All Commentary
Thursday, September 1, 1983

Book Review: Free Enterprise: A Judeo-Christian Defense by Harold Lindsell and Social Justice and the Christian Church by Ronald H. Nash

Free Enterprise: A Judeo-Christian Defense

by Harold Lindsell

(Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 336 Gundersen Drive, Wheaton, III. 60187) 1982 • 180 pages • $5.95 paper

Social Justice and the Christian Church

by Ronald H. Nash

(Mott Media, Inc., 1000 E. Huron, Milford, MI 48042) 1983 • 175 pages • $12.95 cloth

The movements known as Christian Socialism and the Social Gospel are more than a century old. The churchmen involved are critical of what they understand capitalism to be; some advocate socialism; all believe that government should intervene in the economy in order to assure “an equitable distribution of wealth.” Contemporary “liberation theologians” embrace Marxism, and ecclesiastical agencies syphon funds into the coffers of revolutionaries. The man in the pew is turned off by such interpretations of the Gospel, and more and more theologians are coming to realize the affinity between their religious faith and the vision of a free people enjoying political liberty and the free economy. Two recent books lend support to this development.

Theologian Lindsell, editor for many years of Christianity Today, finds biblical support for the economic order popularly called free enterprise. His book is something of an economics primer, basic and informative. The book also examines Marxism and rejects the flimsy claim that this secular doctrine is compatible with Christianity or Judaism: “. . . Marxism and the Judeo-Christian faith are and ever must be antithetical.”

Lindsell points out that the first principle of free enterprise is private property and this is established in God’s moral law as expressed in the commandment “Thou shall not steal.” Hence, any system which attempts to do away with private property, as does Marxism, violates a basic law in the code given to Moses. Lindsell examines the examples of free enterprise used by Jesus in some of his parables, and concludes that only in the free market can man practice the rights and liberty given him by his Creator.

This does not mean, however, that Lindsell gives a blanket sanction to everything people do in the name of free enterprise. “In general,” he writes, “the law of supply and demand constitutes the working basis for selling and buying. There are some instances, however, when this law should be superseded by the law of love,” which means Christian stewardship and the Good Samaritan ethic. Dr. Lindsell here adds an important point which is often missing in the writings of free market economists: the ethical position. He feels that free enterprise must unite with Jesus’ teaching that you should “love your neighbor as yourself.” It is not only socialist economics we are fighting but also socialist ethics and morality. “Free enterprise, in order to be free, rests on the pillars of trust and truthtelling. In this it stands in opposition to socialist ethics and morality.”

Ronald Nash, a professor of philosophy and religion at Western Kentucky University, approaches the question somewhat differently; he seeks to answer some of the basic philosophical problems of a free social order. What is a liberal? What is a conservative? What is the State? What exactly is justice and how is it related to equality? His findings are often very enlightening. “The mainstream of contemporary American conservatism,” he writes, “is understood best as a fusion of classical liberalism’s concern for individual liberty and nineteenth century conservatism’s concern with moral absolutes and social order.” This implies a desire “to conserve the political convictions that gave birth to the U.S. Constitution . . .”

Dr. Nash’s approach is reasoned and persuasive. He deals with the nature of capitalism and socialism, examining the rationale behind eachsystem. He cites all the major objections critics have raised against capitalism and then shows why these objections can not be rationally or morally sustained. Believing in the unity of all truth, he avoids using the Bible as a proof text—if free market principles can be shown to be true, then they will be consistent with the Bible.

Religion and capitalism, properly understood, are, in fact, allies. These two volumes join the increasing number of studies which demonstrate the connection.