Socialism and Capitalism: Which is Biblical? Blomberg Evaluates in “Christians in an Age of Wealth”
In his new book Christians in an Age of Wealth, New Testament scholar Craig Blomberg charts a biblical theology of stewardship to help Christians obey God in this aspect of Christian discipleship.
Last week we joined Blomberg on a journey through the canon to reveal just how important this oft neglected area of Western Christian living is for gauging genuine faith, suggesting what many of us fail to grasp: Stewardship appears as "exhibit A" of sanctification.
Today I want us to consider the political and corporate ramifications of this important sanctification issue. How relevant is stewardship to government and business? Blomberg helps us answer that question by considering the two economic systems that have come to dominate our age: socialism and capitalism.
Should Christians support capitalism in hopes that “trickle-down economics” will make life better for the poor as society propers? Should Christians support socialism so that governments can give funds to the needy?
Blomberg deftly argues that “one cannot champion any single existing economic system as the biblical system;” “there are strengths and weaknesses in each.” (196)
Socialism and Capitalism and Biblical Society
First, how do the modern economic systems of socialism and capitalism compare with those of the biblical societies? Can proponents of either system derive a biblical system of economics for today?
Blomberg says no. Because on the one hand, “neither of the two main contemporary models…existed on any large scale until the demise of medival feudalism.” On the other hand, “people at that time believed in what is today identified as the theory of ‘limited good.’” (197)
Economic and sociological patterns of interaction during the eras of Old Testament and New Testament composition viewed life as a “zero-sum game” in which “the notion that there was a finite and fairly fixed amount of wealth in the world.” (197) This means that a supermajority of people would have access to a super-small amount of wealth. And if someone in the community did become wealthy, it was assumed it came at someone else’s expense.
Blomberg doesn’t deny that there weren’t the beginnings of market economics in various biblical context, especially by the 1st century. Likewise, the tithes, tributes, and taxes in the days of Jesus and apostles created a centralized government akin to socialist models.
He does contend, however, that “neither system would have predominated, nor would anyone have likely even though in terms of economic systems per se.” (198) Which means we need to be careful about suggesting Moses or the Prophets, Jesus or the Apostles advocated for either socialism or capitalism in Scripture.
Socialism and Capitalism and Scripture
“Neither capitalism nor socialism can be derived from Scripture,” Blomberg insists, because “the texts that impinge on economic issues in the Bible that might be viewed as supporting one or the other system are relatively evenly distributed.” (198)
In other words, one could make the case for either system because there are elements of both throughout the Bible.
For instance, private property, the hallmark of capitalism, was enshrined as a fundamental good and right for Israelites. It was also possible to be both wealthy and godly, as evidenced by Abraham, Job, David, Solomon, and Esther. And God Himself “richly provides” those who are generous and eager to share with others (1 Tim. 6:17)
While there are capitalistic elements in Scripture, there are socialistic ones, as well. Though it was possible for the rich to be godly, Jesus suggested such “righteous rich” were few. Even then, in the New Testament such examples were those who gave away a substantial portion of their assets, especially to the poor. Also, God is deeply concerned that everyone has the opportunity to acquire some property and be relieved of economic burden—going so far as to institute a year (the Year of Jubilee) to help people regain lost property.
But while at first glance Scripture seems to support socialism, Blomberg makes it clear that Christian giving was always voluntary, never required by any government authority, and always described in the context of Christian discipleship. Furthermore, no New Testament text mandates state welfare systems. Yet it’s also clear that the wealthy are chastised for hoarding wealth without using their surplus to pay fair wages or alleviate suffering (Jas. 5:4-6)
Again, Blomberg reveals that one could make arguments for either economic system from the biblical material on economic matters, which means God seems to care about principles from both.
Socialism and Capitalism and the American Christian
Blomberg asks the obvious question at this point: “Where does all this realistically leave American Christians in the second millennium AD” for those desiring to understand God's heart for systemic stewardship? He argues “Probably the most we can hope for is to pursue compassionate efforts to tweak our existing system rather than radically overhauling it.” Such efforts will borrow insights from both socialism and capitalism.
I appreciate how Blomberg ends this chapter, taking an honest look at both economic systems. He identifies elements from both capitalism and socialism and how they can contribute to the common good, as well as how they reflect God's own heart in Scripture for how the flourishing of society. It is one of the more balanced explorations of stewardship in government and business I've seen.
In the end, Blomberg contends “neither capitalism nor socialism on its own will produce biblical stewardship.” (212) Furthermore, “we should never count on either government of business, or the political or economic process that undergirds them, to implement God’s will on earth.” (217)
Because that responsibility falls on us, the Church of Jesus Christ.
Jeremy Bouma (Th.M.) is a pastor with the Evangelical Covenant Church in West Michigan. He is the founder of THEOKLESIA, a content curator dedicated to helping the 21st century church rediscover the historic Christian faith; holds a Master of Theology in historical theology; and writes about faith and life at www.jeremybouma.com.
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