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Community and the economy : a reformed theological reflection on a social-embedded economy.

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This study focuses on the contribution that Reformed theology can make toward the restructuring of the relationship between the economy and community in order to achieve a more equal and just distribution of livelihoods, elements of production and opportunity for all. It begins by highlighting the economic roots of the lack of freedom present in the modern South African economy. Uncontrolled economic growth and the need for cheap labour led to urbanisation, the destruction of mostly African communities, and poverty amongst both white and black workers. Attempts to eradicate poverty by using capitalism failed because the problem of the relationship between the economy and community was not resolved. Employing the work of the economic historian Karl Polanyi who assessed the way ancient cultures embedded the economy in social relations of the community, the study attempts to understand the economic roots of unfreedom. It argues that social-embeddedness provides a framework for a Reformed economic theology, because Reformed theology focuses on restored relationships between God and humanity and between human beings. A Reformed economic theology finds its source and goal in the righteousness of God that unmasks societal structures as sinful and oppressive towards the poor and vulnerable groups in society. Christians and others are called to be humanist, to resist the economic forces that create unfreedom, and to accept responsibility for restorative justice. However, field research revealed that a group of white Afrikaans businessmen from Reformed communities had not been exposed to this liberating trajectory in the Reformed tradition within their church communities. The study concludes by developing a Reformed economic theology built on the institutionalised pattern of covenant and the principles of sacrifice. It challenges traditional concepts of the economy, control over the elements of production, social and economic institutions and governance. It also provides Reformed Christians with resources that enable them to move from their embeddedness in individualism and comfortable materialism, towards becoming a truly covenantal community in solidarity with the poor.


Doctor of Philosophy in Religion. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg 2016.


Reformed economic theology., Karl Polanyi.