Acton Commentary

A Heart for the Poor -- and a Mind for Economics

And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”  -- Luke 10:27

If any of you has confidence in your evangelical pedigree, I have more, being born on the 25th day of March to a pastor of the tribe of Moeller, who was ordained in the Evangelical Free Church of America; a Protestant of Protestants. I’m a graduate of Taylor University and current MDiv student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. I’ve been to all the popular conferences, read all of John Eldridge’s books, seen all of the cheesy faith-based Kirk Cameron films, made plenty of DC Talk references, and spent most of my Sunday mornings sitting in a church gym for the “Contemporary” service (while the “Traditional” service raged in the pews of the main sanctuary).

But unlike many of the louder, more condescending voices of the “post-evangelical” cabal in and around progressive Christendom these days, I actually enjoyed my upbringing. I actually appreciate the values my parents, pastors, and Christian education instilled in me.

This genuine appreciation I have is precisely why I’m so thoroughly disappointed with the staggering lack of serious thought, inquiry, and comprehension regarding basic economic concepts – many that plainly cry out from the pages of Scripture – among not only the average church-going Christian, but the influential voices in pulpits across the nation.

A mind is indeed a terrible thing to waste, and as far as self-professed Christians ought to be concerned, it is a sinful thing to waste as well. If behavior follows belief, if our actions emanate from our convictions, and if the “but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened” warning in Romans 1 has any real bearing on our lives, then we would do well to take a long, hard look at how Protestants “do” economics.

Let me quickly reassure those of you who may be worried about my priorities at this point: the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the heart and soul of the Christian’s life and should be our primary concern. The study of economics and the application of economic principles – even those rooted in God’s Word – should not be the number one thing preachers preach about or parishioners spend their devotional times investigating. The proper Biblical response to neglect in one area of our lives is not to rush to the other end of the spectrum and over-indulge in it. If you discover that you have been either neglecting or unaware of your duties as a follower of Christ, the proper Biblical response is something akin to a 12-Step Program.

Acknowledge and accept you’ve been in the wrong. Take some personal inventory of how you got to that point. Make amends to those you’ve let down. Begin to incorporate what God has revealed to you (through His Word and your personal inquiry into the matter) into your daily life as much as possible.

Hi, I’m R.J. and I am a Serial Neglecter.

It shouldn’t be a huge mystery how so many adult Christians end up economically illiterate (and therefore infinitely more susceptible to embracing secular, progressive talking points). Walk with me, if you would, through the hypothetical life-trajectory of the average pastor, whose teaching ends up influencing the thinking and priorities of his congregation (and their families).

He grows up in the church learning all of the “Greatest Hits” Bible stories and the skeleton, platitude-rich message of the Gospel most young people receive. He goes through his K-12 years at either a public or private school with nothing but cynical sneers from his teachers when the topic of capitalism comes up. In Sunday school and Youth Group, he learns in some very broad, superficial strokes about helping the poor, turning the other cheek, and avoiding the temptation to pursue worldly treasures. Along the way he absorbs pop-culture influences that teach him about the “evils” of Wall Street and the yeoman’s work of all public-sector employees. He waltzes his way through undergrad at a Christian university whose Student Life offices and events are run by the well-intentioned 38-year-old alum who is super liberal and carries clout with the student body because he listens to the same music as the kids he works with. Many “social justice” events ensue with no one adequately representing the case for free enterprise. By the time he reaches seminary, he has become utterly convinced that his progressive, big-government, anti-capitalistic convictions are the product of his “enlightened” upbringing.

Plus, he’s going into ministry, purposely moved into an ethnically-diverse area of town, and has “a heart for the poor.” Good luck convincing him he’s wrong about something!

His professors – godly men and women who have spoken into his life in other, equally important areas – never really mentioned much of anything about the importance of private property, de-centralized power, and historical realities about what awaits nations that embrace social engineering and top-down socialism. His parents – law-abiding, tax-paying, church-going folks who also never really addressed these topics or heard from their pastors that they should – owned their own small business and yet failed to see the importance of connecting the excitement of ethical entrepreneurial activity back to the Biblical precepts and doctrine it emanates from.

This young man has never learned economics, and yet he’s utterly certain that he knows what’s best for the livelihood and economy of 300 million people. Without the same three or four trusty clichés, he’d be lost in an actual discussion of how a local market works (or what a cause like “living wage” or “fair trade” actually translates into).

This young man is the product of a Christian culture that has, on the whole, given itself over to the sound-bite ethos of our age. We think we don’t have time to flesh out economic realities in Scripture, and we buy the lie that “young people” won’t listen to anything that doesn’t sound like something Bono might say at a press conference.

This young man is the product of churches where economics is never discussed, public schools and pop-culture where progressive economic policies are incessantly indoctrinated into him, seminaries that offer no real challenge to those progressive economic policies, and then back to the local church where he becomes a charismatic voice of condemnation of “the old” (i.e., “conservative”, “Republican”) way of doing things.

Now he’s starting a family and his “heart” has put some serious mileage on it, doing the emotional equivalent of a Cross-Fit workout every day for twenty years. But the “mind” has been wasting away like Jimmy Buffett on a two-decade-long bender in Cancun.

It’s time for parents, pastors, teachers and those of us in the pews to take economic realities more seriously.

If there is something pastors feel compelled by the Word of God to say when the economy tanks and times are tough, I can guarantee you that this same Book has something for your congregations’ ears in terms of a positive way forward that will gratify the heart and satisfy the mind.