Theological anthropology, self-interest, and economic justice in contemporary Protestant critiques of capitalism

Richard Fredrick Goetz, Marquette University


This dissertation addresses the question why some contemporary Protestant ethicists differ in their critiques of capitalism, and seeks to find the answer in the ethicists' views of theological anthropology and in their economic justice criteria. The selected Protestant ethicists--Ronald Nash, J. Philip Wogaman, and Ronald Sider--represent various moral assessments of capitalism. Their theological anthropologies, their economic justice criteria, and their critiques of capitalism are systematically analyzed, giving special attention to sin and self-interest as a motivator for economic exchange in capitalism, as well as to the effects of sin and self-interest on capitalism as a system. Ronald Nash views human persons as inherently evil or sinful and endorses capitalism, believing that sinful self-interest and greed are effectively countered by the market mechanism which says "if you do something good for me, I'll do something good for you." J. Philip Wogaman views human persons in covenantal relationship with God, grounded in the imago Dei. He rejects capitalism because it forces participants to act greedy and selfishly, and endorses democratic socialism as that form of political economy which recognizes the communitarian values he derives from his anthropology. Ronald Sider believes humankind to be fallen and sinful; yet when redeemed we experience transformed relationships with God and our fellow human beings. For Sider, it is not the system which needs changing, but the human participants. Once transformed, Christians bear witness to sin's reality in individual and structural economic practices. This dissertation shows that the differences in the capitalistic critiques of Nash, Wogaman, and Sider ought to be formed or influenced by their theological anthropologies and economic justice criteria, but unfortunately they often are not. In order for their moral assessments of capitalism to be adequate, there must be an internal consistency between their theological anthropology, their economic justice criteria, and their critique of capitalism. Sider displays greater internal consistency between these elements than does either Nash or Wogaman. However, the differences regarding their moral assessments of capitalism can be explained as much by the way they apply those anthropologies as by what they are.

Recommended Citation

Goetz, Richard Fredrick, "Theological anthropology, self-interest, and economic justice in contemporary Protestant critiques of capitalism" (1998). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI9842431.