Before the technologically sophisticated classrooms of today were those of my childhood, the walls of which were adorned with rolled-up maps. Many of these enlarged atlases featured transparent overlays that charted topics such as the history of global discovery, the migration journeys of ancient populations, and the shifting borders of North America. The meticulous mapping technique that Dr. Jason Clark deploys throughout his dissertation, Evangelicalism and Capitalism, is similar in that it effectively generates a systematic understanding of the interplay between Evangelicalism and capitalism. By the journey’s end, we are given not only a theological foundation but insight into how evangelicalism “is uniquely situated to respond to the problem it has caused.”
As I walked through Evangelicalism and Capitalism (in conjunction with our reading and conversations so far) four themes have surfaced that I want to explore here: Insecurity, Sacrament, Pilgrimage, and Silence.
(1) On Insecurity: Whether Evangelicalism generated capitalism or vice versa, what has struck me is the power of insecurity in shaping human behavior. Clark does well to chart the transition in doctrinal preference from the assurance to providence and, in so doing, exposes the honest depths of human anxiety about the relationships between God and humanity and the now and hereafter. I’ve been humbled by how swiftly insecurity generates a scarcity mentality that, over time, results in a myopic ethic. This narrow and rigid ethic seems to prioritize “my” flourishing (temporal and eternal) over and above that of others. Similarly, I’m struck by how confidence in Whose we are, as suggested by Paul to be possible because of the fusion of the Cross of Christ and the empty tomb, generates an abundance mentality that, over time, shapes a generous ethic. This more spacious ethic seems to prioritize the other over the self.
Could it be that the former is effective at tilling the soil for a society organized by capitalism while the latter may invite a more human-centered economy that engenders equity? While Clark seems to suggest that Evangelicals should navigate rather than replace capitalism, are our imaginations porous enough to imagine an alternative to the capitalist status quo? Are we courageous enough to explore its possibility?
(2) On Sacrament: In conversation with Karl Polanyi’s take on oikos (household), Clark points to the provocative notion of the oikos-polis to expose “how the early church was both a move, and countermove, to the nature of market and political life.” Because of his conversation with William T. Cavanaugh’s understanding of the sacrament of Eucharist, I reason that Clark is suggesting that the church existed neither as a willing participant within imperial society nor distant from it and in a posture of antagonism. Rather he seems to suggest that the church committed to an alternative ethic that was meant to awaken the imagination of the Empire to a better way forward. Eucharist, when understood, received, and embodied as “institution and event” generates in the life of the family a “counter-politics” that is sacramental. That is, when the Eucharist is embodied by a community, the systems that they generate should reflect the self-sacrifice and abundant generosity of the God we discover in Jesus. Thus, these systems should be in diametric opposition to the power & wealth-hoarding systems that define the status quo.
(3) On Pilgrimage: Further expounding upon the oikos-polis imagery, Clark identifies the location of the church neither in one nor the other, but between the two “with its centre of gravity and home in pilgrimage.” While the Christian tradition has ever struggled to embody it, the pilgrimage motif defines what it means to be Christian. From Paul’s articulation of incarnation as downward mobility through Jesus’ invitation to follow Him to the Spirit’s empowering of us to go into the world on restorative mission, the sojourn was and should remain the dominant image for Christian faithfulness. Rather than inspiring us onward, the onset of the relationship between Evangelicalism and capitalism seems to have generated inertia toward settling. The misunderstanding of wealth as evidence of both God’s blessed provision and eternal assurance leads to wealth’s accumulation. This, in turn, tends to cause one to settle and protect rather than sojourn into the restorative revolution.
On Silence: Perhaps the greatest struggle for me as we’ve navigated the relationship between Evangelicalism and capitalism over these past weeks is the lack of voice given to people of color. Void within each piece of literature, from Bebbington to Clark, is a conversation about race, the social and systemic realities of racism, white supremacy, and slavery, and how these factors may have contributed to both the emergence of and relationship between Evangelicalism and capitalism. The commodification of black and brown bodies by “white” Christian benefactors for financial benefit is worth careful consideration.
Additionally, because of the silence regarding people of color generally and black/brown Evangelicals more specifically, it seems as though the presumption of Evangelicalism, specifically by Bebbington, Weber, and Clark, is that it is a white movement that is preoccupied with their eternal destinations and is capable of growing their certainty of God’s favor through the accumulation of wealth. As Matthew Desmond argues, it seems evident that, regardless of the genesis of capitalism, it is a system that has been built on the backs of people of color for the benefit of (Christian) white folk. He is suggesting that capitalism has been leveraged throughout time for the benefit of white Christians. If true, then perhaps capitalism is a system that must be replaced rather than tolerated or navigated.
My last thought here is with regard to the kind of eternity that shaped the imaginations of the early (and contemporary) Evangelical capitalists. If the accumulation of wealth was a symbol of God’s provision and assured (almost exclusively white?) Evangelicals of their eternal destination, then wouldn’t it stand to reason that they did not anticipate people of color gaining entrance? Because phenomenal wealth (God’s favor) has been built by white Evangelicals through the system of capitalism in ways that have (and continue) to oppress, violate, and impoverish communities of color (poverty = absence of God’s favor), wouldn’t it stand to reason that their preferential picture of heaven was a white, wealthy eternity?
So where does this leave us? It should leave us…
- ..auditing our sense of Christian faithfulness and how it has been polluted by our insecurity and love of money.
- …interrogating the religious, social, financial, and political systems that are designed by power-brokers.
- …moving toward the margins where the echos of a more communal, human-centered ethic and economy still reverberate.
- …lamenting our compliance with systems that have crushed our neighbors.
- …committing to becoming the kinds of people who prioritize the flourishing of others over our own.
- …prophetically tending to the soul of the economy.
 Clark, Jason. “Evangelicalism and Capitalism: A reparative account and diagnosis of pathogeneses in the relationship.” PhD Dissertation. (University of Middlesex, 2018), 1.
 Ibid., 49.
 See Colossians 1:19-20
 Ibid., 151.
 Ibid., 191.
 Ibid., 190.
 Ibid., 191.