Seek the Ultimate over the Intermediate

David Park is concerned that Christianity in China may inadvertently be reduced to merely the set of rules of commercial exchange, the terms of selective incentives, the civil society that fills the gaps where the temporal government does not:

Do we couch prosperity in the language of “God’s provision” to simply avoid the problematic passages in the New Testament regarding wealth, particularly as it applies to following Jesus? When we speak of stewardship, are we really talking about risk management? It just seems so strange to ask for commitment and wholehearted zeal when our institutions seem so uncommitted to risking to the same degree. We don’t see ourselves as a Robin Hood-like distribution channel of reallocating wealth to the poor, but almost as money managers. We have built an ethic that is indistinguishable to capitalistic objectives, rather than true risk taking. Is Christianity nothing more than generally accepted principles for a market economy?

I have no problem with recognizing that the Christian faith is not inherently at loggerheads with the notion of the market or even with economic progress. I have no problem with saying that society living as God says to live can resolve market failures. After all, if the Christian faith is the true faith, it makes sense that it is compatible with all good and even stands as a sine qua non of other things.

I claim that rule of law is compatible with God’s rights over all creation and all other authorities: does that make me a student of Han Feizi? I claim that saving our spare change to give to the poor is compatible with God’s provision in the Torah for the poor among God’s people: does that make me a welfare redistributionist? I claim that sanity in the financial system is compatible with God’s gift to us of stewardship: does that make me a risk-hedge-monger?

Saying the gospel is compatible with our enjoyment of God through His creation is very orthodox. The problem is not even in appreciating how Christian life can serve as the bedrock of a just and happy society. Rather, it is in failing to notice – or accept – how that fits back into the big picture of God’s glory and sovereignty, which is a root of idolatry.

After all, our fundamental problem is not market failure per se, nor is it unequal income distribution, nor is it the lack of a good welfare state, nor is it the rarity of good laws, nor is it even the presence of bad laws. No, the fundamental problem is sin, which has broken our peace with God and made us enemies with Him. What we seek in the gospel, however, is restoration of shalom by the eternal will of the Father, the atonement of the Son and the regeneration and sanctification of the Holy Spirit, to God’s own praise and glory.

What we talk about out of that knowledge is what shalom looks like (what the right endstate is) and how we should get there (what the right procedures are, and who has to do what, and what actually helps).


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