Reflections on Christianity and Economic Research

Judith Dean, currently an international economist at the U.S. International Trade Commission, has a worthwhile exploration of the relationship between Christian faith and economic research (HT). It’s up at the InterVarsity site for the Following Christ conference and is titled, “Being a Good Physician: Reflections on Christianity and Economic Research.”

There’s a lot of good, challenging, and insightful stuff here. As always, read it in full. But here’s a bit that’s especially incisive:

Especially for those working in government policy making bodies, there is a role for advocating change where policies are seen as creating results which are intolerable from the Christian standpoint, or where the economic system fails to address problems which a Christian cannot ignore. Large groups of such advocates already exist, quite often centered around specific issues. Though these groups may include economists, they are quite often made up of non-economists who care deeply about a particular problem (e.g. R. Sider, J. Wallis, and T. Campolo, who all have written about poverty issues). Some of these groups zealously advocate particular solutions to what they view as egregious injustices in the economy. Yet, lacking economic understanding, they fail to see that their proposals themselves are sometimes flawed.

Here the Christian economist’s expertise may be called upon to inform these “advocate groups” about the nature of the problem and the implications of different solutions. Many Christians want to be better informed in order to become better advocates. Yet they do no know where to go to get information. Sound economic reasoning which is made accessible to a non-professional audience is sorely needed. It is odd indeed that most contemporary Christian writing on economic issues for the general public is done by theologians or sociologists.

Note here the vigorous sense of Christian advocacy in the public square, and how it is to be informed by solid economic, social, and historical research. Note too that the advocacy described is generally not that which ought to be pursued by the institutional church, but by Christians organizing themselves organically in civil society.

As a theologian often writing on economic and public policy matters, I heartily endorse Dean’s call for more sustained, careful, and intentional engagement of Christian economists on these matters.

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  • Joe DeVet

    Hooray for the Acton Instituted and for CE for publishing pieces like this from its authors. It is frustrating to see the lack of economic understanding which informs much of the Church’s advocacy. The result of this is that many “social justice” exhortations we hear are hardly different from what a Marxist or a “Chavist” (as in Hugo) would suggest.

    The late debate over health-care “reform” is a case in point. If ever a legislation should have been opposed by the Bishops from top to bottom, there was one. But they are in favor of this terrible move in principle. True, at the very end, they announced that they opposed it for 3 very specific reasons. But they made clear that they supported the rest. When a ruse was then offered by Obama that by “executive order” he would ban abortion funding, it was just enough excuse for holdout pro-lifers to switch their vote.

    The Bishops, who had hitherto been congratulating themselves on their apparent lobbying power with this bill, thus ended up being rolled by the secular political process. They became the unwilling midwives to the creation of a teribly flawed piece of legislation. As people have learned more about what the new law really does, a majority of them came to recognize what the Bishops were blind to, that this is a terrible piece of legislation.