Many Christians have a distant, even negative, view of economics and business. Pastors discuss the need for moral activity within the business world, but often ignore whether business in itself is morally justifiable. Some even assume that business activity is a sort of necessary evil; that economics is an academic discipline with little connection to their faith, and often church leaders support economic proposals without understanding the complexity of the issues involved. This harms the witness of the Church.
In his new book, Foundations of a Free and Virtuous Society, Dylan Pahman appeals to Genesis and the creation account to explain why business and economic concerns are vital to a Christian understanding of the world. Pahman, a research fellow for the Acton Institute, writes:
After creating us in his image, God says, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; 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. 1:28). Creation isn’t here just for us to look at. We have a vital role to play in God’s purpose for the world. Genesis even says that after making Adam, “the Lord took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it” (Gen. 2:15). We are meant “to till the ground” (2:5) of God’s creation, the same ground from which we were made, and thereby to “be fruitful.”
The alluded Genesis passage, often called the creation mandate, provides an essential justification for Christians to be involved in business activity. God did not create a static world for us to idly enjoy. “Instead, he made one that develops and grows over ages and ages.” Pahman explains. “He made us to take part in that, enjoy it, and spread his image over all creation.” Work and productive activity are not optional for the Christian man or woman, nor are they simply necessary evils. Work is fundamental to our calling as human beings.
No one works in isolation. Genesis also tells us, “It is not good for man to be alone.” Each of us has different needs, desires and visions for how the world ought to be. One man wants to cut down a tree to build a fence, while another may want harvest the tree’s fruit. How do we decide which vision should be carried out? How do we organize society to best fulfill the creation mandate?
Throughout human history and cultures, societies have developed many ways organize their productive activity, such as Feudalism, Communism or Capitalism. From broad questions like how to provide healthcare, to small details like ensuring there is bread in the local grocery store, each problem is enormously complex. Finding the best solution has been a struggle for most of human history.
Fortunately, God gave us rational minds which can study the world. Pahman defines reason as “that mental faculty that allows us to identify what things are (wisdom) and consider and determine what must be done (prudence).” We use our reason to study the world, how people behave and react, and discover the best way of organizing ourselves. In fact, that is the heart of economics! Every economic question is fundamentally a question of how human beings behave, and how we ought to coordinate our efforts to improve the world. Economics is a vital tool that can help mankind fulfill the creation mandate found in Genesis.
If you’d like to read more about Christianity and its relationship to economics and a free society, you can find Dylan Pahman’s book, Foundations of a Free and Virtuous Society here.