Every Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!
A Biblical Answer to Economic Woes?
I’m reading The Poverty of Nations: A Sustainable Solution by Wayne Grudem (theologian) and Barry Asmus (economist). In it, they propose a solution to solving the world’s national economic problems from both an economic and biblical perspective:
The goal of this book is to provide a sustainable solution to poverty in the poor nations of the world, a solution based on both economic history and the teachings of the Bible.
The introduction sounds great, but I admit that I’m a bit skeptical about its scope. Is it really the case that the Bible may be treated as an economics textbook? Or perhaps the point is, instead, that we are to care for the poor and the rest is all economic theory. Anyway, it raises two primary concerns for me:
1. Does the Bible actually propose any sort of economic policy or am I going to get a bunch of verses pulled out of context to make the Bible into an econ textbook?
2. Is there such a thing as a list of 78 factors (the authors identified this many factors as essential to economic growth and stability) that could be applied to all countries everywhere and somehow solve all economic problems?
Now, I’m not at all far into the book (about 9% based on my Kindle), so it may blow me away. Perhaps the Bible will be used contextually and instead simply note how we are to care for the poor, etc. Perhaps the economic approach will make quite a bit of sense and be very adaptable. That said, I can’t wait to dive in and read more to see whether it may convince me. For now, what are your thoughts? Is there a “Biblical” Answer to Economic woes?
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Wayne Grudem and Barry Asmus, The Poverty of Nations: A Sustainable Solution (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013).
I share your skepticism, especially on the first point. The only two economic systems I can think of would be the “have God sign all the land and then revert back to original assignments every 50 years” of the Torah or the “all things in common” of Acts. Seems difficult to establish either one. I’m interested to see what they’ve come up with, though.
I’m 50% into the book now and the economic portions haven’t been bad. However, mere pages into the “moral/theological” section I’m finding blanket statements about how the Bible endorses free market, etc. I’ll see how it develops, but I’ll be saddened if it turns out the econ part is decent while the theological part is weak.
How about this? “One reaps what one sows.”
That simple Biblical principle is the root of capitalism. But the Bible makes it clear that economic woes will be put down the same way as all others: through the second coming of Christ to the planet Earth.
Or this one: “For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’”
Things like this are the reason I’m doubtful the Bible may be applied as an econ book. That’s not the point being made in texts like these.
So reaping what you sow is the basis of capitalism? I have learnt something here. At last I understand how little girls working in Bangladesh for 18 hours a day take home pennies while executives who have run banks into the ground and destroyed the money they were entrusted with walk off with a gazillion dollar pay out. They’re just reaping what they sow. So that’s all right then!
Or we could just follow Matthew 10:21 and “go and sell all you possess and give to the poor.” If everyone did that, the GDP would zoom toward infinity. Everyone would be poor one day and rich the next in chaotic alternation. I find it an intriguing idea that economists have unfairly neglected.
But if everyone did that, then who would be buying?
Moore may correct me if I’m wrong, but I suspect he was being sarcastic based on his other comments here. But hey, JM, come speak for yourself!
I think you are right to be skeptical of the bible endorsing any particular economic or even political plan. I do think there is biblical warrant however to work toward responsible creation care and system that is just. Responsible creation care is important for two reasons: first, it demonstrates that we deeply value and cherish the gifts God has given to us to steward and helps us to remember these things are not ours, they are simply on loan (Deut 6:10-12). Second, creation care is important because we conserve and preserve the earth and its beauty and natural resources for future generations to steward and enjoy God’s blessings (Gen. 2:15). As for a just system I believe that would include (but certainly not be limited to) ethically sourced and fair trade items as well as other measures to ensure livable wages. Economic Justice may sound like a “leftist” agenda however it is something that is talked about at great length in the old and new testaments. It is particularly strong in the writings of the prophets (Amos for example) and is at the heart of the covenant community. The new testament echoes this call for fair wages and in the vineyard parable from Matthew this notion is taken a step farther in demonstrating generosity to the point of unfairness. In any case, the Bible does have some things to say about how we steward the resources we have been given with particular emphasis on how we steward them in relation to each other. In my estimation this amounts to economic implications. Whether we as Christians encourage the consumers and businesses to take more personal responsibility (conservative approach) or lobby the government regulates these things (liberal approach) Christians can and should seek to influence the way in which the economy functions and can be confident that they have scriptural warrant to do so.
I wasn’t being sarcastic. I think this is something Christians must all ponder – how seriously can you apply Jesus’ statements to your practical life? Clearly he didn’t mean for everyone to sell everything, but then the question is who should, and why? Another troublesome line is “turn the other cheek,” which Christians hardly ever do. Nobody blames Christians for defending themselves, buy why did Jesus say this? It’s worth meditating over.
Maybe Jesus was only speaking to the few selected ones who will be saved. Those few are the ones who should sell all their material possessions and turn the other cheek, while the rest of the world pursues its doomed materialistic course. In that case, the reason Christ didn’t give us any economics lessons is because the material world doesn’t matter, and you should just store up your treasures in heaven.