Theology Crawl - Is There A Christian Economic System?

August 8, 2022

Welcome to Theology Crawl

Yes, being in a conversation with drinks is fun, but we need some guidelines as you enter into conversation with one another:

Everyone is not right, and that's a good thing.

The concepts we talk about in theology can have multiple interpretations, but that doesn't mean they're all right. A lot of theology is investigating the words we use to see if they make sense and are if they're adequate for God. Being wrong is how we improve our theology, not by having all the answers.

Pay attention to how people are using words.

We all use words like “love,” “God,” and “grace,” but the the reality is we often mean vastly different things. Try to listen to how people use words and if they're using them the same way you would.

Ask for people to define what they mean.

We can't have a good conversation if we are all talking past each other. It's not embarrassing to ask people for a definitional a new word or concept, it's just how you have a good conversation.

Make this work for you.

Have someone in the group keep an eye on the questions and try to make sure you're staying on topic. At the same time, it's fine to go down the rabbit holes. Sometimes, the rabbit holes can help us clarify something that we missed.

Have fun.

You won't solve world hunger, you probably won't even convince that person in the group you disagree with. Relax, be respectful, and when the questions run out, enjoy yourself and talk about something that isn't theological. Hanging out can actually be pretty important for good theology too!

Discussion Questions

  • Look below at the “Comparing Economic Systems” section. Which system do you think the United States most closely resembles? Why?
  • Do religious actions have anything to do with economic actions and economic systems? If no, why not? If yes, explain.
  • How does the Bible deal with the concept of economic profit? How is it dealt with in our current economic system?
  • How does the Bible deal with the concept of private property? How is it dealt with in our current economic system?
  • How does the Bible deal with the relationship between work and compensation? How is it dealt with in our current economic system?
  • How does the Bible deal with the concept of lending with interest? How is it dealt with in our current economic system?
  • Do you think the Bible supports/disavows a particular economic system? If yes, which one? If no, are all economic systems created equal?
  • What qualities are important for judging the ethical quality of an economic system? In other words, what criteria would you use to judge whether or not an economic system is bad or good?
  • What are some actions that Christian communities can take to help create/witness-to a more just economic system?

Comparing Economic Systems

Capitalism (Private Enterprise Economy)

  • Ownership of Production: Businesses owned privately, minimal governmental ownership
  • Management of Enterprises: Managed by owners , minimal governmental interference
  • Rights to Profits: Entrepreneurs and investors
  • Rights of Employees: Choice of occupation and joining a union (long recognized)
  • Worker Incentives: Considerable, motivates people to perform at their highest.

Communism (Planned Economy)

  • Ownership of Production: Government owns the means of productions with few exceptions
  • Management of Enterprises: Centralized management in state-sanctioned plans (sometimes decentralized)
  • Rights to Profits: Profits are not allowed
  • Rights of Employees: Limited in exchange for protection against unemployment
  • Worker Incentives: Still emerging in communist countries

Socialism (Planned Economy)

  • Ownership of Production: Government owns basic industries, private ownership of some enterprises
  • Management of Enterprises: State enterprises manage by state, significant economic planning
  • Rights to Profits: Only private sector generated profit
  • Rights of Employees: Choice of occupation and joining a union, some governmental influence in career choice
  • Worker Incentives: limited, yet do motivate private sector work

Mixed Economy (Planned Economy)

  • Ownership of Production: strong private sector blends with public enterprises
  • Management of Enterprises: private sector management resembles capitalism, some professionals may manage state enterprises
  • Rights to Profits: Private entrepreneurs and investors, state enterprises sometimes expected to make returns
  • Rights of Employees: Choice of occupation and joining a union,
  • Worker Incentives: Considerable in private sector, less-so in public sectorAdapted from Contemporary Business, by Louis E. Boone

Important Scripture

  • For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. // 1 Timothy 6:10
  • Then another came, saying, ‘Lord, here is your mina, which I kept laid away in a handkerchief; for I was afraid of you, because you are a severe man. You take what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.’ He said to him, ‘I will condemn you with your own words, you wicked servant! You knew that I was a severe man, taking what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow? Why then did you not put my money in the bank, and at my coming I might have collected it with interest?’ And he said to those who stood by, ‘Take the mina from him, and give it to the one who has the ten minas.’ And they said to him, ‘Lord, he has ten minas!’ ‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. // Luke 19:20-26
  • “You shall not have in your bag two kinds of weights, a large and a small. You shall not have in your house two kinds of measures, a large and a small. A full and fair weight you shall have, a full and fair measure you shall have, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. For all who do such things, all who act dishonestly, are an abomination to the Lord your God. // Deuteronomy 25:13-16
    For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. // 2 Thessalonians 3:10
  • If your brother becomes poor and cannot maintain himself with you, you shall support him as though he were a stranger and a sojourner, and he shall live with you. Take no interest from him or profit, but fear your God, that your brother may live beside you. You shall not lend him your money at interest, nor give him your food for profit. // Leviticus 25:35-37
  • The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, declares the Lord of hosts. // Haggai 2:8
  • The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender. // Proverbs 22:7
  • And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. // Philippians 4:19
  • Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine. // Proverbs 3:9-10

Thoughts from Others

  • The idea, so familiar to us today and yet in reality far from obvious, that one’s duty consists in pursuing one’s calling, and that the individual should have a commitment to his “professional” activity, whatever it may consist of, irrespective of whether it appears to the detached observer as nothing but utilisation of his labor or even of his property (as ‘capital’), this idea is a characteristic feature of the ‘social ethic’ of capitalist culture. Indeed, in a certain sense it constitutes an essential element of it. // Max Weber
  • A third proletarian tendency therefore necessarily arose, along with the Zealots and Essenes, and in fact combining the two. This found expression in the Messianic community. It is generally recognized that the Christian community originally contained proletarian elements exclusively, and was a proletarian organization. This remained true long after the first beginnings. // Karl Kautsky
  • Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo. // Karl Marx
  • With reason, then, the common opinion of mankind, little affected by the few dissentients who have contended for the opposite view, has found in the careful study of nature, and in the laws of nature, the foundations of the division of property, and the practice of all ages has consecrated the principle of private ownership, as being pre-eminently in conformity with human nature, and as conducing in the most unmistakable manner to the peace and tranquillity of human existence. // Pius XIII
  • The diviners and seers of The Market’s moods are the high priests of its mysteries. To act against their admonitions is to risk excommunication and possibly damnation. Today, for example, if any government’s policy vexes The Market, those responsible for the irreverence will be made to suffer. That The Market is not at all displeased by downsizing or a growing income gap, or can be gleeful about the expansion of cigarette sales to Asian young people, should not cause anyone to question its ultimate omniscience. Like Calvin’s inscrutable deity, The Market may work in mysterious ways, “hid from our eyes,” but ultimately it knows best. // Harvey Cox


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