In our discussions of the pros and cons of various socio-economic models, Christians have a common tendency to forget what should be our more fundamental aim: spreading the message of salvation through Jesus Christ and living as Christ would have us live.
In a recent post, Doug Wilson helps us remember (HT), noting that we should stop critiquing such systems in and of themselves—i.e. separated from the reality of sin and the project of salvation—and focus instead on how they impact each individual when it comes to realizing the life-giving freedom Christ has made possible.
As Wilson explains it:
I have written many times that free markets are for a free people, and that only a free people can sustain them. But slaves to sin cannot be a free people. And the only way to be liberated from slavery to sin is through the gospel that brings new life.
Another problem is that when slaves to sin spiral down into the civic slavery that is their natural civic condition, their masters will also be slaves to sin, albeit usually somewhat shrewder — at least for a short while. At some point the whole thing blows up for everybody, but the bottom line is that sin is the fundamental set of chains. You cannot hope to be enslaved by them, and yet be free in any sense that matters anywhere else.
Hayek, Friedman, and von Mises cannot keep people loving the freedom of markets any more than the wisest geologist who ever lived could have kept Cain from hitting Abel with that rock. Knowledge of the world is not the same thing as knowledge of the human heart.
…Other foolish observers within the Christian tradition have seen that this is true, and concluded that the problem lies with Hayek, et al. “We need to have values other than free market values, etc.” This is to say that since sinners cannot produce the fruit of the Spirit, we need to haul out the chains of compassionate statism. Make ‘em do compassionate stuff and everything….
There is no salvation without a savior, and Jesus is the only savior. And how will they hear without a preacher? What we need is the gospel, what we need is a reformation, what we need is revival.
But although our political systems and economic models can’t produce revival by themselves, they do make a difference in how we interact and what we pursue. This is where our discussions need to begin.
The damaging impacts of top-down control are a bit easier for Christians to understand when we observe various governments shutting down churches and persecuting Christians in the streets on the basis of their faith, but what about when the government shuts down, redirects, or prohibits a variety of our day-to-day economic activities? When the government seizes an industry or moves money around to fund Entrepreneur X instead of Entrepreneur Y, What might such a government be preventing or distorting in terms of Christian initiative, creativity, and collaboration? Are we always to assume the Bureaucrat Z is the preferred oracle of Jehovah?
Fundamentally, we must reject the materialistic, deterministic worldviews of self-anointed economic planners of all varieties. If Christians are serious about spreading the truth, we should go about offering the real stuff, not implementing a series of surface-level mitigations against a make-believe, unredeemable world.
Christian statists need to stop telling us that since unbelievers cannot manifest love, joy, peace, patience, etc. in their lives, that this must mean that love, joy, peace, patience, etc. are optional. “Let’s work around not having them.” What kind of sense does that make? Preach the gospel. Free markets are a fruit of the gospel, and you cannot praise free markets without praising the work of the Holy Spirit of God.
Someone once said that real capitalism is easy to defend, but hard to praise. I understand where that sentiment comes from, but I want to lean against it, hard. Adam Smith’s invisible hand (whether he knew it or not) was and is the right hand of the Lord Jesus, and marvelous are all His works.
If we preach the gospel in power and truth, the result will be a free people. And when we have a free people, we will have free markets. Only a free people will be able to trust the hand of God in their financial affairs and market choices, which is what the free market is — people trusting God. That is the only way we can have free markets for any length of time.
We need to target the basic needs of each and every person, and the most fundamental of those needs is freedom from sin.
Whereas economic planners and political control freaks prefer to neglect the trees and swap apples with oranges and then oranges with pears—pressing ever aimlessly toward the “right” distribution and the “right” equilibrium—the Gospel aims to strike first at the root and then at the fruit, rejecting our narrow humanistic versions of the “right” in the process.
Adam Smith’s invisible hand gives the Holy Spirit something to work with. Nancy Pelosi’s hammer is a bit more limiting.