At Work & Economics 101 & Public Square & Theology 101

What are the Economic Implications of Creation?

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Our confidence in Christ does not make us lazy, negligent, or careless, but on the contrary, it awakens us, urges us on, and makes us active in living righteous lives and doing good. There is no self-confidence with this.

– Reformer Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531)

We’re in the midst of a series exploring the ties between markets and morality. Answering these questions from a Christian perspective requires returning to the Bible, taking its economic principles that we know by definition are moral, and comparing them to the underlying principles of free enterprise.

We do not believe that the Bible explicitly endorses capitalism or any other economic system. Yet the Bible has much to say about economic principles, and as Christians, we should embrace its wisdom as we make economic choices in our everyday lives.

In our search for economic principles in the Bible, we need to begin with the story of creation found in the first two chapters of Genesis. Here we see God’s normative intentions for life. We see life as “the way it ought to be.” Man is free from sin, living out his high calling as God’s vice-regent.

There are three major economic principles laid out in creation:

Creativity and Freedom

Genesis 1:26 tells us humanity is made in God’s image. God’s creativity is one of his central attributes revealed in the creation story. Being created in God’s image means that men and women are free to imaginatively use their unique talents, abilities, and the raw materials of creation to make things that glorify God, serve our needs, and provide for the needs of our neighbors.

Stewardship and Ownership

God gave humanity dominion over the earth to steward with authority, responsibility, and care (Genesis 1:28).

As God’s stewards, we do not own anything outright – everything belongs to God. Yet as his image-bearers, we possess subordinate ownership. These property rights are subject to the requirements of stewardship.

God gives us real responsibilities and real decision-making capabilities. We are therefore accountable to God for how we use everything entrusted to our care.

It is also important to recognize that it is not society that has “ownership” of goods, but rather individuals.

Work

Genesis 2:15 reads,

The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. 

Man was created to work. Work is a pre-fall ordinance, a part of God’s good creation. It was intended to be the gracious expression of creative energy in the service of others. From a biblical perspective, work is not primarily a thing one does to live, but the thing one lives to do.

The late John Stott described work as,

The expenditure of energy (manual or mental or both) in the service of others, which brings fulfillment to the worker, benefit to the community, and glory to God.

Creation and Economics

Economic decisions are a response to God’s call to stewardship. They should be made in the light of the moral principles lad out in Scripture. The free market, more than any other system today, not only embraces these three biblical principles, but requires them if the system is to work at all. A free market encourages men and women to create to their fullest potential, giving them the opportunity to glorify God in the process.

Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, suggested in a previous article that,

Christians should look at the economy as a test of their values.

The character traits that are valued in the Bible – honest labor, creativity, investment, and thrift – are those valued and rewarded under a free market system. The Bible approves of wealth gained through industriousness and self-control, traits that are important for success under free enterprise.

While creation explains the way things ought to be, the fall explains the way things are now. We will examine the economic implications of that chapter of the Four-Chapter Gospel in an upcoming post.

What do you think are the economic implications of creation? 

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  • evaddoyt

    Hugh – I very much appreciate all that IFWE does but find just one bit missing in this series of articles (unless, of course, I missed it!). The key to marketplace theology, specifically in the creation narrative of Gen 1-2 is the introduction of Eve, not as Adam’s wife but, as his helpmate (`ezer), or coworker. The division of labor, which implies exchange(s), is the foundational requirement to create a market economy. I discuss this at length in my book, “Eden’s Bridge: The Marketplace in Creation and MIssion.”

    Blessings to IFWE,

    Dave Doty

  • RogerMcKinney

    “We do not believe that the Bible explicitly endorses capitalism or any other economic system.”

    I disagree, and so did the Church scholars at Salamanca, Spain in the 16th and 17th centuries. Capitalism is the system of government that protects private property from theft or destruction by anyone but the owner. Capitalism merely implements the respect for property given in the Bible. The many prohibitions of theft are the negative of “thou shalt respect the property of others.”

    But as the Salamancan scholars argued, the state can steal more than any individual because of its power. So protecting property means preventing the state from stealing, too. How do we know when the state steals? When it takes more than it needs for its God-given duties of protecting the life, liberty and property of its citizens.

    Free markets are nothing but the implementing of the Biblical respect for private property, because free markets keep control of property in the hands of the owners, and without control people don’t have property.

    This shows the dishonesty of democratic socialism. When the state retains control of property but leaves the paper title in the hands of the owner, it fools people into thinking they still own their property, but they don’t. Ownership without control is not ownership. Markets must be free for property to exist.

    In fact, the economy of Israel under the judges had the freest markets in world history, and God designed their economic system, not man, so I wouldn’t criticize it.

    • evaddoyt

      @Roger – I think we have to limit the reach of private property in the Old Testament largely to personal property (including tools for production). The distribution of the land (the primary means of production) was equitable and to be restored to that equitable state every fifty years. Being of such an enormous importance, it is a hardy a logical leap to see the entirety of the means of production (land and tools) committed to a fully capitalistic / private ownership model. The land, the overwhelming element in those means, was for communal, not individual, good.

      I do not want to argue against capitalism per se but would rather not sell out entirely to it either as the Bible offers up something a bit different, a moderated form which combines the best aspects of both systems.while leaving the worst aspects out. Via media, as it were.

      • RogerMcKinney

        I don’t think people study the issue of Jubilee enough. A superficial reading of it makes it sound like socialist redistribution of land, but it was nowhere near that. Financially, the law of Jubilee got rid of land sales and made every transaction in land a 49 year lease. That is clear from the laws about the value of the land which prorate it according to the number of years until Jubilee when “sold” or given to the temple. There never was any redistribution of land, especially in the sense of taking from the rich and giving to the poor. When an Israeli “sold” his land, all he got for it was the rent until Jubilee.

        Also, some historians claim that Israel never followed the law. Some say that was because they were so greedy, but a more charitable reading by some Jewish scholars says that the poor laws, like Jubilee, were part of the moral code which they left to God. The courts generally didn’t enforce the poor laws for that reason. Morality is only morality if left to individual choice; forced morality is no morality at all. Those scholars divide the law into civil/criminal law, religious law and moral law. The courts enforced only the civil law. Civil law is easy to identify because it includes specific penalties. Poor laws, like Jubilee and gleaning, were not seen as falling under the jurisdiction of the court system.

        On closer inspection, Jubilee looks more like our modern bankruptcy laws. Modern libertarians would have no problem with the Torah law rightly interpreted.

        • gregoryayers

          Roger, you might enjoy our series on The 5 Myths of Jubilee. It was derived from a paper written by Dr. Art Lindsley, which is available in the “Research” section of our website. Here’s where you can find the blogs: http://blog.tifwe.org/series/jubilee/

          • RogerMcKinney

            Yes, that is an excellent article! Thanks!

            Also, socialists are ignorant of the capital requirements of farming. So you get your land back after Jubilee. How do you use it without seed, oxen for plowing and threshing, harvesting and threshing tools, and the money to live on until the harvest comes in? And what if the house needs repair because no one lived in it for 49 years? Clearly, Jubilee was not a poverty relief program.

        • evaddoyt

          Roger – I concur with most of your assessment of the Jubilee Law. What that Law accomplished (or at least appears to have meant to accomplish) was an equitable access to the opportunity for productive work. In essence, it meant that every fifty years (easily spanning more than a generation for many), each household would be able to once again reap the benefit of controlling that land, either by working it or “leasing it out,” as you say. But in either case, a generally equitable distribution and communal ownership / management of the primary economic support mechanism – the land – looks considerably different than the concentrations of capital ownership prevalent in Western-stylized capitalism today.

          I would not draw a comparison to bankruptcy law simply because bankruptcy excuses debt while Jubilee restores the rightful “ownership” of the land, i.e., bankruptcy is remedial and Jubilee was prescriptive. That is, Jubilee only “re-sets” the stage where bankruptcy is a curative for a faulty situation. In bankruptcy, someone typically loses value due to the de-fault of another. In Jubilee, it was never rightfully property of the new owner beyond the agreed upon period.

          • RogerMcKinney

            See the paper gregoryayers links to below. Jubilee wasn’t debt forgiveness because the income from the land “sold” paid the debt. It was more like a mortgage burning. And it didn’t restore ownership because the original owner never lost ownership; he merely rented out his land until Jubilee.

            The original distribution was not equitable and was not managed communally. And Jubilee did not enable the original owner to benefit from the land after Jubilee because, as I point out below, a great deal of capital was needed to successfully work a farm even in early Israel. Anyone who had just paid off a debt by leasing his land would not have that capital and would have to go deep into debt to get restarted in farming.

            I would imagine that people would rather continue leasing the land than to go into that much debt again. But they wouldn’t get all of the produce from the land. The one leasing the land would have to earn a return on his investment equal to his opportunity costs and risks. Unless the amount of land was huge, no one leasing it could live from only the rent payments.

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