“Love of God and love of neighbor requires us to address these issues of living with economic wisdom. They are too important for human life to be set aside. There is much else for pastors to do, of course, and not every pastor will engage the issues of economic wisdom to the same extent; but to engage them in whatever ways are appropriate to the individual – if it is just studying and teaching the biblical book of Proverbs – is essential to being an authentic spokesperson for Christ in our world.” – Dallas Willard
Those of you who joined us for the Oikonomia Network faculty retreat in January will remember what a powerful experience it was to have Dallas Willard speak about economic wisdom. An audio recording of his presentation, “Economic Wisdom and Human Flourishing,” is now available. Willard spoke movingly about the fruit of the Spirit and the desperate need for “spokespersons for Christ” to shine the light of wisdom in the darkness of our broken world.
Those who couldn’t join us in January can now discover the presentations for the first time, while those who were can re-engage with these important ideas. We urge you not to let this opportunity slide to the bottom of your pile. Dig into this rich soil, and reflect on the critical issues Willard describes as “essential to being an authentic spokesperson for Christ.” You might also consider using these audio recordings, or the video of Dallas highlighted in the ON Screen item of this newsletter, in the classroom.
Here is a brief outline of the presentations:
- Spokespersons for Christ (pastors) bring unique and indispensable knowledge of how people, including society as a whole, can live in economic wisdom.
- Economic wisdom directs the production, management, and exchange of vital goods and services so that well-being is achieved by most participants in the system.
- Individuals, groups, and governments evaluate economic systems and practices with reference to how well they contribute to human well-being, or flourishing.
- However, secularist and Christian understandings of well-being are quite different: a) A Christian view defines well-being as the presence of God and provision from God –fundamentally in terms of relationships, but also including material provision. Desire is viewed as something that is good but subordinate, and can be controlled. b) The prevailing secularist view defines well-being as the satisfaction of our natural desires, which is thought to be achievable by natural human ability alone. Desire is supreme and cannot be controlled.
- When desire rules, the result is disastrous for individuals and societies. Natural human desire is variable, conflicting, limitless, and deceitful.
- As people fail to satisfy their desires, they demand that their leaders provide for their well-being. But because true well-being is relational, it cannot be handed to people.
- As individuals and their governments lose their ability to say “no” to desire, a brutal power struggle becomes inevitable as people compete for resources. This is the central cause of our current economic and political breakdown.
- The fruits of the Spirit – the foundational traits of good character – enable us to subordinate desire to what is right. These traits, as well as the more specifically economic traits they imply (industriousness, self-control, moderation, responsibility for oneself and others, etc.) contribute to the social conditions of economic flourishing. Love nurtures productivity, joy nurtures thrift and investment, peace nurtures social trust, etc.
- These character traits are most fundamentally individual, but they can never be “private” in the sense of having no social consequences. They are intrinsically public; to practice them as individuals we must simultaneously promote them for our social group.
- Therefore, a major service of the Christian spokesperson is to keep before the public, including governments, a true picture of what human well-being is and how genuine human welfare can be served. The Bible, Christian history, and careful observation all demonstrate that this prophetic ministry is a key function of the spokesperson for Christ.
Here are a few more choice quotes to whet your appetite:
“The character of people in a population is hugely determinative of how well-off people are and of whether or not they and their society flourishes…. It is the foundational character traits from the fruit of the Spirit that can enable the individual (and by extension the group) to say either ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to what is required, or not, for a life of economic wisdom. It is certainly the task of the Christian spokesperson to teach, train, and exemplify both the foundational traits and the more specific traits required in the economic domain – industriousness, self-control, moderation, and responsibility for oneself and others. That is the responsibility and posture of love. To repeat, we should put to rest once for all the idea that these traits are ‘private’ and that public economic flourishing is independent of them. Public well-being and prosperity essentially depend upon them, properly understood and implemented.”
“Desire, without some outside principle of good, will always degenerate into power contests. It is inherently conflictual, both within the individual and the group. There is always, for an individual, a number of desires in play, and no desire, merely as such, is an indicator of what is good or what is best…Secularism now has a track record in dealing with desire, and it has not succeeded in finding a place to stand for public institutions and figures to say ‘no’ to desire. The ultimate court of appeal then becomes legal or political power: the courts, the legislature, and political campaigns…Nothing is left but winning, and the desires that win out will rule the day, with whatever consequences, benign or disastrous, may come…A major service of the Christian spokesperson, therefore, is to keep before the public – including governments – a true picture of what human well-being is and is not, as well as ways in which genuine human welfare can and must be served.”
“It is, further, the responsibility of the ‘experts’ who occupy positions in higher education – and, specifically, Christian higher education – to prepare those who exercise this prophetic ministry, to the church and to the nation and world, for effective execution of their special tasks. They must expose the economic follies of a government or society dominated by desire alone, and the power contests that arise from that. Let us begin!”
Let us begin, indeed! Check out the presentations. And if you can’t get enough of Dallas Willard on work and economics, check out the other videos highlighted in the ON Screen item in this newsletter.