- Christianity and Economics in the Post-Cold War Era: The Oxford Declaration and Beyond, and: Writings for a Liberation Psychology After the Fall: Theology Speaks to Economics and Psychology
November 1989 will be remembered as the month in which the Berlin Wall fell to the ground and the Cold War reached its forty-five year denouement. Those of long historical memory will also recall a night that month which witnessed the brutal massacre of six Jesuit priests and their housekeeper and her daughter by an elite unit of the Salvadoran army. As the executions of the Jesuits began, Fr. Martin-Baro’s voice was heard over the staccato reports of automatic weapons: “This is an injustice!”
Two recent books not only recall the events of that November but also explore their ongoing relevance in a fast-evolving world. The destruction of the Berlin Wall augured an immediate and dramatic reframing of economic theorizing. One example of this rethinking is found in Christianity and Economics in the Post-Cold War Era. The fall of Fr. Martin-Baro was inevitably eclipsed by events in Berlin, but it bore significant consequences of its own: until Martin-Baro’s murder, North America took little notice of his writing or thinking, despite the fact that he was one of Latin America’s leading psychologists. Writings for a Liberation Psychology is a collection of Martin-Baro’s essays translated from the original Spanish. Ultimately, what is most striking about both works is their inter-disciplinary nature. Both very self-consciously enter the realm of theological reflection—an area rarely sought out as bedfellow in economic or psychological analyses.
It is not often that liberation-oriented theologians sit across the table from market economists and seek a consensus on how justice for the poor might best be realized. Such a gathering took place at the Conference on Christian Faith and Economics in January 1990 at Oxford. Over one hundred evangelical Protestant leaders from all over the globe attended, attempting to identify ways in which Christians can shape their economic decisions according to biblical teachings. There was perhaps an unspoken agenda as well: hitherto, evangelical leaders from both the left and the right had claimed the authority of the Christian Scriptures for very divergent views of economics. The Oxford Conference represented a ground-breaking attempt by evangelical Protestants of very different ideological persuasions and cultures to identify shared economic and theological beliefs.
The resulting document—The Oxford Declaration—was the fruit of this dialogue and reflection process. The very fact that a consensus was ultimately reached is evidence of the good-will and commitment that were brought to the process. The Declaration is a nuanced document that employs a scripture-based approach to economic analysis. Rooted in the biblical notions of creation and stewardship, the document offers an endorsement of market-oriented approaches to economic development, cautioning [End Page 403] nonetheless that capitalism can have profoundly unchristian results.
Included in this book are analyses of the Declaration by commentators of different Christian persuasions. Michael Novak writes from the perspective of a conservative Catholic, comparing the Oxford Declaration with Centesimus Annus, the 1992 encyclical letter of Pope John Paul II on social justice. Rob Van Drimmelen of the World Council of Churches compares the Declaration to the 1992 WCC study document Christian Faith and the World Economy Today, which reflected a liberal Protestant ethos.
What emerges from this collection of essays is a fascinating ecumenical reflection upon the Christian imperative of seeking justice in the economic sphere of human activities. As the book’s commentators observe, the Oxford Declaration manifests a very specific consensus regarding evangelical theology, but is only able to venture the most generalized of principles regarding particular economic approaches. Certain competing positions are left uneasily juxtaposed in the Declaration: the tenets of democratic...