Thursday, December 20, 2007

Building a Culture of Faithfulness (Part 15)

Living Faithfully in the Community

When I speak of the community, I mean every level of human association beyond the family, whether clan, tribe, city, or state. I have divided the discussion into the categories of economic virtues, civic virtues, and cultural virtues (culture in its older sense of the arts and letters). In each and every area of life, we want to put into practice what it means to love God and to love our neighbor. We must not think of these virtues like the ancient Greeks or Romans did, for to do so would be to abandon our Christian world view. These are virtues which spring from love (1 Cor 13), for such is the fulfilling of the law (Rom 13:8).

Economic Virtues

Christians must cultivate economic virtues in, first of all, our attitude toward material possessions. We must confront the culture of consumption and debt with contentment (Phil 4:11-13; 1 Tim 6:6-10). How difficult it is for us as American Christians to be content with food and clothing, and yet what could speak to the world’s idolatry more clearly? We should also enjoy and encourage honest labor (Gen 2:15; Prov 12:11; Eph 4:28; 1 Thess 4:11), thrift (Prov 10:5; 13:11; 27:23-27), and charity (Prov 14:21; 31:20; Matt 5:42; Jas 1:27). The welfare mindset should not even be named among us (1 Thess 4:11-12; 1 Tim 5:13)! Christians should uphold the God-given idea of personal property ownership, along with the idea of stewardship and responsibility to God for all we own (Ex 19:5; 20:15). And the goal of all our economic activity should be to lay up treasure in heaven (Matt 6:19-21). Advancing the cause of Christ, providing for our families, and giving to others are godly financial objectives.

We can also cultivate economic virtues by reclaiming the ideas of vocation (1 Cor 7:17) and craftsmanship (Col 3:23-24). We should understand that God has called us to work, and that our work should be done as unto him. This is totally contrary to the idea that we work simply to make money, and it also contradicts the throw-away consumerism so rampant among us. A craftsman loves what he does, and he strives to produce something of lasting value, beauty, and benefit.

Last, Christians can strive to uphold a moral framework for the market. We can live out alternatives to materialistic capitalism,[i] while being alert to the insights of agrarianism (e.g. Wendell Berry), distributism (e.g. G. K. Chesterton), “Christian realism” (e.g. Reinhold Niebuhr), or “Christian personalism” (e.g. Pope John Paul II). I am not endorsing the theology of these men, but they and others like them have sometimes been much more acutely observant of our economic practices than have American evangelicals. Christians should resist trying to impose one rigid economic system, for the Bible does not give us such. Nevertheless, we must be very alert to the moral foundations and implications of any particular economic approach (see e.g. James 5:1-6).

[i] Capitalism can be a good thing, but when it is rooted in a naturalistic worldview, it is spiritually dangerous. “…Both Marxist and capitalist societies depend on a material foundation for the pursuit of human happiness and deny the spiritual element of the person. The consumer society arrives at a similar denial of the spiritual aspect of life via a different route from that of communism; however, the consequences are largely the same” (Charles McDaniel, God & Money [Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007], 278). In discussing Pope John Paul II’s economic thought, McDaniel also writes, “John Paul…recognizes the phenomenon of conspicuous consumption that results in the construction of artificial needs. Any Christian notion of consumption must recognize the ‘interior dimension’ of the human person and enable a hierarchical ordering of goods that prioritizes that interior dimension” (ibid., 279).

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