How the Church Can Stop Following and Start Leading the Economy
David Bahnsen is a principle of the Bahnsen Group, which is a financial services company located in Newport Beach, California and New York. David is also the author of numerous books including Responsibility crisis and his latest book, There’s No Free Lunch: 250 Economic Truthss.
I recently spoke with David on my Meeting of Minds podcast, and David will soon appear on the Business in the Kingdom podcast on the Edifi Network, here are some highlights from that discussion, slightly edited for clarity and length:
Jarry: Your book is terrific. I have the table of contents in front of me right now…and you seem to cover basically all the major topics of economic theory and practice in what is a relatively short, easy-to-read book.
David: I believe that all of these applications and all of these topics stem from the first two: human flourishing and human agency. The idea was at the beginning of the book to try to establish basic truths for people who want to approach this with a worldview of faith, who want to see what they believe about the truth claims of scripture, that which I see as the reality of creation applied to economics, applied to how humans interact with each other, applied to how we perceive money. So these different subjects really become applications from the first one.
Jarry: You work with money. You are an economist. You are in finance. You grew up in a Christian home. You were raised by a father who was a very eminent theologian. So you are in the world of money, which some people call mammon, to give you an idea of what they think money is inherently. So you have spent your life navigating between these worlds. What do you see out there in the Christian conversation that you can help? Where can you say “maybe this is where we’re going a little wrong, and this is how we can get back to some of these economic truths”?
David: I think you have a tendency for the Christian church, sometimes, when it strays from a sincere desire to bring the truth claims of Scripture about matters and about culture into the public square, that what she ends up doing when she’s not leading: it ends up following.
Right now, the trend in the culture is this idea of redistributing wealth, demonizing entrepreneurs, despising productivity. If that becomes the trend in the culture – a greater desire for central planners, for government to step in and run the affairs of the economy – then the church often ends up following. And my belief is that if the church were to reclaim some of the first principles of the reality of creation, which to me is the foundation of economics, then the church will avoid this unconsciousness that follows some of the really misguided ideas in our politics . life right now, and in the culture in general.
And so when you mention my first book, Crisis of Responsibility, I think there’s a big trend right now in the church to join the movement of well-intentioned but misguided (in some cases, not all) prosecutions. : the social justice movement, forgetting how wealth is truly created, focusing on the distribution and allocation of the pie of wealth instead of the growth of the wealth cake, and more specifically, instead of productivity which should actually be the whole conversation. How can we be better stewards of the resources God has given us? And if we maximize our stewardship and engage in productive behavior, will that increase the overall wealth pie and lead to greater poverty reduction? Will it lead to greater justice, to greater opportunity for all humans to flourish. I want the church to have these conversations instead of impersonating, I think, the rather reckless conversations of the world.
Jarry: Mimesis is what Girard calls mimesis. We choose a role model that we associate with or want to look like, and then we imitate that. Girard said either you imitate Christ or you imitate someone else. And whatever anybody else will be, they won’t be as good an example as Christ. Christ himself said, “Make disciples of the nations.” I guess what we are learning is that if we don’t disciple the nations, the nations will disciple us, and in the wrong direction.
David: It’s exactly that. And I think we’ve seen it play out in many different spheres of society and in the public square over the past 100 years in education, academia, the arts and entertainment. I think right now people are scratching their heads about technology not realizing that Christians have largely left behind the great technological revolution, the digital revolution of the last 50 years. So they lost a seat at this table, so to speak. And that has really created a big gap that we have to get out of.
I sincerely hope that this is not the case with finance. You’re right with Mammon’s rhetoric that has a natural skepticism and cynicism about finance, Wall Street, capital markets. And yet, I have to be honest: I don’t mind. I’m in because I believe the truth is on our side, and I can share with optimism and empathy why I believe we need capital. We need the sphere of finance just as much as we need all of these other spheres. And I think over time people will realize that this is just another aspect of the kingdom of God.
Jerry Bowyer is a financial economist, president of Bowyer Research, and author of “The Maker Versus the Takers: What Jesus Really Said About Social Justice and Economics.”