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  • Don Walker

The Theology of Socialism


There is a segment within evangelical Christianity that views socialism as compassionate and capitalism as soulless. This view is represented by Sojourners magazine and men such as Jim Wallis, Ron Sider, and Tony Campolo. Before I go any further let me say that I am not attacking the integrity or the sincere compassion of these men. This is about the battle for ideas, the consequences of those ideas, and whether, those ideas conform to the teaching of Scripture.


Though we speak of the debate between socialism and capitalism in terms of competing economic philosophies it is more than this. Behind the two opposing economic systems are different principles and ultimately two very different worldviews. In other words, the differences in the public square are rooted in the differences on the level of theology – theism vs. a-theism.


Does God exist? Do we live in a moral universe? Are humans made in the image of God? Is our existence defined by our common humanity? Or do we live in a purely naturalistic universe without a moral framework? Are we merely highly evolved animals, basically no different than a worm? Is survival of the fittest—raw power—the mediator of our existence?


Before you raise objections to my attempt to intersect economics and theology allow me to show how I “connect the dots” between the two. The policies and practices of socialism are rooted in a zero-sum model of economics. Free markets, on the other hand, are rooted in a positive-sum economic model. One system is derived from atheism (consciously or unconsciously), while the other is theistic.


A zero-sum economy sees the universe as a closed system. In this system, nature is the only reality; God does not seemingly exist. The universe is a big machine, and resources are material by definition, and thus limited.


On the other hand, the positive-sum economic model is built on the assumption that God exists, He is the creator of the universe, He has made human beings in His image, the universe is open to the transcendent God. It is not a closed system but an open system. Resources can be created; wealth can be produced. It is not limited.


The closed system of socialism regards resources as limited. This system holds that some people are rich at the expense of those who are poor. This means we need to take from the rich and give to poor so everyone can share equally. Think of it this way: “The pie is only so big, if your slice is bigger than all the others, you need to have a smaller piece so it is equal for all of us.” (Of course, if you do not do it willingly, it will be taken by force.)


The open system of capitalism regards resources as unlimited. God has placed within His creation resources we have not yet discovered. God gives men ideas to use the resources in new ways. (For example George Washington Carver discovering multiple uses for the peanut.) Think of it this way: “The pie is not only big enough for everybody. You can have your own pie.”


Let me add that in this capitalist (open system) if governed by Judeo-Christian ethics, we share our “pie” willingly because God instructs us to do so and we live by faith in Him who supplies. In fact, as Oswald Chambers stated, “Jesus Christ out socialists the socialists” and we as His followers should do the same. I can be “open handed” in my giving because I trust in a God who is open handed with me.


Hopefully, I have shown you the theological foundations of these two systems. Those Christians who espouse the socialist perspective have not, in my opinion, thoughtfully considered the root thinking supporting their view.

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