Book Review: D. Stephen Long's Divine Economy: Theology and the Market

In my past posts, I have made my criticism of Radical Orthodoxy known. Particularly bothersome is the lack of engagement and appreciation for theologians “from the margins.” D. Stephen Long’s Divine Economy comes as a welcome surprise, with a few qualifications of course.

Long identifies three traditions in which religious thinkers from the Christendom have engaged economic theory. In the Part 1 of the book, named the Dominant Tradition, Long identifies persons who vary, but who share similar assumptions, from conservative Catholic Michael Novak to Max Stackhouse and Philip Wogaman. In their search for a “post-confessional” and “post-Christian” secular theology of economics, Christology takes a step back since economics and politics are seen as belonging to separate realms. In addition, theologies of creation take preeminence to Christology and ecclesiology.

Part II recognizes the emergent tradition, the one in which the liberation theologians such as Rosemary Reuther, James Cone, Gustavo Guttierez, and Jon Sobrino are identified and observed. Sharing a common vision of human being with the dominant tradition, i.e., being as liberty, Christology and ecclessiology (according to Long’s interpretation” become subordinate to notions of freedom. Perhaps the most unnerving critique for me was Long’s argument against liberation theologians’ tendency to claim that all theological speech is limited in what it can say about God, and that those who argue this protest essentially against God’s plentitude. Only those who hold to the capitalist logic of scarcity, and its promotion of competition would consider truth claims as a negation of other truth claims (i.e., other religions).

Part III is Long’s constructive proposal, and his engagement with economists, who he considers to be moral philosophers, whether they be Adam Smith, Karl Marx, or John Maynard Keynes. The tradition that Long proposes is the one of the Residual nature, not something that belongs to the past, but that has continued to be inherited and passed down by the Church. The Residual Tradition calls for a functional economy that is all together opposed to capitalism, for capitalism makes it impossible to pass down traditional Christian virtues.

Critique: For the the first 2 parts, I found much to agree with. However, his constructive proposal was not all too surprising. The Eucharist sorta works like magic for the RO folks: if we can just get the ordinary lay person to understand the magic behind the Eucharist, she would know what God’s economy is like. The preference for localism was not all too surprising as well. I don’t believe in a separation of the confessional from the cosmopolitan, the content of the faith from real world politics. Also, what Long fails to take account in liberation theologian’s such as James Cone is the idea that Jesus Christ as God’s Word as Revelation is what regulates what we can say about God. It is in that revelation that we can participate in God the Liberator’s fullness. Though, notions of revelation and particularity disappear in Part 3 when it comes to discussion of Christ, in favor of a Thomist natural law/New Law perspective. For me, this is an interesting turn of events. Why? Because in Long’s criticism of Sobrino, he accuses him of being anti-Judaic in the name of being for the poor (139). The liberationist doctrine of the election of the oppressed supersedes YHWH’s choosing of the Jews who “do not stand as a symbol for some other social group.”

Yet, Long never fully explicates what does Jesus’ Judaism mean for a Christian economics; how does the life of the church serves as a continuation or personification of JEWISH virtues we find in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament? What we are left with is a mentioning of the Ten Commandments, but that is only to reach a more Thomist understanding of personhood (218). What makes Long’s ecclessiology and Christology less supersessionist than Sobrino’s (given that Judaism has no connection in either’s theo-economics)? Perhaps the most indicative of D. Stephen Long’s Gentile Christology comes in his silence to John Milbank’s dismissal of the Historical Jesus in favor of a narrative, or shall I say, poetic understanding of the Messiah. While the atoning life, death, and resurrection are what Long and Milbank argue as “the objective content of the beautiful” so that what is deemed beautiful exists in the Universal made Particular (251), the very particularity of Jesus is overlooked in favor of what it means to be human in general. Jesus as that poetic gift from God is “re-mythologized” as “human language becomes a participation in God’s plenitude” (253). However, exactly what kind of human language is Scripture recorded in? Which human bodies did God inspire to let us Gentiles know of God’s story?

This all of course means that we have to go with the RO and Hauerwasian school’s narrative/dramatic understanding of Christology and the Creeds, giving priority to an infallible ecclessial structure, i.e., the Church, the community that God has made stewards of this story. What Long conveniently leaves out is that utmost importance that the Historical Jesus has on liberation theologians, and as James Cone argued in A Black Theology of Liberation, we must come to reject the division of the Christ of faith and the Historical Jesus. Advocates of RO like Long would have us concentrate solely on the former. As I have argued before with postcolonial biblical scholar, Sugi, the literary/narrative approach to the Bible, used in exclusion, leads to us residing in an ideal past, separate from concerns for histories of praxis. Hence, with the typical RO emphasis on localism, D. Stephen Long remains almost silent on global matters as they pertain to international trade, multinational corporations, and post-colonial empire (with its soft forms of power) imposed by the World Trade Organization and the International Monetary Fund onto “developing” countries.

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