CAPITALISM AND THE KINGDOM OF GOD
The people of God have long had a struggle with the acquisition of wealth. From the statement of Jesus that no one can serve two masters (Luke 6:13) to the concerns of BT Roberts when he said “Never was a saint a millionaire. Never was a millionaire a saint. Men who get rich aim at getting rich. They live for that. To this one purpose their thoughts and their energies are directed”(The Earnest Christian, Vol. XXVIII, Pgs. 37-38, August 1874), our biblical and Wesleyan tradition points us toward a wise path. To continue that journey, two Free Methodist scholars present their guidance in a recent article. asking the question “Should Christians endorse or reject capitalism.”
Drs. Kent Dunnington (Biola University) and Ben Wayman (Greenville University) give a thorough exploration of the question in their May 11, 2020 article in ABC Religion and Ethics. Explaining that there are four definitions of Capitalism, with each having their specific Christian critique, they conclude their study by making four specific recommendations to us within our economic lives.
Witnessing (to) a different economy
“We propose the following four economic postures to mitigate against the sinister power of contemporary neoliberal capitalism, a capitalism whose animating features are captured in the descriptions of (C2), (C3) and (C4) above. Our idea is that these postures adhere to the teachings of Jesus, participate in God’s shalom, and take sin seriously, without requiring economic revolution.
Our thinking in what follows will be illustrated by representative stories from scripture and the wisdom of the early church. These postures are not strategies for individual perfection. Indeed, undertaking these strategies in such a manner would only buttress capitalism’s individualist spirit. Embodying these postures is a communal endeavour. We believe these postures toward money must be shaped, developed and practiced by a living, breathing, community of disciples. As Will Willimon observes, we most often err in our interpretation of scripture when we apply it privately. If we are to be a people who are salt and light in a world that is in the grip of sin and the clutches of money, we must become a people who model for the world a different approach to economics. If capitalism is the economic form of the surrounding culture, then how might the following postures look in practice?
(P1) Share, in a way appropriate to you and your community. We can do little better than John the Baptist, who told the crowds to repent! and share your stuff (Luke 3:8-14). Repentance and the kingdom of God are intimately tied to our economics. There can be no holy economics as long as economic systems are constrained by the forces of this world. But Christians can demonstrate a unique witness in the world by engaging economic structures around them with postures shaped by Christ’s love command….
(P2) Treat money as a tool, not a treasure. The contexts for Jesus’s teaching that “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” are different in Matthew and Luke, but for our purposes we will focus on the Lukan context because there it follows on the heels of Jesus’s admonition to “Sell your possessions, and give alms” (Luke 12:33). Christians must be vigilant that money never becomes more than a means to an end. Rather, it should be used instrumentally to set people free (from hunger, debt or whatever). There is ample evidence in scripture and other early Christian literature that accumulating wealth for its own sake is antithetical to Christian discipleship. Jesus’s teaching of the man who built extra storehouses to fill his bumper crop illustrates this clearly….
(P3) Give sacrificially. This posture calls for a revaluation of money, or mammon, as the gospel authors put it. As Samuel Wells explains, although mammon is on short supply and runs out, manna is the name for what God gives us in plenty — namely, grace — which is displayed in the community called “church” that has learned to practice the currency of the Kingdom. If manna is the name for this currency, then “generosity is the best investment,” because it is an investment in eternity. Generosity is possible because God gives us everything we need, and it’s preferable because it facilitates an economy of neighbour love where no one has too much or too little, so no one needs to be anxious about what to eat or wear….
(P4) Serve God, not wealth. Don’t fool yourself that wealth isn’t a threat to holiness. “You cannot serve God and wealth,” Jesus says (Luke 16:13). It’s not obvious that Christians believe Jesus on this score. We seem to think that we can live lives of unabashed wealth accumulation and be faithful disciples as long as we give our 10 per cent tithe. But the early church helps us see more clearly that our salvation is at stake in the service of money….
The economy of God’s kingdom
Our discussion of the various capitalisms and common anti-capitalist arguments has aimed to present a picture of modern American capitalism and some Christian concerns in the face of it. We are convinced Christians must critically engage conventional ways of commerce, consumption and participation in our current economy, but admit we are not sufficiently gripped by movements of reform or revolution. Our hope is that by practicing the above-mentioned Christian postures we participate in, and witness to, an economy that challenges capitalism and any other economy not shaped by the Way of Jesus.”
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