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The economy and money in three recent mission documents.


While economic issues are not usually much debated in theology, three recent mission documents (The Cape Town Commitment, Together towards Life and Evangelii Gaudium) have directly addressed them, criticizing globalized capitalism more or less sharply and explicitly. However, all three lack transparency in that possible analysis which might provide foundation for the statements made is not visible. Additionally, the critique offered is vague and general except for some relatively concrete propositions in Evangelii Gaudium with seemingly social-democrat overtones. Thus these documents do not readily connect with economic, political, and social scientific discourses, which reduces their applicability predominantly to the religious sphere and further supports an Enlightenment sacred/secular dichotomy that conflicts with the approach advocated in Together towards Life. In order to increase the relevance of theological arguments concerning economic issues to spheres beyond the churches, theologians need to cooperate with economists and familiarise themselves with economic theories and practices before prescribing policies based on theological argumentation.


This article discusses the approaches of the three recent major mission documents to poverty, money, and the economy: the Lausanne Movement's The Cape Town Commitment (CTC); (1) the World Council of Churches' Together towards Life (TTL); (2) and Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (EG), (3) with special attention paid to defining the discourses addressed, the degree to which the argumentation of the documents is intelligible and meaningful in broader spheres, and the intended openness of their formulations to other discourses.

Of the World but Not in the World?

All three documents are clearly theological in that the topics and their treatment are selected on the basis of distinct theological agendas. From the Western Enlightenment perspective, the approach is thus religious. Indeed, given the dichotomy-based Western approach to sacred and secular, one would expect such documents to concentrate on the religious and spiritual, leaving secular concerns like economics and the environment to specialists in those fields. Close analysis of the texts, however, reveals unexpected anomalies.

The Cape Town Commitment

CTC can be regarded as situated on a familiar continuum of Lausanne Movement documents in terms of its topic's language and theological argumentation, while paying considerably more attention to theological argumentation than previous doctrinal statements (The Eausanne Covenant 1974 and The Manila Manifesto 1989). This increased focus can be seen as an attempt to open a dialogue with other than Evangelical discourses so that theological statements may no longer only be taken for granted as identity markers of a true born-again Christian. The theological openness is visible, for example, in the manner the previously single-minded propositionalist view on revelation is balanced with personalist perspectives. Likewise, the universal nature of the Christian message balances an emphasis on contextuality and eschatological perspectives with concerns about today's problems. (4) What enhances the chances of clear and consistent theological argumentation is the fact that the CTC chooses to use Johannine theology of love as the framework which, as it is also a widely popular approach in other Christian traditions, makes the starting point intelligible, acceptable, and open to dialogue for other Christians.

The second part of CTC, comprising practically half the document, addresses questions concerning the way in which Christian mission should relate to the world. However, while the document advocates openness to the world in order to share the gospel with those who are outside the circle of born-again Christians, the argumentation remains theological and the approach is strongly in the mode of conversion. For example, in terms of academia, CTC encourages "support for Christ-centred schools and universities that are committed to academic excellence and biblical truth" and recommends that young academics "develop their discipline from a biblical worldview." (5) The intention of the document, therefore, is obviously not to open up internal discourses to academic debate, but rather to enlighten insiders as to how the perceived state of the world should be addressed. The world is described based entirely on biblical references and a couple of examples from within evangelical circles.

Together towards Life

TTL can also be regarded as a continuation of the developments within the movement that produced it. However, even though the Christian global shift of gravity has clearly been seen in ecumenical discourse, the fact that TTL builds its theology on the basis of the biblical concept of life as interpreted in many majority world theologies through the concept of wholeness constitutes a major leap forward. (6) One no longer merely observes the majority world or addresses it, but rather it is now the majority world that speaks through the ecumenical movement. Salvation is no longer predominantly a matter of the plight of the soul after death but of the here and now, encompassing the whole of the cosmos, including the biosphere. The ways in which world Christianity ([paragraph]) (7) and mission ([paragraph] 6) are described also reflect the perspectives of the majority world. If CTC builds its theological argumentation on the Johannine concept of love, TTL's constitutive theological element is holism, although a Johannine reference to God's love in the very beginning ([paragraph] 1) builds bridges towards CTC.

TTL's holistic approach can be seen as a frontal attack on the Enlightenment disenchantment of nature and the world in general which, according to Max Weber, lies at the core of modernization. (8) In consequence, the world began to be seen predominantly through rational, secular, and materialist lenses. Religion became a separate sphere of life, primarily an individual matter. This stance is rejected by the majority world theologians, who insist on the importance of religion in all aspects of life: the spiritual and the material, the sacred and the secular cannot be separated, and likewise the communal and the individual are closely interwoven. Therefore, the structure in the CTC--beginning in theology and proceeding to its application in the world--does not resonate with majority world doctrine in which the world and the gospel are expounded alongside each other, in a creative interchange that also has its tensions. On the other hand, TTL participates in the majority-wo rid academic theological discourse by taking up its themes and approaches, including a critical attitude toward the Western Enlightenment project.

By co-opting the majority-world theological agenda, TTL also engages with the discourses that are typical discussion partners for many majority-world academic theologians, namely those of the political sciences, sociology, and cultural studies. This is accomplished not so much through participating in the analytical work of schools within these disciplines that critically examine modernity and global capitalism, but rather by gleaning rhetorical devices that link to those discourses. Thus, in addition to the strongly theological discourses of life and wholeness, the document contains political and economic terminology such as "margins" or "centre-periphery" ([paragraph] 6, [paragraph] 38 onwards); "(free) market ideology/economy" ([paragraph] 7, [paragraph] 108); "sustainability" ([paragraph] 20); "exploitation" ([paragraph] 23, [paragraph] 31); "global free market," "unlimited growth" ([paragraph] 31); "power" ([paragraph] 33); and "capitalism" ([paragraph] 88). However, because the use of terminology here is a matter of merely borrowing and making use of it in theological argumentation, without analysis in its new context or even reference to other analyses of the global economic, political, and social situation, the result is that the document eventually closes itself into a theological bubble without openings for outsider specialist engagement. In some instances this is understandable, such as when making use of the categories of centre and periphery to analyze mission, where the point is simply to cross-pollinate missiological discourse with terminology and ideas from outside. On the other hand, when political, economic, and social scientific terminology is used for describing the global political, economic, and social situation, then some 8 means of access by other discourses would be in order. For example, the simple inclusion of the term "free-market ideology" does not invite discussion when it is not qualified by any contextualizing reference: Does it allude to any economic approach except socialism? Or rather to a specific type of free-market economy?

Evangelii Gaudium

Even if EG does not represent any revolution in the theological thinking of the Roman Catholic Church, it can be regarded as a breath of fresh air and, in many ways, as a return to the spirit of the Second Vatican Council; in its consistent emphasis on taking the poor into account it can even be seen as a step forward. Additionally, EG's emphasis on the content rather than the form of faith ([paragraph] 41), (9) and its rejection of traditions that at some point have been useful but are no longer ([paragraph] 43), opens up the document ecumenically. Consequendy, the increasing acknowledgment of context in both EG and CTC leads the Evangelicals and Catholics closer to each other, on a terrain that is very acceptable to the ecumenical movement. So, one could maintain that while EG theological discourse appears on the surface to be inward-turning, it has a lot of ecumenical potential to engage other theological traditions.

In terms of theological discourse identified through textual references, EG remains strictly within the confines of Catholic tradition: only biblical, patristic, and Roman Catholic sources are cited. At the same time one needs to acknowledge that the Roman Catholic discourse has expanded to include majority-world references (even though some may consider that they still play too small a role). The majority world and the poor are on the agenda although, unlike TTL, EG does not reproduce their voices but rather presents a discourse about them.

EG contains some terminology that relates it especially to economic discourses, like "trickle-down theories" ([paragraph] 54) and "financial system" ([paragraph] 57): fewer than in TTL but more than in CTC. Of the three documents EG is, however, the only one specifically mentioning a distinguishable economic theory to which it does not subscribe. That opens up the possibility of actual debate with economists about the viability of trickle-down theories. (10)

The Documents and the Economy

Considering how omnipresent today's economic discourses are, it is remarkable that money is almost a non-issue in theology. Certainly, it is the number one topic when discussing the prospects of theological faculties or research programs, but it very seldom appears in theological discourse itself. (11) This probably relates to the ambivalent Christian attitude to money and wealth, partly stemming from the Bible, which does allow different interpretations of the topic: just compare Matthew 19:24 and Matthew 25:14-30. The issue becomes even more tangled when money is not only a matter of justice but also a question of the relationship between ascetics and worldliness. What is noteworthy, therefore, is that all three documents address economic issues, and quite explicitly; they simply cannot be ignored in the contemporary era.

Even if EG can be counted as a theological document, its emphasis lies in social ethics issues, particularly poverty and social (injustice, which can be seen as a continuation of the socially oriented encyclicals which began with Leo XIII's Rerum Novarum in 1891. While Rerum Novarum defended the poor, it was also very explicit in its rejection of socialism; private ownership was regarded as belonging to the order of creation. (12) From the beginning, the Roman Catholic Church chose the market economy over socialism even if predatory capitalism was not condoned. During the 20th century the position underwent only minor adjustments--the Vatican was always staunchly anti-communist.

It can be claimed that EG continues to build on this tradition of balancing the rights of the poor with acceptance of the market economy, even if the balance has clearly shifted in a more critical direction regarding capitalism. Francis condemns greed and consumerism, which is completely in line with the previous approaches of the Magisterium. But he also directs strong criticism against the power of the financial system, and neo-liberal trickle-down theories, and expresses clear support for what are practically social-democrat policies in a manner that can be seen to be in tension with the traditional Catholic principles of subsidiarity. (13) If John Paul II's Polish background became clearly visible in his anti-Communist positions, so

Francis' Latin American background becomes visible through a liberation theological touch. EG can thus be seen as a moderate echo of the famous Latin American CELAM bishops' conferences in Medellin (1968) and Puebla (1979): moderate in the sense of not being revolutionary or Marxist. This also means that it is not very concrete and remains a bit vague, although it would actually be unwise to expect any extremely clear political agendas from an apostolic exhortation.

While EG takes a position that is open to support and criticism in both economic and political discourses, the major weakness in engaging with it in these spheres is that its positions are argued only from theological and ethical perspectives. There is no transparency about whether these are based on meticulous analysis of societies and globalization or not. Therefore, an economist or a political scientist who does not agree with the primate can simply dismiss EG by claiming that it builds on a false analysis. Consequently, the document remains merely partial in its openness to these discourses, requiring ambitious further dialogue with experts in those fields with which it appears to engage.

The WCC background is somewhat different, as the ecumenical movement has included certain groups flirting with socialism and communism since the 1960s, with the tendency becoming most visible in the 1980s, when the WCC financed socialist liberation movements in Africa against the anti-Communist and racist white governments. (14) TTL's criticism of global capitalism (15) is a continuation of these previous trends, although they were controversial even within the ecumenical movement. That the critique is strongly anchored in views from the majority world is not a novelty either. What has changed is that instead of being an organization of advocacy, the WCC through TTL positions itself within the global South. Yet this repositioning does not reveal what kind of economic, social, or political analysis serves as its basis, and neither is anything concrete proposed instead of the present world order. One may wonder whether the TTL critique against capitalism is a case of constructing straw men in order to have something to burn; that is, of opposing a kind of greedy capitalism to which no one subscribes in principle. Consequently, it is far too easy for economists to dismiss the critical voices from the WCC as unrealistic and ungrounded. How, for example, does TTL relate to the World Bank economist's claiming that global capitalism has actually profited the world's poor (except the most destitute five percent) along with the super-rich, with the actual losers being found in the global upper middle classes? (16)

That even the evangelical Lausanne Movement has joined the front criticizing global capitalism is a clear change. This has happened gradually, becoming visible in the growing concern for social responsibility since the meetings in Bangkok 1973 and Manila 1989, and stems pardy from the evangelical shift of gravity to the global South. Meanwhile, the politically conservative North American lobby, which has traditionally been a strong force, has gradually lost some of its power, although the CTC formulations that can be regarded as critical of capitalism are still milder than in the two other documents. All of them are naturally against greed and exploitation but it is noteworthy that now CTC also takes into account structural dimensions in the creation of poverty like the two other documents: "[The Bible] shows us God's desire both for systemic and economic justice." (17) This could be seen as a sign of wavering faith in capitalism within evangelical circles.

In addition to the shift in gravity to the majority world, the Siamese twin sister of capitalism, consumerism, is increasingly seen as a competitor to the Christian message, a concern shared by all three documents. (18) It is true that someone arguing for global capitalism and against these Christian voices could maintain that, in spite of the ethically sounding formulations of the anti-capitalist arguments, what is actually at issue is fear for the churches' own position should rampant consumerism and materialism marginalize religions. What appears as empathy for the poor can thus be interpreted as an instinct for institutional self-preservation. Yet the Christian reproach against consumerism, when viewed against the backdrop of contemporary environmental problems, looks like the only plausible position, no matter how it is argued. It is a fact that environmental degradation and climate change threaten humanity, especially the poor, and therefore it is arguably a credit for TTL that it places such a strong emphasis on the environment, especially as it is not an add-on but grows organically from the holistic theological position. (19) EG's economic argumentation, however, builds almost entirely on the position of the poor, and the exhortation is surprisingly quiet about environmental issues even though they play a decisive role in the lives of many of the impoverished. While EG in paragraph 215 contains a strong plea for an environment stressed by economic exploitation, which links it to the suffering inflicted on the poor, this remains as a single statement, something which may be due to the fact that Pope Francis is preparing a separate document on the environment. (20) In terms of the environment, CTC is located between the two others, but the issues raised are not clearly connected to economic dimensions.

There is one further area discussed in the documents where the economy and theology meet: the prosperity gospel. Interestingly, while the CTC and EG criticize it by name--thus making it the only identified form of theology to be attacked--TTL does not take up the question at all. Another noteworthy observation is that while CTC is precise and analytical in its condemnation of the prosperity gospel; EG refers to it without definition, merely representing it as theology that does not take others into account but is, rather, highly individualist and egoistic. (21) The pope (and his theological team) do not seem to have any ambition to understand and interpret the prosperity gospel, its theological and social background, and its variations, as even a limited acquaintance with prosperity gospel literature and research on it reveals that representing it as pure egoism has little support in reality. (22) CTC, on the other hand, is very careful in its definition of the phenomenon, whilst pointing out that the definition is its own. This means that if those who consider themselves supporters of the prosperity gospel do not recognize their views in the CTC definition, the Lausanne Movement is not concerned with their theology. Yet the CTC definition can be counted as a standard version of the doctrine: "[B]elievers have a right to the blessings of health and wealth and ... they can obtain these blessings through positive confessions of faith and the 'sowing of seeds' through financial or material gifts." (23)

Concluding Remarks

The prosperity gospel is probably the only theological arena in which money is unashamedly discussed; yet it is not a candidate for participating in economic discourses because of its thoroughly re-enchanted rhetoric. Unless theologians want to leave economics outside the scope of their discourse, however, we need to engage in debate with it. Furthermore, should we wish our participation to have some relevance there are two pitfalls to be avoided. The first is such a high level of generalized, idealistic vagueness that anyone can subscribe to the formulations. This is a real danger in documents that are constructed to transcend a specific context and also to have significance over time. They cannot be too specific, but if they become too general they lose all relevance. Second, also to be eschewed is the "prescriptive haste" that Emmanuel Katongole considers one of the common failings of theologies that, attempting to be relevant, rush into prescribing what the churches, Christians, or states should do before actually analyzing the situation. (24) This haste reveals a holier-than-thou attitude in which theologians consider they possess the keys to ethical discernment, even to the extent of being able to judge phenomena without properly knowing them. It is no wonder that theological discourse is often considered less than relevant to other discourses.

It is a positive achievement that the three recent mission documents discussed here do not shy away from addressing economic issues. However, it is clear that in terms of argumentation, clarity, and relevance, there is still much to do. One cannot claim that the documents' positions are wrong--indeed, they are mostly beyond any possibility of empirical or theoretical assessment--but they are not sufficient in a world where money reigns. While theologians need not become economists, we need to listen carefully if we wish to be listened to in return. This challenge is most acute for the WCC because TTL rejects the Enlightenment dichotomy that leaves money and other worldly things outside the theological scope.

(1) The Cape Town Commitment.: A Confession of Faith and Call to Action (Lausanne Movement, 2010). Available at: (hereafter CTC).

(2) Together towards Life: Mission and Evangelism in Changing Landscapes, ed. Joseoop Keum (Geneva: WCC Publications, 2013), at: and-evangelism/together-towards-life mission-and-evangelism-in-changing-landscapes (hereafter TTL).

(3) Pope Francis, Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium of the Holy Father Francis to the Bishops, Clergy, Consecrated Persons, and the Lay Faithful on the Proclamation of the Gospel in Today's World (Vatican: Vatican Press 2013), at: francesco_esortazione- ap_20131124_evangelii-gaudium.html (hereafter EG).

(4) CTC, IIA 1: "Because Jesus is truth, truth in Christ is (i) personal as well as propositional; (ii) universal as well as contextual; (iii) ultimate as well as present." The Manila Manifesto can be seen as a step in the direction to which the CTC further takes Lausanne documents: universal-contextual balance ([section]10) and global social problems ([section]2, [section]4, [section]10), See The Manila Manifesto (Lausanne Movement, 1989), available at:

(5) CTC, II 7 a & c.

(6) A holistic theological approach is most visible in paragraphs 50-54, where the argumentation is strongly influenced by African theologians at least. Expressions and ideas that are very common in African theologies and TTL are, for instance, wholeness, health, healing as restoration of wholeness (all of the above can be covered by the Swahili concept uzima), and personhood (ubuntu--Isizulu).

(7) All parenthetical citations in this section refer to paragraphs in TTL.

(8) Richard Jenkins, "Disenchantment, Enchantment and Re-Enchantment: Max Weber at the Millennium," Max Weber Studies 1 (2000), 11-32; Max Weber, "Wissenschaft als Beruf," 488, at: http://www.wsp- download%20ss%202006/Max%20Weber%20-%20Wissenschaft%20als%20Beruf.pdf.

(9) All parenthetical citations in this section refer to paragraph numbers in EG.

(10) Actually, the OECD's recent book In It Together Why Less Inequality Benefits All (Paris: OECD Publishing, 2015) seems to support the pope's position by claiming that economic inequality harms economic growth and is thus doubly harmful to the poor, unlike what is suggested by trickle-down theories.

(11) See Veli-Matti Karkkainen, "A Theological-Missiological Reflection on Money and Mobility in the Globalizing World." Paper presented at the NIME/IAMS European conference, Mission and Money, 4 April 2014.

(12) Pope Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum, Encyclical on Capital and Labor (Vatican Press), [paragraph] 6; at: 5051891_rerum-novarum.html.

(13) See EG, [paragraph] [paragraph] 60, 57, 54, 52.

(14) See Antti Laine, Ecumenical Attack against Racism: The Anti-Racist Programme of the World Council of Churches, 1968-1974 (Helsinki: Luther-Agricola Society, 2015).

(15) Geevarghese Mor Coorilos, "Mission towards Fullness of Life," International Review of Mission 1:103 (2014), 40: "... denouncing the economy of greed in the strongest language possible, the new mission statement offers a counter- cultural missiology."

(16) Branko Milanovic, Global Income Inequality by the Numbers: In History and Nom, an Overview (The World Bank Development Research Group, Poverty and Inequality Team 2012), 12-15. At:

(17) CTC, IIB 3.

(18) See CTC, I 7a, IIB 3c; TTL, [paragraph] 23; EG, [paragraph] 2, [paragraph] 60, [paragraph] 70, [paragraph] 89.

(19) Coorilos, "Mission towards Fullness of Life," 42-43.

(20) Stephen Bevans, "Life, Joy, and Love: Together towards Life in Dialogue with Evangelii Gaudium and The Cape Town Commitment." A paper presented at the Commission for World Mission and Evangelism meeting in Bossey, Switzerland, 17 March 2015.

(21) EG [paragraph] 90: "... 'theology of prosperity' detached from responsibility for our brothers and sisters, or to depersonalized experiences which are nothing more than a form of self- centredness."

(22) See, for example, Jonathan L. Walton, "Stop Worrying and Start Sowing! A Phenomenological Account of the Ethics of 'Divine Investment,"' in Pentecostalism and Prosperity: The Socio-Economics of the Global Charismatic Movement, ed. Katherine Attanasi and Amos Yong (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2012), 107-29; Gerardo Marti, "'I Determine My Harvest': Risky Careers and Spirit-Guided Prosperity in Los Angeles," in Pentecostalism and Prosperity: The Socio- Economics of the Global Charismatic Movement, eds. Katherine Attanasi and Amos Yong (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2012), 140-42.

(23) CTC, IIE 5.

(24) Emmanuel Katongole, The Sacrifice of Africa: A Political Theology for Africa (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2011), 32.

Mika Vahakangas is Professor of Mission Studies and Ecumenics at Lund University, Sweden, President of the International Association for Mission Studies, and adviser to the Commission for World Mission and Evangelism.
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Author:Vahakangas, Mika
Publication:International Review of Mission
Geographic Code:6SOUT
Date:Nov 1, 2015
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