ECONOMICS 101: IS
THERE A CHRISTIAN
PERSPECTIVE ON THE ECONOMY?
be a missing dimension in modern economic science? Might there be an inseparable
link between morality and economic prosperity?
Dr. Judd W.
of the Bible have observed that God often refers to economic topics and
concepts. For example, money, interest rates (usury), profit and loss,
wages, entrepreneurship, and contractual obligations are used by Christ
to make spiritual points in
the parables of the pounds (Luke 19:12-26), of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30),
and of the workers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16). Other scriptures
deal with economic problems most 20th century individuals are still confronting:
inflation and the debasement of money (Haggai 1:6; Isaiah l:22), creditor-debtor
difficulties (Proverbs 22:7; Psalms 37:21), unemployment
(Matthew 20:3), and even big government with its high taxes (I Samuel 8:11-18).
it seems clear that the Bible per se is not an economics textbook. God
has not systematically expounded economic principles as one might expect
to find in a modern day text on economic principles.
Christians with an intriguing dilemma. If we do not have our own unique
understanding of economic principles - Biblical economics - does this mean
we must relief on secular sources for economic knowledge? If so, which of
the many competing traditions should we embrace?
the answer is that there is a Christian perspective on economic matters.
There is a science of Biblical economics, albeit an almost untouched field
of study for academic economists today. It is not, however, a patchwork
of Christian ethics combined with a preferred economic theory or applied
to specific economic problems, as some have perceived it. Rather, it is
a comprehensive, unified body of moral and economic principles that are
inexorably interrelated. It is a body of knowledge, without which, humanity
will never achieve its economic potential.
that there is, in fact, a science of Biblical economics. Then notice the
missing dimension that reveals the solutions to mankind's
In the 1960s
physicist Thomas S. Kuhn brilliantly demonstrated that each and every science
rests on generally unquestioned premises that condition the nature of human
thinking and scientific investigation. He called this body of foundational
premises a paradigm.
of Kuhn's insight is that there are no such things as "brute facts" - facts
apart from a definite paradigm. What is a "fact" and what is a "non-fact,"
or what is a "cause" or what is an "effect," depends on the specific framework,
or paradigm, the information is placed within.
are many economic schools of thought, each with its own unique paradigm
or worldview. By analogy, each tradition has its own eyeglasses with very
different lenses to view the economic world. The result is that there is
no agreement on the "facts." What, for instance, caused the 1930s Great
Depression? Ask five different economists, and one will likely get five
(or perhaps six) different answers!
But God is
not the author of confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33). He has given us our
foundation - His Word - that includes a paradigmatic premise: "The fear
of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge" (Proverbs 1:7) and "wisdom"
(Proverbs 9:10). And He has made it perfectly clear that we should not
rely on any worldview of men, "Beware lest anyone cheat you through
and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic
principles of the world, and not according to Christ" (Colossians 2:8).
The Greek word
for basic principles means "primary and fundamental principles of any art,
science or discipline." While the apostle Paul was specifically warning
the Colossians against gnosticism, his admonition applies to all areas
of scientific endeavor. For the discipline of economics, Christians must
build on the ultimate foundation, God's Word, the Bible, not on any worldly
paradigm. Our basic principles must come from the Bible.
The Bible reveals,
then, that there are only two broad worldviews or paradigms - God's and
man's. In economics, therefore, there is only Revelational or Biblical
economics and man's economics. The latter, we know from experience, has
fractured into many competing traditions.
In the book
of beginnings, Genesis, God revealed just how man's paradigm began. Most
of us know the story very well. Adam and Eve ate from the tree of the knowledge
of good and evil. They disbelieved and disobeyed God. In doing so they
took to themselves, and for all humankind after them, the discovery of
knowledge apart from God. Humanism, or man and his
as the sole source of knowledge, was born! As a consequence man has constructed
his own economic systems and generated his own diverse and numerous economic
schools of thought that seem right to him (Proverbs 14:12).
God gives Christians
three foundational building blocks for developing economic science. The
first premise, to repeat, is that God's Word is the foundation for all
knowledge. Christian knowledge, understanding, and wisdom originate from
fearing (respecting) God by striving to keep His commandments, hating evil,
and living by His every word (Ecclesiastes 12:13;
Matthew 4:4). All other knowledge and wisdom is prophesized to come to
nothing (1 Corinthians 1:19-20).
premise, central to the discovery of economic principles, is that man is
a purposeful being endowed with a spiritual essence, the spirit in man,
that gives him human mind and free will. Man alone of God's creatures possesses
the inner self of volition, self-awareness, and the ability to choose goals
and the means to fulfill them (1 Corinthians 2:11). With the Holy Spirit
man has the capacity to build Godly character in choosing right and resisting
the wrong (2 Corinthians 4:16; 10:4-5). Man acts; he values, prefers and
chooses (Proverbs 15:22; 2 Corinthians 9:7).
The third premise
is that God as Creator and Lawgiver (James 4:12; Isaiah 33:22) has set
in motion inexorable laws governing human behavior, in whatever realm humans
may interact - social, political, or economic. These spiritual laws, when
followed, generate and produce "...life and prosperity" (Deuteronomy
30:15-20; Exodus 20:3-17). For individuals and societies to internalize
these eternal principles, the Ten Commandments, is to cause a way of life
that leads to harmony, peace, economic prosperity, and liberty (James 1:25).
Virtue bears spiritual and material fruit!
attest to this relationship between moral behavior and economic well-being.
"And whatever he (the righteous) does shall prosper" (Psalms 1:3). "Blessed
is the nation whose God is the LORD" (Psalms 33:12). "If they (the righteous)
obey and serve Him, they shall spend their days in prosperity, and their
years in pleasures" (Job 36:11). "This Book of the Law shall not depart
from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may
observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will
make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success" (Joshua
three foundational building blocks a vital insight is discovered: the moral
realm and the economic realm of production, consumption, and exchange are
somehow interconnected. They are not hermetically sealed from one another
as assumed by humanistic science.
for a moment. The subject matter of both morality and economics is human
action. Moral principles provide the knowledge to help us choose the right
course of action.
In a similar manner, economic science endeavors to show "how the world works" and therefore
helps us to choose the right and necessary course of action, or policy,
to attain economic goals. That is, economic principles provide the knowledge
of how to achieve economic growth, price stability, full employment, etc.
It follows then, since both morality and economics deal with proper human
choices - and God reveals they are tied together - that any economic
action or policy that violates moral law is inherently flawed. In other
words, any action or policy that is based on moral law is inherently bound
to succeed. Alternatively, any action or policy in defiance of moral law
is inherently bound to fail. This is the missing dimension provided by
Biblical Economics, and necessarily absent from humanistic schools of economic
In short, only
moral action leads to success. Humanity's economic difficulties and dilemmas
are, in fact, spiritual in nature.
upheavals, such as the Asian financial turmoil, price inflation (Russia
just knocked three zeros off the ruble on January 1, 1998), chronic balance
of trade problems, huge and rising national deficits and debt, and so on,
tell us that moral and economic principles are being violated.
We know God's
moral principles, the Ten Commandments as revealed in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy
5, but how can economic principles be discovered?
Surely it is
not the scientific method of trial and error that excludes revealed knowledge.
To even suggest that moral principles could be relevant in the study of
economic phenomena would be rejected out of hand today as a serious breach
of scientific method and purity. Moreover, continuous experimentation and
hypothesis formation cannot produce anything but "tentative principles."
The only method,
then, for discovering timeless economic truths or principles, must be to
build on the premise that mankind acts purposefully, then by the rules of
logic, deduce that A is true; if A then B; if B then C and so on. No experimentation
is necessary to confirm these economic principles (A, B, C). Since God's
word is truth (John 17:17), we arrive at universal
that are true for all people at all times (unless a logical mistake was
made in the reasoning process).
a little-known tradition of economics, known as the Austrian school, has
built their analysis by borrowing, if you will, this biblical premise of
purposeful human action. As a result they have developed and lucidly expounded
a body of inexorable economic laws - God's economic laws! Our readers are
encouraged to study the works of Ludwig Mises, Henry Hazlitt, Murray Rothbard, Hans
Sennholz, and Gary North. However, only the latter two individuals
of the Austrian school have begun to explore the fundamental relationship
between moral laws and economic laws, that is, Biblical economics. (We
recommend two books: Three Economic Commandments by Hans Sennholz and
to Christian Economics by Gary North. The Sennholz book is available from
The Foundation for Economic Education, Irvington-on-Hudson, NY 10533. Phone:
(914) 591-7230. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. North's book can be obtained
from the Institute for Christian Economics,
P.O. Box 8000, Tyler, TX 75711.)
"What a science
does, or should do, is simply to allow the average man ... to command the
heights of genius," said James Buchanan, the 1986 Nobel laureate in economics.
That's precisely what Biblical economics does! Through moral and economic
principles, along with any additional scriptures God provides on a given
issue, Christians, supposedly the "foolish" of the world,
can understand the causes and the solutions to mankind's economic problems.
That genius can never be found in the "wisdom of this world" (1
There is indeed
a Christian perspective on the economy. It's fundamental insight, the missing
dimension, is that there is an inseparable link between morality and economic
well-being. When individuals or nations break moral laws, they simultaneously
break economic laws, and vice versa. If an economic action or policy is
right in principle, it will produce good fruit in the marketplace.
It will work! On the other hand, if it is wrong in principle, in defiance
of God's moral and economic laws, it will harm economic progress.
Kingdom is established (Revelation 11:15), there will at last be only one
kind of economics on the earth, God's economics! It will be known fully
and taught (Isaiah 30:20-21). All humanistic traditions will abruptly end.
Humanity will finally be given the "lenses" to understand Joshua 1:8: "This
Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate
in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is
written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you
will have good success." Biblical economics is the wave of the future!
Here are two outstanding Web sites on Biblical Economic principles:
Sound Economic Solutions
Christian Financial Concepts
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