Stanley Hauerwas on Greed

by Richard on July 12, 2010

Greed presumes and perpetuates a world of scarcity and want - a world in which there is never “enough.” But a world shaped by scarcity is a world that cannot trust that God has given all that we need.

Greed, in other words, prohibits faith. But the inverse is also true. For it is in the Christian celebration of the Eucharist that we have the prismatic act that makes possible our recognition that God has given us everything we need.

The Eucharist not only is the proclamation of abundance, but it is the enactment of abundance. In the Eucharist we discover that we cannot use Christ up. In the Eucharist we discover that the more the body and blood of Christ is shared, the more there is to be shared.

The Eucharist, therefore, is the way the Christian Church learns to understand why generosity rather than greed can and must shape our economic relations.

Can greed be a good?, by Stanley Hauerwas, on the new ABC Religion & Ethics site . With thanks to Ben Myers.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }


Pam 07.13.10 at 12:05 am

It’s great that the ABC’s Religion & Ethics site is up and running.
God’s economy - God makes our hearts bigger and softer and replenishes our energy.


Kim 07.13.10 at 8:58 am

I regularly say something to this effect at the weekly offering too, pointing out that we are not just keeping some rather sordid pecuniary ritual here, or going through the motions of let’s- keep-the-church-running, that in fact we are making a profound theological statement about the oikoumene. With direct debit and all the rest, some churches are sidelining and virtually eliminating this radical moment in the service. Bad idea.


Richard 07.13.10 at 9:12 am

That’s a good point Kim, and I can’t say of thought of it in that way before. Most treasurers would say that giving by Standing Order (just to be pedantic — I don’t know of any churches that use Direct Debit) is much more efficient than the offering plate. Apart from anything else, it means that people give even when they are absent from church. Just to put words in your mouth, are you suggesting here that this is an occasion when what is economically efficient can be the enemy of the church’s theology?

One church we both know uses cards which people who give by SO can put in the offering plate. Does that overcome the theological difficulty, or do you believe there is something particular about parting with the ‘hard-earned’ during a service?


PamBG 07.13.10 at 9:38 am

I’ve generally found that paying by standing order has helped me, personally, to keep the discipline of tithing. It’s so tempting to not give the full amount otherwise. (Yes, I know this makes me an undisciplined person.)

The church I’m in now makes a huge great deal of the offering. It gets its own Scripture reading every week along with it’s one musical number and its own “thought for the day”. I’m not actually certain how I feel about that, I have to say. We don’t, for instance, have a weekly prayer of confession and the offering does seem to have an overly-important place in the service.


Kim 07.13.10 at 10:29 am

Sorry - Standing Order, not Direct Debit, is what I meant (I always mix the buggers up). Of course many of our folk give by Standing Order. And interestingly, recently, a few have expressed a sense of embarrassment that, when the collection plate is passed around, they have nothing to put in it. So our Elders Meeting has just decided, and will be suggesting to members with Standing Orders, that the (needlessly) embarrassed use an empty envelope. This practice has, at least, symbolic value (cf. Free Church non-alcoholic wine!), as in this instance I would not be so Luddite, or economically foolish, as to prohibit SOs.

On the other hand - the question that ends your penultimate paragraph, Richard - it is certainly true that what is economically efficient can be the enemy of the church’s theology. In fact - we’ve been here before - the increasing captivity of the church to economically dictated managerial practices and corporational spirituality (which are radically embedded in competitive capitalism) - “If you can’t count it, it doesn’t count”, “Plan it or can it”, etc. - well, as Stephen Pattison puts it in The Challenge of Practical Theology (2007): “What profiteth a church if it becomes a standard modern managed organisation at the expense of its quirky soul?” (in an essay entitled “Faithful Management or Managing the Faithful?”).

I tell you a parable. In the current (July/August) issue of Reform, there is, on the same page, a review of Stanley Hauerwas’ A Cross-Shattered Church: Reclaiming the Theological Heart of Preaching and, as this month’s “A Book I Will Remember”, an appreciation - I kid you not! - of Joel Osteen’s It’s Your Time: Activate Your Faith, Achieve Your Dreams and Increase in God’s Favour. A sublime sense of irony has our Reviews editor, don’t you think? But here is the best/worst bit: the person for whom Osteen has been an inspiration is the National Campaign Coordinator of the URC! As Private Frazer, the dour Scottish coffin-maker in Dad’s Army, unforgettably cries: “Doomed! We’re all doomed!” (Btw, I think Joel O. should change his name to Frank.)


PamBG 07.14.10 at 11:12 am

we are making a profound theological statement about the oikoumene.

Bug bear. Not unless we use a good deal of the money that we give for the benefit of those outside our church. Maybe your church is profoundly outward-focussed but I’ve not yet met a congregation that is. Part of what bugs me about tithing to my church, quite frankly, is that it goes for this neighborhood club known generically as my congregation. Yes congregations rent out the building and “serve the community” that way but I genuinely think that Methodist Relief and Development or the Red Cross probably do more of Christ’s work than local churches do.


Kim 07.14.10 at 2:16 pm

Well, Pam (as DH would begin!), if your point is fair, it also goes for the sermon (many of which are a waste of time, if not actually counter-gospel) and the eucharist itself (which most folk could take or leave at least in the British Free Church tradition). That leaves hymns (at least there is Wesley and Watts) and songs (God help us!) and prayers (which may be sublime, but can also be pathetic, and who knows where people’s heads are when they are said). Hell, why worship at all?


dh 07.14.10 at 2:49 pm

Well Kim, I love the sarcasm that you said in a caring way.

I will say local churches that truly stand firm on the Gospel help people to have eternal life. Christ’s work is more than “food and drink”. Tho I give all I have and have not love I’m a clanging gong (true love is helping people have eternal life). “He that has the son has life. He that has not the son has not life.” A church must do ALL the works of Christ which includes helping people to have eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.


PamBG 07.15.10 at 12:00 am

Hell, why worship at all?

Not sure how you turn my point into an anti-worship point. We can worship anywhere. We don’t need a special building. And I don’t even mind paying for a special building if the congregation is more mission-minded.

I will say local churches that truly stand firm on the Gospel help people to have eternal life.

And, again, this can be done without a special building.


Rick O'Donnell 07.15.10 at 4:02 am

Aaaak! I just wish I could read half a paragraph of Kim w/out a Webster’s New World in hand…
For us poor Luddites….:-)


Kim 07.15.10 at 8:01 am

Ah, Pam, your point is only about church buildings (which I don’t think was clear from your first comment). And it stands for churches that are only interested in maintenance, fabric upkeep, churches that worship buildings through God, not God through buildings (”As long as I can have my funeral here, dear …”). However even in such self-centred and house-proud churches (see Mark 13:2!), the money collected from the offering is diffused, willy-nilly, via payment into central church funds, into a variety of mission related activities.

Having said that, I’m all for serious denominational discussions about Bonhoeffer’s radical preliminary conclusions about the church-come of-age: “The church is the church only when it exists for others. To make a start, it should give away all its property to those in need. The clergy must live solely on the free-will offerings of their congregations, or possibly engage in some secular calling…”

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