Christians and Economics: Who Cares?

“I only care about the moral issues.”

I can’t say for certain, but I’m willing to bet that many Christians would express something similar to the above statement when asked about their views concerning economic issues. Doubtless this holds true even in the face of the serious and difficult economic questions facing our nation at present. Abortion, the institution of marriage, the pervasiveness of pornography and other sexually explicit material—these are easily understood to be of prime relevance to following Christ. Not surprisingly, these are the issues that readily engage Christians on at the level of the larger society. On the other hand, economic issues—with the exception of the need to give to the poor—are often seen as something Christians can ignore.

But there’s a problem with this line of thinking: Christians aren’t to conceive of anything as being irrelevant to following Christ. Rather, as Paul says “whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31, emphasis mine). Paul clearly understood that everything we do is to be pursued in line with God’s character and purposes. In other words, everything we do has a moral dimension.

A moment’s thought is enough to help us see that this certainly holds true for economics. As Austin Hill and Scott Rae point out: “Economics, much like politics, requires us to answer the question ‘How shall we order our lives together?’ That question is, fundamentally, a moral one” (The Virtues of Capitalism, p. 12). Perhaps an example will help to illustrate the point.

Recently, the state of Social Security has once again found its way into public debate. Sober-eyed economists and governmental officials tell us that our nation will eventually not be able to meet its commitments to Social Security recipients. Too many people are reaching retirement age while too few are paying into the system to support them. So what to do? Many decry reneging on promises to older Americans as a breach the government’s integrity. On the other hand, to continue to fulfill those obligations in the near and intermediate term virtually guarantees we’ll not be able to do so in the long run. Are we then willing for younger individuals to simply be out of luck? With these things in mind, it quickly becomes apparent that any discussion involving the finances of Social Security at the very least touches on considerations of justice and equity for millions of people.

But if it’s true that specific areas of economic policy (e.g., Social Security, unemployment insurance, or the composition of the tax code) have a moral dimension, it certainly makes sense to say the same of larger economic systems like capitalism, socialism, and everything in between. To cite Hill and Rae again:

Economic systems and policies are, in part, an expression of how a society regards both its weakest and most powerful members, and all those in between; they often play a key role in determining who “wins” and who “loses” in a society; and they can both encourage and discourage positive, productive behavior among the citizenry. Over the course of history, some societies have chosen economic systems that have helped a larger percentage of its citizens to enjoy social and economic success. Other societies have utilized economic systems that have caused the few to flourish while the many were trampled upon.

If the authors are right, it means that Christians should very much be concerned with the larger economic contours of our society. None of this is to say that Christians are to place a higher priority on championing an economic view than championing the gospel. Rather, it’s to say that living in step with the gospel and the God who brought it about should involve us in thinking carefully about economics (and every other area of life for that matter).

Because there’s far more to be said on the intersection of economics and our Christian faith, we’re happy to be offering a new connections class (starting October 3 at 10:30) on this very topic. We’ll center the discussion on Jay Richards’ book Money, Greed, and God, though we’ll likely bring in other material along the way. We won’t answer or even address every question and we certainly won’t claim always to be offering the final word, but we hope to make a meaningful contribution to the discussion.

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