Economic Outlook: Turbulence Ahead, Put on Your Seatbelt
The use of economic thought and data as an apologetic may at first strike you as dry as a two-day-old toast. Still, as you press into the evidence, it will become more and more exciting as you begin to see the world and even your own economic activity through an entirely new perspective. Money―and our personal and collective use of it―can be examined to reveal our faith, or lack thereof, and God’s ever-present reality in our affairs. Our beliefs about God are a primary driver of culture, and that culture is a primary factor in the economy.
Chuck Bentley is CEO of Crown Financial Ministries, the largest Christian financial ministry in the world., examines this topic in his book Economic Evidence for God? Uncovering the Invisible Hand That Guides the Economy and Risen talked with him about the current, and future, economy. The stories he shares are fascinating!
Interviewed for Risen Magazine
Risen Magazine: It seems like every day I get a news alert regarding the economy, from gas prices sky rocking, to shifting 401ks, to inflation. So what are some simple steps that cannot only help us get through this time, but potentially have it work to our advantage, and dare I say thrive?
Chuck Bentley: A couple of things that are really easy, number one is the inflation rate is estimated to be at about 8 to 14%, depending on which expert that you talk to. And so that means if everything is rising in general, we probably need to adjust our spending by that much just to keep up with it. Meaning we may have to take that much out of what we’ve spent elsewhere in order to keep up with the price of gas and groceries and travel and all the other things that are really non-negotiable. So that’s just some simple math there. A lot of times people feel at the mercy of inflation, but you can truly make some adjustments and not feel the pain so great.
Secondly, if you have the ability to invest by rotating some of your investments into assets that do well because of inflation, then that allows you to keep up with it. For instance, owning a home is a good hedge against inflation. Real estate has been going up. I’m not sure what part of the country you’re in, but most people have felt the benefit of that recently. You can also move some of your investments in public companies, into things like commodities or oil and gas, things that are going to rise with inflation. That’s a real simple answer to that complicated question.
RM: I know Adam Smith’s invisible hand theory, but you present evidence for God guiding the economy in your new book. Talk about how Biblical principles can help us understand what’s happening in the world.
CB: Well, I think Biblical principles are the way to understand the economy. I like to define just a general term of the economy as a study in human behavior. We express our beliefs through the way that we deal with money. Our late founder, Larry Burkett, said that the way we manage money is an outward indicator of an inward reality of what we really believe in life. And so I wrote a story in the book about being in an Asian country, having a beautiful dinner one evening and walking back to my hotel, I saw these people squatted around a little, looked like hibachi grills on the sidewalk, and it turns out they weren’t hibachi grills, the people were actually burning money or what’s called joss paper. I said, “What in the world are they doing burning this money?” Well, they were burning money in hopes they were sending it to their dead relatives in need. And that practice in Taiwan alone is about 400 million U.S. dollars per year of purchasing this money that they then put into these little grills and burn it up.
It showed me the power of a belief system to change our financial behavior. If people are willing to do that, according to what they believe or have been taught, then it made me fully sensitized to the fact that we all do that. We all spend and use money according to what we believe about God. And the Bible speaks to every area of the economy, in my view, by defining what is reality. And if we don’t know what the Bible says about money and finances, then we don’t understand what reality is. Gordon Gekko [ficticious character in “Wall Street”] says greed is good. God said greed is bad. I know which one of those two I’m going to believe.
RM: So interesting about what is happening overseas… were there any other key moments that helped you to be able to clearly see God working in the economy?
CB: I would say there were two key events in my life that brought it to bear. The first was my personal experience in what I call the micro economy. They say the difference between a recession and depression is that in a recession is when a lot of people are getting laid off. A depression is when I get laid off. And so it becomes really personal [laughter]
And what happened to me was I was managing money according to the principles that I knew and grew up with. I have a business degree. I did my morning devotional in the Wall Street Journal. I subscribed to all the business journals and kept up with things like that. And I had set some financial goals in my life and suddenly those goals began to take over everything and money became a false God to me. I found my identity in money. My security was in money. All my time and energy and purpose was centered around acquiring more money. And as I started to read the scripture and just opened my heart to what God said about money, which I was ignorant of, even into middle age, I had to repent of my idolatry. I was allowing money to replace what God wanted to do in my life.
He’s the source of my security and my identity and my purpose in life. And I allowed him to be replaced. And so I repented of that and I began to put his principles to the test. If he said that giving was the best thing to do with money, I was going to become a better giver. If he said getting out of debt was the best thing to do with money, I was going to get out of debt. I really experienced the transformation of not only my finances, but my heart, my life, my marriage. And I drew closer to God recognizing that his ways are better than man’s ways. So that was the first defining moment. I said, “Oh my goodness, this has changed everything for me.” And I really encountered a deep, close, personal relationship with him through the micro economy being my own.
And then the second was meeting one of the world’s leading Chinese economists, who was sent to America to study the reason for our prosperity. And as an atheist communist, he concluded that it was Christianity. And through that research of the data of why we’re the most prosperous nation in the history of the world, he became a believer.
I read about him in the Wall Street Journal. And I just couldn’t believe that I totally agreed with his observations. He gave very careful academic understanding and underpinning of why Christianity leads to a growing economy. And it was some very important tenets. For one, his view is that wherever people worship a creator, they experience more creativity. I just so agreed with him, and I started praying for him. And I thought, “Lord, keep this man alive. He’s probably going to get taken out over there.”
It became very, very public. And in fact, he became quite famous. And by God’s grace, it was his fame that protected him. Because he was so visible and outspoken, which is such a great leadership principle, he wasn’t afraid to say what he really believed, that they really couldn’t take him out without massive, massive backlash. And so God protected him. And I was just a real student of his writing and what was happening and everything I could get my hands on. And that was 2008.
In 2010, I’m sitting at a conference in Orlando, Florida. A group of Chinese men come in and I think, “Oh man, maybe somebody there knows my friend, Dr. Peter Zhao, or the guy I’m praying for.” And I walk over to the table. I meet their translator, a very wonderful person from China. And she said, “Well, yes, I know him. I’m his secretary.” I couldn’t believe it. And so I blurted out, “Oh my goodness. I’ve read all about him. I’ve read his papers. I’ve read his research. I know his life story. Is he okay? Is he been harmed? Is everything okay with him? I’d love for you to tell him that I just admire him so much.” And I’m just jibber-jabbering away. And she finally stops me and she says, “No, I won’t tell him those things.” And I said, “Why? Is he okay?” And she said, “Well, he’s sitting right here.”
RM: I love it.
CB: And so God seated me next to the one person in China, out of 1.3 billion people, the one person that I was praying for was sitting next to me and he viewed the world the way I viewed the world. And it was confirmation that we needed to get this message out that you could meet and know God through economic principles. And that’s what the book is about.
RM: Speaking globally, we’ve all just been quarantined from the pandemic, that’s hopefully coming to a close, but that economic impact is deep and vast. I’m sure you know from the hoarding of toilet paper… supply chain issues are driving up prices and shopping patterns are changing overall, how do you think this will impact the near future?
CB: Well, I think if I can narrow that, just to an economic perspective, it’s going to be awhile before our supply chain heals. There are many people who I talk to in a variety of industries who are still waiting for the supply chain to correct itself so that things can “normalize.” For instance, the car market. Without chips, car prices are going to continue to remain high, volume is going to be much lower on sales because they’re having a backlog of parts that they need, and of course used prices for cars are completely upside down. So I think we’re going to see a prolonged supply chain disruption. I think it’s going to be at least another two years before we see some of that normalize. And that means that we’re going to have to deal with inflation for a longer period of time. I think we’re going to be in for a bumpy road.
I think it’s going to be important that we operate contrary to the world’s principles in order to navigate some of the turbulence. To me, I always appreciate it when the pilot comes on the air and says, “Ladies and gentlemen, there’s a little turbulence ahead. Why don’t you go ahead and put on your seatbelt?” And I think that’s my message for this time. We need to be prudent. We need to be very vigilant in understanding what is happening. No one knows the future, but the Bible tells us that we should always try to be prepared, that we shouldn’t be a victim of our circumstances by being paralyzed by fear.
RM: With the swift technology curve, students learning through zoom, people confined to homes, not getting as much social interaction, unemployment rise, to companies unable to fill positions, and the list goes on and on.. what effects do you think we will see years down the road with overall development and the workplace situation?
CB: I’ll give you some context. Because I’ve reached the senior years of my life, I have the advantage of seeing a lot of change over my lifetime. And I remember when the credit card was introduced. The first idea that you could take a piece of plastic to the store with you and just swipe it. Or at that time, it was a little bit more drastic than that, but you could use a credit card and then someone would send you a bill and you could take home those things right then. You didn’t have to write a check or pay with cash. And people were saying, “Oh, this is going to just disrupt the use of cash. We’re going to be cashless. This is going to happen so rapidly.” And I think from that perspective, I think these changes take more time than we realize. There’s still such benefit to in-person meetings. There’s such benefit to business being transacted in a relational basis. I think there’s a long, long continuation of what we’re used to.
And then I don’t think artificial intelligence is going to be as disruptive as rapidly as some people predict. I had a friend tell me that he thinks artificial intelligence is an important development in technology, but it’s only about as smart as an insect right now. It’s not really as smart as a human. And that you can’t really transfer wisdom into an artificial intelligence machine. And wisdom is sort of choosing the right path out of many options. Now it may be able to process a lot of options quickly, but wisdom is reserved for those who know and walk with God. So I’m not forecasting as much radical, fast change as maybe some others who maybe live in your part of the world and Silicon Valley may sense that is underway.
RM: How do you hope readers are changed after reading your book, Economic Evidence for God? Uncovering the Invisible Hand That Guides the Economy?
CB: There are a couple of ways that I really had in mind when I began to write the book. I wanted to speak to the person who maybe they haven’t been reached through other traditional forms of apologetic. It’s very common to use creation to express a reasonableness for faith in God. People use historic writings. They use theology. Sometimes people use science or archeology. I wanted people who are in the marketplace to look at it and think, “Maybe this guy’s right. Maybe the explanation for why these things are true really is the God of the universe.”
And secondly, that they would begin to experience God in a deeper way themselves. Once I began to relate my financial decisions to my relationship to the Lord, I grew closer to God. And because we make financial decisions every single day, it became a form of discipleship that was missing in my life. That discipleship was no longer planning a time once a week or going to church once a week and trying to get closer to God. I was able to relate those decisions to what I really did believe about him. And I learned to trust him on a day to day basis. So I hope others would take that away from reading this book.
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