An Economy of Grace (part 2)

  • Kathryn Tanner, Professor of Theology at the Divinity School, University of Chicago, published Economy of Grace in 2005 (Fortress Press).  In it she attempts to develop the argument “that Christianity does have an economic vision for the whole of life”, and that it provides a platform from which to critique the economic orthodoxy that prevails in most of the world.

    This vision is organized around the concept of gift.  She draws clear lines between giving on the one hand and all other forms of transfer on the other.

    “The sense of gift or grace that organizes our reading of the Christian story should fundamentally undercut principles of exchange of all these sorts.  Notions of debt, contractual obligation, loan, even stewardship, should be written out of the story about God’s relations to the world and our relations with God and one another, in light of an understanding of grace that is fundamentally incompatible with them.”

    Kathryn Tanner, Economy of Grace, pp. 56-7

    She also provides a connection between generosity and social justice.

    “God’s purpose in giving is to benefit creatures, and therefore the proper return of God’s giving is not so much directed back to God as directed to those creatures.  A proper return here is one in which God’s gifts both do the creatures who receive them good and are used for the good of others.”

    Tanner, pp. 68-9

    Gratitude is the simply the natural response to a gift, to grace:

    “The gift’s goodness is what inclines one to affirm that fact, to thank the one who brought it, to praise and honour the giver for her kindness and generosity.  One doesn’t usually make a return like that to the giver because one has to, but out of a free and joyful testimony to what one has received from another’s hands.”

    Tanner, p. 69

    The book is organized into three sections.  The first section is a rigorous analysis of different ways of comparing two autonomous “fields”.  Even with an advanced degree in philosophy, I found it tough going and not very rewarding to a non-academic reader.

    The second section, “Imagining Alternatives to the Present Economic System”, was of the greatest interest, although not without some challenges.

    The final section, “Putting a Theological Economy to Work”, is a long critique of contemporary capitalism from the perspective developed earlier in the book.  A degree in economics would help here, although anyone who is following the current economic crisis in Europe and the debate over growth vs.  austerity will find many points of relevance.

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