It is not uncommon for many people to think there is an unbridgeable chasm between Christianity and economics.
- There are unbelievers who are aghast at the notion that economic truth has any affinity with anything smacking of religious belief.
- On the other hand, many Christians assume economics is about how greedy people satisfy their lust of the eye and pride of life.
In fact, the opposite is true. God is interested in both the spiritual and material aspects of his creation, and there are many truths that indicate the connection between economic theory and a Christian view of humanity and nature.
There’s No Conflict Between Christian Faith and Sound Economics
Economics is part of the created order and, hence, part of God’s general revelation (Ps. 19:1–4). We are only able to engage in science of any kind because God created a universe with purpose and natural regularities we call scientific laws (Gen. 1:1, 14–16, 20–25; Ps. 119:89-90; 72:5-7, 17; 89:34-37).
Additionally, God made every person in his own image (Gen. 1:27) and, therefore, like God, we engage in purposeful behavior.
Consequently, those economic laws that are implications of human action are reflections of God’s glory as he reveals it in creation.
The Laws of Economics Are Predicated on a Christian View of Man
Whether we acknowledge it or not, as implied above, economic laws, such as the law of comparative advantage and the law of supply and demand, are consequences of our being made in God’s image.
Therefore, we can understand more about the nature of man as we understand more about the image of God.
Because God thinks (Is. 55:8–9) and acts with purpose (Gen. 1:1–4, 14-18) and because man is made in the image of God (Gen. 1:27), it is reasonable to conclude that man is able to think and act with purpose, including within an economic setting.
Sound Economic Principles Agree with Scripture
Because the laws of economics were created and are sustained by the same God who gave us his word through the Holy Spirit, it should not surprise us that in various places, we find economic principles that are in keeping with biblical principles.
Economic theory, for example, explains that maintenance of accumulated capital is necessary for enjoying prosperity. The writer of Proverbs teaches us the same thing when he admonishes his readers to be good stewards with capital (Prov. 24:30–34; 27:23–27).
Both Economics and Scripture Teach that the Division of Labor Is a Fundamental Social Phenomenon
Economic theory explains that because the division of labor increases our productivity and, hence, our standard of living, it serves as the primary incentive for people to develop and participate in society.
Likewise, scripture teaches that the division of labor is as old as human history.
The book of Genesis tells us that:
- Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground (Gen. 4:2).
- The descendants of Cain are identified by the various vocations in which they specialized (Gen. 4:20-22).
The Apostle Paul even uses the human body as a metaphor describing the division of labor within the church (1 Cor. 12:12-31).
Economic Policy Informed by the Christian Ethic of Private Property Yields Prosperity
Economic theory teaches that fulfilling the cultural mandate requires engagement in the market, division of labor capital, accumulation, and entrepreneurial allocation of said capital. All of this requires the social institution of private property.
- We cannot participate in the market division of labor without voluntary exchange.
- We can only trade what we own.
- People have the incentive to save and invest in capital only if they are assured they can reap the benefits of wise investments.
- Entrepreneurs can calculate profit and loss only if their calculations are guided by market prices that reflect the subjective values of people.
- Such prices only occur in a system of voluntary exchange rooted in private property.
Happily, the social institution of private property is implied by Christian ethics. As noted by various Christian thinkers from Tertullian, to Aquinas, Calvin, Charles Hodge, and Francis Wayland, both general and special revelation teach that people possess a divine right to private property. In scripture, we find commandments against:
- Theft (Ex. 20:15, Deut. 5:11, Luke 18:20);
- Fraud (Lev. 19:35-36, Prov. 11:1);
- Moving property barriers (Prov. 23:10-11).
Peter’s rebuke to Ananias in Acts 5 indicates that the right to property includes the freedom to dispose of one’s property without compulsion from other people.
While no human system will be perfect until the final consummation of history, an economic system that is constrained by the biblical ethic of property will be one that is most conducive to human flourishing.
Editor’s note: Learn more about the connection between economics and biblical principles in Be Fruitful and Multiply: Why Economics Is Necessary for Making God-Pleasing Decisions.
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On “Flashback Friday,” we take a look at some of IFWE’s former posts that are worth revisiting. This article was previously published on Apr. 22, 2014.