Theology and Economics - Lesson 2

Stewardship and Flourishing

This lesson focuses on stewardship and flourishing, and how they relate to God's plan for humanity. The lecturer explains that stewardship involves managing resources in a way that aligns with God's will and values, and that this is essential for human flourishing. He then delves into biblical teachings on stewardship, including the parable of the talents and the creation account in Genesis. Finally, he discusses practical applications of stewardship in various areas of life, including business, government, and personal finance.
Greg Forster
Theology and Economics
Lesson 2
Watching Now
Stewardship and Flourishing

Stewardship and Flourishing

I. Introduction

A. Definition of Stewardship

B. Stewardship and Economics

II. The Biblical View of Stewardship

A. God's Ownership and Sovereignty

B. Human Responsibility and Accountability

III. Stewardship and Creation

A. God's Good Creation

B. Human Dominion and Care

IV. Stewardship and Work

A. God's Design for Work

B. Work as Service to God

V. Stewardship and Giving

A. Giving as Worship

B. Giving as Investment in God's Kingdom

VI. Stewardship and Consumption

A. Consumerism and Materialism

B. Biblical Principles for Consumption

VII. Stewardship and Society

A. Stewardship and the Common Good

B. Stewardship and Social Justice

VIII. Conclusion

A. The Call to Faithful Stewardship

B. The Promise of Flourishing in God's Kingdom

  • Learn about the intersection of theology and economics and the role of Christians in the marketplace, as this document covers biblical economic principles, resource stewardship, ethical decisions, and faith's impact on business.
  • Discover the biblical concept of stewardship and its relation to human flourishing, exploring the parable of the talents, Genesis creation account, and practical applications for business, government, and personal finance.
  • In this lesson on Work and Value, you will gain insights into the nature of work and its inherent value as explained by the concept of the Imago Dei, the influence of the Protestant Work Ethic on Western culture, the role of technology in shaping the modern workplace, and the idea of vocation and how Christians can find purpose and meaning in their work.
  • In this lesson, you will learn how to live out your faith in the workplace by being a good steward of your resources and striving for excellence in your work. The lesson on productivity and opportunity highlights the importance of diligence, setting goals, and eliminating distractions to increase productivity. Ultimately, the course aims to equip Christians to serve God and others in the marketplace.
  • You will gain insights into the role of Christians in the marketplace and the importance of responsible action, which includes understanding economic systems and acting ethically with justice, love, and compassion.
  • This interview provides valuable insights for Christians seeking to integrate their faith with their professional lives by exploring the intersection of theology and economics in the marketplace. Jon Marks offers practical advice for ethical decision-making, discusses the role of money, wealth, and greed in society, and explains how Christians can resist the temptation to prioritize financial gain over moral principles.
  • Gerry Smith discusses the relationship between theology and economics. He argues that a Christian view of economics should focus on the flourishing of all people, not just profit, and addresses issues such as income inequality and the role of government in regulating the economy.

Why connect theology and economics?

We need to connect these two because lives of Christ followers should manifest the Gospel, making it tangible and visible.  In addition to personal holiness, we need to reach beyond ourselves and have an impact on the world around us.

Christians are called to live out God’s creation purposes and be signposts of the glorious future to come. That includes activities like religious works, charity, and volunteering, but these take up only a small fraction of our lives; discipleship must be a whole-life endeavor. If we want to follow God’s call and live into our true identity as his stewards, we have to integrate our faith with the spheres of life in which we invest most of our time: work and the economy.

This course, taught by Dr. Greg Forster will enable you to think clearly about these two issues, their relationship to each other and to all of life.


Dr. Greg Forster
Theology and Economics
Stewardship and Flourishing
Lesson Transcript

[00:00:05] Hi. Welcome back to our class on theology and economics here. In lesson two, we're going to be looking at stewardship and flourishing. And these two things are really key starting points I think that we have to grasp before we move on to any larger economic applications. While they're not the only things we need to understand, I think they are really a very profitable starting point for us. And if we don't understand them, I think we're not going to get a good handle on how to integrate our faith with our approach to economics. I want to start with the idea of stewardship and start with the idea of stewardship as central to the image of God. Now, if you have seen anything in the faith and work movement, if you've read a book, if you've read a blog article, if you've read or seen or gone to a lecture, anything from the faith and work movement, you have almost certainly encountered the basic points that I'm about to give you, But I want to review them very quickly just so we don't forget them, and particularly so that we can connect them to this concept of stewardship. God created humanity in his own image, and He gave us the whole world to take care of it with responsibility, to take care of it. And historically, Christian theology used to focus in the image of God, used to focus more on attributes that God had, certain attributes like moral goodness and rationality and agency and ability to speak and so forth. And that human beings being made in the image of God really meant that we reflected God's attributes, that we were made. I mean, not all of them, obviously, but there were key ways in which we were supposed to have similar attributes to God and that we were then meant to manifest that and that we were living up to the image of God.

[00:02:04] If we lived up to the attributes of God that we were supposed to mirror or image and that we were betraying or falling short of the image of God when we failed to do that, well, that was much more the focus of theology in the Middle Ages, and theologians today still speak in those terms. And it's it's still an important part of mainstream evangelical theology because there's a consensus that there is biblical support for talking that way about the image of God. But recently, in the last century, and particularly in in recent years, there has been much more attention to responsibility for the world as central to the image of God. And Old Testament scholars have been pointing out that in the original context, if you take the text and you look at the context, this is what was really the focus of the teaching on the image of God, that human beings are responsible for the world that we have been given the world, and that we are responsible for how we take care of it. And this is central to what it means to be made in the image of God. And it's not in conflict with the older approach because, of course, the way we take care of the world ought to reflect all those attributes that we were made to to to live into, that we ought to be honest and love others and do all the things that we're supposed to do when we're taking care of the world, that we should reflect those attributes in the way we do it. But there is much more focus on responsibility or stewardship as central to the image of God. And in some ways, responsibility is just another word for stewardship. The only difference is that stewardship implies not only that you're responsible for something, but you're also responsible to someone.

[00:03:56] You are someone's steward, and human beings are created to be God's steward over the creation order that were made to take good care of it. Now, in Genesis two, it says that Adam was put in the garden to work it and keep it so working. The garden is really central to our stewardship over the world in the original creation plan that the purpose of humanity in Genesis is to do work that takes good care of the world, that cultivates the world we're supposed to be not only maintaining the world and preserving it from spoil or things that might ruin it. We're actually supposed to be improving it. We're supposed to leave the world better than we found it. If you've ever heard, you know, leave places better than you find it, whether that's at a campground where you can be admonished to leave your site better than you found it, or if it's life advice, leave the world better than you found it. You know, if you if you die leaving the world better than you found it, then you had a successful life as a as a saying. I've heard. Well, that is. That is really an important part of humanity's purpose that we are supposed to be cultivating the world and making it leaving it better than we found it, making it better and better every day through our work. Now, there are other things. Work is not all of life, but it is really central to the image of God. And another major challenge is that the fall has brought evil into the world. It's brought toil into the world and infected our work with toilsome ness and frustration. So that work is no longer something that we can simply do and enjoy and rejoice in because we're we're cultivating the world.

[00:05:45] Much of our work is very challenging and it requires us to persevere through all kinds of trials. And very often our work just doesn't work out the way we want it to. The things just fall apart because the fall has affected our work. And we're in a world where there's evil and we have personal, personal character issues where we have to be on guard against our own vices and the vices of other people around us or something. We also have to take account of. And then social systems are also affected by the fall so that there's there's a struggle between good and evil going on, not only inside every human heart, but also in every social system, whether that's a household or a business or or a neighborhood or a community or a nation, that we're all in this middle place where we're made in the image of God, but also fallen. The basic question that we're dealing with here. When we talk about stewardship and the image of God is what does it mean to be human? And I think whenever you deal with the intersection of Christianity or the Bible and social questions, cultural questions, it's usually going to come down to some version of what does it mean to be human? That's a really central question. Why are we here as human beings? What's the purpose of human life? What kind of life is good for us? Who has the good life? Which which people? Which kind of life should we look to and say? That's the model. That's the good life. That's what we should have. That's what we're made to have. And the Christian answer is that we are here to love God, to love each other, and to love the world.

[00:07:30] Now, you could make that really complicated and add all kinds of things to it. But I think as a simple answer that'll do to go on with that. We're here to love God and each other and the world and love, which again is a key concept, is not just having a warm and fuzzy feeling about things. Love is goodwill in action, as Dallas Willard has said. I remember I went to a conference where I heard him give the whole talk about people, talk about how they love chocolate cake, but they don't really love chocolate cake. You know, if you loved the chocolate cake, you wouldn't eat it because that's not good for it. It's bad for it. You know, you'd you'd keep it in the refrigerator and you put it in a container and you take care of it and make sure that it's needs were taken care of. But what you do is you like to eat chocolate cake. That's the opposite of loving the chocolate cake. So love doesn't just mean having a warm and fuzzy feeling about people. In fact, we often don't. Love means wanting people to have what's good for them. And love is action. It's not just feeling. It's not just wanting it to happen, but taking action so that it will happen or refraining from taking action if that's what other people's good requires. So love is a full time way of life. Love is. I had a pastor once who used to say love is not a way of feeling. Love is a way of behaving. And I think there's a lot of wisdom in that. And so the question then becomes, if the purpose of our life is to love each other and to love God and love the world, what does that have to do with our work and economics? Well, most of our lives are work.

[00:09:10] We spend most of our waking hours working. If you add up work in the home, which is part of the economy, work in workplaces traditionally understood in jobs and businesses and marketplaces and that sort of thing. And then you also have to add in work that goes on in neighborhoods and communities. All of the civic groups and associations that that take care of other aspects of life that require work. Work is most of life. So in order to love is a full time way of life. If work is most of our life, then we have to work in love. And if we're not working in love, the most of our life will be out of accord with with the good life, with the life we're supposed to be leading. If we're not working out of love, then most of our life will not be a Christian life. So we have to work out of goodwill for others. We have to work in ways that take action. So that others will have what is good for them and so that we will have what is good for us. In order to do that, we have to work as stewards. This is why the concept of stewardship is so essential. When we do our work, we have to think of ourselves as stewards of the world. When we're operating a machine or sweeping a floor or preaching a sermon, whatever we're doing in our work, we have to think this is something that I have stewardship over. And I'm doing this work because I'm a steward of the world, I'm a steward of my part of the world, and my job is to help myself and others and the whole world have more of what they need, more of, what's good for them.

[00:10:46] The individual person is called to be a steward. That that image of God, where stewardship is so central applies to every single human being. So each person has to become a steward of his or her own life. You individually have to think of yourself as a steward of your life and a steward of all the things that God has given you so that you can work with those things and take care of those things in ways that will promote your good and the good of others. But it's not just about you. It's not just about any of us. As individuals. We have relationships with one another. That's a fundamental part of what it means to be human is to be to have relationships with one another. So we also have to think not only of ourselves as stewards. We have to think of other people as stewards as well. We have to think of our neighbors as people, fellow stewards, people who are made to be stewards, just as we were made to be stewards. This is really about reorienting our thinking of what it means to be human. We have to reorient our thinking of ourselves so that when I think of myself, I think steward. And when I think of my neighbor, I think fellow steward, rather than thinking of people, whether it's myself or others, rather than thinking of people in materialistic ways, in ways that are focused on gratifying my desires or gratifying someone else's desires, or having a reputation or a name with somebody or any other any other selfish orientation, anything that is not about helping people have what is good for them. What's good for us is not to get our hands on more money and stuff. And this is where stewardship becomes an economic issue and not just a work issue.

[00:12:44] What's good for us is not to just get our hands on money and stuff, but to be good stewards of our money and stuff so that when we're doing our work, we're being good stewards of what we have. That way we can replace I want to get things with I want to be a good steward of the things that I have so that I'm doing my work to take good care of them and to take it to take care that I and my my neighbor have what's good for us. But again, just myself, just as I myself am not enough. My immediate relationships with those that I know personally are not enough either. Social systems. Institutions are also part of the stewardship. Calling households have a calling to be good stewards collectively over what that household has. Businesses have to be good stewards of what they have. Communities have to be good stewards. Neighborhoods have to be good stewards of what they have. And nations and people groups. To the extent that they have a shared life, they have to be good stewards. They have to practice good stewardship in their shared life and not just be good stewards as individuals. Once again, this comes back to a point that we looked at in the last lesson We are social creatures. Human beings are made to be in relationship, and they're made to be members of institutions ranging from the household in the local neighborhood to businesses and civic associations, all the way up to nations and people groups. And all of these institutions at every level are part of the stewardship mandate because they are a part of what it means to be human. And if stewardship is central to what it means to be human, then stewardship is central to what it means to run a good business or to run a good household, or to have an economic system or a nation that is practicing, that is that is doing what it should be by practicing good stewardship.

[00:14:48] Now the economy links to stewardship and our work because the economy is how we all work together. We looked in the last lesson at how the economy is the way in which our work is exchanged with one another. Our work intersects with each other in these networks of cooperation and interdependence through the economy, because we're all working together. We have a sort of joint stewardship over everything in the world. We all work together to take good care of it by each of us doing our part and by participating in exchange in ways that that promote the good of the good of our neighbor. By practicing virtue and practicing love. Recently, I was in a worship service where we sang that wonderful old him that has the line were the whole realm of nature mine that were an offering far too small. Well, I as an individual, don't have the whole realm of nature. And that's that's what that line is all about, that I have so little in my own life compared to the whole universe. And yet, even if I own the whole universe, that offering would be far too small to bring to the Lord. He wants me, He wants my character, He wants my personality. He wants me as an individual. He wants me to surrender that to him. And yet it made me think, you know, all of us together, all human beings, we do have the whole realm of nature. That's the whole concept of of stewardship in the in the original donation of the world, that the whole realm of nature has been given to us collectively as a human species. And the economy is the way all human beings in the whole world work together through this great system of exchange where we're all working, buying, selling and doing all these things.

[00:16:45] This is how we all cooperatively steward literally the whole realm of nature. It's not an exaggeration. It's literally everything in the whole universe is is under the stewardship of human work. And the only question is, are we going to work together? And all of us do our part and practice love with one another and embody that love not only in our own lives, but in our relationships and in our social systems. When we exchange our work, we become essentially coworkers. Think back to that chair from the last lesson where I mentioned that the chair you're sitting on was the work of hundreds or probably thousands of people working together to do many, many different jobs. And nobody knows all the jobs and nobody knows all the people who are involved in making a chair. But all those people became coworkers. And whatever your job is, no matter what it is, even if you you have a job where you're not paid for your work or and you don't, you may not feel like you're a part of the economy, but your work is stewarding the part of the world that is under your care. So you're part of this great system of exchange where we all work together. And, you know, if you buy or sell things and I know that you do because there's nobody this is part of what it means to be human. There's nobody who is not part of this exchange. Then you're part of the system and your coworkers with millions of people around the world in taking good care of the world and coming back to this point. Individuals all need to do their part. Households all need to do their part. Businesses need to do their part. Communities need to do their part.

[00:18:25] The town the neighborhood needs to do its part. You know, schools and civic associations all need to do their part. And the the the local governments and and states and nations and people groups, it's everything's got to be rightly ordered. It all has to work together. There's no part of this that is off to one side and isolated from the great system of exchange all these things from a national economic system all the way down to the way I treat my coworker when I talk to him or her while I'm getting coffee in the in the company kitchen, you know, everything at every level from the very micro to the very macro. It's all got to fit. And to the extent that it does fit, we're going to have success in our own lives, both spiritually and in. That will become the right kind of people and materially in that our economy will function well and it will produce wealth and it will make us better off. But to the extent that these things do not do what they're supposed to do, to the extent that they don't practice good stewardship and they're not focused on helping people have what's good for them to have, then we're going to have spiritual failure. We're not going to become the right kind of people. And we're also going to have material failure. We're going to have dysfunctions and breakdowns in the economy, and we're going to be dealing with crises and poverty and all kinds of problems and injustices and things of that nature. So we're going to be dealing with either spiritual or material success when those things all fit or spiritual and material dysfunction insofar as they fail to fit together in that way. So what is good stewardship? What is helping people have What's good for them? I've kind of been saying we need to be good stewards.

[00:20:15] We need to we need to help people have good what's good for them. But you might want to ask. Okay. But what is what is it good for people to have? Well, it's very hard to put your finger on that in a concrete way because it comes across in so many different contexts. You know what's good for me in my situation? The goods that I need. There's there's some similarities, but there would be a lot of differences to someone who maybe lives in a different part of the world or lives in a different time or or whatever you have. And if you try to make a list, you know, a lot of people have tried this. They sat down and they've tried to make a comprehensive list. Well, here are all the things that people need. You know, those can be useful. I don't want to dismiss them, but I think they can become a little artificial and we can rely on that too much. And it becomes a temptation to once again focus on the money and stuff. And we get back to defining our well-being in terms of money and stuff. And this is why, in addition to a concept of failure of stewardship, we need to have that other key concept, that concept of flourishing. We need to have a more holistic, a more robust understanding of what does it mean to flourish. Flourishing is just a word for having a high degree of well-being and and have your wellbeing grow over time so that you are you are having what is good for you and your your amount, your possession of that is growing so that you are you are having more well-being over time. That sounds very vague. I know.

[00:21:56] And we'll have a chance to put a little more detail on it. But really it encompasses everything that that is good for people. And our Christian faith gives us so many different ways of looking at that and so many different things that people need to have. They need to have material things, certainly, but they also need to have spiritual things. They need to have right relationships with one another. They need to have households that are rightly ordered and personal relationships that are rightly ordered. We need to have economic relationships that are rightly ordered, and it's a very large and complex subject. I think, though, while we can get lost in the weeds to some extent, we need to bring in this concept of flourishing and allow it to grow in the way we we address economics so that we are we're constantly coming back to that question of what does it mean to flourish. I think this is what life is all about, helping people flourish, helping the world flourish, flourishing ourselves and helping our neighbors flourish and helping the world flourish. This is the good life. This is what it's all about. This is what we're made for. And again, the fall has infected it with, you know, evil and toil and frustration. And it's it's it can fail in many cases. And it's beset by all kinds of problems because of evil in the world. But our goal should be to reorient the world towards that flourishing that it was made, to have that flourishing that God intended it to have in every respect, so that we are rightly related to ourselves, rightly related to our neighbors, rightly related to God, and rightly related to our environment. We can we cannot create that perfectly in this life because of the fall, but we can live in hope looking forward to that future where it will be perfectly enacted and we can live in ways that create for tastes or reminders of that harmony and flourishing that the world was made to have and is going to have again.

[00:24:12] And to do this to live for flourishing is simply what it means to love. I mean, this is what it means to love. If if love is goodwill in action, we want people to have more of what's good for them. We want the world to have more of what's good for them, both spiritually and materially. We want people to have that good character and right relationship, and we want them to have prosperity because that's what's good for them. People need to have their needs met and and an economy that works, an economy that functions is something that people need and are created for. And when we focus on embodying that commitment to working in love and working as stewards, that's the kind of thing we're going to get. Work creates flourishing when it serves human needs and makes the world a better place. This is why work is so central not only to stewardship but also to flourishing. This is part of what it means for work to be work. We're going to be looking much more detail on that in the next lesson. But the point of work in addition to other other things, the main point of work is to serve human needs and make the world a better place. And that's why work is oriented to flourishing. Because when we do our work well, when we do it for what it's supposed to be, we create flourishing. We create flourishing for ourselves. We create flourishing for the people around us who are our fellow stewards, and we create flourishing for our communities and nations. Excuse me, Work creates wellbeing for people, and work also shapes us into the kind of people who love God. A neighbor coming back to to some concrete examples and I've used this before, but it doesn't matter if you make car parts or sweep floors or cut hair or do medical research or preach sermons, your work is creating well-being for other people.

[00:26:11] If you think about someone who makes parts for cars, for example, well, there would be no cars if people didn't do the work to make car parts and then do the work to put them together and produce them and then do the work to bring them to market and sell them. And just think of all the wonderful things that we can do for each other that we could never do if we didn't have cars. We have the opportunity to do so many great things and there's so much in the world that we would lose if we didn't have that or think about the way we the way we shape ourselves when we do our work. If I show up to my job and work all day focusing on serving other people and creating wellbeing, I'm shaping myself into the kind of person who loves and that matters eternally. And it creates, again, not only the spiritual benefits but the material benefits. Whereas on the other hand, if I come into work thinking not about the opportunity to serve other people, but my own desires and my my wish to gratify and satisfy my own desires and my primary thinking is, boy, I wish I didn't have to work so that I could spend more time doing what I want. I wish I didn't have to work so that I could be, instead of working to serve others, gratifying my desires. I'm going to become a shallow and selfish person and my work is not going to serve the needs of others and it's not going to make the world a better place the way it should. I mean, it may still do that to some extent, but if my motivation is not there to serve others and in my sense of my own identity is grounded in satisfying my desires, my sense of what what the good life is, is grounded in satisfying my desires rather than in making the world a better place.

[00:28:03] I'm just going to become shallow and selfish and I'm going to do the minimum necessary. I'm going to do the minimum that I have to do that I can get away with, and that you multiply that by millions of people and you're going to get an economy and break down. But more importantly, you're going to get a culture full of people who are who have all the wrong values and all the wrong practices and whose lives are morally disordered and chaotic. And it's just it's very sad to see that. So this is the basic principle stewardship and flourishing that our basic principle needs to be that we are made to be stewards and that that others are made to be stewards, and that are our social systems, whether it's locally or nationally or at an intermediate level with businesses and that kind of thing, that at every level stewardship is should be our our, our, our sense of our purpose in the economy, that we want to be good stewards and that we define that is working for flourishing because we love other people and we want them to have what's good for them. That's the basic principle. And what we're going to do in the next few lessons is take a look at some specific aspects of that and see how it applies in the modern economy.

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