Can economics be studied from a Christian perspective? Is there a distinctly biblical economics, or is the biblical approach to economic issues only one approach among many? Some might maintain that economics is a “neutral” enterprise where religion in general and Christianity in particular are irrelevant. This, however, is not the Christian view. Economics deals with relationships, the exchange of goods, just weights and measures, just business dealings, contracts, investments, future planning, and charity. How is the individual, family, church, business establishment or civil government able to determine how each will govern its financial affairs? There must be a standard. Will that standard be according to man and his word, or according to God and His word? There is no third way. To say, therefore, that economic matters should be evaluated from a neutral premise is to say that God is not concerned about the economic ordering of society.
While the humanist has reservations about Christian involvement in economics, too often even Christians have reservations about Christians bringing the Bible to bear on economic issues. Of course, their reasons are quite different. The humanist does not want to be confronted with moral absolutes. His economic system is designed to serve himself. An example of a humanistic economic decision to serve the purposes of man is the abolition of the gold standard. Man, through the agency of the State, can now create money at will to fund any governmental program proposed by the State. This humanistic economic policy has been disastrous for our country, with inflation and worthless money as the result.
For the Christian, the subject of economics often is looked upon as solely “secular” or “material” and, therefore, outside the realm of spiritual, and thus, biblical considerations. A dichotomy between spiritual (religious) and material (secular) aspects of reality results, as if the Bible does not speak to both. Such thinking effectually cuts Christians off from important earthly endeavors. The Bible, however, makes no such distinction. Material things are not evil in themselves. When God finished His creative work, He looked upon what He had made and evaluated it: ‘‘And God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good” (Gen. 1:31). Gary North, commenting on the goodness of the created order in his economic commentary on Genesis, writes:
The first chapter of Genesis repeats this phrase, “and God saw that it was good,” five times (vv. 10, 12, 18, 21, 25), in addition to the final summation in verse 31. God’s creative acts were evaluated by God and found to be good. They reflected His own goodness and the absolute correspondence among His plan, His standards of judgment, His fiat word, and the results of His word, the creation. The creation was good precisely because it was solely the product of God’s sovereign word. God therefore imputed positive value to His creation, for He created it perfect.
The Apostle Paul reiterates God’s evaluation of the created order with the following value judgment: “For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer” (1 Tim. 4:4-5). To declare that matter (the make-up of physical things) is somehow evil, is to call God’s creation less than good. God and His creation are dishonored by those who say Christians should not concern themselves with such material (secular) questions as economics.
There were those in the church at Colossae who were persuaded that by avoiding material things they would avoid sin. Paul’s words bring the subject into proper perspective: “If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, ‘Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!’ (which all refer to things destined to perish with the using)—in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence” (Col. 2:20-23). Material things are not evil. Rather, sinful man’s use of what is created can be sinful. For example, money is not evil, but the love of money is (1 Tim. 6:10). Therefore, to take a vow of poverty will in no way eradicate the love for material possessions because sin is not in the things of this world but in the attitudes man holds toward them and their usage (cf. Mark 7:15, 20-23).
The Christian is called to a dominion task, bringing every area of life in submission to Jesus Christ and His commandments (cf. Gen. 1:26-28; Matt. 28:18-20; 2 Cor. 10:5-6). This dominion task cannot be accomplished without involvement in our world, including its economic affairs. How can goods be exchanged when there is no concept of value?: “Of how much more value then is a man than a sheep!” (Matt. 12:12).
How can an individual claim ownership and stewardship for his assets without laws to protect property?: “You shall not steal” (Exodus 20:15). How can civil governments be prevented from inflating the money supply without laws to protect against debasement of currency?: “You shall have just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin” (Lev.19:36). How can lawful trade take place if there are no laws to protect the poor, the consumer, and the businessman if, at will, “the bushel [can be made] smaller and the shekel bigger” (Amos 8:5)? How can present-day civil governments, in the name of “social justice,” be prohibited from stealing from the rich in order to supply the needs of the poor?: “You shall not do injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor nor defer to the great, but you are to judge your neighbor fairly” (Lev. 19:15).
How can citizens be assured that their currency is backed up by a commodity (gold or silver) and not a promise (paper money)? Our nation’s money system had gold and silver as the standard of value. It was written into our Constitution. Paper “money” only “represented” owner-held gold or silver. Noah Webster, in his American Dictionary of the English Language (1828), gives us some of the practical reasons: “Gold and silver, containing great value in a small compass, and being therefore of easy conveyance, and being also durable and little liable to diminution by use, are the most convenient metals for coin or money, which is the representative of commodities of all kinds of lands, and of everything that is capable of being transferred in commerce.” The Bible informs us that “gold…is good” (Gen. 2:12a).
An economic system of some kind will prevail in a society. Economic dominion will be instituted and followed according to some standard. When an economic system is formulated, based on certain religious presuppositions, the next step is implementation of that system. If the system is rooted in the unchanging law of God, the process of implementation must also be biblically based. Conformity to the biblical system comes from within, based upon the regeneration of the heart (self-government under God). Conformity to a humanistic economic system comes from without, usually in terms of violent revolution and eventual governmental tyranny. David Chilton writes:
Men have always had to choose between two methods of social change: regeneration and revolution. The Christian first seeks to discipline himself to God’s standard. He then publishes the gospel and attempts to peacefully implement the laws of God into the life of his culture, trusting in the Spirit of God for the success of his efforts. He knows that there is not, and never will be, a perfect society in this life. He knows that the Kingdom of God spreads like leaven in bread not by massive, disruptive explosions, but by gradual permeation. He knows that justice, righteousness and peace result from the outpouring of the Spirit in the hearts of men (Isaiah 33:15, 18); a nation’s legal structure, is therefore, an indicator, not a cause, of national character. Law does not save.
Economic principles derive their authority from religious principles. Socialistic economic systems see the State as messianic, and therefore, given authority to disrupt any “unequal” social order by whatever means deemed necessary. This usually occurs through State ownership of the means of production. When this process is viewed as too slow, violent revolution usually follows. Contrary to Socialism, a biblical economic system puts the power of economic decision making in the hands of individuals who transact millions of economic decisions every day. The exchange of goods happens freely. If a man wishes to purchase an automobile, he may do so. The automobile dealer freely exchanges his product for the consumer’s money. Each believes he got the better deal. There is no coercion to buy or sell. Economic power remains with the many. If the consumer does not like the deal, he can take his business elsewhere. A free economy allows for competition between automobile manufacturers. In a socialistic system there is little if any competition.
Christians, however, must be aware of those who want to create a “free” market without the unchanging economic laws of God that really govern our freedom. Any economic system that omits God, not only as a factor in production and economic prosperity, but also as the key to economics and economic prosperity, is a false system no matter how anti-statist it may be. The espousal of freedom carries with it certain responsibilities. For example, our Constitution guarantees freedom of speech, but it does not guarantee freedom to bear false witness or to yell “Fire!” in a crowded movie theater. There is no such thing as unrestricted, autonomous freedom, every man doing what is right in his own eyes, as long as an action does not hurt others (cf. Judges 17:6). While the Christian should be opposed to all forms of Socialism and Marxism because of their collectivistic policies (making the State sovereign), the Christian also should steer clear of unbridled freedom where individual relativism reigns (making the individual sovereign). The Bible is the Christian’s standard, not the independent voice of the individual or the collective voice of the majority.