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The Christian Faith and the Financial Crisis
Part One: The Christian Faith (7)


The Old Testament is - at least from the moment that Abraham appears on the scene - the story of a people. Social, economic and political questions therefore appear more obviously than they do in the New Testament. As a Christian I prefer to interpret the Old Testament in the light of the New rather than - as I think Griffiths is trying to do - interpreting the New Testament in the light of the Old. The New Testament tells the story of a return to Paradise and freedom from the entanglement of sin made possible through the union of God and Man in Christ. The Old Testament tells the story of the loss of Paradise and the process of our progressive entanglement in sin. But it also tells the story of the process by which a womb was formed which could contain God. The story of the Jews in the Old Testament is, for Christians, the story of the Mother of God.

The Old Testament, thus, describes the world as it is, built on violence and sin, on 'the knowledge of good and evil'. As such the world, the knowledge of good and evil, is an obstacle to our true destiny, which is Eternal Life in God. The New Testament therefore - and the theme is developed at length by St Paul - passes judgement on the Old. And the way in which the Old Testament changes its meaning and is transfigured in the light of the New is given in the Epistle to the Hebrews.

Griffiths is effectively defending the world (the logic of the Old Testament) against the teaching of Jesus. He complains that if what some Christians write about capitalism is true 'then there is no way in which a public spirited individual can make a career in business and remain a person of integrity' (Creation of Wealth p.11). He wants to assert that Christians can be businessmen. And of course he is right. As Christians can be soldiers, politicians, civil servants, trade union leaders, lawyers, nuclear scientists, or anything else one cares to mention. But it is problematical. It is an engagement with 'the world' and 'the world' - under the dominion of the 'Prince of the World' (John 14.30; 16.11) - follows a logic which is not the logic of the life in Christ. Any engagement with the world therefore is problematical, not just business. Let me give an example plucked more or less at random. The members of the Belfast Chamber of Commerce in the late eighteenth century were very pleased with themselves because they had rejected a proposal to form a consortium which would have turned Belfast, following the example of Liverpool, into a major hub for the slave trade. A leading figure in the opposition to this proposal was a man called William Tennent. Although he was subsequently to become an important figure in banking, Tennent initially made his name through importing sugar and rum. From the West Indies. Where of course the sugar and rum were produced by slaves. We are all entangled in the world and we are all therefore entangled in the sin of the world, and that is why when we go to church on a Sunday we go, as Jesus tells us we should, with the attitude of the publican in the story of the Publican and the Pharisee. We stand with our heads bowed in fear and trembling, unable to raise our eyes to the sanctuary, and our only prayer - the only prayer that expresses accurately our relationship to the life in Christ - is 'Lord have mercy on me, a sinner.'