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Christian Principles Hold Steady as the System Worsens by The New York Times

During June 2014, The New York Times' "Room for Debate" blog held a symposium on the topic of "God and Mammon," asking whether contemporary American capitalism has become incompatible with Christian values. One respondent was Dr. James K.A. Smith, Calvin College professor of philosophy and editor of Comment. In his reply, he suggests that the problem is not so much capitalism as the excesses of contemporary capitalism, and sets up the principles embedded in historic Christianity as a much-needed corrective.

Beware “Jesuology.” That is how British theologian Oliver O’Donovan describes those Christian public theologies that claim to privilege the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels. Ask a Jesuologist our question and you can guess the answer: “Blessed are the poor” and “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth.”

All true. But Jesus also tells parables about servants who are punished for their terrible return on investment. From which Jesus-sayings should we deduce an economic theory?

A Christian social vision is never a simple enactment of Jesus-sayings, both because the Gospels are embedded within a wider canon of Scripture and because Christian social thought is conditioned by an eschatology — a sense of what is yet to come, and that we’re not there yet. Every Christian social vision is forged in this “not yet.”

In light of that, Christianity is certainly not incompatible with free markets. Indeed, in many ways, the emergence of such markets — and the prosperity produced by them — depends on the capital of a Christian worldview that prizes both flourishing and freedom.

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