The study of economics among Christians has produced great fruit since the 1960s, when believing intellectuals once again began taking seriously the Word of God as a system for governing not just the self, but the larger world.
Perhaps the greatest influence was that of Dr. R.J. Rushdoony, whose Chalcedon Foundation in Vallecito, Calif., explored the relevance and applicability of all the law of God. Dr. Rushdoony’s work influenced a phalanx of other writers and activists, ranging from Francis Schaeffer to Jerry Falwell.
Dr. Rushdoony’s son-in-law, Gary North, 70, continues a prodigious output of economic and biblical analysis that focuses on the outworkings of grace in the marketplace. His periodical work is carried by the most significant free market, anti-war and anti-state website, www.lewrockwell.com, as well as sites Dr. North operates.
How grace enables a free market
An important fruit of the doctrine of grace is liberty — in political, economic and legal forms. Where society operates on that religious principle of the grace of a sovereign and merciful God, there tends to follow a reduction of oppression and lording over others, and a desire via innovation, technology, capitalism and service, to improve the lives of other people, according to these and other writers.
Certainly sinful men impose all sorts of abuses upon their peers, and so deviate from the obligations under the eighth commandment (“Thou shalt not steal”) and the privileges and duties under free capitalism. These impositions take many forms, and they create not a free capitalism, but a fettered and enslaved capitalism. They include debt capitalism. Corporate capitalism. Cartelism. Monopolism. Regulation and prohibition of common law rights to make a living. Overbroad interventions in the name of public safety and welfare. In Wednesday’s post, as regards Brainerd High School in Chattanooga, we see the many evils attending to compulsory educational systems, especially ones that have jettisoned structurally the conception of a creator God.
A week ago my wife, Jeannette, and I explored these questions in a visit to Biltmore Estate, an extravagant and beautiful manor outside Asheville, N.C. George Vanderbilt built the estate for the enjoyment of his family and others. A Christian of the Episcopalian denomination, Mr. Vanderbilt had huge resources, and spent them in a grand way for the betterment of everyone whom his life touched.
Mr. Vanderbilt’s monumental work reflects the image of God given to man as part of his creation. A man who read 81 books a year and owned more than 20,000 volumes, he cared a great deal about the study of science and technology, and sought improvements in these fields, especially the science of forest management. The estate differs only in scale and interest from similar labors in our hometown.
Labor saving devices & the image of God
In God’s providence, I took in my overnight bag several books, including one by an author Jeannette knows (she seems to know everybody). The 442-page tome published in Nashville is The Book that Made Your World [;] How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization by Vishal Mangalwadi, the leading Christian intellectual in India whose daughter, Anandit, lived atop Lookout Mountain at Covenant College and returned to her homeland.
Dr. Mangalwadi’s book “explores the Bible’s impact, not only in leading the West to unparalleled liberty and prosperity, but in helping India and other nations to share in the West’s success,” according to Chuck Colson’s review of the book on Breakpoint in July. (Mr. Colson died today at 80.) “Mangalwadi carefully examines the intellectual roots of Western concepts of human dignity, reason, morality, science, liberty, and self-sacrificial heroism, explaining how each of these concepts grew out of biblical principles. He then contrasts the biblical view of life with alternative worldviews like secularism, Islam and Hinduism. His own extensive experience doing relief work in rural India showed him the dehumanizing consequences of false worldviews.”
Mr. Colson goes on to say, “As Mangalwadi documents so well, the Bible and the biblical worldview also spurred remarkable technological development. Monks created labor-saving technologies (like the watermill and the flywheel) because while they saw work as valuable Christian service, they saw repetitive ‘toil’ as a result of sin. They sought to minimize toil so that they could have more time to pray. These and other technologies spread in order to liberate others made in God’s image.”
Clocks and the concept of ‘general welfare’
Culture informed by God’s Word alone has promoted technology for the general welfare and for empowering the weak — slaves, women, handicapped, children. Dr. Mangalwadi attacks the adage that “necessity is the mother of invention,” for necessity is universal, yet many people develop no ways out of their drudgery and monotony because they have a low view of man. “Labor-saving power-machines of the later Middle Ages were produced by the implicit theological assumption of the infinite worth of even the most degraded human personality, by an instinctive repugnance towards subjecting any man to a monotonous drudgery which seems less than human in that it requires the exercise neither of intelligence nor choice,” according to Lynn White Jr., as cited in the book.
Dr. Mangalwadi cites the importance of the clock in the Western worldview. The Chinese invented the clock, but clockmaking didn’t become an industry because the Chinese were not keen to know time nor how to order their lives in light of it. It was Christian monks who first made wide use of water mills for grinding and developing water machinery, even though mills had been developed earlier. Neither Hinduism or Islam developed the devices. Pagan countries have little use for wheelbarrows, but these devices boosted the Christian west.
The Bible’s view of the cosmos, creation and the incarnation of Christ created the ethos for innovation. “Christian compassion was another equally important factor. Christian spirituality has emphasized compassion, service and liberation far more than the need to establish human dominion over creation.”
Sources: Vishal Mangalwadi, The Book that Made Your World [;] How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2011).