I’ll never forget a conversation I had with Pastor Tom a few years ago when he made the case that pastors should learn more about economics. In Tom lingo, not only does work matter, economics matter too.
I’ll admit, I was skeptical.
Did this mean pastors were supposed to dive into the particulars of macroeconomic theory with their congregations? The famous economist Adam Smith outlined the specialization of labor – didn’t Tom know that as pastors, we were specialists in the biblical text, not economic minutia? And isn’t it the case that talking about economic issues provides the shortest path to fueling partisan fires? Don’t all economic conversations necessarily devolve into debates about public policy? It seemed like a minefield I wanted to avoid.
In the years since that conversation, I’ve come to see that Tom was right. Though the Bible is not a technical manual for economics, it reveals economic wisdom from beginning to end. An understanding of economics is one of the most important foundations for discerning how we are to love our neighbor – helping those in need without hurting or robbing them of dignity.
In our sermon series With Us, (1 Kings 21; August 6), we explored economic themes in the story of Naboth’s vineyard and the wicked King Ahab. In a cultural context where many kings assumed a right to seize property from a landowner and were not accountable to the rule of law, God judged King Ahab for using his power to seize private property and kill Naboth.
Though these basic economic values might seem obvious to us since we live in a nation broadly shaped by Judeo-Christian ethics, it was neither obvious in biblical times, nor in many parts of the world today. These economic norms were rooted in God’s redemption of Israel out of slavery from Egypt. Christopher Wright explains,
The sharpest pain of the oppression [Israelites’ slavery in Egypt] was economic. Israelites were being exploited as slave-labour, on land not their own, for the economic benefit of the host nation, in its agricultural and construction projects (ex. 1:11-14). It was their outcry against this that precipitated the compassionate intervention of God as their go’el (Redeemer). But it was not enough just to get Israel out of Egypt into some kind of tenuous freedom in the wilderness. The objective of their redemption (also stated in Ex. 6:6-8) was to give them land of their own – along with an economic system that was intended to outlaw such oppression within Israel itself…it was particularly in the economic realm that the Israelites themselves were to live redemptively, in response to what God had done for them. Redemption was strongly economic in content.”
– Christopher Wright, The Mission of God’s People
We too are God’s people. And we too are to live redemptively in the economic realm. Living in a world with great needs requires great economic wisdom.
It is why the Common Good conference was created in 2013 as a way to engage in a conversation about the common good — a subject that is not often addressed directly, especially among Christians. We believe the local church as God designed it should promote economic wisdom, affirm the dignity of all value-creating work, and seek the common good of all. In this way, the church lives out Christ’s call to be salt and light in the world.
This year’s conference is on Friday, October 13, CG2017: Churches for the Common Good. We believe CG2017 will be an incredibly important conversation for all who care about the local church and the shalom of our city. Won’t you join us?