Chad Brand says “the Bible does not explicitly lay out a theory of economics in a political context” (p.111). Because of this, it seems many Christians are ambivalent about such things, believing it does not really matter what position one takes. And yet, regardless of whether or not we recognize it, or are able to articulate it, we all live by some political economic worldview. Further, though the Bible does not promote one particular political economic theory, it does speak to issues of work, money, ethics and relationships. Our understanding of these issues forms the basis for our worldviews, so it becomes imperative that Christians understand and apply those biblical principles. This is particularly important where Christians participate in democracies with free elections – politicians govern in light with their political economic theories, and these theories have genuine spiritual implications.
In Flourishing Faith, Baptist pastor, professor and author, Chad Brand, introduces political economic theory from a baptistic, free church perspective. Though written from an American perspective for an American audience, the underlying principles are transcultural and all readers will find value here.
Brand approaches this theme by presenting a biblical theology of work (God created us to work and work is a noble vocation), wealth (having wealth is not the issue, but rather how one gets and uses wealth), and government (a necessary institution, but should be limited because of the damage caused by an over-reaching bureaucracy). He develops these themes by providing brief surveys of pertinent biblical teaching and histories of how these themes were understood and applied. Brand does a good job in covering a lot of ground in relatively few pages. Readers will come away with a good overview of this subject.
There are three major competing economic theories, according to Brand.
Scottish moral philosopher, Adam Smith, in his ground-breaking work An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776), “advocated the principle of “natural liberty,” which meant, for him, that people ought to have the freedom to do what they want with little interference from the state, so long as they are law-abiding citizens” (pp.96-7)
Karl Marx articulates the socialist economic theory in The Communist Manifesto (1848) co-authored with Friedrich Engles, and Das Kapital (1867). Among other things, Marx called for the abolition of private property and rights of inheritance. He believed credit, communication and transportation should be centralized in the hands of State. Factories and production facilities should be centrally owned. He promoted a progressive tax system and free education for all. Virtually all economic life should be directed by the State.
Governmental Management Model
Cambridge (England) economist, Milton Keynes, in a highly technical work, The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (1936) argued that Marx was not entirely right in his economic theory. While Marx believed free market entrepreneurialism was inherently unreformable, Keynes believed it could be reformed through government management of the economy. Brand highlights the “most enduring claim” of the Keynesian theory: “Mass unemployment had a single cause, inadequate demand, and an easy solution, expansionary fiscal policy” (p.104). Brand then concludes:
To boil that down to its basics, Keynes was saying that when there is mass unemployment, the government must insert itself into the economy with significant stimulus spending. Of course, if there is mass unemployment, it is also likely that government spending resources will be at low ebb. So, in such situations, governments must either borrow heavily in order to stimulate the economy or they must raise taxes on the wealthiest persons in society or both. When they insert such a fiscal stimulus, unemployment will go down. This is Keynesian economics at its most basic level, what we might call the governmental management model (p.104).
It doesn’t take much reflection to realize that Keynesian economic theory is the accepted wisdom of the day in the American political arena. And it does carry significant implications for the country going forward. While all three economic theories have Christian proponents, Brand shows that the free market view has been the most widely held view among Baptists.
But why should Baptists care about political economic theories anyway – especially over-burdened, time-starved pastors? Aren’t Baptists concerned with spiritual matters: evangelism, discipleship and church-planting? Anticipating the question, Brand provides five excellent reasons why Christians should understand economic theory.
- The Bible speaks to economic issues: acquiring and disposing of money and property, fair wages, and stewardship of the earth.
- Understanding political economics helps us understand the world in which we live.
- It leads to a more comprehensive model of Christian discipleship.
- We need a solid theology of work and economics.
- All political theories hold theological implications.
As a Primer, I believe the book succeeds – it provides an easily grasped introduction to the subject, lays out the major themes, and provides direction for those interested in digging deeper. Each chapter concludes with a series of probing questions encouraging reflection and a bibliography for further in-depth reading.
I recommend this book for all Christians, and especially for pastors and teachers who have responsibility for guiding others into a clearer understanding of how worldviews impact our day-to-day decisions. It would be a great small group study.