Faith & Economics
NUMBER 75, Spring 2020
The Kuyperian Dream of Reconstructing Economics on Christian Foundations
Abstract: A project to reconstruct economics on Christian foundations was begun in the 1970s by scholars connected with Calvin College (now Calvin University), Michigan, the Institute of Christian Studies in Toronto, and the Free University of Amsterdam. Inspired by Abraham Kuyper’s early 20th-century renewal of Calvinism, they criticized neoclassical economics, traced its problems to a faulty anthropology, and began to build a new economics based on true assumptions about human beings and the world. Such an economics, they argued, would have superior explanatory power to neoclassical economics and would be able to deal with pressing problems in a way that existing economic theory could not. Their work stimulated a widespread revival of Christian approaches to economics among evangelicals. I argue that this project:
(a) Finds little support in Kuyper’s theology. It misreads sphere sovereignty, over-emphasizes a distorted version of his theological antithesis, and neglects common grace.
(b) Finds even less support in Calvin’s thought.
(c) Has produced little in the way of useful economics, and this failure can be traced to underlying theological problems.
(d) Is best understood as a flawed sectarian response to the breakup of Christian culture in the West from the 1960s (especially in US Christian colleges), the crisis of economics in the 1970s, and the rise in social concern in the churches.
(e) The rise of Christian economics has some similarities with the rise of a distinctive Islamic economics among marginalized religious communities.
This episode is an interesting case study of relationships between theology and economics, and of connections between scholarship and wider cultural forces.
Keywords: Christian economics, Christian scholarship, Kuyper, Calvin
JEL Codes: A12, B10, B20