(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Economy of Grace is divided into three essays that were originally presented as academic lectures. Kathryn Tanner’s goal for this book is to present the greatest contrast between the Christian story and its vision of economy and the economic principles by which the present world abides.

In the first chapter, Tanner examines the theories of John Locke, Pierre Bourdieu, Max Weber, Claude Lévi-Strauss, and other social theorists and discusses their views on the relationship between grace and money. All of the theories have shortcomings, and therefore Tanner proceeds to describe her own theory regarding an “economy of grace.” She states that the oppressed are looking for a way out of the competitive circulation of goods. They are attracted to a vision of grace offered without regard to the distinction of status. She states that Christianity attempts to institute a circulation of goods to be possessed by all in the same degree without reduction or loss. Goods are distributed by God and should be distributed by human beings in imitation of God. The purpose of giving is to bring all recipients to the level of the giver, ultimately God. The whole is given to each, awaiting the expansion of the recipients’ capacity to receive the whole that God and his followers are trying to bring about. In this way, the good is distributed without the giver’s suffering any loss. Tanner compares this giving without depletion to that of the Sun, which remains dazzling however much it illuminates others. Those who are offered the whole of the good by God are to share what they receive in the same way. God creates the material and spiritual worlds according to a noncompetitive economy, and so it should be a noncompetitive economy to every degree possible.

In the second chapter, Tanner compares the basic principles of a theological economy with those of a capitalist economy. She begins this discussion by looking at two alternative economies from the writings of John Locke and anthropological literature on noncommodity gift exchange in South Asia. After an extensive discussion of Locke’s economy, she concludes that it lacks a strong sense of God’s grace. In contrast to...

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(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

Dolff, Scott N. “The Obligation to Give: A Reply to Tanner.” Modern Theology 21, no. 1 (January, 2005): 119-139. Dolff provides a deeper understanding of Tanner’s theology and critiques her 2001 work Jesus, Humanity, and the Trinity: A Brief Systematic Theology.

Grau, Marion. Review of Economy of Grace. Anglican Theological Review 88, no. 2 (Spring, 2006): 296-297. Offers a positive assessment of the book, stating that it helpfully advances current theological conversations on economy and grace.

Long, Stephen D. Review of Economy of Grace. Modern Theology 22, no. 2 (April, 2006): 312-314. Questions the practicality of Tanner’s ideas.

Tanner, Kathryn. Theories of Culture: A New Agenda for Theology. Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress Press, 1997. Presents the study of postmodern culture as it intersects with theology, providing a backdrop for Economy of Grace.