It seems to me that they should. “Economic freedom” can be a legitimate good without being an ultimate good. It should be something we care about and work toward (in proportion to our gifts and calling) even if it, in and of itself, it will save no one in the ultimate sense (in the same way that we should care about well-functioning Fire Stations even though they cannot prevent people from the flames of hell).

Wayne Grudem recently recommended some good books on economic development, and the brief videos below stimulate further thinking on these issues:

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Comments:


29 thoughts on “Should Christians Care about Economic Freedom?”

    1. Bar says:

      @ Andrew What in the heck are “Gospel centered economics”?

  1. Andrew Thomas says:

    While I am certainly in favor of economic freedom, the video is a product of the Koch brothers. These two gentlemen have a really skewed sense of economic freedom that I find to be out of step with gospel centered economic ideals.

    1. Phil B says:

      @Andrew How so? And this isn’t one of those snarky “how so’s.” It’s a completely ignorant “How so?” I found each video compelling and am interested in hearing how gospel-centered people are thinking about these things. Thanks.

      1. Dan S. says:

        The “Koch Brothers” are the left’s new boogeymen du jour.

  2. looselycult says:

    Why does economic development have to stop and free market economics according to conservative evangelicals? The system that exists now is only about two hundred years old. We had various other systems prior to that. Why then do we just say well this is the best of the best it will never get this good so let’s not move beyond this point. Why?

  3. Roger McKinney says:

    We should care about economic freedom because of the long history of the search for the “just price” by the Church. The just price was one of the major topics of theology in the middle ages. Merchants wanted to know how to charge just prices in order to not sin.

    By the 16th century Church scholars had determined that the variables affecting prices are too numerous for anyone but God to know. The closest humans could come to a just price is in a market in which exchanges are free of coercion and fraud, in other words a free market.

    Reinforcing the importance of free markets was the Church’s recognition of the sanctity of property in the Bible. To own property means to control that property and be free to dispose of it as you wish, which requires a free market. Free markets are nothing but the instatiation of the idea of property rights. Without freedom, people don’t really have property.

    Around the same time Church scholars debated the role of the state, and many came down on the side of limited government. They said the state’s job is to protect the life, liberty and property of its citizens and nothing else.

    The first nation to put together the ideas of free markets, respect for property and limited government was the Protestant Dutch Republic of the 16th and 17th centuries. Until the Dutch, all nations got their wealth by stealing it from others in warfare. The Dutch were the first to achieve wealth and power through manufacturing and trade. The Dutch Republic was Adam Smith’s ideal in his “Wealth of Nations.”

    Check out this chart and you’ll see the results of the Dutch implementation of free markets and their spread to England, the US, and Western Europe: http://www.economist.com/blogs/dailychart/2011/06/quantifying-history

    Finally, Christians should care about free markets because slightly freer markets in China have lifted over 300 million out of starvation poverty to relative wealth. No charity was involved and no charity program has ever come even close to this kind of poverty reduction in the history of mankind.

    Freer markets lifted the West out of the Malthusian cycles of famine that plagued mankind since Adam was kicked out of the garden. In the past generation they have lifted hundreds of millions of Koreans, Chinese and Indians out of the worst kind of poverty.

    If Christians care about the poor, they will care about free markets.

    1. Marty says:

      Yes, I’m broadly with you Roger. But I’ll hazard an observation (in an area I know little about!):

      “To own property means to control that property and be free to dispose of it as you wish, which requires a free market.”

      I think this is the nub of the problem. In a free market system, the individual, guided by their moral understanding (or lack of) determines how capital is used – invariably for more profit, or personal investment. A socialistic system sees a greater degree of state influence on the use of capital. As history shows us arguably, more people are held in poverty with unprofitable state planning. The free market does bring a greater degree of poverty relief. (Though I query, from Pinochet’s Chile, to modern China, not neccessarily more freedom…?)

      Be that as it may, the argument from a Christian point of view, is that the free market is the lesser of two evils, if we conduct the discussion in that left / right sense.

      And yet… I’m challenged by my sermon for Sunday night coming: Luke 12 v13-21, the Parable of the Rich Fool. In his “Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes” book, Ken Bailey draws attention to the fact that the rich fool conducts his business entirely in spite of the greater community welfare. This,says Bailey, was entirely contrary to the Jewish (i.e. OT) worldview, which sees property and wealth as entirely a gift of God, to be used for the benefit of Israel. The Parable thereby exposes short term human greed over and against life lived within the context of God’s eternal plan.

      As things stand, the free market is a better way at present. But we have to struggle with the damage that the market can do in terms of exacerbating human sin and greed, until Christ returns. So I suggest restraint in terms of a wholehearted embrace of free market economics.

      1. Matt says:

        Well said indeed!

  4. Michael Boyd says:

    Recommendations:
    1) Ludwig Von Mises Institute http://mises.org/. This is the site of Austrian economics. If you’ve never heard of it, you owe it to yourself to check it out and consider what they have to say.
    2) R.C. Sproul Jr.’s book on Biblical Economics is excellent.
    3) Jay W. Richard’s Money, Greed and God- Why Capitalism is the Solution and Not the Problem is excellent at showing why capitalism/free market is good. There is a lot of undeserved negativism out there in regards to capitalism. This book confronts this quite well. I also found this book to be filled with a lot of wisdom.

  5. David Smith says:

    Yes, what we’ve seen in Greece today should remind us all that nobody is safe from having their lives significantly changed by government willing to bail our banks and other nations at the expense of their own people.

  6. looselycult says:

    Well said Marty.

  7. Dean P says:

    Yeah I read Richards book “Money, Greed, And God” and was unimpressed for it’s over-simplistic generalizations, it’s lack of thorough Biblical exegesis, it’s persistence in continuing the trend of most evangelicals to quickly brush past and brush under the rug the actual damage that capitalism has done historically. On top of that Richards has the blatant audacity to almost assume that the invisible hand of the free market is synonymous with the invisible hand of God’s sovereign providence. Give me a break.

  8. Paul Mueller says:

    I’m not sure what you expect from a free market (capitalistic) system. Do you expect it to create heaven on earth? Do you expect it to make all people, Christian and non-Christian, perfect?

    I agree that there are dangers to living in a capitalistic society–there can be dangers to eating too. The purpose of the church and the Christian is to discern what is right and wrong in God’s sight and act accordingly. I would argue this can happen much more easily in a free market system.

    And what is the alternative? Clearly no one has suggested that communism or complete redistribution is a viable option. So having reservations about the free market must mean supporting various government interventions. Now we can start having a conversation.

    Free market doesn’t mean no government, or that people will do what is moral. Free market means that people are free to make choices and cooperate with each other to pursue their various ends. Some of these ends we disagree with and think are wrong. Our job as Christians is to preach the Gospel and persuade people that their ends are wrong. I don’t believe the government (especially at the federal level) is a suitable instrument for doing that.

    At the end of the day I don’t think the question is whether government should get involved in protecting the environment, promoting education, promoting safety, etc. The question is how involved should it be.

    I think it is far too involved–federal regulations now fill up 86000 pages fo the Federal Register; and most federal agencies have gone far beyond protecting the basic health and welfare of Americans–they have launched crusades forcing their own agenda on businesses & individuals and then picking winners and losers.

    That is contrary to free markets and it’s contrary to the well being of citizens in the US

  9. Looselycult says:

    “That is contrary to free markets and it’s contrary to the well being of citizens in the US.”

    In your opinion.

  10. telos104 says:

    @Paul, agree…One reason I support free markets is that they (generally, esp given the other invasive alternatives) model how humans are designed and created to thrive – in freedom, not in bondage. Also, critics want to be dismissive, however, they don’t seem to understand free markets at their basic level. Free markets actually pre-suppose the things that they (critics) seem to champion (but don’t really) – relationships, good of the whole, health, etc.

  11. The problem with these discussions is that there is very little reflection on what precisely is “freedom.”

    William Cavanaugh, a former student of Hauerwas, has a brilliant little book, “Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire.” He points out that these conversations are dominated by modernist Enlightenment liberal (proper) views of “freedom,” when instead we should have a Pauline and Augustinian view of freedom.

    In the philosophical tradition, these are known descriptively (not evaluatively) as “negative freedom” and “positive freedom.”

  12. Looselycult says:

    Good and astute observations Aaron I will have to check that book out. But you do realize that by mentioning a book by “a student of Hauerwas” on this blog any good point or argument that you or he might make has just been written off by most of the posters here as just “typical isolationistic Ana-Baptist liberal drivel.”

    1. The irony, of course, being that philosophically-speaking, Grudem is the liberal (proper), along with many evangelical rightists, while Hauerwas & Co. are more radically conservative (rejecting liberalism).

      I picked up and read some parts of Grudem’s book “Politics According to the Bible.” He simply baptizes Enlightenment liberalism, and prooftexts some Bible verses to try to support it. There’s no digging “under the hood” whatsoever.

      “Freedom” is good. But as Christians, we must think critically about what true freedom is, and not uncritically adopt our culture’s definitions of freedom.

      1. Theologian says:

        Aaron,

        I think the very nature of Grudem’s righting style, intentionally so, is to compile Bible verses and then offer a cursory interpretation see for instance “Systematic Theology”. Whether you agree with him or not, I think you would be pretty satisfied with the “digging” that Grudem does behind the scenes. His writing (IMHO) is meant to be the distillation of research, not the regurgitation of things.

  13. Looselycult says:

    Uh Oh, somebody said something negative about Grudem. Blasphemy!

  14. I should add that I appreciate Grudem very much. I like that he brings the Reformed tradition into conversation with the pentecostal tradition, and I have a copy of his Systematic Theology on my shelf. At Bible college, I was known as the Grudem-guy.

    However, it’s fascinating to see how much his “Politics According to the Bible” is at odds with his own theology. It was disappointing, but I can’t say that I was surprised. The popular Christian imagination in the U.S. is almost completely colonized by neoliberalism, such that guys like Hauerwas appear “liberal” when they’re the ones pointing out how much conservative Christians have in fact ceded to liberalism (Grudem included, as far as economics go).

  15. Paul Mueller says:

    Personally I was not very impressed with “Being Consumed: Economics & Christian Desire”. The author didn’t seem to have a strong grasp or appreciation of economic theory relative to alternative political systems.

    I think it is important to differentiate between a system of freedom and how we might define freedom from a Christian point of view.

    The Bible teaches that non-Christians are slaves to sin and that Christians have been freed from the slavery of sin in Christ (not that we don’t sin, but we are able, by God’s grace, to not sin). So freedom there has nothing to do with political external constraint.

    So the claim of this video is that a system of political and economic freedom leads to better material outcomes. We can argue about whether we want more wealth as a society but that is a pretty different discussion than whether freedom promotes a wealthier (healthier, longer-living, just) society.

  16. Paul says:

    I understand that there’s a problem with finding a good alternative to the capitalist system. Nevertheless, the Bible condemns greed repeatedly and it condemns usury several times. It does seem a wee bit difficult to combine those verses with support for capitalism which relies on both greed and usury to be efficient.

    I also know that some people distinguish self interest from greed. But to me, self interest in a capitalist economy is just a polite phrase for greed and I’m not seeing anything in the Bible which says what a great idea it would be if everyone was self interested. If you have Bible verses to support the idea that people should be self interested, please let me know.

  17. The example I use is the difference between a bank versus a credit union. Banks are based on self-interested competition, credit unions are based on mutual cooperation.

    Phil 2:3-4, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”

    American Christians look down their noses at Latin American or African Christians who syncretize their Christian faith with pagan mysticism or spirituality. But American Christians don’t realize how much they themselves have syncretized their faith with Americanism and classical liberalism (and liberal capitalism). In 300 years, if the Lord doesn’t return sooner, Christians will look back in amazement that Christians thought that liberal capitalism was compatible with scripture, which so explicitly rejects the core tenets of classical liberalism.

    If it sounds far-fetched to suggest that liberal capitalism is incompatible with Christianity, just look at the philosophical underpinnings of capitalism: modernist Enlightenment liberalism. Modernist liberalism is antithetical to Christian confession in every way. (Modernist vs. Fundamentalist debates, anyone?) Modernism is literally functional, de facto atheism.

    (Paul Mueller, it’s evident from your comment that you are unfamiliar with (or have forgotten) the contours of Cavanaugh’s arguments.)

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Justin Taylor


Justin Taylor is senior vice president and publisher for books at Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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