Economics 101 & Theology 101

Five Steps to Developing a Christian View on Economics

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Why is economics so daunting for people to approach?

In a previous post addressing this question, I discussed the problem with modern economics and why it seems so confusing. In another post, I examined this problem in depth, looking at how people have become alienated from economics.

Today, I want to share with you five tips that have helped me begin to approach economics from a Christian perspective.

1. Start with creation.

Before tackling the complexity of humanity and economic markets, start with the One who created it all.

Genesis 2:15 introduces a central theme in economics: work.

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

God gave Adam a job before sin entered the world. Work is not a result of sin, it is a dignifying gift from God.

Hugh Whelchel explains in his book How Then Should We Work that work itself is not a curse of the fall, although the curse will make our work seem meaningless and frustrating at times (Gen. 3:17-19).

If God has called all of us to be salt and light in the world through our work, then the economic environment we work in is necessarily connected to human flourishing and our vocational callings.

 2. Forget the math.

Since Forbes probably won’t ask you to project next quarter’s GDP growth adjusted for inflation, you can rest easy, leaving the math equations to the economic forecasters. Mathematical data can be very helpful in economic analysis, but you don’t need to be a math whiz to understand economics.

Think of economics in simple terms: it’s just the study of human decision-making. As Simple English Wikipedia puts it, economics is,

The study of how people make choices to get what they want, when they cannot get everything they want.

Economics is a useful tool in practicing stewardship over scarce resources, both tangible (such as money) or intangible (time, for instance).

 3. Educate yourself.

Now that you know economics isn’t as complicated as you may have thought it was, you’re ready to tackle some light economic reading.

A great introductory economics text is a short essay by Leonard Read called, I, Pencil. Read writes from the point of view of a pencil describing the complexity of its own creation. This illustration will help you understand the vast knowledge, skills, and numerous people involved in producing even the simplest of goods. Read the full essay over at the Library of Economics and Liberty. It might also help to watch IFWE’s video, I, Smartphone, an updated take on Read’s classic essay.

For a more comprehensive introduction to economics, I recommend reading Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt. This book is a simple, coherent, and fun read. Hazlitt explains economic principles and myths using real-life illustrations. It’s perfect for anyone interested in economics, with or without any previous understanding. The full book is available online from the Foundation for Economic Education.

4. Connect faith with economics.

Ask yourself,

How does my biblical worldview connect to economics?

Though economics might sound like it has little to do with Christianity, we cannot disconnect any secular study from our faith.

For example, take a biblical principle and ask yourself how this might apply to economics. James Otteson, professor of Philosophy and Economics at Yeshiva University, explains how he connects his faith with economics in this short clip on God-given human dignity as it relates to economics:

This type of intellectual integration will not only help you better understand economics, but it might even help you to better understand your faith as you begin to connect the dots between the two.

5. Avoid false economic gods.

As you immerse yourself deeper into economic principles and schools of thought, you might notice economic “savior” figures emerging. The two most common are “government as savior” and “individual liberty as savior.”

Nobel Prize-winning economist James Buchanan explains these economic gods in his paper, Afraid to be Free: Dependency as Desideratum.

According to Buchanan, the “government as savior view” can derive from Keynesian economic thought as expressed when

citizens may genuinely want to extend the parental role of the welfare state, to allow the state to replace God.

The “individual liberty as savior” can result from classical liberalism by suggesting liberty is an end in itself. As Buchanan puts it, classical liberalism potentially

demonstrates that persons can stand alone, that they need neither God nor the state to serve as surrogate parents.

Developing a faithful Christian response to economics involves understanding how to properly connect our faith with a biblical definition of work and sound economic principles, keeping in mind it is neither the government nor the free market that saves, but Christ alone.

Editor’s note: Learn basic principles of economics from a biblical perspective in Biblical Foundations for the Economic Way of Thinking, a high school homeschool elective course.

Join us! Help empower Christians to transform the world through their work. Support IFWE today.

On “Flashback Friday,” we take a look at some of IFWE’s former posts that are worth revisiting. This article was previously published on Sept. 21, 2012.

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