Acton Institute Powerblog

Uniting economics with the grammar of creation

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Michael Thigpen had a successful job at a bank, rising through the ranks of the company to a management position. Yet he had originally planned to be a teacher or a pastor, and after finally graduating from seminary and struggling to find a position in either role, he became frustrated with his banking career.

Now a theology professor at Biola University, Thigpen realizes that his frustrations had to do with an inaccurate vision of vocation and the human person as redeemed by Christ.

“Why had I been so frustrated when an unplanned career was successful?” he now asks. “And why was my sense of identity so tied to the source of my income? …My occupational angst was rooted in a misunderstanding of my identity,” he says.

In a talk for the Oikonomia Network, Thigpen explains the importance of grasping precisely this, arguing that properly understanding our vocation begins with uniting our understanding of economic activity with the “grammar of creation.”

Thigpen reminds us of three distinct truths: (1) economic activity flows directly out of our identity, (2) economic activity is worship, and (3) God intended a flourishing society, not just flourishing individuals.

Taking these together, we see a more complete picture of God’s plan from the beginning:

Created in his image — that is, connected to him and reflective of him — we are supposed to rule the world on behalf of and as a reflection of our Creator….

We’re ambassadors — citizens of heaven living in communities on earth, earnestly representing God in his flourishing society, the Kingdom. We invite everyone who hears to enter through the Gospel. And this Gospel creates not just flourishing individuals, but a new flourishing society, the kingdom, where there is life and there is peace and where “all these things are added.”

michael-thigpenEconomic activities are not outside the kingdom. They’re placed in the kingdom, in their proper orientation as a necessary result of our identity as newly created ones in the image of Christ. An economically flourishing society is the natural result of what God is doing through his kingdom now.

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.


  • Susan Moore

    A rich young man approached Jesus and asked him what he had to do to possess everlasting life. Jesus told him to follow the commandments. The man said he did. Then Jesus told him to sell everything and give to the poor then follow Him and “you will have treasure in heaven.”

    When the young man went away sad (for he did not want to sell everything, give to the poor, and follow God), Jesus said to His followers, “I assure you, only with difficulty will a rich man enter into the kingdom of God. I repeat what I said: it is easier for a camel to pass through a needle’s eye than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God…Moreover, everyone who has given up home, brothers or sisters, father or
    mother, wife or children or property for my sake will receive many times as much and inherit everlasting life. Many who are first shall come last, and the last shall come first” (Matt. 19:16-30; Mk. 10:17-31).

    Wehave to be careful to not confuse material wealth with spiritual blessing/flourishing. A society cannot flourish, no matter how materially rich it is, until it grasps the difference between wants and needs and understand that Jesus promises to provide for the needs of His Kingdom, not the wants. If the focus remains on individual/collective wants it shows a selfish heart in the individual: an adult Christian who is
    still, at best, drinking spiritual milk and wearing diapers.

    Jesus says, “This is how you are to pray, ‘…Give us today our daily bread, and forgive us the wrong we have done as we forgive those who wrong us…’” (the Lord’s Prayer, Matt. 6:11).