Is There a “Christian” Economic System?
When some people think about economic systems, two extremes come to mind—that is, a laissez-faire free-market approach, which tends to emphasize individuals, and a socialist-type scheme, which often emphasizes the state or the community. In considering these divergent approaches to economics, as well as the numerous systems that fall in between these two options, a helpful question for believers to ask might be, “Is there a Christian economic system?”
The brief answer to the above inquiry must be, “No,” for apart from the unique, time-bound era of the Hebrew theocracy, Scripture does not prescribe a specific economic system for mankind. However, the Bible does contain numerous moral laws and ethical ideals that relate to economic activity. Thus, we can conclude that while the Word of God does not mandate a particular economic system, it does give several moral guidelines that help to inform a Christian approach to economics.
Let’s briefly review two of these principles from Genesis.
Two Christian Economic Principles
In considering human activity, the very first command from God to mankind is important, for it reveals an economic principle. To elaborate, in the Garden of Eden, after creating mankind, Gen. 1:28a reports, “God said to them. ‘Be fruitful and multiply.’” Upon reflection, the reason why God instructed Adam and Eve to procreate is because He is a Creator and mankind is made in His image. Therefore, as Adam and Eve functionally bear God’s image, they—like Him—were to procreate. Of course, procreation involves creating children, but we also bear God’s image as we create material goods, ideas, and other aspects of society through our labors. A Christian approach to economics, then, is one that allows for and upholds the connection between labor and production, work and creation, risk and reward, and actions and consequences.
The second command that God spoke to mankind in the Garden of Eden is to “have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen. 1:28b). As with the mandate to procreate, so the act of mankind exercising dominion is tied to his being made in the image of God and it yields another economic principle. Observe that just as God is sovereign over all things, so God’s image-bearers are to have dominion over God’s creation, subduing and bringing order to the embryonic, as-yet unordered world. An economic system that resonates with God’s divine design, then, will encourage and foster mankind’s task of exercising godly dominion (but not sinful domination) over the created order.
A Christian Approach to Economics
So, in regard to the initial question, “Is there a Christian economic system?” if the inquirer is referring to the established economic systems of the world, the answer is, “No.” Yet, concerning the question, “Is there a Christian approach to economics?” the answer is an unqualified, “Yes.”
The task of believers is to evaluate any given economic system through a biblical lens in order to evaluate its faithfulness to Scripture. As Christians engage in this task, seeking to display the economic principles revealed by God, we must remember that God does not just instruct mankind to do things; rather, He creates man to do what He tells him to do. When we act in accord with creational design in any realm of life, including economics, we can expect things will go well; however, if we act contrary to God’s design for life under the sun, we should assume that things will go poorly.
About the author: Dr. David W. Jones is a Professor of Christian Ethics at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina. He is the author of Health, Wealth, and Happiness: How the Prosperity Gospel Overshadows the Gospel of Christ.