Darrow Miller and Friends

The Biblical Morality of Economics

Writing recently in the Wall Street Journal, Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, brought some clarity to an increasingly opaque discussion about the national debt: “this … is a moral fight, not an economic one.”

The economic dimension is clear enough, as he enumerates:

  • Government spending is up from 27% of GDP in 1960 to 37% today
  • The share of federal income taxes paid by the top 5% of earners has risen from 43% in 1986 to 59% today.
  • The percentage of Americans who pay zero or negative income tax has shot from 18.5%  in 1986 to 51% today.
  • The national debt has rocketed from 42% of GDP in 1980 to 100% today.

Brooks argues that incremental adjustments cannot solve such drastic troubles. As he puts it, “structural change will only succeed if it’s accompanied by a moral argument.” He appeals to the fact that “America’s founders knew the importance of moral language” and laments the decline of “free enterprise advocates” into “the language of economic efficiency.”

The irony of this is that those who believe in free enterprise, whether they know it or not, are building on a biblical theme. Yes, of all citizens, Christians have a compelling contribution to make on the moral argument. We have the Bible.

The Bible tells us that at the creation, God put man – the imago Dei whose mind and heart are the greatest assets for creating wealth, into the garden – a resource for immeasurable wealth generation, and gave him the responsibility to develop it, to cultivate the fertile soil, to plant the seeds He had invested with virtually infinite power for reproduction. Man was to bring from the ground the marvelous abundance with which people, created in His image, are to care for their families and give to the needy. This Cultural Mandate preceded the fall (Genesis 1:28-29), and was restated after the flood (Genesis 8:21; 9:1,7).

All of this, of course, comes in the moral context of the worship of God, obedience to His commands, stewardship of creation, and humble service toward our fellow humans.

Our economic woes surely cannot be cured without recovering the Bible’s morality and the Bible’s view of reality.

– Gary Brumbelow

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Gary is the Disciple Nations Alliance editorial manager. He manages Darrow Miller and Friends and serves as editor and co-writer on various book projects. For eight years Gary served as a cross-cultural church planting missionary among First Nations people of Canada. His career also includes 14 years as executive director of InterAct Ministries, an Oregon-based church-planting organization in Canada, Alaska, and Siberia. Gary is a graduate of Grace University, earned an MA from Wheaton College and a Graduate Studies Diploma from Western Seminary. He lives near Portland, Oregon with his wife, Valerie. They have two married sons and twelve grandchildren. In addition to his work with the DNA, Gary serves as the pastor of Troutdale Community Church.


  1. Mark Rivers-Bland

    September 23, 2011 - 3:19 am

    The current problems facing America and Europe have very little to do with Government spending and economic efficiency. The root problem is the way money is created in the economy. While 3% is issued debt free in the form of notes and coins the other 97% is issued as debt by the private banks. However they charge interest on this money creation but the extra interest to pay for this money is itself created by going further into debt. The solution therefore is to issue money debt free. The only place in the world that I am aware of that does this is Guernsey in the British Isles. Why do we effectively rent money off the banks when governments have the authority to spend it into the economy debt free? Another good example of how to do it differently is the Bank of North Dakota. These issues are further explained in the following YouTube videos…
    Money as Debt (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dc3sKwwAaCU)
    The Secret of Oz (http://www.youtube.com/user/bstill3#p/u/21/U71-KsDArFM)
    “Freely you have received, freely give…” The more people who know the truth about “fractional reserve lending” the sooner we can change the whole system.

  2. Eric Read

    September 25, 2011 - 7:06 pm

    The statistics quoted above look to point in one direction on their own, but they are not the whole picture. What percentage of national income did the top 5% earn in 1986 and now? What percentage did the bottom 50% earn in 1986 and now? What was the national debt at the end of the Second World War and after financing the Marshall Plan? Include these and I suspect a very different picture will be conveyed. This article uses statistics selectively, which can be made to say anything – just like the bible.

    Please, your training matereials are excellent, they are transforming, you are right about the importance of worldview. There may be three main worldviews, but there are also are own cultural worldviews. Your worldview is tainted by the American worldview – unfeterred free markets, small government etc. These are not biblical. You seem to think there is no place for government regulation of markets. What about 2008, how much of that was due to repeal of 1930’s financial legislation by Clinton and Bush? Why were government and laws such a major feature in Old Testament Israel? What about the nationalisation of land by Joseph towards the end of Genesis? How about the Jubilee, debt cancellation and return of lands every 50 years full stop. Nothing about whether they had lost their land irresponsibly or not, nothing about whether they would be responsible with it or not, just plain simple redistribution of wealth. the biblical worldview is not unfettered free markets, it is freedom an dfree markets within a legal framework.

    The truth is man is sinflul and greedy, he won’t self regulate, that is why we need laws and regulations. They are needed as much for financial markets as for abortion.

    Please, think whether what you are promoting is really biblical, or is it just an American view?

    • disciplenations

      September 30, 2011 - 2:11 pm

      Dear Eric,

      Thanks very much for your response and I apologize for the (unavoidable) delay in this reply. You have made some important observations and I agree with much of your concern.

      First, we are not suggesting there is no place for government. As you imply, the very concept of human government is clearly derived from the Bible. Government is one of the spheres God has instituted, but the fallen people who comprise government tend to abuse authority and overreach into the other spheres, such as that of the family. A government practice which is faithful to the Bible will operate in a limited fashion. What Daniel Webser said almost 200 years old is still relevant:

      There is no nation on earth powerful enough to accomplish our overthrow. Our destruction, should it come at all, will be from another quarter. From the inattention of the people to the concerns of their government, from their carelessness and negligence, I must confess that I do apprehend some danger. I fear that they may place too implicit a confidence in their public servants, and fail properly to scrutinize their conduct; that in this way they may be made the dupes of designing men, and become the instruments of their own undoing.

      -Daniel Webster, June 1, 1837

      The point of “The Biblical Morality of Economics” was to note the moral dimension of economics, a perspective rarely heard in the market place of ideas today. Yes, you are right. People are not moral, and because of that, one role of government is to restrain evil. America’s constitution and system of government were intended for a moral and religious people who governed themselves based on God’s laws. These laws include the rule of law, rule by consent of the governed, human rights as sourced in God, the dignity of every individual, to name a few.

      To the degree that citizens practice self government, less national government is needed. On the other hand, a citzenry marked by indulgence and selfishness requires more vigorous external governing and all the potential abuse that accompanies such an arrangement (per the famous quote by Lord Action, “power corrupts”.) Ignorance of, or disobedience to, God’s moral law is always harmful to individuals and to the whole society.

      As for the question of redistribution of wealth I invite you to read this May 12 post by Darrow.

      – Gary Brumbelow