The views of evangelicals concerning the relationship between Christianity and capitalism could hardly be more diverse. On the Right are views such as those expressed by the Arthur S. DeMoss Foundation in a “Free Enterprise Seminar” that came very close to equating “our Christian heritage” and “our free enterprise system.” At the other end of the spectrum are outspoken evangelical academicians and church leaders who couch their anticapitalistic views in equally religious language. These Left-leaning evangelicals point to the materialism and neglect of the poor and disadvantaged as compelling indicators of the unchristian condition of our current economic order.

Clearly, both cannot be correct, but that does not mean the truth is to be found somewhere in the center, between the two extremes. As a conservative, my own vision for the church and society necessarily is rooted in the Right, but I am uneasy when the Right seeks to baptize conservative politics (to which I subscribe) as “biblical.” Perhaps my position on the Right in a subtly defined niche that is “betwixt and between” is the reason I am so enthusiastic about Michael Novak’s new book, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism (Simon and Schuster, 433 pp., $17.50).

“Of all the systems of political economy which have shaped our history, none has so revolutionized ordinary expectations of human life—lengthened the life span, made the elimination of poverty and famine thinkable, enlarged the range of human choice—as democratic capitalism.” Novak, a distinguished Roman Catholic theologian and a leader in the neoconservative movement, thus attacks the status quo among Western intellectuals, who have overwhelmingly conceded the “moral high ground” to socialism or Marxism. But that is not so, contends Novak in this book. He argues persuasively that democratic capitalism is the economic and political system most compatible with Christianity.

Novak first describes the ideals underlying the system he calls democratic capitalism. The key idea is that there are actually three subsystems in vital interaction with one another: a democractic political system, an economic system with private ownership of property and a free market, and a moral-cultural system embodied in families, churches, schools, and other voluntary associations. The term “democratic capitalism” is intended to capture this plurality. The chapter on the family is particularly strong, contrasting the traditional ideal of a heterosexual family united in matrimony and raising children with the views of modern social engineers who bemoan the family’s “oppression” and cry for its liberation.

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Novak’s second object is to highlight the significant failures of the socialist alternative and debunk its use of religious language and constituencies. In the global debate between capitalism and socialism, Novak observes, the socialists score rhetorical points by contrasting the peaceable and just kingdom they hope to create with the flawed realities of existing capitalist societies. However, he shrewdly points out that when each system is measured by its real world performance (comparing apples with apples, so to speak), capitalism not only proves more productive of goods and services but also of such personal liberties as diligence, reliability, integrity, and compassion.

Finally, Novak takes issue with the anticapitalist tradition seen in much modern theology, urging religious thinkers who “loathe” capitalism to rethink their position. He argues that liberation theology, European Christian socialism, and the political activities of much of the Latin American clergy are based on fundamental misunderstandings of capitalist philosophy and values.

Novak is not the only scholar to fault theologians and religious intellectuals for their lack of political and economic acumen. In The Ethic of Democratic Capitalism, published last year, Lutheran theologian Robert Benne reproaches the Christian “ethics establishment” for opposing and criticizing a system it does not understand. Others are the Institute for Religion and Democracy (headed by Richard John Neuhaus), and This World, a thoughtful journal committed to examining “the moral and religious underpinnings” of economic, political, and cultural issues.

The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism is an important book that should be welcomed warmly by evangelicals. While no one book can say everything on a subject, Michael Novak has certainly struck upon what needs to be said as he reaffirms a vision of a good and free society at a time when the need for such reaffirmation is being urgently felt.

Reviewed by Carl Horn III, now serving in the U.S. Department of Justice. He was formerly legal counsel to Wheaton College and the Christian Legal Society.

Christian Women at Work, by Patricia Ward and Martha Stout (Zondervan, 1981, 242 pp., $9.95), is reviewed by Jan Porteus Howard, a high school home economics teacher and family life counselor in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
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Why have a title like Christian women at work in the 1980s, when millions of their secular counterparts are also working? Perhaps it is because these women have a disproportionate sense of guilt about working. Implicit in the title is the ongoing struggle and ambivalence that many working Christian women seem to feel: their need to justify their work outside the home, and being forced to make tradeoffs. The authors challenge us to rethink this: “Often the scripts Christian women repeat subconsciously are at odds with the gospel message of freedom and acceptance” (p. 89).

In interviewing over 100 Christian working women, including homemakers (whom, incidentally, they picture as pursuing legitimate careers), the authors have carefully presented in a positive light a wide range of vocations. Their case-study approach gives the personal and professional triumphs and struggles of white-, pink-, and blue-collar workers. It also deals well with such real-world issues as coping with change, tokenism, discrimination, sexual harassment, loneliness, displaced homemakers, single parents, and so on.

Perhaps the book’s greatest strength is the authenticity of its approach. The authors offer a broad view of women, work, and power structures, affirming the efforts of women to be “salt” and “light” in various vocations. They point to Scripture to show the freedom, acceptance, and respect that Christ brought to women in the first century, and describe the implications of such Christlike attitudes for today. Women seeking to enter or advance in the working world will find helpful the 21-page appendix with its list of resource directories, self-help books, free pamphlets, government organizations, and educational programs.

Neither feminist nor traditional in its approach, this book is a challenge to fuzzy theological and/or cultural thinking. It offers valuable insight for people confronted by these problems.

Improving Your Serve, by Charles R. Swindoll (Word, 1980, 219 pp., $8.95), is reviewed by Robert Ferguson, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, Knoxville, Tennessee.

Charles R. Swindoll, senior pastor of the First Evangelical Free Church in Fullerton, California, is a popular writer and broadcaster. He has given us another book in his own readable, biblical, and down-to-earth style.

Improving Your Serve is subtitled “The Art of Unselfish Living” and is based on the statement of our Lord, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many”. (Mark 10:45, NIV). Swindoll maintains that God’s purpose for those he has redeemed is to be Christlike, which means being delivered from all superficiality and selfishness and becoming real and giving. He gives a brief but practical exposition of the Beatitudes, calling them “the most descriptive word-portraits of a servant ever recorded.” He insists that living the life of a servant is the need of the day; costly though it may be, this different quality of life is what influences others.

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The book is an honest and humble record of one man’s personal struggles. His discovery is of one of the basic principles of the New Testament: to find life we must be prepared to lose it in the service of God and humanity. For a book that will not only challenge you to be more Christlike but also help you to know how, buy this one. Then put into practice the principles it sets down.

Call to Conversion, by Jim Wallis (Harper & Row, 1981, 129 pp., $9.95), is reviewed by John F. Peters, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Wilfred Laurier University, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.

Jim Wallis, a writer, speaker, and considered a leader among what was known as the young evangelicals, is known to many CT readers. Time magazine once recognized him as one of America’s religious leaders. His Call to Conversion begins with a definition of conversion that goes beyond the onetime “saved” experience: it applies to the erring, lukewarm, disobedient, and idolatrous believer. Christian commitment includes the believer’s response to national and institutional values that are not consistent with God’s standards. Having established this base, Wallis goes on to show how Christianity in America has become showy and publicly “respectable,” so that the essence of the message is lost.

Two themes of Christian responsibility for this age are specifically addressed in two chapters: our concern and involvement with and for the poor, and this nation’s increasing commitment to nuclear war. While the Scriptures and the life of Jesus show a peculiar love and care for the poor, most of us treat the poor as nonexistent. The author feels believers must involve themselves with the poor: we would experience Christlikeness and liberty in ridding ourselves of wealth and material possessions.

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Because “the reality of nuclear war is completely absent …” in political discussions, Wallis calls the church to reverse this direction by prayer and suffering.

The remaining third of the book challenges the reader to adopt a serious Christian commitment to life. Although most readers will not find new information in these chapters, there is a needed focus upon Christian commitment and a sense of responsibility for our total life and being. The effective witness is one of love, concern, suffering, and commitment, even to the point of laying down one’s life. Conversion is not just individualistic, but affects church, citizenship, and community.

Wallis’s writing is simple, compelling, and forceful. He writes as a caring pastor rather than as a theologian, and some readers will be surprised at his support of the church as an institution. To strengthen his argument, he appropriately relays experiences from his own pilgrimage as a student and as a longtime member in a struggling community.

In a fresh way, Wallis inspires readers to suffer, pray, love, worship, hope, and to be faithful. He asks the body of Christ to discern the Spirit, and he leads us to praise and celebration in the Eucharist—a theme he may have wished to develop further.

I believe Wallis’s attempt in this book to integrate faith and witness in today’s world is appropriate. Though some readers may find his chapter “Perils” on the American nuclear war buildup somewhat strong, this ought not to divert them from a new perspective on Christian responsibility, nor from the message in other chapters or the theme of the book. This prophetic message is a “gospel for these times,” an appropriate word to every sincere Christian.

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