Acton Institute Powerblog

Where Capitalism Ends, the Covenant Continues

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As we reap the benefits of market exchange and observe the many achievements of free trade and globalization, it’s easy to give credit to the market itself, either ignoring or forgetting the supporting individuals, communities, and institutions who actively leveraged it for the common good.

Capitalism is, after all, a mere framework for human engagement. Although the constraints it imposes (“thou shalt not steal”) and the features it elevates (ownership, stewardship, risk, and sacrifice) may fit well within a broader Christian context, it says more about what we can and can’t do than what we might or might not imagine or accomplish.

As Michael Bull recently explained, through capitalism’s continuous process of value creation, it is in many ways similar to a “biblical covenant structure”:

Good businessmen understand how it works. It invariably necessitates the risk and sacrifice of what we now possess for a greater reward. Steve Jobs told us that, and demonstrated it again and again. It takes money to make money. This requires faith in the one who made the promise, even though business people do not recognize the source of the abundance is the hand of God.

Yet, of course, it is different:

God calls Man to work, which involves risk (faith), a sacrifice and some obedience to laws (which include natural and business laws), which will bring fulfillment of the promise — a greater abundance than what you sacrificed. That is where capitalism ends, but it is not where Covenant ends, and here is the problem for which socialism is tendered as a solution.

For the Christian, then, capitalism provides a simple baseline from which we can launch, holding the potential to lead us toward a broader, deeper network through which we can more freely and fully obey the callings of the Holy Spirit in our lives as we proclaim good news to the poor. In allowing for this free-flow of individual callings, we are given opportunities and choices that many other systems would assume on our behalf.

As Bull continues:

The final step of Covenant is that you, the risk taker, become a shelter, a house, for the helpless. The final step is generosity. Capitalism only works in a moral society. This is why we can correspond the shape of good economics to the shape of the Gospel. Jesus gave His life to give abundant life to us all. He believed in the promise made to Him by the Father, the promise of resurrection—a new body. Poverty was not something to be embraced eternally. Christian socialists forget that Jesus now owns everything. All the great saints were rich people who risked their wealth for even greater wealth, a wealth that included a legacy of other people—a household. The “glory that was set before Him” was also the glory of the Church, a new body that includes every believer. Jesus Himself is our covering. We are only saved because of His atonement, His “covering.” He, the king of kings, the great Land Lord, is our shelter.

This is what it means to be On Call in Culture — to “correspond the shape of good economics to the shape of the Gospel,” infusing every act across every sphere of culture with the good news of grace and mercy, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the divine generosity of He who first loved us.

Our participation in economic life should never stop at some earthly metric of productivity and stewardship. Where capitalism ends, the covenant continues.

Joseph Sunde is an associate editor and writer for the Acton Institute. His work has appeared in venues such as The Federalist, First Things, The City, The Christian Post, The Stream, Charisma News, Juicy Ecumenism, Ethika Politika, Made to Flourish, and the Center for Faith and Work. Joseph resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota with his wife and four children.


  • Hi
    In my opinion, its the use of economies (money, ownership, price tags) that causes all the problems. Not one other living creature on the entire planet… uses economies. Why do capitalists? Are economies really needed? Are systems that promote competing… wanted/needed?

    Think about competitive systems as racing, for a moment, if you will. There’s the old stale adage… “It takes money to make money”. Now apply it to racing/competing systems such as capitalism/car racing. It takes a big motor… to win races. It takes winning races… to afford big motors. In other words, in capitalism and car racing, the folks who are good at racing… will always win at racing. The folks who are not good at racing, will rarely win. Now what if… the race was to see who could be the most cooperative (opposite of competitive)? First off, cooperators HATE racing… and its against everything they stand for. Altruists/cooperators always look out for the others’ needs/wants FIRST, and always place themselves last. Cooperators want to make sure that everyone crosses the finish line at the same time… and often, before THEY do. That’s fairness/love. Although cooperators never compete, IF they did, it would be a competition to see which could put forth more effort to help others cross the finish line ahead of them. In other words, cooperators might compete to see who could be the most cooperative. Love-competing. Altruism (and Christianity/other love-based religions).

    So, when the USA and many other parts of the world… have decided that a competing/racing system is the proper way, then guess what. The folks who are best at racing/competing, will consistently be way out front. And since the folks with all these monetary and property winnings… are stern competers… they are unlikely to give away “their” (ownership) earnings to late finishers and to folks who hate/refuse racing… because that’s not the way of a stern competer. When you/we condone racing as a-ok, you get winners and losers.

    In pyramid systems such as capitalism and even in playground pyramids (both always collapse and hurt those on the bottom)… the strife is to get a leg UP, not a leg down. Competer folks tend not to seek the nobility and pride of being a strong bottom-layer foundation member of a pyramid. They instead tend to seek the “heads in the clouds” monetary powers and luxuries of climbing high. And when many are racing to climb high, the tops of pyramids get top heavy, and put enormous excess strain on the bottom layer foundation people. The weight of the world’s knees is on/in their backs, and they get crushed, and the racing pyramid collapses, just like capitalism’s pyramid is doing. Wise mothers everywhere know that the kids should NEVER be allowed to build pyramids of people… its exploitive upon the strong foundation layers. Yet childhood pyramids are seen all the time, including in cheerleading… and rarely does a parent stand up and say STOP IT RIGHT NOW like we all know should be done.

    The Columbian Freemason pyramid scheme symbol is right there on the back of the USA dollar, and the USA gov is located in a district of COLUMBIA and not even part of the USA proper. Its the USE of economies, that causes racing systems, and its the use of racing systems, that causes sure-to-collapse pyramiding. Its racing systems that are to blame, and economies (and luxuries/empowerments gotten there-from) are the devices which cause racing. The occupiers are grumbling about unfairness… but they don’t know the reasons unfairness happens, until now.

    You don’t want jobs, and you don’t want economies. You REALLY want to get out from under being “under control”… by getting off the pyramid scheme called capitalism. In order to stop further pyramiding… abolish economies (money, ownership, price tags). Run it like the USA military supply system and USA public library system… communes. Everything is owned by “team” and everyone takes care of each other. No more billings, no more fear for survival, and custodianship instead of ownership, so things are built to last, and are repairable and reusable. Cooperating is… and always will be… a better (and far more Christian) way than competing/pyramiding/rat-racing.

    Best regards!
    Larry “Wingnut” Wendlandt
    MaStars – Mothers Against Stuff That Ain’t Right
    (anti-capitalism-ists) (anti-economy usage)
    Bessemer MI USA

    • Dear Larry “Wingnut” Wendlandt. Competition is not engrained in the structure of capitalism. Competition is engrained in the nature of humanity itself. That’s why every socialist country in history has had an elite party establishment–men who competed with each other (and sometimes killed each other)–to have the most riches.

      The beauty of the Capitalist system is that it is the one economic system that acknowledges the reality of human competition and establishes structures that limit and minimize the negatives of competition, and actually manages to use competition for many noble ends. Roger has rightly pointed out several reasons for this reality.

      As a teacher at a private all-boys school, I’ve seen how cooperative competition can cause great good. When my students compete to win “Trivia Tuesdays”, they outbid each other in the fundraiser we do for charity. The desire to “be better’ isn’t always bad.

      • Hi Greg… thanks for the reply… happy holidays as appropriate for you.

        I’ve never been able to convince myself that competition is human nature. From what I’ve been able to see, it is more true that adopting each other and partnering-up (cooperating)… is human nature. I think competing is learned behavior… though I have certainly not had enough resources to be able to study these things as thoroughly as I’d like to.

        And yes, competition does APPEAR to have SOME good results, and I think competition is fine when done in a loving way where non-winners are celebrated as fervently as winners (nobody damaged in ANY way). But I believe, and have seen some indications… that in each instance of competition appearing to have good results… the same results (or better) could have been accomplished using cooperation (and I’m not speaking of cooperating in an agreement to compete). :)

        And, in my opinion and according to evidence and indicators that I have gathered… competing is THE leading cause of ‘classes’ and monetary discrimination (some folks not having the same opportunities in life, as others). Monetary discrimination is also handed-down through bloodlines and racism. Often seen… even competent new competers are not ‘afforded’ the chance to compete with ‘founding families’ who have entrenched themselves into positions of power and leverage… and this is brutally unfair to youngsters born into less than set-for-life situations. Many people are born ‘behind the 8-ball’… and such things are far from being classified as “one nation under God” (which should be more-fairly said as one world under God). There’s not much or any “all on the same team’ seen in nations or worlds programmed-into and addicted-to competing. What we see instead…. is a blatant epidemic of blame-o-thons and US vs THEM warring… with the teams changing constantly and with little notice or reason.

        Thanks again for the reply. Take care.

  • RogerMcKinney

    You misunderstand the market. Competition exists only between producers of the same good. And it’s a friendly competition, like a sporting event. But capitalism is mostly about cooperation. Wealth increases through specialization. No one tries to be self-sufficient. That makes us all dependent on each other for things we don’t make ourselves. That’s called the division of labor and it has made society much more cooperative and less combative. That cooperation with gentlemanly competition makes us all wealthier. It’s not a pyramid scheme, but the cause of reduced poverty world-wide.

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