a socio-philosophic-theologic consideration
By Tom Rose
“What does the Bible have to say about the study of economics?
Can the Bible shed any light that would be useful to the economist?”
Perhaps the following incident will help provide a proper focus to deal with this question:
While in graduate school at a secular university, it was my good fortune to take some courses in economic development. The instructor was an acknowledged expert on India. He had spent a number of years serving as an economic consultant to the Indian planning authorities.
Since he was a professed atheist, he naturally left any consideration of a sovereign God out of his economic analysis; and, since he was an outspoken and dedicated socialist, he consistently followed socialist ideology in his policy recommendations.
Socialist ideology naturally leads planning authorities to strive for building a centrally controlled, politically directed economy, the purpose of which (though this is not openly stated) is to overrule the decisions of citizens as those decisions are expressed in what would otherwise be a developing free-market structure.
So, one day after class I approached my instructor and asked, “Did you realize that the Bible has some important things to say about the economic development of underdeveloped countries?”
His reaction was what one would expect from a person who rejects the revealed truth of the Bible. “If there is any relationship between the Bible and economics, I’m sure it is a negative relationship rather than a positive one,” was his sarcastic retort. (We might ask: Was this man being scientific or nonscientific in his perfunctory rejection?)
I then suggested that he read Deuteronomy, chapters 28 and 29, to see if the Bible did not indeed touch upon some of the very things we were then discussing in his class.
In my own reading, I had been impressed with the fact that if one reads the blessings (Deut. 28:2–14) which Moses said God would bestow if the Israelites would obey His Word, and the curses (Deut. 28:15–47) which would come if they didn’t, it would be readily seen that many of them are economic in nature.
“Blessed shall be thy basket and thy store” (v.5).
“Cursed shall be thy basket and thy store” (v.17).
The observant Christian, then, can clearly see that the Bible indicates a positive relationship between a people’s economic blessings and their adherence to biblical righteousness. And the professional economist or student, be he an atheist or a believer, ignores this objective revelation of biblical truth at his own peril.
At this point we might ask a pertinent question: Could the real problem concerning the lack of economic growth in India and other backward countries be spiritual instead of economic? Secular economists, almost to a man, would say no. But those with spiritual insight, which only the Bible can provide, would disagree. Suppose that India, as a nation, were to turn to the true God as Saviour and Lord? What religious changes, what social changes would take place that might open the door to more rapid economic progress?
“Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people” (Prov. 14:34).
“Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord … ” (Ps. 33:12).
Frankly, the question for the economist who is a Christian to ask is whether he believes what the Bible says or not.
Some years ago, the Sudan Interior Mission produced a remarkable film—remarkable because it focused on the inescapable relationship between theology and economics. The chieftains of two neighboring villages each sent his son to a missionary school for training. In the process of time one youth was converted to Christ, while the other remained pagan. Each son succeeded his father as chieftain of his village.
The young Christian chief immediately set about evangelizing his villagers. They heard the gospel; they were converted; and under the young chief ’s leadership, they gradually conformed their individual lives, and thus their society, to Christ as Lord. But the young pagan chief continued in the old ways of his forefathers. So did his people.
After some thirty years, the difference between the two neighboring villages was tremendous. The Christian village was a beehive of economic activity. The witchdoctor had long ago been replaced by indigenous ministers of the gospel. The village was free of disease; children attended schools where they learned reading, writing, and some basic technical skills; thievery was no longer a problem. In short, a general air of cleanliness, moral social order, and productive employment abounded.
The pagan village, however, continued being plagued with drunkenness, disease, and open sexual immorality. The witchdoctor still held a powerful and oppressive place in the pagan society. There was no organized household industry or small business ventures; and what little commerce existed was conducted on a slow barter basis. Since the individual’s right of private property was neither respected nor protected, capital accumulation lagged. People were motivated to consume all of their small produce immediately in the gratification of lustful pleasures rather than disciplining themselves to defer consumption via savings because a stronger individual, like the chief or the witchdoctor, might dispossess them of any wealth they might accumulate. In short, in the pagan village, chronic economic and social stagnation continued as it had for centuries before.
Question: In the light of such empirical evidence all over the world, is it “scientific” for economists to claim that there is a non-positive relationship between biblical revelation and economic progress as our Indian “expert” claimed?
An important reason for attempting to develop a consistent Christian perspective of economics is because there is a close relationship between economics, political science, and theology. Indeed, early economists like Adam Smith were known as moral philosophers and political economists. There is a good reason for this. Each sphere—the economic, the political, and the theological—acts upon and is acted on by the others.
It is important that we always keep this fact in mind. Any dichotomy, if unnaturally strained, will only serve to produce a false sense of independence and noninteraction between these spheres.
America’s recent excursion into mandated wage and price controls (August 15, 1971, to April 30, 1974) should suffice to show the close interaction between politics and economics that produces a very fragile relationship. And a deeper inquiry into the underlying presuppositions on which the rationale for political control of economic activities rests will show a base that is at heart theological in nature.
Perhaps a graphic illustration will be of help. We can explain the following illustration thus:
1. Man’s theology—that is, man’s view of God (or his non-God view) and his relationship (or non-relationship) to God—determines his philosophy of man (that is, the worldview of life that he holds of himself).
2. Man’s philosophy of man determines, in turn, his political philosophy.
3. Man’s political philosophy determines the kind of political system, or system of civil government, that he will collectively erect to make social exchange and interaction possible.
4. Man’s political system will largely determine the economic policies that are followed within a nation.
5. The economic policies that man applies within society will, in turn, determine what kind of structures and institutions evolve as men go about the process of pursuing their own self-interest. This structural-institutional setup which evolves within the socialpolitical milieu or environment is what is called the economic system of a country.
6. The economic system that happens to exist in a country will determine, to a large extent, the standard of living, or the level of want satisfaction, that the people of a nation enjoy. Economic systems cannot be changed unless the underlying ideas and philosophies are changed beforehand.
In short, we can see that the study of economics does not take place in a vacuum. We must study man where we find him. What man is, what he is conditioned to respond to, and the social structures and institutions through which he acts, and with which he interacts, is a product of his entire socio-philosophic-theologic milieu and heritage.
Do not misunderstand. This is not to say that economics is not a scientific study. To the contrary. This means that extra pains must be taken when man is the subject of inquiry, as he is in economic science, in order to assure that all influencing factors have been considered and taken into account. Man is a very complex being, and the social scientist who does not give full recognition to man’s complexity and the sources from which his complexity derives will be severely handicapped in his study of man and the world-system in which man must work by the sweat of his brow to survive. ***
Article from Chalcedon.edu. The Journal of Christian Reconstruction, Vol. 2 No. 1.