Productive for the Glory of God, Good of Neighbors

No doubt America’s church leaders are as concerned as anyone else about the grave news emerging from the European financial crisis. It threatens a disruption so serious that every economy in the world would be damaged. But pastors may naturally ask what, if anything, it all has to do with their work as the spiritual leaders of God’s people.

I don’t think pastors are called to become experts in international finance. However, I do think the European crisis intersects with the daily work of stewarding the mysteries of God and equipping the saints for discipleship in the American context.

One of the most important callings of the pastor is to equip the saints in discerning and carrying out the various callings God has for them in every aspect of their lives, including as members of their civil communities. And thinking Christianly about our daily calling to be good citizens in our homes, workplaces, and communities actually provides unique insight into the financial crisis and what we, as ordinary citizens, can do to make a productive contribution to the good of our neighbors and nation.

Moral and Theological Foundations

Looking at the European crisis, let’s start with some simple economic knowledge and work our way back to moral and theological foundations. The immediate cause of the crisis was a broad constellation of bad policies that reward irresponsible behavior. For example, when European banks buy debt from European governments, they’re exempted from rules requiring them to backstop the debt with some assets in case of default. Naturally, banks all across Europe have responded by buying lots of European government debt, even when they knew it was likely to default. So now, if one or more countries go bankrupt, the whole European financial system will suffer severe and unpredictable disruptions.

But how did Europe get to the point where so much of its financial policy and behavior is so irresponsible? And how did nations like Greece get to the point where voters won’t let them make the necessary reforms even in the face of catastrophe? That’s a longer story.

A historically unprecedented phenomenon has been unfolding—in Europe for the past five centuries, in America for the past two, and more recently everywhere across the globe except sub-Sarahan Africa. That phenomenon is explosive economic growth. After millennia of basically stagnant wealth levels from the earliest recorded history forward, God’s world is at last beginning to flourish economically.

Just in the past two decades, the percentage of the population in the developing world that lives in dire poverty (less than $1 a day) has been cut in half. Contemplate that for a moment.

This economic flourishing was originally produced by a confluence of factors, the most important of which was Christianity. Late medieval Christianity developed an increasing emphasis on universal human dignity and (consequently) the intrinsic goodness of economic activity. The Reformation dramatically expanded these trends and added critical new dimensions—especially the idea that your daily work is a calling from God and the primary way God makes human civilizations flourish.

All this culminated in cultures that made productivity—improving the lives of others by responding to their authentic needs—central to both individual and national identity. Scriptural treatment of this topic is extensive. Everything from the image of God to the Trinity to the prophets and parables is implicated in understanding productivity.

Christians believe human beings are made in the image of a Father who creates from nothing; this explains why human work creates wealth rather than just moving it around. Christians believe in a divine Son who joined in mystical union with temporal and material humanity. Material activities like economic work are not separate from, and inferior to, “spiritual” activities. And Christians believe in a Spirit who liberates us from selfishness; this explains why life works best when people orient their daily lives around serving others.

The problem is, too many Europeans now take wealth for granted. Some have forgotten where it came from—productive work—and feel like they’re entitled to it by birthright. More to the point, the people and institutions in authority have irresponsibly indulged this attitude (for various reasons, such as vote-buying) and have thereby anointed it as culturally accepted.

Where this happens, economics is reduced to the purely material. If the proper economic goal for individuals is to enjoy leisure rather than to be productive, then of course voters should demand endless, unsustainable entitlement programs. If the fundamental purpose of business is to make money rather than to serve customers, then of course businesses should game the system to enrich themselves—and nations can try to get rich by playing games with the money supply.

The idea that policy should encourage financial rewards for productivity, and culture should set the expectation of productive work from all who are able, simply makes no sense in this context. Once you forget the Creator, you quickly forget that wealth needs to be created.

American Asset

Where does America stand in all this? Our finances are not nearly as bad as, say Greece’s. But they’re not nearly as good as Germany’s. And, like Europe, we’ve been punishing productivity and playing games with the money supply. Not to mention continuing unsustainable entitlements, housing market shenanigans, irrational subsidies, and naïveté about destructive programs.

But America has a hidden economic asset that not even Germany has: churches full every Sunday with people ready to hear what God has to say.

Again, I don’t think pastors should pretend to be experts on international finance, or try to handle political and policy questions beyond their knowledge. What they can do is equip people to discern the calling of God to productive work.

Imagine pulpits across America clearly and consistently preaching:

  • God is calling you to spend every day making the lives of others better through productive work in your home, workplace, and community.
  • God is calling you to be a spiritual leader who gracefully sets that expectation for others—because everyone made in God’s image is called to productivity—and for our nation.

Productivity is a critically essential component of both discipleship and good citizenship. In the long term it is the only protection against both pietistic subjectivism in our churches and also economic collapse in our nation.

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  • John

    You should be way more careful with conflating “Moral and Theological Foundations” with your own opinions about economic matters. For instance, I don’t think you could find a developmental economist anywhere who would say that the entire Industrial Revolution was primarily the result of Christianity. Also, using language like “punishing productivity” provides way more heat than light on the subject.

    • Greg Forster

      Well, whenever we talk about morality or theology in any way other than just quoting biblical text and leaving it at that, we are relying on our own opinions! There is no way to talk about “moral theological foundations” except by discussing our opinions about them. So I would have thought the disclaimer you advise redundant. But if there’s anyone out there who isn’t aware that this article contains my opinions – well, consider the disclaimer hereby added.

      I did not say “the Industrial Revolution,” which is confined to a shorter peroid and narrower geographic range; I was discussing the economic flourishing of the world in general over the past 500 years. And I did not say it was “primarily the result of Christianity” but rather that it was the confluence of many factors, of which factors I think Christianity was the most important. It is actually very easy to find economists, historians, sociologists, etc. who share this view; Peter Berger and Rodney Stark are two prominent examples. Google Max Weber and follow the links.

      As for “punishing productivity,” that is what the policies in question do; how would you describe that in a way that conveys the same message better?

      • John

        Just a few follow-ups. The challenge for me about this article is that you’re writing directly to pastors, advising them about what to present from the pulpit, and you’re doing so without differentiating between your own political opinions (which appear to be of the libertarian bent) and clear biblical mandates. I strongly doubt that it’s advisably for pastors to include the former in their preaching in any way.

        Point taken on the Industrial Revolution, but a few counterpoints:
        1) I can’t really see a difference between saying something is “primarily the result of Christianity” and “the confluence of many factors, of which Christianity was the most important.” If something is the most important factor, it seems to be the primary factor, no?
        2) Also, I specifically asked about developmental economists, so I’m not sure that citing three sociologists ends the debate.
        3) While the Industrial Revolution does not fully encompass the period you described, the overwhelming majority of the economic gains of the last 600 years have occurred since the Industrial Revolution.

        As for “punishing productivity”, based on the article you linked, I’m not sure which policies you’re referring to. Could you specify?

        • Steve

          An unspoken assumption in this article is that our current “productivity” and “wealth creation” is more or less (with a bit of private sinfulness here or there) basically what God intended for humanity, and not a horribly perverse shadow produced by the Fall. Martin Luther, for instance (more than Calvin, was convinced that we would have lived very different (and more rural) lives if sin had not entered into the world. I think Luther would have branded the simple equation of the “last five centuries of prosperity” with God’s will a fat stinking theologia gloriae, opposed to a theologia crucis.

          • Steve

            Basically, you can’t just assume industrialism is a Godly thing because it seems “obvious” to modern Americans. That is a fatal blurring of Christ and culture. I’d ask for it demonstrated from Revelation — and just quoting Dominion in Genesis 1:26 helps you little, if either modern biblical criticism means anything (show me a credible OT scholar that takes the verse in such a sweeping manner) or historical interpretation (the church fathers, medieval theologians, and even Luther took the verse very differently. Even Calvin wasn’t a full bore dominionist in the sense that Francis Bacon and the next century of Scientific Revolution would be).

            Looking to the OT, where does God encourage Israel to become more industrialized than her neighbors? In fact, Israel was technologically backward and it seems to have bothered God not a bit.

  • Greg Forster

    John and Steve,

    1) I am not libertarian. Check out my posts on First Thoughts blasting Ayn Rand with both barrels. My experience has been that any time anyone dissents from anti-technological, implicitly agrarian economic and political ideology, he is immediately branded “libertarian.” That’s really not fair.

    2) I’ll just reiterate that anyone who discusses these issues in any way other than just quoting Bible passages is bringing in his own opinions. You do as much as I do. The question is whether those opinions are sound, not whether opinions are included.

    3) If there were many factors involved in the emergence of economic flourishing, one factor might easily be the most important *single* factor without being the primary source. Say there are 100 factors and one of them accounts for 20% of the change while the other 99 account for 80%.

    3) Sociologists leap to mind most quickly because they’re the ones paying attention to this quesiton; the field of economics has shamefully turned away from the whole subject of economic history, so they’re not often heard from on this. The important question about an idea is whether it’s true, not whether a specific discipline has anointed it as permissible. (That said, I personally know several professional economists who subscribe to this view.)

    4) I asked about “punishing productivity” because you said it was inappropriate language. If so, how would you make the same point better?

    5) You’re right that Martin Luther rejected economic growth. That’s because he uncritically identified the whole medieval political, economic and social order with God’s will – so completely that he even said it’s a sin to do any job other than the one your father did. And that’s emblematic; the choice really does come down to whether you’re going to permit people to make maximum use of their ability to improve the lives of others through productive work. As soon as you remove the kind of dehumanizing and enslaving socio-political restraints that Luther supported, you’re going to get massive economic growth whether you want it or not.

    5) It’s true that you can’t make the entire case for economic flourishing based on one verse in Genesis. That’s why serious people don’t do that! You may disagree with this approach, but at least interact with it in its serious form, not at the bumper sticker level. Some books you might want to check out on this include the Stewardship Study Bible (ed. Grabill), Economics in Christian Perspective (Claar/Klay), Work: The Meaning of Your Life (DeKoster), Business for the Common Good (Wong/Rae), The Good of Affluence (Schneider), and Business for the Glory of God (Grudem). I’ve got dozens more where that came from if you want them.

    6) I don’t think you get the history right, either. Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas are generally pro-growth, as are numerous later theologians. Are you familiar with the Salamanca School? I’m not saying this view gets unanimous consent, just that it does emerge organically from a long-developing strand of thought in theological history.

  • Steven

    To read a modern progressivist concept of “growth” into medieval figures is not generally helpful. The most thorough study on the Genesis verse in both Christian and Jewish interpretation is Jeremy Cohen’s “The Ancient and Medieval Career of a Biblical Text” from Cornell University Press. Also, Peter Harrison has done a lot of helpful work on the rise of Dominionist readings in The Fall of Man and the Foundations of Science from Cambridge U. Press. Harrison in general is a leading figure in the history religion and science movement. Grudem’s reading is quite Baconian, and also quite novel. Grudem in general exhibits a disturbing tendency to blur the lines between American ideology and biblical theology. He’s certainly got no particular expertise in OT criticism.

    • Steven

      I’ll also comment that your view of Luther is not totally incorrect, but he might retort that, if he is bound to a late medieval worldview (which in many ways is a caricature, you really ought to consult his sermons on the Sermon on the Mount, for instance, for a fuller picture) he might easily retort that Grudem et al has sold out to the peculiar brand of Post Enlightenment “realized eschatology” that glorifies economic growth in terms parallel to the coming of the Kingdom. I’m actually pursuing dissertation work on Luther at the moment, and he’s quite a complex figure! Beware easy stereotypes (especially those derived ultimately from Max Weber’s now discredited thesis concerning Protestantism and “Kapitalisme”

  • Rachael Starke

    Bringing this thread back up to the surface a bit, Matt Perman (responsible for the successful transformation of Desiring God’s website) has a blog called WhatsBestNext that is the single best blog I’ve read on a biblical theology of productivity and what “good works” looks like at work every day. Speaking of which, back to work for me. :)

    • Greg Forster

      That’s a great site. I took his advice on how to keep your email inbox totally clear all the time; it has really advanced my productivity!

  • Andrew


    What is the nature of the “biblical criticism” that you are referring to? Is it Reformed evangelical scholarship? Or is it librel scholarship?

    As for the “cultural mandate” it is by no means an isolated verse. It is…

    -reaffirmed after the fall to Noah and his sons.
    -reaffirmed thematically to Abraham as he is given a land in which to have dominion and promised God’s blessing on his multiplication.
    -reaffirmed thematically by the the people of Israel multiplying under the Egyptians in spite of efforts to stop it.
    -reaffirmed in thematically as God delivers his unbelievably numerous people out of Egypt to take them to the land promised.
    -reaffirmed in Balaams inability to curse Israel for God’s blessing is on “the dust of Jacob”.
    -reaffirmed in God giving the people laws that will promote Godly civilization so that they can thrive in every area of life, economics, politics, farming, etc.
    -reaffirmed in Psalm 8 where man’s role as ruler over all on behalf of God is affirmed.
    – I could continue through the OT

    -reaffirmed in the NT as Christ is the second Adam who takes dominion over all things thus fulfilling Psalm 8 and man’s destiny together with those who are led captive by him (Eph. 4).
    -Hebrews quotes Psalm 8
    – 1 Corinthians 15 says God placed everything under his feet
    and that he must reign until every enemy is defeated the last
    being death.
    -Christ sees to it that children of Abraham (Gal. 3)will fill
    the earth as he draws men to repentance and faith through the
    ministry of his servants as he directs as the ruler of all.
    -He frees them from idolatry in the process which leads to the
    very opposite of dominion over the earth and it’s creatures.
    Rather than subduing them they are ruled by what they’ve made
    idols. (Rom. 1).
    -They are now to take all things captive to Christ and obey all
    he has commanded them to observe (Mt 5, Mt 28).
    -They will reign with him in glory over the WHOLE EARTH…
    a renewed and glorified earth…their inheritance (Rom. 8).

    -Abraham was not just promised the promised land but understood
    this to be a type of the new earth (Rom. 4, Heb 11)

    Oh and as far as Revelation goes you might attribute this to my post enlightenment read of the Scriptures but isn’t it ironic (as Alanis might say) that it is a CITY? What is the flow from Genesis to Revelation from Creation to Consumation? Is it from city to country? Nope. It is from garden to city.

    The new earth is full of redeemed image bearers living all of life to God’s glory in a world that is subdued. If Genesis 1:26-27 is an isolated verse it is pretty coincidental that the themes trace through the whole of the Scriptures and the final picture is that of the mandate fulfilled.

    • Steve

      The problem with limiting your reading to “Reformed Evangelical” scholarship is that you effectively create an echo chamber. And too often “Reformed” just a cypher for “conservative American Evangelical subculture.” Who’s more Reformed and Evangelical than Bruce Waltke? But we all saw what happened to him when he challenged a subcultural paradigm…

  • Andrew

    Oh…and I forgot to include it’s reaffirmation in that while under a Godly and wise monarch before his fall Israel was a picture of international trade thriving under the Lord’s blessing

  • Deof Movestofca

    Just my own 2¢ (or 2€ or 2₧ or whatever sort of currency is the cheapest) on the matter:
    1) I think what both social liberals and conservatives get wrong is that productivity and rewards should be a two-way street. Employers should have the right to expect that their employees be productive; employees should have the right to expect that their employers pay them enough that they don’t have to live in squalor. The standard shouldn’t be (although far too often it is) “if I can get away with it, why not?”, but whether a certain course of action is right or wrong- and such a standard should apply to both sides.
    2) Another problem I think is that people too readily equate “making (or at least acquiring) money” with “being productive”. While the two often coincide, they are nowhere near synonymous.
    3) I believe another problem similar to this is that there are those who believe that someone who has acquired (or will acquire) a certain amount of money somehow becomes exempt from the mandate of being productive.

    • Greg Forster

      Totally agreed on all counts here. I like to cite the example of Josiah Wedgewood. People pay attention to him because he used his money and cultural influence to promote the antislavery cause. But how did he obtain that money and influence? The first factories were squalid and horrible to work in – and workers were not expected to show up on time, or sober, or to do particular assigned jobs. Wedgewood was one of the first people to organize factories that had humane conditions and good pay – and that demanded workers show up on time, sober, work hard, and do the jobs assigned to them.

      It was more productive because it was more humane. But – just as importantly – it was also more humane because it was more productive.

      The only two caveats I’d add – and I expect you’d agree here – are:

      1) The reciprocal responsibilities you outline in #1 really are reciprocal. That is, workers shouldn’t expect good wages if they’re not productive, and employers shouldn’t expect productviity if they don’t pay good wages. These things need to be worked out on a case-by-case basis; you can’t just impose a blanket, one-way rule.

      2) Since at least Albertus Magnus in the 12th century it has been recognized that economic value is subjective (the very word “value” implies this) and therefore you cannot calculate the “objective economic value” of anything. So there is no formula or equasion you can use to calculate the “right” wage or productivity level for a given worker. You just can’t do it; it’s like trying to come up with a formula that will tell you the “right” shade of yellow to paint the sun in every landscape painting.

  • Ted Bigelow

    Is this the gospel? No!

    “Imagine pulpits across America clearly and consistently preaching:

    1) God is calling you to spend every day making the lives of others better through productive work in your home, workplace, and community.

    2) God is calling you to be a spiritual leader who gracefully sets that expectation for others—because everyone made in God’s image is called to productivity—and for our nation.”

    Greg, I doubt you realize what you actually ask for. What you want us to imagine is a world that gains freedom from sin, sickness, and rebellion by a principle of ‘do better,’ not “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things shall be added to you.” Your prescription to the European crisis offers no guarantee but ‘do better.’ It never stops. Christ’s prescription does come with a guarantee and with an ‘easy yoke.’

    Instead, Greg, imagine this. Pulpits preaching Scripture, and thereby preaching God’s thoughts, not yours.

    • Greg Forster

      If they preach scripture, will they preach the transformation of the whole person through discipleship in all of life? Yes.

      If they preach the transformation of the whole person through discipleship in all of life, will they preach a reorientation of our daily lives around service to others rather than to oneself? Yes.

      If they preach that, are they already preaching productivity? Yes.

      You can change the words around if you don’t happen to like the word “productivity,” but the message is the same.

      As for “God’s thoughts” rather than mine, let me quote a very wise sentence from the Gospel Coalition’s vision statement: “We believe that every expression of Christianity is necessarily and rightly contextualized, to some degree, to particular human culture; there is no such thing as a universal a–historical expression of Christianity.” As long as you remain a creature rather than the creator, you can never express “God’s thoughts” simply as such (unless you restrict yourself to quoting the textual autographs in their original languages). You can only express your own thoughts as transformed by the work of the Holy Spirit in scripture and regeneration.

  • Ted Bigelow


    You write, “If they preach scripture, will they preach the transformation of the whole person through discipleship in all of life? Yes.”


    Where do you get this stuff? I sort of love your optimism, in a quirky “tomorrow will be better than today if we only will it to be so” sort of way.

    But Greg, do you even know anyone who’s ‘whole person’ is currently being transformed? God says only Christ will do that at the second coming: “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”

    Preachers sent by God preach Christ, and Him crucified. Preachers sent by men preach optimism in human endeavor.

    That is what you argue for, is it not?

    You write, “If they preach the transformation of the whole person through discipleship in all of life, will they preach a reorientation of our daily lives around service to others rather than to oneself? Yes.”


    God says “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Your “reorientation” is stuck to earth and slips the slope of the social gospel.

    I appreciate the quote from TGC on expressing God’s thoughts. So let me be clearer since there are many expressions of Christianity that are Christ’s enemies.

    What I am saying is that your thoughts on what preachers should preach are wrong, dangerous, and untrue to Scripture. Does that make it clearer?

  • Greg Forster

    Obviously our transformation is not *complete* until the second coming, but it *begins* now. If the transformation of every aspect of your life has not begun, you are not regenerate. (This is very clear in Peter and James’s epistles, for example.) If you really think conversion doesn’t involve transformation of the whole person, I’d be interested to hear what you think sanctification consists of, or how you differentiate your position from antinomianism.

    There is nothing optimistic (or pessimistic) about anything I’ve written here, because I haven’t said anything about whether we’ll succeed or not. An optimist thinks we’re likely to succeed, a pessimist thinks we’re likely to fail. All I wrote is that we must try – regardless of whether we expect success or failure. God calls us to do our part to do good, but he doesn’t owe us success. All our efforts may well fail. That doesn’t mean we’re not called to do all we can.

    “Losing your life” is exactly what I’m advocating here – death to self would be an even more apt description. Give up living for your own sake and instead live to serve others. Stop viewing your daily life as an opportunity to gratify your own desires and instead do all your work for the sake of improving the lives of others. That’s what productivity *is*.

  • Ted Bigelow

    Greg, it was you who vigorously spoke of “the transformation of the whole person through discipleship in all of life” (you even repeated it, did you not?). I took your meaning to refer to this life since you discussed it in the context of discipleship. So you weren’t referring to the whole person after all?

    Changing your meaning to a “complete transformation at the 2nd coming” is certainly better, and evidences a quantum shift away from such whole person transformation accomplished through discipleship, a position more in line with 19C Methodist Perfectionism.

    After reading your post, your economic theory and its bottom up methodology to theology, and your exchanges, I believe you will find much in common with the 19th C perfectionists and their optimism of human nature. although you profess Calvinism.

    May I suggest to you that you focus on Christ the producer for His people and their productivity in Him as an astonishing 30, 60, and 100 fold. It is a guaranteed miracle harvest based on 1st C agricutural yields, and consists not of a mere economic harvest, which is too small for the sons of light (Luke 16:9), but consists of all godliness, endurance, and suffering to the glory of God.

    Scripture is positively optimistic concerning the Savior’s productivity, as it is written, “Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.”

    Concerning our productivity, we must not be ashamed to say, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered” in order that our focus not be on our productivity or economic value in this fleeting world, but rather to God’s cause to bring glory to His Son who was publicly crucified.

    Lift up your eyes to the heavens, Greg. Time is short, our theories of economic justice and the Christian’s responsibilities in culture and government are fleeting and change all the time. The Master calls your soul to be invested in His Word and gospel. Jesus did not say, “Give up living for your own sake and instead live to serve others” but rather “whoever loses his life for *my sake* and the gospel’s will save it.” It was Judas who was upset that the spikenard was wasted on Jesus instead of disbursed to the poor.

    And no, conversion does not “involve transformation of the whole person.” That’s glorification.

    • Greg Forster

      I think we might clear a lot of this up if I point out that “complete transformation of the person” and “transformation of the whole person” are two different things. The power of the Holy Spirit transforms my whole person, through a process that begins now (and thus has *some* amount of impact on my whole person now) but is not finished until the eschaton.

      • Ted Bigelow

        I assure you it is not. This issue of transformation and its extent in degree and time is quite minor, and I only brought it up because it reveals a theology that is unsound. Your physical body, which is part of your “whole person,” has not yet experienced any redemption in spite of what you assert, but entirely awaits a future day (Rom. 8:23).

        You simply are not in a position to tell men called of God what to preach, which is how you closed your article:

        “Imagine pulpits across America clearly and consistently preaching:

        1) God is calling you to spend every day making the lives of others better through productive work in your home, workplace, and community.

        2) God is calling you to be a spiritual leader who gracefully sets that expectation for others—because everyone made in God’s image is called to productivity—and for our nation.”

        Greg, your exhortation is not based on the Christian gospel. Your words could come just as confidently out of a Mormon pulpit, a Unitarian pulpit, or even a Muslim pulpit. IOW, your message is not truly aimed at the redeemed, but is stuck to this earth. It will completely deflate a Christian handicapped with Lupus or muscular dystrophy, whom Christ delights in but has for His own glory limited their “economic productivity” to the category of a “consumer” of goods and services rather than a contributor. Further, it would tell older saints that they are of less value than the young Christians to God since they have less capacity to produce, and in so doing repeat one of the lies of our culture they must endure.

        And those reading these posts needs to know that.

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  • Greg Forster

    My wife has lupus and is one of the most economically productive people I know. I’m a deacon and have spent quite a lot of time with the chronically ill even apart from my marriage. From my experience I’d expect the message “that’s OK, God never wanted you to make a contribution to anyone else’s life anyway” wouldn’t be comforting. My approach is to help people discover in what ways God is calling them to be productive in their circumstances. Even people who are unable to move their bodies at all are capable of being quite productive – once they discover the power of prayer.

    Obviously it would be hideously wrong to say or imply that human dignity is in some way proportionate to the monetary value of a person’s productivity; equally obviously, I’ve said no such thing.

    As for the transformation of the physical body, I don’t know about yours, but mine has been profoundly transformed by my redemption. The victory God has given me over the sins of the body has done me so much physical good that it’s like living in a whole new body compared to my former life. (Not that he’s given me complete victory yet, of course!)

  • Aaron

    Ted, I greatly appreciate your desire to guard us in Christ from error. Although I share your desire, I don’t follow your conclusion that Greg’s exhortation is not based on the Christian Gospel.

    First, Greg posted this on the “Gospel Coalition’s” website and so some like me who frequents this page understands that his call to preachers and what they should consider preaching is to be done within the context of the Gospel – Greg posted it for a specific audience, although I’m sure he’s glad to have others read it! One would say he should have been more clear and not left things up to assumptions or the need to have a prior understanding of the Gospel Coalition’s desire to have everything done in the context of the Gospel. This is the challenge of blogs – it’s almost impossible to be comprehensive and that’s why they’re directed to specific audiences. Could some of this come out of a Mormon pulpit as you claim? Sure, if read without context. Would it be nice if everyone who read this didn’t have to have a prior understanding of what the Gospel Coalition is and stood for in order to correctly interpret this? Yes. Is that realistic. No. IMHO I think Greg was clear for his audience.

    Second, regarding the chronically ill – Greg is spot on with his comments. I am a 32 year old male with fibromyalgia and chronic headaches and migraines. I have spent numerous years around the chronically ill – both Believers and unbelievers. All too often the chronically ill give up because life is so difficult. People close allow them to give up because they feel it’d be insensitive to encourage them to be more active. Pastors need to sensitively counsel those in chronic pain that it is unbiblical to give up and do nothing. I agree with Greg that we should encourage “productive work from all who are able.” He wasn’t calling the chronically ill to have to be economically productive if they are not able. I agree that being economically productive could be a lie to them and burden. However, the chronically ill can be and should be productive for the kingdom to the extent that God empowers them. I agree 100% with Greg’s approach to help people discover in what ways God is calling them to be productive in their circumstances. For me, some days all I can do is lay in bed because I’m in so much pain. At one point, I used to just turn on the TV and veg out. I then had people graciously show me that I could be productive for the kingdom by utilizing that time in bed by praying for others, listening to sermons, etc., rather than using TV as an escape from my pain. Over time, God has transformed my thinking and given me a perspective that I can actually be productive for him even when according to others I may not seem productive. God has then given me a desire to be more productive when I’m able to be active. Just the desire to be productive is a gift from God for the chronically ill. I thank God that He has empowered me to be back to economic work but realize the days I can’t, I must pray for strength not to give up and be productive in ways I can.

    Thanks for your partnership in the Gospel.


    Greg – I will pray for your wife as she comes to mind…how tough.

    • Ted Bigelow

      Dear Aaron,

      Greatly appreciate your post. Thank you for opening up and sharing the challenges you live with it.

      Like you, Greg, and Greg’s wife, I yearn to be productive, and not for mere productivity’s sake, but for my Lord. I have been blessed with a large amount of natural energy. It makes me thankful and humble for a generally healthy body (in spite of several major surgeries in the past few years) that I am now able to walk on a treadmill for several miles.

      My posts, from the beginning, have pointed out that Greg’s article calls Christian pastors to do something God does not, and to do it in a way that opposes how Scripture teaches. Had it simply been an article aimed at Christians I would have left it alone. But when he called on the pulpit to follow him, and did it on this website, I felt compelled to call him out.

      There is a biblical way to call the redeemed to productivity, and then there all sorts of unbiblical ways to do it.

      Paul called individual Christians to “to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you.” But Paul gave a motivation other than that offered in this post: “so that you will behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need” (1 Thess. 4:11-12). “Outsiders” are the unbelievers who need to be redeemed and who by seeing a distinctly redeemed work ethic will have a cogent picture of what the gospel calls them to.

      That ethic is not primarily in the quantity of work done (productivity) but in work’s heavenly motivation: “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men” (Col. 3:23). The Christian is called to work well on earth because he prizes his heavenly citizenship far, far above his earthly citizenship. This point is repeatedly mentioned in the NT as the basis for work, yet Greg’s article fails badly at this point. He takes us back to work for productivity sake, not for the sake of displaying the redemptive power of Christ in the life, as your testimony does. He ties productivity to the hoped-for advance and success of earthly kingdoms here and now. In this way then his article is not gospel, in spite of its location on this web site.

      Redemption is what our work should display since our Lord promises that if we “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness all these things will be added to [us]” (Mat. 6:33). Displaying his power in our lives gets to the heart of what “Christian work” is. When is a thief not a thief? Not when he stops stealing, but when he starts working and [i]then[/i] giving from what he earns: “He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need” (Eph. 4:28, cf. Acts 20:35). We Christians must not view ourselves and our churches as a national (American) asset. That’s a betrayal of our heavenly calling.

      May the Lord richly bless you, and Greg and his family, in the redemption which is in Christ Jesus. Merry Christmas.

      • Roger McKinney

        Isn’t the most common request that God makes of his followers in both testaments is to care for the poor? In Biblical days the only way to do that was through charity. But with the advent we discovered two more powerful ways to help the poor – 1) make the cost of production cheaper through the use of better tools so that the cost of living declined and 2)create jobs for them. Job creation surpasses charity as a means to help the poor because it gives dignity to people who can work and provide for themselves.

        All of the charity given in all of history combined would never have lifted the number of people out of poverty that China has lifted out of poverty over the past generation – over 300 million. Charity did not do it and government programs did not do it. Only relatively freer markets did it.

      • Roger McKinney

        I don’t recognize your criticisms in Greg’s article. He never wrote the things you accuse him of writing. He never wrote that quantity was everything. He merely wrote that Christians should be productive and not value leisure more than productivity as many in Europe do. Quadraplegics can be productive. Just ask Joni Eareckson Tada.

        Yes, our primary motivation for everything we do in life should be to please the Lord. But that doesn’t mean we can’t have secondary motives, such as love for our family, the desire to have enough to live and not die, empathy for others, etc. Humans are complex. God made us that way. We can actually have more than one motive for doing things. Do you think we sin if we mix any motive with desire to please the Lord?

        Ted: “Greg’s article fails badly at this point. He takes us back to work for productivity sake, not for the sake of displaying the redemptive power of Christ in the life, as your testimony does. He ties productivity to the hoped-for advance and success of earthly kingdoms here and now. ”

        “We Christians must not view ourselves and our churches as a national (American) asset. That’s a betrayal of our heavenly calling.”

        Where in the world did you get that nonsense? I can’t find any suggestion of those criticisms in Greg’s article. You’re on the verge of simply being dishonest.

      • Rachael Starke


        My email filter sent follow up comments on this thread to my spam folder, so I missed it until today. I’ll be honest brother – your misreading of Greg’s arguments is disappointing, particularly considering your educational background. Greg is not argument is not about the depth of our sanctification in this life, but its breadth. I believe one reason there are so few genuinely Christian voices in the world of business, finance and economics, is because there is little to nothing being taught from our pulpits about those spheres. It’s nothing deeper than “pay your taxes and don’t steal office supplies.” Admonishing people from God’s Word about how their business practices may either adorn the gospel or distort it, just as much as their marriages or their parenting, is not another gospel. It’s a necessary element of the true gospel.

  • Roger McKinney

    Greg, as an instructor in economics and haivng a degree in theology I think your article is excellent! Few economists understand what you have written because economic history was removed from the curriculum for an economics degree a generation ago.

    The best books on the economic rise of the West is Deirdre McCloskey’s series on the “Bourgeois Values” and “Bourgeois Virtues.” Deirdre is a long time prof of economics at the University of Chicago. She proves that the Industrial Revolution would never and could never happen without a change in values.

    Traditional cultures had nothing but contempt for commercial activities. The honored methods of gaining wealth were looting in war, kidnapping for ransom and taking bribes in a government position. Those values began to change in the Reformation toward respect for commerce.

    Why did values begin to change? The Church has always upheld the sanctity of private property based on the prohibitions of theft in the Bible. Church scholars had discussed the ethical issue of just prices for centuries. By the 16th century most theologians had determined that just prices can be found only in free markets without coercion or fraud. The School of Salamanca led these discussion in the 16th century.

    The influence of the School of Salamanca on the Protestants of the Dutch Republic motivated those godly people to create the first nation to protect private property for everyone from theft by the nobility and to build the institutions necessary for free markets. Adam Smith held up the Dutch Republic as the best example of his system of natural liberty. The industrial revolution began in the Dutch Republic and spread to England.

    Economic historians such as Angus Maddison have shown that world standards of living were stagnant from pre-history until the 16 century. The most important event in human history that economics needs to explain is the sudden rise in wealth of Western Europe in the 16th century. McCloskey takes down the most common explanations, such as the Marxist one that says the West stole the wealth of others, especially natives of the Americas. But Spain did all of the stealing and grew poorer as the Dutch Republic and England grew richer.

    The rapid decline of poverty in China and India over the past generation add proof to powerful effect of the bourgeois values, which are nothing but Christian values.

    The Christian foundations of capitalism and economic growth are important for pastors to teach their people.

  • Roger McKinney

    Though the Claremont Institute article “Sacred Enterprise” is pretty good, I have a few comments.

    Claremnot: “In his landmark work The Victory of Reason (2005), Rodney Stark argues that the basic institutions that distinguish capitalism are a cash economy, credit markets, and the management of wealth by firms—rationally organized and meritocratically staffed organizations not dependent on kinship or household structures.”

    Actually that’s not correct. The superpowers at the time of the rise of the Dutch Republic were Spain, the Ottoman Empire and China. All of them had what Stark describes and yet they grew poorer with time and never developed capitalism. What made the Dutch Republic different was the change in values toward a respect for commerce. As a result, people with extra money didn’t consume it as the nobility did, or give it to the Church to pay for their sins, or hoard gold or buy land. They invested it in productive activity.

    And the productive activity was different. Before the rise of capitalism in the Dutch Republic, all production was small scale craft production for the nobility. The working classes made their own stuff; they didn’t buy it. Capitalism is mass production and production for the masses. Only with the adoption of mass production techniques which the Dutch pioneered could things like dishes and clothing be made cheaply enough that the common people could afford to buy them instead of making them.

    Marshmallows are a good example. Originally they were so expensive that only nobility could afford them. Then someone figured out how to use machines to mass produce them so they they were cheap enough that anyone could afford them.

    Another aspect of capitalism that did not exist before the Dutch Republic is what the economist Douglass North calls the modern open society. In his traditional society, an elite nobility rules over the masses. The king (or dictator) keeps the allegiance of the elite by allowing them to plunder the wealth of the masses, though they can’t plunder each other. The traditional society is the most robust in history.

    North’s modern open society developed in the Dutch Republic first. In it, the elite have no rights that others don’t have and are subject to the same laws. The modern, open, capitalist society is one of laws applying equally to everyone. The masses are protected from plunder by the elite and the elite are protected from the envy of the masses.

  • Roger McKinney

    Finally, one of the most important features of capitalism is limited government. The School of Salamanca provided the theory that the role of government is limited to protection of life, liberty and property. If it collected taxes above what was needed to perform those functions it was stealing from the people. The Dutch first implemented limited government.

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