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The Theology of Virtuous Capitalism

This is the 10th in a series introducing the book Redeeming Capitalism by Ken Barnes. You can pick up the start of this series here. See the chart here for the context of THEOLOGY in the major historic forms of capitalism.

"These considerations [questions of morality and ethics in economics and business] come down to our theology of economics and the relationship between our understanding of God - the divine - and our understanding of why human beings exist in the first place.

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In the era of traditional capitalism, God seemed remote. God existed, whether in a theistic or deistic sense, but God was not personally active in the everyday operation of the world. For deists, God is nothing more than a prime mover, a force responsible for the existence of things, but not a being with personal attributes. All things are subject to the universal laws of nature, and morality is determined by one's own conscience, within the constraints of personal and group utility. For theists, the God of the Bible is real and personal but not involved in human activity; that is the sole preserve of free will. Consequently, every person is responsible to God for the morality of his or her decisions, based upon a person's relative adherence to divine precepts.

In the era of traditional capitalism, there was no real conflict between those who subscribed to orthodox Christian teaching and those who did not, because the latter generally accepted the benefits of Judea-Christian ethics. It was merely their source that was debated, not their efficacy.


In the modern era, this thinking gave way to a "God is active" mentality, based not only on a literal interpretation of Matthew 10:29-30 ("Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father's care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered"), but also on the Calvinist doctrine of the absolute sovereignty of God. If God is sovereign, then God will have his way and human beings are powerless to frustrate his will. Therefore, ethics are not a matter of utility or adherence to a moral code; they are judged to be right or wrong based upon one's obedience to the sovereign will of God.

Max Weber was correct in assuming that this belief had a psychological effect on how modern capitalists viewed the nature of their work, but he was incorrect in assuming it had anything to do with fear of not being "saved." Calvinists worked under the presumption that they were saved; hence, their economic activities and their moral behavior were aligned not out of fear, but out of obedience to God.


What then of postmodern capitalism and its indifference to theology and its propensity for nihilism? The most obvious answer is that "God is dead;' at least in terms of God's relevance to economics. God and religion, at least in Christian and post-Christian societies, have become completely divorced from both economic decision-making and public policy. To quote Alistair Campbell, former spokesperson for British Prime Minister Tony Blair, "We don't do God;' and few in the City of London or on Wall Street would have demurred.


. . .


What may appear to be the absence of God in postmodernism may actually be the mystery of God being hidden from those unwilling to encounter the divine. Virtuous capitalism calls for a realistic look at the destruction caused by utilitarian economics and accepts postmodernity's implicit invitation to speak into this space with the good news that God is indeed present and accessible to all who seek him. . . ."(Barnes, Redeeming Capitalism, p. 199-201)[bracketed inserts and emphasis throughout is ours].

We at are fond of the phrase, “Questions are the engines of thought and action.” From that posture, we invite you to give thought to a few of our questions:

  • Have you ever given thought to the intersection of theology and economics? Do you have a theology of economics?

  • What’s your understanding of why human beings exist in the first place? Seriously. Why do you think we’re here and what purpose do we serve?

  •  Which era of capitalism – traditional, modern or postmodern – resonates with you? Does an era of virtuous capitalism resonate with you?

How might these questions prod you to re-think your perspective of capitalism? How might these questions prod you to make different marketplace decisions? We'd love to hear your answers and so invite you to share them with us.

Stay tuned for future excerpts of Redeeming Capitalism. Or. Why wait for us? Buy and read a copy for yourself now.

Tired of "profit is evil" vs "maximize my profit by exploiting others," as if those are the only two options?

Buy now, or get a free sample here >>

"This book merits close, sustained attention as a compelling move beyond both careless thinking and easy ideology."—Walter Brueggemann, Columbia Theological Seminary

"Better Capitalism is a sincere search for a better world."—Cato Institute



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