DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

An Attempt at Using Mainly Scripture to Discuss Economics

Written by: on February 1, 2018

Is it against Portland Seminary academic standards to mainly use Scripture to discuss the economic ideas by Karl Polanyi in The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time? Please forgive me if it is! My worldview is unabashedly Christian, so the framework I attempt to begin every thought with is the Bible. I will trust my Elite LGP8 for the more necessary intellectual components of our discussion this week. I believe the totality of the conversation will be covered by us as a team.

No discussion of economics is complete without the foundation laid out in Psalm 24:1, “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.” GOD OWNS EVERYTHING. He owns the hills, the cattle on top of the hills, and the oil under the hills. He owns the air we breathe, even the spit in our mouths. Job 1:21 and I Timothy 6:7 both state, “Naked we came into the world, and naked we will depart” and James 1:17 adds, “Every good and perfect gift comes from above.” Folks, there has never been a U-haul behind a hearse. We can’t take it with us because we don’t own it and never did.

I would add, it is selfish to believe that everything is only for us humans, as Romans 11:36 says, “For from him and through him and for him are all things.” and again in Colossians 1:16, “…All things have been created through him and for him.”

Our responsibility is very challenging: FAITHFUL STEWARDSHIP. I Corinthians 4:2 states, “It is required of those who have been given a trust to be found faithful.” We hold onto money, stuff and things only as temporary managers, and when Jesus returns we will give an account (Revelation 22:12) of what we did as stewards (stewardship I define to include our time, talents, and treasures).

It will take Godly wisdom to hear the words from Jesus, “Well done good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21). Not only GENEROSITY through tithes and offerings (my dissertation topic utilizing Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University), but also taking care of orphans and widows, while remembering justice, and being JOYFUL about returning to God that which is already His (I Corinthians 16:2, James 1:27, Matthew 23:23, II Corinthians 9:7).

Jenn’s words from our last Zoom ring true to me, “Christians should be the best stewards on earth.”

The Bible never promises that everyone will and should have the same amount. Jesus says in Matthew 26:11 “The poor you will always have with you…” and in His parable in Matthew 25: 15, “To one he gave five talents, to another three, and another one, Each according to his ability” (bold is mine). However, it cannot be stressed enough to us Americans (and Britons), “To whom much is given, much is required” (Luke 12:48).

And let us not forget when waxing eloquently about economics, II Thessalonians 3:10, “If a man does not work, he shall not eat.” I am weary of taking human responsibility out of the economic equation and blaming all the world’s financial woes on the industrial age, global economy, or government interference, to name a few.

Arguments are plentiful stating capitalism is bad, as if money is also bad, but I Timothy 6:10 only says, “The love of money is the root of all evil” (bold again is mine).  Isn’t this idolatry? I believe it is, and scripture warns us this in Matthew 6:24, “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

So, when talking about Polanyi’s concept of economic “embeddedness” [1] (stated as his most famous contribution, by Fred Block) [2], I believe his thoughts are both brilliant, but divided unnecessarily three ways in saying, “…the economy is not autonomous…but subordinated to politics, religion and social relations.” [3]

Since no government has been allowed to stand apart from God’s will (Romans 13:1), and since the whole Bible is about social relationships (love God and love others, from the great commandment in Mark 12:30-31), that leaves us with the only embeddedness I need to hear, that is, it’s all subordinated to GOD!

I believe we must learn that economics, apart from God working his plan of drawing us to Himself, is MEANINGLESS. In Ecclesiastes 2:11, Solomon (the richest in economy of any single man in all of history) states emphatically, “Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.”

Economics are simply a tool of God (as is pleasure, science, fame, alcohol, property, etc.) to remind us of what is really important. Ecclesiastes 12:13 sums it up best, “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” It’s all about God, or else us humans turn economics into VANITY, VANITY.

Therefore, I go back to one of my life Scriptures highlighted in my PLDP from first semester, “Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it…For the Son of Man…will reward each person according to what they have done’” (Matthew 16:24-27).

 

All scripture references taken from: Barker, Kenneth L. Zondervan NIV Study Bible: New International Version. Zondervan, 2008.

[1] Polanyi, Karl. The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time. Boston: Beacon Press, 2014. Kindle Edition, Loc. 384.

[2] Block, Fred. Power of Market Fundamentalism: Karl Polanyi’s Critique. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ Press, 2016. Introduction.

[3] Polanyi, Karl. The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time. Boston: Beacon Press, 2014. Kindle Edition, Loc. 385.

About the Author

mm

Jay Forseth

Superintendent of the Western Conference of the Evangelical Church. Blessed with 28 years as the husband of my amazing wife who I can't make it without. Now three of four in our family are attending University, but both my children are way smarter than me.

10 responses to “An Attempt at Using Mainly Scripture to Discuss Economics”

  1. mm M Webb says:

    Jay,

    Stand firm my brother! You do not have to make excuses for filtering the data through the Book of Truth. The Bible gives us all we need to know about economics, philosophy, leadership, followership, and sociology. All the other “stuff” coming from outside of God’s Word needs screening to prevent the spiritual phishing from Satan and forces who are always trying to create a data breech into our mental hard-drives.

    Luke 12:48 was the verse our pastor gave me when we joined our current church, 17 years ago. It has been quite the adventure, but God does require “much” in return for honoring His conditional promise.

    Congratulations Jay, sorry but I must call you out and commend you to our cohort for “Bayardizing” this book. You finally “non-read” one!

    Stand firm,
    M. Webb

  2. mm Jennifer Williamson says:

    Wow Jay! I feel honored being quoted among so many Bible verses. I felt like a blubbering idiot at the last Zoom meeting, so I’m kind of shocked to see that something remotely intelligible came out of my mouth.

    And (contrary to the implications of your intoductory paragraph), I don’t think that using scripture is less intellectual than using any other sources–as long as Scripture is used intelligently!

    I was curious to see how you would connect this book to your topic. One of Dave Ramsey’s steps (if I’m remembering correctly) is to build wealth and give generously. I’ve lately begun to wonder if one person’s wealth building might create another person’s poverty. (Polanyi says that capitalism depends on the possibility of poverty–which in turns frightens people into working hard to avoid poverty.) Is it Biblical to build wealth?

  3. Jay says:

    Great question Jenn! I cringed when I heard Dave Ramsey talk about “build wealth” but it felt better when he added “and give”. Wealth is not the problem (I bet you wish you had a few more wealthy donors), the problem is the human heart.

    So, someone with a Christlike heart, who God has given the gift of building wealth, is a blessing. On the other side of the coin, someone who is a “selfish” wealth builder, is a problem, because they only want to build their own kingdom, with a little k.

  4. I loved all the scripture Jay, and yes you are totally within academic standards to use scripture for the basis of your blog assignment for the DMin program in my opinion. We would not have economics if it wasn’t for God, which you so beautifully put when you said…”Economics are simply a tool of God (as is pleasure, science, fame, alcohol, property, etc.) to remind us of what is really important. Ecclesiastes 12:13 sums it up best, “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” It’s all about God, or else us humans turn economics into VANITY, VANITY.” If our resources are not being used for God’s glory, we are not following our charge as Christians. I hoped you would bring in Biblical stewardship into the discussion and you did not disappoint.

  5. mm Dan Kreiss says:

    Jay,

    What a powerful blog utilizing scripture to surround your thoughts and argument. All of us should be so immersed in the scriptures that these responses become our first thoughts when approaching our texts.

    However, how would you suggest we respond to texts like Polanyi’s with those who do not accept the Christian scriptures as God’s word to humanity?

    • mm Jay Forseth says:

      Very fair question Dan! Hard to answer…but:

      I believe I would use data from guys like Larry Burkett, Dave Ramsey and Ron Blue to support “wise stewardship” as well as find common ground for important discussions about covetousness, greed, generosity, etc., that cross all lines of social humanity

  6. Chris Pritchett says:

    Jay- I am very appreciative of the clarity with which you examine scripture. Thank you for sharing these verses. You remind me of John the Baptist. I’m struggling with how this applies to the reality that we have today with all these complex webs of economic systems. Sometimes Jesus sounds like a socialist, and sometimes he sounds like a capitalist (though not in the way Polanyi defines, leaving it to the market to take care of people). I agree with you that the church’s role is to step in and fill some of the gaps. But when the Abraham Kuyper said what you essentially said above, that “there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!” It seems to me then, as you affirmed from the psalms, that God owns all of it. He owns the World Bank. He owns all of the economies of the world. Therefore, it seems, we as Christians ought to engage these institutions and systems in order that we may influence them to reflect the purposes and intentions…and frankly, eschatological promises of God. And this is how we give glory to God in all the earth! So we must not turn away from these things, but engage with them and shape them in the way of Christ. Do you agree?

    • mm Jay Forseth says:

      Chris:

      Agreed! And you state it so well, “So we must not turn away from these things, but engage with them and shape them in the way of Christ.”

  7. Bearing ZWZ says:

    Is it against Portland Seminary academic standards to mainly use Scripture to discuss the economic ideas by Karl Polanyi in The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time? Please forgive me if it is! My worldview is unabashedly Christian, so the framework I attempt to begin every thought with is the Bible. I will trust my Elite LGP8 for the more necessary intellectual components of our discussion this week. I believe the totality of the conversation will be covered by us as a team.
    Bearing Koyo

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