Hayden Royster on Christianity and Capitalism

The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of BCNN1. Opinions expressed are solely those of the author(s).

Jesus had much to say about money. It’s one of His most discussed subjects, more than faith and prayer combined. He encouraged radical generosity, “​If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor” (Matt. 19:21), decried idolatry, “You cannot serve both God and Money” (Matt. 6:24), eschewed materiality, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth” (Matt. 6:19) and called for stewardship, “From the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked” (Luke 12:48).

For Jesus, finance has spiritual implications; as He says to the Pharisees — “who loved money,” according to Luke’s author — “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your heart” (Luke 16:14). Honestly, Jesus’ views on money are pretty unmistakable:

The way we engage with money matters.

There are plenty of opportunities for Christians to examine whether their own financial habits line up with the words of Christ. But how often do we stop to consider whether the system we are a part of is compatible with Scripture? Is capitalism Christ-like?

In a recent ​article​ for Desiring God, Rick Segal tackles this very question. Segal delves into the history of capitalism, beginning with the “Father of Capitalism,” Adam Smith. In his seminal economic work, The Wealth of Nation, published in 1776, Smith argued that the best economic system is that which allows for a free exchange of goods between people driven by “their regard to their own interest.” Smith’s vision put production in the hands of private owners.

No government overreach, everybody striving after and profiting from their own “self-interest” — that’s capitalism in a nutshell.

Smith’s capitalism, Segal goes on to argue, is actually rooted in Christian — or at least Christ-adjacent — ideals. Segal insists that Smith, in championing “self-interest,” was not sanctioning selfishness, but describing something far more akin to the “self-love” that Jesus refers to in Mark 12:31, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Essentially, by pursuing your own happiness, you are better able to contribute to the happiness of those around you.

If there is selfishness and greed because of capitalism, Segal says, that is not inherent to Smith’s system but is the result of “corrupted” capitalism. Segal likens Smith’s system to “Christian Hedonism” (an idea popularized by pastor and writer John Piper), which is the belief that life’s fulfillment is found in the pursuit of joy rooted in God. In fact, in Segal’s opinion, if Smith made any mistake it was detaching his economic system from the ultimate purpose of glorifying God. Segal’s solution: a capitalism with “the church as the cultural foundation beneath it.” Ultimately, Segal argues that Christian principles are best articulated in capitalist society.

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SOURCE: Christian Post, Hayden Royster