IFWE’s Dr. Anne Bradley recently presented the first of two webinar sessions in a series called “The Christian Economic Model,” hosted in partnership with Praxis Circle.
Her talk kicked off a two-part series exploring what scripture says about economics. In part one, she focused on three major questions:
- What is God’s design?
- Which principles in creation inform how we should live today?
- What type of society does this require? Or, what does this imply for political economy?
To answer these questions, Dr. Bradley started at the beginning.
What is God’s design?
Genesis 1:27-28 is the basis of what many call “the cultural mandate.”
So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground (Gen. 1:27-28).
Because God made us in his image, we are to continue his creative work, building and expanding upon what He started. Scripture tells us that work is not only part of who we were created to be, but it’s also good; work was established before the Fall.
Genesis 2:15 says that, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.”
“Work” in this context is translated from the Hebrew ‘abad, which both means “to till” and to “to serve.” This suggests that we create from, and take care of, the raw materials we’ve been given.
These expectations don’t change after the Fall or even the great flood. In Genesis chapter 9, God reiterates the cultural mandate.
“Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth” (Gen. 9:1).
When we fulfill this purpose, in spite of the world’s brokenness, we promote shalom, which is God’s intention for mankind. While shalom is commonly translated as peace, it means more than that.
Dr. Pennington explains that shalom is “probably the most comprehensive umbrella term for human health and wholeness, resulting in strength, fertility, and longevity.”
What principles in creation inform how we should live today?
If human flourishing is the earthly end, or telos, of our work, then we ought to live our lives in a way that enhances shalom for as many people as possible.
Practically, we view all people as image-bearers of God and respect human dignity, or the capacity for agency, reason, and uniqueness.
Because God created us with different gifts, needs, and interests, we rely on one another to achieve what we need and value. Those values are often different or subjective, but this doesn’t imply pluralism. Instead, it simply means we have different preferences.
What type of society does this require?
Even in a sinful world, the right political economy can transform our diverse wants and needs into countless creative opportunities for people to serve one another.
Dr. Bradley referenced Mises’s “purpose action” or “human action” model to explain that people make choices because they believe they can resolve a state of unease. Smith discusses this as “self-interest,” or making choices that maximize benefits and reduce costs.
She reminded listeners that, within free markets, we don’t pursue our own interests in a vacuum. Instead, markets guide us to mutually beneficial, and not exploitative, exchanges. With the “property” or resources each of us has at our disposal, we follow incentives, often in the form of profit, to understand how well we are serving others.
As evidence, Dr. Bradley pointed to what is commonly called the “hockey stick graph.” In blue, we see the growth of global GDP skyrocketing in the last few hundred years, when economic freedom has been on the rise. In yellow, we see the global population, which has increased at a similar rate.
While many once predicted that population growth would result in starvation, it has actually caused a burst of prosperity, which has improved key indicators of human flourishing.
When markets are free and societies respect the dignity and potential of each person, they unleash their unique abilities to meet their neighbor’s needs and to bring about more of the shalom we were always meant to enjoy.