The Scandal Of Christian Socialism
This year marks the 25th anniversary of Mark Noll’s book The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. Christianity Today magazine called it the most influential book of the decade in 2004. The next year Time magazine listed Noll among the top 25 most influential evangelicals. The problem, Noll wrote, “… is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.”
But the real scandal of the evangelical mind is the left’s phobia of economics and Noll offers evidence. In his 1994 book he wrote, “Increasingly throughout the period before the Civil War, evangelicals came to assume the God-given character of liberal political economy… this was done without a great deal of thought.”
But Noll was wrong. Paul Heyne wrote in “Are Economists Basically Immoral?” and Other Essays on Economics, Ethics, and Religion,
Protestant clergymen played a prominent part in the early teaching of economics in the United States, especially prior to the Civil War, and their doctrines generally lauded the productive as well as the moral virtues of the American economy. The Rev. John McVickar of Columbia University, a contender for the title of first academic economist in the United States, was expressing the general conviction of nineteenth century clerical economists when he attributed the rapid advance of the United States in wealth and civilization largely to her respect for the divinely ordained laws of morality and political economy. These laws called for individual responsibility, private property, and minimal government intervention in the economy. This position acquired almost axiomatic status in the second quarter of the nineteenth century among clerical economists, prompting the historian Henry F. May to speak of “a school of political economy which might well be labeled clerical laissez-faire…”
The most influential member of the school of clerical laissez-faire was Francis Wayland, author of The Elements of Political Economy, first published in 1837. Michael J. L. O’Connor, in an exhaustive examination of the origins of economic instruction in the United States, says that Wayland’s Elements “achieved more fully than any other textbook what appear to have been the ideals of the clerical school.” It also achieved, in its original version and in the abridged version published for secondary school use, immediate and widespread adoption; it was by far the most popular political economy textbook prior to the Civil War. Even after its sales declined in the 1860s, its influence continued to be exerted through adaptations and imitations.
Although an award-winning historian, Noll was and remains completely ignorant of that history and of the Christian origins of economic thought in the theologians of the University of Salamanca, Spain, in the 16th century from whom Adam Smith inherited his economics. Protestants did not adopt capitalism without thinking about it. They embraced it because of its origins in the Bible and natural law. There is no excuse for Noll’s ignorance of this history. In an update to Scandal published last year, The State of the Evangelical Mind, to which Noll contributed, the left exhibits no improvement of its mind by completely ignoring the science of economics.
To support their promotion of socialism and demonization of capitalism, the evangelical left retreats to either Walter Rauschenbusch or Max Weber, both of whom wrote over a century ago. Weber was an agnostic who painted an ugly portrait of Protestants in his book The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Respectable historians of economics buried his book decades ago, but the evangelical left keep digging it up.
A devout German Baptist father raised Rauschenbusch, but Walter rejected the divinity of Christ, his virgin birth and resurrection after having studied in Germany. His book Christianity and the Social Crisis is considered the foundation of the social gospel movement. Walter replaced Christ with Marx as the savior of mankind but cleaned him up by washing away Marx’s rabid atheism and painting on an emaciated god that is more like a sickly old man who can’t put on his own pants in the morning. As dishonest as his economics, he continued to call himself a Christian. An agnostic and “modernist” are the guiding lights of the evangelical left who despise the economics developed by Christians.
The social sciences are the most important for Christians because they deal with humanity. Advances in the natural sciences have little impact on people, other than to cause greater devastation in war, offer us more gadgets for diversion or extend dying. In the 1960s and 1970s physicists hoped to save humanity by contacting an extraterrestrial being that would be superior to us and save us from ourselves. The natural sciences have not contributed to alleviating the problems of war, poverty, crime, human trafficking or any other plagues afflicting the species. Only the social sciences study the problems facing mankind. Economics is the most advanced of those sciences and it shares a subject of concern to theology – human nature. The greatest economist of the 20th century, Ludwig von Mises, underscored that point by giving the title Human Action to his most important book.
The true “scandal of the evangelical mind” is that the left would rather pluck out their eyes than read a book on economics. Christianity Today, The Gospel Coalition, Sojourners and other institutions continue to push the medieval economics we call socialism.
Originally published on Townhall Finance.