend a few hours in the City of London at rush hour and see the tens of thousands of people going to work or returning from it to wish that we had more engagement here.

The City is steaming on, the world is moving apace and we can’t afford to be stuck in churches while ignoring the great opportunities that are out there.

This book will encourage people to see their calling and to go for it. In that it is positive. I would have liked to see more credit given to non-Christian entrepreneurs but probably that’s just me being fussy. Entrepreneurialism can be Godly. Thank God for that.

 

“Entrepreneurial Leadership” by Richard j. Goossen and R. Paul Stevens was published in 2013 by IVP USA (ISBN-10;0830837731). 185pp.


Steve Morris is the parish priest at St Cuthbert’s North Wembley. In earlier days he ran a brand agency, worked as a journalist and wrote books about management.

 

Richard Godden: “The Poverty of Nations” by Wayne Grudem & Barry Asmus

 

The Poverty of Nations comes with enthusiastic endorsements: Robert Sirico says that “The table of contents alone provides clearer instruction than many graduate students get in economics courses” and Rick Warren asserts that “It should be required reading in every Christian college and seminary, by every relief and mission organisation, and by every local church pastor”. The authors have high ambitions: they state that their goal “Is to provide a sustainable solution to poverty in the poor nations of the world” (page 25) and that their “primary audience” is Christian leaders in poor nations (page 31), and they hope that Christians in more prosperous nations will also read the book. Readers, therefore, start with great expectations. Unfortunately, however, many will end up disappointed. Although the underlying thesis is sound and the book contains sensible analysis, it suffers from serious deficiencies.

Wayne Grudem is a well known theologian and Barry Asmus an equally well known economist.  Both are committed Christians and are at pains to stress that financial well-being is not the ultimate goal in life. Indeed, this may be the only economics book that contains a call to trust in Jesus Christ (page 41). Nonetheless, the book’s subject is material well-being. The authors suggest that, once the fundamentals are understood, “it becomes evident that if we want to solve poverty, the correct goal is that a nation continually produces more goods and services per person each year” (page 45). They passionately believe that the best (perhaps, only) mechanism for achieving this is the free market but they also emphasise that “the right kind of economic system does not by itself bring a nation out of poverty” (page 107). They discuss the importance of political and legal systems (especially the rule of law, property rights, the absence of corruption and the provision of adequate education and healthcare), various different kinds of freedom (including freedom of movement and of establishment and freedom from excessive regulation) and core political values (i.e. cultural attitudes and norms).

The authors place the responsibility for pulling a nation out of poverty firmly with the nation’s own leaders. They recognise that wealthy nations have a part to play (e.g. by lowering trade barriers and stopping “commodity dumping”); they accept that limited, targeted use of foreign aid may be appropriate (although they repeat the well rehearsed arguments against its widespread use); and they recognise that some of the blame for Third World poverty rests with more wealthy nations. However, they conclude that “even if external factors or entities have had some negative effect in poor nations, they are still secondary causes of poverty today, not primary causes” (page 83). The poor are not poor because the rich are rich.

The authors recognise that what they are saying is not new. In particular, they owe a huge debt to David Landes, quoting “The Wealth and Poverty of Nations” several dozen times (perhaps, excessively). Nonetheless, it is good to see the core arguments for a free market system clearly re-asserted and the chapter on its moral advantages is particularly welcome. The authors defend the system against all comers and suggest that, even in relation to the evils of selfishness and materialism, it is better than the other options. Conversely, they attack these other options, quoting with approval Claire Berlinski’s summary of Margaret Thatcher’s view that “socialism was not a fine idea that had been misapplied, it was an inherently wicked idea” (page 198).

There are also shorter but nonetheless interesting discussions of the dangers of governments becoming monopoly purchasers and the moral issues associated with “wants” (i.e. desires), which the authors suggest should not be equated with greed but rather regarded as “a good thing, part of God’s original creation” (page 218). This leads to the conclusion that “it is important for people to think of an “ideal” life as one of joyful production that benefits both themselves and others” (page 345).

So what is wrong with the book? First, it tries to deal with too many different issues. It contains no less than 79 different recommendations and the result is that the second half of the book at times feels like a list. Many of the points overlap (which results in repetition) and some are not properly argued or developed. For example, the brief discussion of need for religious freedom fails to show how it connects with economic growth, whilst the discussion relating to the family (including sexuality in general) is shallow.

In principle, the idea of bringing together a theologian and economist is a good one, allowing the economic analysis to be firmly grounded in theological and ethical considerations. However, in practice, the result is that neither the economic nor the theological arguments are properly developed. In particular, some of the biblical analysis is disappointingly superficial and contentious. For example, Grudem argues that the Bible sees the role of government as being essentially limited but fails to explain why it is that the authors favour universal compulsory government provided education (which many Christians until the 20th century would have strongly opposed).

The authors place great weight on the Biblical command to “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28, which they quote a dozen times). This is a good starting point for a Christian view of economics but the authors place a weight on it that it cannot bear. In particular, it underlies their comments relating to the need to secure “freedom to utilise energy resources” (page 283) and other comments relating to the environment, some of which are highly contentious yet asserted in strident terms. This is a pity because (as Landes has pointed out), the Judeo-Christian subordination of nature to man has been important to economic development and there is a dangerous element of pagan animism underlying parts of the ecological movement today.

The statement that society needs to believe “that the earth’s resources will never be exhausted” (page 339) is another example of the same issue. There is a respectable case for this belief and it is important to challenge at the doom mongers who for two centuries have been constantly warning of catastrophe caused by excessive resource utilisation. However, the single page that the authors devote to this subject results in their claim appearing as an a priori belief rather than a carefully thought through conclusion.

More generally, despite the acknowledgement that the free market system is not perfect (page 207), the book contains little in the way of balanced critique of it and it is disappointing that, after some very good analysis and foundation laying in the first two-thirds of the book, the final third leaves one with the impression that the authors are inviting poorer countries to adopt the U.S. system wholesale, including things such as the right to bear arms (page 232) and the U.S. concept of patriotism (page 359), which do not appear to have much to do with economic development.

These are serious defects. They are likely to alienate many readers and fail to persuade others who might be open in principle to persuasion, including the Third World leaders who the authors claim are their target audience. Furthermore, those wanting detailed historic economic analysis would be better off with The Wealth and Poverty of Nations. Nonetheless, there is enough that is good within the book to make it worth reading and it might also be useful as a book to be critically discussed in the Christian colleges, seminaries, relief and mission organisations and churches to whom Rick Warren has recommended it.

 

“The Poverty of Nations: A Sustainable Solution” was published in 2013 by Crossway (ISBN: 978-1-4335-3911-4). 373pp (excluding bibliography).

 


Richard Godden is a Lawyer and has been a Partner with Linklaters for over 25 years during which time he has advised on a wide range of transactions and issues in various parts of the world. 

Richard’s experience includes his time as Secretary at the UK Takeover Panel and a secondment to Linklaters’ Hong Kong office. He also served as Global Head of Client Sectors, responsible for Linklaters’ industry sector groups, and was a member of the Global Executive Committee.

 

Richard Godden: “A Voice to be Heard: Christian Entrepreneurs Living out Their Faith” by Richard Higginson & Kina Robertshaw

 

A Voice To Be Heard is not a systematic economic, theological or historical analysis of Christian entrepreneurship, although it contains a number of economic, theological and historical observations. Instead, it comprises ordered reflections on Christian entrepreneurship based around the stories and thoughts of 50 contemporary Christian entrepreneurs interviewed by the authors.

The authors are the well-known Director of Faith in Business at Ridley Hall, Cambridge, Richard Higginson, and the rather less well-known Zambian entrepreneur, Kina Robertshaw. They say that the book is “for actual entrepreneurs, aspiring entrepreneurs and anyone who wants to know more about them” (page xvi) but they are being unduly modest in their expectation: the book provides food for thought for all Christians and, since it is readable, interesting and important, it deserves to widely read.

It begins with pen portraits of five Christians involved in business and uses their stories to clarify what the authors mean by the term “Christian entrepreneur”. They are not referring to “entrepreneurs who happen to be Christian” but rather to “Christians who see their companies as an outworking of their faith” (page 13).

The authors then provide some brief comments on what the Bible has to say about entrepreneurship, attitudes to entrepreneurship in the UK today and the history of Christian entrepreneurship in the UK. This part of the book comprises less than 50 pages, so it is not an in-depth study. However, it is useful in framing the discussion that follows.

The heart of the book comprises an examination of a series of issues that are of particular relevance to entrepreneurs the idea of a calling to business; the question whether business may contribute to the advance of God’s Kingdom; vision and purpose; risk taking; relationships; stewardship; integrity; prayer; and perseverance. Each section combines the stories and views of those who have been interviewed with the reflections of the authors.

Fortunately, the authors have resisted the temptation to provide statistical analysis of the answers to their interview questions or to include the answers of all of their respondents to every question. They have been selective in their quotes and used them to set up a dialogue on particular issues in which they have then inserted their own thoughts. The result is that business issues are brought to life by means of stories and the related theological and ethical issues are clearly laid out.

The authors are clearly reluctant overtly to criticise those they interviewed. However, the methodology used invites the reader to evaluate what is said and the authors gently correct some views and challenge others, perhaps recognising that they should not expect those they have interviewed to be as successful as theologians as they obviously are as business people!

The most interesting part of the book is that which considers the answers that the authors received to the question “Do you see your working business as contributing to the advance of God’s Kingdom?” They tell us that the answer “was a resounding yes” (page 77) but that the answers to the follow-up question – “If so, how?”, varied hugely. Some of the entrepreneurs focussed on their belief that they are contributing to making the world a better place, some on the way in which their companies are run (i.e. the embodying of Christian values), others on the opportunities to witness provided by their businesses and still others on the opportunity to give to charitable and Christian causes. The authors suggest that the Kingdom of God is being advanced in each of these four ways and urge entrepreneurs to have “a broad view of God’s Kingdom rather than a narrow one” and “to embrace all these different categories in a holistic understanding rather than limit themselves to only one” (page 89). This is surely right: we are called on to serve God not in spite of our work or even simply in addition to it but in it and through it (see Colossians 3:23).

The authors issue an equally big challenge to the Church as a whole. This arises from the answers to the question “How do you view the attitude of the church towards you? Negative or positive?” (page 189). A mere 20% of the answers were positive and a further 30% were broadly neutral. The rest of the answers were negative, a result that demonstrates that, despite progress in recent years, Christians who have been called into business are often “made to feel like second-class citizens in God’s Kingdom” (to quote Jeff Van Duzer, in Why Business Matters to God).  Many of the entrepreneurs interviewed “often feel appreciated only for the financial support they are potentially able to provide” (page 194) and there is very little evidence of positive support being provided to Christians in business.

Of course, some of the apparent problems may be a matter of perception and it may also be that people in churches naturally offer support to those who appear obviously in need of it (perhaps even emotionally fragile), overlooking entrepreneurs since they are the kind of people who appear self-sufficient. However, the Church needs to do better and the authors suggest that there are six things that the local Church ought to do: to listen; to give entrepreneurs a voice in the Church; to pray; to make biblical teaching more relevant; to be open to the fact that God might seriously be calling people beyond the confines of the Church and to recognise that entrepreneurs may have a significant role to play in Church leadership. These are all points that deserve proper consideration and action.

Overall, the book is broad rather than deep in its analysis: there are many books that examine the relevant history and underlying theology and ethical issues in greater detail and libraries could be filled with weighty tomes examining the economics relevant to entrepreneurship. Furthermore, the book does not have incisive new insights for those who have already looked at the theory in detail. However, these comments are not criticisms: they merely indicate the nature of the book. It focusses on the practicalities and real-life issues faced by Christian entrepreneurs and it does not merely look at the easy bits: bankruptcy and difficult issues relating to integrity are addressed in an honest manner. Of course, there are things that many would take issue with (e.g. the suggestion that God resembles an entrepreneur in having “a willingness to take risks”, page 28) and some parts of the book are weaker than than others (e.g. the chapter on prayer is of a very general nature and has little that is specific to entrepreneurs). However, these points are minor quibbles: the book is well worth reading.

 

“A Voice To Be Heard Christian Entrepreneurs Living Out Their Faith” was published in 2017 by Inter-Varsity Press (ISBN: 10: 1783595655); 208 pp.


Richard Godden is a Lawyer and has been a Partner with Linklaters for over 25 years during which time he has advised on a wide range of transactions and issues in various parts of the world. 

Richard’s experience includes his time as Secretary at the UK Takeover Panel and a secondment to Linklaters’ Hong Kong office. He also served as Global Head of Client Sectors, responsible for Linklaters’ industry sector groups, and was a member of the Global Executive Committee.

 

 

 

Ben Cooper: “An Idol Unmasked: A Faith Perspective on Money” by Peter Selby

 

Peter Selby’s polemic against modern money, An Idol Unmasked, was published a few years ago now, in 2014, but captures an attitude to money and modern finance that remains widely prevalent. It is, as he says, a book ‘about money, what it has become, and what it represents in our lives’ (page 3). His key claim, expressed repeatedly throughout the book, is that money has acquired the characteristics of an idol. It now rules peoples’ lives in a way it never quite did before. ‘The quite widely held view,’ he says, ‘that money is not in itself harmful, only the love of it or greed for it, is turning out to be out of date’ (page 3). Over two of the main chapters, Selby links this claim to the decreasing sovereignty of nation states over money, and the increasing role of global financial institutions in the creation and movement of money. More than that: ‘money has long since passed from the control of the public authorities and has become itself the major controlling force behind the organisation of society’ (page 30). Having identified the idol of money and its power over us, he then turns in the final chapters of the book to some theological reflection.

One immediately obvious flaw with Peter Selby’s claim to have unmasked the idol of money (expressed, for example, in the title of the book) is the inconvenient truth that associating money with idolatry is hardly a new idea. Identifying money as an idol or potential idol has deep roots in Judeo-Christian thought. It’s there in the Hebrew Prophets, in Jesus’ teaching about ‘Mammon’, in the apostolic teaching about greed (‘which is idolatry’, Col 3:5), and plays in important role in Christian ethical discourse thereafter. Selby clearly knows this, and even makes reference to some of this material, but seems strangely slow to acknowledge or engage with what others have said.

To be saying something new, Selby needs to demonstrate that money has changed somehow – that it has become ‘more of’ and idol, with a more powerful role over peoples’ lives than it has ever had before. But the argument here is unclear. One problem is that he never quite defines what he means by ‘money’, and seems to use the word in a number of different ways — sometimes referring to currency, sometimes wealth, sometimes ‘a set of ideas’ or even a ‘controlling force’. Another problem is the absence of any evidence or data beyond the anecdotal to back up the claims being made. These are basic issues of method. There also seems to be an insufficient grasp of some of the issues. For example, Selby argues that the globalization of money creation – removing some of the sovereign power once possessed by individual nation states over their currencies – has given money a destructive, anarchic life of its own, ‘acting only on its uncontrolled instinct to produce more of itself’ (page 53). It doesn’t seem to occur to him that the decentralization of money creation might have some good features – taking away too much power from any one player in the system, for example. No doubt there’s much more to say on this, and these are complex issues. The problem is: the issues and counter-arguments are hardly raised at all. Selby generates considerable heat as he develops his polemic – but not much confidence in his depth of understanding.

What then of the theological reflection towards the end of the book? This begins well enough with some reflections on the nature of idolatry. But we then get some very strained readings of Jesus’ parables as anti-market polemics (pages 98–110) – a classic case, if ever there was one, of someone reading into a text precisely what they want to hear. Weaker still is the proposed solution to the problems Peter Selby finds in modern money – what he calls ‘the mercy economy’ (pages 111–126). Given everything he’s said earlier in the book, this rather surprisingly doesn’t seem to involve getting rid of money altogether. It is in fact quite hard to work out quite what it is or might involve, beyond perhaps some debt forgiveness and maybe, perhaps, some kind of universal basic income (page 124). Whatever the ‘mercy economy’ is in detail, Selby seems to be suggesting that the solutions to the problems of money-idolatry lie in structural change or intervening to reform ‘the system’. For a theological reflection, there is precious little on the battle in the human heart behind our tendency to idolatry – and what can be done about that – which is where a deeper reflection on the Scriptures might have taken him.

Reviews of bad restaurants can be fun to read and I suspect they are quite fun to write (which then compensates, somewhat, for the critic’s experience of the meal itself). Every failed dish or example of poor service is described and unpicked with a darkly humorous glee and relish. One could probably do the same with the claims and arguments of An Idol Unmasked, picking over them one by one. But the practical purpose of a bad restaurant review is to advise readers to find a meal elsewhere. Likewise with this book. Anyone in search of a balanced and insightful analysis of contemporary monetary systems and markets, coupled with some deep theological reflection, is not going to find it here.

 

 “An Idol Unmasked: A Faith Perspective on Money” was published in 2014 by Darton, Longman and Todd Ltd (ISBN 978-0-232-53111-4), 140pp.


Revd Dr Ben Cooper is Minister for Training at Christ Church Fulwood in Sheffield. He holds doctoral degrees in both Theology and Economics. Before training for ordained ministry, he was a post-doctoral research fellow in economic theory at Nuffield College, Oxford. He is married to Catherine and has three children.

 

 

 

Edward Carter: “Enlightened Entrepreneurs: business ethics in Victorian Britain” by Ian Bradley

This book’s subtitle is deceptive; it is not a volume about business ethics so much as a fascinating piece of social history. Ten great Victorian entrepreneurs are described in turn, with very little attempt to add any interpretation. The names of the ten speak for themselves: Thomas Holloway, Titus Salt, Samuel Morley, George Palmer, Jeremiah James Colman, Andrew Carnegie, George Cadbury, Joseph Rowntree, Jesse Boot, and William Hesketh Lever. Each chapter takes an essentially chronological view, with many delightful details set alongside a sweeping narrative of business-building, all within the context of the major social and economic changes that the Victorian era brought.

I was struck by how deeply these ten particular accounts of enterprise intersected with my own life history. For example, Thomas Holloway founded Holloway College in Egham, Surrey, which is very near where I grew up; the Colman factory site in Norwich, Nofolk, included nearby some purpose-built housing, one of which made a fine (albeit small) home for me and my wife when we were first married; and the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust (JRCT) is now a member of the Church Investors Group (CIG), which I chair, and one of the CIG Trustees is a JRCT nominee. More generally, many of the household products made or retailed by these companies are still to be found on our larder shelves. This is the kind of history that really does overlap with our lives in an ordinary, down-to-earth way.

While Bradley himself does not offer much interpretation or synthesis, I found plenty of themes that emerged. First, each story included accounts of what I call ‘attentiveness’: the ability to spot an opportunity and to be persistent in following it up. The entrepreneur is not someone who will carefully construct a five-year strategic plan for the future. Rather, she or he will be alive to opportunities. For example, we read of Titus Salt: ‘One day in 1834, while on a buying visit to Liverpool docks, he noticed a pile of 300 or so dirty-looking bales lying in a corner of a warehouse. They turned out to be fleeces of the alpaca…’ (p.28). As the account unfolds we discover how an attentive entrepreneur made the most of an opportunity that started a new industry. The technological advances needed came from someone else (the inventor), while the entrepreneur had eyes on changes in society, on ways in which resources could be mobilized, and how people’s imaginations could be caught and aspirations met.

Secondly, the connection to a certain kind of Christianity is very striking. Quakerism and Congregationalism, with their focus on temperate living, self-help, lack of privilege and simple hard work had a tremendously formative influence on all these ten men. Although they were restless in seeking out profitable business opportunities and in being competitive, they were never personally greedy for riches. Their lifestyles were in many ways frugal, and they all showed extraordinary generosity as benefactors.

Thirdly, all of them were to a greater or lesser extent paternalistic. In nearly all of the businesses described there is a ‘family’ feel, whether through care of employees who fell ill or through the well-known model villages such as Saltaire, Bournville, Earswick and Port Sunlight. One of the significant things about this is the way it anchors a business in a locality, and gives depth to its history. Although Bradley does not discuss this aspect, it seems to me that this ‘rootedness’ of enterprises is one of the hallmarks of the Victorian era. These were companies that had a good sense of where they belonged, both in time and in place, something that is generally much weaker now, when production facilities are relocated because of marginal cost advantages. It is simply inconceivable that George Cadbury would have moved his Bournville factory to Eastern Europe or the Far East to reduce costs.

Fourthly, each of these ten men was involved to some extent in public life. They wanted to make a difference to society, often in local or national politics. They saw business as an integrated part of how society works, rather than an ‘external’ source of tax revenue or some kind of threat to government or the people.

I enjoyed this book, but would have valued some kind of attempt to interpret these themes. Even more interesting would have been a discussion about how entrepreneurs today might help society rediscover its roots in time and place, but without the paternalistic baggage that belongs to a different era. Although it is tempting to describe the Victorian period as a golden age for enterprise, the truth is that businesses such as Facebook and Google have stories that are just as fascinating. However, such analysis doubtless belongs in a different book.

The writing style is clear and easy to read. Most of the book was written in 1987, with additional material added in 2007. It is therefore occasionally out of date, for example when describing the Cadbury business of today.

 

“Enlightened Entrepreneurs: business ethics in Victorian Britain” was published in 2007 (Revised Ed.) by Lion Books (ISBN-10: 0745952712).


Edward Carter is Vicar of St Peter Mancroft Church in Norwich, having previously been the Canon Theologian at Chelmsford Cathedral, a parish priest in Oxfordshire, a Minor Canon at St George’s Windsor and a curate in Norwich. Prior to ordination he worked for small companies and ran his own business.

He chairs the Church Investors Group, an ecumenical body that represents over £10bn of church money, and which engages with a wide range of publicly listed companies on ethical issues. His research interests include the theology of enterprise and of competition, and his hobbies include board-games, volleyball and film-making. He is married to Sarah and they have two adult sons.

 

 

Richard Godden: “Neither Poverty nor Riches” by Craig Blomberg

 

Craig Blomberg (Distinguished Professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary, Colorado, USA) is a prolific author and his books are generally worth reading. Neither Poverty nor Riches is no exception. It is, to quote from Don Carson’s preface, “an extraordinary achievement” (page 9) and, having been published in 1999, it is well on the way to passing the test of time. However, this does not mean that it is an easy read. It is not. Parts of it need to be read in short chunks with the relevant bible passages being considered alongside them and its real value may be as a work of reference to which readers can return as they grapple with the issues that it discusses.

Blomberg says that he set out “to write a ‘biblical theology’ of material possessions” (page 28). His focus is on how Christians in the West should view their own possessions in the light of the existence of widespread poverty in the world. As Blomberg puts it, “this is a book by the rich for the rich” (page 11).

He begins his task with a brief overview of the problem of global poverty before, also briefly, outlining the range of Christian responses that have been seen over the past half century. These include Catholic “liberation theology”, left of centre Evangelical thinking typified by the work of Ronald Sider (e.g. Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger) and conservative responses to these approaches.

Someone reading only this introductory part of the book could be forgiven for believing that Blomberg is firmly aligning himself with Sider, since he has some harsh words for a number of Sider’s critics, but the rest of the book proves that this impression is misleading. It may be the result of Blomberg’s recognition that his readers are likely to be on the conservative end of the theological (and, possibly, political) spectrum and his desire to challenge them and distance himself from those who come dangerously close to seeking to justify materialism.

The core of the book comprises a detailed survey of the relevant biblical material. The survey of the Old Testament is broadly thematic. It contains some useful contributions to well-known debates (e.g. those relating to the charging of interest and debt cancellation) and, more fundamentally, an analysis of the Old Testament’s attitude to the ownership and use of property. Blomberg concludes that “Neither the amassing of riches nor their lack is seen as a necessary good (or evil)” (page 82) and he disagrees with both those who denigrate riches as such and those who (to use Gossai’s phrase) “place the poor on a pedestal and proclaim the advantages of being poor” (page 74). He particularly takes issue with those who assert that “God has a preferential option for the poor” (page 49) but also warns that “one can hardly claim that God’s [Old Testament] people were free to enjoy unbridled prosperity from their material resources” (page 47).

Following an interesting, if brief and marginal, examination of the inter-testamental historical background, Blomberg turns to the New Testament and, in particular, considers his subject from the point of view of redemption. He concludes that “A necessary sign of life in the process of being redeemed is that of transformation in the area of stewardship” (page 244).

Most of this part of the book comprises a detailed examination of passages in the New Testament relating to wealth and poverty. In essence, it is a biblical commentary with a difference: it is examining passages relating to a particular theme rather than commentating on a particular book of the bible. It is thorough, thought provoking and contains a number of helpful insights (e.g. the suggestion that, in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, Jesus intended Lazarus to be understood as the prototype of the pious poor in Israel; page 123).

Unfortunately, however, it is at this point that the book becomes heavy going. Blomberg wishes to examine every single relevant New Testament passage and the result is a lack of a clear sense of direction in the analysis. Indeed, readers may feel exhausted by the end of it. The desire to conduct an exhaustive analysis is also probably the reason for the author’s final conclusions being squeezed into a dozen pages, which is a pity since the book cries out for a more detailed thematic statement of these conclusions.

Space limitations may also account for some of the book’s other deficiencies. Blomberg states that “the appropriate role of Christian involvement in the state or in the international systems of economics” is almost entirely outside the scope of the book (page 247). In reality, the same is true of the role of the state and economic systems in general. However, Blomberg has a tendency to make brief statements relating to these issues that are at best contentious and in some cases naïve (e.g. he appears to assume the effectiveness of foreign aid and, on one occasion, appears to endorse the view that the poor are poor because the rich are rich, although elsewhere he appears to contradict this; pages 158 and 68, respectively).

Blomberg also has a tendency to make assertions of fact without producing adequate supporting evidence. For example, it would be good to understand the basis for his conclusion that, at the times when the Old Testament prophets were writing, “Rent capitalism (the paying of rent to one or several owners of various factors of production) had led to upper-class exploitation of the peasants” (page 73) and his assertion that many of the Christians to whom the apostle James was writing were “day labourers on the large farms owned by rich absentee landlords” (page 152).

Some of his biblical interpretations are also surprising. The most extraordinary is his attempt to draw a point relating to social justice from Romans 3:22 (page 199). Other examples include his suggestion that the parable of the sower would have reminded a Palestinian farmer “of how much of his produce was ‘unfruitful’, going off to pay rent, tax and the like” (page 114/5) and his tentative endorsement of the suggestion that Jesus’s comments about the widow’s mites “at a secondary level may reflect an ironic lament about a system that allowed the woman potentially to divest herself of any further resources” (page 144/5).  The best that can be said about such views is that they are speculative.

These deficiencies are frustrating since this is an important book. It contains a challenge to all Christians. Those who may be attracted to “liberation theology” or Ronald Sider’s approach should consider whether they have truly absorbed the biblical material or merely over reacted to Christian complacency; those who reject “liberation theology” and Sider’s approach and have a more positive assessment of property and wealth should consider whether they have in practice forgotten biblical teaching about the obligation to help the poor, the purpose of wealth and the obligations it brings with it. Blomberg is keen to avoid false senses of guilt but it is doubtful that anyone who reads this book carefully will end up comfortable and that is probably for the good.

In short, although it is hard unconditionally to recommend this book, it is so important that Christians should read it.

 

“Neither Poverty nor Riches” was published in 1999 by InterVarsity Press (ISBN-978-0-85111-516-0); 253 pages (excluding bibliography).


Richard Godden is a Lawyer and has been a Partner with Linklaters for over 25 years during which time he has advised on a wide range of transactions and issues in various parts of the world. 

Richard’s experience includes his time as Secretary at the UK Takeover Panel and a secondment to Linklaters’ Hong Kong office. He also served as Global Head of Client Sectors, responsible for Linklaters’ industry sector groups, and was a member of the Global Executive Committee.

 

Richard Godden: For the Least of These by Anne Bradley & Art Lindsley

 

For the Least of These comprises a collection of short essays. Its purpose is clearly articulated by Arthur Brooks in the first paragraph of the Foreword: “The Christian Gospels make it abundantly clear that Jesus called on us to care for the poor. What is not at all clear, however, is the best means by which Christians living in a modern, industrial society … can and should carry out the Lord’s directive. This volume takes on the challenge of beginning to answer that question” (page 7).

The book seeks to fulfil its task through twelve chapters grouped under three headings: “A Biblical Perspective on the Poor”; “Markets and the Poor”; and “Poverty Alleviation in Practice”. As might be anticipated by those aware that its editors are Vice-Presidents of the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, its basic thesis is that a free market economy is the best foundation for the alleviation of poverty. The authors are careful to avoid suggesting that the market automatically provides the solution or that the market is in some way an end in itself but they see it as having inherent potential. As Robert Sirico puts it in his chapter, “The price system in a free economy does not provide a moral foundation for a society. It does not remove opportunities for ill-gotten gain. What it does do is beat every form of socialism at generating moral socially beneficent options for escaping poverty” (page 179).

Negatively, the authors take issue with what Jay Richards (in the Conclusion) calls the “untutored intuition” that “if there are some rich people and some poor people, we can cure poverty by taking some of the wealth of the rich and giving it to the poor” (page 247). It is suggested that both government action (e.g. foreign aid) and some charitable activity (e.g. some gifts by churches to support people in the third world) is misconceived, if well meaning.

Positively, the promotion of trade and enterprise is advocated as the best long-term solution to poverty. For example, Brian Griffiths and Dato Kim Tan suggest that “Intentionally building a new factory close to a slum, creating jobs, and contributing to the local economy through its monthly wage bill, is far more effective in tackling poverty than all the CSR activities that companies can ever do” (page 145).

Most of the book is relatively high level. There are some interesting specific proposals for change. For example, Griffiths and Tan suggest that it is illogical to allow tax deductions for donations to charity but not to apply the same tax incentives to impact investing that builds social enterprises among the poor (page 151). However, proposals of this kind are few and far between. This is a pity since the inclusion of some more would have improved the book. In particular, the book’s suggestion that a lot of government action has produced drug like dependency cries out for proposals as to how the patient should undergo detoxification without dying in the process! On the other hand, the authors might legitimately respond that it is necessary to win the conceptual battle at the macro level before moving to the detail and that this is a small book devoted to that conceptual battle. Furthermore, by its very nature, a market based approach is likely to involve a multitude of approaches informed by general principles rather than large over-arching policies centrally implemented. That, indeed, is one of its advantages.

Of course, the essay format has some drawbacks. In particular, as might be expected in a book with fourteen different contributors, the arguments are not developed in a linear manner, the chapters overlap and not all of the arguments are consistent with one another (e.g. there are differences of view as to how bleak or otherwise the outlook for global poverty really is and different levels of optimism are expressed regarding micro-finance initiatives). In addition, some of the authors have tried to cram too much into their chapters, with the result that they are longer on assertion than argument and adopt language which, at least to UK ears, is unduly polemical (e.g. Jay Richards won’t win many friends by suggesting that Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty” could just as well be called the “War on the Poor”, page 250).

Most readers will want to take issue with at least some of the arguments that are advanced, although they may not agree which arguments should be challenged! For example, David Kotter’s distinction between “wealth” and “riches” (page 60) and Robert Sirico’s suggestion that something is disordered “when it is imbalanced and disregards reason as well as the mandate of scripture” (page 176) are contentious interpretations of the bible. More generally, with the exception of Brian Griffiths, Dato Kim Tan and Richard Turnbull, all of the authors are based in the USA and the book has a clear US perspective. Indeed, some of the chapters relate almost entirely to the US experience (e.g. Anne Bradley’s chapter on Income & Equality). This US experience is important and interesting. There is much to learn from it. However, it would be good to consider other perspectives.

That said, each author contributes something worth thinking about and some of the contributions are very good: the chapters examining historic attitudes and actions in the UK and the USA (by Richard Turnbull and Mark Isaac, respectively) are particularly interesting since they allow the past to challenge contemporary attitudes; Art Lindsley’s short chapter on wealth redistribution comprises a concise demolition of superficial interpretations of the Old Testament Jubilee laws and of the practices of the New Testament Church; and Marvin Olasky’s chapter on the US welfare system, although in some respects perhaps over journalistic, raises a number of issues that deserve careful consideration.

For the Least of These is not a book for those looking for careful engagement with academic debates. Those looking for a systematic explanation of the potential of the free market to alleviate poverty should also look elsewhere. However, it is well worth reading. Few readers will come away without being challenged in some respect and the range of subjects covered should be a spur to further reading and thought.

 

“For the Least of These” was published in 2014 by Zondervan (ISBN – 10: 0310522994). 252 pages (excluding notes and glossary).


Richard Godden is a Lawyer and has been a Partner with Linklaters for over 25 years during which time he has advised on a wide range of transactions and issues in various parts of the world. 

Richard’s experience includes his time as Secretary at the UK Takeover Panel and a secondment to Linklaters’ Hong Kong office. He also served as Global Head of Client Sectors, responsible for Linklaters’ industry sector groups, and was a member of the Global Executive Committee.

Ben Cooper: Crumbling Foundations – A Biblical Critique of Modern Money, by Guy Brandon

Crumbling Foundations is a stimulating and largely informative introduction to money and monetary systems. It includes a brief account of the history of money, an analysis some of the issues and problems of contemporary monetary systems, and some thoughts about how money might develop and diversify in the future. It also claims to be a biblical critique of modern money. The bulb on the back of the booklet says it brings biblical principles to bear ‘on a monetary system [that] is fundamentally unjust and unstable’.

The descriptive elements of the booklet are mostly good, much as one might find in a chapter on money in an introductory book on economics — with only a few places where an economist might want further clarification. Moreover, as a critique, this booklet has some important things to say. It’s very helpful to understand what money is, how it works, how it’s ‘made’ — and how it can be manipulated by the parties involved. It’s important to understand the vulnerabilities of different monetary systems, not least our own, and the different possibilities for monetary reform or innovation. That said, this booklet presents an almost entirely gloomy picture of the role of money in recent economic history. I would have liked more on the positive side — the contribution of banking and money to innovation, growth and the reduction of poverty, for example.

I was less persuaded by the many claims in the booklet to be a biblical analysis. There are two main ways the biblical material is brought to bear on the contemporary issue of money. The first relates to the biblical material concerning lending at interest. The claim is that the Bible presents lending at interest as ‘a form of injustice and oppression’ (page 25). This places the biblical approach at odds with modern monetary systems in which ‘debt and interest are inherent’ (page 19) and where most money is ‘created hand-in-hand with debt’ (page 41) — suggesting the need to develop systems of ‘positive money,’ created without debt (pages 41–42). But the biblical material on lending at interest is almost entirely concerned with situations of borrowing as an emergency measure to survive a period of extreme poverty. The biblical case laws regulate lending in this case, so that lenders do not profit from the misfortune of their neighbours, and so that borrowers have every opportunity to escape their poverty. To extrapolate from these cases to issues of debt and lending in general is quite unwarranted. Indeed, from Deuteronomy 23:20 it’s clear that lending at interest in some cases absolutely fine — ‘you may charge a foreigner interest’. This exception to the ban on charging interest in the rest of these verses does get a mention (page 20), but is skipped over with such unsatisfactory brevity that it renders this part of the booklet wholly unpersuasive.

The second way the biblical data is applied in the booklet relates to the wariness we find in the biblical account to centralised authority (page 12). Biblical teaching is concerned with ‘limiting [the] concentration of power’ (page 44). We can agree this is a biblical principle — although it’s perhaps more implicit than explicit, and certainly not spelled out in any great detail. But how much traction it gives us when we apply it to questions of money and the design of monetary systems is doubtful. After all, monetary systems are already to some extent decentralised. Individual nations tend to have their own currency, and individual governments frequently discover they have far less control over the money supply than they would like. How much centralisation is too much centralisation? It seems to me the Scriptures don’t give us any explicit guidance here. We have to come to a conclusion some other way.

Guy Brandon doesn’t fall into the trap of taking biblical descriptions of money and monetary practice and turning them into contemporary prescriptions. That would be a mistake, and he recognises this very clearly (page 34). (Just imagine doing something similar with the biblical descriptions of agricultural practice in the ancient world and building a ‘biblical critique’ of modern mechanised farming techniques.) Nonetheless, he does get pretty close to this mistake, especially in the concluding comments (pages 44–45). And he does overstate what the Bible has to say explicitly and directly on the ethics of money and monetary systems. It may well be in the end that money is one of many issues on which the Scriptures do not speak directly. As creative beings made in the image of God we are expected to work it out for ourselves — within broad parameters, summarized as loving God and loving neighbour. An exercise in biblical wisdom, then. To which at least some parts of this booklet make a useful — if rather one-sided — contribution.

 

 “Crumbling Foundations: A Biblical Critique of Modern Money” was published in 2016 by The Jubliee Centre, Cambridge, 56pp.


Revd Dr Ben Cooper is Minister for Training at Christ Church Fulwood in Sheffield. He holds doctoral degrees in both Theology and Economics. Before training for ordained ministry, he was a post-doctoral research fellow in economic theory at Nuffield College, Oxford. He is married to Catherine and has three children.

 

 

Richard Godden: “Managing as if Faith Mattered” by Helen Alford & Michael Naughton

 

Managing as if Faith Mattered” is the first volume in the Catholic Social Tradition Series, published by the University of Notre Dame Press in response to Pope John Paul II questioning how many Christians really know and put into practice the principles of the Catholic Church’s social doctrine. Its target audience is thus, first and foremost, Catholics in business, although the authors say that they are directing their book towards Christians as a whole and that its content will be worth considering by all people (page xvii).

At the time the book was published, in 2001, Helen Alford was Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences at the Pontifical University of St Thomas Aquinas in Rome and Michael Naughton was Director of the John A. Ryan Institute for Catholic Social Thought at the University of St Thomas, St Paul, Minnesota. Unsurprisingly, they adopt a precise analytical approach to their subject and, as the 73 pages of end notes illustrate, seek academic rigour. None-the-less, the two questions that they pose in order to frame their discussion are profoundly practical: “What kind of person should I as a manager or employee strive to become?” and “What kind of organisational community should I as a manager or employee strive to build and maintain?” (page 8).

They suggest that two unhelpful paradigms foster a divided life in present day Western culture: first, the paradigm of the “secularisers” (typified by Tom Peters, co-author of “In Search of Excellence”), who suggest that religion and spirituality have nothing to say to business since religion is by its nature a private affair; secondly, the paradigm of the “spiritualisers” (typified by Andrew Carnegie), who may have strong personal faith and seek to live out this faith in personal virtue but who “avoid judging business policies in light of their faith” and who “fail to be true to a faith that does justice” (page 15). Alford and Naughton, asserting the relevance of faith to business, take issue with both paradigms, before analysing three models of linking faith and work: what they call the “natural law approach” (which seeks to find common ground in order to mould secular organisations); the faith-based approach (which is manifested by organisations founded explicitly on faith inspired values); and the prophetic model (which seeks to challenge organisations). They recognise weaknesses in all of these models but urge that they all be kept in mind.

Alford and Naughton then address the purpose of business. They severely criticise the suggestion that this is merely to make money or, indeed, merely to enhance shareholder value; they draw attention to the limitations of a stakeholder model of organisational purpose; and they conclude that the purpose of business is “working together for the common good” (the title of Chapter 2), defining “the common good” as “the promotion of all the goods necessary for integral human development in the organisation, in a way that respects the proper ordering of those goods” (page 70). This definition then leads naturally into the consideration of the concept of human development in a corporate community and, at the core of this, is a discussion of “virtue” and, in particular, the four Catholic Cardinal Virtues.

The book then moves from the theoretical to the practical in four chapters that are collectively entitled “Making the Engagement”. These consider, in turn, job design, just wages, ownership and marketing and, whilst continuing to analyse and develop theoretical concepts, seek to consider practical solutions to business problems. Thus, for example, the discussion of pay suggests that three basic tests need to be applied: whether something is a living wage; whether it is an equitable wage; and whether it is a sustainable wage (page 130). This theory is then applied to remuneration concepts such as ESOPs (Employee Share Option Plans).

Finally, the book turns to spirituality at work, considering the use of prayer, scripture, daily reflection and, perhaps more surprisingly, liturgy.

All of this provides much food for thought. The critique of modern professional education for its failure to address the “ends of business” (page 16) and its recommendation by default of a “privatised professional ethic” (page 18) is particularly telling and its fresh look at the objectives of job design and remuneration is challenging. Unfortunately, however, the book is heavy going in places and some of it could have been more simply expressed. For example, the book would have been more accessible to its lay readers had the authors expressed more pithily their points relating to the distinctions between “foundational goods” and “excellent goods” (page 42) and between “common goods” and “particular goods” (page 49). Similarly, the discussion of virtue would have been more accessible to modern businessmen had the authors not felt it necessary to tie it back to Aquinas’s teaching. More generally, there is a grave danger that the key points made by the authors become lost in a sea of detailed analysis.

It is also disappointing that, for all the care in the analysis, unsupported contentious statements from time to time leap off the page. For example, the quotation (with apparent approval) of Peter Maurin’s statement that “when everyone tries to become better off, nobody is better off” (page 92) suggests a naïve “zero sum gain” view of global economics and the quotation (again with apparent approval) of the assertion that “a manager’s first obligation is maintaining the company as a going concern for the benefit of the stakeholders” (page 149) seems contrary even to the purpose of business as contemplated by the authors. Furthermore, many Christians will raise eyebrows at various theological statements such as the statements that we are meant “through virtuous living to attain the possession of God” (page 64) and the quotation of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s statement that “God is inexhaustibly attainable in the totality of our action” (page 207).

Those who are not used to Catholic academic analysis may also find the frequent quotation of Thomas Aquinas, Pope John Paul II and other Catholic authorities a distraction rather than a help and the authors’ use of the terms “Christian Social Tradition” and “Christian Social Teaching” to refer to what is specifically Catholic teaching is irritating even though, as the authors point out, in recent years there has been some ecumenical convergence in relation to social teaching (page 247).

This book is worth reading but it requires time, determination and a degree of patience.

 

“Managing as if Faith Mattered” was first published in 2001 by University of Notre Dame Press (ISBN 0268034613, 9780268034610)


Richard Godden is a Lawyer and has been a Partner with Linklaters for over 25 years during which time he has advised on a wide range of transactions and issues in various parts of the world. 

Richard’s experience includes his time as Secretary at the UK Takeover Panel and a secondment to Linklaters’ Hong Kong office. He also served as Global Head of Client Sectors, responsible for Linklaters’ industry sector groups, and was a member of the Global Executive Committee.

Richard Turnbull: “Good News for the Poor” by Theodore W. Jennings

 

John Wesley’s influence in the history of Christianity is indisputable. His movement for ‘scriptural holiness,’ his foundation of Methodism as both movement and denomination, his organisational prowess, his spiritual passion for the established church, all form part of his legacy. His Journals, letters and sermons are a goldmine of information and insight. Naturally this wealth of primary resources has also generated a history of interpretation. The fire in his parents’ Rectory at Epworth (‘a brand plucked from the flames’) came to form part of the providential history of Methodism, as indeed did his ‘conversion’ experience at a meeting of the Moravians in Aldersgate Street in London in May 1738. Wesley also was a political conservative, a supporter of the monarch, willing to pray against the French and resistant to the rebellion of the north American colonies.

So, a quest for Wesley’s economic and social ethic is an attractive possibility. Surely if there is an ‘evangelical economics,’ we will find Wesley an able exponent? The enormous strength of this book is that it gathers into one place Wesley’s writings and teachings on economic and social matters. The weakness lies in the interpretation in which we learn more about the author than we do the subject.

Professor Theodore Jennings is currently an affiliated Faculty member of Chicago Theological Seminary as Professor of Biblical and Constructive Theology. He has been a local pastor and also taught at the Methodist Seminary in Mexico City. He clearly stated aim is to re-interpret Wesley through the lens of liberation theology. So his starting point is a ‘demystification of wealth and power’ and a ‘preferential option for the poor’ (pp24-25). By ‘evangelical economics’ the author means ‘the criticism of wealth, the forms of solidarity with the poor, the notion of stewardship, and the vision of an economic practice based on the example of the Pentecostal community’ (p24). Intriguing though these themes are, they hardly form an adequate definition for ‘evangelical economics.’

The book is constructed around these key themes together with chapters on ‘The Theological Basis of Wesley’s Ethic,’ ‘Why did Wesley Fail?’ and ‘The Relevance of Wesley,’ together with an appendix on ‘Wesley on Politics.’ These chapters, forming the second half of the book, are essential to Jennings interpretative exercise – because he has, by his own admission, to deal with Wesley’s well-known conservatism, his swift abandonment of the Pentecostal ideal, Wesley’s own contra-writings to the liberation theology theme and the unwillingness of Methodism to embrace the apparent ideals of their founder.

Jennings powerfully brings out Wesley’s critique of wealth and excess. Wealth was a temptation and increasing riches increase the temptation and conformity to the world. Luxury leads to laziness and contempt for the poor. Jennings here draws upon Wesley’s Journal and his sermons, On Riches, The Danger of Riches, On the Danger of Increasing Riches. Wesley expounds the theme that all our riches and wealth are held on stewardship from God and with a purpose:

Do you not know that God entrusted you with that money (all above what buys necessaries for your families) to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to help the stranger, the widow, the fatherless; and, indeed, as far as it will go, to relieve the wants of all mankind (p102, quoting the sermon on ‘The Danger of Increasing Riches’).

Wesley’s most famous treatise on the matter was his well-known sermon on ‘The Use of Money,’ and the famous three-fold injunctions of ‘Earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can.’ Jennings does recognise the complexity of this sermon but we see also his own forced interpretation here by his description of this sermon as ‘the source of most of Wesley’s problems with the Methodists’ (p167). This is wholly inadequate by way of interpretation. Wesley refers to money as ‘an excellent gift of God’ and being of ‘unspeakable service to all civilised nations,’ whilst also arguing for ‘honest industry’ and for the avoidance of sinful trade or the undercutting of competitors. In reality there is little economics (evangelical or otherwise); the feel is very much that of a preacher.

There is also the vexed question of Wesley’s advocacy of the ‘community of goods,’ upon which Jennings places great store but about which two things are clear. First, that Wesley experimented intellectually (and hoped to do so practically) with the idea in the 1740s and, secondly, that he subsequently abandoned it either because he considered it to be unrealistic or because his thought had moved on, perhaps as he preached his sermon on “The Use of Money” (which he delivered on 23 occasions according to the sermon register, starting in 1744, and which was printed in 1760).

Despite his occasional radical thoughts Wesley stood in the mainstream tradition; he accepts the basic role of the market, offers strictures against excess and looks to the voluntary principle as a response to social need. However, for all that, we should not underestimate the power of his critique of wealth and money.

Ultimately, Jennings forces the material to his theme. He makes far too many pejorative interjections in his interpretation for the contemporary age.  That is not to say that there is nothing powerful about gathering together from their disparate sources Wesley’s economic and social thought. However, he does so partially. By separating those writings of Wesley which operate in the opposite direction we are left with two halves of a theological tradition without the necessary interpretation of the complexity. Wesley was not an economist and his writings on economics – claimed indeed by both ‘free-marketers’ and ‘socialists’ (which merely illustrates the complexity) –  simply cannot be garnered into some overarching economic strategy. As a preacher he certainly knew the challenges wealth brought; about business and market itself (the use of the word capitalism would be an anachronism) he was unquestionably equivocal.

 

“Good News to the Poor: John Wesley’s Evangelical Economics” was first published in 1990 by Abingdon Press (ISBN-10: 0687155282)


Richard%20Turnbullweb#1# (2)

Dr Richard Turnbull is the Director of the Centre for Enterprise, Markets & Ethics (CEME). For more information about Richard please click here.

Edward Carter: “Capital and the Kingdom – Theological Ethics and Economic Order” by Tim Gorringe

I first read this book shortly after it was published in 1994, at a time when I was starting to explore the interface between Christian ethics and economics. Re-reading it some twenty years later has been instructive, now that this field has been developed rather more and is taken seriously again by at least some of those involved in politics and public life.

The book is set out in four parts, preceded by a helpful introduction in which Tim Gorringe sets out his stall by explaining how he uses Karl Marx as a dialogue partner throughout. This gives a hint as to his own political leanings. Indeed, in his introduction he even locates Marx as standing within the tradition of prophecy (p. xi). This means that Gorringe works essentially with a structured view of society and of economics that draws on Marxist theories of power and domination, rather than something more dynamic or entrepreneurial, and this is the undergirding theme of Part One. However, the theme of ‘narrative’ and economic history is certainly also present here, as part of his general critique of a version of economics that is ‘at the mercy of abstract laws which only experts can fathom’ (p. 22).

Within Part One I enjoyed finding at least two sharp criticisms of Brian Griffiths, Chairman of CEME, and having heard Lord Griffiths’ more recent reflections my sense is that he might now yield a little ground to Gorringe when it comes to the place for Christianity within public policy (see p. 13), while holding fast against the Marxist view on equality and liberty (p. 54). In certain respects, the world that Gorringe describes has changed. I particularly noticed this in his discussion of a living wage, which has now been embraced across the political spectrum in the UK.

Part Two of the book has four chapters that address more focused subjects. The first of these, ‘Work, Leisure, and Human Fulfillment’, sets out a valuable survey of Christian thinking through history on this theme, with the conclusion that ‘true leisure is not utilitarian’ (p. 77), and that both work and leisure are about human realisation. As a stand-alone section this would make good reading for anyone wanting a critique of a self-contained neo-classical economic world-view. However, the other three chapters in Part Two resonate more strongly with Gorringe’s Marxist theme, as they tackle the subjects of alienation, solidarity, resistance, and social justice. Gorringe looks for a ‘rejection of the individualism which divides people and sets them against each other, affirmation that humanity consists in working together’ (p. 102). While this is indeed a hopeful broad vision to set forth, as I read these words I found myself wondering whether it takes seriously enough the way in which entrepreneurial energies operate within the economy.

Part Three is given the over-arching heading ‘The Common Treasury’, in which Gorringe explores the subjects of personal property, inequality, planning and ecology. His general approach is one that advocates a socialist ‘control’ of the economy, and at one point he states that ‘some kind of global planning is needed’ (p. 140). Part Four then consists of a single final chapter, entitled ‘Two Ways’, in which Gorringe mounts a strong attack on global capitalism. It was here that I was surprised but pleased to stumble across a reference to the economist Joseph Schumpeter. His work had been used as ammunition within a 1980s debate between the Roman Catholic bishops of the USA and some prominent Catholic lay people. Reading this section carefully, my impression was that Gorringe brackets Schumpeter with a more general neo-classical take on economic theory, and then summarily lambasts them both. However, I would argue that he has missed something here, and that a more careful look at the contrast between Schumpeterian economics and the neo-classical approach would have been fruitful. In fact, Schumpeter has been taken in a Marxist direction, notably by Paul Sweezy, and I wondered if Gorringe might have changed his line if he had been aware of this.

On almost the last page of the book I then found this sentence: ‘There is nothing intrinsically wrong with enterprise, initiative and ownership. What is wrong is when these are harnessed to profit, power, self-aggrandisement, and inequality.’ (p. 166) As a programmatic statement this felt promising to me, but I struggled to see how large parts of the book itself could be taken to support or develop it. Rather, for Gorringe any sense of enterprise or initiative seems essentially to be subsumed within a Marxist superstructure, and the need for human cooperation to be played out in a society marked by planning and control. In the end, therefore, I found this book to be a helpful foil against which I wanted to put forward different ideas connected to human enterprise. However, as a major contribution in the field of theological ethics and economic theory its importance cannot be doubted.

 

“Capital and the Kingdom: Theological Ethics and Economic Order” was published in 1994 by SPCK/Orbis Books (ISBN 10: 0-281-04773-1)


Edward Carter is Vicar of St Peter Mancroft Church in Norwich, having previously been the Canon Theologian at Chelmsford Cathedral, a parish priest in Oxfordshire, a Minor Canon at St George’s Windsor and a curate in Norwich. Prior to ordination he worked for small companies and ran his own business.

He chairs the Church Investors Group, an ecumenical body that represents over £10bn of church money, and which engages with a wide range of publicly listed companies on ethical issues. His research interests include the theology of enterprise and of competition, and his hobbies include board-games, volleyball and film-making. He is married to Sarah and they have two adult sons.

Richard Godden: “Why Business Matters to God” by Jeff Van Duzer

Why Business Matters to God” is addressed to Christians. Jeff Van Duzer, now Provost of Seattle Pacific University and formerly Dean of its School of Business and Economics, suggests that Christians in business “have often been made to feel like second-class citizens in God’s kingdom” (page 9). His aim is to counter the attitudes that underlie this by affirming the intrinsic value of business work “as work full of meaning and importance to God”, whilst at the same time challenging what he describes as the “dominant business paradigm of the day” (page 9). The result is an excellent, well-argued and thought provoking book that should be read by all Christians engaged in business.

Van Duzer undertakes his task by using a theological framework, considering in successive chapters the implications for business of the biblical accounts of creation, fall, redemption and consummation.

From the creation story, he concludes that the material world matters to God, that human beings are called to steward God’s creation and that we are made to work (i.e. that work is not a punishment or a necessary evil). He notes that society has many institutions (e.g. families, churches and governmental bodies) and asks “which aspects of the creation mandate are best suited for business to handle?” (page 41). He points to the role of business in the creation of wealth and concludes that the intrinsic purposes of business are “to provide the community with goods and services that will enable it to flourish, and … to provide opportunities for meaningful work that will allow employees to express their God-given creativity” (page 42).

At this point, the reader may feel that the account of business is too rosy but this issue is squarely addressed in the next chapter, which considers the implications of the fall. Here Van Duzer parts company with the more extreme free market enthusiasts (both Christian and non-Christian) by stressing that “the market will not usher in the kingdom of God” (page 75) and suggesting that the market mechanism is an aspect of common grace that mitigates some of the consequences of the fall. He stresses that we cannot “equate market forces with God’s perfect will” (page 79).

Having done this, Van Duzer reverses the logical theological order and leaps on to consider what the biblical account of ultimate salvation (“consummation”) can teach us that is of relevance to business. In doing so, he heads into stormy theological waters as he assesses the relative merits of adoptionism and annihilationism as an explanation of how God’s new heaven and new earth will be inaugurated. He sides with the “cautious adopters” (page 94) but those who don’t take this view will be pleased to hear that it is not central to his argument and he acknowledges that “any conclusions we may reach must be held lightly” (page 83). This result is that this part of his analysis is less fruitful than other parts of it.

He next considers redemption and suggests that business must “concern itself with redemptive as well as creative work” (page 114), whilst accepting that it is operating within the “messy middle” (page 118). In this context, he rejects both the cynicism of those who suggest that “Business ethics is an oxymoron” and the optimism of those who argue that “Good ethics is good business” in the sense that there will always be a bottom line benefit for those practicing good ethics.

Van Duzer recognises that our attitude to business will turn to a considerable extent on our view of how Christians should engage with the world (what he calls our “posture of engagement”) and also upon our attitude to institutions of all kinds in the modern world. He devotes an “excursus” to each of these issues, of which the first is particularly helpful. It adopts Niebuhr’s typology (“Christ against culture”, “Christ of culture”, “Christ above culture”, “Christ and culture in paradox” and “Christ the transformer of culture”) and demonstrates how our answers to several key theological questions are likely to determine which type of cultural engagement we adopt and, specifically, our view of the role of business.

The final quarter of the book is less well structured than it might have been and parts of it would have better merged with the earlier chapters. None-the-less, it contains some worthwhile discussions of important issues such as business sustainability (in the broad sense) and, most importantly, the role of profit and enhancing shareholder value. Van Druzer recognises the essential instrumental role of profit but denies it any greater significance, specifically rejects the notion that the maximisation of profit or shareholder value is a primary goal of a business.

Although published under the IVP Academic banner, this is not an academic work. It does not interact extensively with other literature and it has no bibliography, although it makes good use of footnotes that may suggest further reading.

It is a short book and could not possible consider all of the angles on its subject. None-the-less, it would have been helpful had Van Duzer considered questions that arise from his dethroning of profit and shareholder value: Might this result in a loss of focus on efficiency and thus reduce wealth creation? How can managers be rendered accountable for the delivery of goals that cannot be quantified or otherwise clearly measured? If shareholders in a public company appoint and remove them, will the directors not always focus on the maximisation of shareholder value? Who might enforce any broader directors’ duties? Van Duzer is a lawyer by background and his views on these issues would be interesting.

Despite the final chapter’s focus on “making it real”, many readers may be left wondering how it is possible to translate Van Duzer’s vision of business into practice in a secular Western business context. This is a significant issue. However, the purpose of this book is to provide a Christian conceptual framework for business not to analyse in detail its implications in relation to day to day management. Addressing these implications would require another book and perhaps the only significant criticism that can be levelled at Van Duzer is that he hasn’t yet written it!

 

“Why Business Matters to God” was published in 2010 by InterVarsity Press (ISBN 10: 0830838880). 201pp.


Richard Godden is a Lawyer and has been a Partner with Linklaters for over 25 years during which time he has advised on a wide range of transactions and issues in various parts of the world. 

Richard’s experience includes his time as Secretary at the UK Takeover Panel and a secondment to Linklaters’ Hong Kong office. He also served as Global Head of Client Sectors, responsible for Linklaters’ industry sector groups, and was a member of the Global Executive Committee.

Richard Godden: “Business for the Common Good” by Scott Rae and Kenman Wong

 

The concept of “the common good” dates back at least to Aristotle and has been used by political theorists, moral philosophers and economists down the ages, including people as diverse as Thomas Aquinas, John Locke and Adam Smith. It is a basic concept in Catholic social teaching and is easily understandable by all. However, it is not familiar today in discourse about the purpose and role of business.

Wong and Rae want to change this. They suggest that, “it is an important time to reconsider what business, and our current or future participation in it, is all about” (page 28) and they undertake this reconsideration by first considering the purpose of those engaged in business. They suggest that, “The idea that business can be a calling is becoming more widely appreciated and accepted” but that “what exactly business is a calling to needs much more exploration” (page 33; the emphasis is theirs). They then launch into the required exploration. The first part of this leads to the conclusion that business is a calling “to transformational service for the common good” (page 76) and the implications of this are then worked through.

Business for the Common Good forms part of the InterVarsity Press “Christian Worldview Integration Series” and is, thus, written primarily for Christians. However, Prabhu Guptara observes in his endorsement that “Nothing in this book prevents it enriching the lives of Hindus such as myself – or, as far as I can see, those of Buddhists, Muslims, agnostics or atheists!” He is right.  The book’s conclusions do not depend upon any theological propositions other than a general view of God and the World that will be shared, at least in its more important features, by millions of people of various faiths and, at least in relation to its view of the World, by many of no faith. Furthermore, although the Series Preface suggests that college students may be a primary target audience, the book is likely to assist a far wider audience, including those who have been in business for many years. Some readers will find its lack of interaction with other literature a downside but others will welcome the fact that it does not assume any prior reading and deals with issues from first principles.

After an over long Series Preface and their (shorter) Introduction, Wong and Rae helpfully examine the purpose of work, addressing the question whether work has merely an instrumental purpose or whether it also has an intrinsic purpose. Put simply, do we work merely to live or do we live to work? Many, perhaps most, people today would say that they work to live and for the poor this may seem obviously true but Wong and Rae seek to re-establish the idea that, as Martin Luther said, “The entire World is full of service to God, not only in the Churches but also the home, the kitchen, the cellar, the workshop and the field of the townsfolk and farmers” (page 60). As Wong and Rae put it, “Our work can serve as an altar” (i.e. an act of worship; page 46).

On this basis, they ask whose interests business should serve. It is their analysis of this that leads to what they describe as their “Christian vision for business” (page 76) and hence to their basic proposition that the calling to business is a calling to transformational service for the common good.

Having laid these foundations, they then turn to a series of specific issues: how involvement in business can result in negative effects on our character but how it can also transform us for good (which they rightly describe as a “rarely examined question”; page 37); what our attitude towards wealth, success and ambition should be; how we should respond to globalisation; ethics in the work place; business leadership and management; marketing; and stewardship and sustainability. Finally, they turn to what they describe as “several exciting (and very inspiring) ways that emerging practices and organisations are moving business towards becoming proactive and intentional partners in solving social problems” (page 38).

This is a huge amount to cover in a relatively short book and some parts of the book may leave the reader feeling a little short changed. However, this is not a superficial book or one that deals in generalities. It is closely argued and it is careful to explain both its starting points and its logic. It is also good to see issues such as the ethics of marketing addressed head on rather than in passing and, more generally, to have work place ethics placed in the broader context of the purpose of business rather than considered in isolation.

More seriously, many may question whether it is realistic to expect society as a whole to adopt Wong and Rae’s view of the purpose of business and whether it is even worth attempting to persuade society to do so. Wong and Rae are ethicists not business people and on occasions this is revealed in a lack of sophistication in the examples of business situations that they give. Furthermore, their view of the world leans towards the optimistic end of the theological spectrum (being in Niebuhr’s “Christ the Transformer of Culture” category and, in some respects, leaning towards his “Christ of Culture” category) and many will wish to question this optimism.

Wong and Rae recognise these issues and seek to address them. Not all of what they say is wholly convincing and they leave many unexamined issues (e.g. with regard to the role of competition). However, the points that they make should at least cause those who are more pessimistic, whether from experience or theological conviction, to analyse their views and perhaps conclude that, even if they are right to be pessimistic, Wong and Rae’s basic suggestions are worth pursuing.

Business for the Common Good provides an overview of its subject matter and, if it leaves readers with many questions requiring further exploration, that is for the good. Wong and Rae state that their intention is “to plant seeds, deepen conversations and enable changed outlooks, purposes, values and practices” (page 285). Their book should achieve this goal.

 

“Business for the Common Good” was published in 2011 by InterVarsity Press (ISBN 10: 0830828168). 288pp.


Richard Godden is a Lawyer and has been a Partner with Linklaters for over 25 years during which time he has advised on a wide range of transactions and issues in various parts of the world. 

Richard’s experience includes his time as Secretary at the UK Takeover Panel and a secondment to Linklaters’ Hong Kong office. He also served as Global Head of Client Sectors, responsible for Linklaters’ industry sector groups, and was a member of the Global Executive Committee.

Richard Godden: “With Liberty & Justice for Whom?” by Craig M Gay

 

With Liberty & Justice for Whom? is an analysis of the views of conservative Protestants about capitalism. It was written a quarter of a century ago and its focus is on U.S. writers. It is thus dated in parts and, in any event, many outside the U.S.A. will feel that Gay’s analysis is not wholly applicable to their context. Some will also find tiresome its almost obsessive quoting of other scholars, which betrays its origin as a doctoral dissertation. Nonetheless, the issues raised by it are of long-term general significance and, whilst Anglo-Saxon evangelicals are likely to benefit most from reading it, it could be read with profit by other Christians, those of other faiths and, indeed, anyone who wishes to consider the reasons why people who apparently share a common religious or philosophical starting point disagree so vehemently about economic and societal issues.

Gay divides evangelical intellectuals into three groups: the left (which, he suggests, essentially regards capitalism as oppression); the right (which, he suggests, has primarily engaged in the defence of capitalism against the critics of the left); and the centre (comprising those “whose appraisals of capitalism are neither wholly negative nor entirely positive” but who regard capitalism as a “cause for concern”; page 116). He examines the views of many people within each group, considering the essentials of their economic and political views as well as the way in which they use the Bible to support these views.

The first two-thirds of the book is largely descriptive, albeit interwoven with comment and evaluation. Gay then moves on to analysis. He believes that it is “clear that capitalism as such is not the only thing at issue in this debate but that the various evangelical factions are contending for entirely different socio-cultural visions of American society” (page 161). However, he points out that the difference between the competing views “is not a matter of competing moral and ethical paradigms but of disagreement on the question of whether capitalism promotes or prevents the realisation of the norms and values they hold in common” (page 166).

Gay attempts to use the “new class” theory of the Austrian born American sociologist Peter Berger in his analysis. He argues that those on the evangelical left are reflecting their membership of this new class (broadly those engaged in what he calls the “knowledge industry”) whilst those on the right reflect the attitudes and interests of the old middle class (occupied in the production and distribution of goods and services). He suggests that both evangelical groups have engaged in a process of “cognitive bargaining” with the secular world and, in particular, in their analyses, have compromised the more transcendent, or “other worldly”, elements of evangelical faith. He also asserts that “Both the evangelical left and right have succumbed to an ideological abuse of Scripture and a de facto (and occasionally explicit) confession of the ultimacy of economic life” (page 203).

Many of Gay’s assertions and suggestions are contentious. For example, he admits that his use of the new class theory is “provocative, to say the least” (page 203). Furthermore, one may question whether his categorisation of evangelical views (which he admits is arbitrary) is helpful. Is the analysis assisted by lumping Theonomists and Christian Reconstructionists together with Brian Griffiths and Peter Hill? Do those in what Gay terms the “evangelical mainstream” (whose views are moderately right of centre) really have much in common with the views of what he terms “progressive evangelicals” (whose views fit much more comfortably with the left wing analysis)? Gay observes that the “evangelical centre” has no economic programme, which suggests that it is not a real category worth examining. It might have been better had he examined the extreme right, the moderate right and the left (which Gay recognises is a more coherent group than the others).

Gay was doubtless conscious of the danger of being accused of criticising everyone else’s views without offering a view of his own but he wisely avoids entering into the detail of the economic and theological debate. Instead, he offers suggestions as to a way forward in the debate, which are set out in a 33 page “Epilogue”. Unfortunately, this part of the book is disappointing There is little to object to in what he says but the language used, particularly in the first part of the Epilogue, is less clear than might be desired and, overall, his suggestions do not add much to the debate. Furthermore, although he seeks to avoid taking sides, those on the evangelical left are likely to feel that he is in fact laying the foundations of an essentially right of centre viewpoint without fully justifying his position.

These are significant failings but they should not put anyone off reading this book. It provides a wealth of food for thought and challenges: Why is it that evangelical economic debate so closely mirrors the corresponding secular debate, albeit with the addition of Biblical analysis? How much of the evangelical contributions to economic debate derives from the Bible, how much from secular assumptions and how much the compromise with the groups in which the relevant authors move or a reaction against these groups? To what extent are arguments caused by a disagreement as to whether criticism of the existing economic order is to be based on a comparison with an ideal or a comparison with practically available alternatives? Should the debate focus on the detail of capitalist economics or will progress only be made if the underlying assumptions and issues relating to our concept of society are addressed? Specifically, are those debating capitalism and other economic models guilty of a failure to examine whether terms like “liberty” and “justice” are being used by everyone in the same sense?

These questions are well worth considering and, by raising them in the context of a detailed analysis of the spectrum of evangelical opinion, Gay provided and, 25 years on from his book’s original publication, continues to provide an excellent foundation for further thinking.

“With Liberty and Justice for Whom?” was reprinted in 2000 by Regent College Publishing (ISBN 10 1573831328).


Richard Godden is a Lawyer and has been a Partner with Linklaters for over 25 years during which time he has advised on a wide range of transactions and issues in various parts of the world. 

Richard’s experience includes his time as Secretary at the UK Takeover Panel and a secondment to Linklaters’ Hong Kong office. He also served as Global Head of Client Sectors, responsible for Linklaters’ industry sector groups, and was a member of the Global Executive Committee.

Richard Godden: “The Tides of Life” by Bill Pollard

 

The Tides of Life is impossible to categorise: it is not an autobiography, although the majority of it comprises autobiographical material; it is not a business leadership and management manual, although it contains a lot about leadership and management; and it is not a systematic work about Christian living, although it is full of guidance about just that.

Bill Pollard was for many years the CEO of ServiceMaster, the much studied and admired former Fortune 500 Company. Prior to that, he was, for a time, a practising lawyer in private practice and, for a brief period, an academic. Throughout his life he has been involved in educational projects and charities. He has seen much success, including the extraordinary growth of his company, but has also experienced the varying “tides of life”, including the early death of his father and, recently, the death of an evidently much loved grandson (who appears on the cover of this book). Now, in the evening of his life, he has written a book about what he calls the “lessons and choices in life”. Essentially, it is an overview of what he has learned through his many and varied experiences.

The result is a structured miscellany: there are reflections on what “our humanity is all about” and on God’s ordering of the world; thoughts about responsibility and stewardship; discussions of the nature of work of and purpose of business, the role of leaders and managers and how God may be served by those in business; and, last but not least, reflections on the importance and nurturing of relationships. In all cases, Bill Pollard teaches by means of stories from his own life, which are placed within the framework of a biblical world view.

Happily, in recent years there has been a considerable upsurge of interest in the calling of Christians to serve God throughout their everyday lives rather than through some detached “Christian service” element of them. Bill Pollard believes passionately in this calling and wishes to pass on what he has learned about how to put the theory into practice. He is clearly a man who has never stopped learning and, judging by the number of times he quotes what others have said to him over the years, a man who never forgets advice that he has been given. Above all, he is a man who believes in providence and who lives his life in the light of Proverbs 19:21 (“Many are the plans in a man’s heart but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails”), which is quoted at the head of one of the chapters of his book.

Arguably, he tries to cram too much into the space available. For example, the seventeen pages devoted to good corporate governance include matters as diverse as the ideal size for a corporate board and comments regarding what went wrong in the banks in the run up to the global financial crisis. Some business people will find this section of the book superficial. However, this is a quibble rather than a serious criticism.

More significantly, even having read Bill Pollard’s fierce criticism of the results of the absence of morality in the market place, some Christians may question the merits of the market economy to which he is committed and may be disappointed that he largely asserts these benefits rather than arguing for them in an academic manner. He similarly asserts his Christian world view rather than seeking to defend it. This, however, merely reflects the nature of the book: it does not purport to be a work of free market or Christian apologetics. It is thus unlikely to persuade a reader to accept its basic premises. However, it demonstrates how these premises may be lived out in practice and may cause sceptics to ask themselves whether this might indeed be the way that we should live our lives. Furthermore, if like me you agree with the premises, you will find here a mine of practical Christian teaching and advice.

This is not a book to read quickly. It is worth reading in short sections over a prolonged period of time, reflecting on each part of it before moving on to the next part. It may be impossible to categorise but it is none the worse for that.

 

“The Tides of Life” by Bill Pollard was first published in 2014 by Crossway Publishing (ISBN 1433541742, 9781433541742).


Richard Godden is a Lawyer and has been a Partner with Linklaters for over 25 years during which time he has advised on a wide range of transactions and issues in various parts of the world. 

Richard’s experience includes his time as Secretary at the UK Takeover Panel and a secondment to Linklaters’ Hong Kong office. He also served as Global Head of Client Sectors, responsible for Linklaters’ industry sector groups, and was a member of the Global Executive Committee.

Jeremy Marshall: “Quaker capitalism – Lessons for today” by Richard Turnbull

Today the role of the Christian church in business seems to be mainly, in England anyway, as a vocal critic of the capitalist system. Business and wealth creation– let alone the dreaded banking industry –  is viewed with suspicion in many Christian circles. The role of addressing the ills of society seems, as far as I can understand the Church of England’s views, to be the responsibility of the state, not business and certainly not Christians in business.  Sadly, we have lost our Christian history. For there was a time when a rather small and one might say unusual group of Christians had a profound impact on England’s’ business, banking and society. These were the Quakers, the subject of this new book. Quaker business had an impact out of all proportion to the size of its community which was but a few thousand. For out of the Quakers came  banks – Barclays, Lloyds, food – Cadbury, Rowntree’s, Fry’s, insurance – Friends Life manufacturing – huge numbers of iron businesses following Abraham Derby, shoes – Clarks and many more in chemicals, pharmaceuticals and other sectors. Not only were these businesses successful they treated their employees and customers with an unusual degree of care and concern: in fact one might say they were successful precisely because they applied Christian values in this way.

This short and insightful book is by Richard Turnbull, previously Principal of Wycliffe Hall and now Director of the Centre for Enterprise, Markets and Ethics (CEME). CEME has been set up by Brian Griffiths and others to try and apply Christian principles to business and wealth creation. Turnbull not only covers the history detailed above but more importantly draws some thought provoking lessons for today. Firstly, the Quakers had a living Christian faith. Quakerism had both the “inner light” thinking of its founder George Fox but also, up until around 1850, a strongly biblical “evangelical” side, which may come as a surprise to those of us more familiar with modern Quaker thinking. This was personified by the Gurneys, one of the main families who founded Barclays and the biblical thinking from the evangelical wing provided an objective biblical framework for business –  a clear moral code. Secondly, they were highly successful family businesses working in a rich network of other family businesses. The sense of shared values and making money to use it for the good of society characterised their thinking and came directly from their family ownership. “The idea of (the) family encapsulates both purpose (for today) and stewardship (for tomorrow)” says Richard Turnbull. Thirdly and perhaps most importantly, they believed that business has a moral responsibility to create wealth, not for its own sake, let alone to be spent selfishly, but as stewards of God to use their wealth for the good of others. Hence the Quakers intense interest in education and model housing (Bournville being the most famous example).

The Quakers were not perfect, the book points out. Ironically much of their drive and network came because they were discriminated against and excluded from Oxbridge and the professions (some might think that not going to Oxbridge was precisely why they were successful in business!) As the evangelical fire waned during the C19th and as they became richer and more successful, some of the sense of stewardship was lost. Sadly, many of the most vociferous opponent of Lord Shaftsbury’s factory reforms – such as stopping small children as young as 6 or 7 going down mines –  were the Quakers. Their businesses became larger and the families often lost interest, selling out and losing their shared values. The introduction of limited liability in 1856, notes Turnbull, was a particular turning point. (The very idea of limited liability was originally regarded as “immoral” – as was advertising!) The whole movement began to weaken and many family businesses sold up, the most obvious example of course is the sad fate of Cadburys. But this interesting, concise and well researched book by a leading expert in applying Christian thinking to business points out that there are important lessons we can learn from the Quakers, whether Christians or not. Even for the person who would not call themselves a Christian, then the Quaker formula – which we might say is shared moral values + common purpose + discipline + building trust and treating customers and staff well + family businesses with owners who view their wealth as for the good of society = good business – will never go out of fashion.

 

“Quaker capitalism: Lessons for today” by Richard Turnbull was first published in 2014 by the Centre for Enterprise, Markets and Ethics (ISBN 1-910666-00-5).


J-Marshall_web_0

Jeremy Marshall is the Director and Chief Executive of C. Hoare & Co private bank.