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The Independent Critic

 Is "Economics for Everybody?": An Interview with Theologian R.C. Sproul, Jr. 
Dr. R.C. Sproul Jr. has focused much of his lengthy teaching and writing ministry on wolrdview issues, apologetics, family matters and economics. He is a teaching fellow at Ligonier Ministries, professor and lecturer at Ligonier Academy in both Reformation Bible College and Doctor of Ministry programs, and is the founder of Highlands Ministries. With undergraduate degrees in literature and philosophy, Sproul earned his M.A. in Theological Studies from Reformed Theological Seminary and his Doctor of Ministry from Whitefield Theological Seminary. He founded Highlands Ministries in 1996. A frequent writer and commentator on issues affecting Christians and culture, Sproul has written numerous books, including Biblical Economics: A Commonsense Guide to Our Daily Bread (2002). Dr. Sproul recently talked to The Independent Critic about his new 12-part DVD series "Economics for Everybody" and why economics is such an important subject for Christians to understand and integrate into their faith journeys.
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The Independent Critic

I guess I will start off with a basic question. I'm sure you've heard it a million times before. Why is this so important for the Christian community? What made you create this?

Dr. Sproul

We created this because we were persuaded that these were issues of great importance. They're very practical issues for not only Christians but that the broader world has to deal with day by day. We begin with the premise that the Bible equips us for every good work and work is a good work. Buying and trading and selling are all good things. We wanted to look and see what kind of principles the Bible presents to us and see if we can help Christians get their cues more from God's Word than from the world around them particularly in these times of economic hardship. People are beginning to ask the kinds of questions that we believe the Bible has the answers to.

The Independent Critic

Do Christians generally get it? What made you feel like this was something that Christians really needed to hear? If it's a biblical teaching isn't it already integrated into our faith journey? Are you finding that people are surprised by these teachings?

Dr. Sproul

I think that people are surprised, but what they hopefully discover is that we're sort of connecting the dots between what they already knew and what they're learning.  It is a surprise in the sense that we expect people to have a lot of "Aha!" moments - "I've never looked at it that way" or "I've never thought about it from that perspective." We're not going back to square one and undoing the almost fundamental basics. We've taken information from the world perspective and we've compared it with the Bible. It should change how we look at things, because the Bible is true and the world is not.

The Independent Critic

I'm about halfway through seminary myself. As I was watching your series, I became aware that this could be a very important subject for pastors who deal with these types of issues every single day. I was also aware that I've not had any classes that have really addressed economics or anything along these lines. This is valuable information for pastoral leadership.

Dr. Sproul

Jesus told us to pray "Give us this day our daily bread." It would seem to me that laymen and pastors ought to have some concept of answers for this prayer and how these things actually work and can understand that even the most doubtful or skeptical person can recognize that economic issues quickly become ethical or moral issues speaking of the rights of ownership, liberty and the like. Who is better to help people on true ethical issues and the ethical perspective than pastors? I'm surprised you haven't had any classes like this, and I'm disappointed. A simple thing like going through these twelve lessons can really go a long way for pastors and young men preparing for ministry.

The Independent Critic

I really found myself looking at the myriad of ways that you can use this information because it's simple but it's not simple.

Dr. Sproul

It's understandable. I don't want to say it's counter-intuitive, because it's not intuition that's giving us bad directions. It's counter-cultural. It's controversial. It's pushing against the world. We can't begin to draft how much of our own world is shaped by the world around us. Romans 12:2 " And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God." That means we're supposed to think God's thought not John Maynard Keynes' thought.

The Independent Critic

One of the things I most appreciated about your series is that for me, someone who doesn't grasp logical or mathematical concepts easily, I understood a good majority of what you were presenting.

Dr. Sproul

People tend to think of economics as dominated by math, charts and graphs. There's a reason that people sort of fear it. They think it's going to be profoundly boring. Really, it's ethical issues. What does honesty look like? What does integrity look like? How do honesty and integrity look like in the context of buying, selling and trading? It's sort of like logic. We all think in economic terms. We all make economic decisions. We all take information about the broader economy. What I'm trying to do is take one step back and ask "What do we know?" and "What does the Bible say to us about these broad principles?" How does that shape what we're hearing on the radio and the decisions that we're making about the things that God places under our care?

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The Independent Critic

I really respected your ability to just be blunt about stuff.

Dr. Sproul

(Laughing) That's my spiritual gift.

The Independent Critic

It is a gift. We live in a time when political correctness has sort of run a bit amok. Some of these things we do really need to say and we may not necessarily want to hear.

Dr. Sproul

Yeah, that's right. There's a issue with political correctness as you describe it when we won't call a spade a spade. What we end up doing is covering over our own sins. We think we're being gentle when we're really being gentle with our conscience. What we're really doing when we're supporting this program or that program is we're really asking the government to go next door with a gun and take from our neighbors. This is not harsh. This is not hyperbolic. This is accurate. We talk about a sixteen trillion dollar debt. This is not unkind or ungracious or politically motivated. It's a genuine issue. It's hard for people to get their mind around a number as big as sixteen trillion dollars. That amounts to $148,000 for every American taxpayer. That's how much more the American government has spent than they have taken from us. So, to get the debt paid off each American taxpayer has to pay an additional $150,000. It's not good out there.

The Independent Critic

You get into a lot of those types of issues in this series. You cover a lot considering the 12 lessons are mostly between 15-25 minutes per lesson.

Dr. Sproul

They are. It was very well designed. We worked with the producer Thomas Purifoy. He did a lot of the planning of each lesson. Of course, he's also the one who stuck in a lot of the fun cartoons and silent movies. His gifts are really something else. He really brought an awful lot to the table. All I did was stand up there and talk about economics briefly. He's the one that makes this material so that people can take it in. Actually, it's easy to create something that's easy for people to consumer but not easy to make something that's easy to consume but also good for you and provides genuine energy and wisdom. I'm just really grateful for my friend Thomas's work on this, as well.

The Independent Critic

Can you talk a little bit about the study guide that goes with this series?

Dr. Sproul

Sure, it's another part of the equation. It's a way to carry the series with you. It tends to be much easier to reference and to go back to find the particular spot that you want to find. Video is a whole lot more difficult in that way. Essentially what this does is it has study questions and outlines of the lectures. What it does is it puts in your hands a handy reference of what you've learned that you can carry around with you. By going through it, it also helps make it more natural. I guess you could say it pushes against the distracting element that comes with the cartoons and film clips and all of that. It strengthens your ability to retain and take ownership of what you're learning.

The Independent Critic

I hope I ask this question correctly. Let's say someone watches this series and suddenly they find themselves feeling convicted. Maybe they're saying to themselves "I'm not approaching this correctly" or "I could do this differently." How would you see someone changing from the experience of viewing this series?

Dr. Sproul

The first thing I would like to see in such a person is that they would take greater joy and ownership of their own work. We sort of begin with the premise that God owns everything and we're stewards of His work as it talks about in the dominion mandate in the book of Genesis. All of this is supposed to be about manifesting the glory of God and the glory of what He did in creation. So, the first thing I'd like to see is for people to have a renewed zeal and passion about the work. Too often in the church describe their work in this way "I have this secular job so I can make money so I can stay alive so I can do ministry." If you've ever hired anyone to fix a broken pipe or to fix a window, I'm thinking "This is service. This is ministry." This is genuinely helpful. This is something that I'm grateful for. Secondly, there's some fundamental wisdom. The first emphasis is God owns everything. The next is that we prosper in so much as we consumer less than we produce. Then, we get into poverty which is where we consume more than we produce. That's a disaster for the individual, the family, the neighborhood, the company, the government. You cannot thrive if you continue to spend more than you make. So, I'd like to see that change. I'd like to see that same principle sort of spread. I'd like to see us as Christians love our neighbor enough that we're not asking the government to take from them. Christians should be known as the people who are not lining up for the free bread and services from the government. We're the ones who are committed to providing for our families and providing for those who need outside the family. It's a hard thing. I'd like to see churches when they have someone who is having a hard time be able to help those people in Jesus' name instead of treating deacons like social workers who take them down to the local government office to sign up for services. So, those are some of the kinds of changes I'd like to see.

One of the things I'm talking a lot about as I talk about the series is the Sodom Principle. Everybody's familiar with the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. We have sort of competing narratives about what happened there. We have people more to the left theologically who have the difficult task of arguing that God destroyed Sodom because they were inhospitable. I wouldn't want to have to defend that position. Then, there are people who argue that God destroyed Sodom because of the particular sin that they were caught up in. I think if you look at the Bible there's a whole different reason. The reason that God destroyed Sodom is because Abraham couldn't find ten righteous men. If he had, the city would have been spared. While I'm certainly in favor of people being politically active, I want us to understand that the economy will thrive and prosper more when we have just a few Christians who are being salt and light.

The Independent Critic

You wrote a blog post that I read a couple weeks ago that I thought tied in really well to this. In fact, I remember reading it and wishing that we were going to be chatting sooner. It was on gratitude. It really brought out some of the same feelings that I got from watching your series.

Dr. Sproul

Well good.

The Independent Critic

I thought it was very cool.

Dr. Sproul

Something as basic as recognizing the connection between God and his creation so that when you go off and work you know that you're working in your Father's garden. When you look at the bread on your table, you see it as the answer to your prayer. In my own family, when we craft a family worship we pray a prayer of gratitude that we are surrounded for all this delicious food. This is God at work. To recognize God in all that we do would do so much for the level of joy in our lives, our work and our homes.

Economics for Everybody: Applying Biblical Principles to Work, Wealth and the World is now available through Ligonier Ministries, Compass Classroom, Christianbooks.com, Amazon.com and other outlets. You can buy it directly from this page by clicking on the Amazon banner advertising the collection! For more information on Dr. Sproul, visit the Highlands Ministries website.

© Interview by Richard Propes 
The Independent Critic

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