When I tell people I teach a class entitled “Economics, Stewardship, and the Common Good,” a common question is, “Why would a seminary offer a class on that topic?” What well-meaning Christians are implying with such a question is that they cannot see a connection between the Great Commission on one hand, and cultural engagement in the area of material ethics on the other hand. Indeed, it is commonly accepted that seminaries should be about spiritual matters, such as engaging in the Great Commission; however, the idea of seminary being an appropriate place to learn about “filthy lucre” (1 Timothy 3:3) seems odd to some.
So how does the Great Commission relate to economics, stewardship and the common good?
Most Christians understand that in the Great Commission, which occurs at the end of the first book of the New Testament (cf. Matthew 28:19–20), Jesus called His followers to engage in two related tasks: Making disciples and teaching disciples what Jesus had earlier taught. Fewer Christians, however, realize that at the beginning of the first book in the Old Testament, the Lord also gave two related tasks. These two tasks, which are sometimes called the Cultural Mandate, were to procreate and to subdue the earth (cf. Genesis 1:28).
While the Cultural Mandate does constitute the first words spoken by God Himself to mankind, the importance of these words goes beyond their inaugural nature. Indeed, in telling mankind to procreate and to subdue the earth, the Lord was speaking to His image-bearers. As such, God was instructing those whom He had made in His own likeness to act like Him.
Just as God is a creator, so mankind was to pro-create. Just as God is sovereign over all, so mankind was to subdue all. The Cultural Mandate entails mankind functionally bearing God’s image.
But what does this have to do with the Great Commission and with economics, stewardship and the common good? In short, the Great Commission can be thought of as a spiritual manifestation of the Cultural Mandate. In making disciples, mankind spiritually procreates. In instructing new disciples what Jesus’ taught, sin is subdued and order is brought into the lives of mankind.
Economics, stewardship and the common good is the study of this process — sometimes on a spiritual level, but usually on a material (or cultural) level. In either realm, though, it is a study of the same thing — that is, what God expects of those who are made and are becoming like him.
The word “economics” comes from the Greek term oikonomia, which literally means “law of the house.” Economics, then, is about housekeeping. On a micro level this includes properly ordering and arranging one’s own material resources. On a macro level this entails properly ordering and arranging our “Father’s house” (John 14:2), which includes the entire material world, the souls contained therein and the spiritual Kingdom of God of which believers are citizens. To do this well, materially and spiritually, is to fulfill the Cultural Mandate and the Great Commission. Moreover, it is proper economics, good stewardship and it promotes the common good of all in the world in which we live.