Tag Archives: economics

Book Review: The Economics of Neighborly Love: Investing in Your Community’s Compassion and Capacity, by Tom Nelson

The Economics of Neighborly LoveI expected there to be some overlap of between Tom Nelson’s The Economics of Neighborly Love: Investing in Your Community’s Compassion and Capacity and the arguments and jargon used by the Institute for Faith, Works, and Economics. What I did not expect was to read a book full of claims, anecdotes, and quotes with very little support for the thesis. Nelson wrote this book to encourage people to use free-market capitalism to love their neighbors with Jesus; it is written, however, in a manner that requires the reader to already understand what he’s talking about and to already agree with it. Written to encourage “human flourishing,” Nelson does not articulate what “human flourishing” means. Rather than use evidence and hard data to support claims made in the book (he does use some Bible passages in and out of context to support a few things), Nelson uses quotes from others to say the same thing, but does not quote the data and reason for what other authors have written.

I certainly do not mean to imply that there is nothing good in this book—there is; but I would not recommend anyone spend money on this. While one may argue certainly argue that we continue to speak, write, and do things despite there being “nothing new under the sun,” I found no reason to read this book over the better reasoned, supported, more concise, readily available, and accessible material that already exists. Instead of writing the book, a blog post of overarching claims and a short bibliography would have been more helpful so that people may actually discover for themselves what it is Nelson desires them to understand. To that end, I would simply suggest perusing the IFWE website and reading the oft quoted When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor…and Yourself by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, which will certainly serve any reader well.

 

*I received a temporary digital copy for review from InterVarsity Press via NetGalley.

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Book Review: Just Capitalism: A Christian Ethic of Economic Globalization, by Brent Waters

Just CapitalismIn Just Capitalism: A Christian Ethic of Economic Globalization, Brent Waters argues in favor of a transition from nation-states to market-states as our current best economic option from his perspective as a Christian moral theologian. Several problems quickly arise in this text. I provide the following examples:

 

Problems with Waters’ Method:

1) Beginning with the introduction and extending throughout the book, statistical data is manipulated to support the author’s argument.

2) The author’s arguments are overly simplistic, as he acknowledges throughout, but urges the reader to be patient because he will eventually bring it all together in a fuller and more convincing manner. He eventually does not.

3) Examples of others’ arguments are most often on extreme ends of spectra, would likely not be used by critical thinkers today, and do not adequately address concerns of nuance lacking in the author’s own arguments. All too often it is stated that there is not enough time or space to work out much-needed nuance and the reader is simply referred to a number of other texts via footnotes.

 

Problems with Waters’ “Christian Moral Theologian” Perspective:

1) “Human flourishing” is defined by a particular “Christian” economic and political view that is more “of this world” in favor of the “haves” obtaining more to potentially aid the “have nots” than it is about following Jesus in the kingdom of God as it is now. It is argued that all should be able to meet their desired needs and wants, that this is impossible within any nation or community anywhere in the world, and thus global trade is necessary for “human flourishing” as defined by the author. This is simply ignorant of how many places in the world function and assumes everyone’s “wants” are going to be “good.” This also makes unnecessary the provision of God over and above our own efforts, something for which God has often chastised his people.

2) It is rightly argued that affluence is not usury (obviously, by definition) and can, given the right circumstances, be a good. However, any Christian theologian should know and take into consideration that not all are set on the same path, that we are not all called to have “more than enough” in this life, and that living according to the Way is primarily seen by taking up one’s cross, living humbly, and following Jesus’ example of sacrifice, all while relying on God and not oneself for provision. This should not be taken to mean that we do nothing, but the arguments in this book have little to do with the potential workings of God and, subsequently, a “Christian” moral theology.

3) The reader is expected to take the author’s argument that the Spirit can work through capitalism and globalization as evidence for their being the best way forward. This argument, however, has been and is used for many programs and methods Christians desire to perpetuate and need to stamp with approval—a tactic of “the end justifies the means” that ignores the fact that God can and does work in the darkest places that we cannot even imagine without justifying that darkness as “the best way forward.”

 

Problems with Waters’ Idealism Conveyed as Pragmatism:

1) For the author’s argument to work, all of the world’s kingdoms and nations would need to move to market-states simultaneously and be concerned with one’s neighbor in the same manner (as argued, that would necessarily entail one taking care of oneself and making sure oneself has more than enough before aiding one’s neighbor). It is accepted that not everyone will act as a Christian and that people will be hurt and oppressed in this system, even by Christians, but that it will be a smaller percentage than any other conceived way forward.

2) Any system argued against can be (and often has been) in similar fashion to the author’s idealism and come out as “the best way forward.” If everyone cared for one’s neighbor as Christian’s ought, then Socialism and Communism could both potentially work quite well (remember, we cannot deny the Holy Spirit can work through [insert preferred system], right?)—arguably even better than capitalism given its bent toward greed rather than love of one’s neighbor. That is not to mean that all capitalists are selfish, greedy individuals, but it certainly opens the door to that possibility at least as much (probably more) than to loving one’s neighbor.

3) Given the author’s concerns for the neighbor, there are several non-capitalist and non-free-market exceptions that are found to be necessary goods for the overall system to work (e.g., a socialist education system and unspecified government intervention with trade, the environment, and community are included), which should prove obvious to any reader that the ideal system does not work if it cannot work.

4) The author admits in his final chapter that if he is wrong about the environment and the overabundance of natural resources believed to exist to provide for our ever-increasing selfish desires for more and more energy/power, his entire argument falls apart. I don’t think we need to wait to see the failure.

 

My wife is an economist; I’m a theologian. Though I have certainly gained insight into economic theory, systems, and jargon through my wife’s teaching and working through some of that with her in light of scripture, the lens through which I read this book is primarily that of a Christian theologian and what I believe to be honest, rational thinking. I concur with Waters that globalization can be a good and that giving people the freedom of choice and open borders (borders that are often militarily—or at least by the threat of violence—established) is a good thing. However, I believe this because God has given us all the freedom of choice and that violence is contrary to the way of Jesus (Waters comes from a more Reformed theological perspective, so we likely disagree on exactly what “choice” implies, and his pro-military stance is something I obviously believe to be contrary to proper Christian moral theology). I also don’t think this is something we can force upon others via one system or another. Entering the kingdom of God is voluntary (again, Reformed folks will disagree here); likewise, the way Christians live should demonstrate the same method of volunteerism.

 

Regardless of the system(s) in which we live, we (Christians) are first citizens of the kingdom of God who should love our neighbor no matter the degree to which we “flourish.” The ideal human flourishing described by Waters and many others awaits us in the gift of eternal life when there will be no more fighting, separation, heartache, or tears of any kind. Given the words of Jesus, I do not believe this can or ever will happen prior to his return.

 

*I received a temporary digital copy for review from Westminster John Knox Press via NetGalley.

Book Review: Money and Possessions, by Walter Brueggemann

Money and PossessionsWalter Brueggemann’s Money and Possessions is the most recent addition to WJK’s Interpretation series, and a most welcomed addition it is! An exhaustive analysis and articulation of what the Bible has to say about money and possessions is much too daunting a task, thus Brueggemann has by necessity been rather selective in the passages he addresses, though he does span the entirety of the canon. His “Introduction” serves well as a summary and conclusion (he does not include the latter), and would be an excellent primer for study and discussion. The rest of the chapters follow the Bible through its canonical order.

Brueggemann follows the theme of God’s economy over and against the world’s economy. There are certainly passages dealing specifically with “money and possessions,” but there is a great deal of Scripture that addresses life in regards to how we live in relation to these things even if not explicitly mentioned. The latter is where the real meat of this study lies, and it may prove difficult to digest by those who appeal to individualism and pulling oneself up by the bootstraps. Brueggemann’s insight into the pervasiveness of covetousness throughout Scripture will likely be the beneficial driving force of perspectival shift for many who study and apply this text.

Along with finding it in the libraries of Bible students and teachers alike, I foresee Money and Possessions being added to syllabi for business, finance, economics, and socio-political courses in Christian universities. Highly recommended.

 

*I received a temporary digital copy for review from Westminster John Knox Press via NetGalley.

Book Review: When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor…and Yourself (New Edition), by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert

When Helping HurtsThere was a time when I felt alone in my thoughts on the damaging effects and arrogance of many short-term mission trips. While working as a full-time missionary in a rural area of Central America, I’ve even been pushed to the side and encouraged to keep quiet about the perpetuation of a welfare state and divisiveness of a community by those visiting from my supporting congregation in the US. Once I was eventually completely silenced and pushed out of that work, I began to discover others outside of my own tradition had been wrestling with these things, too. We were (are) concerned with the long-term impact of short-term mission trips and were seeing a wake of cultural and theological devastation in the way things have been going. “White is right” and “money heals” has often been the practical approach, even if it is denied and described in other terms. Most of the people and teams I’ve come across do not lack good intentions; they do often lack humility and effectiveness.

Why did I begin with this specific experience? Most American church “missions” are focused on “the poor” (as perceived by the churches), and it is to this end (and further) that When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor…and Yourself by economists Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert has much to offer. Emphasizing an holistic approach to helping those in need, Corbett and Fikkert take into account the much disregarded economic factors in the way we “help” others, noting that we are often blinded to the reality of our doing more harm than good. Leaving behind the method of paternalism, the reader is encouraged to come alongside and work with others (not doing things for or to them), as well as recognizing that not all “poor” is created equal.

One of the principle equations used to demonstrate the harm done to both parties follows thusly: Material Definition of Poverty + God-complexes of Materially Non-Poor + Feelings of Inferiority of Materially Poor = Harm to Both Materially Poor and Non-Poor. The authors help the reader see the distinctions between relief, rehabilitation, and development, as well as the time and place for their relevancy and proper implementation, though always encouraging participation of the one being aided (if that’s even the right word to use for a given situation). Of course, the authors want to be clear of their intentions and note the following in this new edition:

Some of our readers have misunderstood the message of the first edition of this book to be: “Individuals and churches with financial resources should stop writing checks.” That is not our message. We do believe that individuals, churches, and ministries should rarely be simply “writing checks” or handing out cash or material resources directly to materially poor people. However, we also believe that individuals and churches that have been blessed with financial resources…should dramatically increase their financial giving to churches and ministries that pursue gospel-focused, asset-based, participatory development. The churches and ministries that are engaged in development work have a very difficult time raising the funds needed to pay for this highly relational, time-intensive approach, an approach in which there are not always clear measures of success or of the “return on the investment.” Development ministries need financial supporters who understand what poverty alleviation is really about—reconciling the four, key relationships—and who are willing to fund the long and winding process that must be used to get there. (233, emphasis original)

My wife had already read the first edition of this book, but I’m thankful Fikkert recently provided her with the latest edition and that it was passed on to me. It doesn’t provide all the answers, nor does it make such a claim; in fact, it should be used as an introduction to further processing and discussion among churches and religious organizations. For more information, the authors encourage checking out www.chalmers.org.

 

As an added plug, I was blessed to be able to participate in a private showing of the new documentary “Poverty, Inc.” while reading this book. They have much in common and I highly recommend it for both religious and non-religious institutions. The film has yet to be fully released, but you can look at hosting a showing in your area by visiting www.povertyinc.org.

Book Review: The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative, by Christopher J. H. Wright

The Mission of GodAfter a lecture given in 1998, Christopher J. H. Wright was approached by Anthony Billington and questioned “about the validity of using a missiological framework as a hermeneutical approach to reading the Bible. Is it possible, is it legitimate, is it helpful for Christians to read the whole Bible from the angle of mission? And what happens if they do?” (531). Thorough and dense, though still not exhaustive in its 535 pages, The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative is the result of Wright’s journey in attempting to answer those questions. Just as it changed Wright in the process, I believe the journey will aid its readers in understanding what it means to be part of the mission of God, that which Scripture exclaims in its entirety.

Divided into four parts (The Bible and Mission, The God of Mission, The People of Mission, and The Arena of Mission), The Mission of God progressively brings the reader into the biblical narrative and a better understanding of what it means to be a fellow pilgrim in God’s creation as intended by our Creator, recalibrating our posture from one of self-focus to God-focused participants in the continued narrative of God’s mission. I strongly recommend reading through the book in its entirety—it’ll take a while—in order to fully appreciate the journey as intended, but there is a detailed outline at the beginning and lengthy index at the end for those wishing to jump to particular sections for personal study and/or research.

As a proponent of reading the Bible in its narrative context and encouraging others to find and live out their place within this continued narrative, I appreciate Wright’s work and the result of his efforts in wrestling with this hermeneutical quest. It is a “must read” in my opinion, especially for those teaching, promoting, or looking for a particular method, form, and mode of “doing missions,” as it is often described. A proper reorienting of one’s perspective on what it is to be on God’s mission will better (rightly!) enable one to address the pragmatics of living out that mission in one’s own (or “target”) context.