Theology and Economics - Lesson 3

Work and Value

In this particular lesson, the topic of work and value is explored. The lecture begins by discussing the importance of understanding the nature of work and the value it provides. The concept of the Imago Dei, or the image of God in humans, is used to explain the inherent value of work. The lecture also touches on the Protestant Work Ethic and how it has influenced Western culture. The role of technology in shaping the modern workplace is also discussed, along with the challenges and opportunities it presents. Finally, the lecture explores the idea of vocation and how Christians can find purpose and meaning in their work.
Greg Forster
Theology and Economics
Lesson 3
Watching Now
Work and Value

I. Introduction

A. Definition of Work

B. Importance of Work

C. Value of Work

II. Theological Perspectives on Work

A. Old Testament Perspective

B. New Testament Perspective

C. Pauline Perspective

D. Theological Implications of the Perspectives

III. Economic Perspectives on Work

A. Classical Economics Perspective

B. Marxist Perspective

C. Human Capital Perspective

D. Implications of the Economic Perspectives

IV. The Christian and Work

A. Calling and Vocation

B. Work as Service to God and Neighbor

C. Ethics and Work

D. Theological and Economic Integration in Work

V. Conclusion

A. Summary of Lesson

B. Importance of Integrating Theology and Economics in Work

  • 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
Work and Value
Lesson Transcript

[00:00:06] Hi. Welcome back to this class on theology and economics here. In less than three, we're going to be talking about value creation. Value creation is a more economic concept, but it's central to what work is, what work is for, and how our work fits together. So that the work of many people is interrelated. And we're not just each a separate little unit out there floating out there in the ether, but all of us are connected to one another through our work. So if we understand this economic concept of value creation, it really illuminates the purpose of our work individually and also how our work is connected. Start with the purpose of work individually. Work would not be work if you did it for its own sake or just for its own sake. Lots of theologians have spent a lot of time going through the Bible, looking at its extensive discussions of work and trying to figure out, well, what would be a biblical definition of work or what are the key biblical concepts of work. And there are some common themes that have emerged, and one of them is that work is something that you do not only for its own sake, but also for the sake of something else beyond itself. There's some task, there's some goal that you're trying to achieve other than simply to work. So in this work is contrasted to things like the worship service where we don't you know, the worship service might have benefits like going to worship helps you strengthen your relationships with other people so that during the week you have an easier time of things or things like that. But you don't go to worship because it's going to strengthen your relationship with other people or that's not really an important, highly important motivation or contemplation.

[00:02:01] For example, if we contemplate God, well, contemplating God might have some instrumental benefit. You know, if I spend time contemplating God, I'm going to work harder during the day and be more productive so I'll make more money. But, you know, if you contemplate God in order to increase your paycheck, then you're not really contemplating God in the first place from a part of what it means to contemplate God. It should do it for its own sake or play. You know, C.S. Lewis has a wonderful passage where he talks about the person who plays football, which which for us Americans would be soccer, the person who plays football because he needs to get exercise and keep his body in shape is not really playing football. He's exercising. And he can be an annoyance to the people who really want to play football. They enjoy the game and they care about the game for its own sake. And the man who's out there to exercise and is focused on something else besides enjoying the game can be a hindrance. So these other activities are distinguished from work, partly because they're done exclusively or almost exclusively for their own sake. But work is something that we do for its own sake, but also for the sake of some task or goal that we're trying to perform. Nobody ever really works just to work and for no other reason. If you were doing that, you would not really be working. You'd be doing something else. It would be a hobby or something like that. Now, don't get me wrong, work is intrinsically a good thing, and it's a little bit paradoxical that even if we could get everything that we get through work without working, we'd still be better off working.

[00:03:42] And in fact, if you got everything that you currently get through work, through your work without working, the appropriate response would be to turn around and say, okay, now what can I add to that by working? So there's an intrinsic goodness to work and we don't want to lose that. But it is part of the very nature of work that it is not simply an intrinsic good, it's something that we do for the sake of something outside itself. We always have a task or a goal that we're trying to accomplish. Now, economically speaking, the main purpose of work is to create value for people. Now, this is not to set aside all the other things that can be legitimately called the purpose of work. So we've talked about how work shapes us and affects our character. And so by working, we become a certain kind of person. But if we want to look from an economic perspective, that is, if we want to be focused on how do people's work fit together. So if there are millions and millions of people, how does all their work fit together from that perspective? The social perspective The most important thing about work is that it creates value. Now, that's a that's a big statement. So let me stop and unpack it a little bit. What is value? Value is a term that economists use all the time. And I found that if you say to people our our work should create value for others, they'll first they'll nod and they'll say, yeah, yeah, I want my work to create value for people. But if they spend any time contemplating it fairly quickly, they come to the question, What does that mean? You know, it sounds right, but what does it mean? Well, I think value is just an economic term for for well-being that people value whatever they believe will benefit themselves or benefit the people that they care about.

[00:05:36] You think of value as a transitive verb. I value this. I value that. I don't value this. I don't value that. You know, he values this. She values that. So value economically is a way of talking about what we think is good, what we think will give us well-being. Economic behavior is just examining how we work for the things we value, how we pay for the things we value, how we devote time to the things we value, how we give up, some things we value in order to get other things that we value more. Really, economics is the study of how people make decisions regarding what they value, how people work for and pay for and devote time to, and make tradeoffs for the things that they value, the things that they think are good, the things that they think will give them, and those others that they care about well-being. And this is why stewardship and flourishing are such key beginning points, because that speaks to our question of what should we value. It provides the framework for what is good, what creates well-being, and it keeps us oriented toward toward thinking rightly about what? What should we value? Our economics at every level, whether it's our personal economics, which is reflected in how you spend your time, how you do your work, and how your paycheck looks, how your your checkbook looks, you know, are you are you are you drowning in debt or are you saving for the future? Are you squandering a lot of money on things you don't need? Or are you hoarding money because you you you're you're scared and you think that hoarding money will give you will give you security, your personal economics, It's going to reflect what you think is valuable.

[00:07:38] The household's economics, the economics of every household is going to reflect what the people in that household think is valuable. So if a household is economically self-sufficient, it's its spending within its means. It's producing more than it consumes. So that it's making a net contribution to the economy. That household is is providing more value to the community than it is taking in. That reflects a certain idea of what is valuable, that working and serving others is valuable. Whereas a household that's again drowning in debt or not self-sufficient reflects a different set of values. It reflects people who value the satisfaction of their own desires. And short term thinking, shallow thinking, local economies. You know the economy. Have you ever thought about the economy of your neighborhood? You know, your neighborhood has an economy. Your town has an economy. Your. Your county has an economy. Your city has an economy. Your state has an economy. And you know your nation has an economy. All these these larger scale economies, again, the way we manage them and the way we behave within them reflects what we think is valuable. What kinds of things do we think are valuable? And if if we set our sights on serving others and making the world a better place, we're going to be creating real value, solid, lasting value that will that will work. The economy will work. Whereas if we place value on satisfying our short term desires, then we're going to make different choices. We're going to spend differently, we're going to work differently, we're going to trade off differently, buy and sell differently. And as a result, the economy will collapse because we're not making the right choices, because we're choosing to value the wrong things. And this brings us to the sticky subject of value and money.

[00:09:35] Unfortunately, there is a deep, deep tendency in human nature to just conflate value with money and think that money is the same thing as value. And people tend to focus on money for a variety of reasons. And it would really take a whole lesson just to go into all of that. And we don't really have time to go into all the reasons, but what we value determines how we use our money. What we value determines how we make our money. What we value determines how we buy and sell with our money, how we save our money or fail to do so. So money is not value. Money is something that is determined by what we value. I have a really a really fun illustration of this. I know a number of Christians who are economists, and one of them said to me, Economists are constantly asked if you know so much about economics, how come you're not rich? That's a question that economists, particularly professors of economics, who have a lot of undergraduates around who like to ask impertinent questions, they say, well, if you know so much about the economy, how come you're not rich? Well, you know, some economists are rich because that's how they choose to use their knowledge. But many are not a good chance that most are not. I haven't I haven't conducted a survey. But the thing is, that's not what they value in every case. And I would venture in most cases that their knowledge of the economy is not something that they gathered because they wanted to get rich. That's not what they value. I think that has certainly been the case for every Christian economist I've talked to and for most of the non-Christian economists, too.

[00:11:21] They didn't get into economics because they valued money. And the rest of us assumed that they did, because, again, we think economics is just money and there's nothing else to it. But I've heard this I've heard this from quite a few economists, this this question how come you're not rich? Because they made different life choices? Because getting rich is not what they value. They value other things. They value the opportunity to teach. You know, I have a friend who's an economist who recently transferred from a highly prestigious teaching college to a public university in a different part of the country. And. Whereas, he used to have mostly upper income students, now he has. Students who are mostly lower income and quite a few of them are the first people in their in their classes to ever go to college. And he said, I love it. And the reason I love it is almost everybody in my class wants to learn. Now, see, that's what he values. He values the opportunity to teach students who really want to learn. If you talk to any teacher, I've done enough teaching myself, I can tell you it's just a transformative difference if your students in the classroom want to learn. So my friend is he's an economist. He cares very much about money. In fact, he specializes in the study of money. That's the the branch of economics that he deals with. He's a macro economist, and monetary theory is a core part of his work. But that's not what he places value on in his life. And those are not the choices he's made. So I think we need to remember to look at value and remember that value is not money. Hmm. Money is a tool that we can use.

[00:12:58] We can use it to measure value. We can use it to exchange value. And we can use it to store value. So measuring value is pretty straightforward. If we need to have a measurement of how much something is worth, it's very hard to do that without a unit of money. Money gives us a useful way of measuring how much things are worth, and that can be very important in some context. Exchange is is really a critical function of money. Without money, we would have to barter for everything. You remember the example from a previous lesson where I said, You know, I make shirts and you make shoes and we serve each other because you can wear the shirts I make and I wear the shoes you make. Well, without money, we'd have to barter for everything. I would make shirts and then I would have to go trade shirts for a pair of shoes and trade shirts for a pair of pants and paid trade shirts for my chair and my table and my computer. You know, how many shirts would it take to get a computer out of somebody? You know how many shirts for that phone? How many shirts for that car? You know, barter it. You would just never be able to do almost any of the things that we take for granted every day that we can do. So money makes it possible for us to serve each other with our work through that system of exchange. I've been describing in the last two lessons how we're all part of this enormous system of exchange where we serve each other well. Money is really critical to making that happen. So it's a way of exchanging value with one another and it's a way of storing value.

[00:14:24] I create value through my work by making shirts. And if I save up money in the bank, then I can keep that value and then have it when I need it. Now, you know, hoarding is not a good thing to do, but in the modern economy, when you put money in the bank, it's not hoarded, it's invested back in the economy. So people can use it productively. So in the modern economy, saving money becomes a really helpful thing to do, not only for yourself so that you can be a good steward in your own household, have a nest egg ready. But also saving money serves the community in the modern economy because that money doesn't just sit in a bank vault. Scrooge McDuck is not in there in his bathing suit. Your coldness knows. And you know, we in diving, in the money, you know, in the modern economy, when you save money, it gets invested into businesses. So it's available for the use of the community. So so storing value becomes another use of money. But fundamentally, money is a tool that we use to manage value. It's a tool that we use to enable us to serve human needs. Valuing money for its own sake is a terrible evil. It's an illusion. Essentially, money is not value. Money is a tool that we use to to manage value. Once we've created it, it's we should not act like money is value. Like possessing money is well-being. Money is a tool that we can use to create well-being. But there's this deep illusion that people get tricked by and they begin. They begin to think that money is value. When money is is not value, and it leads into all kinds of problems. And this idea that money is value gets gets embedded in all kinds of places where we don't even expect it.

[00:16:15] So, for example, in a church, you might measure the success of your Thanksgiving Day ministry by how many turkeys do we give away? Right. So the more turkeys you give away, the more good you did. But is that true? Did you really create more value because you gave more turkeys away? You know, did you create more well-being? Are you loving people by giving away more turkeys? Well, maybe in some situations, but but more and more people are realizing it's not always the case that you can't measure well-being just by toting up the number in your church budget under under the diagonal ministry. It's not necessarily the case that the more money you gave away, the more good you did. And so this idea that money is value, that money is well-being can be very assiduous. It's not just on Wall Street that people have these illusions. So we can't be too careful. We can't be too vigilant against this illusion that money is well-being. We should really be constantly on our guard against that, that powerful illusion. No, I didn't. I've been talking about value, but I said that this lesson is about value creation. So what is value creation? If value is a way of talking about what people think is good, what people think will create well-being for themselves and those they care about. How do we create value? Well, the key idea here is that our work does not just move stuff around. You work when you work, you use raw materials. And that can be very obvious. Like when you make a chair, you make it out of metal and wood and plastic or, you know, whatever you make it out of. But it's also when you provide services, you are manipulating raw materials.

[00:18:01] You are using things to do your work. But our work is not just taking these materials and moving them around. Our work transforms the materials that we work on and it transforms people as well. I'll give you a I'll give you an example of this. And the transformation that we do through our work creates value by making it more value valuable, by making raw materials more valuable. A pair of glasses is mostly sand. There's little metal in there. But let's, you know, let's look at the letting this look primarily at the lenses, right? The lenses in a pair of glasses is just sand. That's all it is. Well, what's the difference between a pile of sand and a product that can help the blind? See, Because a pile of sand cannot help the blind see? But a lot of people are blind without their glasses. So what is it that makes a pile of sand into a product that can bring sight to the blind? Well, it's human work. The difference between that pile of sand and that pair of eyeglasses which will bring sight to the blind is human work. Work took that sand and all the other raw materials that are involved, the metal and all that stuff and transform them. So that pair of eyeglasses is far more valuable than the pile of sand and all the other raw materials. Why is that? Why is it that a pair of glasses is so much more valuable than a pile of sand? It's because it creates well-being. You know that a pile of sand does not create, you know, glasses create good for people, you know, bring sight to the blind. That's good. It's valuable for that reason. So work creates value by taking raw materials and transforming them so that they are more valuable.

[00:19:51] So we're not just moving stuff around in the world and through our work because our work creates value. The total amount of value in the world, the total amount of wealth in the world gets bigger over time. You know, everything that you needed to make a pair of glasses was already in the world. Thousands of years ago. Everything that you need to make a phone or car or a television or, you know, the Internet or, you know, smartphones or, you know, there's probably some product that's going to be invented after I tape this lecture that you have that doesn't even exist at this point. When I'm sitting here at this desk taping this lecture. Where did that come from? All the raw materials you need for all those things have been in the world from the beginning, thousands of years. All that stuff has just been sitting around. The raw materials were all given to us. By God, we don't create from nothing. We create out of raw materials that were given to us by God. So why is it that there were no eyeglasses for so long? Why were there no cars? Why were there no computers? Why were there no smartphones? Well, it's because human work had not yet built up the amount of value in the world over time. This is a human civilization progresses. It allows the amount of value in the world to get bigger over time so that whereas thousands of years ago, we had lots of people who were blind and they couldn't see because we hadn't built up the technology of eyeglasses, whereas now we've built up so much value in the world that we can make the blind see and we can make the lane walk through our work, through the value we've built up over time as the human community and all of the particular human civilizations in history have built and built and built through human work.

[00:21:48] But it's not just work that creates value. Economic exchange, buying and selling, hiring and investing and entrepreneurs who create new economic activity. All that also is is is value creating. It's fruitful when it serves human needs because economic exchange moves products and services and things from the people who who need them less and value them less to the people who value them more. So I'll give you an example. Let's say that it costs a company $500 to make a washing machine. I don't know what it costs, but let's let's say that and let's say that I get $700 worth of value out of having the washing machine, and that would those would be fairly reasonable numbers. And let's say that the price of the washing machine is $600. So the company, when it sells the washing machine to me is transferring something that it it values it $500 because that's how much it costs to make and getting $600. So the company is better off because of that transaction. Meanwhile, I'm paying $600 and I'm getting over a washing machine that is worth $700 to me. So I'm better off. The company that that exchange, the buying and selling created $100 worth of value for the company. And it also created a higher. Dollars worth of value for me. Now, again, we have to be careful when we use an example like this. The dollars are not the value. Just like I said a moment ago, we don't want to fall into assumption that just because money increased, value increased, that's not necessarily it's not always the case. And the point of the economy is not to just rack up as much money as we can. That's not the idea. The idea is to create as much value as we can for each other because we love each other and we want to serve each other.

[00:23:47] We want to maximize the value we create. But if we're going to talk about that and illustrate it and give examples, we usually have to use money in those illustrations. That's an example of measuring value using money. So while the money is not the value that that example shows how economic exchange by moving things from one person to another, it created value for people. So all this shows us why value creation is so important to an understanding of work and to an understanding of economics. Each of us personally needs to work and engage in economic exchange, like buying and selling in ways that create value for for others, for ourselves and for others for people. Again, this is just another way of saying that we are stewards who cultivate flourishing for people. We're stewards and our job is to encourage flourishing for people because we love each other. Well, we should work in ways that create value for others, that create what we what we have determined is well-being for others. Again, it doesn't matter if you're making car parts or sweeping floors, cutting hair, if you're doing medical research, or if your job is to preach sermons, whatever you do, a key part of your work is to create value for other people because you love them and you want to be a steward who creates flourishing. And again, not only our work, but also economic exchange. When we buy and sell, and when we hire and invest and do all these other economic activities, we want to be good stewards. We want to do these things in order to create flourishing. Now, being a good steward of your own resources can mean getting the best deal you can, and there's nothing wrong with that.

[00:25:36] You know, if I go to the store and it says apples are $0.50 each or three for a dollar, it is not only okay. It is actually a duty for me to if I need three apples, I should take three for a dollar. I don't have to go up to the store and say, you know, I want you to have flourishing, too. So I'm going to buy the three apples of $0.50 apiece. You know, and I appreciate your offering them to me for three for a dollar, but I'm going to buy them at three for $0.50 a piece because I want you to have flourishing, too. You know, that's bad stewardship over the resources that God has given you. The store wouldn't offer him a three for a dollar if it weren't good stewardship for them. Because there are reasons why stores benefit from making offers like that. So it's again, as long as the store is offering it to you, it's it's an exchange that benefits you both. But we we want to refrain from deceiving people or exploiting people because we have a position of power or in some other way manipulating or tricking people so that we can take their value away from them. That's the key distinction. We want to engage in exchanges that create value for both sides rather than trying to use power or trickery or fraud or exploitation to try and take value away from other people. We want to be engaged in exchanges that are creating value for for both us and others. But again, and this is a theme you'll recognize from the previous lessons, our personal lives are not enough. Our social systems matter, our relationships matter. Households, businesses and neighborhoods, towns, cities and the economic system of the nation as a whole need to prioritize value creation in our work and in our exchange.

[00:27:23] And part of what makes that challenging is our idea as people of faith, our idea of what is valuable love for others, virtue and right relationships flourishing in that holistic or robust sense where people have everything that's good for them to have and not just money and stuff. Our idea of what's valuable is in competition with materialistic values that prioritize having money and stuff and that think that having money is having well-being. So it's a challenge for us. But but we can't be passive. We can't just sit back and just be content to live our own lives in a way that reflects our values and our knowledge of what is good if we're because being human means being part of these social systems. Being human means being part of the people group and part of the nation and part of the town and the local community and the neighborhood and the household and the business. So it's important for us to infuse our knowledge of what is really good into these cultural systems. By the way we live, by the way we work and by the way, we share our wisdom about economic systems and businesses and how they should how they should operate as stewards. Now, that's a huge challenge and there's a lot involved in that. And how value creation relates to culture and to institutions and to economic systems is what we're going to be looking at more specifically in the next lesson.

Log in to take this quiz.