The Untaming

Learning to build missional community in secular France

Review of Oikonomics by Mike Breen and Ben Sternke

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Oikonomics book 3DMOver the weekend I devoured two new books from Mike Breen and 3DM, so thought I would capture my thoughts on them here.

The name Oikonomics is a play on the words oikos (extended family) and economics.  The overall theme of the book is that the call of discipleship involves making wise investments to grow commonwealth – wealth that can be shared around – and not just financial wealth at that.

Jesus talked a lot about investments that grew 20, 50, 100-fold.  The book recognises that God does seek human flourishing in every sense of the world: people enjoying intimate relationships with God and others, unencumbered by sickness, abounding in creativity and ideas, and with resources to hand.  It is not a ‘prosperity gospel’ theology – equating financial wealth with spiritual wealth – and the authors address the pitfalls of ‘prosperity gospel’ at some length.

Jesus had much to say about how to flourish in life, and the book identifies five sorts of ‘capitals’ (types of wealth) and a perspective on how Jesus assigns different relative values to each of them. The book argues that the most important capital is spiritual (wisdom and power), followed by relational (friendships), then physical (hours and health), then intellectual (ideas and creativity) then financial (money).  These five capitals come across in Jesus’s different parables, and the them of investing lesser capitals to develop more valuable capital is a recurring one.  Much of Jesus’s teaching is about setting out this set of priorities against competing value systems we see around us: many people would put financial and intellectual at the start of the list, and spiritual at the bottom, for example.

The book them moves on to how we can grow the different capitals: by investing the capitals we do have to develop those we don’t, and concludes by suggesting how we might develop our own investment strategy.

I enjoyed the book and read it in no time. I appreciated the clear theme, the good examples of how people have invested different sorts of capital to grow another type, and how lives can be seen through the lens of making wise investments in the different capitals.  The book is short, and to the point.

It is a little theoretical at times, and a bit light on some key areas, such as justifying some of the priorities assigned to the different capitals.  For example, relational capital is placed above physical capital on the grounds that “you need relationships to do anything with your physical, intellectual or financial capital” – but equally, if your health is bad then you won’t be able to do much with your relationships either.  Also, what it means to invest spiritual or intellectual capital is unclear.  If you spend money or give time, it is gone, and if you make too many demands on your friends the relationship will be stressed, but if you come up with an idea or a piece of wisdom you don’t lose it when you give it away. So what does investment of these categories look like? Finally, the book asks you to estimate the relative equity of your five capitals.  But measuring money versus creativity or health is not an easy assessment and this could have been thought through more.

Overall, then it is a helpful framework and a good lens through which to look at life and decisions. I can see it being a helpful discipleship tool.  It feels very much like a starting point for thinking about these things, and I could imagine a second edition where the ideas get fleshed out, more examples given, and practical questions and dilemmas worked through.

3DM has been a wonderful resource over the last 4 years, and I am deeply grateful for their wisdom and experience. This is an interesting addition to their portfolio.  I would recommend you pick up a copy: you can buy it from Amazon here.

If you have read the book, I would be interested in your perspectives: do you agree with my evaluation? If not, does the concept of the five capitals make sense to you – and what questions would you have? Would be fascinated to hear from you…

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One thought on “Review of Oikonomics by Mike Breen and Ben Sternke

  1. Pingback: Review of “Family On Mission” by Mike Breen and Sally Breen | The Untaming

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