Here’s the latest from the crossroads of faith, media & culture: 04/29/22
GDP: God’s Domestic Product. Yesterday’s data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis shows that America’s Gross Domestic Product – the broadest measure of the nation’s economic activity – shrank in the first quarter of 2022 at an annualized rate of 1.4%. In his new book Economic Evidence for God? Uncovering the Invisible Hand That Guides the Economy, Crown Financial Ministries CEO Chuck Bentley whose daily radio broadcast My Money Life is featured on over 1,000 Christian music and talk stations across the country, suggests that the numbers – and our current economic outlook – would be a bit less gross if our leaders would quit ignoring God’s economic principles.
JWK: In you book you suggest that the laws of economics point to the reality of God. How so?
Chuck Bentley: I think that the heavens declare His glory. That’s obvious by just simply looking up to the sky. We can see the God of All Creation there. From my perspective, I think you can do the same thing by looking into the markets. It’s so because God gave us principles that, when you examine them against reality, hold up. What we can see in economies – whether it’s our personal economy or the macroeconomy – those that flourish consistently are in line with the principles and practices that God said are best for us.
JWK: I’ve heard you talk about striking a balance between the so-called Prosperity Gospel that we hear so much about and what you call the Poverty Gospel. I find that interesting.
CB: I think there are two extreme teachings on money when it comes to our faith. One is the Prosperity Gospel which is really presuming upon God that He will make you rich without any prerequisite, without a requirement of work or character or diligence or self-sacrifice – that we simply have to ask of Him and expect it to happen. This is not supported by Scripture.
On the other end of the spectrum the Poverty Gospel is also an extreme teaching that can’t be supported in Scripture. The Poverty Gospel is dangerous. Basically it portrays people with wealth as evil or greedy. It assumes that they’ve done something wrong to acquire that wealth. It also assumes that their poverty is a sign of righteousness, that self-denial is akin to favor with God and they consider themselves holier than others because they don’t have this attachment to money or possessions. That’s also wrong. It cannot be supported by Scripture.
When I teach those things, John, people always wonder, well, what it is it if it’s not one extreme or the other? The middle ground, as you know, is the teaching of Scripture – that we’re to be responsible with what God provides for us. The Parable of the Talents lays out a differentiation in socioeconomics. One has five talents, the other two and then, finally, there’s a person with just one talent. You can stratify that into affluent, middle class and poor. The standard that God is looking for anybody in those three strata is not success. It’s faithfulness. God doesn’t measure us according to whether or not we’re financially successful – only if we’re financially faithful to honor Him and to make Him first. He wants us to avoid allowing money to become a surrogate god in our lives.
JWK: How does that translate in terms of principles for managing money?
CB: I start with the principle of God’s ownership. Psalm 24:1 says that the Earth is the Lord’s and everything in it and all the people who are on the Earth. So, we are temporary. God created what we can see and feel and touch and it belongs to Him. We simply get to use it for a brief period of time. That makes us a steward. He’s the owner and I’m a steward. From that, all the other decisions I make about money now come into line with that worldview. If God owns everything then my role in life isn’t to accumulate the things of this world. Certainly, I have the opportunity to use them to take care of my family, to be generous and bless others with whatever God supplies for my need but I don’t measure who I am, what I am becoming or what I’m trying to accomplish in life around money. Money is no longer my identity. It’s not my purpose in life. It may help me fulfill my purpose but God defines that not money.
I think, secondly, it gives you freedom from materialism – the idea that your self-worth is derived from your possessions. That’s not the way God wants us to function. In fact, it really creates an alienation and a lack of appreciation for people. Some of my friends are people in parts of the world who have very, very little material possessions but they have dignity, they have creativity, they’re kind, they’re intelligent, they’re good people. We can enjoy each other because we’re not distanced in relationship because of what we have…To me the beginning point is seeing your identity as a steward and not an owner.
JWK: Would you say God’s principles are in line capitalism, socialism or what?
CB: It’s really interesting to think about the beginning of the 10 Commandments in Exodus 20. God reminds the Israelites that He came and rescued them from a dictator. Pharoah was a dictator. He had enslaved God’s people and he refused to allow them freedom of religion. The entire epic showdown between Pharoah and God was over freedom of religion. God came and rescued them (so) they could worship Him. He reminds them, before he gives them the 10 Commandments, that He’s the God who set them free.
To answer your question directly I believe that God intends for us to operate in a system of free markets. Capitalism has some baggage with it right now. It’s a term that has fallen out of favor but essentially what The Bible describes is that man does best when freedom exists. Where the Spirit of the Lord is there should be freedom. When we worship God you see cultures, societies and governments that allow people to be free and to achieve their full potential. If you see any other model – if you start with the First Commandment: Have no other god before Me – you see freedom is taken away. When man is worshiped – as a despot or a tyrant – certainly atheism flourishes and state control over the economy flourishes. Those are called command economies. Economic output lags behind. If government is considered God and has all the answers then government starts to take over the market which suppresses economic growth and does not produce the results that freedom produces.
Finally, in a culture where idolatry is practiced – where people actually worship idols and not the God of The Bible – you see rampant poverty. You can overlay that grid on any country of the world and you could determine what kind of economy they’re going to have. It’s according to who’s worshipped.
JWK: You may not want to get too political but what do you think about how the current administration’s policies line up with those principles you speak of?
CB: John, I don’t track one administration over the other. I tend to watch macro trends and we’re trending in the wrong direction overall. You look at the past five or six administrations (and) you’ve had a mixture of conservatives and liberals throughout those 40 or 50 years and yet two key metrics that I think are in violation of God’s principles continue to grow. One is overspending. We have not had a balanced budget for 50 years! Maybe, very briefly, one or two years out of the last 50 have we lived within our means. Secondly, we’ve not been able to control the growth of our debt. We have debt spiraling out of control and that’s been under different administrations.
So, I don’t want to cast stones at any one particular group but I do feel the angst of poor stewardship at the federal level. I think most of us are yearning for a leader that understands the importance of constraint, the importance of good stewardship of the resources of this country and I think that’s lacking overall.
JWK: So the principles of managing your personal economy and for managing the macro national economy are more or less the same, just on smaller and larger levels.
CB: I agree with that. Classically, economics is divided into two categories – micro which tends to be personal or local and then macro economics. If you look at works on a personal basis, it’s the very same principles that work on a national basis.
I began to see this as I was traveling. I started with a personal commitment in my own life to live out God’s principles to radically obey what God says is good for me and I found it to be true. I have deep convictions about this topic because I’ve lived it. I’m not speaking about theory. This is something that I’ve experienced. What God has said is best for me, in fact, has been best for me.
Then as I traveled and taught others I noticed that any culture that would embrace God’s principles also experienced the benefits at a macro level. Just as a simple illustration, if you take marriage – which God said is good for us; He said it’s not good for man to be alone and He also said two are better than one – the reality of that is all the data supports that as a fact. People who are married do better financially than people who are not and cultures that embrace monogamous, faithful covenant marriages have the fastest-growing, most-sustainable economies in the history of the world. Where that is violated you have slow growth or even a negative impact on an economy.
JWK: You’ve spoken about Israel and how it’s like a thriving island in the midst of economic turmoil.
CB: I wrote a whole chapter on the phenomenon of not only Israel as a nation but the Jewish people…Whether it’s the people as individuals or the holistic view of Israel as a nation, you see incredible economic performance. You see disproportionate wealth creation and the ability to create wealth.
I studied that very, very closely. Why is it that, out of all nations that surround Israel, they’re the fastest-growing, strongest economy of any country in the Middle East even though they’re very, very small in comparison and devoid of many natural resources that others have? Why are Jewish people – a tiny percent of the global population – disproportionately successful and affluent?
What I found is they often credit their success not to some genetic difference between themselves and the rest of the world but to the teaching that’s been poured into them through an adherence to God’s principles from the beginning. Why are they in banking? Why are they historically the greatest bankers in every country? Throughout time they’ve been the greatest bankers. They say it goes back to Mount Sinai – the principles of integrity, the principles of honesty, the principles of fairness, of weights and measurements, the principles to avoid usury, the principles to provide a place for trust where money is not going to disappear. All of those things create the environment to become lenders and not borrowers and, generally, they have followed those principles and have experienced the blessings of God.
JWK: Do you feel these financial principles should be taught in school? Because, as far as I can see, they’re largely not.
CB: Well, I prefer that they be taught in homes. The reason I say that is The Bible (says) when you rise up or when you lie down, in our coming and our going we’re to teach God’s word. We learn best not just from hearing something but also seeing it practiced. I can tell you from my own upbringing that I was heavily influenced by what I saw – the way money was managed in our own home. If we can get it right at home then you have generational benefit.
Would it help to have this supplemented in a school curriculum? Absolutely. Financial illiteracy is at an all-time high in our country right now. High school students were recently asked would you rather make three percent on your certificate of deposit or one percent a month? High school students chose three percent. It’s an obvious bad financial choice but that’s what they chose. So, you see financial literacy is a huge (issue) but my view is it begins at home. That’s where I think it is more likely to stick and to be put into practice in future generations.
JWK: What do you hope people take from your book?
CB: Two things. One is the joy of seeing God in their own personal experience when they make financial choices. This was the joy for me that I wanted to share (with) other people. I’ve been so transformed not only in the way I think but the way I behave with finances (with) a sense of liberty and joy and peace. I don’t have fear of the future – not because I’m doing well financially (but because) I’ve avoided financial bondage. I’m not dependent upon money anymore to define who I am or whether or not I’m gonna have peace or happiness. So, I want others to experience that.
Also, I’d like them to see the world through God’s eyes when they think about economics. So often we think it’s just a science devoid of God in any way. We think it’s just numbers, objective studies, graphs and inflation or deflation. The reality is it’s largely driven by our moral choices. Economics becomes exciting when people see it as really the history of human behavior. We live out what we believe with money. When we get it right, when we accept God’s truth, it becomes a whole exciting field to learn and to practice and to really become excited about not only what happens in this life but in the life to come.
Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11