Posted by: gmscan | May 12, 2011

Christianity and Capitalism, Part Four

The Progressive Church

Okay, here we go again. This time I want to deal with capitalism and the liberal/progressive movement in the church. It has taken me a while to get here because every day (literally) I come across more information on this. Sorting it into something coherent is a challenge.

Let’s start with a couple of basics. Many liberal Protestants seem to equate capitalism with colonialism. They look at how the western powers subjugated the third world and conclude that the same thing is happening today, but in a softer more subtle manner.

Unfortunately, religious people of many stripes don’t seem to be very well informed about economics. Capitalism has nothing to do with colonialism. Colonialism was a mercantilist economic system, Britain’s East India Company being the best example. The government selected a privately owned company to exploit the resources of newly conquered lands and bring that wealth back to the mother country. Even domestically, mercantilism was characterized by monopolies and guilds of select artisans. It prohibited, or at least discouraged, the import of anything but raw materials in the belief that a nation’s wealth was based on the added value of processing and manufacturing.

Capitalism was a radical departure from this system. First articulated by Adam Smith in 1776 with his “Wealth of Nations” it called for free and voluntary associations, competition between producers, and unrestricted trade between nations. It was as radical a departure in economics as America’s Declaration of Independence (published the same year) was in politics. The essential concept was that free and voluntary trade improves the welfare of both the buyer and the seller, and this includes the buyers and sellers of labor as well as goods and services. There is no way a true capitalist economy could support colonialism.

The fact that both systems emerged from Europe has no bearing on it whatsoever. Over the years Europe has produced many wonderful ideas and many terrible ideas. It is simply irresponsible (and, frankly, racist) to conflate two radically opposite ideas because they both originated in the same continent.

The other profound error that seems to drive progressive Christianity was laid out in a wonderful book by Donald Grey Barnhouse in 1965: “The Invisible War.”  Dr. Barnhouse was for many years the pastor of the Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. I can’t recommend this highly enough. He takes the idea I got from reading C.S. Lewis – that Christians are behind enemy lines in a world controlled by Satan – and fleshes it out Biblically.

But I want to focus on a small but important point he makes. He argues that the statement made by Jesus to the Pharisees after they asked him when the Kingdom of God would come was slightly mistranslated in the King James Version to say “The kingdom of God is within you,” when it should have said (as the English Standard Version says) “The kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” (Luke 17:21) The Greek word is entos. Barnhouse says:

This does not mean and cannot mean that the kingdom is inside their hearts. It means that the kingdom of God is among them, in their midst…. In other words, Christ was standing there, surrounded by them, and all the time He was the King, and therefore the kingdom, for His kingdom, above all others, centers in Himself.”

Barnhouse says the consequence of this error has been profound:

The devil and his theologians picked up the preposition like an opposing football player snapping up a fumble and have attempted to run through all truth to make their goal. “Ah! Yes!” They say, talking very fast, “the kingdom of God is within you. There is a spark of the divine in all men. You are not to think that the fall left men in a hopeless position.  There is much good in man. There is even some good in man that can satisfy God.… There is a spirit of kindliness, of charity, of unselfishness in man that is glorious.

Thus, we can create the kingdom here on Earth without much assistance from God, if we only try hard enough and behave in a Godly manner. But this is a lie. Man is not good enough and man cannot behave in a Godly manner.

Next time I will look at how these errors manifest in liberal churches and denominations, and how even Dietrich Bonhoeffer encountered it in New York in 1930.




  1. If you consider that the God-given gift of free choice was the cause of the fall and all attendant problems, and that God knew very well what would be the consequences of creating mankind “in his image”, you could argue that God is so committed to liberty, freedom, and choice that he was willing to die to guarantee it. Capitalism is the expression of freedom of choice in the marketplace. It provides the only opportunity for people to be free – free to risk, free to fail, free to succeed, free to rise above their station in life. The only alternative to it is slavery to those who have power by virtue of strength or position or inherited wealth. This is why capitalism, science and Christianity have always gone hand-in-hand. (Once again, I recommend to you Rodney Stark’s “The Victory of Reason” and, to a lesser degree his “The Rise of Christianity”.)

  2. Greg,
    Does the word ENTOS really mean “in the midst of” as Barnhouse emphatically states, or does it mean “within”? If we look at Matt 23:36 where the same word is used “Thou blind Pharisee, cleans that which is within (ENTOS) the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also,” it is not likely that the proper interpretation here is “in the midst of the cup and platter…”
    Likewise when on trial by Pilate, Jesus got the point across to satisfy his judge that His kingdom was not a threat to Roman rule. In John 18:36 he says essentially three times that “my kingdom is not of this world.” While he is not saying specifically here that the kingdom is within, it is spiritual., and spiritual is within. He had told Nicodemus that unless he was born of the water and of the spirit, he could not enter into the kingdom of heaven.
    The proper Greek word for “in the midst” would be MESOS.
    Barnhouse may be an expert, but I don’t agree with his argument. The conclusion that man, on his own, cannot create a perfect world may be correct,… but not based on this passage.
    Gerald N. Yorioka, M.D. (Jerry)

  3. Well said, Greg! I can’t possibly judge the accuracy of the Greek translations, but one thing is for sure: based on the rest of Scripture, this passage CANNOT mean that everyone has a self-salvagable spark within. It is very apparent that all are corrupt and incapable of good, in desperate need of a Savior.

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