Darrow Miller and Friends

Great Commission Utilitarianism, Part 3

Oikonomia vs. Chrematistics

In direct opposition to what those possessing a GCU (Great Commission Utilitarianism) mindset state, God’s ends reveals that human beings are placed on earth for economic purposes: to be the catalysts to allow families, communities and nations to reach their fruition. We see this unfold in the biblical concept of oikonomia – administration of the house. The English word economics is derived from this concept. Oikonomia creates a unique economic philosophy and practice.

Oikonomia is derived from the intersection of two views for understanding the universe: Open vs. Closed System and Moral vs. Amoral Universe. The intersection of these two frameworks creates four quadrants: Oikonomia, Chrematitistics, Idealistic-Socialism and Classic Communism:

In order to help you gain a true understanding of God’s view and purpose for work, let’s study each of these quadrants.

1. Oikonomia – The intersection of a Moral Universe and an Open System is internally consistent in that they are both derived from a universe in which God exists; the universe is both moral and open. In this quadrant, justice is defined as inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and all human beings are equal before God and before the law.

The tenants of this economic philosophy are that human beings are made in the image of God and the universe is his creation. Human beings are God’s vice-regents, placed here to manage the household – God’s creation – and to create wealth; the world was designed by God to flourish. We were placed here to make families, nations and the world bountiful (Gen. 1:26-28). Resources are only limited by imagination and moral stewardship. Wealth is created through long-term time horizons (multi-generation); the end of history includes the wealth of nations (Isa. 60:5; 61:6; 66:11-13; Rev. 21:23-26). Through the moral stewardship of creation, the land—the farm, the forest—is left healthier, and the world wealthier for the next generation. In this quadrant, God is God; neither poverty nor riches are idolized (Prov. 30:8-9). The goal is wholesomeness, health, bounty, justice and wisdom for all families and nations. The idea of oikonomia is to be naturally held by Judeo-Christian theists.

2. Chrematistics The intersection of an Amoral Universe and an Open System is internally inconsistent since part of the quadrant is derived from a theistic framework and part from an atheistic framework. Chrematistics was identified by Aristotle as the counter point to oikonomia. This quadrant is inhabited by people who are either consciously or functionally atheists, who are self focused with no moral framework but are living inconsistently on the biblical memory of an open system where wealth can be created. These people define justice as freedom from interference in their personal gain and use of wealth.

The tenants are that human beings are highly evolved consuming animals. The universe is one cosmic machine that exists for man to exploit. Manipulation of property and wealth to maximize short-term exchange value (there is no tomorrow) for individual consumption is the name of the game. Because there are no moral constraints, any means may be used to maximize wealth, including bribery, dishonest scales, raping the land and destroying forests and communities.

This quadrant idolizes opulence and conspicuous consumption. It is held by atheist materialists from the West who are living off a memory of biblical theism’s Open System. They are known as hedonistic consumers, predatory “Capitalists,” Libertarians, and in some cases, evangelical Gnostics who function religiously from a theistic point of view but who exhibit the same lifestyles as hedonistic consumers.

3. Idealistic-Socialism – A Moral Universe with a Closed System. Those who promote this are internally inconsistent, living on the memory of a biblical morality and yet consciously/unconsciously operating from a closed system model of the universe. They define justice as “equal outcome” of economic activity.

The basic tenants of Idealistic-Socialism are that human beings are highly evolved consuming animals. The universe is one cosmic machine that exists for man to exploit. Resources are physical things in the ground and are limited. If some people are poor it is because the rich have stolen from them. The solution is to redistribute scarce resources so that all have equal outcome. Poverty tends to be idolized here, and wealth demonized. This position is held by Liberation theologians, and liberal evangelicals like Ron Sider, author of Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, Jim Wallis, founder and editor of Sojourners Magazine, and others with a moral conscience who are aware of the needs of the poor and who have consciously rejected hedonistic consumerism.

4. Classic Communism – The meeting of an Amoral Universe with a Closed System. Like those who articulate and live out oikonomia, classic communists are internally consistent but from an atheistic, rather than a Theistic, paradigm. They define justice as equal outcome where everyone ends with the same. As Karl Marx has said: “From each according to his ability to each according to his need.”

The basic tenants are that human beings are highly evolved consuming animals. The universe is one cosmic machine that exists for man to exploit. Resources are physical things in the ground and are limited. Some nations are rich at the expense of other nations that are poor. The forced redistribution of scarce resources allowing all people to end with the same economic condition is the solution to the problem of poverty. Wealth is generally demonized, along with those who create it. This position is held by Marxists, Maoists and many Western intellectual elite.

-Darrow L. Miller

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Darrow is co-founder of the Disciple Nations Alliance and a featured author and teacher. For over 30 years, Darrow has been a popular conference speaker on topics that include Christianity and culture, apologetics, worldview, poverty, and the dignity of women. From 1981 to 2007 Darrow served with Food for the Hungry International (now FH association), and from 1994 as Vice President. Before joining FH, Darrow spent three years on staff at L’Abri Fellowship in Switzerland where he was discipled by Francis Schaeffer. He also served as a student pastor at Northern Arizona University and two years as a pastor of Sherman Street Fellowship in urban Denver, CO. In addition to earning his Master’s degree in Adult Education from Arizona State University, Darrow pursued graduate studies in philosophy, theology, Christian apologetics, biblical studies, and missions in the United States, Israel, and Switzerland. Darrow has authored numerous studies, articles, Bible studies and books, including Discipling Nations: The Power of Truth to Transform Culture (YWAM Publishing, 1998), Nurturing the Nations: Reclaiming the Dignity of Women for Building Healthy Cultures (InterVarsity Press, 2008), LifeWork: A Biblical Theology for What You Do Every Day (YWAM, 2009), Rethinking Social Justice: Restoring Biblical Compassion (YWAM, 2015), and more. These resources along with links to free e-books, podcasts, online training programs and more can be found at Disciple Nations Alliance (https://disciplenations.org).


  1. darrow l. miller

    December 11, 2009 - 10:45 am

    Hello Northern Lights

    Thanks for your response. It is good to know the source of the quadrants concept. I have been using the exercise for a number of years to help me think through issues. While I had not consciously seen others use this before, it makes sense that others would because it is so helpful.

    Currently, I am reflecting on another set to be marked by Biblical Wholism and Evangelical Gnosticism on one axis and the Christians concern for Stewardship of the environment.

    Thanks again for your good input. It is very helpful


  2. Steven Johnson

    December 16, 2009 - 5:52 am


    Where would you locate ecological economists like Herman Daly, Lester Brown, etc. in your taxonomy? How compatible do you think their vision is with yours?

    Resources are only limited by imagination and moral stewardship.

    Do you believe that there are any limits to the extent to which human-made resources can be substituted for depleted natural resources? This is an extremely important question to clarify, in my opinion, because all subsequent policy thinking hinges on one’s answer to it.

    Here are quotes from some of the best (IMO) “sustainability” thinkers that might suggest a degree of (unexpected?) closeness between your vision and theirs:

    All of this [discussion of constraints such as finite energy, raw materials, capacities of waste sinks, etc.] does not mean economic value cannot continue to grow indefinitely. Indeed, we believe that perhaps it can if we define economic value in terms of the psychic flux of human satisfaction, and we learn to attain this satisfaction through nonmaterial means. Ecological economics does not call for an end to economic development, merely to physical growth, while mainstream economists’ definitions of economic progress confusingly conflate the two.

    –Herman E. Daly and Joshua Farley, Ecological Economics: Principles and Applications, p. 64.

    Social capital is “the relationships, networks and norms that facilitate collective action” (OECD, 2001), or the shared knowledge, understandings, and patterns of interactions that a group of people bring to any productive activity (Coleman, 1988, Putnam, 1993)…. Social capital constitutes the “glue” that holds our communities together…. The shared cognitive aspects of social capital help account for two unusual characteristics that differ from physical capital. First, social capital does not wear out upon being used more and more; and second, if unused, social capital deteriorates at a relatively rapid rate (Ostrom, 1993)…. It is not limited by material scarcity, meaning that its creative capacity is limited only by imagination. Consequently, it suggests a route toward sustainability, by replacing the fundamentally illogical model of unlimited growth [“growth” in this context meaning production that relies on depletion of natural capital and increase in physical waste, SJ] within a finite world with one of unlimited complexity, not bound by the availability of material resources. However, social capital also has limitations which other forms of capital do not. It cannot be created instantly….[it] takes time to develop…. It is also fragile and subject to erosion not only by direct assault but more importantly, by neglect, if there are many or strong competitors for investment of emotional significance or time.

    –Mark Roseland, Toward Sustainable Communities, revised edition, pp. 9-10.

    Steven Johnson

  3. Darrow Miller

    December 16, 2009 - 5:53 am


    Thank you for your thoughtful response to the third part of Great Commission Utilitarianism. First let me state that I am not a scientist or economist. I am a layman who loves ideas and particularly one who has focused his lifework on the intersection on worldview and development or culture and poverty. From time to time I will bring my understanding of worldview into the disciples of art, politics, economics, healthcare or some of the burning issues of the day.

    You wrote “Where would you locate ecological economists like Herman Daly, Lester Brown, etc. in your taxonomy? How compatible do you think their vision is with yours?”

    To the extent that the quotes you refer to reflect the ideas of Daly and Brown, we would have significant correspondence in our views. While I have used some of Brown’s statistic in research, I have not read either of these men to judge if they function from an open or closed system model. My guess would be, because they are concerned for the environment they are functioning from a moral frame. So in terms of this four quadrant model, I have not studied Daly and Brown sufficiently to know where I might place them.

    For more of our own understanding you may want to read the little book that Scott Allen and I wrote entitled: The Forest in the Seed: A Biblical Perspective on Resources and Development. This can be purchased in a paper format from the DNA bookstore: http://www.disciplenations.org/store-catalog?MAJOR=Books&MINOR=standard or freely downloaded from our website: http://www.disciplenations.org/books_download.

    Let me take a few moments and respond to the paper that you sent Anti-Environmentalism as “Christian Heresy.” The “Gnostic heresy,” in its modern manifestation is what I would call Evangelical Gnosticism [EG]. I have written extensively on this in the book Discipling Nations: The Power of Truth to Transform Culture. I would not say that this movement, which sadly defines much of modern Evangelical, Charismatic and Pentecostal thinking, is so much “anti-environmental” as it is non-environmental. Like their Greek forerunners, this movement separates sacred from secular, grace from nature and thus does not speak with prophetic voice to all of life. Authors like Hal Lindsey The Late Great Planet Earth (1970) and Tim Lahaye’s Left Behind Series have influenced two or perhaps three generations of Christians to disengage from culture, the world and concern for creation.

    If we were to another quadrant graphic, as we did in GCU # 3, we would have two axis forming four quadrants. One axis could be labeled “growth” – “no-growth,” the second could be labeled “stewardship” – “rape.” The rape-growth quadrant would reflect conspicuous consumption. There is no moral framework for how one gains or uses resources. The second would be rape-no growth and leads to increased poverty of all kinds – environmental, economic, etc. The third would be stewardship-no growth. For me this would speak of conservation (good) but no progress (bad). And, the way I see things, this would in fact not be Biblical stewardship which requires conservation-progression. The fourth quadrant would be defined by growth and stewardship. This would reflect, what I believe, is the Biblical model. This stewardship requires both progress and conservation. There is a moral ecology that creates a framework for both eco-logy and eco-nomics. This quadrant allows for the growth of wealth and culture but in a framework where people ask moral questions – “Ought we to do it?” not just pragmatic questions – “Can we do it?”

    You have written “Do you believe that there are any limits to the extent to which human-made resources can be substituted for depleted natural resources?”

    First, let me state clearly that natural resources are to be wisely used. They are not to be pillaged as we do in so much of the world (West, East and South). Second, what we call natural resources, would not exist if it were not for moral imagination. Animals who are not the image of God do not have the imag[e]-ination to discover the things that God has hidden in creation. Third, in the area of wealth creation, natural resources – environmental capital is important, but it is not the only capital available. There is human capital, social capital, moral capital, intellectual capital, artistic capital, and etc. Often the intangible capital is more important than physical capital to build healthy lives, communities and societies. Again, please see our book Forest in the Seed. Also, for more on this, the chapters on stewardship and the open system in the book Discipling Nations will be helpful.

    Well Steven, there is so much more to reflect on with you, but we have run into finiteness.