The proliferation of books on the topic of the integration of faith, work, and economics over the past decade has multiplied available resources to the point of confusion at point. Whereas a decade or so ago, there were a handful of recent, high quality books on the subject that were often targeted to academic audiences, there are now dozens of books published each year for all audiences.
In large part, the growth in publication on this topic has been a good thing. For too long theologically orthodox thinkers left the application of doctrine to ordinary life for the average layperson to muddle through. The difficulty with the flood of new resources, however, is that it is hard to find one that is adequately focused, sufficiently broad, robustly research, and practically oriented so that it can be a helpful starting place for Christians seeking to figure out what earthly good our salvation offers.
The recent book by Michael Rhodes, Robby Holt, and Brian Fikkert is the best single-stop resource on this topic I have found to date. It is the sort of book that should find its way into small group studies, church libraries, and college classrooms because it threads the needle between scholarly rigor and accessibly. In Practicing the King’s Economy: Honoring Jesus in How We Work, Earn, Spend, Save, and Give, they cover the necessary topics for an introductory book on how to live as good neighbors in a society of abundant resources that many do not know how to access.
Practicing the King’s Economy structures its arguments around “keys,” each of which is important as an approach to the application of Christianity to daily life. In this case, the keys function much like the emphases in various biblical theologies, which often overlap and do not exhaust the possibilities for interpretation. The twelve chapters of the volume are paired, so the first chapter outlines the biblical basis for a given key and the second explores the contemporary application of that key through examples and realistic suggestions.
The first key discussed is worship, which is set in contrast to idolatry. The solution to the temptation of idolizing money is giving, which is amply illustrated through several testimonies of effective generosity.
Community is the second key emphasized by the authors. The most helpful aspect of this chapter is the clarity of the authors in commending community of difference, not community of those with identical resources and backgrounds. As they note, too often the development of “authentic community” in contemporary churches effectively excludes the economically disadvantaged who need the strength of the community most.
The third key is work, which Scripture commends for its dignity and goodness. The practical application of the doctrine of work emphasizes finding opportunities to allow people to provide for themselves through meaningful work, whether through job creation or hiring neighbors who need some assistance.
Equity is the fourth key Rhodes, Holt, and Fikkert highlight. Their emphasis in these chapters is not on equality, but re-enfranchisement. That is, ensuring that racial difference and economic disadvantages do not prevent people from engaging effectively in the marketplace. This is the thorniest topic the authors address and they do it graciously and pointedly. The contextual emphasis of this key is on providing capital for those who have difficulty accessing it.
The fifth key is creation care, an often-overlooked aspect of holistic stewardship. The doctrinal chapter is an adequate overview of a biblical basis for environmentalism. In practice it is evident that creation care goes well beyond saving the whales or the trees to providing access to healthy food, minimizing waste at home, and considering how the meat on your plate was treated before it found itself under cellophane.
Appropriately, the sixth key is sabbath, which is an underdeveloped but increasingly important topic for contemporary Christians. The testimonies of the practice of sabbath make it clear that we would benefit as individuals and communities by observing regular, planned periods of rest and offering the same to those around us.
One common criticism of some of the faith and work movement is that there is too great an emphasis on free market economics. To an extent, this is understandable because there has been a need for apologists for free market principles. At the same time, there has not always been sufficient emphasis publicly on the need for virtuous self-restraint to accompany a relatively free market. This book helps address that criticism by showing how the benefits of a free market can be made accessible more broadly.
Practicing the King’s Economy recognizes the advantages of a free market and encourages readers to pursue virtue within that framework. The book is a call to see economics as the pursuit of the well-being of the whole household, not the reductionistic monetary perspective that often characterizes national debates about economics. Rhodes, Holt, and Fikkert remind us that it is possibly to simultaneously believe that we are morally bound to help provide economic opportunities for all people and that the highest level of government is ill-suited to create positive laws to guarantee that end. This is a book that encourages immediate, meaningful, local action to make real change that will cascade into a more just society.
This book shows how to spend less time arguing about sound economics and more time seeking to spread the benefits of good economics to everyone. This is a book about helping people. More clearly, this is a book about enabling people to engage in redemptive work in a broken world for the sake of the gospel. The theoretically best economic system is no good if the people who most need its advantages lack the knowledge and social support to reap its benefits. Practicing the King’s Economy is an excellent introduction to an important topic that should find wide use in churches and communities.
Andrew J. Spencer is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics. He frequently writes at EthicsAndCulture.com. He is a member of CrossPointe Church in Monroe, MI.