This is not a proper review of Gary North’s work, The Covenantal Structure of Christian Economics. Instead, this is a collection of notes, observations, and comments I made while reading the text – and only half of the book is surveyed here!
For Gary North’s own comments on his work, go here: Christian Economic Theory: Neither Aristotle nor Kant – http://www.garynorth.com/public/13341.cfm
Free: The Covenantal Structure of Christian Economics, My New Book on an Old Subject
Both articles are definitely worth reading, to gain a grasp of North’s goals in writing the book.
Now, on to the work in question, The Covenantal Structure of Christian Economics.
Pages xv-vxiii: We are praying the Lord’s Prayer, but do we really know what we are saying? Do we believe it? Do we really believe that God will answer this prayer?
Let me cite another part of the prayer: “Give us this day our daily bread.” Do you have daily bread? Yes. Do you have a little too much bread? Could you stand to lose a few pounds? You may have a few Cheetos, too. Chips and dip. Pizza. Dessert. Second helpings.
Do you worry about where your next meal is coming from? No. But there are people in the world who do worry about this. Most of them live in non-Christian societies.
God has answered this prayer over the last two centuries to a degree that He never did before in recorded history. How much gratitude has He received? If you read a textbook on economic history, I guarantee you that the author does not attribute this historical development to God’s answering of this prayer. This prayer first began to be answered on a permanent basis in the British Isles and the United States: the early phase of the Industrial Revolution. This began around 1800 (sometime between 1780 and 1820). The last famine in the West was in Ireland in the 1840s, which was not an industrial nation. So, this part of the Lord’s prayer has been answered in the West, beginning in the most Protestant and most entrepreneurial regions of the West. It has spread around the world.
Pages xviii- xix: After pointing out that most economists are atheists or functional atheists, North spells out that he is coming out from an explicitly covenantal understanding of life, including economics.
In this book, I bring together into a coherent form—I hope—a set of conclusions that I have reached, which are based on a series of studies that I have labored on for over half a century. I offer these conclusions in terms of an assumption: God’s five-point biblical covenant model is the appropriate model for all social theory, including economic theory. More than this: I argue that all systems of social theory rest implicitly on this five-point structure….
Here is the structure: sovereignty, authority, law, sanctions, and inheritance.
With the biblical covenant as his guiding star, North outlines how Biblical five-point covenantal theory undergirds economic growth and decline. Positive sanctions follow obedience to God, and negative sanctions follow disobedience.
Page xx: This page is a summary of the major shift that North makes in economic reasoning, from man-centered to God-centered. The end result of Christian economics is to determine if you (and your society, family, church, government) are inheritors of the Kingdom of God, or disinherited?
Page xxii: Romans 11 is what led North to postmillennialism, and the three parts of sanctification: definitive (by Christ), progressive (in our lives), and final (after death for the believer).
Page xxii: Another core framework of North’s thinking is the five-point covenantal model provided by Ray Sutton, which outlines God’s promises to us, and our obligations to God.
Pages xxiii-xxv: Illustrations of the covenantal model, from different perspectives, are provided. “Here, in 45 words, are the foundations of Christian economics.”
The dominion covenant (Gen. 1:26–28) defines mankind. Therefore, all social thought must begin here. By “must,” I mean a moral imperative. I also mean an epistemological imperative. But few Christians begin here. No humanists begin here.
This book is a strongly epistemological work: “epistemological” means the study of knowledge, “how we know what we know”. Economics has a large number of such unresolved problems, typically ignored by practitioners, which the book demonstrates can be successfully resolved in a Christian framework.
A similar statement can be made for all human knowledge and sciences, but there is a lack of spadework needed to prove this. Christians who are uninterested in being led by the nose by humanists who despise them (…but wish to steal their children and their wealth…) should put their back into the required work.
Page xxvi: North comments:
- This book can be a model of Christian social theory.
- We need to start with God the Creator/Redeemer/Judge, not Man the Thinker/Actor
- There is no neutrality.
- Current economic theory rests on the false assumption of methodological individualism: a assumption proven false whenever an economist recommends a national policy recommendation.
- Secular economists since Adam Smith prefer to ground their economic theories with the division of labour instead of ownership, to avoid the question of identifying the initial owner.
- We need to start with the correct foundation of God as primary owner, in economic theory.
Page xxviii: North decides that the Christian reconstruction of society requires his own blood and sweat, and cannot be passed off to someone else: ergo, his labours for the last 50+ years. All serious Christians must do likewise, using their own strengths and from their own place in life.
Page 1: Central question of the book: “What do economists know, and how can they know it?” – an epistemological question, which is not popular. While modern economists define their actions in a circular fashion – “Economics is what economists do” – a better definition is Xenophon’s, where economists is simply household management, as defined from ~350 BC to ~AD 1650
Pages 2-3: Xenophon is correct: economics has to do with stewardship. On whose behalf do we steward our resources? Who is the original owner of our available resources? The God of the Christian Bible.
To whom do I report? Christians must report to many authorities, but ultimately to God. What are the terms of the stewardship? Christians have many obligations to many authorities, but ultimately to God. What are success indicators? (These differ between a family and a state.) How is legal responsibility transferred after death/incapacitation?
Page 3: Economic law comes from a legal order, which comes from a moral order, which comes from a covenantal order. There is no such thing as value-free economics.
Page 4: This book does not answer the central question: “What do economists know, and how can they know it?” (A preliminary answer is given later, but it needs to be properly fleshed out…)
Instead, this book answers the question: who rightfully imputes economic value? Second, how do individual imputations inform the head of covenantal organizations (family, church, state)?
Pages 4-5: There are two main mistakes of Academic Economic theory:
- The scope of economics is too narrow, only focusing on the market, to a very limited extent to the state, and hardly at all to the family or the church.
- All exchanges outside of the market is assumed to follow the behavior of the market, instead of being a unique phenomena. (I.e. there is no ownership in marriage, and thus no exchange.)
Pages 5-6: Economics should be tied to household management. Christians must recognize this, as all institutions – family, church, state – are tied to both the dominion covenant and the individual covenant.
Modern economics is built on a lie: it claims that market transactions also determines ownership and stewardship in family, church, and state, but it does not. This failure includes Mises, who did not expand praxeology (the study of human action) beyond catallactics (market relationship).
Pages 8-9: Values are subjective, but no economist has tied value with prices, which are objective. Economists pretend to back inductive reasoning, but ground their theories in how the world just has to work (deductive reasoning). Parmenides’ love of theory, or Heraclitus’ love of history – no conclusion has been made.
Carl Menger demonstrated that economic value is subjective: but economists insist on making policy recommendation, that implicitly assume objective and common economic values. No scale for making objective policy recommendations exists, permitting lots of contradictory claims and undermining economic claims of being a science.
Page 10-11: Following Kant, Mises assumes that (meta)theology can never interfere with the actual physical universe: this is the basis of the doctrine of neutrality. North rejects human autonomy, claims of impartiality and freedom from theological considerations, and any supposed deistic distant god.
Page 12: English mercantilism is specifically opposed to any appeal to religion or morality for it’s economic claims, due to two religious wars: the Glorious Revolution and the Thirty Years War. These men don’t believe that people will ever come to any unity on such issues, so they turned to human logic & reason as the supposed basis of a shared understanding.
Pages 12-13: Adam Smith based his analysis on the division of labour – instead of ownership – to avoid questions on the Initial Owner. This was a conceptual and strategic blunder that socialists/collectivists capitalized on.
(But an inevitable one, as Smith wanted to avoid declaring the sovereignty of the Christian God, in favour of ‘neutral universalism’ – itself being a codeword for ‘human autonomy’.)
Because Smith spent little time on private property, much of the world had to go through fascism, communism, and socialism for two centuries.
Page 13: Because Austrian Economics focuses on the individual choice, it is a better (if still flawed) fit for Christians than any rival economic system. The subjectivism of Austrian thought has problems, but these problems are minor compared to corporate/aggregate/collectivist economics.
Austrians recognize that micro-economics – individual, family, household – is at the heart of economics, not group-oriented macroeconomics. This is again a better fit for Christians, as economics should focus on the God’s commands – especially the Dominion Covenant – and the Image of God – Man – and not on groups and collectives and nation-states (none of which have souls, and only one – the Church – of which is eternal.)
Page 14: Man – both individually, and corporately – are in the image of God. So, both individuals and groups are important economically, which is not very dissimilar from the equal ultimacy of the Trinity (the one and the many), “called the ontological Trinity“(page 32). But, there is a hierarchy of authority in the Trinity (The Father first, then the Son, with the Holy Spirit from both). This is called the economic Trinity – not due to money, but to the familiar nature of the Trinity. (“Eco” = family in Greek)
Page 14: While micro- and macroeconomics are equally ultimate covenantally (judicially), people are motivated by personal rewards and punishment. “With respect to motivation, because of the nature of eternal sanctions, methodological individualism has greater motivational power, and therefore greater methodological power, than holism or collectivism.”
Page 15: Economics are more grounded in the individual than politics. While both politicians and entrepreneurs are motivated by self-interest, financial gain is not as powerful for politicians: the exercise of power is more important. The rules and sanctions of politics are different than in business. Moreover, power is corporate, and political based on force.
[But business is grounded in serving the individual: otherwise, no sales. – AP)
God judges all who serve as judges (family, church, state): all judges are tied to covenantal obligation, whether they accept it or not. Greater knowledge means greater responsibility. (Luke 12: 47-48) This is because all human judges represent God as the supreme judge & sanctions bringer, so they will be held to a higher standard.
[Quite a number of judges are going to have a nasty surprise, five minutes after they die… – AP]
I want to make crystal clear what I am saying here. Christian economics is fundamentally judicial. It is therefore fundamentally moral. It is not value-free. So, I begin my analysis with judicial categories:
- God owns everything.
- God delegates ownership.
- God prohibits theft.
- God evaluates performance.
- God mandates growth.
The economic categories are applications of these judicial categories. This is why I begin with God’s sovereignty. This is a legal category, not an autonomous economic category.
Page 17: The Bible is a blueprint for all of life, to the extent that it speaks to that given issue. Claims that “The Bible is not a textbook on economics,” for example, is to deny God the right to determine our economic system. North has written 31 volumes on this assumption “The Bible is a blueprint on economics.”
Every academic system is built on a doctrine of origins/creation. Often, academics hide the assumptions, but they are there, with the implications smuggled in later. North wants to get the assumptions out front and centre, where we can see them.
Page 21: All Christians must assume 1) God is absolutely sovereign 2) Nothing is autonomous. As our world must deal with scarcity, the question of price-setting must be determined. Men bind themselves with oaths that call down punishment for disobedience: these are the foundation of our covenants. There are five oaths: dominion, individual, family, church, and state.
Page 22: The economy is primarily the outgrowth of households, and to a lesser extent individuals.
“The fundamental issue of economics is God’s original ownership. The subordinate issues are man’s stewardship, private property, scarcity, and economic growth. Economics is the study of how owners allocate scarce resources that are under their legal authority.”
The core question for economic theory is: who is the divinely appointed trustee? Especially as God has a lawful claim on everything and everyone.
Pages 23-24: What is sovereignty, in reference to God? It is autonomous power, which answers to no one. Sovereignty is tied to authority and legitimacy, and the lawful demand for obedience, backed by force. It answers the question “Whose in charge here?”
Darwinians carefully avoid the word ‘sovereignty’, but the concept is smuggled in vi the account of origins. As a bait-and-switch operation, Darwininans claim that the universe is impersonal, and man insignificant… but it is Man who give the universe meaning, and can establish law.
[And by “Man”, we mean Certain Men. The Right Sort. They Who Know What Is Best. – AP]
Pages 25-26: It is not the concept of something from nothing (i.e. The Big Bang) but original purpose (an example: Intelligent Design) that is anathema to Darwinists, as original purpose is tied to the identity of the original sovereign: God or man?
So, what begins with an affirmation of cosmic purposelessness, which is an assertion of the absence of cosmic sovereignty, soon becomes an affirmation of the unique sovereignty of man, at least on our little speck of the universe. This is sovereignty by default. [Footnote deleted]
Pages 27-28: Socialists claimed the moral high ground, a claim that gave them political strength. Only with the failure of communism was the moralism abandoned, demonstrating the intellectual’s actual commitment to the pragmatic pursuit of power. A pursuit that continues today, despite the abandonment of socialism.
The issue of sovereignty did not go away after 1991. The debate moved from the primary sovereignty of collective political man to the sovereignty of market-sanctioned individual men and the secondary sovereignty of politics.
By raising the question of origins, I am moving the debate back to the fundamental issue: the sovereignty of autonomous God vs. the sovereignty of self-professed autonomous man.
Page 28: As in all sciences, Christians in economics must start with the doctrine of creation, as accomplished by Jesus Christ (Col 1:12-17) instead of autonomous man, as all humanist sciences begin.
Pages 28-29: The distinguishing feature of Christianity is the Trinity, as God is both one and many. Since the Trinity can reconcile plans within itself – Let us make man in our image – the concept of planning must be the centerpiece of Christian economics.
Pages 29-32: God owns the universe, as He made it and He sustains & administers it. Gen 6:1, when God said that everything He made was very good, identified God as both transcendent over creation, and the source of all accurate imputations.
A good example is the entrance of the Israelites into Canaan. The miracle of the providentially and miraculously supplied manna ceased forever (Josh. 5:12). God substitutes previously created means for miracles. This does not reduce the degree of providence. It does lure covenant-breakers into denying providence (Rom. 1:18–22). [Footnotes deleted]
God is not part of the creation – “all forms of pantheism are wrong” – but He is present with it: He insures all continuity. As God actively sustains creation, “all forms of deism are wrong.”
Pages 32-34: Deism’s god – a hypothetical deity that was never actually worshiped in history – is utterly separate from creation, and so cannot judge it. Pantheism’s god is indistinguishable from creation, and so cannot judge it. God is outside of creation, but can create, impact, judge, and shape creation as He wishes. The creation is lawfully subordinate to God.
God created the universe as a collective, the Trinity. Jesus made it clear that He represents God the Father, and works on the Father’s behalf. The Father and the Son delegated tasks to the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ primary task was to fulfill the Law of God – and, as Christians are to imitate Christ, there is a hierarchy of work: From the Father, to the Son, to the adopted Children of God, Christians.
Page 34: The boundary around the forbidden tree was the archetype of private property: This tree is Mine! Men violated God’s private property, and thus reap the consequences. A similar boundary is set for God’s name. As the church is the bride of Christ, it also has boundaries that must not be broken.
Pages 34-35: Since time had a beginning, it will have an end. The end of our lives results initially in Heaven or Hell, and later (after the end of time in this universe) in the New Creation and the Lake of Fire.
Pages 36-37: Modern economics connects economic value with imputation. God sets the standard, imputing worth to creation in Genesis 1.
God’s moral standard is perfection. He pronounces judgment, and evaluates everything all the time. Imputation is associated with work. All work is judged. The rebellion in the garden followed a rival standard and work, which was judged to be evil and crushed.
Jesus is the designated steward of creation, which He made. This makes Him the redeemer of the church. Christ completed His stewardship duties faithfully: so should we.
Page 34: The boundary around the forbidden tree was the archetype of private property: This tree is Mine! Men violated God’s private property, and thus reap the consequences. A similar boundary is set for God’s name. As the church is the bride of Christ, it also has boundaries that must not be broken.
Pages 34-35: Since time had a beginning, it will have an end. The end of our lives results initially in Heaven or Hell, and later (after the end of time) in the New Creation and the Lake of Fire.
Pages 36-37: Modern economics connects economic value with imputation. God sets the standard, imputing worth to creation in Genesis 1.
God’s moral standard is perfection. He pronounces judgment, and evaluates everything all the time. Imputation is associated with work. All work is judged. The rebellion in the garden followed a rival standard and work, which was judged to be evil and crushed.
Pages 38-39: God decrees the future, and then brings it to pass. God will gain a positive rate of return on his investment. What ever God win, Satan loses – zero-sum conflict. God’s victory on earth and in time is demonstrated by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Page 41: “Christian economics is the only consistent form of economics.” Other economic systems get tied up in contradictions. If they are consistent with their presuppositions, they get bad results.
Pages 42-43: Men have authority, delegated to them by God. Men are subordinate, God is supreme.
1. Ownership establishes responsibility.
2. Responsibility is personal.
3. Theft is illegal.
4. Oaths are binding.
5. Owners designate heirs
All serious Christian economic theory must have a self-conscious start in the absolute sovereignty of God. All men – including unbelievers – act on behalf of God and in God’s name… and will be judged on this.
Page 45: God holds men corporately responsible, not just individually. (Lev. 26, Deut. 28) Men are responsible for what their rulers so, and groups are sanctioned by God in history. Christian social theorists should not start with the autonomous individual or the autonomous society, but with methodological covenantalism. Society is built by eternally responsible people, who are tied to individual, familial, civil, and church covenants.
God is the primary owner: men are stewards under God’s authority. They must know and uphold God’s will.
Page 46: Man as a species answers to God, as seen in the Fall. Adam was to defend the garden against any intruder, but chose to work with the intruder against God.
Even ethical perfection can still be improved: pre-fall, sinless Adam was working in the garden. The garden was supposed to be a training ground for dominion., with men eventually going down river, leaving the garden to tame & cultivate the world.
Page 47: All divine benefits bear divine responsibilities. “This responsibility has four relationships: upward to God, outward to other men, downward to all things legally under one’s authority, and inward.” Our upward responsibility is of the highest importance.
In regard to Matthew 28:18-20…
Jesus made it clear that His followers are to do the same in each of these institutional relationships: serving God by serving rulers above, people outside the church, those under their authority, and themselves.6 They are to extend His dominion through time. “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matt. 6:33).
Page 48: The kingdom – discipling nations to obey God – comes first: however, for many Christians, personal salvation from hell is most important. This is a form of humanism: “saving men are more important than obeying God”.
Jesus’ redemption is comprehensive, including everything “under Satan’s squatter kingdom.” His redemption should be seen in history, not just eternity.
Man’s kingdoms will be subordinate to God’s kingdom… even though this is not believed by most Christians.
Page 49: Everyone is responsible for how they prioritize their goals. We can set them as first, second, third, but we cannot measure them cardinally: that is, we cannot say how much more this goal is greater than that goal, only if it goes before or after.
Human action is purposeful action: limited by ends, chosen means, resources, and time. Mises created a comprehensive economic system based on this concept, and then excluded God from interfering by claiming that God, being perfectly content, cannot act. “But God acts, and He is perfect.”
The question is this: Whose purposes are authoritative? The biblical answer: God’s purposes. Therefore, men are to subordinate their purposes to God’s purposes for them. God’s purposes provide the standards of purpose, both individual and corporate. These standards are ethical. But they are also eschatological: the last things. They are therefore historical: getting from now until then. This is progressive sanctification, both individual and corporate. Here, I focus on history.
The creation’s sequence was based on the causal principle of necessary but not sufficient. What preceded each day’s creation was necessary, but it was not sufficient to produce that day’s creation or the next day’s creation. Something had to be added from outside the cosmos.
As God planned out the universe before He created it, purpose is more fundamental than the creation itself.
The closer an animal is able to making plans, to grasping and working with the future, the higher it’s intelligence.
Page 52: Men are heirs of God’s capital, and the most critical capital is accurate knowledge, coupled with wisdom and courage.
Pages 52-53: In theology, imputation “refers to God’s judicial assessment of a person’s (or group’s) guilt or innocence…” Men, as God’s agents, also impute meaning, value, and pass judgments on people, things, and events.
Imputation is a present procedure, but also must take into account the future. It is also retroactive: “It was good.” Men must also think God’s thoughts after Him.
All men must select a hierarchy of goals, based on his hierarchy of values. People do this, not that: prices must be paid. Cursed scarcity means that losses must be incurred, to gain anything.
Pages 54-57: As we get more of what we want, we get less joy from the acquisition.
God judges things to be good or evil based on His own subjective scale of values. His subjective values are also objective, as God the Father is sovereign, and says so “publicly, if only within the Trinity.”
Both realism (autonomously objective value) and nominalism (man names reality, and reality is whatever a man says it is) are false. Monolithic realism leads to tyranny: fragmented nominalism leads to might-makes-right warlordism.
Modern economics is officially nominal, but since every economist believes that certain economic policies are objectively better than others, realism is sneaked in.
God can objectively measure love & sacrifice (Luke 21:1-4); men can do so, to a lesser degree. Modern economics denies this truth: yet, economists insist that they can set public policy.
In Christian economics, economic value is both subjective and objective, because God’s imputation is both subjective and objective. Christian economists need not import objective value theory through the back door. They should be open about this.
Page 57: Men are mortal, so they must pass their inheritance through time to their chosen heirs. Stewardship and inheritance are both determined by covenantalism. Heirs should take the same oaths: personal, family, state, and church.
Page 58: Cosmic hierarchy: God over man, man over nature. Economic theory must be based on this.
God delegates authority to individuals and corporate entities to administer His property for His kingdom’s benefit. Both the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of man want title to the world’s assets: economics have a self-conscious commitment to the kingdom of man. Autonomous men and autonomous collectives have their economic defenders: not so Christian covenantalism.
Methodological covenantalism in its Trinitarian form has a concept of stewardship that rests on the five pillars of the covenant: the sovereignty of God, the authority of man, the right to private property, predictable economic sanctions, and the triumph of God’s kingdom in history. [Psalm 110]
Pages 60-61: Men must multiply, as it extends mankind’s jurisdiction. Extension of dominion is partly biological, partly ecological – administering animals and plants – and with this responsibility comes ability. “There is no covenantal responsibility with out ability”. This assignment was given to Noah as well as to Adam, so we know that it is in force despite the curses from Genesis.
You cannot serve both God and Mammon.
Mammon offers man a promise: “More for me in history.” So does God. “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matt. 6:33). The difference between these promises is three-fold: (1) mammon offers only temporal blessings; (2) God offers eternal blessings as well; (3) the blessings of God’s kingdom are secondary sanctions for success in seeking the kingdom of God. That is, the kingdom of God is central; the blessings are given to confirm the covenant (Deut. 8:17–18), to motivate people to serve God, and to provide capital for further extending God’s kingdom. To whom much is given, much is expected (Luke 12:47–48). [Footnotes deleted]
Page 61: The Bible emphasizes production and thrift. Biblically, consumption is secondary. This is directly against modern economics, which insist that the sole goal of production is consumption.
Consumption is permitted, to encourage obedience and to demonstrate in the sight of men that God is faithful to His promises., and upholds His Law and His covenant.
Page 62: God added new resources and capital to the universe during creation week, and man is expected to be a good steward of the resources, using this capital to further obey God.
God created the world, step by step, adding the new to what He had already called into existence. This step by step approach demonstrates progress, a Biblical concept. Also “more is better than less”: God added to His work, and did not subtract from it in Creation week.
Page 63: The process of adding value is inherently future-oriented.
As man is in God’s image, the value of man is far higher than the stars in the sky.
God’s imputed meaning for mankind is of far greater value than lifeless matter. Lifeless matter cannot impute either meaning or value. Man can and does. He does so as a delegated agent of God, thinking God’s thoughts after Him in a creaturely fashion.
[Repeat that sentence – “God’s imputed meaning for mankind is of far greater value than lifeless matter” – to any atheistic materialist. Watch him foam at the mouth.
Then consider: “Why are Our Intellectual Masters so desperately eager to strip any and all value to human life, while simultaneously exalting the State – ‘guided by the Right Sort’ – as our only true Lord and Judge?”
Shudder. – AP]
Men, not angels, are agents of dominion and represent God. “Men must accumulate wealth & knowledge on behalf of God. This is the meaning of stewardship.” Men must work: humanist economics often assume labour to be a liability, but it is really an asset.
Page 64: Individuals vary, and each one has a unique set of gifts. Woman as wives bring a unique set of gifts to the family, and are designed to complement the husband. Specialization is needed in a well-functioning economy.
Page 65: Menger argues that economic values does NOT come from the inputs of raw labour or raw materials. Economic value is determined by the final customer. They support or void the decision of the entrepreneur.
God made the universe with purpose: the stars on day four exist to serve man on day six. Darwinism loathes this teleology: this loathing is at the core of Darwin’s thinking.
At present, we have limited knowledge of the future, as we are finite and under a curse. We work now, using tools gained in he past, to achieve future goals. The cost of inputs matter, but the final decision comes from buyers. As per creation week, when God determined the worth of creation: very good.
Page 66: Production takes time: we must choose not to do something, to get the time to do something else. Time is irreplaceable.
Pages 67-68: All production rests on a chain of command, within the Trinity at the top. God delegates authority to men.
“The nature of a hierarchy is shaped by the source of its funding as much as by the organization’s legal structure. This is because of the two-fold nature of all representation: legal and economic.” Negative sanctions are limited, as men cannot be policed at zero price. So positive sanctions must be used: resources for positive sanctions are gained by compulsion (legal or not) or voluntarism (profitable or begging).
Limits of property use are required: ie. If profits per sale is the standard, maintenance may be neglected.
Page 68: As in Matthew 25 – the parable of the talents – God evaluates the plans of men, and rewards and punishes as needed when evaluating the results. Profits can determine success in business, but success in non-profit associations is hard to determine.
As in the parable of the talents, success in one task means more authority. Profits build up the successful, while failures cripple losers. This is easy to see in the profit-seeking world (double-entry bookkeeping), but difficult to see otherwise.
Ownership: the right to include and exclude, by the will of the owner.
“Property is an extension of a person’s name, by which he secures ownership.” What a man owns, he can disown. If he can’t disown it, he doesn’t own it.
To produce, there must be reward and punishment. Someone must rule – determine who and how and when to reward/punish, to maintain production.
Page 71: “Property rights authorize exclusion.” Husband & wife exclude others, baptism & the Lord’s Supper excludes other lords. God demands dominion, men are His agent, and men must give an account for the use of all assets.
“Anyone interfering with this hierarchy of responsibility is acting as if he were God.”
Page 72: Unlike covenants, contracts do not invoke God’s name. It outlines the terms of exchange, present or future.
The goal of inheritance is the extension of the kingdom of God.
The basic law was this: “A good man leaveth an inheritance to his children’s children: and the wealth of the sinner is laid up for the just” (Prov. 13:22).
Jesus taught that covenant-keepers can transfer wealth to the world beyond the grave. “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matt 6:19–21). [Footnotes removed.]
Page 73: Plan reconciliation – an activity both individual and corporate – requires feedback for rational/voluntary reconciliation. Plans must be agreed to, reconciliation must be continuous, and feedback to leaders must be accurate & useful.
Every individual decision-maker has their own vision of the future: these plans must be reconciled, so there will be just one plan.
Page 74: Men revise their plans: God does not need to revise His plan.
To reconcile plans without using love (very hard to find) or violence, voluntary exchange is needed. To motivate some people in plan implementation, cooperation must be rewarded.
Page 75: Feedback between buyers and sellers must deliver timely information, and it must be self-reinforcing. Self-government must be encouraged, as it increases accurate information and shrinks legal/law-enforcement costs.
The price system – described in Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, not the Bible – is the feedback system. “Profit and loss is the tool of the discovery process.”
Page 76: When prices change, plans must be changed as well. Price competition can enact the replacement of one supplier with another.
God provides blessings in response to faithfulness, including economic rewards. But, God demands that He be acknowledged as the source of wealth. ““But thou shalt remember the LORD thy God: for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth, that he may establish his covenant which he sware unto thy fathers, as it is this day” (Deut. 8:18).” [Footnote deleted].
This must be done in word and deed.
Page 77: Work is required: the alternative is poverty.
God’s kingdom is geographical, and His domain must expand. Gaining and developing real estate is one means to do so. Covenant-keepers are to occupy the land, as God’s men, illustrating that God owns all things.
Page 78: Thrift is rarely directly mentioned in the Bible. It is instead implied – to live for a year while the land rested, for example, the people had to have saved resources over the previous six years. Jesus spoke of present sacrifice for future benefits as well (John 12:24). Deferred gratification is needed in an agricultural society: ”To eat your seed corn is to sacrifice your future.”
Page 79: Saved capital is also needed, if you are going to lend to other peoples and nations. (Deut. 28:12)
“The fundamental law of mankind is to subdue the earth to the glory of God. Above all, this means using God’s rules as our primary tools of dominion.”
“Production, not consumption, is central because God is sovereign. He is the cosmic owner. Men are required to serve God. They are subordinate to God. They are required to place God’s interests first. They are to consume only after they have served God by transferring to Him what is owed: the tithe. They are to consume only after God has been paid what He is owed.”
Also, see Luke 17:7-8.
[Note: this is my favourite part of the book. Why? It stresses without apology or variation of absolute Divine supremacy over man. God rules. Man obeys. – AP]
Page 80: Free market economists put man, his interest, and his desire to consume at the center, as they believe in buyer sovereignty. “But the buyer is not sovereign. He is merely an intermediary in God’s hierarchy. God is sovereign.”
Men are not sovereign: if he can’t make things other people want to buy, that man will starve and die.
A consistent (and wise!) man of God lives to work. Good work offered to God is the goal, comfortable living on earth is not. “Service to God through service to others is the biblical structure of economic hierarchy. This means that consumable wealth is a success indicator of profitable service.”
Page 81-82: The core limit on man’s wealth that he is a creature, not a creator. Ergo, man cannot create what he wants out of nothing: he must use previously existing material to make something new. Men (singular and collective) are not omniscient, omnipotent, or omnipresent – nor will they ever be so.
A secondary limit is that man is a steward of creation: men serve God. To claim otherwise is a sin – and a delusion.
A third limit is that creation is finite, in scope and available power. Also, all of man’s institutions are fundamentally finite as well.
Fourth, the earth is cursed: a temporary constraint, but a real one until the Second Coming occurs.
Fifth, time flows in only one direction. We cannot do everything simultaneously, and we cannot undo our choices.
[Foreseeing the future is very difficult, even for the wisest of men. The very prophets of God could see only a tiny sliver of the future, with just a few details. – AP]
These constraints define scarcity.
Page 82: Men live to work, to re-create. But his work is cut short by death.
Page 83: Adam was not executed immediately. “He died progressively over time, as do we.”
Death makes an absolute limit on the work of men.
Modern man understands that coming heat death of the universe is the natural endpoint of the triumph of entropy.
Darwinian views of time pressures men to use debt to speed up the compound growth. This use of leverage increases the chance of a big profit – and a big loss.
Page 84: Scarcity, finitude, linear time are not the enemy of man: these things existed even before the fall. The Ademic curse is far more painful a limit.
God’s sanctions have “an element of curse and an element of blessing”: only after our deaths does it becomes purely a curse or a blessing.
After quoting Genesis 3:17-19, North writes
The ground was under Adam’s authority. It has now been made to suffer, along with Adam’s heirs. God imposed the curse to bring sorrow to mankind, but it also has brought sorrow to the creation.
then he goes on to quote Romans 8:19-22)
So, creation is under man, and thus creation is under a curse, just as men are.
This curse reminds men that there are consequences for rebellion: men must work, “by the sweat of your brow”.
This curse has an element of blessing: as men are now murderous, the fight against nature means that efforts that would have been dedicated to murder must now be redirected to fighting the environment. Men must co-operate to defeat the environment, thus decreasing the likelihood of murder.
Having subordinated themselves covenantally to a creature, Adam and his heirs have been delivered himself and his posterity into the less than tender mercies of a now-resistant creation, which receives the inheritance of man’s remains.
The division of labour – how scarcity is overcome.
Men must get a resistant nature to benefit men with food and materials.
Men must also learn how to plan.
Pages 87-88: Due to sin, the restrictions of Divine Law are now in effect.
“When society obeys, they get richer. This is supposed to lead them to greater obedience.“ In this virtuous circle, the Kingdom of God is supposed to cover the earth.
There is to be increased familiarity and obedience to God’s Law (as per Psalm 119).
The internal and external conflict between God & Satan is manifested in history: both sides wish to inherit the earth.
Yet it is an odd sort of war. Satan is completely dependent on God for everything he controls: time, intelligence, power, and subordinates. He prospers economically in history, building up wrath for himself in eternity. This is a zero-sum contest. It is winner takes all. Satan loses everything of value. God wins everything of value. Satan is today unwilling to surrender unconditionally. This guarantees his defeat. Surrender to God must be unconditional. [Footnotes deleted]
Pharaoh moved to enslave the Hebrews – dumping the free market and putting in central planning – and refused to surrender to God, and so lost everything.
“Sinful men would prefer to extend their power via violence (James 2:1).” [Footnote deleted] The curse forces all to restrain their bloodlust and to co-operate instead.
Pages 89-91: Men can’t predict the future well – and the farther into the future they look into, the greater the uncertainty.
“Sin blinds men.” (Isaiah 6:8-12, Matt. 13:13-14, Acts 28:25-28)
Famine is part of the Western past. Terrorism is capable of killing millions, though.
Poverty is presented as a Biblical curse.
Page 94: National economic growth is the top priority of the world.
Imperial Rome would have been generally a better place to live than London until about 1750 – and before Gutenberg in 1400, Imperial Roman superiority would have been unquestionable.
Page 95: Smith’s Wealth of Nations promoted compound economic growth. This opened the door to rising expectations for future generations.
Thomas Edison & Henry Ford revolutionized industry.
Page 96: There was no idea of progress in antiquity: “it is a Protestant idea, specifically seventeenth-century Calvinism.”
Pages 97-98: Death can be beaten by communities, but not by individuals. The Mosaic Law promoted an increase in the birth rate, and a decrease in the death rate.
Large families are encouraged in the Bible.
God’s Grace and Law is the ultimate resource, but human creativity can generate great wealth.
Population growth, plus Biblical Law, equals more economic output.
Men are not a cancer in nature: men have valid authority over nature.
“Men must honour nature as the property of God. As stewards of the creation, men are not to destroy its productivity or consume all of its output. All of nature belongs to God.” (Psalms 50:10-11)
Page 99: “Despite the curse, men are still required by God to extend His kingdom through their productivity and the productivity in nature.”
We must be productive to be good stewards. Productivity that upholds the covenant is on behalf of nature. It goes up to God, out to other people, downward to nature & the environment, and inward for our own self-interest.
What’s good for man is good for nature.
Nature is even less autonomous than man is, as it operates under the laws of both God and men.
When men act in a destructive and evil fashion, their actions must be suppressed by society, tradition, and the law. The ongoing restriction of evil acts benefits society.
False witnesses to crimes are to suffer that same penalty of breaking that law, as if he was guilty of the crime he falsely claimed another did. (Deut. 19:18-19)
Page 100: Productivity should be encouraged and recognized. Anyone who had to work off a loan as a servant was given capital on gaining his freedom. (Deut 15:12-15)
Page 100-101: Biblically, the producer owns his capital as he is the “judicial agent of God,” an “economic agent of both God and society”. Those creatures under a man’s lawful domain (ecology) are also under his authority. Delegated ownership (stewardship) leads to economic representation.
The seller is also a steward of God, and is also an economic representative.
Co-operation “reduces conflict, which is a major covenantal curse.” More wealth increases the cost of conflict, so conflict declines.
Widespread private ownership = a major goal of a biblical social order.
“It is impossible to have cooperation without competition. Why? Because of ownership.” The right to exclude, coupled with competing bids – bids for co-operation, so the buyer will deal with A and not deal with B – leads to competition… which need not involve costly conflict.
High bid wins. [Missing: “Supply and demand” – https://www.garynorth.com/members/login.cfm?hpage=1030.cfm ]
“Favoritism is legal, but it comes at a price: not accepting to the highest bid. The wider the market, the less the favoritism. It is not who you know but what you bid that matters most in a free market.”
“Is “high bid wins” a primary principle of Christian economics? Yes. Why? Because the only institutional alternative is the principle of “might makes right.” This principle replaces voluntary exchange with violence or the threat of violence. This principle violates the principle of private owner- ship, which is a fundamental principle of Christian economics.
Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good? (Matt. 20:15).” [Footnote deleted.]
[Also: Acts 5:3-4 is quoted]
Page 104: Ownership by one party implies disownership by another party.
The fundamental rule of an auction is this: high bid wins. The fundamental principle of the pricing process is this: supply and demand. This involves open bidding among buyers at an auction and open entry of sellers at rival auctions. Buyers bid against buyers. Sellers bid against sellers.
The transaction fee: the gap between the bid and the ask price.
Satan in Matthew 4 (and in Luke 4) attempted to bid for Christ’s allegiance.
- Turn stones to bread
- Angels over gravity
- Kingdoms for his soul
Christ said no to Satan.
Christ rejected the offer. Satan continually raised the bid. Christ, as a steward of His soul and therefore His worship, refused to sell. Each refusal had a price: (1) no satisfaction of His hunger; (2) no acclaim as the world’s only floating Messiah; (3) no pre-resurrection inheritance of the world’s kingdoms—later rather than sooner. Christ offered a higher counter-bid every time: a refusal to collect the benefit offered. Christ gained. Satan lost.
Government price controls either provide no results or negative results.
Page 105: Price ceilings = shortages, price floors = gluts.
Accounting is necessary: see Luke 14:28-30.
Prices are historical: so are accounting records.
The primary economic mark of a high division of labor society is money. Money dramatically extends the division of labor.
The invention of double-entry bookkeeping in the late Middle Ages in Western Europe was therefore of enormous importance.29 It gave the West a precise tool by which to evaluate the degree of success or failure in profit- seeking enterprises. [Footnotes deleted]
Accounting permits better judgments regarding the future.
Mises argued that without free market prices and accounting, especially in the capital goods markets, economic planners in socialistic economies could not make rational decisions regarding the allocation of resources.
Page 107: Success indicators (ie: money, test scores) are not to be substitutes for the real thing (ie: customer satisfaction, knowledge)
Profit & loss, like salvation and damnation, cannot be escaped. (Deut. 30:19)
Page 108: “The cure for economic poverty is economic growth.”
Entrepreneurs are willing to bet assets on a successful prediction of the future. We are all entrepreneurs to a limited extent.
Page 109: “Entrepreneurs look for profitable opportunities in a world of uncertainty.” He strives “to buy low, and sell high.”
A successful entrepreneur can play his gut feelings well. Unsuccessful ones should learn to ignore these feelings.
Joseph is the most famous entrepreneur in the Bible.
[But my favorite was the man who was willing to sell everything, to buy the pearl of great price. – AP]
Page 110: Mosaic Law mandated various sacrifices, and placed no restrictions on those men who speculated on the demand of animals, buying some cheaply to sell them dearly during the festival in Jerusalem.
Jeremiah speculated on land, on God’s command, putting money on the fulfillment of God’s promises.
Jesus told His people to sell their land in Jerusalem, believing (correctly, of course, as the Author of History) that Rome would destroy the city. All the believers got out in AD 69, and Rome began the slaughter in AD 70.
“We are responsible now. We decide now. We would all prefer satisfaction now rather than satisfaction in the future if we could get both at the same price, but we cannot. So, we discount future benefits.” So, people who wish to borrow money must pay interest.
Page 111: People who are oriented to the future can discount present consumption for future consumption.
Entrepreneurs must either borrow money (at low interest rates) or sell part of the company’s ownership (stock). “The more confident he is about his venture’s profitability, the more he would prefer to borrow money rather than sell ownership.”
Highly future-oriented – ‘low time preference’ – people buy future income, by saving. Highly present-oriented – ‘high time preference’ – people prefer to get all the money as soon as possible, preferably right now.
Pages 111-112: Economic growth is good for all, both low- and high-time preference people. But we did not get regular growth until 1800 in the UK and the USA.
Producers who gain wealth reinvest in the business, and increase production. Producers who misjudge the market lose wealth.
Zero-sum games are games where the loser gives up wealth, land, etc., and the winner gains the wealth, land, etc.
All competitions between God and Satan are zero-sum. (Job 1, Christ in the wilderness.)
Page 113: Even so, there are times when both the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan gain temporary. Example: pornography drove Internet development, which means more temporal wealth for all, covenant-keepers and covenant-breakers alike. “So, that which is a zero-sum contest regarding eternity can be a wealth-for-all competition in history.”
Voluntary exchanges are usually not zero-sum. If both usually gain, additional trading is likely. If they usually antagonize each other, eventual social disintegration is likely/the relationship is likely to end.
There is one major exception: the futures contract.
Page 114: The Bible teaches linear time, not cyclic time. History is going somewhere…
“Time is also cumulative.” It is building up its current, its power, to drive home a particular message.
Enduring good things = God’s positive sanctions.
Enduring bad things = God’s negative sanctions.
Compounding time, compounding process – changes the world.
“A seemingly low rate of annual growth, when extended for a century, changes the environment beyond recognition.”
“Time will be replaced by eternity (Rev. 20)”
Covenant-keepers: Sacrifice today, benefits tomorrow. This is the upper-class outlook.
If time is infinite, and resources are finite, then some kind of zero growth belief becomes inevitable. But if there will be an end to time, then growth is legitimate.
The Bible teaches that time is bounded. But if time is bounded, then compound growth is also bounded. The Bible’s doctrine of compound growth points to the Bible’s doctrine of final judgment. There is therefore no biblical case for either zero economic growth or zero population growth. The biblical mandate is dominion through expansion. “And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth (Gen. 1:28). [Footnote deleted]
Page 115: Time is not on the side of God’s enemies. (Rev 12:12)
Compound growth is not automatic: future customers must be cared for.
Compounding interest pushes back the limits of the environment, redeeming both land and time.
Private ownership diminishes scarcity, and promotes the division of labour.
Profit and loss = feedback loop = better services.
“The free market system decentralizes power.”
[Which is the core reason why all socialists despise the free market system. – AP]
The alternative to this system is state ownership of capital and state control over the allocation of resources. Socialism substitutes the threat of violence for the threat of accounting loss. The socialist economy is the economy of the policeman rather than the accountant. Without accounting, producers have no rational way of matching supply with demand. Without capital markets and money prices, there is no rational accounting.
[Nod to Ludwig von Mises. – AP]
Page 116: No private property, no money, no accounting… no rational, predictable economic growth.
“The doctrine of economic growth is an inescapable concept, given these doctrines: (1) God’s absolute sovereignty in history; (2) the dominion covenant, (3) God’s law; (4) God’s ethics-based corporate sanctions in history; (5) eschatological optimism. All five are aspects of the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18–20).” [Footnote deleted.]
The postmillennial, optimistic Calvinists rung in the idea of continuous growth in every area, including economic. This was later secularized.
[“The glory must go to Man, and not God!” cried the thieves. – AP]
It is good to gain wealth, but only in a way that respects God’s covenants & commandments.
Wealth = capital = tools to expand dominion. It is wise to expand the kingdom of God. It is unwise to dedicate your life to the great idol More.
“Compound economic growth is the product of future-orientation, adherence to God’s laws, thrift, entrepreneurship technological innovation, and reinvestment. It is the joint effort of men in both kingdoms. But the triumph of God’s kingdom is an outworking of a zero-sum process: the replacement of the kingdom of Satan by the kingdom of God. This is a war of conquest. The primary strategies are replacement through purchase and replacement through evangelism, conversion, and inheritance.”
“Compound economic growth is a subset of the compound growth of God’s kingdom in history. It is a moral imperative, just as fulfilling the dominion covenant is. It can be done, it should be done, and it will be done.”
Page 117-119: All economic theory that does not recognize the four covenants – individual, family, church, state – is wrong, to a greater or lesser extent.
So, to the extent that economists come up with accurate insights, they do so only by being inconsistent with their fundamental presupposition: the autonomy of both man and the cosmos from the Trinitarian God of the Bible.
“There are two separate aspects of God’s delegated economic responsibility to men.
First, there is the judicial aspect. This is what God enforces. These categories are a matter of final judgment.
1. Ownership establishes responsibility.
2. Responsibility is personal.
3. Theft is illegal.
4. Oaths are binding.
5. Owners designate heirs.
The second aspect is the fact of scarcity.
These are the fundamental laws of economics.
1. Owners allocate assets.
2. Prices identify costs.
3. Men prefer more.
4. Scarcity imposes costs.
5. Growth reduces scarcity.
Economic theory that begins with the autonomy of man supports the lawless trespassing of God’s property – sacrilege.
Adam & Eve committed this sin.
[And, over six thousand years later, we are still paying the price – AP]
Page 123: The primary covenant is the dominion covenant.
The dominion covenant defines individual men and collective mankind.
The damned are defined by this covenant, despite the fact that in hell and in the lake of fire, they cannot uphold any aspect of it.
The redeemed in the New Creation can fulfill the dominion covenant without the ugly effects of sin hindering their work. “This covenant defines them throughout eternity, and it governs their decision-making forever.”
The second covenant is the individual covenant. This comes before the other covenants “because the individual is made in the Image of God” – not the family, not the state, not the church.
Because the individual is made in the image of God, responsibility lodges with the individual more than it does in the family, the church, or the state. Responsibility is always primarily individual. An individual may participate in a collective group in making a decision, but the individual’s ultimate responsibility cannot be shifted to that group. Each person is judged by God in both history and eternity in terms of his thoughts, motives, and actions. Any attempt to shift primary responsibility away from the individual and toward a group violates this covenant principle. So, I begin with the individual covenant rather than another covenant.
[*Waves to power-hungry collectivists everywhere.* – AP]
Page 124: Another reason: people are most concerned with the personal benefits of obedience… and, even more, with the personal costs of disobedience.
There is a third reason: methodology. Modern free-market economic theory incorrectly begins with acting man. It should begin with the sovereign God who created acting man. This is the fundamental difference between Christian economics and humanistic economics. But, once this distinction is made clear to an aspiring economist, it is time to move to individual analysis. Free-market economics correctly begins with the individual rather than the family or the state or the church as the primary locus of epistemology.
Free Market economics is mainly focused on the individual: it fares poorly elsewhere – family, church, state, business, other non-profits.
Page 124-125: Public Choice economists have made some useful contributions, but there is no real economic theory of the state. Economic theory for other groups is even worse: at best, a branch of sociology. Strict ‘numbers & formulas only’ economics applied outside of the individual realm becomes nonsensical.
Page 127: Man bears God’s image, and thus represents God in history.
Hell threatens the individual, not a collective.
The individual covenant deals with the greatest possible reward and the greatest possible danger.
[For example, the governments of Nazi Germany – and the Soviet Union, for that matter – merely ceased to exist. Individual Nazis and Communists, however, don’t get to just disappear and fade away. No: for ensouled men, there are accounts that must and will be balanced, whether they want to receive the wages they have earned or not… – AP]
When you begin with the premise of man as the image of God, you have a preliminary solution for this crucial question: “What can a man know, and how can he know it?” This is the issue of epistemology. A person is made in the image of God. God created the universe. God runs the universe in terms of predictable laws. A person, being made in the image of God, can understand many of these laws and how they apply to the created world. So, it is possible for an individual to understand the way the world works. He thinks God’s thoughts after Him. He thinks in terms of God’s thoughts, but as a creature made in the image of God.
God is the original creator. A man possesses none of the attributes of God that are associated with creation. He is not omniscient, omnipotent, or omnipresent. Man cannot accurately be regarded as originally creative. He must therefore be regarded as subordinately creative. God spoke the world into existence. No man did this. God created the world out of nothing. No man did this.
Page 128: God had highly specific plans before the creation of the world. (Ephesians 1:4)
Men can make plans, as they are in the image of God. These plans assume a lawful, “cause-and-effect” universe – an assumption that matches reality.
Men must think analogically – he is incapable of thinking as if he was a truly original creator. All of our thoughts are derived from what existed before us. Fundamentally, it is derived from the creation that God alone wrought.
Page 129: Men can know a lot, but he can never know everything. The desire to know everything is demonic – and all such attempts are doomed to failure.
“Responsibility and knowledge are inescapable concepts. They are inescapably linked together. A man is judged by God in terms of what he knows (Luke 12:47–48).” [Footnote deleted]
“Every plan necessarily involves five factors. These are the familiar five factors that historians use to assess what happened in the past. Historians ask five questions: who, why, what, where, when? Who identifies the primary responsibility for the plan’s launching and its fulfillment. It identifies responsible agents needed to implement the plan. Why identifies the motivation of the steward’s plan. Both of these are aspects of part two of the biblical covenant: representation. What and where identify legal and geographical boundaries: the scarce economic resources required to implement the plan. To gain access to these resources, men must ask permission or buy control. When identifies temporal limits: point five of the biblical covenant. A plan must begin at a point in time and end in a point of time. The process of creation takes time. Time must be paid for. It must be allocated. When you do one thing, you cannot do another. Time is in strict fixed supply. It is an irreplaceable resource. Once spent, it cannot be reclaimed. It does not move backward. The implementation of the plan begins somewhere and ends somewhere. It does not operate in a geographical vacuum. It involves dominion over nature. The missing first point is God. The traditional list of five questions does not begin with God. It begins with the individual. The missing fourth point of the biblical covenant in this list is causation: how?”
Pages 129-130: All men are stewards over creation, and must exercise dominion over it in accordance to God’s will. This is why we exist. (Genesis 1:26–28)
We must nurture nature, protect it, make it flourish.
“[Men] represents God before nature, and nature before God. He is dependent upon nature, but he is also dependent upon God. The biblical doctrine of dominion indicates that nature is also dependent on mankind. If mankind does not serve faithfully as God’s agent of dominion, nature will suffer. It will also be less productive than it otherwise would have been.”
Men must be active stewards of nature, and the creation in general.
Men are not tools of nature, and are not to be subordinate to nature. Men are “He is to be meek before God and active towards the creation. He is subordinate to God, and therefore he is superior to nature.”
Men are not to destroy nature: it is God’s property, and we are responsible to the Primary Owner, God, for our activity. “Man is under a covenant.”
The individual covenant mandates that each individual exercise authority on behalf of God, but also on behalf of mankind. There is responsibility upward. There is responsibility outward to other men. There is also responsibility downward: dominion over nature. Then there is conscience. This points to responsibility inward. Because of the covenant between God as sovereign and Adam and Eve as representative agents, each person has an ownership function. Each person owns himself, not as a primary owner, but as a delegated owner. Each person must give an account of his plans, the execution of these plans, and the productivity of these plans.
To rephrase what North wrote: each man owns himself, but as a steward, a delegated owner, not as a primary owner who can do whatever he wants with himself.
The Puritans of the seventeenth century had a phrase, “to own the covenant.” This referred to a public confession of faith in Christ as the representative agent who redeems His people. This concept of owning the covenant is theologically accurate. It refers to men’s affirmation of God’s ownership of them by means of the covenant, but also their acceptance of the gift of redemption, which alone erases the negatives in every person’s ethical ledger. They own the covenant, for God owns them. Self-ownership must be seen in terms of covenant ownership. It is delegated. It is not autonomous.
Own the covenant. For God owns you.
Page 131: Mankind bears the image of God, who owns creation – which definitely includes nature. Men can lawfully rule over nature. Nature cannot lawfully rule man.
Nature exists under rules created by God. So does Man. “Mankind is not autonomous, nor is nature autonomous. Mankind reflects the character and being of God, and nature does, too.”
When Man lawfully extend the jurisdiction of God, then Man prospers. “There is cause-and-effect in nature, and there is also cause-and-effect in the social order.”
Page 132: Men must abide by lawful boundaries – “geographical and organizational.” These boundaries are guarded.
Children may have great difficulty understanding the concept of “yours”.
Children understand the concept of “mine” at amazing speed.
Men make plans, as God’s representative. Plans must have standards, and must be implemented successfully. There must be feedback, to determine success or failure. A plan of action requires someone to be judge, to determine success. All plans are bounded via jurisdiction and authority.
[Often, they are bounded via time as well. – AP]
Many plans require a designated successor.
A judge must understand the purpose of the plan and the purpose of its component parts. To evaluate purpose is to impute meaning.
Covenant-breakers view existence as cosmically impersonal. No God controls history. So, the time-less principles of law (Parmenides) must somehow be fitted to the time-governed events of history (Heraclitus). But who should do this? Who can do this? How can he do this? How will he in turn be held accountable? By whom? To whom? For how long? These are bedrock theoretical problems in every system of causation. There are no agreed-upon answers.
Humans want to be remembered. This is inherent in the nature of man. God holds men accountable. The final judgment is the cosmic event of accountability (Matt 25:31–45). A preliminary judgment is existence beyond the grave: heaven (Rev. 6:9–11) or hell (Luke 16). This is declared immediately after death (Heb. 9:27). So, in order to be remembered, a person must leave a legacy. [Footnotes deleted]
[Not everyone wants to be remembered by men – and regardless of our desires, the vast majority of people alive today will be utterly forgotten by history in 4000 years.
- With, perhaps, five or ten real exceptions.
- And a thousand or so ‘footnote-worthy’ people.
- Out of the seven billion people alive today.
But God remembers all: and it is exceedingly wise to seek to be remembered by Him in a favourable manner. – AP]
There must be a proper succession for any long-term plan. There must be compound growth for enduring success. “The steady effect of compound economic growth after 1800 in the West transformed Western civilization: about 2% per year.”
Plans require timelines when completion can be proclaimed. Most plans have internal boundaries: stages. Time must be accounted for – to be used wisely.
Our use of time must inevitably be justified before God. There will be consequences to pay, for good or for ill.
Page 134: “Time is not a free resource.”
Men must build kingdoms: either “the kingdom of the God of the Bible, or the kingdom of another god. The two kingdoms compete side by side in history (Matt. 13:24–30).” [Footnote deleted]
For a society to succeed, for the dominion mandate to be upheld, men must be creative.
[Footnote 6, page 134.]
“Julian Simon, The Ultimate Resource (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1981). He was incorrect. Human creativity is not the ultimate resource. God’s grace-empowered law is.”]
The individual’s covenant under God is the legal basis of the Bible’s system of private property. An owner is a legally responsible agent because all of his legal authority originates in the covenant. This implies that covenants possess original authority. All contracts rest legally on covenantal authority.
Stewards represent God: God holds him accountable for his behavior.
God allocates assets. He holds the recipients accountable for the proper use of these assets (Matt. 25:14–30). But he is also an economic agent of other people. He decides whether to sell an asset, keep it, or rent it. In any cases, the principle of high bid wins applies. If an individual does not allow anyone else to use an asset, then he becomes the highest bidder. He outbids the second-highest bidder. He therefore forfeits the use of whatever the second-highest bidder bid. [Footnote deleted]
There are two aspects of stewardship: trusteeship and sharecropping. Trusteeship is judicial. Sharecropping is economic. A trustee has legal authority to act in the name of an owner. The trustee is under general legal rules regarding the use of an asset. He must always act on behalf of the owner, even if his own interests are placed at risk. His primary task to act as a legal agent of the owner. This may involve economic management, but the trustee usually operates on a minimal percentage. His level of legal accountability is far greater than a sharecropper’s.
Page 136: With sharecropping, the owner gives the sharecropper capital to use – seed, land, and tools. The owner gets a certain percentage, and the sharecropper gets the rest. As the sharecropper owns little, rarely can the owner get restitution plus damages if the contract is violated.
“The system operates on this assumption: the self-interest of the sharecropper leads him to reduce his personal costs.” This reduces the cost of monitoring the sharecropper, excluding the possible abuse of the land.
Franchises are not similar to sharecropping, as the franchisee must put his own money to buy the franchise.
Neither leases, as the owner is guaranteed his payment: the lessee must bear the risk.
Page 137: A commissioned salesman is most similar to a sharecropper, as he is not guaranteed a salary, and has no capital. Both parties bear risk.
Point one of the biblical covenant is sovereignty. God possesses absolute sovereignty. Yet He shares sovereignty through delegation. This was manifested in the original dominion covenant (Gen. 1:26–28). This was re-confirmed with Noah (Gen. 9:1–3). It was confirmed ontologically with the Incarnation, when God became a man. God clearly delegated sovereignty to man. [Footnotes deleted]
This could lead to a false conclusion: this delegation has depleted God of some of His sovereignty. Yet it is clear from such passages as Isaiah 45 that God still retains full sovereignty.
God loses no sovereignty when He delegates some to men.
Neither men nor creation adds any glory to God, nor are either men or creation capable of taking away any of God’s glory.
We can call delegated sovereignty authority, which is normally associated with point two of the biblical covenant. But, in terms of man, the recipient of delegated sovereignty, we must place this in point one. Why? Because mankind as a species is at the top of the creation. He is the final earthly court of appeal.
God gives limited sovereignty to individuals and groups. He holds both accountable.
Men have the legal right to sell, rent, or give away assets under his authority. “This is because the legal essence of ownership is the legal right to disown the asset involved.”
The owner has the right to place legal boundaries around the asset. These legal boundaries authorize the owner to place barriers to entry around the asset. In other words, he has the right to exclude. This is the meaning of boundaries: the right to exclude. [Footnotes deleted]
The owner possesses knowledge about how best to use his property, according to his hierarchy of values (point two). He knows the local market. He knows what he could obtain from others who want to buy it or rent it. There is a close correlation between his knowledge and his responsibility for the use of these assets.
Page 139: Civil governments that acknowledge God’s primary ownership and His right to delegate sovereignty/responsibility has a sound basis for property rights, and thus better spreads accurate knowledge needed for increased productivity and a growing economy.
God owns all. He permits men to be trustees of His property, and He has a claim on the fruit of their labour.
As sharecroppers on Gods property, men owe 10% of net income to God.
Sharecroppers must determine a price where demand and supply are equal, thus getting the greatest possible return.
Page 140: This price, where demand and supply are equal, is the market-clearing price.
Owners must represent bidders, and the supreme Owner, God.
High bid wins.
Goods and services are allocated via auction.
This is true in a free market. As a legal agent, he also allocates wealth in family, church, or state. Here, the high bid principle is not based on competitive entry and money alone. There are other claims, and these usually supersede money bidding. In the state, there are laws against bribery. Churches do not allocate the sacraments in terms of high monetary bids. Wives are not paid money for services rendered. There is no open bidding for most of these services.
Ownership is a social function. The legal sovereignty over assets does not establish this social function. The price system does. [Footnote deleted]
To retain ownership, the owner must forgo what he could have gain by selling the resource.
Man represents God to the creation, and Man represents the creation to God. (Romans 8:19-22, Genesis 3:17-19)
So, the system of legal sovereignty is two-way: upward to God and downward to the creation. God owns the individual. The individual in turn owns property. God owns property in general in a direct manner, but His goal is to exercise this ownership by way of stewards. This is the basis of the dominion covenant.
The owner’s economic authority means that he must determine the highest bidder.
Owners also operate for their own self-interest. “So, it is a four-way system of responsibility: upward to God, downward to the creation, outward to others, and inward.”
The parable of the talents teaches that God transfers control over assets to stewards. He then departs. This means that He does not tell people what to do. This is not a bureaucracy. This is a system of entrepreneurship. The new owners are expected to put this capital to profitable uses. God holds them responsible for multiplying His capital.
[God is not a socialist. He is interested in establishing a top-down impersonal bureaucracy, but in raising trustworthy stewards. Worthy adopted sons are the goal, not mindless cogs in a machine. – AP]
“Then He returns for an accounting.”
[You’d better believe it! – AP]
The first steward has multiplied capital two-fold: five talents to 10 (Matt. 25:20). The master announces a reward: authority over even greater wealth (v. 21). The second steward also achieved a 100% return on investment. But he did so with less capital (v. 22). The performance was not so good as the first steward’s performance. It is easier to multiply a small capital base than a large one. The master rewarded the second steward with somewhat less authority (v. 23). The third steward did not multiply any capital. He had buried his talent. He achieved a return of zero. But this was in fact a loss. The master had not had the use of the talent in the interim. He could have buried his own talent. So, He cursed the third steward. He told him that he could at least have lent the talent to a moneychanger, i.e., a banker (v. 27). This statement reveals Jesus’ acceptance of lending at interest.
The parable mandates capital accumulation.
“In Matthew 6, we read: “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt , and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matt. 6:19–21). This indicates that capital in the broadest sense does not refer exclusively to time-bound capital, but also to eternal capital. There is a trade-off between temporal capital and eternal capital.” [Footnote deleted]
God expects personal self-interest to be a primary driver for obedience to God, the source of blessings. Men must be engaged in “redeeming the world, i.e., buying it back in the name of God.”
Men are expected to buy back the world with accumulated capital, monetary and otherwise. The New Covenant does not support the use of force to reclaim the world.
Abram’s wealth is seen as a good thing, in Genesis 13:12.
Capital is another word for tools. Capital enables its owner to pursue kingdom-building. Without capital, we cannot build the kingdom.
Success in the Parable of the Talents leads to greater authority. Failure means the loss of what you had, as well as personal destruction. What the failure had, is now given to the most successful steward.
This is biblical ownership. There is no equality at any point: beginning or end. There is an increase in inequality. This is the biblical structure of sanctions. It applies to all of life. It includes economics.
[God is not an egalitarian. – AP]
In the parable of the ten virgins in Matthew 25, the five wise virgins did not share their oil with the five foolish virgins.
A parable represents a fundamental covenantal truth. What is the fundamental truth? There is no equality: not in good judgment and not in the outcome of judgment.
The final part of the chapter is not a parable. It describes the final judgment: sheep and goats. There is no equality in the final judgment.
[God will judge. Some will enter eternal life, and others will enter eternal death. – AP]
So, the final sanctions are in view. The question of final sanctions raises the issue of temporal sanctions. […] Men want success on earth to point to success in eternity.
The book of Job is about historical sanctions as success indicators. The message of the book is this: history is representative of eternity, but not at every step.[…] [Job] insisted that God give him an explanation. God did, and Job admitted that he had been wrong for demanding an explanation from God. This was the message of the fourth man who had come to talk with him.
God is sovereign. He owes no one anything. Each man is a sinner, deserving only death. But, in His grace, He does create a predictable world in which success indicators point to the outcome of final judgment. These are complex indicators. They are not mere money. Jesus was clear on that. The barn-builder was a fool. He laid up treasure without considering God (Luke 12:15–21). [Footnote deleted]
Men should be motivated by the fear of hell, as well as a desire for heaven. Most people have a greater fear of punishment than a love of reward.
Page 145: People can always confess success indicators with actual success: i.e.: a student who cheats to get a high score, instead of actually getting the knowledge a high score is supposed to symbolize.
[Money can be abused in the same way. It is supposed to symbolize success in helping people, but far too many chase money as an idol. – AP]
In history, there are comparable representative events. There are times of covenant renewal. An individual goes from victory to victory. But if he goes from failure to failure, he has reason to believe that he is heading toward final rejection. There is a relationship between history and eternity. The sanctions in history reflect the sanctions in eternity.
Page 146: Men must seek progressive sanctification. This is not guaranteed, as Jesus’ parable of the four seeds shows. (Luke 8:5-15) In three of the four soils, growth failed eventually, and hope dies.
[I initially wrote “four souls”, not “four soils” – AP]
Men fail upon occasion. But God permits forgiveness and covenant renewal for those who repent of their evil, and turn to Him in genuine humility and submission.
The steward who subordinates his interests to God’s interests then experiences long-term progress. The experience of compound growth in individuals’ lives is the basis of corporate compound growth: the extension of the kingdom of God in history.
This is why Paul tells men to stick with their callings. “Let every man abide in his own calling wherein he was called” (I Cor. 7:20). To use a common English-language phrase, stick to your knitting. The idea here is that God places a person in an economic position in order to teach him the rigors of self-discipline and service. He gets good at what he does. God renews this contract, year by year. This service refers to a person’s calling: the most important thing he can do in which he is most difficult to replace. In pursuing his calling, a man may get a better job offer. He should accept it, as long as it does not interfere with his calling. So, Paul said, a slave who is offered liberty should take it (v. 21). This judicial liberty means greater economic responsibility. He is no longer owned. He no longer works as a legal intermediary. He becomes “his own man,” judicially speaking. But every man is a servant of God and other men economically. There is no autonomy. There is always action on behalf of someone else. [Footnote deleted]
When God has given you a unique calling, you should not abandon it. You should pursue it. God renews his contract with you for a reason: to help you enjoy the blessings of compound growth—from victory unto victory.
[God desires His faithful men to win – certainly in eternity, and very often in history as well. Give the King what He wants! – AP]
The parable of the talents is the most important economic passage in the Bible regarding ownership in the broadest sense. Its message: there is no equality. All men are created unequal. They die unequal. Inequality increases over time for individuals. The final judgment results in a transfer of assets: from the failures to the winners. This is a biblical judicial principle. It is the story of the covenant in history. Covenant-keepers inherit the earth. Then they inherit eternity.
This is not widely believed or widely preached. But the text is clear. Covenant-breakers are outraged by this parable. They devise systems of political coercion to offset this outcome in history, especially in economics.
They preach a rival view: all men are created equal. Yet everyone knows it is not true. There is no area of our lives in which such equality exists or has ever existed. The hierarchies of life are hierarchies of inequality. There are superiors and inferiors. There are winners and losers.
Nice guys finish first. Jesus, as the incarnate Son of God who died for His people, is the ultimate nice guy. But His generosity is limited. It is not universal. His saving grace does not apply to all. Neither does His common grace apply equally to all. 19
“America’s Declaration of Independence (1776) announces: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” There is no falsehood to match this one in any nation’s founding documents. It was written by a unitarian slave owner who believed in universal salvation and who cut several Bibles into shreds to paste together his own version of Jesus’ sayings: The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth. The Declaration was ratified by other slaveholders and by legal representatives of New England ship owners who grew rich by transporting kidnapped Africans to the southern colonies. The hypocrisy was recognized at the time. It was phrased most notably by Samuel Johnson. “How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?””]
[People who love the truth need not fear: there will come a time when both the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution will be forgotten artifacts of a vanished, discredited fantasy. The Bible, on the other hand, will be held in far greater esteem worldwide than it is today. – AP]
There is a book of life (Phil. 4:3). It is filled with names. It is the most important list in the world or outside the world.
That’s the list you want to be on!
Boundaries – territorial, genetic, moral, temporal, historical, etc. – limit and restrain man. But they also give him power. Boundaries can be extended; limits are levers; moral commands can be deepened.
The enemies of God, in their search for autonomy, don’t understand this very well. God’s people are expected to use the limits that God has established – most certainly including the Law, as given by Moses (and fulfilled & extended by Jesus).
Purpose underlies naming. It underlies all forms of scientific investigation. The essence of Darwinism is its denial of all purpose prior to the evolution of man. This places man on God’s throne: the source of purpose. But this raises a fundamental question: Who determines purpose? Is it individual men or collective mankind?[Footnotes deleted]
[‘Certified Experts will decide! Trust them!’ – AP]
In a fallen world, nature is not normative. Neither is a man’s mind. The announced limits may not be limits, or they may be misinterpreted limits. We are back to an umpire’s three possible defenses of a call.
* I call them as I see them. (nominalism)
* I call them as they are. (realism)
* They are what I call them. (Kantianism)
God can make all three claims. Man cannot.
And there we will end this review.
This survey of the highlights of North’s book only covers half of the text: if you want more (including everything I skipped, or missed) please download the free book yourself. Print it out. Underline and highlight what strikes you as important – and there’s a lot worth reading, chewing on, and then putting into action in your life.
Spread the word among God’s people. It’s time for covenant-keeping men to start building the Kingdom of God: and to do this, we need to really get into the meat of God’s word.
And, so strengthened by good food, go forth and redeem – buy back – the world in Christ’s Name.