Richard Turnbull: Is There A Divinely Ordained Economic System?

Graeme Leach, formerly the chief economist at the Institute of Directors, has done us a great service with his expositions on ‘Thoughts on a biblical economic worldview or Godonomics.

Graeme is clear. The free market economy is ordained by God for our economic prosperity.

This is a point of view of some importance and which is rarely given the ‘airtime’ it deserves. One consequence of this is what one can only call an extreme laziness in economic pronouncements from denominational leaders. It is worth reflecting further on the debate.

– The essence of the argument is built around the creation narratives in Genesis 1 and 2. Creation principles are foundational for understanding much of God’s purposes for the world. The idea is that in these creation mandates God ordains principles applicable for all people for all time.

– In these chapters we find the mandate to work, to create, to combine raw materials.

– From Genesis 4 we see the principles of specialisation and the development of commerce.

– These concepts are built upon in Exodus with the production of goods, development of artisan skills and indeed the principle of human capital and education.

As a consequence of all of this, it is very difficult to conclude anything other than that God has ordained and provided the market economy to enable humanity to prosper, to trade, to develop skills, to manufacture and so on. What is more we see that God has endowed the human person with creative skill and ingenuity; since God is creative (in the creation itself par excellence), and humanity is created in the image of God, then humanity itself is creative from which flows the idea that innovation, enterprise and entrepreneurship are also essential elements of the divine economy.

The importance of this starting point cannot be underestimated. Of course, as we will see shortly, it is not the end of the story, the last word, but it is the first word. In other words if we approach the challenges and complexities, the problems and the distortions of the market from the point of view that the market is the basic divine building block then our conclusions might look very different than if we assume that the market itself is the problem, rather than the behaviours of the actors within the economy.

Indeed, that is the basis of Graeme’s warning of the dangers of an elevated view of the role of the state. The problem of sin and the fall means that the divine purposes are distorted, perverted though the sinful behaviour of fallen humanity. The point is that biblical Christians should surely be looking for solutions to the problems from within the divine economy rather than external to that which God has provided. Christians will, of course, debate the precise role and boundaries of the actions of the state but in relation to welfare provision and the solution to economic problems, we need to be aware of a number of dangers.

– There is a danger that voluntary welfare provision is squeezed out. Historically, the Christian church has been the main provider of health, welfare and education services. Clearly the need for scale and universality will require a positive role for state provision (indeed, even Calvin’s Geneva had a degree of centralised welfare provision through the ‘hospital’). Voluntary welfare provision has a number of advantages, primarily that it is local and relational and hence encourages personal responsibility. Lower levels of taxation encourage philanthropic giving and local social welfare provisions.

– We should be equally wary of the role of the state in regulation. An economy in a fallen world will need some degree of regulation. Some acts will be illegal and these should warrant appropriate legal actions. The assumption, however, that the state is capable of regulating industry, price, wages, production simply goes against the idea of God’s provision through the market. And regulation inevitably leads to the exponential growth and reach of the state, always adding another carriage, another layer. This is not to say there is no need for any regulation; rather a warning about assumptions and presumptions.

– Our economic policies should be shaped by the encouragement of enterprise and entrepreneurship. Indeed, this is part of the appropriate response to the point about regulation. Why not encourage freedom, liberty, competition, enterprise zones, new businesses, self-employment? Why not relax some of the excess of planning policies and constraints? Why not reform and indeed lower levels of taxation? None of this is incompatible with appropriate protections for people, the environment and the welfare of society.

Christians will, of course, debate economic and social matters, and rightly so. Not all will come to the same conclusions. The market economy, though, is good news, part of God’s provision for the world to grow and to prosper. We would do well to honour that provision.


Richard%20Turnbullweb#1# (2)Dr Richard Turnbull is the Director of the Centre for Enterprise, Markets & Ethics (CEME). For more information about Richard please click here.