George Bernard Shaw said, “If all economists were laid end to end, they would not reach a conclusion.” It is true that economists are hardly a monolithic bunch, yet it would be untrue to say that there are not core economic principles that economists agree upon … things like the relationship of supply and demand, price (microeconomic) theory of value, or the centrality of markets. The disagreement usually comes at the point of how well things like the market function and what interventions should be made. But today I don’t want to explore what economists think about economics. I want to see if I can capture what Mainline theologians and pastors typically think economics is about. I think it would go something like this …
God is creator and Lord over all that is. He created humanity to be caretakers of his beautiful creation. In a real sense, the Earth is God’s household and we are the household managers. Furthermore, God has created an abundance that we are all to share with each other, in shalom-filled relationships, as we seek the common good of the community.
Economics is dominated by anti-Christian capitalist values born out of Modernism's quest for self-autonomy. Instead of abundance, economists postulate scarcity and then glorify selfishness and greed in competition over the scarcity. They postulate an “invisible hand” powered by selfishness as a replacement for the providence of God and Christian ethical behavior. Capitalism is dependent on endless consumerism, which is destroying the planet. (Of course, conservative Christians see no problem with this since the earth will be destroyed eventually anyway.) It depersonalizes people, turning them into commodities for exploitation by economic players. It violates biblical values of equality, making the rich richer and the poor poorer, all the time justifying paying people less than a living wage.
Therefore, while capitalism may have accomplished some great things, it can hardly be considered just and worthy of our commendation. Economists who so ardently defend capitalist market economies have made an idol of their ideology … let’s call it theocapitalism. Christian mission requires that we put God and his Kingdom first, redirecting markets toward the common good … that we rediscover our connectedness to others and function as the human family God has called us to be.
Well, how was that? I’m not suggesting that Mainline theological academies are monolithic but I think I’ve captured the basic gist of what you might expect.
Next I will turn to a few pivotal points that I believe are deeply and pervasively misunderstood by theologians about economics. You still may not agree with the economist's perspective but it is important that we grasp what they actually say if there is to be honest dialog.