Theological Economics

Years ago there was a periodical known as Christian Economics. After animated controversy as to whether its views were either Christian or good economics, or neither, it changed its name to Applied Christianity. Nevertheless, despite the ground-breaking by C.E./A.C., it has not yet been systematically proved that there is or can be a direct relation between Christianity and economics—or, more broadly speaking, between theology and economics.

In the days of hard money, the relation between economics and morality was easier to descry. Thus as early as the eighth century B.C. Amos castigated (morally) manipulation (economically) of currency and of weights and measures (Amos 8:5). Amos’s attitude was reflected in the view of the later academicians that economics is a branch of moral science. Unfortunately, the invention of paper money (somewhat prejudicially described in Goethe, Faust II, as the work of the devil) has obscured the direct relation between the two spheres.

The problem is self-evident: confining ourselves to the realm of one currency, the U. S. dollar, we note that with the abandonment first of the internal gold standard under Roosevelt, then of the silver dollar under Johnson, and finally of the external convertibility of the dollar into gold under Nixon, the dollar has ceased to be real, in either an ontological or an economic sense. Since morality deals with actions, and actions involve realities, the tie between morality and dollar economics appears to be broken.

The unreality of the dollar can be shown by a simple analysis: the price of gold has remained virtually constant in terms of real things, such as oil (one troy ounce being worth just about six double-barrels in 1973 just as in 1971), but not of dollars. The dollar is un-definable, hence meaningless in the sense of linguistic analysis. From the ontological perspective, the dollar is never more than a small piece of paper (frequently less, as many bills are denominated five, ten, and more dollars). Even worse, ontologically speaking, only a small percentage of the “dollars” in circulation are bills of any kind. The rest are only ledger figures or switchings in computer memory banks—hence abstract, if not actually unreal in the Thomistic sense.

Everyone agrees that the manipulation (including theft) of real values is wrong. By contrast, there can be no moral quarrel with the manipulation of mathematical abstractions. Thus it would appear, from an ontological perspective, that there is no theological basis for a moral criticism of any actions involving money (at least money denominated in dollars), inasmuch as money itself is only an abstraction, a social convention. This of course relieves us of any sense that “debts,” such as the so-called national debt, represent obligations, for obligations are a moral concept, not a mathematical one.

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It will readily be seen that the theological discovery of the ontological unreality of money in the modern world will immediately relieve burdened consciences, lighten the work load of courts, empty the prisons, and make tax-paying a pleasant game rather than an onerous chore. It seems fair to say that the systematic application of Christianity, or at the very least of ontological theology, to economic issues will take us beyond the limited vision of Adam Smith, Kenneth Galbraith, and even Horatio Alger.


Into Words

I’m glad you included the poem entitled “A Story” in the April 12 edition of your magazine. It expressed a feeling I’ve had but could never quite put into words. I’m glad John Leax did it so well. The [article] written by him was also very insightful (“The Refiner’s Fire”). I appreciate your magazine and what it stands for and will continue to read it.


Greenville, Ill.

Thank you for a great issue: Leax on poetry and Christianity’s rejection [of it]. If one could teach kids this! C. F. H. Henry’s peppery but true view of modern humanism. The attack on Baptist bombast. And such even-handed book reviews. Actually sounds British! Barrie Doyle’s … view of church aid for Africa’s famine.


Xavier High School

New York, N. Y.

Ranking Poor

David E. Aune’s book review (“The Historical Jesus: A Continuing Quest,” Jan. 4) ranks as about the poorest I’ve ever seen in his perception of what he is doing.… When one is to review a book which presents itself as a sequel to a previous book, it should be supposed that he has equal familiarity with the book which preceded it.… The nature of the two-volume study is as follows: Volume one summarizes several modern attempts to uncover the historical Jesus. Volume two presents my response.… I do plead guilty to the charge that the book is mistitled. The title was the choice of the publisher.… Regarding my “awareness of the more important literary, historical, and exegetical studies” of certain conservative scholars, of those he mentions I refer repeatedly to F. F. Bruce and G. E. Ladd, and mention M. C. Tenney.… Of the “more conservative non-evangelicals” that he complains I say little about, I make extended use of O. Cullmann and make mention of T. W. Manson. What is of even greater importance is the fact that J. Jeremias is given a significant place in the first volume.… His evaluation of my understanding of the place of Wrede in the development of form criticism once again exhibits that he has not read the first volume.… His perception of my view of the importance of historical research is also in error. I point to its importance on pages 49–51, 67, etc. But my approach to such research is accompanied by a much more confident view of the reliability of the gospel accounts than is apparent in most segments of the critical movement. His lecturette on the relationship of historical research to interpretation of the data in the biblical record is almost precisely what I say on pages 58–63.

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Professor of Religion

Ottawa University

Ottawa, Kans.


In the April 12 issue in the editorial “Baptist Bombast,” thgre is an error. You state, “The American Baptist Churches went on record in 1968 in favor of what many would regard as abortion on demand.” The American Baptists did meet in Boston in 1968 and pass such a resolution, but all one can conclude from that action is that those delegates present and voting favored such action. American Baptists are autonomous. Repeatedly it has been stated that the passing of a resolution does not bind any church but is only the expression of delegates present and voting.


University Baptist Church

East Lansing, Mich.

Between Speech And Act

Thank you for your editorial in opposition to the deception that is practiced in the smuggling of Bibles into atheistic nations (“Smuggling Reexamined,” April 26).

I doubt if the customs agents of those countries would experience much conviction of spiritual truth if they heard one of the smugglers preaching on, “Let your communication be Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.”


First Mennonite Church

Clinton, Okla.

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