Christian Economics

Note: The following was originally an Address Delivered at a Conference on Christian Perspectives on the Free-Enterprise System sponsored by The Center for Business and Government, Liberty University, Lynchburg, Virginia April 7, 1989.

The Lord moves in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform. Surely the fact that someone from Pea Ridge, Arkansas — just south of Buzzard Glory, just west of Hog Scald Holler, just north of Hog Eye, and just east of Peavine — should address a gathering of scholars on the question “What is Christian economics?” demonstrates the old adage. Nonetheless, I hope this obscure Ozarkian might have something worth contributing to the discussion today.


The mysterious working of the Lord shows itself in part in the manner in which He has communicated His truth and will to His people. It might have been convenient if God had handed down from Heaven a single book, systematically arranged, that declared in unequivocal terms everything important for us to know about every conceivable subject. No doubt that would have eliminated the need for the writing of a good many systematic theologies, ethical systems, systems of physics and biology, even political constitutions. Life would indeed have been simpler, if less fascinating.

For whatever reasons, God didn’t do that. Instead, He gave us inscripturated revelation, inerrant and infallible indeed, but frustratingly nonsystematic. He didn’t even give it to us all at once, but spread out the revelation over some two thousand years, necessitating theologians’ explaining the principle of progressive revelation, on the grounds of which we believe that most ordinary Christians today know some important facts about God that Moses didn’t know in his day — a belief fraught with temptations to pride.

And, unless the labors of a great many commentators, theologians, and preachers for nearly two millennia have been wasted, we are forced to believe that in some sense even the Bible itself, that perfect and unequalled revelation, by which the man of God is thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16–17) — even the Bible itself, taken by itself, doesn’t fill all our needs for instruction. Why else do we find commentaries that outweigh their texts by fifty to one? And systematic theologies that are several times longer than the revelation they systematize? And whole sermons — some by the Puritans needing several hours to deliver — based on single verses? 1

Consider, for instance, the doctrine of the Trinity. Having spent some seven years in ministry to the pseudo-Christian cults, all of which are anti-Trinitarian in one way or another, I know well the most common charge of anti-Trinitarians: “The word trinity doesn’t even appear in the Bible!” And next to that comes this frustrating challenge: “Show me a single verse that teaches the doctrine of the Trinity!” Now I think there are some single verses that reveal the doctrine of the Trinity, but I know full well that they cannot be understood to do so except in the light of other verses. 2 In other words, I must teach someone how to systematize biblical revelation in order to persuade him that certain doctrines truly are biblical.

By God’s grace, of course, we have the shoulders of giants on which to stand. As modern Christians, we can point back to the magnificent labors of earlier generations of the faithful and say, “Look, here’s the Apostles’ Creed — or the Nicene Creed, or the Athanasian Creed, or the Chalcedonian Creed, or the Augsburg Confession, or the Westminster Confession, and so on — here’s this creed, and in it the faithful set forth the biblical position on this question.” And I dare say that whoever refuses to recognize the legitimate, though not paramount, authority of such historical tradition will find himself necessarily gravely stunted in his understanding of the faith once for all delivered to the saints. Any generation, much more any individual, who refuses to learn from history is condemned to repeat it, and there’s a great deal more doctrinal history than can be repeated in a single generation.

Now what does all this have to do with the question, “What is Christian economics?” Let me explain.

It has become common lately for people to deny that there is any such thing as “Christian economics.” (And in saying this I do not mean to imply that heretofore there has been such a thing as “Christian economics.”) The primary complaint is that the Bible simply doesn’t say much about economics, and what the Bible doesn’t say much about, the Body of Christ shouldn’t say much about, either — or if it does, it shouldn’t insist that what it says is “Christian” and that anything that conflicts with it is “non-Christian.”

The whole history of Christian thought protests against such an argument. For in principle, at least, it could be levied against a great deal of what we hold today as definitive of Christianity — including even our beloved doctrines of the inspiration, inerrancy, and authority of Scripture, on behalf of which some befuddled people deny the importance of Christian history. Hardly anyone with a serious claim to be a Christian would argue that there is no such thing as Christian systematic theology, or that the doctrine of the Trinity, or of the atonement, or of justification, is not a part of it. Yet in each instance, important aspects of the doctrine are not to be found explicit in Scripture. Rather, they are implicit, and the task of the biblical thinker is to make them explicit, not only in isolation from each other but also in all their interrelationships.

Now the history of Christianity is in large part the history of the effort to make explicit and systematic what is in Scripture implicit and nonsystematic. Indeed, James Orr argued persuasively, almost a century ago, that the temporal order of the development of Christian thought has followed the logical order, at least on a general and centuries-long scale. “The history of dogma,” he wrote, “. . . is simply the system of theology spread out through the centuries. . . .” Orr points to the order of subjects in a typical theological textbook: “Its opening sections are probably occupied with matters of Theological Prolegomena — with apologetics, the general idea of religion, revelation, the relation of faith to reason, Holy Scripture, and the like. Then follow the great divisions of the theological system — Theology proper, or the doctrine of God; Anthropology, or the doctrine of man, including sin . . .; Christology, or the doctrine of the Person of Christ; Soteriology (Objective), or the doctrine of the work of Christ, especially the Atonement; Subjective Soteriology, or the doctrine of the application of redemption (Justification, Regeneration, etc.); finally, Eschatology, or the doctrine of the last things. If now, planting yourself at the close of the Apostolic Age, you cast your eye down the course of the succeeding centuries, you find, taking as an easy guide the great historical controversies of the Church, that what you have is simply the projection of this logical system on a vast temporal screen.” 3

The ancient Church through the fifth century, Orr argues, was dominated first by theological prolegomena, chiefly apologetics, in the second century; then by theology proper, chiefly the doctrine of the Trinity, in the third and fourth centuries; by anthropology in the early fifth century; and by Christology from the later fifth through the seventh century. The chief Christological problems being settled, soteriology dominated theological debate throughout the next twelve centuries, beginning with objective soteriology from the eighth century until the beginning of the Reformation, and passing to subjective soteriology from the Reformers until the nineteenth century, when, according to Orr’s analysis, eschatology, the next logical element of systematic theology, came to the fore.

Now, I find Orr’s analysis convincing, at least in general if not in all details, for everything up to the nineteenth century. I differ with him here, perhaps because an added century affords more perspective on Orr’s own era. What seemed, in his day, to be the paramount question of theology — namely, eschatology — seems instead to be one of many bumps in the road of theological history. But the road itself, I think, is dominated, and has been dominated since the end of the seventeenth century, by an aspect of theology that Orr includes under soteriology, namely, sanctification. It is an aspect that I sorely wish were not so categorized in most systematic theologies, for treating sanctification as a mere subset of salvation fails to comprehend its great importance.

I find no grounds in Scripture for saying that we are saved for the purpose of affording inhabitants for Heaven — though no doubt such bliss awaits the elect. But I do find grounds for saying that we are saved for the purpose of becoming holy, in other words, of being sanctified. That is precisely what Paul wrote in Ephesians 1:4, that God “chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him.” Indeed, commentators regularly point out that the typical order of subjects in Paul’s epistles is this: doctrine first, then ethics, then practice, with practice growing out of ethics and ethics out of doctrine.

So, with all due respect to the great systematists of the past, I would like to suggest that we elevate hagiology from a subset of soteriology to a major department of systematics unto itself. And in terms of Orr’s analysis of the logical and historical progress of dogma, let me suggest that hagiology — the study of sanctification, or ethics and ethical practice — has dominated Christian thought for at least the last three centuries, and will, if the Lord tarries, dominate it for some time to come.

Ethics, then, both social and personal, is the chief current issue of theological debate, if we are looking not short-term but long-term. 4 And, properly understood, economics is a division of ethics. “[T]he economic problem,” wrote political philosopher Russell Kirk some thirty-five years ago, “blends into the political problem, and the political problem into the ethical problem, and the ethical problem into the religious problem. There exists a hierarchy of difficulties, as well as a hierarchy of values.” 5

It is as legitimate, therefore, to speak of Christian economics as of Christian ethics. And of those who protest that the Bible says little about economics I ask two things: first, that they remember that the Bible is God-breathed and “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16–17, emphasis added), and that economics is indeed a good work; second, that they remember that there was a time, seventeen centuries ago, when the claim that the Bible said little about the doctrine of the Trinity would have sounded as plausible as the claim today that it says little about economics.

In short, I believe that there is such a thing as Christian economics, even if it has not, to date, been systematized so thoroughly as many other departments of Christian thought. What those who hope to develop a truly Christian system of economics ask is that they be given time — something that every age of the Church has found indispensable for solving theological problems.

The Meaning of “Christian Economics”

Let me clarify, now, what I mean by “Christian economics,” for the term is open to easy misunderstanding.

First, what don’t I mean? I don’t mean secular economics practiced by Christians. After all, Christians occasionally practice adultery, and that doesn’t legitimate speaking of “Christian adultery.” My point is not that secular economics is morally equivalent to adultery, but that a Christian’s doing something doesn’t make the thing Christian.

Neither do I mean mere technical proficiency at economics. Some Christians lately have taken to saying that what is meant by doing something Christianly is simply doing it well. While that certainly is a necessary, it is not the complete, condition of calling any activity “Christian.” Christian faith ought indeed to engender in its adherents a commitment to excellence in whatever they do; but it ought also to make them willing to do some things and unwilling to do others. Forgetting that is tantamount to disconnecting ethics from practice.

No, I think any system of economics, if it is to claim the name “Christian” legitimately, needs to meet certain basic tests:

  1. It ought to appeal to Scripture as its supreme ethical standard and to construct both its chief elements and, where the Bible speaks to details, its details, too, by citation of and inference from biblical revelation, whether explicit or implicit.
  2. It ought never to embrace any principle or policy that runs contrary to biblical ethics.
  3. It ought to be based on biblical notions of the nature of God and of the nature of man, informed by both the doctrine of the image of God in man and the doctrine of the fall.
  4. It ought to comport with a biblical notion of limited civil government.
  5. It ought to give proper respect to the history of Christian thought in ethics.

Fundamental Principles of Christian Economics

In what remains of this essay, let me try to set forth a few fundamental principles of Christian economics that could, in my view, form part of the framework for a full-blown system of Christian economics. I do not claim that this list of principles is exhaustive, but I do think it includes some of the more important points. 6


The chief standard of Christian economics should be Scripture — Scripture carefully interpreted and applied, using the tools of reason and experience, including the collective reason and experience of the Church through the ages. The moment we place any other standard on a par with Scripture, we have embraced a sub-Christian epistemology. We may learn much from the creeds and books of the past, and even from unbelievers who share in the benefits of common grace, but Scripture must be the final judge in every controversy to which it speaks.

This said, let me address briefly one controversial issue: the relationship of biblical law to natural law, and the applicability of each to Christians and non-Christians. First, I believe it is illegitimate to dichotomize biblical law and natural law. As I understand it, the moral law of Scripture declares nothing that God does not reveal through creation and the conscience of every man (Romans 2:14–15), but it does reveal things more clearly. The two, in other words, are coextensive and must not be set against each other, but Scripture is more perspicuous than either nature or conscience. When there is a conflict between what someone claims to be natural law and what certainly is biblical law, we must recognize that the former is not natural law at all but an impostor.

Second, there is some question as to the applicability of Old-Testament moral law, first to the believer and second to the nonbeliever. As to the believer, I am convinced beyond any shadow of doubt that everything the Old-Testament moral law required of the faithful Israelite it requires of the faithful Christian today, not as a means of salvation but as a code of righteous living. 7 Indeed, the moral law was never a means of salvation to anyone, even under the Old Covenant (Galatians 3:11–24). But our being “redeemed . . . from the curse of the Law” (Galatians 3:13) must not be equated with being freed from the obligation to obey the law — that is, with a license to lawlessness, for sin is defined as transgression of the law (1 John 3:4), and lawlessness is equated with impurity and contrasted with righteousness and sanctification (Romans 6:19). Whoever reasons that because we are under grace we are free to sin — that is, to transgress the law — shows himself to be still under the curse of the law, that is, still a slave of sin. It is because we are under grace that sin no longer is master over us (Romans 6:14); instead, we who once were slaves of sin, and therefore under the curse of the law, are by grace made free from sin so that we enjoy the only real freedom there is, namely, slavery to righteousness (Romans 6:15–20). 8 Being born again and so indwelt by the Holy Spirit, we are empowered to keep the requirements of the law to an extent impossible for the unregenerate (Romans 8:4). The argument that for the Christian love replaces the law as the standard of ethical conduct fails to take seriously Paul’s insistence that love is the pleroma, the fulfillment, of the law, in which every commandment of the law is summed up (Romans 13:10). 9 Far from setting us free from obligation to obey the law, love points us to the law as our guide. 10

As to the unbeliever, let me suggest simply that at the very least the moral law of God remains today as much the way of wisdom as it was when it was revealed to Moses, who said that its wisdom would be apparent even to the pagan nations surrounding Israel (Deuteronomy 4:5–6). The law then was so perfectly suited to the needs of fallen human beings made in the image of God that even those outside the Covenant could recognize and admire its wise moral instruction. All men today remain fallen human beings made in God’s image and in need of moral instruction, and that same law remains perfectly suited to our needs for moral instruction. 11

Anthropological Foundations

Any truly Christian system of economics must have a Christian view of man. This immediately rules out Marxism, of course, the metaphysical materialism of which makes it incapable of understanding the real nature of man. It also rules out the sort of law-of-the-jungle social Darwinism that underlay the ideas of some late-nineteenth-century capitalists and theoreticians of capitalism like Herbert Spencer. And it rules out any form of economic equalitarianism, since this ignores the fundamental inequalities of human character and behavior, inequalities clearly revealed in Scripture. 12

Rather, Christianity has both a higher and a lower view of man than Marxism, social Darwinist capitalism, or equalitarianism. Bearer of the image of God, he is a creature both material and spiritual, endowed with reason, passion, and volition, designed to rule over the earth in glory and majesty (Genesis 1:26–28; Psalm 8:4–8). Fruit of infinite creativity, he displays magnificent variety of gifts and interests, variety that confounds every effort to force him into a single mold (Romans 12:3–8; 1 Corinthians 12:4–30). Bearer of the stain of sin, he is totally depraved, “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1), enslaved to sin (Romans 6:16–17), in hostile rebellion against God because of his refusal — indeed, his inability — to subject himself to the law of God (Romans 8:7). Man is neither machine nor angel nor devil, and any economic system that fails to account for man’s moral accountability, his uniqueness, and his sinfulness is doomed to self-destruction. Again, man was created to rule over the earth, not to be its slave, and any economic system that puts nature above humanity — as do some modern environmentalist movements — is therefore sub-biblical; as the sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath, so the earth was made for man, not man for the earth. 13

Ethical Foundations

Dozens of principles, of course, might be named under the heading of Christian ethics. Let me suggest five that have special bearing on economics:

  1. Justice. Far from its being the vague and imprecise word it has been made by competing ideologies of our day, justice has, in Scripture, a very precise meaning, though it is so large a concept as to reward extensive analysis. The Bible presents justice as rendering impartially to everyone his due in accord with the right standard of God’s moral law. 14 It does not imply that everyone deserves some predetermined share of wealth or honor or happiness, but that people’s deserts differ according to their deeds, and that it is just to observe those differences. It does, however, imply that people’s deserts are to be indifferently awarded them. Thus, for instance, Scripture expressly forbids being partial to either the poor or the rich in their disputes (Exodus 23:3, 6).Justice is the minimum standard of right conduct. It tells us what we must refrain from doing lest we injure another — and note carefully the etymological connection of the word injure with the word justice. Whatever God’s law does not prohibit, therefore, should remain a matter of freedom. Justice also requires punishment for violating the law, but only for that; it forbids punishment for anything else.
  2. Love. As justice is the minimum standard, so love is the high goal toward which Christian ethics always strives. Justice looks at the law negatively: don’t do this, don’t do that, lest you injure someone. Love looks at the law positively: do this, do that, in order to serve someone. Love never counsels us contrary to the law, but it does counsel us beyond it, telling us to give graciously what people may not deserve but do need (Romans 13:8–10; 1 John 3:16–18). Where justice sees the law’s prohibition of theft, love sees God’s intention that we do everything we can to assist others in lawfully acquiring wealth; as the Westminster Shorter Catechism (1647) puts it, the “eighth commandment requireth the lawful procuring and furthering the wealth and outward estate of ourselves and others” (Ques. 74).Love is to be contrasted with justice, however, in that while justice may be enforced by punishment for its violation, love may be induced only by moral persuasion or the promise of reward. Love, in other words, is voluntary; it cannot be forced. Therefore any economic system that attempts to force acts of love, such as charitable giving, violates the true nature of love and so commits injustice.
  3. Liberty. It follows from this discussion of justice and love that Scripture supports an ethic of liberty within the bounds of God’s law. This is not, of course, to be confused with an ethic of license, or no ethic at all. Quite the contrary, the Bible sees real liberty as the ability to do what is right, not as license to do wrong (Romans 6:15–20). So long as one acts within the bounds of the law, he should be free to do as he pleases without fear of punishment from anyone.Consequently, a Christian system of economics should place no more restraint on anyone’s use of property than the moral law of God revealed in Scripture places on it. Whatever system uses restraints beyond that is, to that extent, unjust and unchristian. However, neither should it put less restraint on the use of property than is demanded by the moral law of God. Christian economics, therefore, cannot be equated with laissez faire, but neither can it be equated with central planning.
  4. Property. The Bible protects property in the eighth commandment, “Thou shalt not steal.” This much almost every professing Christian will admit. What many do not recognize, however, is that a biblical notion of property includes the notion of control — a notion closely related to the principle of liberty that we just discussed.Toward the end of the parable of the laborers in the vineyard, Jesus portrays the landowner — who represents God — as saying to some grumbling laborers, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? . . . Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own?” (Matthew 20:13, 15). The phrase “doing . . . no wrong” translates the Greek adiko, a form of the verb adikeo, “to wrong [by] any violation of human or divine law,” to “treat someone unjustly,” to “injure. 15 Adikeo signifies action opposite to dikaioo, to “show justice, do justice.” 16 The stem of both verbs is dike, “justice,” 17 meaning whatever is in accord with the law, whatever is right according to the authoritative standard of right and wrong. Hence we should find it no surprise that adikeo may be translated “injure,” a word derived from the Latin privative prefix -in and the stem jus or juris, “right, law,” the same stem that we find in our words just, justice, judge, judgment, jurisprudence, and jurisdiction. What the landowner said amounts to, “Friend, I am not violating the law in my action toward you. . . . Is it not [therefore] lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own?”The comment rests on the fundamental principle that one may lawfully do whatever he wishes with what belongs to him so long as he does not in so doing violate God’s law in relation to someone else. So long as we use our property consistently with God’s law, civil law should protect our liberty rather than limiting or infringing it. 18Of particular importance, at a time when socialism almost always is thought more humane, even if less efficiently productive, than the free market, is the biblical principle that charity — an expression of grace (charis) through love — cannot be forced, but must be voluntary. One of the more striking incidents in the early days of the Jerusalem church involved Ananias and Sapphira, who, in an effort to look more generous than they were, pretended to give the church the whole price of a piece of land they sold. In the midst of Peter’s rebuke for their deceit falls this pregnant comment: “While [the land] remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold was it not under your control?” (Acts 5:4). Biblical ethics rests full responsibility for charitable giving on the owner of property; it cannot be compelled by church or state. As Paul put it, “Let each one do just as he has purposed in his heart; not grudgingly or under compulsion; for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7).

    Nonetheless, of course, liberty of property must not be equated with license. Scripture holds the owner of property fully responsible for any injury that it causes another while under his control, whether actual or presumptive (Exodus 21:28–36; 22:6). Civil law must do the same, and it is particularly here that civil law in largely capitalist countries needs most to be reformed to prohibit externalization of the costs of pollution. 19

  5. Incentives. Any economic system must come to grips with the problem of incentives: how to motivate people to produce. Systems that provide high incentives for production tend to produce more; systems that provide low incentives tend to produce less.While there are complex issues involved in any complete consideration of incentives, issues I have discussed elsewhere, 20 let me suggest that the chief choices about incentives facing anyone who hopes to devise a Christian system of economics are those between two chief types of incentives and two chief types of economic systems. The two types of incentives are reward and punishment, 21 and the two types of economic systems are the free market and the centrally controlled economy. 22The Bible, consistent with its doctrine of justice, sees punishment as appropriate only for violations of moral law; reward, not punishment, is to be used to stimulate behavior beyond the minimum standard of justice.

    In a free-market economy, these incentives play their proper roles, at least in theory. People are rewarded for serving others, and are punished only for injuring others. In a centrally controlled economy, however, punishment is threatened not only for actions contrary to real justice but also for actions contrary simply to the instructions of the central planners. Furthermore, if the centrally controlled economy has some measure of economic equality as one of its goals (and most do), rewards often are withheld from those who go beyond the minimum standard.

    Thus on this fundamental issue, a free-market economy clearly is more consistent with biblical ethics than is a controlled economy. 23 This does not mean that a Christian system of economics is synonymous with classical liberalism or modern capitalism, but it does mean that it has more affinity with them than with any form of communism, socialism, or interventionism.


The chief task facing theoreticians of Christian economics, then, appears to be not choosing between free-market and controlled economic systems, but delineating, first, what uses of property within the free market are consistent with, and what uses violate, the biblical standard of justice: rendering impartially to everyone his due in accord with the right standard of God’s moral law; and, second, what just uses of property are the most efficient and productive and contribute most toward the alleviation of poverty and the fulfillment of the mandate God has given man to guard, cultivate, and subdue the earth for God’s glory and man’s benefit. Some of the important subsets of this task are:

  1. exploring the meaning, function, and usefulness of marginal utility theory within the framework of biblical psychology and ethics;
  2. carrying on the fruitful analysis of incentive suggested by the public choice school;
  3. elucidating our notions of justice and fairness and showing why the biblical definitions of these concepts are preferable to any others;
  4. clarifying the meanings of efficiency and understanding how various standards of efficiency relate to biblical concerns for justice and mercy;
  5. developing a forthrightly biblical theory of taxation;
  6. refining a biblical theory of money and banking;
  7. sharpening tort law to reflect modern developments in technology, developments that affect both the sorts and means of tortious injury, on the one hand, and the capacity to detect injurious substances, injuries, and causes of injuries, on the other hand;
  8. reevaluating and revising corporate law, particularly the principle of limited liability;
  9. developing a biblical understanding of man’s individual and collective responsibilities for the environment and how best to fulfill them;
  10. continuously defining and redefining the appropriate roles of the state in an ever-changing world and its economy.

If my conclusion is correct, then the broad task of defining the overall system of Christian economics has already been done, and Christians no more need to reinvent that wheel than we do the wheel of the doctrine of the Trinity, although we may have our work cut out for us defending it time after time against attackers who ignore or distort the testimony of Scripture and of the history of the Church. Nonetheless, there remains enough detail work to keep an army of Christian ethicists and economists busy for decades to come in filling out a system of Christian economics.

What Dr. Orr said of the history of theology applies equally to the history of economic theory: “The men behind us have laid the foundations, and we must be content I take it, to build on the foundations they have laid. This leaves us still vast work to do, but it is not their work. We shall not make less progress by realising that there is firm footing for us in the past to start from. We may take encouragement from those who have gone before us that our labour need not be in vain.” 24


  1. I trust my comments will not be taken as a denial of the Reformers’ principle of sola Scriptura. Rather, they are designed to correct what I think is a rather simple and obvious error in many common notions of what sola Scriptura means. It does not mean that Scripture alone teaches us Christian truth, but that Scripture alone is God-breathed and therefore inerrant and infallible, and that Scripture therefore is the highest teaching authority, by which alone all others are judged. Thus it is legitimate, for instance, to use creeds and confessions as doctrinal standards, but they must give way wherever they contradict Scripture.
  2. See E. Calvin Beisner, God in Three Persons (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1984).
  3. James Orr, Progress of Dogma (Old Tappan, NJ: Revell [1901] n.d.), pp. 21f. It is possible, of course, that the causal relation runs the other way: that is, that the systematic theologies take up the various departments of theology in roughly the order in which they have come to the fore in Church history. That seems unlikely, however, and Orr’s broader discussion in Progress of Dogma shows why.
  4. I offer this more as a working hypothesis than as a settled conclusion. It describes my impression as I survey recent Church history. Looking short-term, we can see several other issues that have been truly important at various times. The inspiration and authority of Scripture, for instance, dominated much debate during most of the present century, but while the debate goes on here and there, we can have some hope that the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy has gone far to settle the matter, at least in professedly evangelical circles. The controversy between evolutionary and creationist cosmologies continues important, despite over a century of debate.
  5. Russell Kirk, A Program for Conservatives, 2nd revised edition (Chicago: Henry Regnery, [1954] 1962), p. 5.
  6. These and other principles are developed more extensively in two chapters of my forthcoming and currently untitled book on economic growth, planning and resource issues (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1990); see the chapters “Foundations: Theological, Anthropological, and Ethical” and “Foundations: Governmental and Economic.” They are discussed also in E. Calvin Beisner, Prosperity and Poverty: The Compassionate Use of Resources in a World of Scarcity (Westchester, IL: Crossway, 1988), and E. Calvin Beisner, “Biblical Incentives and the Assessment of Economic Systems” and “Biblical Incentives and the Evaluation of the Individual’s Economic Choices,” both in Biblical Principles and Economics: Foundations, ed. Richard C. Chewning (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, projected publication date September, 1989).
  7. In saying this, I do not except the sabbath commandment. I do, however, believe that the commandment often is oversimplified and thus thought to require some things that it does not. For instance, a careful analysis of the Old-Testament calendar reveals that the commandment cannot have required that the weekly sabbath always fall on the same day of the week, and that that day be thought of as the seventh day. See Curtis Clair Ewing and Charles Wesley Ewing, Israel’s Calendar and the True Sabbath, revised ed. (Velma, OK: The Covenant Peoples Advocates, 1980). Again, the death penalty for sabbath violations may have applied only to certain forms of religious work by Israel’s priests, not to actions of anyone outside the priestly class. See James B. Jordan, Sabbath Breaking and the Death Penalty: A Theological Investigation (Tyler, TX: Geneva Ministries, 1986).
  8. For a more complete development of this argument, see E. Calvin Beisner, “Taking Every Thought Captive to the Obedience of Christ” (unpublished lecture, 25 pages, available for $3.50 [includes postage and handling] from the author at Route 1, Box 285, Pea Ridge, AR 72751; payment must accompany order).
  9. Pleroma is that which fills, i.e., the contents of something, that which makes something full or complete, the supplement or complement; or it is that which is brought to fullness or completion, i.e., full number or sum total, fullness, superabundance; or the fulfilling, fulfillment. [Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Writings, 2nd ed., transs. William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, revised and augmented by F. Wilbur Gingrich and Frederick W. Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), p. 672.] Never does pleroma indicate the replacement of something, as it would have to do according to the argument that love supplants the law as the new standard of Christian ethics. See the analyses of Romans 13:8–10 in: Charles Hodge, Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans [1835] 1977), pp. 409–410; Richard C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of Romans (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg, 1936), pp. 797–800; H.C.G. Moule, Studies in Romans (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, [1892] 1977), pp. 217–219; John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans, 2 vols., in The New International Commentary on the New Testament, ed. F.F. Bruce (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, [1959] 1980), pp. 158–164. Especially helpful on the theological use of pleroma is J.B. Lightfoot’s essay “On the Meaning of pleroma” in J.B. Lightfoot, Saint Paul’s Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, [1879] 1974), pp. 257–273.
  10. For further discussion of the applicability of Old-Testament moral law to Christians, see E. Calvin Beisner, Psalms of Promise: Exploring the Majesty and Faithfulness of God (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1988), Chapter 2, “God the Creator and Lawgiver,” an exposition of Psalm 19. I purposely do not address here the debate over theonomic ethics as defined by Greg Bahnsen in Theonomy in Christian Ethics (Phillipsburg, NJ: The Craig Press, 1977). With Bahnsen’s assertion “that the Christian is obligated to keep the whole law of God as a pattern of sanctification” I am in hearty accord; with his addition “that this law is to be enforced by the civil magistrate where and how the stipulations of God so designate” I can agree only because of its closing qualification. I am not prepared to endorse all of Bahnsen’s conclusions as to where and how the stipulations of God require the civil magistrate to enforce biblical law.
  11. As I have written elsewhere, “This approach purposely does not attempt to answer the question whether all men have the same juristic, or legal, obligation before God to obey the moral Law that the Jews had prior to Christ. Instead it simply asserts that conformity to that Law remains the way of wisdom (Psalm 119; 111). Just as many things are not legally required but we still recognize them as wise and prudent, so regardless of whether we are legally obligated to obey God’s moral Law today, it still is the perfect revelation of the wisest patterns of life for fallen bearers of the image of God, and so may be applied helpfully to concrete situations today. It may even, on that basis, be used as a model for civil legislation adopted through the political processes of a given state,” as it was used in the earliest law code of New England, The Body of Liberties (Massachusetts, 1641), in which criminal penalties were footnoted to specific Old-Testament texts. Beisner, Prosperity and Poverty, pp. 227–8.
  12. Communism, or communalism, has been a persistent heresy throughout the ages of Christianity, gaining some presumption of legitimacy from misreading of such texts as Acts 2:44–46 and 4:32–35 (the Jerusalem church’s voluntary pooling of resources) and 2 Cor. 8:13–15 (the equality aimed at in the collections for the poor saints in Jerusalems). On the long and sad history of this heresy, see Thomas Molnar, Utopia, The Perennial Heresy (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1967). For discussions of the specific biblical texts, see Beisner Prosperity and Poverty, Chapter 5, “Does Justice Demand Equality?”
  13. See the development of this principle in E. Calvin Beisner, Managing the Resources of the Earth, address to the conference A New Agenda For Justice, sponsored by the Christian Public Policy Council, Falls Church, Virginia, January 27, 1989. (Available from the author for $2.50 [includes postage and handling] at Route 1, Box 285, Pea Ridge, AR 72751; payment must accompany order.)
  14. See this concept developed in Beisner, Prosperity and Poverty, chapter 4, “A Christian View of Economic Justice,” and chapter 5, “Does Justice Demand Equality?”
  15. Bauer, Lexicon, p. 17.
  16. Ibid., p. 197.
  17. Ibid., p. 198
  18. See Beisner, Managing the Resources of the Earth, p. 1.
  19. This said, however, let me suggest that the most promising method of internalizing pollution costs is not through prior restraint on polluting activity but through a more careful development of the system of torts. An excellent collection of papers on the subject comprises the whole of The Cato Journal, Vol. 2, No. 1 (Spring 1982).
  20. See Beisner, “Biblical Incentives and the Assessment of Economic Systems” and “Biblical Incentives and the Evaluation of the Individual’s Economic Choices,” in Biblical Principles and Economics: Foundations, ed. Chewning.
  21. We are considering here only external incentives, not internal incentives. There are many internal incentives: gratitude, love, hate, envy, joy, etc. In economic systems, however, the chief incentives in mind are those that motivate people to produce and trade with each other. Those tend to be external and to consist of the promise of something desired in exchange for something desired (reward) and the threat of something feared in payment for something not desired (punishment). I have treated internal incentives in my essay “Biblical Incentives and the Assessment of the Individual’s Economic Choices” in Biblical Propositions and Economics: Foundations, ed. Chewning.
  22. Is there a “third way,” the elusive “mixed economy,” that is preferable to either extreme? Yes and no. In reality, all economies tend to be mixed, not, I think, because a truly free economy is impossible in principle, but because fallen people do not trust each other to use their freedom responsibly and fallen rulers rarely can resist completely the temptation to misuse their power. In principle, however, the mixed economy is simply a variety of the controlled economy, and the extent of control logically grows upon itself, so that the logical end of the mixed economy is the fully controlled economy. Elsewhere I wrote on this question:It might be objected . . . that I have falsely dichotomized free market and controlled economies, forgetting that there is a third way — the “mixed” or “interventionist” or “guided” market economy. Might such an economy properly use Biblically legitimate incentives?Though thorough treatment of the question would take more space than is available here, the answer must, ultimately, be no. As Ludwig von Mises argues demonstratively in his Planned Chaos, interventionism leads logically and, in practice, almost inevitably to ever-increasing control of the economy by civil government. Interventionism negates the essential pricing and allocating functions of the market, causing increasing economic chaos. Historically, this normally has led to the institution of dictatorship as the only apparent remedy. The only means of avoiding that result is reducing or, preferably, abandoning interventionism.The logical and historical progression from the “mixed economy” toward total control occurs because every intervention of civil government into the free market other than to prohibit, prevent, and punish violations of God-ordained rights is necessarily self-defeating, occasioning more problems to which interventionists respond with more intervention. The self-defeating nature of interventionism may be demonstrated either inductively or deductively. Inductively, we can observe the actual effects of actual interventions and see that they invariably have exacerbated rather than diminishing the problems they were intended to solve. Deductively, we can argue either (1) that interventions, with the exceptions noted above, violate God-given ethical principles, and that because moral and physical reality are one, a violation of moral principles must have deleterious physical effects; or (2) that the interventions necessarily change the variables involved in equations of marginal utility and so change economic behavior in unpredictable way that vitiate the end intended by the designers of the interventionist policies.

    Most pertinent to the subject of this chapter, however, is the fact that every state intervention in the economy involves the threat of punishment (the minimizing incentive) for those who violate it. It is this coercive activity that most signally distinguishes the driving force of a “mixed” economy from that of a free market economy; and it is precisely the same as the driving force of the controlled economy, from which it differs in practice only by degree and in principle not at all. The driving force of the “mixed” economy, therefore, is not compatible with the legitimate applications of Biblically legitimate incentives.

    The choice is not between a chaotic, unplanned free market economy and an orderly, planned economy. That false dichotomy stems from the failure of critics of the free market to recognize that there is nothing automatic about it. It, too, is planned — but planned piecemeal and by private individuals whose only means of influencing others are persuasion and reward, rather than wholesale and by government bureaucrats whose chief means of influencing others is the threat of punishment. Wrote von Mises:

    The dilemma is not between automatic forces and planned action. It is between the democratic process of the market in which every individual has his share and the exclusive rule of a dictatorial body. Whatever people do in the market economy is the execution of their own plans. In this sense every human action means planning. What those calling themselves planners advocate is not the substitution of planned action for letting things go. It is the substitution of the planner’s own plan for the plans of his fellowmen. The planner is a potential dictator who wants to deprive all other people of the power to plan and act according to their own plans. He aims at one thing only: the exclusive absolute preeminence of his own plan.

    Beisner, “Biblical Incentives and the Assessment of Economic Systems,” in Biblical Propositions and Economics: Foundations, ed. Chewning, author’s chapter manuscript pp. 33–36. Citing Ludwig von Mises, Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis, 2nd ed., trans. J. Kahane (London: Jonathan Cape, [1951] 1969) p. 538.

  23. See Beisner “Biblical Incentives and the Assessment of Economic Systems,” in Biblical Propositions and Economics: Foundations, ed. Chewning, for arguments in support of this conclusion.
  24. Orr, Progress of Dogma, p. 32.

Copyright © 2004 E. Calvin Beisner. All rights reserved. This essay is used by permission of the author.