Posted by: Dan | December 1, 2007

The Church and Capitalism: Part IV.3

IV.3 – Nonsensical Vulnerability: Faith, Dependence, and Cruciform Love

This way of living then requires the Church to confront the last unaddressed stronghold of neoclassicism: fear. Christians do not share, they do not share life together, and they do not share life together with the poor, because they are afraid and are far from trusting one another in any genuinely tangible way (let alone trusting the poor in any tangible way). However, the most frequent command in the bible is “Do not be afraid!”[189] Thus, the Church finds liberation from fear in faith, dependence, and cruciformity.

The faith of the Church must be understood both as ‘trust’ and as ‘faithfulness’. Faith-as-trust requires the Church to rely on God to be and do what God promises to be and do, and faith-as-faithfulness requires the Church to demonstrate that trust in her actions and her day to day existence.[190] Again, recalling the distinction between faith and belief mentioned above, the restoration of the Church’s embodied faith requires Christians to withdraw their active faith from the structures of neoclassicism in order to tangibly demonstrate faith in God.

However, simply stating that the Church must demonstrate its faith in God is not enough, for a Christian political economics requires Christians to demonstrate faith in one another lest the notion of ‘faith in God’ is subverted into a rhetorical support for the rugged individualism of neoclassicism (i.e. “I have faith in God, and only God!”). Here Brueggemann’s comments on the covenant are apropos:

[Covenant] bespeaks a readiness to receive life from the other, from God and neighbor, rather than from self. Whereas commoditization presents the self as the sufficient and principal actor, covenant hosts the other as the focus of well-being… At the heart of the matter, the contrast of commodity and covenant hinges on the reliability of the other.[191]

Therefore, Christians demonstrate their faith in God by exhibiting a tangible reliance upon one another in their political economics. Indeed, it is precisely in this dependence on the other that true liberation is found. Self-determination, within neoclassicism, always comes on the basis of a deeper dependency (to credit companies and so forth), learning to trust one’s brothers and sisters in Christ is the way to liberation.[192] True freedom is found in the form of risk-taking that is expressed in tangible reliance upon one another. This means that, for example, Christians that genuinely share life together and tangibly trust one another, are liberated from the need to hoard vast amounts of wealth for retirement, and that wealth can then be liberated to meet the present needs of the community (like the needs of the old who do not have an income).[193]

However, such faith and dependence, requires a willingness to embrace cruciformity. In a broken world, where Sin-and-Death still operate through the regnant powers, faith, hope, and risk-taking entail a willingness to embrace the suffering that comes when the Church confronts neoclassicism (recall the ways in which neoclassicism punishes the undisciplined). It is precisely this willingness to be conformed to the cross of Christ that is definitive of the Church’s love-inspired mission to the world.[194] Indeed, is the strength of the love expressed by the Church that enables her to overcome fear, for as 1 Jn 4.18 says, “there is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear.” If the Church continues to be disciplined by the fears inspired by neoclassicism, then that simply reveals the shallowness of her love both for God, and for her neighbours. Thus, as Michael J. Gorman argues, “Faith is cruciformity vis-à-vis God, while love is cruciformity vis-à-vis other people.”[195] He adds: “Cruciformity, in sum, is what Paul is all about, and what the communities of the Messiah that he founded and/or nurtured were also all about. Cruciformity is… the experience by which the church—at least according to Paul—stands or falls.”[196]

It is this willingness to suffer, rather than cause suffering, that sets the Church apart from the coveting divisive violence inherent to neoclassicism. While neoclassicism fractures society through competition, the Church worships a God of peace, lives peaceably, and loves even her enemies.[197] Moreover, the embrace of cruciformity reminds the Church that membership in the body of Christ is costly.[198] Simply put, we cannot join the Church and continue to pursue the same comforts, luxuries, priorities, and privileges of the society in which we find ourselves. For, as Bonhoeffer writes, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die… [Suffering] is the badge of true discipleship.”[199] This embrace of suffering not only distinguishes the Church from the more ‘conservative’ elements of neoclassicism, it also distinguishes the Church from the more ‘progressive’ elements which attempt to love without suffering.[200] Ultimately, however, cruciformity is the Church’s response to neoclassicism because, in her suffering, the Church bears the sins of neoclassicism in order to bear them away. Cruciformity (as suffering against suffering) becomes the embodiment of the Church’s proclamation of forgiveness and constitutes the offer of healing and new life to all who are held in the grip of neoclassicism.[201] The world will be made new when the Church, in tangible and economic ways, lays down her life for the world.

Therefore, the Church as the pilgrim people of God pursues a trajectory of nonsensical charity (sharing life together with the poor), and nonsensical vulnerability (faith, dependence, cruciformity) in order to embody a political economics that offers the world a genuine alternative to neoclassicism.
____________
[189] Cf. N. T. Wright, Following Jesus, 66. Wright adds: “The irony of this surprising command is that, though it’s what we all really want to hear, we have as much difficulty, if not more, in obeying this command than any other” (ibid.).
[190] On the necessity of these things in the Old Testament approach to economics cf. Christopher Wright, 96-98; Brueggemann, Theology of the Old Testament, 199, 468.
[191] Texts Under Negotiation, 54. Additionally, Bonhoeffer argues that “[i]t is only when he is a burden that another person is really a brother and not merely an object to be manipulated” (Life Together, 90).
[192] Hence, Eagleton argues that “dependency is the condition of our freedom, not the infringement of it. Only those who feel supported can be secure enough to be free” (After Theory, 189); cf. Ellul, 168; Moltmann, The Spirit of Life, 105.
[193] It is precisely this sort of hoarding that Jesus argues is a sign of paganism (cf. Mt 6.25-32/Lk 12.22-31) of foolishness (cf. Lk 12.13-21), and of behaviour that contradicts that which is required of his disciples (Lk 12.33).
[194] Cf. Ro 5.3; 6.3-8; 8.17-38; 1 Cor 4.9-16; 12.26; 13.5; 2 Cor 1.3-7; 4.7-18; 6.3-13; 7.4; 8.2; 11.18-33; Gal 2.19-20; 3.4; 5.11, 24; 6.12-14; Phil 1.7; 3.8, 10; 4.12-14; Col 1.24; 2.20; 3.3; 1 Thes 2.2, 14; 3.3-4, 2; 2 Thes 1.4-6.
[195] Cruciformity: Paul’s Narrative Spirituality of the Cross (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), 176.
[196] Ibid., 371-72.
[197] On God as the God of peace cf. Ro 15.33; 16.20; 1 Cor 14.33; 2 Cor 13.11; Eph 2.14; Phil 4.9; Col 1.20; 1 Thes 5.23; 2 Thes 3.16. Paul also opens all of his letters with a wish for peace (cf. Ro 1.7; 1 Cor 1.3; 2 Cor 1.2; Gal 1.3; Eph 1.2; Phil 1.2; Col 1.2; 1 Thes 1.1; 2 Thes 1.2) and regularly exhorts his churches to be peaceful (cf. Ro 2.10; 3.17; 5.1; 8.6; 12.18; 14.17, 19; 15.12; 1 Cor 7.13; 2 Cor 13.11; Gal 5.22; Eph 2.15, 17; 4.3; 6.15, 23; Phil 4.7; Col 3.15; 1 Thes 5.13). Hence, his communities are defined by unity and the absence of divisions (cf. Ro 3.29-30; 12.4-5, 10, 16; 14.1-15; 1 Cor 1.10; 3; 6.1-11, 17; 8-10; 11.23-34; 12-14; Gal 3.26-29; 5.13-15; 6.2, 10; Eph 2.11-22; 4.1-6, 14-16, 31-32; 5.21; Col 3.8-15; 1 Thes 3.12; 4.9; 5.11-15; 2 Thes 2.3) and the love of enemies (cf. Ro 12.14-21; 1 Cor 4.12-13; 13.4-7; 2 Cor 6.4, 6; 11.19-20; Gal 5.20-22; Phil 4.5; Col 3.22-25; 1 Thes 5.15).
[198] A point that Jesus makes on several occasions (cf. Mt 10.16-39; 16.24-28/Mk 8.34-38/Lk 9.23-25; Lk 14.25-35).
[199] The Cost of Discipleship, 79-80; cf. 35-36, 42.
[200] Such a reduced form of love is the sort that one is encouraged to practice in social service work. It is also the target of a attack from Che Guevara: “The solidarity of all progressive forces of the world towards [the oppressed] is similar to the bitter irony of the plebeians coaxing on the gladiators in the Roman arena. It is not a matter of wishing success to the victim of aggression, but of sharing his fate; one must accompany him to his death or to victory… we should never give into the defeatist temptation of being the vanguard of a nation which yearns for freedom, but abhors the struggle it entails” (“Message to the Tricontinental” in Guerilla Warfare [Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1998], 164, 172).
[201] Cf. Sobrino, 149; Bell Jr., Liberation Theology After the End of History, 192-95; Gorman, 203; N. T. Wright, The Climax of the Covenant, 87, 256; Following Jesus, 49, 51; The Crown and the Fire, 88, 126.

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