The Gospel and Capitalism – Daniel Bell

What do you think of this quote from Daniel Bell, Divinations: theo-politics in an age of terror (Eugene, Or: Cascade Books, 2017) on how the gospel confronts and overcomes capitalism?


Paul’s gospel is the proclamation of the free gift, Messiah Jesus, that exceeds every debt, that explodes the very calculus of debt and retribution and sets in its place an aneconomic circulation of charity that recovers life in the mode of donation and lavish generosity. Here is the promise of true liberty from capital. As we share Israel’s election in Christ, we are set free from an economy whose circulation is ruled by scarcity, debt, retribution and finally death. In Christ, we share in the abundant life of the Immortal, which is not the solitude of self-sufficiency, but life lived as donation, as the ceaseless giving (and receiving) of the gift of love. In Christ, a path is opened up beyond the iron cage of sin, of capitalism, and of the Hobbesian/Weberian world where both appear to rule. In Christ we are liberated from all that would prevent us from giving, that would interrupt the flow of divine plenitude that continues through our enactment of love. We are freed from captivity to an economic order that would subject us to scarcity, competition, dominion, and debt, that would distort human desire into a proprietary and acquisitive power.

This is to say, the only way to defeat capitalism is to embrace the gift given in Christ, which is nothing less than the superabundance of grace that repositions our lives within the aneconomic order of love. So repositioned (redeemed) by love, we are enabled to give ourselves, to sacrifice without loss or end, even in the face of an economy that would eclipse gift and plenitude through the imposition of a regime of scarcity, debt, and dominion. Christ defeats capitalism as Christ heals human relations of their economic distortions and renews their circulation as donation, perpetual generosity. Capitalism is overcome as human relations are redeemed from the agony of competition and dominion and revived as the joyous conviviality of love that is the fruit of the proliferation of non-proprietary (that is, participatory) relations. Capitalism is defeated as fear is cast out—the fear of my neighbor that compels me to possess more tightly and acquire more compulsively, the fear that in giving I can only lose, the fear that death and the cross are the end of every sacrifice.

An aneconomic order of love, grace, generosity that subverts the self-interest, power, fear and ruthless competition of capitalism.

A gospel which has searching implications for our wallets, time and priorities.

Comments, as ever, welcome.

2 thoughts on “The Gospel and Capitalism – Daniel Bell

  1. Perhaps the best commentary (albeit an indirect one) comes from your own “Tides” reflection of 10 May, Patrick, when you write, “What God has joined together, let us not separate. We need to proclaim and demonstrate a holistic gospel, one which tells the good news of the Messiah and pursues justice in his name.”
    Which is to say, capitalism in intrinsically inimical to the Gospel. (Or, as the English historian Tawney put it, “Compromise is as impossible between the Church of Christ and the idolatry of wealth, which is the practical religion of capitalist societies, as it was between the Church and the State idolatry of the Roman Empire.”) But I think that while we must think deeply and reflect look upon that truth, in a way that Bell admirably suggests, we must consider meaningfully the nature of the Christian life. To me,that means proclaiming the Gospel and actively pursuing justice. Not pursuing justice because it is a “good thing” to do, but it is because what the Creator expects of us and how we express our love and gratitude to the Creator.
    My conclusion is that doing the work of justice requires the frank acknowledgement that an economic system which requires inequality, hunger, and deprivation so that a few might over-succeed at the expense of the many must be challenged for justice to flourish.
    We are made in God’s image. And what does that mean? To love justice and mercy. (It is not an aberration that among our Muslim brothers and sisters the names for God include “The Most Merciful,” “The Most Compassionate,” for surely that is who God is.) If we are to be holy as Our Father in Heaven is holy, than we must truly bear the image of justice and mercy.
    I agree with Bell, then, to name how capitalism is inimical to the Gospel. The next question is, so what do we do about it?

    • Thanks for your comment Peter and welcome.
      Some resources on your last question from Walter Brueggemann:
      Money and Possessions (2016) Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.
      Sabbath as Resistance: Saying NO the CULTURE OF NOW (2014). Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.
      An Other Kingdom: Departing the Consumer Culture (2016). New Jersey. Wiley.

      Contentment, generosity and community are deeply subversive to capitalism – all profoundly Christian themes.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s