I recently did an interview with John Shuck on the radio show/podcast progressive spirit, also on youtube about my book “All Things in Common: The Economic Practices of the Early Christians.” I hope you enjoy it.
I would argue that the best summation of Christian ethics is found in the sermon on the plain in Luke 6:20–49. What I love about the sermon on the plain is just how radical it seems on the surface, it seems almost impossible; however, when you think about what it’s saying, and think about it deeply—it makes sense. Probably my favorite example of this is found in Luke 6:34–35 (NRSV):
If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.
I recently finished a rather interesting book on Christianity and wealth, specifically from the periods 350 to 550. This post isn’t going to be a book review or anything like that, just some things that I learned from the book that I think are important. The author, Peter Brown, travels through the Western Roman Empire during late antiquity following various characters; from the pagan nobleman Symmachus to the North African titan of theology Augustine. In following these characters; their writings, their arguments, their biographies, their communities—Brown weaves a history of wealth, the view of wealth, the position of wealth, the power of wealth, in the west during late antiquity.
Earlier, on this blog I predicted that purely secular/liberal effects to overcome Capitalism are doomed from the start. I laud their efforts, and I think most of the Marxian critiques of Capitalism (as well as other critiques such as the Anarchist critique) are absolutely accurate. Recently the Erik Olin Wright wrote an article in the Jacobin magazine called “How to be an Anti-Capitalist Today” Where he outlined 4 approaches to be an anti-Capitalist. The first two are obvious, the revolutionary model of the Anarchists and Marxists, and the Social-Democratic Model, the problems with those models are obvious to anyone who has paid attention to the 20th century. Wright puts it quite succinctly in his article, first with the revolutionary model:
It seems that today there are two options when it comes to Capitalism, either accept Capitalism (fully or with some social-democratic counterweight) or join the with the anti-Capitalist left, generally fully secular, and fully liberal. Most critique of Capitalism in the west has been either from a Marxist or a Liberal perspective, which is the enlightenment on steroids, completely secular.
I think this critique of Capitalism is doomed to failure; it simply cannot stand up to Capitalism on its own. A Secular/Liberal opposition to Capitalism is impossible; it will fail anytime it rises. Great contemporary Anglican Theologian John Milbank more or less agrees with me, in his essay “On Baseless Suspicion – Christianity and the Crisis of Socialism” he sums up the major problem, or contradiction of the secular/liberal left in one damning statement:
In part 1 and part 2 of this series we addressed Michael Heiser’s commentary on Acts 2:42-47 on an episode of his Podcast, showing how it simply doesn’t hold up to history, anthropology, theology, or a careful exegesis of the text. I also defended the idea that the small c communism described in Acts is not just a side note, but a real outworking of Jesus’ message, and something which was an integral part of the primitive Christian communities. In this last part of the series we’ll go over Michael Heiser’s quick overview of economic principles found in the bible. (If you have not yet heard the podcast, or read Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, I suggest you do those things first so as to have some context.)
Michael Heiser says:
In Part one of this series of posts on Michael Heiser’s treatment of Acts 2:42-47, I went over Michael’s assumption of Capitalism as the default system ignoring Capitalism’s actual history, and his ignoring of the theological background of the text. In this post, we continue with his understanding of Acts 2:42-47. To get the full context I would suggest you listen to Michael Heiser’s podcast episode and then read Part 1 of this series. Michael Heiser says:
The activity described in acts of having all things in common, that phrase is actually only mentioned in acts 2 and 4 in the New testament, the phrase never occurs of any other new testament church founded by Paul or any other apostle. Now that suggests that there was something unique about the situation in the original Jerusalem church that presumably wasn’t transmitted or handed down by the apostles as some kind of binding custom or inspired idea to other new testament churches. That omission would be really strange if what we’re reading in acts chapter 2 was binding revelation, or a binding example, that this what the kingdom of God is. If that was true the omission here is strange, since it’s not passed down to all the other churches that we read about in the new testament, much less some sort of political state.
So according to Michael Heiser this communal situation was unique. This goes completely against the evidence as we see in Tertullian who wrote in his Apologia (Ch 39):