A Christian View of Capitalism

Money is dear to us humans. However, universal agreement quickly ends when the discussion turns to issues like creating, controlling, distributing or protecting wealth on a societal scale. Witness the never–ending angst surrounding the World Bank and UN trade summits. Capitalism has often been blamed for the inequities among and within societies, like post–Communist Russia, in which it attempts to take hold. Yet, is there a more fundamental cause for the abuses that come into play in a capitalistic (or any other) society? Many tie Christianity inextricably with capitalism. Indeed, economist Max Webber argued that Calvinist doctrine created the seedbed for capitalism's "rational asceticism," as Wolfhart Pannenberg puts it, but that early capitalism's other–worldly focus and religious dedication was secularized over time in a rush for wealth. This, Webber claims, creates a capitalist system bearing little resemblance to the motivations from which it sprang.

Thus, some distinctions regarding purist capitalism and the Christian view of economics are in order. We join in this task in our Special Focus, while discussing the worldview considerations of economics and its relationship to governance and freedom.

Some economists admit that their field is just as much a social science—whose core issue is human nature—as it is a hard mathematical science, as has been the predominant view in recent decades. Historians show us that up until the recent past, economics was inexorably bound up with the fields of ethics, government and even theology. For example, Augustine and the Bible both say much about how our view of man effects our view of wealth, poverty and economics and how these issues relate directly to sin, righteousness, justice and mercy. According to the 1981 statement by the Institute on Religion and Democracy, Christianity and Democracy, "We believe that the personal and institutional ownership and control of property—always as stewards of God to whom the whole creation belongs—contributes greatly to freedom. We note as a matter of historical fact that democratic governance exists only where the free market plays a large part in a society's economy." The Church universal is still debating the balance of values like mercy for the poor and the common good of the majority. Whatever your view, sample our Special Focus for more....

—Byron Barlowe, Editor/Webmaster, Leadership University

Feature Articles:

Justice, Mercy, and Economics
Paul A. Cleveland
Cleveland critiques what he sees as government's illegitimate use of its power for the redistribution of wealth, resulting in economic hardship, societal discord and the loss of freedom. This, he says, is a far cry from mercy, by which a benefactor willingly bequests, rather than being forced to give up that which he has attained.

A Biblical View of Economics
Kerby Anderson
This article provides a biblical framework for economics by showing how a biblical view of human nature is key in developing an economic system. The program also discusses the free enterprise system and addresses the economic and moral critiques of capitalism.

Money: A Biblical Point of View
Christian Leadership Institute
What does the Bible say about money? Is it all bad?

Morality, Prosperity
Gene Edward Veith
Veith insists that, "a free-market economy requires a moral culture." The ill-fated economy of Russia—which never developed into a market economy—provides a vivid example of a failure to wed the two.

Related Articles and Reviews:

Economics as Humanism
Michael Novak
Novak argues that the discipline of economics, particularly in its manifestation through the Austrian School, is more than a science of mathematical models.

Wealth and Poverty
Kerby Anderson
What do biblical views of wealth and poverty have to tell us about living today?

Choosing Abundance
John P. Sisk
Sisk propounds deep considerations of waste and abundance in modern society.

Two Cheers for Class
Peter L. Berger
Berger, Director of the Institute for the Study of Economic Culture at Boston University, draws from "pre–1960s sociology" to question the legitimacy of our present academic understanding of "class." After commenting on sister concepts "race" and "gender," he maintains that the class system leaves more room for achievement and social mobility—a mainstay of capitalism—than do ascribed systems, in which "the game [of social ordering] was essentially fixed at birth." The class system, he maintains, is the least distasteful of our imperfect choices.

Book Review: The Coming Anarchy, by Robert D. Kaplan
First Things, June 2000
"Call it bracing or call it alarmist, Robert Kaplan has written a contrarian tract that is a necessary antidote to several brands of optimistic moonshine about the post–Cold War world.... Capitalism is not working for the vast majority of the world's people, he contends, and democracy requires social circumstances—mainly a stable middle class—enjoyed by relatively few. 'We are entering a bifurcated world. Part of the globe is inhabited by Hegel's and Fukuyama's Last Man, healthy, well fed, and pampered by technology. The other, larger, part is inhabited by Hobbes' First Man, condemned to a life that is "poor, nasty, brutish, and short."'"

Is Love Enough? Recreating the Economic Base of the Family
Nancy Pearcey
Design is not merely a scientific question. The reason origins questions excite such visceral responses is that they have profound moral and social implications. Pearcey offers fascinating insight into the history of women's role within the family, and shows how Darwinism influenced early feminism.

Other Resources on Outside Sites:

The Association of Christian Economists (ACE)
The ACE has two purposes: To encourage Christian scholars to explore and communicate the relationship between their faith and the discipline of economics; and to promote interaction and communication among Christian economists.

Globalization and Christian Ethics
From Discernment Online, the Web newsletter of The Center for Applied Christian Ethics at Wheaton College, Illinois. Leads off with the text of a debate held in 2000 on "The Ethical Challenges of Global Capitalism" featuring Michael Novak and Ron Sider and moderated by Michael Cromartie. Also includes, Ethical Questions Concerning the Global Market by Martin E. Marty and two other articles.

Evangelicals and the Poor
A Prism Forum Discussion (Prism is a branch of Evangelicals for Social Action)
"At a recent conference, Michael Cromartie of the Ethics and Public Policy Center stated: It is a settled issue that 'the least of these' among us be treated with both charity and justice. Twenty years ago in evangelical circles, talk of justice and the least of these would have gotten one branded as a liberal—marginalized as a dangerous, controversial radical...."

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