DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

The Economy of Grace

Written by: on January 19, 2020

As I read through Polyani’s The Great Transformation, words shared by Lord Glasman during our London/Oxford Advance kept resurfacing in my mind. He shared these words as he tried to explain the circumstances that predicated Brexit in the UK:

“You think you’re acting in an altruistic way, but it’s really about self-interest in the end.”

“Christian don’t believe capitalism created the world.”

“Humans and nature are not commodities.”

Lord Maurice Glasman[1]

Polyani, in an attempt to explain reasons why a hundred years’ peace (1815-1914) came to an abrupt halt with two world wars breaking out in the next 30 years, examined economic and sociological evidences and drew conclusions.

The 19th century established “four main institutions:

  1. The balance of power system which for a century prevented war between the Great Powers
  2. The international gold standard which sought to organize the global economy
  3. The self-regulating market which produced material welfare
  4. The liberal state.”[2]

Polyani theorized that “the idea of a self-adjusting market implied a stark utopia. Such an institution could not exist for any length of time without annihilating the human and natural substance of society; it would have physically destroyed man and transformed his surroundings into a wilderness.”[3] Of these institutions, it was the collapse of the gold standard that caused the catastrophic downfall of peace, for by the time the gold standard failed, “the other institutions had been sacrificed in vain to save it.”[4]

“Belief in the gold standard was the faith of the age.”[5] The gold standard created a global monetary system in which countries would back their paper currency value with gold reserves. Gold was set at a fixed price, and that price was used to determine the value of the currency. The appeal of the gold standard was that the physical quantity of gold acted as a limiting factor to the issuance of money within a country, thus helping provide monetary stability by preventing inflation and deflation. Though people have been captivated by the currency of gold for thousands of years, it wasn’t until “1821 that England became the first nation to adopt a gold standard.”[6] Other nations followed suit and global financial/political stability remained intact from 1871-1914, until the world’s institutions crumbled into war and economic depression, crushing any global, utopian hopes contained within the established self-regulating markets.[7]

Polyani believed that any economic system devoid of human or social impact consideration was doomed to fail. For thousands of years, communal economics dominated the world cultures. From tribal societies to large kingdoms, economic systems were regulated by non-economic motives, specifically reciprocity and redistribution. Reciprocity, or the interchange of goods, was maintained by social position and civic virtue, primarily for the purpose of caring for one’s family. Redistribution of goods and services facilitated peace and care within a community and their neighbors. Reputation and honor would be sacrificed if individuals failed to adhere to these societal norms. Overall regulation was achieved because “today’s giving will be recompensated by tomorrow’s taking.”[8] Another way to say this is with The Golden Rule: Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you.

The “Golden Rule” terminology was first used in the 17th century by British Anglican theologians and preachers, though the concept, worded in various ways, dates back to some of the earliest of civilizations. The major world religions also embody this principle of reciprocity as a foundational belief.[9]

While this “Rule” has been in effect for millennia, it is not much different than the gold standard established during the Industrial Revolution. Indeed, the “Golden Rule” is the gold standard by which humans hope to achieve economic, political, and societal peace. The hope is that by treating others as we’d like to be treated, all will prosper and thrive within the system. Sadly, because of sin, the converse is often true, as we have such a difficult time treating others as we would like to be treated. Conflict and destruction prevailed when economic structures saw humans and nature as commodities to be exchanged and sold for self-gratification and advancement, as evidenced with the rise of capitalism during the Industrial and Commercial Revolutions.[10] This is true when transactional societies and economies self-regulate, and applies to both Christians and non-Christians, alike. Christians may not believe capitalism created the world, but we have definitely been impacted by the effects of capitalism, both in positive and negative ways, as our faith communities are often structured and regulated by consumeristic, transactional tendencies.

Thankfully, God sent Jesus to save us from this transactional, self-interest economy, and establish one balanced and sustained through the love of God, self, and others. When asked by an expert in the law how to inherit eternal life, Jesus asked him to recount what was written in the law. He responded by saying, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus confirmed that by following this law, eternal life would be inherited.[11]

For years within the evangelical communities I belonged, I repeatedly heard the phrase, “Love God, love others.” There was actually no mention of loving oneself.  To do so was considered selfish. It was assumed if a person loved God enough, they’d also be able to love others well. Much like the gold standard and the “golden rule,” this motto sounds good on the surface, but is infused with false humility and is self-serving in order to make oneself appear or sound more righteous. I’d argue, that just as treating others as one wants to be treated is insufficient for establishing peace, loving God and trying to love others is just as insufficient for establishing life abundant, both now and in eternity.

Grace existed in eternity through the triune God: Father, Son, and Spirit. Grace can only be established and experienced in this realm through a similar triune relationship, one comprised of God, self, and others. Because God’s economy operates with the currency of grace, love, and relationship, eliminating one of the relational components causes imbalance. This imbalance results in spiritually depleted individuals and communities, who discover that all their altruistic ways are ultimately self-serving in the end.

 

Photo by Dmitry Demidko on Unsplash

[1] Taken from my personal notes written during Lord Glasman’s lecture, Doctor of Ministry Leadership and Global Perspectives, London/Oxford Advance, 2020.

[2] Karl Polyani, The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1944, 1957, 2001) 3.

[3] Ibid., 3.

[4] Ibid., 3.

[5] Ibid., 26.

[6] https://www.investopedia.com/ask/answers/09/gold-standard.asp. Accessed January 18, 2020.

[7] https://www.investopedia.com/ask/answers/09/gold-standard.asp. Accessed January 18, 2020.

[8] Polyani, 48-53.

[9] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_Rule. Accessed January 18, 2020.

[10] Polyani, 29, 32.

[11] NIV, Luke 10:25-28.

About the Author

mm

Darcy Hansen

10 responses to “The Economy of Grace”

  1. mm Dylan Branson says:

    “For years within the evangelical communities I belonged, I repeatedly heard the phrase, ‘Love God, love others.’ There was actually no mention of loving oneself. To do so was considered selfish.”

    This has always been something I’ve struggled with. Towing the line between self-love and humility is a delicate line (one I’m still not entirely sure how to balance). I think this what makes the Golden Rule itself very difficult to maintain. How can we love others and treat others as we want to be loved and treated when we don’t know how to do either of those things for ourselves? You’re right that it’s considered selfish to put an emphasis on loving ourselves, though when I scroll through social media I see more and more status updates of “I’m throwing all the toxic people out of my life and focusing only on myself.” I wonder if we’re moving to the opposite side of the pendulum swing to where we may be becoming too self-focused rather than too others focused.

    • Darcy Hansen says:

      Self-care and self-awareness is very different than selfishness. Within evangelical circles, the lack of self-care and awareness has made for some toxic leaders. Like you said, it’s difficult to love others when we actually don’t even like ourselves enough to care for ourselves in a holistic way. In seminary I was invited and given permission to take care of myself. Incorporating Silence, solitude, and stillness into my spiritual practices has been transformational.

      I agree the pendulum has swung too far toward self. Do you think social media is the driver of that trend? While I think healthy boundaries are necessary, I also think it’s important to have people we like and don’t always like in our lives. How to do that in a healthy way is challenging, but eliminating all the difficult people in our lives doesn’t make that task any easier. Thoughts??

  2. mm Steve Wingate says:

    ““Love God, love others.” There was actually no mention of loving oneself.” I have a feeling because it seems selfish!

    That is for me the argument I have understood or caught from many the people with whom I’ve been following Jesus Christ.

    I suggest selfishness isn’t always that bad. Self-centeredness is what I believe people are mistaking for selfishness, in broad-brushed respect. As a Christian, God wants to be and is capable of being Lord- not me, not us.

    • Darcy Hansen says:

      Steve,
      Looking up definitions, the words selfishness and self-centeredness are interchangeable. Were you trying to differentiate between selfishness and self-care, because I definitely think there’s a difference between those two? And can you clarify your last statement for me regarding “As a Christian, God wants to be and is capable of being Lord- not me, not us.”?? What are you referring to? As followers of Jesus, I believe we are called, or better yet, compelled or commanded to figure out how to actually love God, ourselves, and others. In my experience, God doesn’t wave a magic wand to make all things lovely and loving in the world. We have responsibility to own our part of the deal. So while God is definitely Lord of all, (S)He doesn’t lord over us in a way that makes us irrelevant. If you could clarify, I’d appreciate that:)

  3. mm Greg Reich says:

    Darcy, When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was in Matthew 22 he replied with two major statement. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all you soul and all your mind.” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” I personally think that both of these statements take a great deal of love for oneself. How can a person truly love God with all they are without loving themselves? Why would Jesus ask us to love our neighbor as ourselves if we weren’t called to love ourselves as well? Many churches that use the love God, love people moto may not see the love for self entwined.

    • Darcy Hansen says:

      Agreed. It sounds simple to do, but with only solid bible teaching/study, prayer, and service, the awareness of such love won’t manifest. In many ways, the Reformation and Restoration movement threw the baby out with the bath water, leaving beautiful, life-giving spiritual practices by the wayside because they were considered “too catholic.” It’s nice to see the resurgence of practices such a contemplative prayer and spiritual direction within evangelical communities. It gives me hope they will quote and live out the verses more fully in the future.

  4. mm Shawn Cramer says:

    Brilliant use of Lord Glasman as a conversation partner for this week’s reading. With the ugly wedding of Evangelicalism and capitalism in the US, Glasman’s words are actually quite encouraging. The early church was so attractive in part because they had a different lord than Caesar. In the same way, Glasman was testifying to a witness of Christians having another God than Ceasar and another view of humans other than commodities.

    • Darcy Hansen says:

      I’m pretty sure Glasman would have been friends with Polyani:) Or he has at least read The Great Transformation. While his words were encouraging in theory, I’d have to push back because in American Christianity capitalism is king. It’s woven into the structure of our religious institutions. I am not sure it can ever be fully separated out, because what would that even look like?

  5. mm John McLarty says:

    Like Shawn, I really appreciated the link back to Glausman. What I loved about his presentation was the honesty the extremes truly work against each other. For systems to work well, it may be necessary for a conservative to embrace a progressive ideal on some issues and for a progressive to embrace a conservative ideal. We see it all the time, but no one really admits it. Those who rail against big government still want government to be involved in regulating certain issues and those who believe in larger government oversight still champion individual liberties. Grace truly is our most valuable resource and the upside-down-ness of God’s economy often makes grace difficult to understand and practice in the public arena.

    • Darcy Hansen says:

      John,
      I think of countless people who are in the center, who desire peace and progress, yet their voices are overpowered by the extremes. How can those voices rise up to bring civility and grace into systems to find middle ground when others are working intently to bring about extremes? Quite the challenge of our day.

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