FROM all sides come reflections on the contribution that faith might make to economic thinking, policy, and action. Here is a reflection by a conservative Evangelical, Andrew Hartropp, with both economic and theological doctorates.
It builds on his earlier work, What is Economic Justice?, which he summarises in his first chapter, and takes the reader into the challenges of doing economic justice in today’s world. The challenges that he examines are first to the individual and then in the various public arenas to which the reader might make a contribution.
So readers are invited in the three chapters that make up the first part to consider their economic discipleship as consumers, in the workplace and in their local Christian communities. In each of these areas of life, Hartropp asks critical questions, from the point of view of the biblical principles that he enunciates, of some of the fashionable secular ideas of doing economic justice — such as being an ethical shopper.
The second part of the book concerns doing economic justice in what is usually termed “the public square”. How do the “biblical principles” that Hartropp enunciates apply to companies? How do they relate to the questions faced by banks and the other institutions that constitute the financial sector? And, third, what are the roles of government, NGOs, and international institutions in promoting economic justice?
Although the author disclaims any intention of producing a “how to” manual, its often colloquial style and the concluding “points for reflection, discussion and action” do focus on what the reader’s response might be. The book certainly is not a recruiting tract for campaigning in the political sphere. It is, rather, more of a teaching manual for readers who use scripture in the same way as the author, and who may not have thought before about the issues raised in the book.
It is hard to see it appealing much outside such communities: the extensive biblical material is used deductively and often with the rather disappointing and even ironic outcome that, while the Bible is “God’s word written” and offers clear “principles”, how you actually do economic justice is rather up to you.
Readers will not learn much from this book about the controversies that surround many of Hartropp’s economic assertions and that believers need to face: where is the balance to be struck between equality and freedom? What is it about the nature of money itself that generates that tension? And they will learn even less about the long tradition, in particular within the Church of England, in which Hartropp himself ministers, of careful work on how the fundamentals of Christian faith can resource those debates.
It is important in a world where headlines suggest that Evangelical Christianity is captive to the religious Right to find economic issues engaging a conservative Evangelical theologian who is clearly not captive to it; but it will still not be easy for those outside his circle and who have doubts about his theological method to find entry points into his thinking.
The Rt Revd Dr Peter Selby is an Honorary Visiting Professor at King’s College, London, and a former Bishop of Worcester.
God’s Good Economy: Doing justice in today’s world
Church Times Bookshop £11.70