Is There a Biblical Economics? Part One
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Solomon, the wisest man to have ever lived, informs us that, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge…” (Proverbs 1:7). The apostle Paul wrote to the Colossians to show that Christ should be preeminent, first, and foremost, in every area of a Christian’s life. He warns us to beware of the tradition of men and the “basic principles of the world.”
The Greek word for “basic principles” in Colossians 2:8, according to Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, refers to the “fundamental principles of any art, science or discipline.” So let’s ask the obvious question: Is the science of economics, as taught in most universities and colleges today, founded on the fear of God, or is it founded on the traditions and fundamental, basic principles of the secular world?
Answer: It is unabashedly founded on the traditions of men, as evidenced by the many competing and diverse schools of economic thought. The fear of the Lord, which corresponds to reverencing and looking to the Word of God, the Bible, as the starting point or foundation for any science, has definitely not been the approach in the universities of our world (with a few exceptions).
But have you ever considered if there is a body of economic thought based on the Bible? If so, what are its premises? And does it reveal any key to solving economic problems and promoting a prosperous economy? This two-part article will attempt to answer these questions and, by doing so, demonstrate the reality and necessity for a Maker’s economics!
Two kinds of economics
In the 1960s, physicist Thomas S. Kuhn brilliantly demonstrated that each and every science rests on generally unquestioned premises that condition the nature of human thinking and scientific investigation. He called this body of foundational premises a paradigm. A paradigm consists of the premises and assumptions that define a science.
The essence of Kuhn's insight is that there are no such things as "brute facts"—facts apart from a definite paradigm. What is a fact and what is not or what is a cause or an effect depends on the specific framework, or paradigm, the information is placed within.
There have been many economic schools of thought over the last two centuries, each with their own unique paradigm and different worldview. By analogy, each tradition has its own eyeglasses with very different lenses to view the economic world. The result has been little or no agreement on the "facts" of economic reality. What, for instance, were the causes that generated the 1930s Great Depression? Ask five different economists and get five or six different answers!
But God is not the author of confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33). To repeat, God has given His people a foundation, His Word, that includes a paradigmatic premise: "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge" (Proverbs 1:7) and "wisdom" (Proverbs 9:10).
For the discipline of economics, Christians must build on the ultimate foundation, God's Word, the Bible, not on any worldly, man-devised paradigm or set of assumptions. Christian basic principles must come from the Bible. That's our paradigm!
The Bible reveals that there are only two broad worldviews or paradigms
—God's and mankind's. Applied to economic science, there is only revelational economics, also called biblical or the Maker’s economics, and man's economics. Experience teaches that man’s economics have fractured into many competing traditions since Adam Smith published his pioneering treatise Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of The Wealth of Nations in 1776.
In Genesis, the book of beginnings, God reveals just how man's paradigm began. Most know the story. Adam and Eve ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They disbelieved and disobeyed God. In doing so, they took to themselves, and for all humankind after them, the discovery of knowledge apart from God. Humanism, or man and his reasoning as the sole source of knowledge, was born! As a consequence, humanity has constructed its own economic systems and generated its own diverse and numerous economic schools of thought that seem right: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Proverbs 14:12). In principle we might add: “There are many ways of man in economic thinking leading to economic confusion, chaos, and often economic depression.”
Seven negative, secular premises
Unwittingly or unknowingly, modern-day “scientific economics,” usually dated from the publication of Adam Smith’s work in 1776, has been strictly a man-centered, secular, humanistic endeavor. Adherents’ foundations and worldviews have been and are essentially atheistic, ignoring Proverbs 1:7 and Colossians 2:8, even though many professors and economists working within these humanistic parameters have been professing Christians. But most all have been built on a common core of seven negative premises or assumptions, namely:
- There is no Creator God.
- There is no divine revelation from God.
- There is no Holy Spirit from God to impart spiritual knowledge.
- There are no laws, standards, or absolutes established by God.
- There is no divine purpose for humanity.
- There is no spirit world of Satan, demons, or an angelic world.
- There is no spirit in man that separates man’s mind from animal brain.
None of these seven premises figure into or impact their economic analyses. Rather, their approach ignores or abstracts from any economic knowledge, understanding and insights available from recognizing the Creator God and His revelation about economic activity. Eating from the wrong tree has consequences!
So the fear of the Lord, versus not fearing the Lord, and acquiring the mind of God or Christ versus relying on human reasoning alone, makes a huge difference for one’s worldview, for the economy, or otherwise! In fact, those with an atheistic worldview have a gaping missing dimension
—the dimension of morality and its link to economic relationships.
Oddly, traditional Christianity, for the most part, has simply not pursued the need to develop a unique science of Biblical economics, or any science for that matter, on the premises or foundation provided by the Bible itself. By default they have implicitly accepted the seven negative premises listed above. Indeed, based on the author’s own research and experiences during a 40-year academic career, economists overwhelmingly deny that a Biblical economics is even scientific or legitimate!
Now that we’ve established how the majority of people view economics today, part two of this article will examine some of the Godly aspects from which to view economics.
To learn more about fundamental financial principles God has put in place since the beginning of time, request our free study aid Managing Your Finances.