Does Christianity have anything meaningful to say about the most important issues of life? Not according to most teenagers. “For most U.S. teenagers...religion actually appears to operate much more as a taken-for-granted aspect of life, mostly situated in the background of everyday living...”1 Our youth live in such a way that their Christian convictions are severed from most of life. Monday through Friday they study math, biology, chemistry, English, art, history and more. They live with the constant hum of technology all around. They have jobs, earning money within our economy. But they do all of this as practical atheists, devoid of God.
In June, I spent four days at the Acton Institute, a public policy think tank in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I was there to think carefully about Christianity’s interaction with law, politics, economics, family life, poverty, globalization and a host of other important issues. And God was front and center. Theology was brought to bear on each and every topic.
While at Acton, I paid close attention to the economic discussions, especially in light of our country’s current financial struggles. Many voices in our culture identify an economic system with greed as its foundation as the chief culprit of our economic woes. Certainly, Christians affirm greed is bad. But is greed the essence of the U.S. economy? Michael Douglas captured this sentiment as corporate villain, Gordon Gekko, in the 1987 movie Wall Street.
The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed—for lack of a better word—is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms—greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge—has marked the upward surge of mankind.
Well, if Hollywood is correct, then a free market economy isn’t an option for Christians. Jesus is clear on the matter: “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15). Greed is immoral. So is our economy all about greed? No, but as I talk to young people across the country, I can see many have bought into this myth.
Charges of greed are misplaced. Can greed flourish in other countries, with different economies? Absolutely. Wherever you find human beings, no matter their economic context, you find greed. Why? Well, let’s bring theology front and center. Greed exists because human nature is fallen (Romans 3:23). Greed is a matter of the human heart.
As we talk about money and economics, we must distinguish between selfish greed and appropriate self-interest. This distinction is vital to grasp. Self-interest is not wrong. Do you desire food and shelter? Do you wish to take care of your loved ones? I hope so. Are these greedy desires? Of course not. Again, let’s bring theology front and center. Appropriate self-interest is assumed by Jesus. How does He tell us we ought to love others? As we love ourselves (Matthew 22:39).
Does self-interest have limits? Of course. When appropriate self-interest is abandoned and we move into selfishness, we have crossed the line into sin. Paul tells us, “Each of you should look not only to your own interests [appropriate self-interest], but also to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:4). But selfishness must be dealt with in the individual’s heart and not pawned off on an economic system.
On the other hand, are there serious dangers that come with money? Absolutely. Back to theology: Writing to young Timothy, Paul says, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (I Tim. 6:10). If we’re careful to bring theology front and center, we won’t fail to teach both appropriate self-interest in regards to money and the dangers of greed.
My time with the Acton Institute was a tremendous lesson in the integration of a Christian worldview with every area of life. And this kind of integration is vital for our young people. Whether it’s economics, psychology, medicine, business, law, entertainment or any other area of their lives, Christian young people must come to understand: Christ is Lord of all. But this won’t happen if we sit back and let the culture have at them. We must be purposeful and we must persevere in the training of our youth to help them develop a robust Christian worldview and live thoroughly Christian lives.