“The word of God alive, empowered by the Holy Spirit . . . [creates the] empowerment of every believer to fulfill the will of God in a maximal way in whatever vocation God calls them to.” – Charlie Self, author of “Flourishing Churches and Communities”
“I’m convinced . . . that God’s word is sufficient . . . [but] we all recognize that the Bible doesn’t have a theory of economics.” -Chad Brand, author of “Flourishing Faith”
It can be tough to apply Scripture to the problems we face in our daily work. The Bible provides sound teaching, but it doesn’t give a neat, explicit answer for every question we face. Most of the tough choices we face in our work fall within thorny areas of ambiguity where we can’t simply point to a tidy Bible passage for a ready-made solution.
Complex social systems, like the economy, raise this problem even more acutely. The authors of the Bible weren’t living in our modern economy when they wrote. Much of what the Bible says about economics is addressed to the agricultural economy of its time. Are we doomed to go without any scriptural guidance for economic systems?
One approach to this dilemma came out in our recent dialogue on faith, work, and economics with three authors from diverse evangelical traditions. The first question we asked our authors was: “What resources in your tradition help us explore faith, work, and economics?” Naturally they started with the Bible, but they also immediately mentioned the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit remained central throughout their answers to this question.
All three authors – Charlie Self, Chad Brand, and Patrick Eby – emphasized that the Holy Spirit gives believers the ability to apply Scripture to their lives. Self noted that this belief has been central to evangelical faith from Martin Luther to the present day, and is especially emphasized in his own tradition of Pentecostalism. Brand described how Baptists have “rediscovered the Holy Spirit” in the past half-century. Eby drew our attention to the integration of Spirit-driven experience with other God-given sources of formation – Scripture, tradition, and reason – in the Wesleyan tradition.Brand also raised the topic of economics. While affirming that “God’s word is sufficient,” he also said that “we all recognize that the Bible doesn’t have a theory of economics.” In the larger context of the discussion and in light of what he writes in his book “Flourishing Faith,” he did not mean that the Bible teaches nothing about economics – far from it! Rather, he reminds us that the Bible does not provide a comprehensive system or ideology of economics. There could never be a “biblical economic system” in the same sense in which there is a free enterprise economic system; there could never be a “biblical school of economics” in the same sense in which there is a Keynesian school of economics or neoclassical school of economics.
There are, however, general truths in Scripture that apply to economic systems. In “Flourishing Faith,” Brand specifically identifies some biblical principles – such as the value of productive work and respecting the rights of others – that apply not only to individual lives, but to institutions and economic systems. “How God Makes the World a Better Place,” which Eby co-authored with David Wright and others, identify moral virtue, the rule of law, ownership rights, and an ethic of value creation as some of the core Wesleyan principles that apply to economic systems.
From the Kern Pastors Network. Image: Jennifer Woodruff Tait.