I recently pointed to a helpful talk by Greg Forster to highlight how understanding economics is essential for developing a holistic theology of work, vocation, and stewardship. Economics connects the personal to the public, and prods our attentions and imaginations to the broader social order. In doing so, it alerts us to a unique and powerful mode of Christian mission.
First, the Bible deals with economic issues…It addresses matters of stewardship of our world (Gen. 1–3; Gen. 9:1–7), of God’s ownership of creation (Matt. 6:25–30; Col. 1:16–20), and of economic shalom (Lev. 25:1–55; Acts 2:42–47; 2 Thess. 3:6–10), and other important issues given more detailed discussion in [this book].
2.Economics Helps Us Understand the Public Square
Second, an understanding of economics and especially of political economy can help us understand what is going on in the world around us. The general election…is impossible to follow without some understanding of the implications of Obamacare and its impact on Medicare, the federal deficit, and the long-term effects of continued deficit spending. The posturing on the part of Republicans and Democrats sometimes seems like little more than rhetoric, but the one who understands what is really at stake can help lead people to a better understanding of their responsibility in the public square.
“The bottom half of the world’s population owns the same as the richest 85 people in the world.”
The stat was quoted last month in a report by the development organization Oxfam, but similar claims have become common. You’ve probably seen this statistic—or one like it—before in articles about economic inequality and assumed they must be somewhat true.
But they aren’t. In reality, they are completely meaningless.
One of the problems is that the comparisons are based on net worth (assets minus liabilities). If you aggregate all the people who have a negative net worth into one category and call them the “bottom half” then you come up with some peculiar conclusions. As Felix Salmon says, “My niece, who just got her first 50 cents in pocket money, has more money than the poorest 2 billion people in the world combined.” (more…)
The 2015 Acton Lecture Series continued on January 29th with a presentation by American Enterprise Institute President Arthur C. Brooks, who delivered a great talk on what really leads to happiness in life. In an era when Americans are finding less and less satisfaction with their nation while enjoying great abundance compared to much of the rest of the world and overall human history, what can we do to regain our confidence in the American enterprise system that has lifted much of the world out of poverty? Brooks explains, and you can hear his explanation via the video player below.
Technically, it’s only a budget request—a proposal telling Congress how much money the President believes should be spent on the various Cabinet-level federal functions, like agriculture, defense, education, etc. (A PDF of the 150 page document can be found here.)
Why does the President submit a budget to Congress?
The Congressional Budget Act of 1974 requires that the President of the United States submit to Congress, on or before the first Monday in February of each year, a detailed budget request for the coming federal fiscal year, which begins on October 1.
What is the function of the President’s budget request?
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?
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.” (more…)
A friend of mine recently shared this short clip of Thomas Merton’s last lecture. He has some interesting things to say about communism and monasticism, as well as what is clearly a sly promo for Coca-Cola at the end.
“From now on, brothers, everybody stands on his own feet.” This would be a great summary statement of what the monastic vow of poverty actually meant to most monks, historically. With regards to monasteries being the only places that have ever fulfilled the socialist ideal “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need,” I would add that they were able to do this because they valued the division of labor and the potential good of enterprise.
Monasteries, ancient and medieval, were centers of production, invention, and exchange, in addition to faith and worship. We may often think of the Scriptures and works of literature, philosophy, or theology that they copied in their scriptoria, but these same communities have also left us volumes of financial records, documenting extensive holdings in land and capital, as well as ventures in banking, lending, and long distance trade.
For one monk’s take on the good of commerce, see my recent Acton Commentary, “The Monk as Merchant,” here.
Also, I’ll be lecturing again on “Markets & Monasticism” at this year’s Acton University, our summer conference. If you haven’t done so already, take the time to learn more about it here.
In the latest Journal of Markets and Morality, Joseph Gorra reviews Dr. Charlie Self’s new book, Flourishing Churches and Communities, calling it a “joyous, practical, and insightful primer to the integration of ‘faith, work, and economics” that will inspire “a pathway for leaders of Pentecostal thought to reflect on public life in a renewed way.”
The book is one of four tradition-specific primers from the Acton Institute, and although it focuses specifically on a Pentecostal perspective, Gorra rightly observes that Self writes in a way that draws wide appreciation for the work of the Spirit in economic life. Avoiding “provincial understandings” of Pentecostals themselves, Self is careful to present Pentecostalism in a “nontriumphalistic manner,” Gorra writes, which mainstream evangelicals may find “accommodationist to many of their own theological sensibilities.”
As an example, the book seeks to highlight and illuminate five key principles, which on their face fit rather snugly within these discussions across Christianity as a whole:
Work is good.
Although sin has effaced human nature and work, it has not erased the divine nature in people and the ability to bring good to the world.
God has reconciled the world to himself in Christ and is now working through the church to express the life of the kingdom in the present age.
God the Holy Spirit actively energizes compassion for the poor and wealth creation for community flourishing.
Cultural, economic, and social institutions are built on transcendent moral foundations.
As Gorra duly notes, numbers 4 and 5 are perhaps the most distinctly Pentecostal, demonstrating where Pentecostalism may offer its most distinct contribution to such matters: (more…)
Dorothy Sayers, playwright, novelist and Christian scholar, wrote an important work in the 1930s entitled, Are Women Human? In her essay, she presents the biblical case for gender equality in a humorous and insightful way, grounding mutuality in theological anthropology. From the Genesis narratives to the new earth of Revelation, she affirms this thesis:
We are all human beings, made in the image of God with a job to do. And we do our jobs as a man or a woman.
This theological vision — of men and women in mutual love and respect carrying out their vocations for the glory of God and the good of others — undergirds the best of ecclesial, economic, political, and social liberty, and it has implications for the full range of human interactions and relationships. Notice the order of reflection: Creator > human identity > the call to worship/work > gender identity.
Alas, the effacing (not erasing) of the imago dei has led humankind down all manner of oppressive pathways, from dehumanizing and disintegrating practices of pagan and secular ideologies to the degrading subjugation of women, minorities, and many others in the name of “religious tradition.”
For followers of Jesus, a full vision of God’s reign includes living the future now in the power of the Holy Spirit, with the church as the herald and witness of the fullness to come. This includes redeeming the wholeness of being human, integrating all facets of individual and social being, including relational shalom. Women and men who love Jesus are icons of the coming kingdom. Singleness is not incompleteness, but a signpost of a future where all God’s people are married to Christ and sisters and brothers of one another. Marriage is a special illumination of Christ’s delight in his church, not a superior status. (more…)