Acton Institute Powerblog

Confessing Evangelical Economics

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A number of comments have been floating around the blogosphere related to the news coming out of Colorado last week that a professor at Colorado Christian University was terminated because “his lessons were too radical and undermined the school’s commitment to the free enterprise system.”

Andrew Paquin, who taught global studies, reportedly assigned texts by Jim Wallis and Peter Singer. That in itself shouldn’t be enough to get someone fired. The context within which such authors were assigned and how the professor led the discussion could potentially be enough, however. If Wallis’ politics were presented as Gospel truth, by the professor, that would be problematic.

Ted Olson at the CT Liveblog takes this occasion to ask whether there is an “evangelical view of economics.” In a post titled, “A Capitalist Creed?” Michael Simpson similarly says the CCU story is “quite bothersome.” I’ll note in passing that Christians with an explicitly conservative view of economics and political matters would have difficulty getting into the place of even being hired, much less fired, from teaching positions at any number of secular, mainline, and liberal institutions.

But aside from the particulars of the CCU case, of which there are precious few pertinent details available, I’ll attempt to answer the question that both Olson and Simpson seem to be getting at: is there a uniquely evangelical Christian view of economics? Yes and no.

The answer is no if what you mean is there a single, coherent, overarching and exhaustively detailed economic system that is unequivocally endorsed by the evangelical tradition’s view of Scripture.

From the fact that there is no single evangelical economic worldview, it does not follow that every economic option is equally valid. There are economic systems or worldviews that are unequivocally excluded by evangelical views on these matters.

One such set of excluded views would be economic materialism, exemplified for instance in Marxism. And as I’ve said before another economic worldview incompatible with biblical Christianity is anarcho-capitalism.

So, is there (or ought there be) an (unofficial, unstated) evangelical creed on economics? Again, it depends on how you view creeds.

If you see them as doctrinal statements that define the parameters of orthodoxy, setting up the boundaries beyond which is heterodoxy, but within which there is freedom for diverse expression and thought, then sure, there is and should be an evangelical economic creed. It should exclude economic positions that are incompatible with the basic tenets of Christian faith and practice.

But if you think that a creed is a statement of “rigid” orthodoxy that only validates a single, univocal position, then no, there is no single “evangelical economics.” But I happen to think that view of creeds and confessions is itself defective.

Update: Mark Tooley from IRD weighs in here, and a piece by Andy Guess at Inside Higher Ed is here.

Jordan J. Ballor Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty. He is also a postdoctoral researcher in theology and economics at the VU University Amsterdam as part of the "What Good Markets Are Good For" project. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary.


  • Having reviewed your exposition of Romans 12 and 13, I must agree and disagree.

    What is central to the question of Anarcho-Capitalism and Christianity is the role, source, and execution of law.

    Christianity is wholly consistent with a Natural Rights understanding of the scope of law. It is also especially consistent with a Common Law process for derivation of law. Finally, Christianity is peculiarly inconsistent with a legislative process for derivation of law.

    The only legitimate role of government from the Christian perspective is Judicial. The Judges were to read, interpret and, rule using the revealed law as delivered to Moses. The book of Deuteronomy consists primarily of the case law up to the time of Joshua.

    The courts were to try cases, and anyone not willing to come under the ruling of the Judges was considered an outlaw, outside the protection of the law. The costs incurred in the judicial process were to be born by the individuals involved in the case.

    Insomuch as anarcho-capitalism attempts to make the judicial a private function it may or may not be consistent with Christian thought.

    Any other role of government beyond the judicial is wholly outside the scriptural mandate for the state.

    Nathanael Snow

  • William Watson

    As a friend and colleague of Andrew Paquin’s (my office was next to his) we have had a friendly exchange on economics since he joined the faculty two years ago. Both Andrew and President Armstrong are right in their assessments of capitalism. One may ask how can you reconcile these disparate views? Augustine, Luther and many other respected Christian theologians (even Christ) have spoken of two kingdoms, the kingdom of God and the kingdom of man. God has called us to put his kingdom first, and Andrew does that, but capitalism works in the kingdom of man. It conforms to our fallen state. Christian idealists tend to ignore the pragmatic, the real world, our fallen state. The Holy Spirit allows Christians to transcend these shortcomings, but to expect the vast majority of humanity to trancend it is naive. Most are motivated by Adam Smith’s ‘self-interest’. To desire a world where everyone lives like Mother Teresa or Andrew Paquin is laudable but unrealistic.
    William Watson, Professor of Modern History, CCU

  • I think this is getting a bit too complex. Evangelical economics is and should be Biblical — that is based on Biblical principles. There are thousands of verses in the Bible that spell out its principles on all economic issues: debt (Proverbs 22:7), the use of worldly wealth (Luke 16:11), steady investing (Proverbs 21:5), work (Colossians 3:23-24) and many more.

    Treating employees fairly and giving employers their just due, diversification and many more concepts are spelled out clearly. However, we have to be clear that worldly wealth is secondary to seeking God first and foremost (Matthew 6:33).

  • If there is anyone still listening, I am developing an economic system based on the biblical text and gospel of Jesus Christ.

    Check it out and give me your thoughts;