Capitalism Is Not the Gospel

Rick Phillips
I came back from a bit of travel to discover some remarkable responses to my recent blog post against socialism.  In particular, David Robertson, the current moderator of the Free Church of Scotland, exploded with indignation that violations of biblical ethics should be highlighted with respect to economic/political systems.  In this midst of his multi-part tirade, much of which ranged far beyond anything I wrote or thought, he made a charge that would be quite concerning to me if it was true: the idea that I wish to associate the gospel with capitalism.

This charge surprises me since what I actually said about capitalism was almost entirely negative.  I wrote: "Capitalism does not offer salvation: only Jesus can deliver us from our sins."  I pointed out that without Christ, capitalism "offers a false, materialistic paradise." Mr. Robertson nonetheless associated me with promoting "unfettered market capitalism," even though such a thing has not existed in America for some generations.  In any case I attacked this too: "Christians should be discerning enough to scorn the adolescent egotism of Ayn Rand-style capitalism and realize the need for government intervention against capitalistic abuses."  Moreover, contrary to Robertson's claim, I believe in the obligation to pay taxes (and said so in my post) and I have no problem with the government seeking to do good in line with John Calvin's view.  My problem has to do with the horrific urban landscapes that Mr. Robertson lamented seeing in America.  Having been indeed founded by sinful abuses of capitalism, they have been perfected by government enforced socialistic programs.

It is of course vitally important that Christians not associate an economic system with the good news of God's saving intervention in Jesus Christ.  The same is true, of course, for social justice theories and the like.  This is undoubtedly a temptation during election cycles where important secular matters lie in the balance.  This is not to say that Christians cannot have views of these things.  But while we follow the ups and downs of the campaign trail, we should always differentiate between the secular good and the spiritual good.  In God's wisdom, a terrible election result for America (however we conceive this) may be God's plan through which he restores the lost through faith in Jesus.  Spiritually, Christians are "in season and out of season" folks, prayerfully seeking to use every context to convince sinners of their need for Christ's redeeming blood.  Capitalism has nothing to offer in this respect, despite whatever economic boons it may otherwise provide.

Having hopefully cleared up the idea that I associate capitalism with the gospel, there were a couple of other criticisms that might be helpfully addressed.  One charge was that I did not distinguish between nuanced varieties of socialism.  This is true, although I thought my focus on Bernie Sanders' style American socialism was pretty clear.  Second, I admit that it was Communists who built walls around their countries (although I would point out the second S in USSR as supporting my claim that socialists have done this).  On a third note, may I humbly request that we stop making charges of ninth commandment violations every time someone writes something that we don't like or agree with?  Despite his fantastic projections that have transformed me into a caricature of what Robertson does not like about America, I do not think that he has intended to bear false witness.

In the end, I don't know whether to be honored or dismayed by the length and hysteria applied to my short blog post.  What I do know is how much I respect and honor David Robertson as an outstanding Christian and I will continue to pray for him in his apologetic labors on behalf of the gospel in the land of Scotland.