Volume 37 - Issue 3
Faith, Hope and the Global Economy: A Power for Goodby Richard Higginson
After the declining winter of secularism, Richard Higginson, director of the Faith in Business project at Ridley Hall, Cambridge, provides an invigorating reminder of the potential of faith, hope, and love as avenues of healing and inspiration to a hurting (and often hurtful) economy. Properly applied to business, Christianity 'stimulates enterprise, reduces poverty, promotes integrity, encourages sustainability and fosters discipleship' (p. 13).
Undergirded by the “inaugurated eschatology” of Jürgen Moltmann, the book interweaves a Protestant work ethic with present-day implications of the ultimate Christian hope. Contrary to the one-sided claims of the so-called prosperity gospel and of some anti-capitalist theologies, and in opposition to the Western secular-sacred divide-all of which leave Christians ill-equipped for God-honoring lives of discipleship from Monday to Saturday-Higginson is convinced that entrepreneurship and work are actually God-imaging attributes to be gladly pursued. By honoring its Sabbatical provisos, the economic story of the Bible provides a paradigm of what good work could look like and accomplish.
The book is built on the conviction that in being people of integrity, vision, passion, decisiveness, and with a willingness to take risks, human beings emulate God's character. In this way, as long as it is matched by orienting business enterprises towards the social incorporation of the neediest and towards the responsible stewardship of creation, faith can be (and has been) a power for good. Hence Higginson reminds readers that the Christian life is not about operating under the 'conventional business wisdom' but about planting seeds of 'active compassion' (pp. 224-25).
This conviction is developed through the book's core chapters, which echo what the author sees as an ongoing seven-act drama implicit in the whole narrative of Scripture.
The opening act, which Higginson calls 'Launched in hope', sets the stage for what is to follow, developing a theological framework for work and rest as essential components of the human vocation. By exercising creativity and hope, humans are called to mirror God's own entrepreneurial heart and subdue and steward the earth in his service. And yet things ran riot, as Act II records. Because of human arrogance and collaboration with evil, work has often been distorted to become a force of frustration, alienation, regimentation, and exploitation.
Starting in Gen12 and moving through the rest of the canon, this contrasts with Acts III through VII, which vividly present several out-workings of God's alternative economics-those entrusted to his people (Israel), and later exemplified in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and consequently exemplified in the 2,000-year ministry of the church. With the eye of a nuanced critic, by dwelling on biblical, historical, and contemporary examples around issues like usury, debt and equity, bribery and corruption, self-sacrifice and executive pay, and the socio-economic incorporation of the marginalized, Higginson presents numerous interesting and inspiring glimpses of the life of shalom that God has intended for creation: prostituted women find hope though social enterprises; bankers are restored from their greed and hence from public disdain; monks devise waterwheels; fair trade improves the conditions of the global South; worker cooperatives are set up as alternatives to impersonal corporate gigantism; microcredit enables those without a chance in the traditional banking industry; corporate managers give up large salaries in favor of more just schemes of profit distribution; and more.
The author ends by assuring that 'all things' done in an obedient discipleship marked by faith, hope, and love will endure into God's ultimate future. Christians are to be encouraged: their work is not in vain. It is, instead, a living sign of the kingdom-coming.
In our cynical age weary of criticism, Higginson offers a constructive critique of a fallen global economy, yet hardly by direct confrontation. Instead, he presents a lucid blend of biblical insights and inspiring examples from the Christian church that serve to illuminate ways forward. So if it is hope, and not doom, which mobilizes people, then this book delivers far more than a single volume can contain. Not only does it avoid both the pessimism and the arrogant triumphalism that marks much of contemporary Christianity, but it wisely and courageously speaks into the core of much of what it means to be human: work itself.
Beyond the need for rephrasing the language of 'developed/ing countries' into that of 'high/low-income countries' and of 'natural resource' into that of 'gift', one is left with a sense of wanting more in regards to sustainability. Although the author does address the need for resting and for taking satisfaction and pleasure in our labor, the book seems to be built on the assumption that sustainability is a matter of improving production, instead of addressing consumption. And to an extent, it is. But there is hardly any mention of the role of enterprises in advocating for a 'pull-demand', or for encouraging a grateful delight and a sense of 'enough-ness' among their customers. In Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire, William Cavanaugh has pointed out that the current problem is not so much our attachment to material things, but our detachment: the restless discarding of goods and services that stems out of our deep-rooted dissatisfaction. Hence not only does poverty need to be alleviated (as Higginson well-suggests), but the discontent that leads to overconsumption needs attention as well. A word on marketing from a Christian perspective would have been most welcomed.
Considering such caveats, however, the book should be of great value for all who desire integrated lives of discipleship in the workplace. In the eyes of the global consumerism ideology, which has shown signs of being perishing, many of Higginson's challenges will strike the reader as absurd-as mere 'foolishness'. But for people with ears to hear and eyes to see, the summons of this book is nothing but an invitation for workers and entrepreneurs to rely on the very power of God-the only foundation for those who are being saved.
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Other Articles in this Issue
In his influential address, “Discourse on the Proper Distinction between Biblical and Dogmatic Theology, and the Right Determination of the Aims of Each,” Johann Philipp Gabler (1753–1826) lodged the programmatic proposal that scholars ought to distinguish between biblical and systematic theology...