The 3rd Economy: Gift, Market and Plunder [5] | Power Discourses | Mission | Plunder

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In the third post in this series – in which I am exploring an update to the ideas of gift presented in the book – I presented this table:

Picture 2

Bouncing off Veblen’s work ‘Conspicuous Consumption‘, I have proposed a 3rd economy beyond ‘gift’ and ‘market’ – the economy of ‘plunder’ – and suggested that this is often the default mode of exchange in the fractured city.

However, lest we rest too comfortably, I’m also concerned that this economy has also been prevalent in many kinds of mission and evangelism.

To quote from Pete Rollins’ great book How (not) to Speak of God:

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Broadly speaking, we can identify two types of apologetic procedures employed by the church: word and wonder. The first of these builds an apologetic case via the use of reason so as to logically convince the other that Christianity is compelling and must be accepted by anyone who wishes to be rational.

The second builds an apologetic case via the use of the miraculous (see posts [ here ] on Spirit in the Emerging Church) in order to demonstrate to the other via the use of the miraculous in order to demonstrate to the other that they ought to believe.

These power discourses of word and wonder attempt to present faith in such a way that rejection, if not impossible, is utterly irrational. (pg 35)

Mission, in this sense of power discourse, is plunder. It is anti-gift. In danger of denying freedom and of destroying relational potential. More generally, combining this with Veblen, we might reflect that:

• where Christianity has been the pursuit of the ‘leisure class’, mission has been guilty of participation in ‘plunder’ and,

• where’s Christianity has been part of the consumer class, the gospel has narrowed to a product to buy into.

Pete affirms what I’ve felt for so long: we need a radical return to the economy of the gift:

The emerging community must endeavour to be a question rather than an answer and an aroma rather than food. It must seek to offer an approach that enables the people of God to become the parable, aroma and salt of God, helping to form a space where God can give of God. (pg 42)

For only God – the true giver – can give the purely selfless gift. Only in this way can the gift go truly ‘out of sight’, and thus out of our hands, and into the realm of Derrida’s ‘ideal gift’.


8 responses to “The 3rd Economy: Gift, Market and Plunder [5] | Power Discourses | Mission | Plunder”

  1. kester,
    good thoughts on evangelism and its connection to a plunder economy. and, definitely, the combination of either ‘rationality’ or ‘wonder’ in evangelism is usually lethal, making the witness into either a Master or Magician.
    But i also have a question. Both you and Pete encourage an return to a gift economy, but then also see this as offered to a derridian Other.
    I don’t see these to concepts sitting will together. A gift economy of generosity assumes reciprocity, moving toward life. But Derrida’s ethics of the Other demands a unilateral movement (w/o return), which is only guarantee by death. I see these as not moving together.
    So I don’t think it usefull to hitch the gift economy (of resurrection) to an economy of the Other (of death).
    sure it is fashionable to say that it’s not either/or, but both/and, however sometimes this is an excuse from rigorous thought.
    but thanks for this continuing investigation. it is very fruitful.
    peace be with you,
    gift assumes reciprocity
    gift of death-derrida- demands unilateralness.

  2. Kester, I appreciate many of your, and Pete’s, thoughts; but I’m not entirely comfortable with the idea that either word or wonder are essentially anti-gift. Also interested by a recent post on Andrew Jones’ blog, where an african Christian was observing the lack of power within the western church as being a problem – a view I’d be inclined, overall, to agree with.
    When Jesus healed sick people, was this [primarily] a demonstration of power which could not be argued with, or [primarily] a gift, freely given and with no strings attached?
    I’d suggest it was a gift, made possible not because Jesus had any inherent power but because the Father’s power flowed through him – not to control others, but to set them free from something that held them captive.
    I would consider exercising Jesus’ delegated power and authority to heal the sick to be one of the best gifts the church should have to offer – especially given the immense pressure the NHS is under, and the extreme reality of sickness which even an affluent society cannot address.
    Perhaps the discomfort the emerging church has with words about wonders is that they have heard too many words about wonders matched by too little evidence of the wonders themselves? i.e. words that further bind up people already bound by sickness.
    I know you’ve posted about Holy Spirit and power before, but wonder how you would respond to these thoughts?

  3. “question and aroma” are the mystery.
    But depending on where you are in spiritual development, (all stages being valid in my book) mystery is not enough.
    A child needs the answer and the food.
    It takes wisdom to know when to give what.
    Your reflections on gift are making their economic way to me.

  4. Obviously I think healing is a fantastic idea and – as I tried to point out in the Spirit posts – is not something we should ignore. However, it is the way that that gift is used that is important. This is why gift and plunder are so close to one another… they both involve similar sorts of exchange, but one leaves people no choice, while the other allows perfect freedom.
    The surprising thing for me about Jesus’ healings were their extraordinary light touch. He didn’t use them to lever other things, though allowed others to be moved in ways by them.
    And – sorry to be brief, but end of a long day – I don’t think the problem with the western church is lack of power. The problem with the church – North South, East and West, and Africa in particular – is lack of love.
    Will mull Geoff – me ‘ead ‘urts at the mo!

  5. Very interesting thoughts. Like Andrew I’m not sure either word or wonder are essentially anti gift. Though am happy to go along with the idea that they have often been attached to plunder (though not always intentionally).
    My main question is about reciprocity. It seems to me that in a lot of the classic “gift economies” giving and plunder were very close. The function of giving in, for example, Potlatch ceremonies seems to have been to bolster the status of the giver rather than out of generosity to the reciever – in effect a power game.
    Perhaps this is what has occured when people have sought to “give” the gifts of healing, word etc. They have been used to increase the status and power of the giver rather than the receiver.
    The giving that christ undertook side steps this. It seems to assume that the gift will not be reciprocated and is simply a gift of loved, I suppose this is what you mean when you talk of it being hidden.
    In your last sentance you seem to suggest that we are unable to really give in this way so should refrain from offering some gifts (healing, words) at all. I would like to hope that as we seek to empty ourselves of the desire for status, and power, then our giving will become more Godlike.
    Hmm… perhaps this is just a long way of agreeing with you that the Church’s problem is lack of love.

  6. ..have you heard of ‘vernacular economy’
    some old celtic/island economies of coast of scotland were said to be v-economies
    there have been suggestions for progression..
    1. vernacular
    2. barter
    3. market
    market economies are based around fixed symbols
    of exchange – barter economies have an exchange where one item is swopped for another from the SAME fixed person
    but vernacular is where say a person does a service or gifts someone in a village and not only is money not taken but neither is an exchange expected from that particular person
    – a return ‘from the village’ will come back
    to the person, the village economy is ‘added’ to and somehow that good will return.. perhaps from some other person in the village.
    sounds strangely close to ‘ give and it shall be given to you.. ‘
    we often see that as God giving back – but in vernacular economies, God, people and creation (a village/town/today: city/sphere/scene) are closely woven together..
    community = not just God and people (that’s a sect)
    but community= God, people and CREATION
    (by creation I mean more of a biblical sense of creation: a particular known/named place in creation -eg. peterhead’s fishing industry, liverpool’s art scene.. or an old scottish island economy etc )
    ‘vernacular mission’ anyone

  7. damnflandrz

    I havent heard the word VERNACULAR since Mary Poppins sung about SUPERCALLAFRAJALISTICEXPEALADOCIOUS.

  8. I like the idea of vernacular economy/mission. Hadn’t heard of it before.
    Especially appreciate your definition of community as God, People and Creation.
    Even there the emphasis seems to be on a return for your gift (even if that remains hidden for a while). As far as I can see, one of the distinctive characteristics of giving as embodied by Christ in the gospels is giving without thought for return. Self-less generosity.
    I want to engage with God’s work of internal change until my gifts can be similarly generous.