Shrewd Money for the Sons of Light: How the Church Can Use Bitcoin for Eternal Purposes in a Fallen World
For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings. (Luke 16:8b-9 ESV)
It is the year 1452. A friend has invited you to attend a lecture on how to spread the gospel and build up the saints more effectively. When you arrive at the lecture, you discover not a theology lecture but a presentation about a newfangled technology called the printing press. You get up and leave in disappointment.
Don’t make that mistake today. Bitcoin is a newfangled technology, but it could potentially have as much impact on the world as the printing press. Christians in particular should be paying attention because of its near- and long-term implications for the church. The printing press enabled the church to disseminate information freely. Bitcoin may enable the church to use its resources freely to make friends for the kingdom (Luke 16:9).
Media coverage of Bitcoin and crypto may have left you confused, intimidated, turned off, or just totally indifferent. So why should Christians give any consideration to Bitcoin? First of all, Bitcoin forces us to think deeply about money, and Christians should have a robust biblical understanding of money. Second, Bitcoin has monetary properties that should be of interest to Christians both defensively and offensively—so we can be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves in our present society. And third, our current monetary system is broken, and it is rapidly being weaponized against Christians and others. The problems with our current system give us good reasons to consider our options.
We need to understand money before we can fairly evaluate the role of Bitcoin. An obvious place to start is Paul’s statement in 1 Timothy 6:10: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” This passage teaches us more than meets the eye.
Why does Paul talk about money here instead of possessions? He recognizes that money is dangerous because money is incredibly powerful. In fact, money may be the most important technology ever devised. Economists sometimes define money as the “most salable good”. Money is in a special category because it can always be converted into whatever possession or service that you want the most. And even if you don’t want anything right now, you know you’ll want something soon, and money can store value now and buy it for you later. People will always accept money in a transaction because it is readily exchanged for whatever product or service we want the most. Because of that, it is always as desirable and valuable to us as the product or service we want the most.
Think about what a blessing money is when used rightly. It frees us up to pursue our individual callings to rule and subdue according to our own specific gifts and opportunities. We don’t have to spend all our time learning how to make and do everything we need. Instead, we can focus on developing our own special skills and interests and then trade with others to obtain other goods and services we need. In turn, we can bless others with our special skills. Because money serves as a medium of exchange, we can trade effortlessly without the hassle of finding someone who not only has what we want but also wants what we have. When we go to the doctor, we don’t have to worry whether or not he’ll accept the tomatoes we’ve grown in our garden as payment. Without money we would be stuck in subsistence living with very little reason to develop special skills or machinery to bless others outside our own family.
Money gives us a means of saving for the future. Scripture calls us to set aside savings for tithing (1 Cor. 16:2) and for passing down an inheritance (Prov. 13:22). Money also allows us to save for uncertainties so that we can provide for our families (1 Tim. 5:8) and share with others (Eph. 4:28).
However, Paul understands that the very fact that money is so powerful means that it is also incredibly dangerous. It is not dangerous because it is inherently evil. The Bible has many positive things to say about the right use of money. Jesus used it multiple times in his teaching in positive ways, and Scripture provides many examples and directions concerning lawful monetary transactions. In some ways money is like sex. When used rightly, it is a great gift. But it can very easily capture our sinful desires and lead us into all kinds of evil. This is why Scripture repeatedly warns us about the dangers of money and riches.
Money is not only dangerous personally; it is dangerous societally. We need to apply our doctrine of total depravity to the way money operates in the public sphere. Money that’s easy to channel will be channeled for personal gain. Money that’s easy to steal will be stolen. Money that’s easy to use to control others will be used to control others. Money that’s easy to create and spend will be created and spent. All of these things are happening with our current monetary system, and it leads to massive evils in our society.
The ability to use money freely is essential to our freedom of speech, our freedom of religion, and our freedom of assembly:
- We need to pay for printing and other technologies that amplify speech.
- We need to pay for pastors and missionaries and the functioning of our churches.
- We need to pay for places to meet and worship, for electricity bills, etc.
- We need to save for large purchases and projects and for unforeseen expenses.
- At times we may need the freedom to flee unjust rulers and evil circumstances (Prov. 22:3, Luke 21:20-21).
It should not be surprising, then, to find that Satan exploits weaknesses in our monetary system and weaknesses in human nature with respect to money to attack and oppose the church, its mission, and its people. We need to be fully aware of his schemes.
The Federal Reserve controls the monetary policy of the United States. The Board of Governors consists of seven members. That’s a lot of power concentrated in the hands of a few people. They have the ability to expand the money supply by creating incentives for borrowing. When the money supply increases, the money you have in the bank loses value because it’s a smaller fraction of the total. Printing more dollars doesn’t create more real resources in the world that we can buy. It simply divides the claim on those fixed resources into more and therefore smaller pieces, making each dollar shrink in value and causing price inflation.
The federal government can sell bonds to finance spending, and this indirectly creates new money. Congress doesn’t even have to raise taxes to finance new spending. So our already bloated government grows without the discipline of imposing more taxes through the legislative process. In addition, the government exercises a stranglehold on our savings. Most of our money is in the custody of banks, which are subject to all kinds of rules that hinder our ability to use our money freely. Technically, when you deposit your money in a bank, the bank becomes the legal owner of the funds but has a contractual obligation to pay you back when you demand it. Governments—and more recently woke corporations—are increasingly using their power over our accounts to manipulate and punish us.
Our current monetary system is a ticking time bomb. The government owes more money than our country’s total economic output in a year, and we’re constantly digging the hole deeper. There are only three options: massively cutting spending, massively raising taxes, or borrowing more money to pay the interest and allowing inflation to run so they can pay the debt (or just the interest) in cheaper future dollars. We know there’s no political will for the first two options. And at some point the public is going to catch on to the inflation option. So our current system is in massive trouble.
We need better money. Students of the history and philosophy of money have identified several characteristics that make sound money. Sound money must be hard to make, or scarce, so people won’t just keep making more and dilute its value. Sound money must be permissionless so that it’s truly yours to use. If you own it you should be able to use it without someone else having to approve how you use it. We know that our current money fails in both of these respects. Our current money is inflationary, which leads in essence to theft of our savings over time. It is also permissioned, which limits our property rights and makes us vulnerable to our funds being frozen or confiscated if the government or a financial corporation decides they don’t like what we’re doing or what we stand for.
In addition to scarcity and permissionlessness, sound money should be easy to authenticate so that transacting with counterfeits is difficult. Sound money needs to be fungible—units are interchangeable. It should be divisible so you can use the same units for very large and very small transactions. Sound money needs to be durable so that it can store value over a long period. It should also have some level of portability to enable transactions between distant parties. An asset that has all these properties will make great money. But it must still grow in social acceptance to be widely useful as money, since money is inherently a social phenomenon.
Bitcoin is strong exactly where our dollar-based fiat system is weak. It is absolutely scarce and permissionless. Bitcoin is a system that creates digital units that can’t be counterfeited. They can be created only on a schedule that will gradually top out at a total of 21 million units.
How does Bitcoin accomplish this? It uses a distributed ledger, or blockchain, of all bitcoin transactions, duplicated many thousands of times in Bitcoin nodes all over the world. Any computer can participate as a Bitcoin node in verifying transactions or mining (finding a specific numerical pattern) for the remaining supply of bitcoin. The only requirements are that the results must be consistent with the existing blockchain and they must follow the established rules for verifying transactions.
This decentralized ledger and validation process means no one can rewrite the history—and therefore the ownership—without being detected. That prevents new coins from being created, and it prevents the same coins from being spent twice. Any node that tries to change the rules of the system will just be ignored. Bitcoin is ingeniously designed to incentivize its own continued survival and growth and has been doing so for almost 15 years.
You can hold your own bitcoin just by having a secret code called a private key. It is mathematically impossible to steal your bitcoin without access to the private key. So the government can’t confiscate your bitcoin, and the bank can’t freeze it. You could literally leave the country with a memorized code or the number hidden on a piece of paper and access your funds from another country. This is an ideal solution for Christians who may suddenly have to flee persecution.
Because of its digital nature, Bitcoin has all the other properties of sound money as well—verifiable, fungible, divisible, durable, and portable. In many ways it is a nearly ideal money. The only thing Bitcoin lacks is wide adoption. Bitcoin is still difficult to use because it is not widely accepted or trusted yet. Furthermore, the lack of large-scale acceptance causes it to be regarded as more of a speculative asset, which leads to a great deal of price volatility. The price of bitcoin has seen massive swings over its 15-year history, and that is enough to scare many people away. This is not a weakness of the design of Bitcoin itself but simply an evidence of where it is in the adoption cycle. No one would criticize the concept of telephones just because there were few people you could call in the early years.
People often ask how bitcoin can be worth anything. Market participants generally prefer to use a common medium of exchange rather than barter, which creates a demand for a reliable medium of exchange. Bitcoin is worth something because a well-designed medium of exchange is very valuable for free market transactions, and it becomes more useful and valuable the more people recognize its superior monetary properties. The market already recognizes the value of the whole supply of bitcoin at over half a trillion dollars. Bitcoin will grow in utility as more and more people discover and use it, and that will increase its market value.
Bitcoin is often confused with crypto, which is an unfortunate distraction. Crypto has become a catch-all term for all the technologies, projects, and digital tokens that have been inspired by Bitcoin and its core technology. But Bitcoin is not crypto. Putting them in the same category is like talking about the internet and a cat video app in the same conversation. They’re not the same. Bitcoin represents the invention of absolute scarcity. It is the original crypto asset. Over 23,000 crypto assets have been created, and most of them have already failed. Bitcoin has about the same market value as all the other active crypto assets combined. Many of them are scams and Ponzi schemes; bright lights attract big bugs. The relatively few that are serious are mostly trying to solve different problems from Bitcoin. Bitcoin was developed to solve the problem of money, which may be the most powerful technology known to man. It is far more important—and different from—a myriad of lesser financial and other problems that crypto is trying to solve, like a new way to take out a loan or a way to stake ownership of a JPEG.
Bitcoin can help us both defensively and offensively. On the defensive front, Bitcoin addresses three areas of concern about our savings:
- The inflationary nature of our system makes it impossible to preserve value in the long term by merely holding dollars. Our savings become gradually less valuable over time.
- The fragility of our system due to inflation, borrowing, and interest rate manipulation by the Fed exposes us to the risk of losing our savings in a bank failure—either our individual bank or the banking system as a whole.
- The custody of our funds by banks and financial institutions like Paypal expose us to the risk of having our funds confiscated or frozen as Christians and churches are more and more treated as enemies of society.
Bitcoin can be regarded as an insurance policy against all of these scenarios. Bitcoin is non-inflationary. It can also be safely self-custodied by holding a private key. Bitcoin held in self-custody is not exposed to institutional or system-wide collapses, and it protects from government or corporate interference with our assets.
On the offensive front, Bitcoin is a more just, sounder monetary system than our present system. It is designed with a better understanding of fallen human nature. No central authority can create money in this system, and the final amount of money is fixed. Bitcoin can’t be used to grow government without explicit taxation. No one can manipulate others for their own gain by threatening to take or freeze our bitcoin. With bitcoin, people can transact with one another without first having to develop trust. So individual callings can be pursued, specialization can grow, and beneficial commerce can increase with less friction. Love for our neighbor calls us to advocate for more equitable institutions and technologies such as Bitcoin.
No monetary asset has ever been more open and equitable than Bitcoin. Anyone can look at the code and verify the rules. These rules are the same for all. Anyone can set up a node and verify bitcoin transactions. Anyone can mine bitcoin. Bitcoin has no insiders, no president, no board. It protects people from the rich and powerful and blesses society with near-frictionless transactions that require no knowledge or trust between parties. Its current value is real, and its potential future value to society is inestimable.
It is not unlikely that we will experience significant turmoil or a collapse of our broken monetary system. In that circumstance, Christians who understand sound money may be able to take the lead in ushering in a sounder monetary system. Having and understanding bitcoin will give Christians the opportunity to demonstrate mercy to those who suffer from this and to point to a better alternative. Just as the printing press unleashed and protected access to truth, Bitcoin has the potential to unleash and protect access to money and property.
Because Bitcoin is still in a very early, immature phase of adoption, the price can be quite volatile. In fact, Bitcoin has lost over 80% of its value three different times in its 15-year history. This creates a significant challenge for those who would like to employ Bitcoin as a savings vehicle. Two considerations can help us here. First, even though the price is quite volatile, the general trend has been significantly positive. The price has tended to move in a four-year cycle that corresponds to a programmed reduction every four years in the rate at which bitcoin is mined. In the history of Bitcoin, the price has always been higher over every possible four-year period. That is, you could have bought bitcoin at any time in its history and four years later it would be worth more. In most cases, it was worth dramatically more. Because of this, bitcoin is best used as a long-term savings vehicle, with the intention that it won’t be needed for at least four years.
The second consideration is that bitcoin doesn’t have to be your entire savings. A 5% allocation can be regarded as an insurance policy. If the price falls dramatically, you can sleep at night knowing that only 5% of your funds are subject to this fluctuation. On the other hand, if our entire banking system implodes, that 5% hedge might grow dramatically in value as people rush to an alternative system. Since the supply doesn’t increase with growing demand, the only possible result of increased demand would be an increase in price.
Christians need to think more deeply, biblically, and shrewdly about money. Our monetary system is sick, unsuitable for use in a fallen world, and increasingly weaponized against Christians and Christian organizations. Bitcoin provides a promising way to defend ourselves as well as provide a positive alternative.
Be aware that this article is only intended for your education. It is not financial advice. Action should only be taken after due consideration, study, and discussion with a trusted financial professional.
Bitcoin has many facets and implications that can’t be adequately covered in a single article. Anyone interested in Bitcoin should undertake a process of self-education that precedes any financial decisions. If you would like to explore Bitcoin further, I recommend these resources:
Thank God for Bitcoin: The Creation, Corruption and Redemption of Money, Jimmy Song et al., Whispering Candle, 2020
Thank God for Bitcoin. An organization for educating and equipping Christians to use Bitcoin for the glory of God and the good of people everywhere
The Bullish Case for Bitcoin, Vijay Boyapati, 2021. You can also access an extremely helpful article-length version of the book
The Bitcoin Standard: The Decentralized Alternative to Central Banking, Saifedean Ammous, Wiley, 2018
Bitcoin and the Bible Podcast, https://bitcoinandthebible.com/ — a series of 26 episodes that masterfully explores the rationale for Bitcoin from a Christian worldview, the economic arguments, the practical implications, and the mechanics of getting into Bitcoin