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 Locke’s idea that God offers this world to us through a type of contract that requires our labor, she believes that God graciously gives us what we need and expects us to organize our lives in a similar fashion. The economic model of the noncommodity gift exchange in South Asia likewise has flaws in that it is based on social obligation of reciprocity and social standing.
An economy of grace is based on unconditional giving. Unconditional giving is not a matter of personal feelings but rather a matter of the way in which benefits are distributed to form social relations. Giving can become a strong social force. God’s unconditional giving does not require a proper response on our part; however, God wants our love, gratitude, and commitment to his mission of giving to others. This type of commitment implies giving without restrictions to everyone and everything, for the benefit of all. It is undergirded by a principle of noncompetitive relations, which leads to giving unconditionally without regard for return. Noncompetitive relations is the lack of competition in property or possession; there is no competition between having and giving to others. Gift relations in the theological economy differ from other types of exchanges; whatever one gives remains one’s own property. What one has becomes the other’s own because of a closeness in relationship with the other.
In the third chapter, Tanner offers practical suggestions for how an economy of grace can work in relationship to the global capitalist economy. She states that it can transform the capitalist economy at points where the two fields cross each other in conflict. Global capitalism can be changed by human decision. Suggestions for change include raising wages, improving job opportunities, land reform, forgiving debt, and...
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