In the spirit of facilitating debate and discussion, here's a rebuttal from my friend Jason to the post I put up the other day from Jake Pentland, who claimed that Jesus was an anti-capitalist.
A Kind Response to Jake
By: Jason Isaacs, Contributor
In his post “Some Thoughts on Jesus & Capitalism,” Jake Pentland shares his view that Christianity and capitalism are incompatible systems. He is responding to a series of articles entitled “Bible & Economics” by RJ Moeller, who makes the case that that free market principles are found through out the Old and New Testament. Separating matters of faith and existing economic/ political realities is a difficult task for everyone, especially since we are born in a specific time, place, and culture; at some point, many of us begin to question the veracity of the systems in play. Some believe that capitalism only rewards the greedy and the selfish, and this is germane to Jake’s central claim: a person can not claim to be a Christian and support a system with a profit incentive (capitalism). The extent to which our religious beliefs influence our economic views varies from person to person, based on a person’s exposure to competing ideas and interest in economics.
I am a Christian, and have been persuaded on the merits of the free market, however there are many Christians who believe differently. It is my belief that a person can be a Christian and accept capitalism as viable economic system, and most importantly, use it to fulfill his or her greater mission.
Most people are at least vaguely familiar with Christianity; a Christian is simply a person who has accepted Jesus’ claim that he is God in the flesh and offers eternal life to those who will follow him. It is from this basis that one is identified as a Christian, regardless of the political and/ or economic systems he or she embraces. One can be right about who Jesus is, and completely wrong about economics, and still be considered a Christian.
We all live with in the economic system to which we were born; some of us will develop divergent views based our on exposure to competing systems. We may not readily endear our self to all the systems in our culture, realizing that they all are flawed to some extent, but must continue to endure these systems in order to provide for the needs of our loved ones. We may not like the system we have, but we make the best of the situation.
Christians are called to be disciples, which means that as we mature, we are to bring all our beliefs in line with God’s redemptive purposes. God is in the process of renewing all things, and we must decide whether or not to attach ourselves to His redemptive purposes. As a result, Christians work from a set of values and a mission that is separate from the agenda of nations- we spread the Gospel, provide for the needs of others in order to show God’s love, and support each other as the Church. We are called to live out our faith in love- and we will gravitate towards the economic system that allows us to do this most freely. At this time in history, God has allowed many Christians (depending on where they live in the world) to be involved in determining decisions about our government and economy; a survey of the history of the Church shows that this has not always been the case. The Church can (and does) exist under communism, socialism, capitalism, hunter/gatherer societies, and others. If we are unable to influence the system in our country, we continue to work out our mission with in that system. If we are able to transformative agents, then many of us attempt to influence our culture.
Christians look to all of the Bible, the Old and New Testament, to find God’s revealed truth. Jesus is the central character in Scripture- all of the Old Testament points to his first coming, and the New Testament tells us about his life and how to prepare as we anticipate his second coming. God had a very specific economic system for the people of ancient Israel, as shown in the Old Testament. As people living in the United States in the 21st century, we are removed from the time, place, and culture of Israel in the Old Testament; Christians are not trying to implement the Old Testament economic system in the United States today, but we want to keep many of the same principles intact.
In the Gospel accounts, Jesus gives some very direct teachings about money- a person can not serve both God and money (Matthew 6.24), pay taxes (Luke 20.25), and many others. These references talk about what people should and should not do with their money, and are usually with in the context of how the love of money can compromise a relationship with God. While Jesus had an audience just about everywhere he went, he was strangely silent on the merits of different types of political and economic systems; many of his references to money are in parables, using what common to people in order to communicate spiritual truth. There are many references in the remainder of the New Testament about giving to others in need; individual Christians and the Church gave to others based on the circumstances of the people who received help. In these cases, Christians gave personally or as a group of Christians, rather than using the government as a means to distribute money or goods. Giving is done to provide for the needs of others as an expression Jesus’ love.
Politics and economics are cultural issues which influence our decisions about everything; yet what we primarily learn from Jesus is not about these topics, rather that he came to embody the pursuing love of God. Jake and I are loved deeply by God, and God pursues each of with that love- because we need it. All of our political and economic systems are broken since they are formed and practiced by broken people. If God is who He says He is via the Old and New Testament (and I believe He is), then I am eager to know Him deeply, because He is above all nations and systems, and for some reason He still wants to know each of us. God loves us, pursues us, and wants to know us- no matter what we have ever done or thought about Him.
I enjoy discussing matters of faith and engaging people in discussions about the merits of the free market. However, the two are distinct from each other insofar that one can completely misunderstand economics and still rightly be called a Christian. One can also rightly understand economic principles and be misinformed about the claims of Jesus. Scripture is not silent on economic questions, but neither is it a comprehensive text for economics. If I never convince Jake of one merit of capitalism, I hope he considers accepting God’s love which is what Jesus came to show and make available for each of us.