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‘Economic Wisdom for Churches’: Restoring a biblical economic narrative

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The faith-work movement has spurred many churches to begin seeing the bigger picture of God’s design and purpose for economic activity. Yet the church’s role and responsibility in economic discipleship doesn’t end with a basic shift in our thinking.

Once we receive the basic revelation of God’s plan for our work and the broader economic order, where do we go from there? Such revelation opens the door to a range of new challenges, whether wrestling with practical questions about work and vocation, providing proper economic discipleship, changing our approach to missions and poverty alleviation, or helping navigate the subsequent theological debates. Indeed, for many of us, the journey has just begun.

In an effort to equip and empower churches in these very areas, the Oikonomia Network has released a new volume, Economic Wisdom for Churches: A Primer on Stewardship, Poverty, and Flourishing. Edited by Greg Forster and Adam Joyce, the book includes accessible, concise essays that explore a range of economic topics from a Christian perspective, from stewardship and value creation to responsible action and public discipleship.

As Bruce Baker explains in the book’s introduction, the church can’t simply accept the economic sphere as “legitimate” and proceed blindly from there. The marketplace is in need of all that Christianity has to offer, whether in moral imagination, distinctive economic action, or otherwise. The church ought to be well prepared to bear their witness to truth and goodness accordingly:

What we need is a narrative capable of absorbing, assimilating, and transcending the inexorably complicated tradeoffs inherent in the market system. Religious narratives help people make sense of life by providing the context of a moral universe in which people accept their God-given responsibility to care for strangers, steward the environment, and build economic shalom.

In the absence of a telos, or higher purpose based in a transcendent narrative, lesser narratives will emerge to justify the premise of a moral market. The pragmatism of self-interest thus emerges by default as justification for the goodness and power of the market. It all comes down to natural forces, fueled by self-interest… As educators, business persons and people of faith, we need to reclaim a theological metanarrative to guide the power of our economic engines. The sustainability of our economy and the moral integrity of our culture depends upon it.

For example, the Acton Institute’s Jordan Ballor offers an essay that focuses specifically on economic value and what a Christian approach and perspective might be. “Markets are great at giving us what we want, but what should we want?” he asks.

Whereas economists typically prefer to elevate and idolize consumer desires in their analysis and prescriptions, Christians must seek to “evaluate what we do want in light of what we should want,” keeping the kingdom of God at the forefront:

The challenge for Christians living in a world of subjective value and objective moral obligation is to increasingly form preferences according to the norms of the kingdom of God…

Subjective and objective elements of value must be recognized and properly related. Exclusive focus on subjective value unhinges human activity from objective moral norms. Exclusive focus on objective value risks stunting the freedom and diversity of gifts and talents that God has provided to human beings. Christians must learn to be good stewards of that freedom and responsibility by exercising it in accordance with God’s will.

This amounts to a challenge to properly relate the material and the spiritual; the temporal, the penultimate, and the ultimate. Jesus provides guidance precisely at this point. Warning his hearers about excessive worry about earthly goods like food, drink, and clothes, Jesus said that “the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these will be added to you” (Matt. 6:32-33).

Authors include a range of other Acton friendlies and familiars, including Victor Claar, Amy Sherman, Scott Rae, Tom Nelson, and Charlie Self, among others.

For Christians and churches seeking to expand their view of Christian thought and action on economic matters, Economic Wisdom for Churches is a welcome resource, digging deep on a range of specific economic issues and concerns.

You can download a free PDF of the book here.

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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 Christian Post, The Stream, Intellectual Takeout, Foundation for Economic Education, Patheos, LifeSiteNews, The City, 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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