in Book Reviews, Books

September Books

Once again, I find myself too busy to be able to post full reviews of these books. Hopefully I’ll be able to get back to one or two of them (the book by Kelly Johnson was especially good, and the book by Milton Friedman was especially bad [Friedman may not be the devil but his version of capitalism may very well be “the devil’s wet dream,” as Ani DiFranco once said]) but I’m not holding my breath — for now, I’ve just selected one quote from each book that I found especially gripping or definitive of the piece. Not surprisingly, given that I am taking a seminar on “Christianity and Capitalism” a lot of my reading is based upon that topic.
1. The Fear of Beggars: Stewardship and Poverty in Christian Ethics by Kelly S. Johnson.
“[V]oluntary begging is not merely about an individual’s pursuit of holiness, but rather concerns the possibility of a Christian social order… The beggar instigates an order of gift-giving, searching out those who will join in a cycle of gift which does note exclude work or exchange, but orders them to serve the good of proclaiming Christ… a steward may practice her craft without a church, but the beggar must have one.”
2. Mandate to Difference: An Invitation to the Contemporary Church by Walter Brueggemann.
This is a collection of essays/sermons by Brueggemann, and the last one “Some Theses on the Bible in the Church” was especially concise. I’ll just quote Brueggemann’s theses:
1. Everybody has a script.
2. We are scripted by the process of nurture, formation, and socialization that may go under the large rubric of liturgy.
3. The dominant scripting of both selves and communities in our society, for both liberals and conservatives, is the script of therapeutic, technological, consumer militarism that permeates every dimension of our common life.
4. That script promises to make us safe and happy.
5. That script has failed.
6. Health depends, for society and for members of it, on disengagement from and relinquishment of that script.
7. It is the task of the church and its ministry to de-script from that powerful script.
8. That task is undertaken through the steady, patient, intentional articulation of an alternative script that we testify will indeed make us safe and joyous.
9. That alternative script as an offer of a counter-metanarrative is rooted in the Bible and enacted through the tradition of the church.
10. That alternative script has as its defining factor the Key Character in all holiness, the God of the Bible who is variously Lord and Savior of Israel, Creator of heaven and earth, and is fleshed in Jesus, we name as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
11. That script of this God of power and life is not monolithic, one-dimensional, or seamless, and we should not pretend that we have such an easy case to make.
12. The ragged disjunctive quality of the counter-script to which we testify cannot be smoothed out and made seamless, as both historical-critical study and doctoral reductionism have tried to do.
13. The ragged disputatious character of the counter-script to which we testify is so disputed and polyvalent that its adherents are always tempted to quarrel among themselves.
14. The entry point into the counter-script is baptism.
15. The nurture, formation and socialization into the counter-script with this elusive, irascible Key Character at its center constitute the work of ministry.
16. Ministry is conducted in the awareness that most of us are deeply ambiguous about this alternative script.
17. The good news, I judge, is that our ambivalence as we stand between scripts is precisely the primal venue for the work of God’s spirit.
18. Ministry, and the mission beyond ministry, is to manage that inescapable ambivalence that is the human predicament in faithful, generative ways.
19. IF what I have said is true, then it follows that the work of ministry is crucial, pivotal, and indispensable; as in every society, so in our society.
3. The Worldly Philosophers: The Lives, Times & Ideas of the Great Economic Thinkers by Robert L. Heilbroner.
“A man who thinks that economics is only a matter for professors forgets that this is the science that has sent men to the barricades.”
4. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism by Max Weber.
“A specifically bourgeois economic ethic had grown up. With the consciousness of standing in the fullness of God’s grace and being visibly blessed by Him, the bourgeois business man, as long as he remained within the bounds of formal correctness, as long as his moral conduct was spotless and the use to which he put his wealth was not objectionable, could follow his pecuniary interests as he would and feel that he was fulfilling a duty in doing so.”
5. Capitalism and Freedom by Milton Friedman.
“Historical evidence speaks with a single voice on the relation between political freedom and a free market. I know of no example in time or place of a society that has been marked by a large measure of political freedom, and that has not also used something comparable to a free market.”
6. Utilitarianism by John Stuart Mill.
“[T]he ‘greatest happiness principle’ holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness; wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness. By happiness is intended pleasure and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain and the privation of pleasure.”
7. The Manifesto of the Communist Party by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels.
“Let the ruling classes tremble at the Communist revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. Workingmen, of all countries, unite!”
8. Marxism and Literary Criticism by Terry Eagleton.
“[W]hat perished in the Soviet Union was Marxist only in the sense that the Inquisition was Christian… The Marxist critical heritage is a superlatively rich, fertile one… We do not dismiss, say, feminist criticism just because patriarchy has not yet been dislodged. On the contrary, it is all the more reason to embrace it.”

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