How Do You Solve Poverty? Easy as 1,2,3…

The other day this book came across one of my social media feeds. The Poverty of Nations: A Sustainable Solutionit sounds reasonable, why wouldn’t we want to read a book offering a solution to poverty even if the subtitle is a little hyperbolic. Looking further to see more about the book I discovered that it was written by Barry Asmus, an economist, and theologian Wayne Grudem. While I know nothing about the former, but he being an economist at least seems as if he is capable of penning this book, I was shocked to see theologian Grudem there. Grudem is a famous religious writer, one whom I recognized from my alma mater’s theological classes.

The book claims to be able to solve poverty by addressing what leaders of nations can do to run their country in a way that is sustainable (78 simple steps!). Their solutions are aimed at whole nations, not just organizations, entire nations! Their theories fit firmly into neoliberal policies and a free market system mixed with a conservative interpretation of Biblical principles – AKA – everything that has been tried over the last 200 years. Grudem and Asmus seem to believe that what is needed is an echoing of the colonialism that occurred in history, except instead of forcing it upon the poor, they should choose it themselves!

Now I have not read the text and surely more complex and nuanced solutions are provided within, yet it is mind blowing to me that this book is being released. Actually, where my real problem lies is not in the release of this book or the economic theory – which I would probably disagree with at least when it comes to “solving” poverty, but I don’t have enough experience in macroeconomics to give a reasoned opinion – but to whom this book will be marketed to.

Grudem and Asmus’ work will go to those like me who not long ago sat in the middle of  Christian higher education, wanting to learn about culture and economics in order to love our neighbors better and make the world a better place. What they will get is not only a subpar education in international relations, public policy, and development, but a distorted view of how to read the Bible.

Grudem and Asmus are espousing economic theories that they not only claim to be effective (which is fine), but that they claim to be Biblical. They believe that God intended for the Bible not only to speak about economic matters, but specifically about how entire nations should run their market systems. And when something is considered to be Biblical, one better not go against it, because it is God’s word and God’s word is final.

They believe that God speaks systematically throughout the Bible and that one can build systematic approaches to various topics by picking out verse by verse that which relates to this topic. For the most part this is a fine tool when thinking about theological topics like atonement, salvation, and incarnation, but to develop one about economic policy is irresponsible.

The Bible’s view on economics is picked from various verses including ancient Israel, Jesus’ teachings, and those written in the later epistles, all of which differ considerably. Israel is given commands about money as a nation upon its inception, while thriving, and while under captivity. Jesus spoke about money while living under rule of the Roman empire. The later apostles spoke about money as to what should be done in the newly started church and as a response to also being under Roman rule. These circumstances must be taken into account when trying to consider what the Bible says about money and larger economic policies.

Further, to equate the economics of the Bible and the free market system is absolutely ridiculous. The most systematic commands of God regarding how a nation should act come in the form of leaving some of your profits for the poor (Deuteronomy 14:28-29) and essentially resetting the economy every 50 years (Leviticus 25) – hardly an economy built on growth and incentives to grow.

Yet this book will land in the hands of young people desiring to change the world while following what the Bible tells them. They will commit themselves to doing work that neglects local culture, continuing the misconception that the Global North has the keys to development and economic success; bringing oppression and disempowerment – all because of Jesus.

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