“We depersonalize the world; we find it easier to treat people impersonally. We speak of ‘labor’ problems and ‘management’ problems, when we should be talking about people created in God’s image. To do so, i.e., to see them as people, gives a religious dimension to the situation, not a scientific one. It requires us to view economics from a Biblical perspective, and to see all of life as God requires us to see it. We have devalued life and people, and we need again to see all things in terms of the Lord and His law-word.”
(“Our Business World,” Journal of Christian Reconstruction, Symposium on Christianity and Business, Vol. 10, No.2, 67.)
What kind of economic world would the Bible create? This is the question that comes to mind when you read the writings of R. J. Rushdoony. It is evident that his call back to the whole Bible would have a major impact on the economy and business. But what kind of impact?
Consider Rush’s view on money and inflation, expressed in his book, Larceny in the Heart. This really does get to the heart of the matter: man’s attitude to money.
Outside of Christ we are governed by larceny, argues Rushdoony, not Biblical ethics. Now larceny is a word that has dropped out of the popular vocabulary, but essentially means “the unlawful taking and carrying away of personal property with the intent to deprive the rightful owner of it permanently.” In Rushdoony’s view, the unlawfulness of it is not in terms of man’s law, which actually encourages larceny, but in terms of God’s law, which prohibits it.
You might think that is not a description that fits you personally. But Rushdoony’s context for this comment is money, and money involves the questions of inflation and debt. Now nothing describes our modern Western economies better than the word debt, and we cannot understand the high levels of debt until we appreciate how debt is the major vehicle of monetary expansion, inflation.
Inflation, however, is a means whereby wealth is taken from one group of people and given to another. The victims of inflation do not have a choice in the matter. They lose the value of their money as it is transferred, in the inflationary process, to others. Rushdoony is right. This is larceny.
Consider buying a house today on a twenty-five-year mortgage. If the house is worth $150,000, you’ll end up paying at least double that amount by the time interest is added in. Now it’s time to sell the house, and what price will you ask? You’ll ask enough money to cover the original purchase price plus the interest. In other words, you now hope house prices increase so you don’t lose. But house prices are driven up more by monetary inflation (i.e., expansion of credit) than they are by a lot of other factors in many instances.
It is easy to become complacent on this issue. It is easy not to care how the next buyer gets the money to buy our house. If he has to take a longer and bigger mortgage, so be it. That’s his problem.
Yet it is also our problem. For we have created for ourselves a personal interest in credit expansion so we do not lose money on our house purchase. And this, says Rushdoony, is to have a personal and financial interest in the continuation of inflation.
If you understand this point, you understand just how radical is the economic thought of R. J. Rushdoony in his call back to the Bible.
What would the economic world look like if Rushdoony had his way and we all lived by the law of God? Consider just two key aspects of the Old Testament, the Sabbath principle and Leviticus 19:13b, “The wages of him who is hired shall not remain with you all night until morning” (NKJV).
Think about the practical implications of that verse. Every day business owners would be required to pay their employees. In contrast, the current system allows employers to accumulate wages owed to workers, and the accrual could continue a week, two weeks, or even a month.
But is this verse limited to direct employees? Should not the principle apply also to all those whose goods and services we use?
Now we’ve touched another raw nerve in the business world, accounts payable. How many business owners make use of their suppliers’ money by paying in forty-five, sixty, ninety, or even 120 days? Only when the threat of collection becomes real do the owners pay.
But in the modern world, it is almost a virtue to extend accounts payable as long as possible, meanwhile insisting that accounts receivables are paid on time. Is this a case of double standards? I think so.
But here we see that debt is a way of life. It is so “normal” for us to live like this, that we read the Bible, and especially the Old Testament, as some archaic relic that could not possibly have been intended for the modern world. In fact, it is easy to see that the modern world as we know it would not exist if people in the past did live by the Bible.
So we pay our bills when it suits us, and not when we are morally obliged to do so. By getting employees to defer collecting their wages for a few days, business owners get to use that money for other purposes. And then we wonder why so many employees get hurt financially when their employer ends in bankruptcy.
Finally, consider the Sabbath laws. Among many Christians the principle of the Sabbath day is upheld. But I am not so interested here in the Sabbath day as I am in the Sabbath year. It is taught in Leviticus 25:1–7.
In this passage, the instruction for the Sabbath year is rest. The land was to be rested one year out of every seven, with the promise by God that productivity in the six years would carry the Israelites during the seventh year. It would also need to carry them longer, since year eight would begin another round of crop planting that would not harvest until later that year or even the following year.
The Sabbath year concept, however, is expanded in Deuteronomy 15:1–18 with the concept of release. These two ideas, rest and release, paint the picture of how God intended the Sabbath year: a year of rest for the land and its workers, and a year of release from debt.
Notice, however, that the passage in Deuteronomy is not an instruction to borrowers to get out of debt at the end of six years. It is an instruction to lenders that they must release all debt obligations to them in that year. And, further, they should not even harden their heart against lending just because the year of release was getting close.
Interestingly, the concept of the sabbatical year still has its remnants in the universities of the world, where professors get their sabbatical year. In the case of my professorial friends in Australia, this is still on full pay!
But it is easy to see how the Sabbath concept, if applied in the wider community, would change the culture in dramatic ways. For example, think how the year of release would affect every lending institution if this principle was applied today. Imagine what it would do to house prices, to business expansion, and a host of other activities we have today that are not governed by this concept.
Our difficulty is that to imagine it is to realize that the introduction of Biblical law to the economy will affect every person. House prices, for example, would be expected to decline. So too, many other prices. And hardly anyone is psychologically prepared to take price drops. We have been told that price increases indicate a growing economy, whereas the opposite is true. Falling prices is what is needed.
We might even imagine the extension of the Sabbath year to the Jubilee principle (Lev. 25:9–24). It was not possible to disinherit the family from land. It thus put a brake on economic activity. Contemporary culture knows of no such device for slowing down the economy and protecting families from perpetual economic loss.
The Jubilee year naturally created another “problem” that does not sit well with modern man. The Jubilee year followed a Sabbath year, and was another Sabbath year. Two in a row. Now the problem of production is seen starkly. There must be enough production to carry over for two consecutive years, plus the next year to begin planting and harvesting again. A two-year “sabbatical” every fifty years. Unheard of in our lifetime.
Rushdoony’s vision of a Bible-based economy is thus a long way from fruition. Initiation of such a vision must come from church leaders and Christians who have the vision to make changes in their own lives. The apparent difficulty of instituting these laws is often the excuse for not implementing them at all. The problem apparently is not with us, but with God for making impossible laws.
But there is an easy place to start. There is one other aspect of the Bible that Rushdoony encourages that would be a step in the right direction. It is tithing. This would be a first and somewhat easy step to take to begin living by God’s Word.
Tithing has more than one aspect, as Rushdoony argues in his book, Tithing and Dominion, co-authored with E. A. Powell. Among other things, the tithe was used to celebrate God’s goodness to us, as well as be a blessing to others in need. (See Deut. 14:22–29.)
Herein lies an important key. Tithing symbolizes our obligation to God with our finances. Giving to God the first portion of our income indicates our commitment to His Word and already begins the process of change in our lives.
Clearly, one person cannot change the world. But we are called primarily to change our own lives and govern ourselves according to His Word. And if we could just get enough people making this initial commitment and change, then some of the other more difficult issues would begin to fall into place.
- Ian Hodge
Ian Hodge, Ph.D. (1947–2016) was a long-term supporter of Chalcedon and an occasional contributor to Faith for All of Life. He was also a business consultant in Australia, USA, Canada, and New Zealand, and a prominent piano teacher in Australia.