Karl Polanyi first wrote The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time in 1944.
Much has changed (understatement) since 1944; and yet…
And yet, unfortunately, one of the things that has not changed is our need to still learn some of the lessons that Polanyi suggested were needed back in 1944 (Joseph Stiglitz underscores this perspective in his forward to the 2001 edition printed almost sixty years later).
So what are some of these lessons that Polanyi writes to us in The Great Transformation?
A major premise Polanyi explicates in his text is that social life and economic life are to be understood as interconnected. If the economic capital of people suffers then the social capital of the places in which such people reside will also tend to suffer. From this thesis, in contradistinction to people like Ayn Rand and other “free-market” advocates, Polanyi did not believe that a non-regulated economic market was a viable or healthy socio-political model. Instead, he felt that economic regulation through governmental intervention was necessary if a society was to have a real chance at maintaining some semblance of healthy equilibrium/functionality.
I agree with the above, but I would like to also add the variation that isn’t offered there; that is, I also think that if the social capital of people suffers then the economic capital of the places in which such people reside will also tend to suffer.
I don’t really think that we can place one variation fully against the other in an either-or scenario. There is a symbiotic relationship in process. Economics affects sociality and sociality affects economics.
However, symbiosis noted, I personally lean toward preferencing sociality a bit over economics as I feel that having a proper heart-orientation and community connections can facilitate people better navigating situations of poverty or even just times of economic hardship if and as they arise. While there are multiple examples that can be offered toward this – including some from economists – let me just offer two.
One example that I greatly appreciate is the work of Harvard’s Robert Putnam work which as relates to this case underscores that strong internetworked community bonds makes for more resilient and more equitable/just societies. He writes about this factor in various of his texts, but an early and important study from both micro and macro analysis is offered in Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy. This text considers a twenty-some year longitudinal study of northern and southern Italy asking why there is such vastly differentiated economic societal fortunes playing out in the two regions. The answer in short is civic interconnectedness. It’s an important study that can be extrapolated to other areas. [Other texts of Putnam’s that are helpful in this area include: Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community; Better Together: Restoring the American Community; Democracies in Flux: The Evolution of Social Capital in Contemporary Society…]
A second example that is meaningful for me is the book and the video of The Man Who Planted Trees by
By Jean Giono. This is a story that can be understood to poignantly portray both sides of how economics and community sociality are vital to one another. Elzeard Bouffier is the protagonist in the story and provides us with a character of great moral bearing who is able to redeem and revive a barren land through the steadfastness of his heart coupled with perseverance at his task. He is an example of how deeply, rooted understanding of community can weather and eventually overcome economic setbacks. However, Elzeard is needed in the first place because the land has been laid waste through untoward community practices that has led to almost total environmental collapse of the surrounding area. This has driven most people away from the area and those who stayed have become hostile due to the harsh conditions. Their souls have become mirrors of that which surrounds them. They were not strongly rooted in communal care in the first place and thus instead of being able to work to transmute “lead into gold” per se, their own spirits have become leaden. This is an excellent tale that showcases care for what is around us leads to well-being of both the personal and the communal while disdain for what is around us leads to all kinds of harm.
Polanyi’s text fits well alongside these other texts reminding us of the interconnected nature of this reality in which we exist for better and/or for worse.
How are you caring for that which is around you? How are you not? Are you aware of how you are being affected by all of these things?
In the beginning…out of nothing…God created. We, created in the likeness of the Maker who makes all things, are ourselves world-makers. This is our birthright. There are those who still actively name this birthright and call us to living into its freedom, joy and responsibility. The Presbyterian Church USA works toward “renewing the church to transform the world.” The Episcopal Church claims that a “revolution (of justice and peace) is precisely what God’s work, God’s mission, is all about.” The Mission of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America states that “transforming the structures of society, working for justice, and preserving the earth.” And the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops in writing about world-change offer, “Our faith demands it. Our teaching calls us to it. Our nation needs it and others depend on it. We can make a difference.” These are examples of so many more organizations and people that also encourage us into creating and creating well.
This is how James Davison Hunter powerfully begins his book To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility in the Late Modern World. Sadly, Hunter notes that many see their Christianity as that stereotypical crutch – something to help them deal with the complexities and hardships that come their way. Too few see their faith as a bolstering, enlivening, power-bequeathing and generative principle. Yet, there are those who do understand their faith in this manner and we celebrate them the world over – Desmond Tutu, Mother Teresa, Jimmy Carter, and the like.
What I appreciate about Hunter’s text is his emphasis on the need for institutions in order to really be effective at sustainably changing society. While I do find that he has a bit stronger emphasis on this, at the expense of personal interaction, than I would like, I generally agree that substantive, sustainable change must involve institutions in some form. Hunter writing from a sociological perspective recognizes that institutions in central societal positions bear most possibility for significant influence and he notes that many in the church occupy comparatively marginal positions. And thus, he wisely suggests that we stop putting quite so much pressure on people to be “world-changers” writ-large. Instead, how we should encourage them toward “faithful presence” where they happen to be on any given day at any given place.
I agree…and yet…here we are following in the footsteps – two some centuries on – of a backwater villages Carpenter’s son who gathered some lower-rungs-of-society (overall) companions to him. He walked around with them, got a lot of people angry and then got himself killed. Later, many of his companions managed to also get themselves killed even after a previously unheard of resurrection from the dead transpired (you’d think they could have gotten a bit of street cred from that…). So, while I do agree with Hunter’s analysis overall, I also retain just a bit of wonderment at the beautiful unpredictability of just how God works in the world and remain glad that I am part of that tradition.
 Hunter, James Davison, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 3.
Murray Jardine leads us down a path that many have noted before, but he does a good job of it. Namely, our scientific and technological capabilities are outstripping our ability to morally process their implications before implementing them into our lives. Throughout his book, The Making and Unmaking of Technology Society: How Christianity Can Save Modernity From Itself, Jardine seeks to awaken us from a sense of mesmerized stupor at the shiny baubles we are allowing to control our lives.
Jardine repeats the critique of Weber that Weber makes of his own orientation in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism and adds his own particularities to it. That is, the ascetic aspect of Christianity – it’s moral restraint – on its own is actually detrimental in the long-run to the idea of a healthily functioning society because it doesn’t allow for a reasonable mitigation of the effort it will put toward earning money. So, Jardine argues that we need more characteristics to be emphasized alongside moral restraint. He writes for instance that we need,
“a sense of the moral limitations inherent in our capacity for speech … Thanks to literacy and modern inventions … we live in a culture that is extremely visually oriented and relatively closed to the sound-dimension of human experience. Thus it is essential, if we are to develop a moral sense that can enable us to deal with technology, that we recapture a much richer sense of what we are doing when we speak and listen to other human beings. This in turn implies that we must rebuild local communities characterized by face-to-face contact—that is, where speaking becomes a more central part of daily life …”
Overall, Jardine is looking for a complete, recovered sensibility of the Christian faith as love for all people that he believes has the capacity to overturn all kinds of social negativity and create a new socio-political milieu. I greatly appreciate that Jardine is calling for a renewal of a sense of ethicality in our day-to-day lives. I like that he is also calling for a refocusing on the tools of our technological multiverse that have become so pervasive in our lives. He isn’t saying “no” to any of these things. He is just saying that it would be in our best interests to think more thoroughly about the how and why and how much of each of the items we implement into our lives. Sound advice.
How does the technology that I use facilitate growth in my faith? How does the technology that I use further connect me with others and enhance community? Is there a way that I can lessen my use of technology and continue any positives that I am experiencing? Antithetically, how does the technology that I use hinder my faith? How does the technology that I use separate me from other and stunt community growth? Is there a way that I can lessen my use of technology and end any negatives that I am experiencing?
How would you answer the above questions?
 Murray Jardine “The Making and Unmaking of Technology Society: How Christianity Can Save Modernity From Itself.” (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2004), 25.
In case you haven’t noticed a significant amount of people think something is wrong with America. Now, it’s hard to believe that anyone really takes this idea seriously, because when you think about it, really think about it, what changes actually get made? Are there still uncharged inmates at Guantanamo? Do we still have the largest inmate population in the world? Nuclear weapons…are they still around? Wealthy elites still around gaining their money at the expense of inadequately paid and protected labor? America still sending troops all around the world whenever and wherever and not seeking UN approval unless it’s helpful? Any new gun laws around or any kind of legislation get passed seeking to prevent further harms? Still the largest homeless population in the industrialized world? How about immigration…any helpful legislation passed there…have we stopped separating families yet?
So, just some suggestions among many that could be offered above. It would seem like we have some things that we could arguably work on a bit. And yet. And yet we have not seen much if any substantive movement on a lot of the above issues. This is why it becomes difficult to take ourselves seriously.
Ben Douthat in his book Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics wants to help us understand why we think something might be wrong with America and in doing so it just might increase the chances of getting some movement on the above issues. Maybe.
As you might guess from his book title, his suggestion of this “wrongness” in American society has to do with religion – specifically, skewed and or absent religion. Douthat suggests conservatives believe it is due to falling away from the Founders Faith, to being bullied into secularization, to diverting from Manifest Destiny type scenarios, to a loss of moral framework that Alexis de Tocqueville predicted so long ago. Liberals suggest that it’s due to draconian Christianness, to American Theocracy, basically just to too much “piety and zeal.” Of course, these positions between the two camps appear to be direct opposites, but Douthat writes that they have more in common than might be expected. Yes, there are problems with both too much and too little religion, but the primary problem isn’t this. The primary problem is not about much or little, but about bad; it’s about bad religion. In a bit of hyperbole on my part, Douthat writes that Pseudo-Christianities are popping up all over and no one knows what they’re doing in relation to what he notes as traditional Christianity. He hits hard, writing, “it’s…a place where traditional Christian teachings have been warped into justifications for solipsism and anti-intellectualism, jingoism and utopianism, selfishness and greed.”
In the midst and the end however, Douthat offers some hope. He writes a meaningful and simultaneously hilarious statement, “The history of Christianity has always featured unexpected resurrections.” Christianity has managed to metamorphosize in all kinds of cultures while still maintaining its core integrity. Ages of crises have been followed by ages of renewal and G.K. Chesterton has noted that while many times “the Faith has to all appearance gone to the dogs [in the end] it was the dog that died.” Douthat shows that new revitalizing movements are taking the place of decrepit structures. New people are replacing those that have passed on. Behold, once again, a new day dawns for the perpetual phoenix that is Christianity.
The question for each of us is where do we fall in this? Are we part of the hindrance or part of creative new ways forward that yet remain faithful to the core of what came before?
 Ross Douthat, Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics, (New York, NY: Free Press, 2012), 2.
In Making Room for Leadership: Power, Space and Influence, Mary Kate Morse does something amazing. She gets us outside of living inordinately inside our heads. That is, it’s not that we are overthinking things (though that can happen); instead, it’s that we have had a tendency to incorrectly be thinking about a lot of things. One such thing often thought about unhelpfully is power.
If you want a subtitle for this book, here’s the redemptive one that I would like to offer from a quote straight out of the book, “how power used well can make a big difference in someone’s life.” It does seem that there are a lot of times when those “with power” are one’s that haven’t really reflected upon their power and how it is affecting them and others around them. As well, it seems like there are a lot of times when those “without power” have thought about such aspects, but are not appropriating their giftedness due to a variety of reasons. Mary Kate Morse’s book is about changing this dynamic and she does a good job of getting at it.
Recently, I have been reading quite a bit on economy and its relation to the practice and understanding of faith. In this book too, Mary Kate in her discussion of leadership notes Jesus’ practice of self-giving hospitality in relation to economic structures in contradistinction to a primary orientation of self-focused consumption. She focuses on the idea of sharing over taking.
Leading the way that Jesus led is in one way, shape or form incumbent upon all of us who follow Christ. Actually, perhaps it would be just as well to write “living” as well as “leading.” A piece in Morse’s book I find refreshing is when she writes, “Although Jesus had a tremendous amount of power he did not refer to himself as a leader or a king. Yet no one else has influenced this world as much as Jesus has.” This should be eminently encouraging to us. It’s not the kind of understanding that will make all of the problems of the world disappear, but it will assist in recalibrating our perspectives which well might make a number of the problems of the world disappear.
Over my years in leadership, one thing that I have desired to exemplify is authenticity and openness to participation. Of course, like any person, there are days when I am better at this and days which I could have been better. But, overall, I think that due to my focus on these aspects and my desire to live into them well, I have done reasonably well at making this part of my practice. Certainly, I see many people in leadership positions that at the very least don’t seem to be actively working to exemplify this. I hope to influence more people along these lines and it is encouraging to have Morse write a bit about this.
“Authentic leadership – leadership that catalyzes a group toward deep change and moves its members in positive, energizing directions – involves the group acting together.”
Navigating the waters of leadership is anything but simple. However, by the grace of God and with some training and ongoing practice I think that we all can come together a bit more and accomplish greater goals than we expect.
 MaryKate Morse, Making Room For Leadership: Power, Space and Influence (Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 2008), 18.
This blog post is being driven from reading William T. Cavanaugh’s Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire and Vincent J. Miller’s Consuming Religion: Christian Faith and Practice in a Consumer Culture.
However, I have recently written another blog post on a related reading dealing with economics, socio-political interaction and faith. I engaged Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism in that post. Weber’s text written over 100 years ago (1904/1905; translated into English, 1930) remarkably shines through in both of the texts that I am focusing on now.
Both of these texts do an excellent job showcasing the powerful need for positive alternatives being offered to the 24/7/365 inundation so many of us are experiencing of negative economic orientations. As well, both texts, offer some helpful guidance in this area of positive alternatives.
I like how Cavanaugh discusses not simply eschew the idea of “free market” just because it has not met expectations. Instead, Cavanaugh queries what it would take to make a market truly free? I further appreciate that he doesn’t settle for an answer of negative freedom; for example, just being content with a lack of state intervention. Rather, Cavanaugh encourages exploration into what would be a robust sense of freedom, a flourishing, life-giving sense of exchange. He encourages us to search the Scriptures for these examples and then courageously begin to live into them. He notes that this will not be primarily a top-down approach – though there is a place for this – but instead, we need to begin enacting the principles we see the Scriptures calling us to in the here-and-now where we currently reside.
This enacting of principles in the here-and-now sounds loudly in Cavanaugh’s discussion of Hans Urs Von Balthasar’s notion of the “universal Body of Christ” overcomes the superficiality of the “universal gaze.” We are able to healthily appropriate the universal in the Body of the Christ in each of our particular/local interactions. However, our focus on global identity (on globality), often turns our “universal gaze” into – in my term – a “universal glaze.” This isn’t always the case. There are ways around this glazing to become more rooted at the same time as broadening one’s horizons, but it is a strong tendency and negative examples abound.
Miller’s text sits well in conversation with Cavanaugh’s. Miller is concerned with the idea of commodification throughout the text and how this leads us to unconscious acceptance — through habitual acts – of what amounts to essentially contextless material to us. We know little to nothing often about where it came from, what it’s really made of, the process whereby it was produced, the person or persons involved in the process, various entities to which our monies are going to in relation to our buying the product, etc.
It is safe to say in the eyes of these authors that we are first and foremost not consumers. For that matter, we are first and foremost not even producers. First and foremost we are simply human. We are image bearers of the identity of God that have worth above-and-beyond any particularities of action in which we engage. This isn’t meant to lessen responsibility and consequences for actions, it is instead meant to allow for the free-choosing of better actions due to not feeling inordinately driven by unhealthy existential pressures.
I highly recommend these texts as materials to assist in the grappling of living well on the face of this wonderful planet that we are meant to care for as a creation of the God we serve. We haven’t always done so well at caring for the Earth all around us, but I’d like to think that the more that we stop focusing on what we don’t have and more on the amazingness of who we already are and the miracle of our Being the more likely we’ll be freeing ourselves up to live well for God, for ourselves, for others and for the sake of the earth all around us.
What would it really mean for us to believe that God will supply all of our needs, that God really does care for us like the sparrow and the grass of the fields, etc.? How might that kind of trust transform our lives and the lives around us for the better?
 William T. Cavanaugh, Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire (Grand Prapids, MI: William B Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008), x.
The Rebel Sell: How the Counterculture Became Consumer Culture by Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter is interesting. I offer that ambivalently. It’s interesting in some intriguing, thought-provoking ways and unfortunately it’s also interesting in some Orwellian, Huxleyan Brave New World kind of ways.
One begins reading The Rebel Sell expecting some critique of failed countercultural engagement, but overall expecting a critique of systemic, structural oppression(s). However, one actually gets a significant case of elitist apology. I do agree with some of the suggestions that the authors make, but they make them in such a way as a person can’t help but be rather suspicious of their intentions even in my agreement.
There is a sense that this text argues we should just accept the medicine Big Brother offers because it is in our best interest. Counterculture, the authors write, hasn’t produced substantive positive, societal change so we should simply toss it in the trash-bin of history. For instance a few pages into their text the authors already having in truncated fashion (pun – in relation to the text; the authors use the idea of fashion as their inroad to critique beginning the book) dismissed all of essentially sixty years of differentiated movements – here all subsumed under the rubric of counterculture – within the space of a few magic paragraphs.
“There simply never was any tension between the countercultural ideas that informed the 60’s rebellion and the ideological requirements of the capitalist system. While there is no doubt that cultural conflict developed between the members of the counter-culture and the defenders of the establishment, there never was any tension between the values of the counterculture and the functional requirements of the capitalist economic system. The counterculture was, from its very inception, intensely entrepreneurial.”
Umm…well, apparently they got a publishing deal so this makes them right, right? Let’s hope not. They seriously suggest that there’s no – even stronger, “never was any” – tension between “countercultural ideas” and capitalist system “ideological requirements?” I recognize what they are doing, but they are doing it woefully inadequately and mucking it up as they go. The major problem here is not that they’re completely wrong; the major problem is that they are primarily wrong with a bit of relevancy thrown in making it seem to some that there might be something to be gleaned. Sure, the short journey for many Boomers from hippiedom to yuppiedom has been noted ad nauseum. In fact, let’s take it up a notch, the journey for many didn’t stop at yuppiedom, there was a quick move for many to plutocracy. Pew and other society research organizations have noted that the gap between the wealthiest few and poorest many is greater and broader than at any time since WWII and there is significant skepticism to the idea of an actual “democratic experiment” anymore. However, to note a cultural path taken by some (even many) and use it to suggest a wholesale dismissal of a multiplicity of vibrant movements (placed under the rubric of counterculture) hopefully rings suspect to most people. Ah, but the authors also choose to confound and compound two vastly nuanced movements with extensive permutations of perspective and engagement into one entity in essence by suggesting they’re the same thing at core because they’re both “entrepreneurial.” So, ostensibly, people starting their own communes are the same at core as those starting their own corporations – apparently we should disregard variations in governance structures, handling of finances, types of products/goods made, grown, bought, sold and the rationale for doing so, choices of housing/clothing and why, etc.
Unfortunately, there’s a book full of such examples.
Overall, one small way in which I am allowing myself to come alongside the authors is by taking what they have written and suggesting that I agree the goal is not primarily to be against something, but for something. The authors did not take the following route, but I am extrapolating from their writing to bring my post to a place that I think is important while trying to find some affinity with them. Nietzsche warned in Beyond Good and Evil in Aphorism 146 that “[One] who fights with monsters should look to it that [they do] not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.” If you want a deeper rebellion then live more, love more, care more. MLK suggests this, “One day we shall win freedom, but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.” Jesus suggests this in the fifth chapter of the Gospel as recorded by Matthew, “Ye have heard that it has been said, ‘Thou shall love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy.’ But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven.”
Perhaps the authors would suggest that the above is all entrepreneurial and therefore lacks any ideological differentiation from capitalism because some churches sell things? If so, once again we would be back at the oddly deficient understanding as is present at the beginning of this book sprinkled with a bit of poignancy to make it all seem like it just might bear relevance. Thankfully, we don’t have to agree with everything we read. Wait…now I’m confused…is that me being countercultural or capitalist? ;)
 Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter, The Rebel Sell: How the Counterculture Became Consumer Culture, Capstone ed. (West Sussex: UK: Capstone Publishing, 2006), 5.
The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism by Max Weber essentially needs no introduction. It is a classic in western culture and even more broadly known and referred to than this around the world.
However, being a classic, it can be something of which people and to which they refer without ever having actually looked at it. So, perhaps a bit of explanation is within reason. Too simply really to offer any kind of justice to a text of the magnitude of import such as Weber’s here, I would simply say that in this text Weber explores how the organization of particular material means coupled with a particular set of belief practices can exponentially drive a society forward in relation to the acquisition of wealth/prosperity. However, such acquisition comes at a price (pun intended). Calvinism in its sense of both predetermined election (salvation) and the need to essentially “prove” ones election through good works, brought about a drive of unflagging energy, but also a supreme sense of internal anomie from the normal workings of the surrounding universe. One was “set apart,” but in such a way that the scripture verse “if God be for us than who can be against us” became semi-farcical because, really, with “friends like these, who needs enemies?”
Protestantism specifically viewed through the lenses of Puritanism and Calvinism — but writ larger too – with all of its tendencies toward ascetic restraint offered its organic fuel to the mechanistic nature of the economic machine. It provided impetus, but the impetus abused birthed impotence. The creation took control of its master; except in this case, unlike the Frankenstein story, there is no redemptive aspect of the struggle of the created over-against the creator; the machine of capitalist enterprise is not sentient, it just drains the sentience and volition of others. This is Weber’s noted “Iron Cage” which is metaphorically representative of the rationalization, control, calculation, efficiency, bureaucracy that takes over the social sphere through the pursuit of economic ends. These characteristics choke out freedom, democracy, choice, volition, and the like.
Thus, the original motivation for doing well soon dissipates from the self upon entering the system of rationalization which is “the market.” Anthony Giddens offers a passage from Weber in his preface to the text that powerfully sums up this macabre dilemma, “When asceticism was carried out of monastic cells into everyday life, and began to dominate worldly morality, it did its part in building the tremendous cosmos of the modern economic order … victorious capitalism, since it rests on mechanical foundations, needs its support no longer … the idea of duty in one’s calling prowls about in our lives like the ghost of dead religious beliefs. (pp.123-4)”
So what is the answer to this? Weber quotes the founder of Methodism, John Wesley, as wondering about the same thing and having a suggestion:
“’I fear, wherever riches have increased, the essence of religion has decreased in the same proportion. Therefore I do not see how it is possible, in the nature of things, for any revival of true religion to continue long. For religion must necessarily produce both industry and frugality, and these cannot but produce riches. But as riches increase, so will pride, anger, and love of the world in all its branches. How then is it possible that Methodism, that is, a religion of the heart, though it flourishes now as a green bay tree, should continue in this state? For the Methodists in every place grow diligent and frugal; consequently they increase in goods. Hence they proportionately increase in pride, in anger, in the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, and the pride of life. So, although the form of religion remains, the spirit is swiftly vanishing away. Is there no way to prevent this – this continual decay of pure religion? We ought not to prevent people from being diligent and frugal; we must exhort all Christians to gain all they can, and to save all they can; that is, in effect, to grow rich.’
There follows the advice that those who gain all they can and save all they can should also give all they can, so that they will grow in grace and lay up a treasure in heaven”
Weber uses this piece as a sense of further solidifying his overall argument that he has been making up to this point. However, I want to use it instead to suggest a way out. Wesley is not coming from the same perspective as Calvinists and Puritans in his rendering. Wesley recognizes that it is the love of money not money itself per se which is the root of all evil. As long as there remains a willingness (not obligatory necessity) to bequeath the money onward, the dilemma is resolved. Unlike Calvinism and Puritanism, money is not forwarded onward here first out of moral obligation at core, but first out of the freedom offered by the gifting of the Spirit breaking all kinds of bonds of vice. The difference here is at times subtle, but I think vital.
Finally, I want to take the piece that Anthony Giddens references above from Max Weber related to the idea of duty prowling about in our heads like the ghosts of dead religious beliefs and breathe life into dead bones – to use a scriptural reference. Jacques Derrida often speaks about the seeds of new life lie buried and waiting for growth within us. The haunting of ghosts offers this reflection of something former that might yet be again. Those ghosts prowling about might be simply showcasing husks of what was, but these husks like embers that suggest a fire that once was given proper oxygenation can be the renewal pieces for transformed living.
If there is a Spirit with capitalism, it is a Spirit of what once was and what can yet be again. Let us hope indeed that ghosts trump iron cages.
 Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, trans. Talcott Parsons (New York: Routledge Classics/Taylor&Francis e-Library, Inc., 2005), p. xvii
Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s by D. W. Bebbington is – as the title suggests — a text about a historical exploration of Evangelicalism in modern Britain. However, it is also about much more than this. While Bebbington specifically reviews the socio-cultural aspects of Evangelicalism in Britain, there are themes that he discusses that have influenced Evangelical movements world-wide.
For instance, in beginning the text, Bebbington notes that among other varying attributes of Evangelicalism that he understands to have been emphasized, four characteristics remain consistently core: conversionism, activism, biblicism, and crucicentrism. “Together they form a quadrilateral of priorities that is the basis of Evangelicalism.” While his discussion of these aspects related to the specific topic of the text is eminently helpful in its own right, these are also qualities with which most Evangelicals world-wide find affinity. For instance, in the mid-twentieth century Albert Outler coined his own quadrilateral — what he called the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. Outler’s version consists of Scripture, Reason, Tradition and Experience. Later Howard Snyder of Asbury Theological Seminary added a fifth component – making a pentalateral — that he suggested was implicit within those already stated – Service. While it can be noted that of all the characteristics, Outler’s version – who did his Ph.D. work at Yale, taught at both Yale and Duke and was an officially invited observer at the Second Vatican Council – seems to contain the least implicit and/or explicit specific reference to crucicentrism the realities of the day showcased otherwise. As Bebbington notes in his text, the idea of Biblicism/scripture was often left out various permutations of core doctrinaire assumptions produced by British Evangelicals. This was not due to their lack of commitment. Rather, it was often due to their being so immersed in the text that they felt no need to reference it. This same orientation could be similarly suggested of Outler’s rendition related to crucicentrism.
However, overall, despite the relevance of discussing the rationale for an even greater understanding of similarity in the midst of a common core of overlapping emphases, what I find particularly important about Bebbington’s historical review, actually, is its notation of particular personalities, consistent shiftings of emphases within similarity and even some larger shifts of focus beyond the boundaries of easily understood similarity. My reason for suggesting my own emphasis on noting consistent historical shift over stability within Evangelicalism is due to what has been in the last thirty plus years a rigidification of understanding of doctrine and its adherence in some Evangelical camps and a reciprocal rigidification (ironically) of what amounts to a laissez-faire approach to spirituality in other Evangelical camps. The tensions of the “middle ground” in Evangelicalism of both “Love of God” (biblicism/crucicentrism) and “Love of Neighbor” (conversionism/activism) has not been an easy road to navigate. This is a rough sketch of this idea and more specificity would be needed to adequately convey a full connectivity of the above concepts, but I hope a semblance of the issue is communicated. It is important to note socio-cultural change because I find that this offers room for personal and corporate grace while also still humbly reminding of commonalities from which change occurs.
What I love about Bebbington’s book is that it ends for me in a hopeful fashion. It informs that where many Evangelicals for too long held to the stance of “your either with us or against us” and also held to an essential Platonic dualism of the spirit being good and the body being bad, a new day is dawning where social responsibility is a vital part of spirituality that requires kindness and friendship, a hospitable working alongside those who think, believe and sometimes do otherwise. I am also coming away from the text feeling that it reminds Evangelicals to be “ambassadors of reconciliation” seeking to bring about goodness – pieces of heaven on earth – here and now not just “in the sweet by and by.”
“Current evangelicalism in the US lacks an articulate political or social theory except for a generalized patriotism.” So writes Max Stackhouse, long-serving emeritus professor at Princeton. Unfortunately – including beyond the scope of simply “evangelicalism” – much of the “theology” we see applied in the public sphere today is more bafoonery than it is articulate, nuanced, contextualized, researched and practiced substantive belief. Here’s the thing, substantive political engagement doesn’t often fit well into the sound-byte political carnival we’ve typically got parading around these days. And so, we’ve got a population that by-and-large has grown-up on and continues to be fed sloganeering faith. If they like it, they buy-in hook-line-and-sinker. If they don’t like it, they want nothing to do with it at all. Neither of these aspects is desirable. In a sense, politically and theologically, we don’t primarily want protagonists or antagonists; we want deuteragonists, tritagonists and other agonists. We don’t really want people who are too comfortable with completely excluding others who do not fully adhere to their particular beliefs. We want people who are willing to in the best possible manner relationally walk in the tension of figuring out how to navigate life with others while not ever (or certainly hardly ever) arriving at complete concurrence.
So, without taking a lot more time this brings us to, the fact that “Public theology is, oddly, more like socialism is in theory, for it too sees the fabric of society as decisive for every area of the common life. It differs from socialism, however, in that it does not see the polarization of the classes as the fundamental characteristic of society—either in theory or in fact—and does not expect the state to control economic life by centralized planning and capitalization.” That is, in a good Catholic sense, it sees parish and neighborhood community as vital to the healthy functioning and maintenance of a healthy society. Personally, I like Stackhouse’s use of Althusias’s idea of “society as a ‘consociation of consociations’, a ‘federation’ of’covenanted’ communities.” I find that this fits well with the idea of contextual theology. In the sense of understanding that all theology is contextual and the idea that something contextual is woven together (from the Latin origin of contextus made up of ‘con’ – ‘with’ or ‘together’ and ‘texere’ – ‘to weave’) perhaps it might be important to talk about “Publics Theology” (plural) alongside “Public Theology” (singular). This interaction would seemingly allow for more conversation pertaining to the equitability of the distribution and implementation of power.
Stephen Bevans suggests that using contextual theology as a way forward (in conversation with Max Stackhouse, we would offer, “as a way forward for doing public(s) theology”) for implementing “proposed models of practical theology that also propose, in various ways, a dialogue between tradition and context for transformative action.” So, here we have a theological method that recognizes the necessity (inevitability) of engagement with the surrounding world, but also refuses to let such engagement become too fully entagled within the corridors of power and in yet another form once again marginalize those not “in.”
So as the title of this short piece suggests, beliefs do have consequences in public. It has just been than far too often the beliefs of people in power are held signficantly at the expense of those not in power. A comingling of contextual and public(s) theological undestanding and method would work to change this.
 Max Stackhouse, “Civil Religion, Political Theology and Public Theology: What’s the Difference?” Political Theology 5:3 (2004): 279
 Stephen B. Bevans, “What Has contextual Theology to Offer the Church of the Twenty-First Century?” in Contextual Theology for the Twenty-First Century, ed. Stephens B. Bevans and Katalina Tahaafe-Williams (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2011), 13.