This book has two principal themes. First, it is addressed to those who work for corporations. Many Christians have been taught to feel, at best, "faint disdain" for corporations and those who manage them. In contrast, Novak knows that many (most) business men and women are ethical people who yearn for moral guidance and advice. Consequently, Theology tackles a basic moral question: "Can a Christian Work for a Corporation." Novak's answer? "Yes!"
Yet, Novak recognized that anyone who purported to think about practical business ethics needed to understand the predominant form of business organization-the public corporation. Much of Theology is thus devoted to an analysis of the corporation: Is the firm's structure as a bureaucratic hierarchy consistent with church teaching on human dignity? What social responsibility, if any, does the corporation have? And so forth.
Thinking about those questions naturally lead Novak to broader issues, such as the consistency of capitalism with church teachings on wealth. In Theology, therefore, Novak began working out the line of argument that was later developed more fully in his magisterial The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism. Novak recognizes that church teaching has been hostile to capitalism, as with much else of modernity. Yet, Novak contends that arguments against capitalism serve mainly to give aid and comfort to the Leviathan state
In the most controversial portions of Theology, Novak attributes Christian opposition to capitalism to two main sources: ignorance and antique world views. Church leaders and theologians tend to be poorly trained in economics and inexperienced with the world of economic reality. Many believers (again, this is especially true of theologians) "are likely to inherit either a pre-capitalist or a frankly socialist set of ideals about political economy." As a result, "Church leaders are more likely to err in this territory [i.e., economic justice] than in most others." (p. 59.)
To be clear, Novak does not believe that faith should be subordinated to capitalism. To the contrary, he recognizes that the divine plan was that we should enjoy the fruits of the earth and of our own industry. He simply contends that capitalism is the best way Fallen humans have yet devised to obey the Biblical command that we are to be stewards of God's world. Novak never loses sight of the basic proposition that it was equally the divine plan that God should be worshiped, obeyed, and feared. The fear of the Lord, he would argue, is the beginning of capitalist wisdom, just as it is of any other kind of wisdom. Not surprisingly, therefore, Novak's analysis has begun to impact the way the church thinks about capitalism. Pope John Paul II's most recent encyclicals on work and the economy, for example, such as Centesimus Annus, contain obvious marks of Novak's influence.
Michael Novak is the George Frederick Jewett Scholar in Religion, Philosophy, and Public Policy at AEI.