As I (hopefully) made clear last time, I wish to begin a multi-part series of blog-posts here at Two Cents that will (hopefully) make clear where in Scripture and Christian tradition a free market evangelical like myself derives his socio-economic worldview from. I firmly believe that the Bible affirms free enterprise, entrepreneurial activity, and the de-centralization of power in the hands of fallen men and women.
What follows is my defense of that belief.
The best place to start, I suppose, is at the beginning.
Genesis 1:1 reads, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Apart from John 3:16, I can’t think of a more important verse in the entire Bible. My worldview starts and stops with the understanding that there is a God, and I’m not Him. He is before and above all things. The place we humans reside (“the heavens and the earth”) was the result of a conscious act by a creative Creator. There was (and is) a plan for mankind. There was (and is) a purpose for mankind.
Creation includes everything that is not God. Human beings are not only one part of creation (among many), but the highest expression of God’s creative expression. In Genesis 1:26-28 we read:
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth”
There is much to unpack in these verses, and I plan on eventually getting to it all, but today I want to focus like a laser beam on the broader, more general implications of this text.
There is a God. We are His creation. I am distinctively made in His “image” (the theological term “imago Dei”).
As one made in God’s image, I am a walking, talking (albeit limited) expression of His character, creativity, and capabilities. What does this generally mean? The lives we live have meaning. There are better (God-honoring) ways to live our lives. We are capable of great and imaginative things.
It also means that by studying God’s attributes and behavior we can glean an outline of how we are supposed to conduct ourselves. For example, again in the first chapter of Genesis, we read of a God who is a working God. In nearly every verse of the first two chapters of the first book of the Bible God is making and creating and designing. He uses otherwise useless materials and makes ingenuous, life-sustaining things.
Now notice what God tells Adam and Eve to do in verse 28 of Genesis chapter 1: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” The phrase “subdue it” essentially means to cultivate and develop it. Even before sin entered the world, Adam was given a God-ordained task to do. Adam was to work. Why? Simple: because his Maker worked.
Work and creative energy are holy attributes of a holy God, not bothersome, toilsome things needing to be avoided if one is to have a truly meaningful, enjoyable life. God didn’t give mankind the task of being co-creators (small “c”) because He wanted us all to hang out and life off the sweat of someone else. And work isn’t a punishment; it is a daily chance to fulfill a healthy, pre-Fall desire implanted in us by our all-knowing, loving Father. It is okay to be proud of the specific contributions each of us makes.
How all of this ties-in with my penchant for free enterprise is simple: I want to champion a system of economy and way of life that facilitates and encourages creativity, resourcefulness and hard work. It has to be structured enough to be able to get things done. It must be grounded in the Judeo-Christian values of the Old and New Testament. It ought to recognize the reality of an imperfect world, but do everything in its power to create incentives so that the imperfect people participating in it have good reasons to pursue beneficial ends.
As a Christian in a free market society I can positively influence and affect the culture, as well as fulfill a significant part of what it means to be “imago Dei” by “subduing” the material (and intellectual) resources God has blessed us with. These things do not happen (or in many cases, are not possible) in secular, collectivist-minded civilizations.
Freedom, it is said, is not doing whatever I want to do, but being able to do what I ought to do. This is most (and usually only) available in a society that concurrently recognizes “imago Dei” and what are generally described as free market principles.