This is a rough draft of a short paper I'm working on:
“Progressives may rail against economic theory, and given their influence in many areas of American life, they may even be able to use their powers to marginalize people in academic and public life who understand how economic theory both explains and limits our choices (Ron Paul is an excellent example). They cannot, however, undo the laws of economics any more than they can undo the law of gravity. But that does not keep them from trying, nor does it keep them from blaming others who actually understand economic law when progressive efforts to do things outside of theory inevitably fail.”
~ William L. Anderson, Ph. D. (emphasis mine)
One of the great insights of the 20th century Baptist theologian George Eldon Ladd was that the present age, between the first and second advents of Christ, is the “already/not yet” in terms of the kingdom of God. In other words, certain aspects of Christ’s kingdom have come into effect during the present day, while other aspects await a future consummation. The genius of Ladd’s scheme was that it corrected the extremes of classical dispensationalism (the kingdom has been postponed) and maximalism, as reflected in different schools that the church will be the instrument of transforming the world politically, economically and socially. Without developing this distinction further I will argue that part of the “not yet” of the kingdom is economic law. William Anderson summarizes some of the main features of economic law as “law of scarcity…law of opportunity cost, and marginal utility.” These laws are clearly observable in our present day – two thousand years after the first advent of Christ. Moreover, there is no more progress toward eradicating these realities than on the day of Christ’s ascension.
When Jesus Christ was on the earth He proclaimed that the kingdom of heaven was at hand. He performed miracles that suspended the normal laws of nature, for example, feeding a hungry multitude with a mere five loaves of bread and two fish. On occasion he healed the sick and raised the dead. He also cautioned His disciples not to worry; that as their heavenly Father provided for the birds of the air and flowers of the field, so He would provide for all their needs. But clearly, Christ did not permanently or conditionally suspend the law of scarcity. When the satiated multitude sought to make Him a king, He fled. He warned His disciples not to miss the spiritual import of the miracle – that He is the bread of life, the new manna, come down from heaven. As such He himself, as the embodiment of God’s kingdom, is the source of new life, forgiveness, wisdom, sanctification and other blessings for those who believe in Him.
But believers still face want, sickness and death. Certain aspects of the kingdom of God await a future day when Christ returns in glory. In the meantime, conditions of the curse upon creation remain. The Old Testament clearly grasps economic law, protecting property rights (Exodus 20:15, 17), and demanding fairness in trade while proscribing fraud (e.g. Proverbs 11:1, 20:10). Unfortunately, some Christians believe that the coming of Christ has fundamentally changed the world, and that it is part of the church’s mission to promote the collectivization of goods and resources, as allegedly found in Acts 4:34-37. This is a kind of inadvertent dispensationalism; or an unintentional mirror of Gnosticism, which found the God of the Old Testament incompatible with the God of the New. But a key feature of the passage in Acts 4 is the voluntary nature of the believers’ actions. There was no compulsion or coercion. By contrast, many Christians, like political progressives, enthusiastically support the state’s expropriation of the property and income of its citizens in order to obtain the “greater good” – while economists demonstrate that such measures destroy productivity and job creation while increasing the number of state-dependent clients.
Moreover, we may ask whether the events recorded in Acts 4 were normative for the New Testament. Pressing on to the Pauline epistles, we find an apostle who worked in his own trade (cf. Acts 18:3) so as not to be a financial burden to his fledgling church plants (e.g. 2 Thessalonians 3:8). Paul was clear in his instruction that a believer unwilling to work should not eat (v. 9) and that each should labor to provide for his own sustenance (v. 12). This exchange of labor for goods (direct exchange, or barter) or for money (indirect exchange) was not in any sense decried by the apostle of Christ. Indeed, he had set the example himself. Paul availed himself to the agoras, the marketplaces, to sell his wares in support of his own ministry and, more importantly, to have opportunities to share the gospel with the variety of people with whom he came in contact. We find here that economic exchange is not an end unto itself, but rather a means to uphold first principles. If the marketplace were inherently evil, or a passing relic of more barbaric times, the apostle failed to censure it.
It behooves us, then, who live in the “already” of forgiveness, righteousness, wisdom, peace and “not yet” of scarcity, opportunity costs and marginal utility to use our God-granted wisdom to understand how to make proper use of the time and resources available to us. To criticize economic law and seek to transcend it is to attempt, as Eric Voegelin put it, to “immanentize the eschaton,” which Nazism and communism both tried and failed. Short of Christ’s return God has set limits on humanity, perhaps no better expressed than by the great Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek:
“The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.”