Rieger, Crossan to spend week examining Christianity, economics

Emma Morehart | Staff Writer


Like Christianity and economics, Joerg Rieger and John Dominic Crossan are two very differently shaped pieces of the same puzzle.

At 2 p.m. today, and for the rest of this week, in the Hall of Philosophy, Crossan and Rieger will introduce the theme “The Heart and Soul of Money.” Crossan will take the perspective of the Bible, and Rieger will take that of Christian theology.

Although the Christian Bible and theology seem very similar, each takes a slightly different view of the history of Christianity.

The Bible is the unchanging written Scripture. It is often questioned and debated, but debate can only go so far without changing the words on the page. Christianity, however, is less concrete. Generally, theology is the assortment of theories about who God is.


While theology is based on Scripture, it can be less tangible.

In terms of economics, theology attempts to find solutions based on who God is and how he interacts with society. Biblical study attempts to find solutions based on what the Scripture teaches Christians.

“It’s like the beginning and the continuation of something,” Crossan said about the Bible and theology, respectively. “So it’s sort of a logical step for me to speak first.”

Each day, Crossan will speak for the first half of the lecture, and Rieger will speak for the second. During Q&A, both will answer the questions from their respective positions.

Christianity and economics, however, do not seem to belong to the same puzzle. But Crossan said that the two have been fitting together since the Bible was written. Simply put, the Bible insists the world belongs to God, and he is a God of justice, Crossan said.

The problem in modern society has become that many people no longer see the relationship between religion and economics.

The Bible’s vision of the way the economy should be run is similar to that of a household, Crossan said. If some children are starving and some are overfed, then the household is clearly not running properly. At its core, economics is this idea of fairness, he added.

“So you take the model of the household and just imagine God as holder of the world and you ask a very simple question: Is everyone getting a fair share?” Crossan said.

Crossan also will introduce the ideas of justice and its interplay with force, violence, power and persuasion.

By power, Crossan means the ability to persuade others without the use of violence. This power does not include the ability to force others to do or believe something.

“I’ll focus on the Christian vision of economics with an axis of power and an axis of justice. … If I could force you to be just, would that be Christian? That’s really the question I’m asking,” Crossan said.

To take it a step further, Crossan is asking the audience if the Christian view of economics is or is not to force members of society to be fair to each other in the allocation of resources.

Another piece to the puzzle is politics. Originally, economics was a subdivision of politics, which literally means “ethics of the state,” or the ethics of running the government, Crossan said. Politics permeates society and all of its discussions.

Society cannot turn off politics, and as a result, politics gets mixed in with religion until the pieces are almost impossible to tell apart. Because people’s religious views usually impact all of their decisions, religion often determines politics, Crossan said.

The puzzle pieces get jumbled, however, when partisanship also is on the table.

“If you want to say which mortgage rate is right, for example, I would say from a Christian vision that it should be fair for everyone. That’s a very big generality but it’s a generality we have confused in the past,” Crossan said. “So the use of politics in the sense of partisan bickering has nothing to do with religion or, for that matter, politics.”

Crossan, who was a Roman Catholic monk for 19 years and a priest for 12, has dedicated his life to studying and researching the Bible and has published more than 20 books about the subject.

Rieger, on the other hand, has been a devoted theologian and has published 15 books about the overlap between theology and topics like economics and history. Rieger and Crossan are professors of religion at Southern Methodist University and DePaul University, respectively.

Rieger will focus on how economic issues have been linked with theology historically, and how this topic has developed in the analysis from the historical concept of Jesus to the present one. A lot of his study, even if unrelated to economics, is about how empires and government have shaped the Christian vision of Christ, Rieger said.

“Economics has this stranglehold on the way we think and live our lives and so on,” Rieger said. “My argument is that this is what we have, this is where we are, and from here, I’ll propose some alternative ideas that Christianity presents in this context.”

In fact, what society is struggling to come to terms with now is that there must be alternatives to the way the economy is run. Christianity can help people see that successful alternatives do exist, Rieger said.

“(The audience) will learn precisely that current discourse involving Christianity and economics is not as monolithic as it looks. There are indeed a whole number of alternatives,” Rieger said. “Those are not just ideas to be bantered around; those are realities — alternative lives, alternative communities, alternative ways of trading, ways of relating to each other. I’ll show people that our world is a lot more open than we usually assume.”

Rieger and Crossan are used to lecturing together — it’s how they met. Since they were in different fields, however, it took them some time to realize how much their studies of the Bible and theology had in common, Rieger said.

“We’re like two pieces of a puzzle,” Rieger said, adding that Crossan studies ancient topics, and Rieger fills in the gaps between then and now.

Rieger’s work, like Crossan’s, is based largely on his faith. He uses his study of theology to make a positive difference in society but particularly in his own faith.

“I believe that faith can make a positive difference in my own faith in a way I find as an inspiration, but I find that a lot of Christian faiths have also done some harm,” Rieger said. “So lots of times, I find that my theology is self-critical reflection on faith (and) figuring out what’s good and what’s bad about my own personal faith in God.”