The Oikonomia Network is proud to announce the latest and most substantial addition to its growing family of Economic Wisdom Project resources. A new minibook, Economic Wisdom for Churches: A Primer on Stewardship, Poverty and Flourishing, edited by Adam Joyce and Greg Forster, will be released at the Karam Forum on March 2-3.
This small volume packs a big punch, with essays for local church leaders on critical issues facing their churches by Amy Sherman, Scott Rae, Tom Nelson, Charlie Self, Zachary Ritvalsky, James Thobaben, Jay Slocum, Jordan Ballor, Greg Forster and more. The essays are short and accessible enough to read through quickly, but offer the depth and insight to reframe the challenges churches are facing in their communities, overcome the paralysis of our polarized society, and bring the holy love of God out into our world.
Below are a few excerpts and a table of contents to whet your appetite. After the book is released at Karam Forum, a PDF version will be posted on the Economic Wisdom Project webpage, and hard copies will be available upon request to our ON partner schools.
From “Economics in the Bible: What Does God Say?” by Scott Rae
The purpose of Israel’s constitution was to show how they could model God’s righteousness in the way they lived together as a nation – that is, how they could become a “holy nation” (Exodus 19:5-6).
When it came to economics, there were two main ways that the Israelites would accomplish this. One was to make sure that their society was fair – that when people made exchanges, they did so without engaging in fraud or cheating each other. For example, the law mandated that the scales used to weigh out measures of goods were accurate (Leviticus 19:35-36, Deuteronomy 25:13-16). The law assumes that individuals could legitimately own and accumulate property, since laws prohibiting theft and fraud only make sense if private property is legitimate. But the law also makes it clear that God is the ultimate owner of everything (Leviticus 25:23).
The second way that they were a “holy nation” in economics was to ensure they cared for the poor properly (Deuteronomy 15:1-11, 26:12-13). Their society assumed that people were responsible for taking care of themselves and their families. Old Testament law focused on how to provide for those who could not provide for themselves – that was the definition of the poor.
From “Flourishing: What Is Good for Us?” by Amy Sherman
There’s a lot of talk about “flourishing” these days. Everybody wants flourishing, but it makes a huge difference what we mean by that. Very few of our personal and public problems arise from people not wanting to flourish; most of them arise from people seeking the wrong kind of flourishing. Helping people see the difference between real flourishing and false flourishing is one of the most important things followers of Jesus can do to serve the kingdom of God and the common good.
My friend G’Joe recently told of an encounter he had with a young clerk at the Speakeasy Clothing store in San Diego. He was killing time for a few minutes before a meeting, and she was friendly and chatty. Given G’Joe’s winsomeness and wit (not to mention his good looks), it’s no surprise she was ready to talk. The conversation ranged from work to race to religion – the latter prompted by her inquiry of whether G’Joe was a Buddhist.
G’Joe says his thoughts went to C. S. Lewis. “I told her, ‘I actually believe that my God has given us desire and wants us to know him through enjoying and delighting in his gifts.’” Taken aback, the young woman exclaimed, “I’ve never heard anyone talk about Christianity like that!” And, to G’Joe’s glee, she asked: “Could I come to your church sometime?”
The clerk’s reaction reveals at least two realities. First, she hungers for pleasure, and that’s in part because God designed her (and all of us) for it. Second, she hungers for pleasure because her heart (like all of ours) is a desire factory, and it’s fueled by the relentless siren song of our intensely commercial and self-indulgent culture.
From “Economic Value: What Do We Want?” by Jordan Ballor
Such models supposedly allow economists and policy makers to point to a value-free body of data to inform choices about the political or economic order. They often claim it is not necessary to judge whether peoples’ subjective values are well-formed from a moral or spiritual perspective to determine whether those needs and wants have been met.
However, what economists actually do belies their claims of pursuing a neutral or value-free discipline. They start out claiming they are just measuring the satisfaction of a desire for a given population – not judging whether the desire is good or bad. Soon, though, we often find them talking as though an increase of this utility function – the satisfaction of this desire – is good and achievable. The unspoken assumption is that it is inherently good to satisfy people’s desires, whatever they may be.
A focus on human utility can become a kind of utilitarianism. This is a shallow ethical theory that reduces the moral good to simply maximizing the subjective good – the satisfaction of desires, whatever desires people have – as much as possible for as many people as possible.
Often, this maximization of utility is represented both mathematically and monetarily. The measure of gross domestic product (GDP) per person becomes the default or baseline measurement of human development and flourishing. Monetary value becomes a proxy for calculating communal fulfilment and well-being.
Economic Wisdom for Churches Table of Contents
Foreword by Tom Nelson
Introduction: The Economic Story by Bruce Baker
Economics in the Bible: What Does God Say? by Scott Rae
Stewardship and Flourishing
Stewardship: Who Are We? by Jay Slocum
Flourishing: What Is Good for Us? by Amy Sherman
Value Creation: What Do We Contribute? by Victor Claar
Economic Value: What Do We Want? by Jordan Ballor
Productivity and Opportunity
Productivity: What Does Love Require? by James Thobaben
Opportunity: What Does Justice Require? by Greg Forster
Responsible Action: How Do We Serve the Poor? by Zachary Ritvalsky
Responsible Action: How Do We Serve the Common Good? by Charlie Self
Conclusion: Public Discipleship by Greg Forster