Acton Institute Powerblog

You Can’t Separate Stewardship from Economics

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As Christians continue to turn their attention to the intersection of faith and work, it can be easy to dwell on such matters only insofar as they apply to our individual lives. What is our purpose, our vocation, and our value? How does God view our work, and how ought we to render it back to him? What is the source of our economic action?

These questions are important, but the answers will inevitably point us to a more public (and for some, controversial) context filled with profound questions of its own. Stewardship is step one: calling, work, service, generosity, and so on. But what about the ripple effects of all that? How does the personal aspect connect with the public?

As Greg Forster explains in his talk at the recent Faith@Work Summit“You can’t separate stewardship from economics.”

Whether we recognize it or not, our work has profound implications for the broader social and economic order beyond gross domestic product. As we glorify God through our work, we are also creating and cultivating social and spiritual capital with our neighbors, yielding service and fostering trust as we bless strangers and receive similar blessings in return. Lester DeKoster calls it the “fabric of civilization,” weaved together by the Holy Spirit to restore “the broken family of humankind.”

As Forster explains:

When people do their work with that stewardship mindset, it doesn’t just change the personal meaning of work for each individual; it changes the public meaning of work. You can’t separate stewardship from economics.

When people do their work as good stewards, it makes it possible for us to trust strangers, and that is not normal in human history. For virtually all of history, people worked together, they bought and sold, only with those of the same race, the same religion, the same cultural group. Outsiders could not be trusted. But when people do their work as good stewards, it becomes possible for us to love strangers by working together with them, by buying and selling with them. The modern entrepreneurial economy…is a product of that openness and trust.

…In the entrepreneurial economy, we love strangers with our work and we trust strangers in economic exchange. And that is why, with all of its faults, with all of its limitations, with all of the serious challenges that it can create for us, the entrepreneurial economy has unleashed the power of human work for love, justice, and reconciliation in unprecedented ways.

This means more than simply expanding our imaginations about the broader reach of our work (though we must!). It means that Christians have a unique responsibility to pay attention to the systems, institutions, and organisms that drive or inhibit such activity. It means that Christians have particular reasons to fight not just for God-glorifying work, but for the entrepreneurial economy that enables and empowers it.

tradeexchangeAs Forster indicates, for the bulk of human history, the type of collaboration, exchange, and reconciliation we see today was outright prohibited, leading not only to widespread material poverty, but significant social/spiritual division, isolation, and disconnect. Even now, as projects like PovertyCure seek to highlight, the world’s poorest suffer not for lack of initiative, creativity, or love for neighbor, but because they have been cut off from circles of entrepreneurial exchange and collaboration.

On this, Forster offers a simple but healthy reminder: economics matters, for orienting our hearts, hands, and imaginations, yes, but also for the cultivation and preservation of the broader political/social/economic order.

As we continue to refine our thinking about the shape and arc of Christian stewardship, let’s not forget or neglect the role of economics in unleashing it for “love, justice, and reconciliation” across society.

Visit MISSION:WORK for more recorded talks from the Faith@Work Summit.

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.

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