Theologians are in a tricky place. We are trained to reason about God himself. Yet, we are also trained to reason about the world and the many dimensions of created existence. The latter often makes us feel as though we are qualified to give an expert opinion on anything under the sun, but we are not.
In reasoning about not only the triune God himself but also created things, it is vital to remember that, as theologians, we are positioned to reason about created things just sub specie Dei, ‘under the aspect of God’, or in relation to God. We rightly speak about the characteristics of the created order that follow immediately on its relation to its Maker, but we do not proceed in any direct way from ‘O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth’ to ‘Therefore, photosynthesis occurs by way of…’. As theologians, we do not have special insight into the immediate principles and operations of plant or animal life. Learning about such things would require that we, like anyone else, read a book about them.
Nor do we, as theologians, have any special insight into economics. As theologians, we can and should point out that God cares for the poor, according to Holy Scripture. As theologians, we must at the same time admit that this important note in the Bible gives us absolutely no clue as to whether the distinct and complex economic proposals of any given presidential candidate will in fact prove best suited to helping the poor earn a good living and look after their families.
Theologians need not refrain altogether from speaking about concrete economic issues. But our training as exegetes of the Bible and stewards of the church’s theological tradition cannot be the basis on which we stand when we choose to say that such-and-such a proposal will turn out well or badly. This means that, if we wish to speak about such matters, it must be with reference to the serious work of actual economists, not by lazily appealing to broad ethical principles as if that could directly settle something in the American political scene or should obligate all Christians to agree with one’s own preferred method of working out such broad principles in the complexities of contemporary society.
Theologians, whether you’re ‘feeling the (socialist?) Bern’, backing a candidate whose integrity and trustworthiness have been duly called into question on a number of fronts, or looking to (vacuously, and certainly least probably for TF readers) ‘Make America great again’ – can you feel the writer’s excitement about this year’s options? – do everyone a favor and give specific detail and argument whenever you wish to have credibility in speaking about specific economic proposals. Or, we might even (gasp!) sit back and let our brothers and sisters who know a thing or two about economic policy and history teach us something.