Kathryn Tanner’s Economy of Grace

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In Economy of Grace (2005),  Kathryn Tanner describes “theological economy” as something that “enters into the present configuration of global capitalism to transform [global capitalism] at those points where the two fields cross each other in conflict.” What is particularly profound about this assertion, and worthy of a bit of nuance, is the idea that “theological economy,” as an object of understanding, can only be truly understood and embraced within a dialectic with global capitalism. This means, then, that both –“theological economy” and “global capitalism” –do, indeed, engage in a “conflict,” which Tanner suggests, is predicated through “a clash” over “economic life.” To that end, I would add that this “clash” over “economic life” is a clash over authenticity, where the two fields of “theological economy” and “global capitalism” each vie for representation not just in the world of ideas, but also in our lived experiences.

As Tanner rightly proposes, “theological economy and global capitalism are not parallel planes but fields that come together in struggle because of their different vectors, their movements in opposite directions.” An important way that Tanner illustrates the “struggle” that ensues between “theological economy” and “global capitalism” is by equating the former to “moving up” particularly “in the direction of life,” and the latter “moving down, in the direction of death.” Obviously, “theological economy,” as a means of “moving” up in the direction of life is about living an economic life in alignment with God.

Essentially, such an economic life is about longitudinal reference between the human and God, so that the human experience seeks a theological existence between the humanity’s “being” and God’s “Being.” In other words, when embarking on a decidedly “theological” economic life, humanity’s “being” not only has a much better chance to fully actualize and self-actualize their “being-ness,” but can situate “being” within the situatedness of existential authenticity. In this regard, “theological economy” becomes a means through which authentic economic life can strive and survive the marginalizing, oppressive, and subversive aspects of a global capitalist system. Of course, when I say “strive and survive,” Tanner offers the notion that a theological economy puts forth “viable theological proposal for changing the present system.” This is true, particularly when taking into account, as Tanner continues to propose, that such a change arises out of “partial overlaps and clashes, as the theological principles of economy meet the workings of the capital system so as to infiltrate and subvert its usual operation.” However, I am compelled to take Tanner just a bit further. In my view, perhaps, then, it becomes indispensably important to consider that “theological economy” confronts the capital system in order to open up the possibility for a different “usual operation.” That is, the existence of “theological economy” subjugated under the premise that it should be the “usual operation” and the capital system is an “unusual operation.”


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