Tomorrow the book I co-wrote with Mike Breen comes out. It’s called Oikonomics and it’s all about how Jesus taught his disciples to invest their time, energy, and money. In it we outline what we’ve come to call the Five Capitals. I wanted to take a post to outline the Five Capitals.
As we look at Scripture, the life of Jesus, and our own lives, we notice at least five forms of capital revealed. Capital refers to the goods or assets we have in our possession that we can invest. Economies are built on the exchange of capital. We normally think of capital in terms of monetary value, but there are all kinds of other capitals that economists identify and theorize about. The world essentially “works” as a network of relationships where we invest particular kinds of capital in particular ways.
Jesus seemed to have a specific way of looking at capital and the realities of economics. As usual, though, he takes us beyond our normal ways of thinking and teaches us how life and capital work in the bigger picture of life with God (or, as the Bible calls it, “the kingdom of God”). We normally think of capital as money, but it’s quite a bit more than that.
We outline these more fully in the book, of course, but here are, in brief, the Five Capitals we see revealed in Scripture, listed from lowest value to highest value.
5. Financial Capital
This is simply the money we have available to invest, measured in dollars and cents, pounds and pennies, etc. We are most familiar with this one, because we work with it every day. It’s neither good nor bad, it’s simply a resource we have available to invest. Jesus talked about money quite a bit, recognizing its place in the world as a form of capital. We can turn it into an idol, of course, if we are relying on it for significance or security, but when it is in its right place, it is simply a form of capital that allows us to invest in other capitals that are worth more (read on!).
4. Intellectual Capital
This is the creativity and knowledge we have available to invest, measured in concepts and ideas. This is of higher value than financial capital, because you can’t create ideas and creativity simply by spending a lot of money. Jesus possessed an astonishing level of intellectual capital, which he used often in his mission. In the culture of his day, Jesus was recognized by the crowds, his disciples, and even his enemies as a Rabbi, which means “teacher” or “master.” Jesus wasn’t just a holy person who prayed a lot—he was also a smart person who thought a lot. As Dallas Willard has said, “Jesus wasn’t just nice, he was brilliant!”
3. Physical Capital
This is the time and energy we have available to invest, measured in hours and minutes. It comprises the time we make available for tasks, projects, and relationships, as well as the capacity we have to use that time. Our overall health comes into play here, because it greatly affects our ability to invest our time and energy. This things like getting proper rest and living in a rhythm of life that allows us to both work hard and rest is essential if we are going to steward our long-term physical capital. Jesus shows us how to do this when he teaches his disciples how to rest and abide so they can bear fruit.
2. Relational Capital
This is the “relational equity” we have available to invest, measured in family and friends, the quantity and quality of our relationships with others. Having family and friends is extremely valuable, and the amount of relational capital we have accrues to us in many ways, from our overall sense of well-being and happiness to more tangible ways. We see Jesus invest his physical capital to grow his relational capital with his disciples, for example. In fact, none of the other capitals can actually grow without a relationship of some kind. Jesus invested quite a bit of time in just a few disciples, deepening his relational capital with them, because he knew they would need it for the “job” he was going to give them.
1. Spiritual Capital
This is the “spiritual equity” we have available to invest, measured in wisdom and power. We see people astonished at Jesus’ teaching, because it was filled with authority and wisdom, and his miracles, because they expressed a degree of God’s power that they’d never seen before. Jesus was “rich” in spiritual capital. That’s what he “had” that gave him the resources necessary to carry out his mission, which was to open up the doors of the kingdom of God to everyone.
We see Jesus constantly urging people to trade in other forms of capital to gain this one. For Jesus this is the ultimate “payoff” of living as his disciple: you grow your spiritual capital, which is of the highest value of all the capitals. When Jesus talked about life in the kingdom of God and how it was worth cashing everything else in for, he was talking about a life rich in spiritual capital. When Jesus talked about eternal life, he wasn’t just talking about long-lasting life—he was talking about a life rich in spiritual capital that lasts forever. The kingdom of God and eternal life are like code words to refer to a life filled with spiritual capital.
In fact, you could say that Jesus’ whole mission was to help people prosper in spiritual capital (and through spiritual capital, all the other capitals). His message was that through relationship with him, anyone could become “wealthy” in spiritual capital. Isn’t that an interesting way to think about it? That was actually the gospel, or “good news” that Jesus announced to people, that the true wealth of a life with God in his kingdom was the most valuable thing anyone could hope to obtain, so it was therefore worth every sacrifice required to obtain it. It’s like a treasure a man found in a field. In his joy, he sold everything he had and bought the field!
The life Jesus calls us to is actually a life of investing in these five capitals, which yields an “abundant life” that is flourishing and blesses others because it is “rich toward God,” as Jesus said.