Should We Expect the Religious to be Successful?

There’s an interesting article in the current edition of The Economist, titled ‘Holy Relevance: Faith Can Influence Economic Behaviour, But Not Always Directly.’  The article cites some research which seeks to observe whether Max Weber’s sociology of religion plays out in the economic behaviour of religious people.

In short, while citing some interesting correlations between Islamic faith and capitalistic success, the article finds no research which presents a convincing case for the positive effect of any Christian tradition on the economic success of their adherents. The article concludes:

In the end, laws and institutions seem to make more difference to people’s worldly chances than the arcana of theology.

I’m not surprised. Any approach to economics from a Christian worldview must take into account the Lord whom Christians follow, Jesus Christ, who said things like:

No one can be a slave of two masters, since either he will hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot be slaves of God and of money. (Matthew 6:24, HCSB)

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important commandment. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commandments. (Matthew 22:37-40, HSCB)

Furthermore, those who became the leaders in the early Christian church said things like this:

Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world. (James 1:27, HCSB)

In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret [of being content]—whether well-fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. (Philippians 4:12b, HCSB)

If I may paraphrase: Put no faith in the salvation falsely offered by wealth! Give generously, even sacrificially! Put others first! Be content with what you have; flee consumer capitalism!

While the New Testament certainly does not forbid Jesus’ followers from doing well in business, is it really a surprise that faith in the Suffering Servant doesn’t correlate with worldly wealth? The ‘worldly chances’ of Christians are played out in light of the heavenly certainties secured in Christ.

Following a God who associates with the lowly and encourages the same generosity He has shown in giving Jesus Christ, it is no wonder ‘the arcana of [Christian] theology’ has no correlation to business success. As the Apostle Paul says: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ: although He was rich, for your sake He became poor, so that by His poverty you might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9, HCSB).

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