In a recent edition of the English Churchman I felt compelled to take on a reviewer of this book who had been unstintingly positive with regard to its contents. I really do not share these sentiments as I often find that the ‘biblical economics’ being proposed by the author does not seem to me to show the very Christian qualities of compassion, concern and integrity that I would hope we can all show in our business practices.
The book begins with a foreword by his esteemed father and founder of Ligonier ministries – who says that he was a theological conservative and a political liberal and acknowledges that some of this came from his concern for social justice. He then says that his son has helped to change his own opinions as he kept supplying economic answers. He also acknowledges the commitment of his son to the current poster boy for the American Conservative Right, namely, Ludwig von Mises.
The introduction to the book affirms that the author sees a ‘pitched battle in Christendom’ between radical liberation theologians and ‘militant theonomists’. He then goes on to clarify his own views with the state that ‘biblical law reaches the totality of life, so we should expect to find biblical principles of conduct for the individual, for the civil magistrate, and for society’. I would clarify at this stage that I feel no commitment to either side in that so-called ‘pitched battle’ and don’t think that many other evangelicals would join in his assessment. It would appear that Sproul Jr. Is caught up in the off-shoot of the theonomist movement that currently goes under the title of ‘Federal Vision’.
The book then tours a range of topics, the chapter on stewardship points out the creation ordinance of work and the link between labour and property. Personally, I prefer the emphases of John Murray in Chapter 4 of his book, Principles of Conduct, to those of ‘biblical economics’.
In his chapter on profit, Dr. Sproul tells us that ‘all voluntary exchanges end in mutual profit’. The difficulty with this idea is that it assumes two things, firstly; that the customer has real knowledge of the market place and, secondly; that both parties are always equal partners. Anyone can spot that someone who passes off a £10 watch as a £100 watch is committing a type of theft irrespective of how willing the buyer is to purchase the item. Similarly, to defend the exploitation of the 3 rd world and the liberal use of sweatshop labour in places like Thailand and China fails to take account of the responsibility that we have as Christians not to take advantage of those who are poorer than ourselves. While I do not agree with Ronald Sider’s critique it would have much more to commend it in some of these areas than Sproul Jr.
His view of gold seems to me to be based on a near obsession with using it as a basis for currency that is sweeping through some ultra right-wing American circles. The chapter on government begins with the statement, ‘Government equals force’ he goes on to stress that this applies in all circumstances and is the essence of government. I wonder how he squares this theologically with God’s government or with ecclesiastical polity.
and ‘Church government’. He then gives us 1 page of his views on the reason why Christians should obey government and then 3 pages (arguably the remainder of the chapter) on when we should disobey it. I would suggest that he has the balance of this chapter wrong! His views are clearly out of step with that outlined in Romans 13 v. 1 to 7, especially when he equates the majority of taxation with armed robbery and ends the book with an appeal to Christians not to use state education, state healthcare, state social security etc.
I would direct those who are interested in these type of issues to the more balanced writings of men like Sir Frederick Catherwood (the son in law of Dr. D.M. Lloyd-Jones) who as well as being professionally involved in these areas also served politically. I think that there is a huge danger of listening to economics lessons from someone who pontificates from the freedom of a manse about a subject on which he has little daily experience. It is also worth looking at the issues in the recent defrocking of Dr. Sproul Jr. by the RPCGA.
So while this has been a review of ‘biblical economics’ it has resulted in me directing the reader to other books and other treatments of these types of issues. At the same time as the economies of the world seem to falter and stumble it does seem appropriate that we are looking at the reasons and try to discern the guiding hand of the Almighty. We should also be praying that our leaders rule with ‘Godly fear’ and are guided in the decisions that they take.