Being the church means bringing life to the world, but how do we help our students lead churches that do that? In this stimulating new talk, Oikonomia Network Director Greg Forster argues that “economic life is the most powerful way to bring life to the world,” because “the economy is where people mostly live.” Drawing on the ancient Letter to Diognetus, Forster unpacks fruitful paradoxes to help Christians think about how to bring life to the world in the modern economy.
The Economic Wisdom Project offers faculty and students an invaluable resource: short and highly accessible videos connecting the best of theological scholarship to pressing problems in the public square and the economy. Through our Economic Wisdom Project Talks, students have access to brief, engaging, robust presentations from leading voices in theological fields. Consider assigning one of these talks to your students!
In a newly released EWP Talk entitled “Fruitful Paradoxes: Bringing Life to the World in the Modern Economy,” presented at Karam Forum 2020, Forster pointed to the unique opportunities in economic life for bringing life to the world. Human life cannot be reduced to economics, but people do spend most of their waking lives in the economy. As Christians work to bring the life of Christ to the world, they can do so most effectively by living economic life redemptively, knowing that the “economic ripple effect” of their faithfulness will spread through the surrounding culture.
Forster points out that the idea that Christians should bring life to the world comes to us from the second-century Letter to Diognetus. The author of the letter explains that “the church brings life to the world as the soul brings life to the body.”
The letter then offers us a series of paradoxes that express the strange cultural life of Christians. Forster focuses on two of these paradoxes to help us think about bringing life to the modern economy: “Christians accept the duties of citizens, and the penalties of foreigners,” and “Christians are content with poverty, and they make everybody rich.” Or, as Forster rephrases them: “To bring life to the world, we must be good citizens and good strangers”; and “to bring life to the world, we must surrender our wealth, but never our neighbors’ wealth creation.”
This talk highlights the historic example of Josiah Wedgwood, a Christian abolitionist and factory owner. In a time when factory workers were too often viewed effectively as commodities or even animals by their employers, Wedgwood dared to treat his employees humanely, setting higher expectations for the levels of production they could reach if properly trained, but also caring about their well-being as whole people. His labor reforms not only secured the flourishing of his own employees, but also transformed production practices throughout the Industrial Revolution.
Similarly, Forster spotlights a series of contemporary Christians who have brought life to the world in the modern economy. For example, Robert Lavelle, a real-estate broker and banker in Pittsburgh who pioneered just, equitable and holistic real-estate practices for African-American families during the era of officially segregated housing. Bringing the gospel to bear on his economic life not only reshaped Lavelle’s business, but also caused ripple effects to spread throughout his community, helping marginalized neighbors “bring flourishing to their communities through the work of their own hands.”
These compelling examples demonstrate the capacity of the economy to bring life to the world, since the economy is where people live, work, create and partner with their neighbors for the common good. When Christians such as Wedgwood or Lavelle demonstrate economic wisdom, they embrace this life-giving potential, correcting injustice where it occurs, caring generously for others, and generatively stewarding their work for the sake of the world.
Check out our library of EWP Talks, which are categorized by topic so you can find a great talk for your classroom quickly. Consider assigning this and other talks to your students in the coming semester!