At Work & Economics 101

Renewing Culture Through Our Work

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Editor’s Note: Today’s post is by Logan Gates, one of IFWE’s summer interns. Logan is a Fourth Year at the University of Virginia, where he is majoring in Political & Social Thought and Latin American Studies. 

As an IFWE summer intern, I’ve spent the past few months sifting through books and articles, editing publications, and learning for myself what the Bible says about the intersect of faith, work, and economics.

The church I grew up in taught a little bit about the importance of work. However, before working at IFWE, I had no idea how one could connect Biblical principles of work to principles of economics.

What Is Work?

This summer I’ve learned how the Bible teaches that work is one of the main callings we each have as human beings. It’s not something we’re cursed with. Work is a task God gives to grow us into who He intends us to be: bearers of his image.

Before sin entered the world, God created humans in the Garden of Eden and gave them a job description. God commands in Genesis 1:28:

Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.

Among our first callings is the call to stewardship over creation. This entails work. We read in Genesis 2:15 that before the Fall, God,

Took [Adam] and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.

In his book How Then Should We Work?, Hugh Whelchel emphasizes that the work we do is one way we embody the image of God. He is the creator. We are sub-creators under Him.

We harness our natural gifts and creativity to produce beautiful and useful things, thereby bringing God glory. By prayerfully analyzing our passions, gifts, and interests, we can discern our vocation – the specific kind of work God calls us to pursue.

Pursing vocation may sound like a first-world luxury. However, its solid Scriptural grounding should encourage us to gear our engagement with the materially poor towards equipping and enabling them to discern and pursue their God-given vocations, too.

How Do We Renew Culture?

Whelchel also points out that our vocational work is intended to be part of God’s redemptive mission on earth. Our work is part of the renewal of culture. But how is work part of renewing culture? I’ve learned that a helpful way to grasp this link is by understanding a little economics.

In Econ 101, you learn that in any voluntary trade, both parties value the good or service they’re receiving more than the one they’re giving away. Both leave the exchange happier than when they entered into it. They please both themselves and the one they traded with.

In the 1600’s, Adam Smith observed that when these simple trades occur, the goods exchanged find their way into the hands of those who value them the most. He called this efficient allocation of resources. This allocation is guided by the work of what he called “an invisible hand.”

What you might not learn in Econ 101 is that Smith was a Christian. He considered the “invisible hand” something God embedded in creation. In theological language, we call this “common grace.” Abraham Kuyper defined common grace as,

That act of God by which He negatively curbs the operations of Satan, death, and sin, and by which He positively creates an intermediate state for this cosmos, as well as for our human race…

How Markets Help Us Serve Others

To understand how the products of our work are part of renewing of culture, we must understand how what we produce does more than glorify God in its very production. It also serves other people when it is exchanged in a market setting.

If you receive a lot in exchange for what you produce, that’s a signal that what you offer is highly valued by your trading partner. It benefits him or her.

For example, economist James Gwartney points out in Common Sense Economics that,

Bill Gates…rose to the top of Forbes ‘Wealthiest Four Hundred’ list by developing a set of products that dramatically improved the efficiency and compatibility of desktop computers. 

Theologian John Jefferson Davis writes in Your Wealth In God’s World that all the luxuries we live with today are the result of “new ideas, new insights, new leaps of human imagination,” enabled by the market mechanism to come into existence and spread across the world.

At IFWE, I’ve learned the importance of tailoring our economic system to facilitate these simple, unhindered trades, so that our work can be harnessed in a way that serves others. On a macro level, the primary structure that achieves this is the free market.

While issues in economics can become significantly more complicated, this basic link between God-inspired work and renewing culture through markets is a fundamental truth about the world. We must keep this truth in mind as we consider questions of economic policy.

What do you think? How else can we make the connection between our work and our responsibility to renew culture? Leave your comments here


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