Saturday, April 26, 2008

Claiborne: Theology of Enough

As we move though the center of The Irresistible Revolution, Claiborne repeats a recurring argument of his book: that to be a Christian means to live in contact with the poor. He critiques the current church as "a distribution center, a place where the poor come to get stuff and the rich come to dump stuff." This is not the best model, he argues, because until rich and poor come into real contact, neither can be transformed. When Jesus says the poor will always be with us, this is not resignation about poverty. Instead, Claiborne, says, Jesus is pointing to the church's identity as a body of people who live close to the poor and suffering.

Shane goes on to talk about a subject dear to Quaker hearts: simplicity, and he has some interesting things to say. He sees many of the problems with contemporary Christianity rooted in bad theology, not bad people, and sees a life's work in replacing bad theology with good. And he talks about what he calls "theology of enough:" Embracing neither poverty nor wealth but instead embracing and sharing the abundance of God's earth.

"So I would suggest we need a third way, neither the prosperity gospel nor the poverty gospel, but the gospel of abundance rooted in a theology of enough. As Proverbs says, 'Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise I may have too much and disown you and say "Who is the Lord?"' (Prov. 30:8,9). After seeing plenty of poor folks forced into economic crimes by their poverty and after seeing plenty of rich folks so content in their riches that they forget they need God or anyone else, I think we are all ready for something new."

God's economy relies on mutual interdependence and is exemplified in the miracles of the loaves and the fishes, the creation of abundance through sharing, faith and generosity.

I agree with Shane that much of the fear that leads us to make economic choices that lead to stressed-out lives comes from buying into the secular culture's theology of scarcity. This theology of scarcity is self-fulfilling: as some hoard to stave off scarcity, others starve. I agree that the more we can lean into God's abundance, the more we can make decisions that contribute to that abundance.

Yet much of Claiborne's rhetoric in these central chapters focuses on play, on a sort of childlike irreverence towards institutional authority that strongly echoes the "flower power" ethos of the 1960s. It can seem more style than substance. I think there is substance undergirding Shane's more antic-like actions, such as distributing money on Wall Street. But how do we navigate building a culture of enough while not careening into naivete?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


Thanks for your post. I have just happened to come across it now while searching for 'Theology of Enough' on Google.

I have been struggling for a number of months with the concept of prosperity in my new Christian faith and whether the ultimate solution is to become poor. I find the comments you have highlighted from SHane Claiborne's book to be very useful and thought provoking.

Something to consider which I am still struggling with is how we fit a Theology of Enough with the increasing realisation that as average Europeans and Americans we are consuming 3-6 times what the planet can sustain. If the majority of the world's scientists are correct in this assertion there is a need for a radical shift in us consuming less this will by some be seen as becoming poor. A hope I do have is that we will begin to redefine what is the 'good life' so that it is not so interlock with material wealth, so that we will come to use the word 'wealthy' indepedently of whether a person has a lot of stuff or not.

All the Best from London!