At Work & Economics 101 & Public Square & Theology 101

Markets & Morality from a Biblical Perspective, Part Two

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Before we can even ask how things might go wrong, we must first explain how they could ever go right.

Friedrich Hayek

As we explore the relationship between markets and morality, one big question on people’s minds is, “are markets and morality at odds?”

Before we start, it is important to note that the Bible is not an economics textbook. Jesus wasn’t a capitalist or a socialist.

Yet there are fundamental biblical principles that should be followed when applying Scripture to our lives, and that includes how we approach economic issues. Our aim with this series is to outline these biblical principles, and examine how closely free markets align with these foundational concepts.

Few Christians see any alignment at all. The Public Religion Research Institute reported in a recent survey that a plurality of American Christians believe that the free market system is inconsistent with Christian values.

Consider the following from their report:

Overall more Americans believe that Christian values are at odds with capitalism and the free market than believe they are compatible. This pattern also holds among Christians. Among Christians in the U.S., only 38% believe that capitalism and free market are consistent with Christian values while 46% believe the two are at odds. 

This should not come as a surprise given the constant refrain from the press and some libertarian circles that greed and selfishness are the primary drivers of capitalism. Christians know the Bible teaches that greed and selfishness are sin. Free enterprise must be immoral and at odds with Christian values, right?

While there are a variety of reasons for such a fundamental misunderstanding, two stand out. Today I’ll cover the first: many Christians do not see the plethora of economic principles articulated in the meta-narrative of the Bible known as the Four-Chapter Gospel. They do not understand what the Bible teaches about economics.

Amy Sherman and James Skillen write,

Careful thinking about economics begins with focus on the Bible’s big story. A biblical perspective on economic life doesn’t come from random proof-texting. Rather, it is rooted in queries about God’s intentions for his people and all he has made.

Couching our queries within the framework of the Four-Chapter Gospel keeps us from cutting and pasting Bible verses at random. So what economic principles does the Four-Chapter Gospel articulate? Sherman and Skillen offer the following:

  • The creation narrative reveals our fundamental identity as stewards of all God has made.
  • The Law spells out God’s passion for a flourishing community life in which society’s most vulnerable members are treated with dignity and compassion.
  • The prophets articulate God’s hatred of economic injustice.
  • The Gospels reveal Jesus Christ talking frequently about money and possessions, and sloth and diligence.
  • The Epistles paint pictures of Christians loving the poor, and sharing material possessions sacrificially and joyfully.
  • Revelation speaks of a new heaven and new earth in which work and cultural creativity will be redeemed, stewardship will be expanded, poverty will be eliminated, and every person will rest secure under his own vine and fig tree.

In future posts we hope to look at each of these points in turn. To truly engage these issues from a Christian perspective, we need to first return to Scripture, taking its economic principles and comparing them with the underlying principles of the free market.

Before getting there, though, there is one more misunderstanding to clear up. The second misunderstanding Christians have about the relationship between markets and morality is the failure to properly define and articulate what constitutes a “market.” More on that tomorrow.

What do you think? What biblical principles do you think bear economic implications? 

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