Tag Archives: economy

(Review) Beyond the Modern Age

In Beyond the Modern Age: An Archaeology of Contemporary Culture Bob Goudzwaard (Free University Amsterdam) and Craig Bartholomew (Redeemer College) provide an in-depth examination and critique of four modern worldviews. These four worldviews are: 1) the classical modern worldview, 2) the structural-critical worldview, 3) the cultural-critical worldview, and 4) postmodernism. In formulating their critique they lean on the work of Philip Reiff on culture and religion, Rene Girard on desire, and Len Goodman & Abraham Kuyper on pluralism. 513vpc01u1l-_sx322_bo1204203200_With this arsenal of contemporary thinkers, they proceed to put forth a positive proposal for a worldview which can contend with modern worldviews. This is a worldview which is thoroughly Christian but also fits well within our increasingly pluralistic world.

So what does this proposed Christianity for public life look like? The authors propose that Christianity which will be able to engage in our pluralistic world, and compete among the panoply of worldviews will be marked by the following:

  1. It will be self-critical, willing to take a close look at itself, explore how it has been positively and negatively shaped by modernity, and resubmit itself to the authority of Scripture and tradition.
  2. It will see clearly the relevance of the gospel for the whole of creation, for the whole of society and not just the individual soul or the institutional church.
  3. It will be genuinely committed to the flourishing of all creation.
  4. It will have a preferential option for the poor.
  5. It will take spiritual formation seriously.
  6. It will attempt to “live the solution.”

Their positive proposal is essentially and expansion upon points 3, 4, and 6. The problem of modernity, as they see it, boils down to an interconnectedness between population growth, environmental crisis, material production and consumption, economic crisis, decreasing global security, and deepening world poverty. The four modern worldviews have proposed solutions to these problems, however, they have not only failed to provide an adequate solution, some of these worldviews exacerbate the problems! Their answer to these problems is to set forth a solution in light of Reiff’s work on the sacred in culture, Girard’s work on desire, and the preferred option for the poor. They call this solution an economy of care. An economy of care flips upside down what modernist economies say is the “bottom line”:

Suppose our first priority is not dynamic economic growth but rather the ability to safeguard time, provide justice for the poor, protect and restore the environment, create more opportunities for meaningful employment, and care for the vulnerable. There is nothing to prevent these needs from becoming the starting point in an economic approach rather than expansion of material prosperity at all costs. (235)

They call this approach an “economy of care.” Although it may sound crazy, they are convinced that it is not simply wishful thinking. The authors point to several small scale instances in which an economy of care has worked for local communities. They also point to how an economy of care has had an impact upon the well-being and even economy of Holland. A Dutch study has shown that long term an economy of care would have a more favorable impact than either the market economy or welfare state on 1) employment levels, 2) quality of work, 3) the environment, 4) energy saving, 5) capital transfer to the South, and 6) government deficits. (254) And this economy of care could be implemented if “the Dutch people were willing to maintain average income and consumption levels at their present level and if they agreed to cooperate in orienting society, as a whole and in parts to these broader ends.” (254) All this to say, an economy of care seems not only plausible, but realistic! That is until we start thinking about the sinful condition of humanity. Maybe its my Calvinist bent (or maybe my realism), but I tend to believe that people are actually pretty selfish. Maybe they aren’t selfish with people they love and know, but they are certainly selfish about people that bear no relation to them. Not only that but people have a near future bias. In other words, people are prone to taking actions which serve their near futures rather than their further out futures. This means, that even though it may be irrational, people in general will be less likely to make sacrifices in the near future for the sake of a more secure future further out. Think about how people treat their health. Most people are more likely to not workout now because its painful for the near future even though rationally they know it is best for their far out future. If we can’t even get people to work out, how will we convince people to sacrifice their economic good in the near future for the sake of their far-out future, and more so, for the sake of the far-out future of other generations and of people from other nations and states! There is absolutely no reason to do so. That is, unless, there is a stronger drive compelling them to do so. Something like the gospel. The gospel has the power to reshape our desires, to shift our desires from self-centered and near-future oriented, to other-centered and eschatologically focused. The gospel really does have power. This book shows that the gospel really could have an impact on the flourishing of this world, and if taken seriously, provides a stronger alternative to the current worldview that are available.

 

Note: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an impartial review.

 

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Missiology: Urban Mission Part 7 – Confronting Poverty

Over the next few days I will be posting some thoughts on an issue facing the future of the church, namely the explosion of urban populations. I will start by taking a look at some of the issues brought up by the urban explosion, and I will conclude by reflecting upon how the Gospel addresses these issues.

Today we will look look at how the Church might begin to confront poverty.

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V-Mission Action: Confronting Poverty and Cultural Heterogeneity

            A-Poverty

            The city has the capability of becoming “the land of the left behind-the poor, the underemployed, the ethnic outsider.”[1] How will the church address the issue of poverty? First we must begin by recognizing the cause of urban poverty. Conn points out the fact that the “cause of poverty is largely injustice…injustices, oppression and oppressive structures cause poverty.”[2] The fact that urban poverty is largely due to injustice means that the church must work to bring God’s justice.

According to Stassen and Gushee justice has four dimensions: 1) deliverance of the poor and powerless from the injustice that they regularly experience; 2) lifting the foot of domineering power off the neck of the dominated and oppressed; 3) stopping the violence and establishing peace; and 4) restoring the outcasts. [3] Bringing God’s justice to the city will involve enacting these four components. However to enact these four components of holistic justice the church must take several steps. First the church must be willing and able to recognize and name injustice when it sees it. In doing this the church will be fulfilling its prophetic role to the cities. Here we must look to the work of Jesus, who in “cleansing the temple” acted out a “prophetic and symbolic attack to the whole temple system for practicing a cover up of injustice.”[4] In the city, this will mean confronting companies who keep profit margins high by paying their workers low wages. When workers are reduced to objects or resources based upon their economic value, they end up being exploited.[5] The church must confront exploitative practices. How will churches do this? Usually it will involve bringing these practices out into the light. In the city of Dhaka the projected 9th largest city in the world in 2015,[6] there was a case involving unjust work practices. Lisa Rahman was a 19 year old girl working in a garment factory assembling “Whinnie the Pooh” shirts. She was paid an equivalent of five cents for shirts that were sold at approximately twenty dollars. In 2002 the workers complained publicly about their poor working conditions. Due to the complaints, Disney cancelled all future work orders, leaving Lisa without a job.[7] This true story hardly made a dent in western news sources. What if the church had brought this urban injustice to light? Could the church have prevented these poor working conditions or the loss of Lisa’s only source of survival?

In addition to bringing injustice to the light it must act to end injustice. This means that the church will seek to change oppressive social arrangements and institutions. This will take direct involvement among poor communities, individual development, community development, racial reconciliation, and social reform.[8]

In addition to bringing injustice to light the church must learn to partner with the poor. It must create partnership that recognizes and maintains the poor’s dignity. “Partnership with the poor will change the face of the city.”[9] Yet the church must be not merely be a partner to the poor, it must come alongside the poor and live in solidarity with them. The church must take Christ as its model of solidarity. Christ was beaten and oppressed by the unjust oppressive systems of his day. Yet he endured this injustice in order to bring about justice. If the church can learn to suffer alongside the poor, like Christ suffered for his people, then the Church’s efforts at bringing about justice will be effective and credible.


[1] Conn and Ortiz, Urban Ministry: The Kingdom, the City, and the People of God, 70.

[2] Conn and Ortiz, Urban Ministry: The Kingdom, the City, and the People of God, 327.

[3] Glen Stassen and David Gushee, Kingdom Ethics, (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2003),  349

[4] Stassen and Gushee, Kingdom Ethics, 348.

[5] Miguel De La Torre, Doing Christian Ethics from the Margins, (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2004), 84.

[6] Jenkins, Jenkins, The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity, 93.

[7] De La Torre, Doing Christian Ethics from the Margins, 98.

[8] Timothy Keller, Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just, (New York: Dutton, 2010), 130.

[9] Randy White, Journey to the Center of the City: Making a Difference in an Urban Neighborhood, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 61.