What does the Bible say about wealth creation? Can wealth creation lead to Biblical human flourishing?
Earlier this year two evangelical groups, the Lausanne Movement and BAM Global, released a paper exploring biblical perspectives on the theme of ‘wealth creation for holistic transformation’ to address these questions and more.
The paper begins by considering the meaning of the terms ‘wealth’ and ‘holistic transformation.’ First, they discuss the concept of wealth:
Biblically speaking, wealth is a concept embodying strength, power, riches, and substance. Sometimes ‘riches’ and ‘wealth’ occur together, but they are synonymous, and really serve to reinforce each other—a common feature in ancient writing. Strength and power are indicative of an owner’s legal right to use or dispose of possessions for private benefit. This is broadly in line with the contemporary definition of wealth in terms of accumulated financial and real net assets (‘substance’). Laypersons often use the terms wealth (a stock concept—at a point in time) and income (a flow concept—over a period of time) interchangeably, but in the interests of precision, wealth is regarded as the value of net assets (gross assets minus gross liabilities) of an entity such as a business, household, or individual.
Next, they explain what is meant by holistic transformation:
In a limited business paradigm the primary or sole focus is on maximizing profit for the owners. The growing corporate social responsibility (CSR) movement emphasizes accountability to society as a whole for the ‘triple bottom‒line’ impact of social and environmental outcomes as well as financial results. BAM [i.e., the Business as mission movement] affirms all of these but also includes a 4th bottom-line, intentionally revealing and honoring Christ and seeing Him transform lives through business. BAM is CSR+, as it were. The + can also be seen as a cross—putting everything under the Lordship of Christ.
The paper also examines the biblical foundations for wealth creation, observing that wealth creation is rooted in God the Creator (Genesis 1 and Psalm 104) who purposed us to express his creative nature through work and carrying for the garden (Genesis 2):
The Bible makes a bold claim, namely, that wealth creation is rooted in God the creator. He is the ultimate source of all wealth. Genesis 1:1 declares, ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.’ And Genesis 2:1 notes that the creation of the heavens and the earth was completed on the sixth day. ‘God saw all that He had made, and it was very good’ (Gen 1:31a). The word in Hebrew that is translated ‘very good’ is closely related to shalom which is normally translated as ‘peace’, but also means completeness or wholeness, wholeness of the individual person, wholeness of human interactions with one another and wholeness of relationship between humankind and all creation.
The goodness of his creation is celebrated in Psalm 104, which provides a kind of mind map of creation starting with God (vv. 1-4), then moving to the earth (vv. 5-9), provision of productive resources (vv. 10-13), relationship between man and creation (vv. 14-26), relationship between created beings and God (vv. 27-30), and acknowledgment of God the Creator (vv. 31-34).
God created humanity ‘in our image, according to our likeness’ (Gen 1:26a) and delegated to humanity a co-creation role. In Genesis 1:28 this role is specified as to ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the earth’ (see also Ps 8:6-8). In doing so, God did not transfer ownership (see Ps 50: 10-12).
That wealth creation is ultimately rooted in God the creator is emphasised in Leviticus 25:23 and Proverbs 8:18-21 and echoed in 1 Chronicles 29:11-12.