Environmentalism, Capitalism, Wealth, and Taxation: A Guest Post From David Crater

I am thankful for friends who think biblically and who challenge me to think more faithfully about matters of life that I have limited expertise.  David Crater is one of those friends who has helped me to think through many matters pertaining to church, theology, and now public policy.  I met Dave in seminary, and look forward to continuing to glean from his wisdom as he has recently moved into Southern Indiana.  I have benefitted much from his legal expertise (he finished his J.D. from the University of Colorado a year ago) and his pastoral wisdom (he finished his M.Div in the same year).

Thinking through the issues of environmentalism, capitalism, and other politic matters, David Crater has given much food for thought for Christians wrestling with “politics according to the Bible.”  Consider these four miscellanies.

1.Environmentalism. Both Darwinism and environmentalism are examples of what Paul calls “worshiping and serving the creature rather than the Creator” in Rom 1. Environmentalism is not just subjecting mankind to the creation (though it is that), but abandoning the worship of God for the exaltation of what is created.

2. Capitalism. Capitalism is not utopia, and symptoms of sin permeate capitalism as they do every phase of life. But capitalism is the only moral economic system because the ownership of property is an essential characteristic of human beings as God’s image bearers. God owns everything, but He has delegated ownership to those who bear His image so that they can more fully image Him on earth, and commanded them to use what they own to produce wealth and build things and thereby subdue the earth. This system is what came to be known in modern language as capitalism. Capitalism is not destructive at root but productive at root because it is man imaging God’s ownership and creative activity.

The word “capital” means “wealth available for investment and productive activity.” It contrasts with wealth that is intended for consumption and that therefore cannot be used to produce further wealth. God owns all capital, but if He is going to command something like “fill the earth and subdue it,” His creatures need capital to fulfill the command. Nothing can be created without capital. The earth is the source of this capital God has provided, and the system that arises from the command and the obedience is properly called “capitalism.”

3. The Bible and Personal Wealth. We should balance discussions of capitalism with a reminder that the Bible is very hard on the wealthy. This comes out most prominently in Luke’s gospel, and Christianity has historically been a religion of the lower classes by and large, not the wealthy (cf. Luke 6:20-26; 8:14; 12:13-21; 16:1-13; 16:19-31; 18:18-30; cf. 1 Tim 6:17-19).  Capitalism is dangerous precisely because it is so powerfully productive. It makes people rich, and wealth then leads sinful men to become proud and corrupt themselves and turn away from God instead of thanking and glorifying God for the ability to create wealth (cf. Prov 30:8). Thus Jesus says it is easier for a camel to pass through a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. Jesus is not opposing property ownership or wealth creation, but He also is not a shill for laissez faire capitalism. He condemns in the strongest possible terms the pride and folly to which the rich are peculiarly liable. Recognizing this teaching is the answer to the sinful abuses of capitalism and wealth, not a socialistic or communistic utopia that denies mankind possesses the right to own and destroys his ability to create value.

4. Personal Wealth and Taxes. Jesus’ (and the apostles’) warnings against the dangers of wealth are ‘individual and family and church warnings.’  That is to say, they are private in nature, not public justification for public legal interference with property and free enterprise. Indeed, government must defend property and enterprise to make the widespread private charity and generosity the Bible commands even a possibility.

When God warned the Jews in 1 Samuel that a king would pillage their goods (8:10-18), the tax rate He warned them the king would impose was 20% (10% of their grain, 10% of their flocks). In biblical terms, then, a tax rate of 20% is oppressive. God Himself only commands a tenth as the size of the part He wants given back for His own service and worship (Mal 3:8, 10).  The implications of this for modern systems of taxation and government revenue are staggering, and it is no coincidence that as God has been increasingly rejected by US public culture in the 20th century, tax rates have skyrocketed.

May we continue to “provide for ourselves moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in heaven that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys” (Luke 12:33), for only then will our joy be secure.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss