Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Christian Embedding

Written by: on March 3, 2023

Evangelicalism and capitalism have long been intertwined, but the relationship has shifted dramatically in recent years. For Max Weber, Émile Durkheim, and Georg Simmel, the exploration of the institutions of modern capitalism was an important part of their respective social theories, and the neglect of this issue left a void in sociological scholarship during the postwar period.[1] The rise of neoliberalism and “free market” ideology has led to what Dr. Jason Clark calls the “Great Disembedding,” a process by which Evangelicals have become increasingly disconnected from their moral obligations to one another as members of a community. In his dissertation, Clark examines this phenomenon in depth, exploring how it affects both Evangelicalism and capitalism. Karl Polanyi’s theory of the subordination of social life to the market speaks volumes about what this disconnection can lead to. In his book The Great Transformation, he argued that when markets become detached from society, they ultimately destroy both capitalism and society itself.[2]

In The Great Transformation, Polanyi argues that markets are not natural phenomena but rather are embedded within human societies; something he terms “embeddedness.”[3] He further goes on to argue that this embedding can lead to both positive and negative consequences for individuals and communities alike depending on how those markets have been structured by political decisions over time. The importance of The Great Transformation lies in its ability to provide an understanding of how our current market-based economy functions as well as why certain aspects remain entrenched despite attempts at reform or change from different governments throughout history. “Polanyi concludes his work with the claim that the ongoing tension between liberalism and fascism/socialism is not around a dividing line of the economy, but is an issue of morality and religion.”[4] The book provides invaluable insight for Christian leaders on how we should approach economic issues with a view toward protecting people who find themselves vulnerable under such systems, while also recognizing their potential benefits if managed responsibly by policymakers with moral considerations in mind before all else. “For Polanyi, it was not any Christian reality that was important, rather, what was crucial was how Christianity dealt with eschatological questions and the connectedness of individuals to ethical communities.”[5]

I believe the same process is playing out in relation to Evangelicalism today, with Christianity becoming increasingly removed from public discourse. There needs to be an effort made by Christian leaders towards “re-embedding” this crucial relationship by focusing on core values such as justice, righteousness, equity, and compassion for those who are most vulnerable within our societies. By doing so, we can restore accountability on all sides while also ensuring a more sustainable form of an economic order based upon principles rather than profits alone. This process may allow us to create better outcomes in finances, spirituality, and faith. Clark provides recommendations on how Christian leaders can responsibly engage with economic “countermovement” while maintaining ethical standards rooted in Christianity’s commitment to justice, compassion, and mercy towards all people regardless of socio-economic status or position in society at large.[6] “The market becomes a society itself.”[7] This includes promoting fair wages, advocating for living conditions free from exploitation, supporting access to basic resources such as healthcare services, protecting vulnerable populations from predatory lending practices, and providing opportunities for meaningful work through job creation initiatives.

For me, the stand-out findings from this chapter of Dr. Clark’s dissertation provide important insights for Christian leaders today who want to engage with economics from a biblical perspective. First, it shows that there is not necessarily an inherent conflict between Christianity and free market economics, rather they can be integrated if we understand them through a theological lens that takes seriously God’s sovereignty over all creation including human economies. “American Evangelicals continue the combination of beliefs centered around providence, with an understanding of the market as the natural source of God’s providence.”[8] Secondly, it demonstrates that Christians should approach economic questions with humility, recognizing our limited knowledge compared to God’s omniscience, when making decisions about markets or public policy. I found this to be incredibly encouraging to trust in the power of Jesus even when tackling seemingly insurmountable problems like global inequality.



[1] Beckert, J. (2009). The Great Transformation of Embeddedness: Karl Polanyi and the new economic sociology. In C. Hann & K. Hart (Eds.), Market and Society: The Great Transformation Today (pp. 38-55). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511581380.003

[2] Polanyi, Karl. The Great Transformation

[3] Ibid, 18

[4] Clark, Dr. Jason, Evangelicalism and Capitalism, Ch.4 p.130 (citing)  Polanyi, Great Transformation, 267

[5] Clark, Dr. Jason, p. 136

[6] Ibid, 139

[7] Ibid, 135

[8] Ibid, 153 * For example, see R. L. Moore, Selling God: American Religion in the Marketplace of Culture, new ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995).

About the Author

Michael O'Neill

Director of Operations / Executive Pastor at Kinergy, Inc. Federal 501c3 Non-Profit Organization. An experienced entrepreneur, leader, father, wellness professional, and owner of a multi-location medical practice with my wife, Nicole O'Neill, MD.

9 responses to “Christian Embedding”

  1. Jenny Steinbrenner Hale says:

    Michael, Thanks for your post! I like how you wove our two texts from this week together, right from the beginning of your blog, and even brought in some of our texts from past weeks. I, too, am so interested in how our past is affecting our current views of the economy and our market practices. This quote caught my attention: “American Evangelicals continue the combination of beliefs centered around providence, with an understanding of the market as the natural source of God’s providence.” Are you seeing this in your local community, and if so, how?

    I love your ending and the reminder that God can help us through these matters that seem much to big for us to understand. Thanks, Michael!

    • Michael O'Neill says:

      Sorry for the delay on this response and thanks for the comments and praise. So nice of you. I struggle with some of these posts that cover in-depth areas that I am not familiar with but I think we all are familiar with consumerism and the commodification of religion. I’m not sure where the line is of good and bad or acceptable. I think if it feels greedy or wrong, we should follow that feeling. If it is abundantly a blessing from God, accept it with gratitude and give back. I am seeing this in my side of things. I struggle with some of our church leaders in our area. One of them has a tip jar on the stage and people tip him during his sermon over and over. It really makes me feel uncomfortable even though I love the pastor. I wasn’t sure if I should say something but I never have. It has bothered me for years. I only visit occasionally but I have a lot of roots at this church and my mom is very active there.

      • Jenny Steinbrenner Hale says:

        Thanks for your reply, Michael! That’s so interesting to hear about the tip jar. I like your insight on following our gut on some of these things. So much to learn!

  2. Michael – Thank you for your focus on inequality being one of the repercussions of capitalism. As Polanyi pointed out, it is the responsibiliity of any society (whether traditional or capitalistic) to provide for all people, regardless of their status. This is what we learn from Jesus, as well. I’m finding myself frequently pessimistic that our society will find a good solution to this issue. What specific role do you think the church could serve as we try to be Christ’s light in the world?

    • Michael O'Neill says:

      Thanks, Laura. I wish I had the answer because it definitely does not feel like were headed in the right direction. I think we have a huge responsibility to fill that leadership deficiency we have been talking about since Cape Town. We need more leaders that are willing to stand up for the truth and not bend on issues or be scared of them. But also do it in a respectful way. I don’t mind having a discussion with anyone about anything but I don’t understand why the world seems to want to fight if we don’t agree. We need to have the character of Jesus. Be bold, but be compassionate. Help people understand the truth instead of just bullhorning people.


  3. Kristy Newport says:

    I see why Dr. Clark chose your blog-great work here! I like the pragmatic examples you provide…
    I like this:
    “The market becomes a society itself.”[7] This includes promoting fair wages, advocating for living conditions free from exploitation, supporting access to basic resources such as healthcare services, protecting vulnerable populations from predatory lending practices, and providing opportunities for meaningful work through job creation initiatives.

    I know that you are attempting to share an embedded Christian ethic at Kinergy. What economic issues has Kinergy been able to address? I pray it has been a great opp. for people to work there!

    • Michael O'Neill says:

      I slept like a hour or so before going into that zoom call. It was a rough late night and I can’t even remember why now. Maybe it was baby related or something but I do remember I was actually praying to not be chosen and I should have known better, I got stuck on the hot seat! I really am grateful for everyone’s help and questions. I enjoyed this reading and the more I read Clark, the more I am understanding his point of view and I love how he brings in so many authors and experts to give dimension to the argument.

      Kinergy is very new and I’m still playing with some strategies. I do my best to change the perspective our members. To not think of it as a gym so much as a church and a congregation. We have donations for waters (might not last…), we have pay what you want type of dues for a lot of things, and a ton of free programming for families. People have responded to the place and they love it but at the same time, money is struggle and it is not self-sustaining yet. It has grown every week since our opening and I know God has his hands in it so I’m really not worried about it. We will get a big donor one day or more people or something we didn’t expect. God wants this to succeed. I’m sure of it. So it will. Thanks, Kristy!

  4. Alana Hayes says:

    Good job Michael!

    What insights do you think that Christian leaders such as ourselves gain from Dr. Clark’s dissertation in regards to economic issues and how can they be applied today?

    • Michael O'Neill says:

      Thanks, Alana. For me the awareness is the biggest win. We have to be able to spot it and slay it if our economic pursuit is not from God. If we get too comfortable or start becoming too retail minded, I think we’re missing the point of the mission. I think everything we put out there needs to meet certain biblical standards and then we can feel confident about the result. I think God wants to bless us, I also think he wants us to give it back and to recognize where it all comes from. He gives and takes away…

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