No Free Lunch: Economics for A Fallen World

Preface and Acknowledgements

Author's Preface

Why a Christian economics book? I was asked this question many times by friends as I described this project. Some asked out of curiosity. Others asked with an implicit judgment that I was wrong to do this. Some thought that God doesn’t teach economics in the Bible; “You’re just trying to impose your economic views on us and putting a God-approved stamp on it to silence debate.” Some of the most thoughtful and wise critics warned against bringing my own presuppositions into scripture; what I found biblical might be without merit. There are certainly dangers in approaching this task. Yet God does reveal truths about how to live our lives in the Bible. I believe this truth is comprehensive, if not exhaustive, and extends to all disciplines—including the field of economics.

The reader of this text ought to understand the theological perspectives that underlie my presentation of the material. As an evangelical Christian, I believe in the complete authority and validity of scripture. Further, I believe that Christ should reign in every facet of our lives and our society. I disagree with a distinction between the religious and the secular, in terms of how Christians live and think. Secular scholarship by definition can only include truth that is available to the natural mind; it purposely ignores any possible truth from what Christians call “special revelation”; therefore, a Christian approach to the study of any discipline will have an expanded basis of truth to communicate. A Christian worldview is essential, and that includes how we approach the study of economics.

One of the keys to my view of economics is how God relates to us on the issue of choice. From the beginning we see that God allows us to choose. Adam and Eve had a choice to trust and obey God, or to choose to disobey. We are admonished in scripture to choose life, as God sets before us blessings and curses. The Bible also shows us consequences of this choice; to disobey God leads to negative sanctions, while obedience leads to positive sanctions. Disobedience or obedience can be in response to either His offer of a covenant relationship with Him, or to biblical principles of how we should live. Since God is sovereign and providentially guiding every event (to include how our choices work out in His plan), some might raise the age-old debate over whether our choices are truly free or whether we are predestined to do what we do. However, for our purposes, it is not necessary to go very far down this path. What is clear from scripture is that we will be judged according to the choices we make, however “free” we are to make them, based on our knowledge of the truth. God wants to be chosen. Our choice is not simply to choose this or that; but when we choose wisely, we are choosing to follow God’s will (whether we realize it or not)! Augustine suggests an even stronger parallel: when we choose wisely, we are choosing Christ himself! As he says in the City of God, “the tree of life is the holy of holies, Christ; the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the will’s free choice.” And as we choose to follow God, he is progressively changing us more into the image of His Son—He is sanctifying us (Romans 6:19).

This suggests that economics and Christianity have a relationship. The central task of economics is to understand how we make choices. Properly defined, economics studies what a person does, while Christianity has prescriptions for what a person should do. Economic textbooks often make the point early in chapter 1 on the difference between positive and normative economics (as we will do also). Positive economics explains “what is,” while normative economics explains “what should be.” Yet, as much as economists try to keep economics purely a positive science, the results of economic analysis are most often applicable to public policy choices and invariably have normative implications. Economic analysis lends itself to answering the question: what should we collectively do? Further, the assumptions made to make models tractable and even the very nature of economic goals (e.g., efficiency) have subtle normative assumptions embedded. Since we will have embedded morality, the approach in this text is to make that morality explicit with a Christian worldview behind every economic principle.

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