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David Brat on the Need for Theologians Who Understand Economics

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“I never saw a supply and demand curve in seminary. I should have.”

This was written by Virginia Congressman David Brat in an academic paper back in 2011, when he was still an economics professor at Randolph-Macon College. The paper offers a unique exploration of the intersections of economics, policy, and theology, promoting a holistic view of economic freedom and social justice united with Christian witness.

Brat, who holds both a Master of Divinity and a Ph.D in economics, has been in Congress for just over a year, and in a recent interview with Ben Domenech, it appears as though he’s retained much of that original perspective.

The discussion covers a range of subjects (economics, education, foreign policy), but one of the more striking bits comes when Domenech asks Brat about the decline of religion in American life and the corresponding erosion of local communities and civic institutions. Brat’s response is wide and varied, but he begins by noting that modern society as a whole is now in “uncharted territory.”

We are working within a new, complex, globalized economy, and so, before and beyond any sort of public policy proposals, we’ll need a healthy theology and philosophy of life to navigate the way forward. According to Brat, that means having far better thinkers and theologians to navigate the way:

Our culture really has become high-paced, pressure-filled – my job is on steroids…So you do the best you can, but we are in a new world. It is probably only 20 years old. This new global world, we are just beginning to reflect on and understand what it means…I don’t think we understand the implications of what’s hit us and the type of world we’re going to live in…We are in new, uncharted territory…

The Christian tradition evolved especially in very small, intimate communities, with 30 to 40 people hanging together, and the ethics was derived to fit into those communities. It wasn’t derived by the Roman Empire, and so you’ve seen how the Judeo-Christian tradition has morphed as times change to deal with the Roman Empire…And as our times change, we are going to have to have some theologians who are very intelligent about how to use free markets. And not many theologians are too friendly when it comes to free markets, and I think they have to be.

They have to do with freedom, and God created us not as robots. God could have created us in a way that he could command us to do whatever. He gave us a free conscience…We do not believe in imposing our will on others.”

Brat duly recognizes the difficulty of reversing the tide, but it begins with the cultural imagination and the theology behind it. That shift will necessarily start at the most local levels of society, but it’s rather refreshing to hear it spoken from the top.

Listen to the rest of the interview here.

Joseph Sunde is an associate editor and writer for the Acton Institute. His work has appeared in venues such as The Federalist, First Things, Intellectual Takeout, The City, The Christian Post, The Stream, Patheos, LifeSiteNews, Charisma News, The Green Room, 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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