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How the Christian Worldview Appreciates and Corrects Capitalism

May 11, 2010

Seasoned professor and alumnus recover a “middle way” for how to understand capitalism

In the middle of a noisy, ruckus cultural climate that rages about the good, the bad, and the ugly of American-style capitalism, Biola’s professor of ethics, Scott Rae, and Biola alumnus and cultural communicator, Austin Hill, have co-authored a timely and clearly written corrective to the contemporary zeitgeist.

With widespread endorsements from governors, mayors, congressmen, columnists, talk radio hosts, provosts, professors, and presidents of think tanks, The Virtues of Capitalism: A Moral Case for Free Markets attempts to offer an honest and compelling case for how to think about the morality of economics, and especially how to think clearly about capitalism as a preferable economic system for productive, social organization.

“An economic system is the way in which exchanges are structured among individuals and institutions—it has moral implications because it’s about how we order our lives together in community,” Scott Rae stated in an interview with Evangelical Philosophical Society (EPS).

What should an economic system achieve? Rae and Hill believe “an economic system should provide adequate opportunity for self-support and a safety net for those who cannot support themselves. The Bible is clear that those incapable of self-support are entitled to a share of the community’s goods.”

Throughout the book, Rae and Hill show that the “fundamentals of the market system” are adequately conducive to humans flourishing because the fundamentals include “freedom, initiative, creativity and provision for the poor.”

Thus, “We hold that the entrepreneurial traits necessary for success in economic life are actually important Christian virtues,” explains Rae in the EPS interview. “Further, we hold that the responsible wealth creation of the market system is how an economist would capture the biblical notion of human dominion over creation from Genesis 1.”

Unquestionably, the morality of capitalism is one of the most pressing moral issues of contemporary public policy and politics that Christian theologians and philosophers must seriously engage.

Yet, as Rae and Hill’s chapter one demonstrates, many so-called faith-based individuals and institutions do not view economics as a “moral issue.”

“America is now in the midst of an economic policy revolution. Faith-based individuals and groups can no longer afford to sit on the sidelines and pretend that their economics is not a moral issue. Nor can they assume that the various economics systems in the world are all morally equivalent with one another,” writes Rae and Hill.

Capitalism must be directed by a “moral-cultural system,” argue the authors.

“Given the severe mismanagement of private sector financial markets, and the global economic turmoil and the loss of confidence in American-styled capitalism that has resulted,” observes Rae and Hill, “the need for sound, moral understanding of the economy is as great as it ever has been.”

In eight solid, readable chapters, Rae and Hill honestly assess and appreciate capitalism’s strength and limitations.

The first third of the book establishes an appropriate moral foundation for how to approach concerns with, and a case for, capitalism; a foundation based on scriptural evidences and reasons and from the standpoint of moral knowledge, virtue and ethics. Chapter four is devoted to addressing different types of objections to capitalism, and not just from the standpoint of competing economic systems (e.g., socialism).

While the first four chapters are relevantly sprinkled with contemporary examples, the second part of the book directly takes on the state of capitalism in light of the current global financial crisis.

Throughout, the book offers clear, necessary, useful distinctions and nuances without being a specialized and super-sophisticated artifact of academe. Its tone is calming, and it stands in stark contrast to populist angst, and its resolve is discontent with secular, institutional status quo.

“While we believe that capitalism has the ability to transform individual lives, communities, and nations,” Rae and Hill observe, “We recognize that there is a role to be played by religious institutions, nonprofit groups, and governments in building a cohesive society.”

The Virtues of Capitalism helps to further enlarge an important discussion that Rae initiated at the 2009 annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society and EPS, where he gave a plenary address about “The Intersection of Faith, Economics and Social Ethics: Business as Spiritual Transformation.”

"The direction of most conversations around 'faith-business integration' has been one way (with faith transforming the workplace)," Rae noted in last year’s address. "Less obvious, however, are the ways that God may move in the other direction and use business in a reciprocal (though not always comfortable) manner to shape us in positive ways."

On May 6, 2010 Biola’s Mayers Auditorium was packed, drawing people from all over Los Angeles and Orange County, for the book-signing event for The Virtues of Capitalism, sponsored by Biola’ Christian Apologetics program. Many came for the book signing, and still others came to learn how to think differently, some may even say, “counterculturally,” about the state of capitalism.

Rae and Hill offer a vision forward that recognizes the weaknesses of capitalism when unchecked by a moral-cultural system of appropriate checks-and-balances but also the strengthen of capitalism’s ability, as an economic system, to capitalize on human freedom, creativity, innovation, and initiative when producing cultural goods and services.

On May 5, 2010, Rae discussed the book with Frank Pastore on The Frank Pastore radio show — The Intersection of Faith and Reason. He shared his views on the morality of capitalism addressing the Christian defense of free markets and capitalism. Listen to Rae’s interview and catch the Frank Pastore Show weekdays on KKLA 99.5 FM.

You can read more about The Virtues of Capitalism in the EPS interview with Scott Rae.  

Written by Joseph Gorra, Christian Apologetics. For more information, contact Jenna Bartlo, Media Relations Coordinator. Jenna can be reached at (562) 777-4061 or through email at jenna.l.bartlo@biola.edu

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