I’ve been listening to some thought-provoking lectures by Vishal Mangalwadi on how the bible has shaped the West. This one entitled, “Why Are Some Rich While Others Are So Poor” speaks of how traditional cultures have handled wealth. Those without the influence of the bible have only known two responses. Either you horde it or you display it. You either stock-pile it for a rainy day or you show-case it for prestige. In neither case will your economy grow.
But, in the west, Christians did this new thing – they re-invested it. Mangalwadi points to things like “the parable of the talents” or the injunction to “love thy neighbour” as giving Christians this new idea – to put wealth to work. He also points to the impact of the priesthood of all believers, releasing believers to work at all things “as unto the Lord.” This gives rise to the protestant work ethic and incredible wealth-creation.
I’m sure all those ideas should go into the mix. But I wonder whether the Protestant Grace Ethic needs to have a hearing here. The bible is always linking grace and money (see these examples in Ephesians for instance). It is the peculiar “idea” of the gospel that heavenly wealth comes down upon us not so that we may boast, nor that we might keep it to ourselves. (And not even that we should repay the Benefactor (some kind of spiritual feudalism?)). We are given an overabundance of undeserved grace in order that we might overflow. Isn't this the most fundamentally liberating "idea" to grace the West?