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The Book of Revelation is Hayekian

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revelation_churches“When you read the Book of Revelation,” says Gregory Alan Thornbury, president of The King’s College, “it’s about not giving in to tyranny when it comes to economics. I don’t know why we don’t talk about that in church.” In an interview with Jerry Bowyer at Forbes, Thornbury expounds on how the revelation to St. John is a precursor to the idea that F. A. Hayek later would call “The Fatal Conceit.”

Jerry: Should a Christian be a Hayekian? Do you see overlap there?

Dr. Thornbury: I definitely see overlap for this reason: I think that when you study the texts of particularly the New Testament, although it has its origins in the Mosaic Law, I think what you see there is the seedbed of freedom of conscience. You see democratic religion in the pages of the New Testament. So whereas some people in Acts chapter 5 see some kind of nascent socialism, actually what you’re seeing is free people electing to gather together in solidarity around key principles and ideals and goals, and the people who joined in that were people like Lydia. There was a mercantile aspect to the early Christian movement. When I read Hayek and I see his argument for the link between private property and freedom, I see a direct line going all the way back to those pages of the New Testament, because what the Apostle Paul and others were representing was an alternative to totalitarianism. When you look at the Apostle John – and whatever else you think the Book of Revelation says about the future—what it definitely was, was the greatest political protest letter ever penned in the history of the world, because he was saying, “The state has no business telling us how we should govern our own life together.” And when I say “society” or “culture”, here’s how I’m defining that, Jerry: I take a nineteenth century definition by Johann Herder, who many recognize as the founding father of modern sociology. He said, “Culture is the lifeblood of a civilization. It’s the flow of moral energy that keeps a society intact.” So, when I see Hayek talking about making sure that we stay free of tyranny, I see the entailments of that going all the way back to the emperor and Domitian and the Apostle John.

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Joe Carter Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).


  • Martial_Artist

    Frankly, I don’t see how a dedicated Christian can be anything other than a Hayekian, at least to some significant degree.

    Keith Töpfer

    • Peterson Onyeukwu

      Christians who make comments like this really astound me. You completely ignore implicit commands and allow your internal bias create implicit ones.
      Tell me sir, do you actually care for the poor as much as you rebel against the state?

      • Martial_Artist

        A substantial portion of our household income and our time is given directly to the poor. Furthermore, it is not only the poor, the sick, widows, orphans and prisoners who we are to care for but those who do not know the Lord. What is it in Hayek’s writing that you believe ignores “implicit commands (by which I presume you mean the commands of Christ)?” And what knowledge of me do you have that enables you to judge me?
        Keith Töpfer

        • Peterson Onyeukwu

          sorry I meant ignoring explicit commands allowing internal bias to create implicit ones.
          I’m not one to judge, but looking at American Evangelicalism broadly one can easily make the case that we are a group that picks and chooses which commands to follow. It’s true you may be outside the norm, but in todays world, I have a 50/50 chance that you’re not.

        • Peterson Onyeukwu

          I would also say that to presume Hayek’s work is one of religious merit calls into question what it is you truly value. Simple commands such as striving to be of one mind and admonitions to refrain from dividing ourselves (such as I am of Apollos, or I am of Hayek) are clear. Understanding the economic machinations of Hayek, who changed some of his positions later in life, is not and should not be the responsibility of all fellow believers.
          But I assume that you expect all Christians to be of the high-brow, high-minded, small-Government, more-liberty sort.

          • Martial_Artist

            The question, as I see it, is not whether Hayek’s work is “of religious merit,” but rather is his work accurate, that is, does it faithfully describe how economies work, and, how do his prescriptions for the structuring of law, regulations, etc. comport with Christ’s injunctions to us, Christ’s followers? If we do not understand both how nature (the world, including the economic aspects thereof) how are to make appropriate decisions about how our society is governed? It has nothing to do with being “high-brow, high-minded, and small-government. It has to do with understanding how to act as we are commanded by Jesus. You will notice that these questions are almost always left to us to resolve as “prudential judgments.” Holy Mother Church rarely prescribes the exact course we are to follow, but expects us to apply our understanding of both our dealings in the world and the teachings of the Word in arriving at just and moral approaches. How are we to make such prudential judgments unless we study the arena in which those judgments are our responsibility to make, and study them sufficiently to be able to exercise that duty responsibly?

          • Peterson Onyeukwu

            You make a number of good points. We have had a great privilege and opportunity bestowed upon us in searching out and building our viewpoints based on rigorous study. I agree with this point wholeheartedly.
            But I do think that we are all imperfect judges. None of us has perfect judgement and while Hayek has many viewpoints that I can support, there are other areas where I might disagree.
            There exists many areas in economic research that are open to debate, wouldn’t you agree?

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