This is a continuation from Ellul's book Money and Power so if you haven't read yesterday's post....start there
A Christian Approach.
Now as Christians we absolutely cannot accept
this solution and start down this path. We have already observed, to be
sure, that the supremacy (both spiritual and rational) of the individual
over the system need not stop certain Christians from looking for
objective solutions. But we must bear in mind that Christians are not
required to do this, and that in any case this is not true commitment.
To believe that joining a movement is the same as committing oneself
is simply to capitulate to today's sociological trends, and it is to follow the
herd while claiming to make free choices. Better to judge the herd
instinct beforehand and give in to it only when it is objectively valid, as
we are trying to do here; otherwise we are in exactly the situation
described by St. Paul: "children, tossed to and fro and carried about with
every wind of doctrine" (Eph. 4:14). It is painful to see countless
Christians in this situation.
Among the three or four major systems trying to apply an
organization to money, do we have to choose? And which should we
choose? In fact, neither theology nor Scripture gives us any criteria for
evaluating one system against another. Since no economic mechanism
corresponds to Christian truth, if we wish to choose we will have to do so
for purely natural reasons, knowing that our choice will in no way express
our Christian faith. If we like these superficial involvements, if we want to
work with other people in group endeavors, nothing in the Christian faith
prevents our choosing conservatism or cooperativism or socialism.
Provided that we retain our sense of the relative along with a healthy
skepticism for these inadequate recipes-and provided above all that we
not regard our activity as a direct and natural outgrowth of the Christian
It is understandably disappointing not to have a system
corresponding in all points to Christian faith and doctrine. But beware:
the disappointment is not in Christianity but in the system. Christianity is
infinitely too realistic, and revelation shows us far too clearly what man
and the world really are, for us to be able to base a system on it. For no
system can either correspond to this reality or organize it. Certainly no
system in the world allows us to reduce Christianity to its political or
economic aspects, and this becomes even more obvious when we look
at actual situations. It is indeed possible to maintain illusions so long as
we are looking only at great principles and broad ideas. A given system
may, from the standpoint of its philosophy or intentions, seem to conform
to Christian ideas. But we should already be on guard because there are
not many ideas in Christianity: faith and knowledge are based on real events and situations that are closely related to man; they have nothing to do with ideas, principles, and so forth.
Now it happens that when we examine any economic system in
detail, we find more and more discord. While from a general point of
view a particular system may look valid to a Christian, if we look at what
Scripture clearly tells us about economic questions, we realize that the
system is neither a solution from the human standpoint nor an answer to
the question God asks us in Scripture. The same thing happens when
we look at money itself none of the major systems has anything
reasonable to say once we are aware of what money really is in the light
But then, we think, could not Christianity itself propose a global
solution, an economic doctrine of its own? Most Christians who have
studied this topic have concluded that no Christian political doctrine
exists; it cannot be constructed either from biblical texts or as a logical
outworking of Christian principles.
It is not possible to speak of a Christian doctrine of money, first
because that is not why we have been given revelation through the
Scriptures, and it is even less why Jesus was born, died and was raised
from the dead. The purpose of Christianity is not to provide useful rules
for living or organizational schemes. From the perspective of salvation,
how the world is organized is not of major importance. Of course it is
fine for human beings to organize the world, but this is a fallen world and
redemption is not tied to our organization of it. Consequently God's
work, which is from the beginning the work of redemption, cannot in any
detail be expressed by social, economic or other worldly organization.
We cannot extract any system from God's revelation without twisting the
texts and coming up with unwarranted conclusions because redemption
is not a system.
No doubt the problem of money is very important, but we cannot
build a system on that basis. This is so, and this is the second reason
we cannot speak of a Christian doctrine of money, because no objective
solution exists. When we open the Bible we do not find a philosophy, a
political statement, a metaphysic or even a religion. We find instead the
promise of dialog, a personal word addressed to me, asking me what I
am doing, hoping, fearing-and especially what I am.
All that the Bible has to tell me about money is found in this dialog.
It offers no objective discovery on which to base a general system. It
instead offers truth about all things-including money. But it leads us to
this dramatic conclusion: truth is not objective (nor is it subjective!). It is
found in relationship with God, and nowhere else. Thus a person who
has received truth can make it known only in making known this
relationship with God. It is perfectly useless to try to extract from the
Bible a money system applicable to the world because people will
recognize the truth only after they have come to faith. The immense
body of revelation-which contains, among other things, wisdom about
money-does not appeal to reason, evidence or pragmatism; indeed, it is
shut tight against these modes of conviction.
When looking at biblical passages about money, then, we must let
them have the character God has given them.
First, these are fragments
of the total revelation, and we have no right to detach them from the
whole in order to consider them separately, objectively. They are there
because their content refers to God's work in Jesus Christ; we cannot
puff them out of this context.
Second, these passages have to do with the relation between God
and man (this is the context for biblical statements about money), and we
have no right to turn them into simple descriptions of the relation
between man and money. They are based on the personal relationship
that is fundamental to the whole work of salvation; therefore we cannot
abstract them from a general idea, applicable to the world.
Third, these texts ask us to commit ourselves. They start us down
a certain path. They are not providing us with rational options or
objective conclusions; the biblical texts never come to conclusions
because there is no conclusion apart from the heavenly Jerusalem and
The texts are therefore never a "solution." To the contrary, they
get us started on a journey, and the only answer we can hope to find is
the one we ourselves give by our lives as we proceed on that journey.
This absence of systematic conclusions destroys every attempt to base
an ideological or ethical system on Scripture. We must resign ourselves
to this. And if we will not accept it, we are so refusing biblical truth that if
we ever did find a Christian financial or economic or political system and
happened to accept it, we would be basing our acceptance on its
non-Christian features! This would be a tragic mistake.