Book of the Week: Cooperative economics from an evangelical point of view

As Wendell Berry says, we live in an economy that is based on the seven deadly sins.

Book: God’s Economy: Redefining the Health & Wealth Gospel. By Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. Zondervan, 2009

An intriguing book, so I asked the author, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, a number of questions, to which he gracefully responded.


1. Why exactly do you use the concept of God’s economy … Given the multiple interpretations of the Bible, isn’t that a little presumptuous? How do you define that notion more exactly?

You’re right: every attempt to speak for God is an act of presumption. “Who am I?” Moses asks at the burning bush. Yet, from the very beginning, God calls us to proclaim the good news to all nations. When we grasp the magnitude of task, we can only speak with fear and trembling.

Still, I speak about God’s Economy because I believe it is good news that we desperately need in a time when Money’s power demands our allegiance at every turn. To be exact, I think the good news of God’s Economy is this: in the midst of this world’s broken systems, God invites us to begin participating now in a way of life that leads to restored community and true fulfillment–what the New Testament calls “eternal” or “abundant” life.

2. Is your approach entirely contemporary, or do you reconnect with economic practices that were once prevalent, and perhaps need an updating for our current situation.

No, this isn’t new. I think God’s Economy is the “kingdom” Jesus announced 2000 years ago. It’s what grabbed the imagination of Palestinian peasants living under Roman occupation. It’s what started a revolution in the homes of people all across the Empire who worshiped and share life together, Jew and Greek, male and female, slave and free. And it’s been the heart of the church’s best social engagement throughout her history. So when I look at Jesus’ five tactics for a good life now in God’s Economy, I tell stories from the early church, from the middle ages, and from Latin America today. Yes, mainstream Christianity has often lost it’s focus. But the church has never been without faithful witnesses. God’s Economy is alive and well, and I try to celebrate it in the many diverse places where I see it.

3. How do you connect with other neotraditional approaches, say Buddhist Economics, including in the christian family, such as the pope’s latest encyclic. How would you relate to secularly inclined people, who nevertheless may be sympathetic to new economic approaches based on fairness, justice and more equality?

To say that Jesus is the hope of the whole world is not to say that Christians have a monopoly on the truth. We often make the mistake of believing this when we’re in charge, but it’s not true to our story. The Bible is full of stories about how God’s people didn’t get it but the outsiders did. That’s why the magi are there in the nativity scene. Jesus is at the center, yes. But we wouldn’t even know to worship him if it weren’t for the pagan astrologers who risked life and limb to lay their gifts before him.

So we can learn a lot about God’s Economy from people who come at economics from very different places. Muslims, for example, take their Scripture’s ban of usury much more seriously than we do. I think we can learn something about more faithful banking from them. And, yes, people who work for justice on more “secular” grounds are often better at living into Jesus’ tactics than we are. It doesn’t diminish the importance of Jesus when we learn from them. If anything, it is a reminder to us that Jesus is Lord of all.

4. Have you any thoughts on notions and practices such as ‘the commons’, or ‘peer to peer’, which are key notions for the readers of the P2P Foundation blog

For much of Christian history, the concept of the “common good” was fundamental to economic life. The social teachings of the church assume a notion of the commons. But it has been significantly diminished in our economy of advanced capitalism. As Wendell Berry says, we live in an economy that is based on the seven deadly sins. Greed is supposed to foster creativity. What we have, instead, is new wealth accompanied by a new form of urban poverty that has a full third of the world living in the deplorable conditions of mega slums.

So we need the virtues of a commons; we need the relationality of “peer to peer” exchanges. But I’m not convinced that we can establish (or re-establish) these things from the top-down. Instead, I think Jesus shows us how to live when you can’t drive the Romans out. Jesus teaches tactics for slipping God’s economy into the world as it is. We don’t have to take over. We just have to trust God’s economy. If we will, it’s like kudzu. If we slip it in here and there, it will grow into a mountain that covers the whole earth.

5. Could you give one practical example of a new economic practice that you advocate, but is also already being carried out by real communities

Jesus’ tactic of “relational generosity” is a practice that gets lived out in real community every day. Jesus says, “Give to whoever asks.” It’s an invitation to relationship with people who are in need. Don’t send them to social services. Enter into their lives. Get to know them. Discover your need for one another.

I love the story of a couple we know who invited a single mother and her three kids to live with them years ago. They shared what they had and helped this vulnerable immigrant family to survive. Now those three children are grown. They all went to college and got good jobs. And the couple that hosted their family now lives and welcomes others through the support they receive from, among others, the three kids they welcomed when they were in need.

6. Do you propose any ‘transition’ practices to achieve a more globally just society, where your proposals would be more part of the core value system, rather than just emergent and perhaps still marginal practices of a chosen few?

How does God’s Economy transform the world that is into the world that ought to be? God knows. What we know is what God has revealed to us: tactics to slip God’s Economy into the here and now. I think that means giving our whole lives to this peculiar way of living in the world. And I think it means resisting the urge to try to make everything “work out right.”

So we have to be cautious of “movements”–not because we don’t need change, but because we’re too easily deceived into thinking that we can manufacture the change we need. There is a movement–God’s Movement–that has been going on since before the beginning of time and will continue until the kingdoms of this world become the kingdom of our God. We’re caught up in that movement when we accept the invitation to God’s Economy. Whether it leaves us on the margins or brings us all together in its rising tide, it’s a joy to be along for the ride.”

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.