Toward a Christian View of Economics
Regrettably, many American Christians know little about economics. Furthermore, many Christians assume that the Bible has nothing at all to say about economics. But a biblical worldview actually has a great deal to teach us on economic matters. The meaning of work, the value of labor, and other economic issues are all part of the biblical worldview. Christians must allow the economic principles found in Scripture to shape our thinking. Here, then, are twelve theses for what a Christian understanding of economics must do.
1. It must have God’s glory as its greatest aim.
For Christians, all economic theory begins with an aim to glorify God (1 Cor. 10:31). We have a transcendent economic authority.
2. It must respect human dignity.
No matter the belief system, those who work show God’s glory whether they know it or not. People may believe they are working for their own reasons, but they are actually working out of an impulse that was put into their hearts by the Creator for His glory.
3. It must respect private property and ownership.
Some economic systems treat the idea of private property as a problem. But Scripture never considers private property as a problem to be solved. Scripture’s view of private property implies that owning private property is the reward of someone’s labor and dominion. The eighth and tenth commandments teach us that we have no right to violate the financial rewards of the diligent.
4. It must take into full account the power of sin.
Taking the Bible’s teaching on the pervasive effects of sin into full account means that we expect bad things to happen in every economic system. A Christian economic understanding tries to ameliorate the effects of sin.
5. It must uphold and reward righteousness.
Every economic and government system comes with embedded incentives. An example of this is the American tax code, which incentivizes desired economic behaviors. Whether they work is an issue of endless political recalibration. However, in the Christian worldview, that recalibration must continue to uphold and reward righteousness.
6. It must reward initiative, industry, and investment.
Initiative, industry, and investment are three crucial words for the Christian’s economic and theological vocabulary. Initiative goes beyond action. It is the kind of action that makes a difference. Industry is human work done corporately. Investment is part of the respect for private property found in Scripture. Investment, as it turns out, is as old as the garden of Eden. That which accrues value is honorable, and the impulse to accrue that value is honorable. Thus, a Christian economic theory indicts any able-bodied person who won’t work and anyone who won’t respect private property or reward investment.
7. It must seek to reward and incentivize thrift.
In a fallen world, money and investments can quickly be distorted to idolatrous ends. For that reason, thrift is a very important issue in the Christian worldview. In a fallen world, abundance one day can turn into scarcity the next. Thrift may be what provides survival in times of poverty.
8. It must uphold the family as the most basic economic unit.
When thinking about economic theory embedded in the beginning of the Bible, the dominion mandate is central, but so is the divine institution of marriage. The pattern of leaving and cleaving described in Genesis 2 is fundamental to our economic understanding. Adam and Eve were the first economic unit. The result is that the family, biblically defined, is the most basic and essential unit of the economy.
9. It must respect community.
Most secular thinkers and economists begin with the community and then move to the family. However, thinking from larger to smaller economic units not only does not work in theory, it also fails in practice. Beginning with the family unit and then working out toward the community is a much smarter option. The doctrine of subsidiarity—which emerged out of natural law theory—teaches that meaning, truth, and authority reside in the smallest meaningful unit possible. If the family unit is deficient, no government can meet the need of its citizens. When the family is strong, government can be small.
When the family is weak, however, the government must compensate for the loss. By focusing on the family, we respect and better the community.
10. It must reward generosity and proper stewardship.
Christians who are committed to the economics of the kingdom and to the good of the next generation must live with a future-oriented financial perspective. We each have the responsibility, whether we own a lot or a little, to see that our generosity endures far beyond our lifespan. Spirited generosity, which is so clear in Scripture, is essential to a Christian economic worldview.
11. It must respect the priority of the church and its mission.
Christians must embrace economic priorities that the rest of the world simply will not understand. Christians must invest in churches, seminaries, and international missions. These are distinctive Christian nancial commitments. Our ultimate financial commitment is not to ourselves or to our own investments but to the kingdom of Christ. Thus, Christians should always be ready to experience upheaval in economic priorities and arrangements because urgent kingdom issues can intervene at any moment.
12. It must focus on eschatological judgment and eschatological promise.
This life and its resources cannot deliver ultimate joy. The Christian worldview reminds us that we must live with the recognition that we will give an account to the Lord for our stewardship of our resources. At the same time, Christians must look to the eschatological promise of the new heavens and earth as our ultimate economic hope. We must lay up treasures in heaven and not on earth.