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The Economy of Desire: Christianity and Capitalism in a Postmodern World

(The Church and Postmodern Culture #6)

3.95  ·  Rating details ·  167 ratings  ·  32 reviews
In this addition to the award-winning Church and Postmodern Culture series, respected theologian Daniel Bell compares and contrasts capitalism and Christianity, showing how Christianity provides resources for faithfully navigating the postmodern global economy.

Bell approaches capitalism and Christianity as alternative visions of humanity, God, and the good life. Consideri

Paperback, 224 pages
Published November 1st 2012 by Baker Academic
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Jan 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Bell offers some criticism of capitalism in this book. In fact, he calls it a sin. This might not sit well with some American Christians, but I voiced a loud Amen when I came to this comment from series editor James K. A. Smith in the foreword: "By locating the challenges for Christian discipleship in arcane cults or sexual temptation or the 'secularizing' forces of the Supreme Court, evangelicalism tends to miss the fact that the great tempter of our age is Walmart." Or as Bell says, our moder ...more
Bruce Hamill
Apr 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I should probably let it lie before reviewing, but this book seems too good. It ties together a range of key themes and issues, arguably the major practical issues facing Christian existence today, in a way which is beautifully clear and precise. It is about economics, but, drawing on Foucault and Deleuze broadens our vision of economic existence in terms of the social shape of our desires and their formation. This is an account of Christian economics and of the divine economy as it can be seen ...more
Aug 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Convincingly makes the case from an Augustinian angle that capitalism is intrinsically sinful and must be rejected.

While he seems to opt out of providing an alternative to capitalism, doing so is exactly Bell’s point: politics and economics as statecraft cannot effect the therapy of desire that’s needed to reverse capitalism’s detrimental effects. Only the sacraments and Scripture and Christian community can do that.

Fantastic book.
Ben Thurley
Apr 04, 2015 rated it really liked it
Daniel Bell's provocative and stimulating work pits capitalism against a theological vision of the divine economy and concrete practices that arise within this alternative economy. Happily it is never fully engaged in denouncing or renouncing capitalism in its entirety, but through a historically informed, sociologically rich, and theologically engaged account of God's work and the church's history, seeks to set forth redemptive theological account of the divine economy and how it poses a challe ...more
William Smith
Apr 11, 2013 rated it it was ok
I have enjoyed James K. A. Smith's books greatly. Because is the editor of this series, I was looking forward to reading Bell's book. I was quite disappointed. While Bell does a good job in critiquing a *laissez faire* capitalism, I believe he has some severe weaknesses in some of the principles of capitalism that he condemns. For example, his discounting of all self-interest in an economy for some type of idyllic altruism (which does not and will never exist) is problematic. Self-interest is no ...more
Dec 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Let me use an economic metaphor to recommend this book: bottom line, you should read it whether you're a Christian who believe capitalism is God's economic ideal or a Christian who thinks capitalism is the devil's economic farce. Bell's chapter on the theology of capitalism was an especially powerful critique. A few readers are going to have a hard time with a long section toward the end addressing the atonement; Bell is not a fan of the debt/accounting notion of the substitutionary atonement. T ...more
Lowell AfdahlRice
Dec 26, 2012 rated it liked it
Bell is fine at his Christian critique of Capitalism, but really no more enlightened than the atheistic critiques of Foucault, Deleuze or Zizek. When it comes to an alternative to Capitalism he offers monastic living for our global world order which is so pie- in- the- sky that it makes Marxist Communism (meaning that form of governance which has never been tested or tried) look downright possible.
Reframed my economics.
Apr 21, 2019 rated it liked it
Overall, Bell did a good job in laying out a philosophical underpinning for how to go about understanding the economic systems (and all systems) of the world and the ways in which God's kingdom works alongside and in competition with the world's systems. His work on defining "desire" and using Deleuze and Foucault was really a highlight of the book.

He lost me a bit in chapter 6 with what felt like an unnecessary soapbox on his views of the atonement. He sets up Christ's atoning sacrifice on the
Jun 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
Capitalism (Neo-Liberalism specifically) is an economy that harnesses desire for the sake of never-ending production and commodification. Everything can be marketed. Everything. There is no purpose to a capitalist order except the perpetuation of the capitalist order. It is, at bottom, nihilism. There are ways to mitigate the evils such a system commits, but often those actions are also shaped by that economic order (hyper individualistic, lacking mutuality, non-community building).

Christians po
some of the philosophy and theology definitely went over my head, but i read this anyway to gain the shape of the argument, and maybe i’ll read it again to fill it out.

was recommended this book by someone in my faith community whom i greatly respect. am looking forward to continuing to engage with these ideas. the book presents an alternative economics that is defined not by scarcity and competition but by generous abundance. at least some part of me desires to live and work within such a world
Stephen Hicks
Feb 09, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book has striking similarities to Desiring the Kingdom by James K.A. Smith. Both pieces reveal to us that our lives are not ordered by institutions or processes but rather desires. We bow down to these internal desires either knowingly or unknowingly, and it is they who guide us through this world.

Bell takes this concept and sees how capitalism operates in the formation of our desires. The main question is not whether or not capitalism works as an economic order, but rather what is the wor
Gipson Baucum
Feb 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2017
This is a really interesting book. The thesis is that though capitalism is a very efficient economic approach for society it is not the best economic approach to accomplish God's purpose for humanity. Bell points out that capitalism is built on desire, and thus references 20th century philosophers Foucault and Deleuze's exploration of how insatiable and unsatisfied desire drives our pursuit of scarce resources, effectively pitting us against one another. This is, of course, counter to God's purp ...more
This book is an extended critique of capitalism in conversation with the philosophy of Foucault and Deleuze. I enjoy books such as this because I have always wanted to read and understand philosophy but have never had the time or patience to wade through the likes of such writers. Someone like Bell not only explains aspects of philosophy but applies it to real life. Bell’s argument is that capitalism shapes our desires in numerous ways that we may not even be able to imagine. For example, Mardi ...more
Mar 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
It took way too long to read this book. For a few reasons. First, I procrastinate, work, and think. During the time of reading this I probably read about 15 to 20 other books. Why? Because this book is filled with so much heavy knowledge. There were sentences I literally had to memorize and think about for a week before I could sit down and read it again. Bell really does a great job exploring some of the root problems with capitalism as a lifestyle system for those that want to live beyond the ...more
Mar 26, 2016 rated it really liked it
Daniel Bell helped me think through many of the issues that are created living in a capitalist culture. Without attempting to move the reader toward a specific economic system, Bell helps clarify why we find it so difficult to critique the current economic system. Placing capitalism historically and philosophically, Bell suggests a kingdom economic in the end.

By seeking to see desire in a more wholistic sense, Bell helps to see how pre-modern systems may actually be a means of living more Biblic
Rod White
Oct 12, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I rarely happen upon a book that puts together the bits and pieces of what I have experienced so cogently. This is one of them. The enslaving toxicity of the economy of desire that is capitalism is very aptly exposed by Daniel Bell. Most of us do not even know we are enslaved, we are just experiencing "reality." The author goes on to describe the alternative Circle of Hope is striving to become: an "economy" of desire with a beginning, purpose and goal born of God. Although this is a highly phil ...more
Feb 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: desire-etc
I hope to write a more substantial review of this excellent book. Suffice it to say that it had some absolutely amazing chapters and an overall argument that I am going to be working through for a while. I am very hopeful that it will shape my thinking and actions going forward. Sadly, the book could have used a more substantial edit for consistency of style as it didn't seem to know whether it wanted to be for an academic audience or a popular one. Nevertheless, it's definitely a book that need ...more
Jul 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Although the works of Foucault and Deleuze were new to me, I found this a very enriching read. I was most impacted by the contrasting views of man, God and the good life found in capitalistic and the divine economies. Centering the divine economy on the restoration and extension of communion were also key to framing the change in perspective I experienced. Also, the footnotes added many more books to my reading list.
Feb 17, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
I am disappointed with this book mostly because I expected something else. Its a difficult read and very philosophical which is not something I tend to enjoy. There was some interesting things to learn, especially close to the end but overall I could not recommend this to many people.

If anyone wants to borrow or own this I unfortunately purchased this brand new: never again.
Timothy Maples
Jan 09, 2014 rated it really liked it
This book is a great encouragement toward a Christian economic worldview. As a response to valid criticisms of consumerist capitalism, the author advocates creating "Christian economies" within the prevailing system while refusing to commit the error of conflating the status quo with Biblical righteousness. Recommended.
Oct 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Excellent use and deconstruction of Delueze and Foucault in this "college class in a book." Great volume, easy to read, hard to put down, honestly. Great work undoing the capitalist myth and how Christianity is so often an artifact in it. Recommended for all, especially Christians duped by the U.S. machine.
Neil White
Nov 01, 2016 rated it liked it
The discussion of Foucalt and Deleuze, Postmodern philosophers, and particularly using Deleuzes focus on desire in the realm of capitalism is dense but insightful. The author points toward some concrete ways a Christian economy of desire (desire rightly oriented on God) could be formed but this seemed to remain more of a philosophical discussion and not a strong alternative vision.
Lindsey Ginter
Jun 13, 2014 rated it it was ok
Interesting - but not being a Christian put me at a distinct disadvantage - miracles? Yes, Bell's full remedy to man's natural state (one he describes in what I believe are delusional, optimistic terms) requires the "second coming" of GOD - Jesus. What's a Buddhist to do?
Dwight Davis
Dec 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing
An absolutely brilliant critique of capitalist consumeristic culture. Bell offers a compelling view of the church as a place of counter-formation against the desire shaping institution of capitalism. Vital reading.
Vanessa Siemens
Jan 25, 2015 rated it liked it
My three stars would equate to 3.5. Thought provoking and challenging but at times a bit extreme in its views without full articulation of what the alternative to capitalism would look like. Good points as to making small step by step changes but what does the end result in its fullness look like?
Need to write a good review of this!
Sep 29, 2014 rated it really liked it
One of the better books I read this year. I was pleasantly surprised at its approach to this topic. Pretty academic reading style.
Luis Alexandre Ribeiro Branco
In the whole series I think this is one that I liked most. I cannot agreer with all things, but the author highlights some real good points.
Mar 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
Clear. Concise. Critical. Inspired. Engaging. Instructive. Productive.
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Daniel M. Bell Jr. (PhD, Duke University) is professor of theological ethics at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, South Carolina. He is an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church and the author of Just War as Christian Discipleship and Liberation Theology after the End of History.

Other books in the series

The Church and Postmodern Culture (10 books)
  • Who's Afraid of Relativism?: Community, Contingency, and Creaturehood (The Church and Postmodern Culture)
  • Who's Afraid of Postmodernism?: Taking Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault to Church (The Church and Postmodern Culture)
  • What Would Jesus Deconstruct?: The Good News of Postmodernism for the Church (The Church and Postmodern Culture)
  • GloboChrist: The Great Commission Takes a Postmodern Turn (The Church and Postmodern Culture)
  • Fieldwork in Theology: Exploring the Social Context of God's Work in the World (Church and Postmodern Culture)
  • Whose Community? Which Interpretation?: Philosophical Hermeneutics for the Church
  • From Nature to Creation: A Christian Vision for Understanding and Loving Our World
  • Liturgy as a Way of Life: Embodying the Arts in Christian Worship
  • The Politics of Discipleship: Becoming Postmaterial Citizens

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