Every once in a while you realize that blogging is an imperfect process for academics. Tonight was a great example. Normally, at the end of a conference, the brain is saturated by information overload and you are ready to “coast” to the end. Unfortunately Greg Forster’s final presentation was more like sitting in front of a fire hydrant with a tin cup, trying to find just the right information hang onto.
Forster, director of the Okoinomia Network, did work with a straightforward thesis and outline. I have to be honest though, what he presented was a more tightly woven, academically framed, nuanced, argument, that often defies the traditional blogging approach of big ideas, outlines, and talking points. The entire presentation was a talking point that I suspect we will see elsewhere. Greg has just completed his fourth text around some of the themes in the paper, so I suspect we will see more in his writings as well, but I really wished we had an audio recording of this presentation.
With that lengthy presentation I will (feebly) offer some of his key points recognizing that I just cannot do the whole presentation justice. If nothing else I ask the reader to “hang on” for the larger version when it appears on the Oikonomia Network.
In a nutshell Forster believes the following: an entrepreneurial economy makes it possible for God’s people to live as stewards. Christians are able to cultivate a spirit of stewardship for the common good by avoiding a dualistic paternalism (where elites steward resources while viewing workers as “tools”) while embracing the egalitarian power resident in trusting entrepreneurs to work together to create a more hospitable environment by relying on each other for productivity and value creation.
Forster’s argument began with a personal observation: members of his family (wife and daughter) have serious medical conditions that they would not have been able to survive… much less thrive… just 30 years ago. Forster’s emphasis was both on the power of entrepreneurial creativity (the fact that more progress in medical science has occurred in the last thirty years than the previous three hundred) but also on relationships that benefit from the creativity. Forster recounted being in a medical waiting room with a group of diverse people (differing backgrounds of ethnicity, class, and religion) who treated each other lovingly because of the hope implicit in an entrepreneurial system that worked to create opportunities of healing through collaborative efforts. Forster noted that there was no “magic” formula for this moment of loving relationships, he believes entrepreneurship creates the “space” as intuitions work to make a profit but only to “invest” it in insuring his daughter’s life during a delicate surgery.
Forster argued that the culture of stewardship in a modern entrepreneurial economic is historically more trusting of “strangers” than earlier, aristocratic or agrarian, models. While Aristotle fostered a dualistic mindset (seeing workers as “tools” for the elite class in Greece) entrepreneurial systems often have to trust the location of a number of unknown people (in various places of production and service) to insure the system works.
Forster grounds this entrepreneurial spirit in the Reformation, particularly Luther’s reaction to a religious paternalism of penance/ indulgence that treated workers as second class citizens to the religious/cleric elite of the day. Luther’s vision of the transformation of all of life (his first thesis) set the stage for a more egalitarian social order that also valued all of life… and all people. Forster believes that entrepreneurship mutes any paternalistic dualism by focusing on the principles of value creation, productivity, and opportunity… principles that creating space for sustaining a love of neighbor though a spirit of stewardship.
Forster did note that all social orders do have problems… including entrepreneurship. The downside includes a tendency to devalue “all” institutions with an egalitarian system. Yet Forster believes that Christians should live in the “messy middle” of entrepreneurship and engage the system with hope, not fear, in how a spirit of stewardship might be cultivated.
- Only the Spirit of Stewardship can reclaim the brokenness of the world while avoiding the clutches of a paternalistic dualism
- Bet those claiming the Spirit of Stewardship must also claim entrepreneurship as the best system available.
So the conference ended with a tightly woven paper that proves impossible to capture. I do hope the following information does it some justice and hope soon Forster will make the final “product” available. Perhaps Greg’s presentation may be equally illustrative (and illuminating) of the Kern Family Foundation core belief that economic systems can truly free people, by God’s grace, so “production” and “relationship” should not be mutually exclusive concepts within a redemptive society. Food for thought as we struggle to develop an economic theology anchored in the Kingdom of God.