Book Plunge: Prosperity and Poverty

What are my thoughts on E. Calvin Beisner’s book on economics? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Economics is a topic often not talked about in the church today, aside from the discussions of how much people need to be tithing, but it is a topic that should be discussed far more often. When we look at our country today, the reason we’re in an economic crisis is because people believed several myths about economics. For Christians wanting to redeem the world for Christ, that includes the economic world and that will mean being able to dispute those economic myths.

Of course, this isn’t just to dispute myths, but also out of Christian concern for the well-being of all, including the poor. There are many programs out there designed to help people in poverty, but in reality, they help keep them in poverty. Beisner’s work is designed to help us realize all of this from a Christian perspective.

It interestingly begins with the story of the rich young man and starts to setting the context in a Christian framework there by making it clear Christ must be worth everything. Beisner begins by setting in play biblical values such as what justice is biblically, what work is, and what the importance of rest is.

From there, Beisner goes on to discuss modern economic policies and not just how they have failed but how it would have been known and in fact was known that they would fail. All of this is regularly interspersed with references to passages of Scripture, particularly the Ten Commandments, much of that being on the commandment to not steal. The emphasis is that the moral way and the effective way is also the biblical way.

Some readers will wonder about biblical texts such as the year of Jubilee or the coming together in Acts 2 and wonder if these violate the principles? Beisner goes to great detail to show they do not, although I as an orthodox Preterist would add that Acts only happened in Jerusalem since Christians there knew Jesus was going to judge the place soon so what good does it do to hold on to even the treasured land that they normally saw their identity in?

Beisner also gives us a warning that we should not show partiality to the poor even if we want to help them, which we should. A law that favors the rich is unjust. So also is a law that favors the poor. As he says “God is not ‘on the side of the poor’ despite protests to the contrary. Any law, therefore, that gives an advantage in the economic sphere to anyone, rich or poor, violates Biblical justice. (Page 52)

Beisner explains why many solutions to modern economic problems do not work, such as minimum wage laws or price controls. He also tells us to ask ourselves the key question of who benefits from these laws. When we do that, we will find it is not the poor that are supposedly being looked out for.

Finally, he offers the solution and shows how the church can handle the burden and should be handling the burden. We have made it a point of letting the state handle the situation when we ourselves are to do that as followers of Christ. Government need not be in the business of charity.

There are three ways I think this work could improve.

The first is that there is an appendix at the end explaining the relation of biblical law to economics. Beisner says he is not a reconstructionist. I would have liked to have seen this explanation at the beginning. Otherwise, throughout the book one can think they are reading an argument from theonomy rather than from natural law. The advantage of natural law is that biblical laws can be seen as “Just your religion” but natural law thinking says “These are truths anyone can know through reason.”

The second is that I would have liked to have seen a glossary of terms which I think would be helpful in case this was someone’s first read on economics. It would be beneficial for someone to be able to say “What was marginal utility again?”, go to the back and look up a definition, and then return to their reading.

Finally, there are books on a Christian philosophy of government, but I would like to have seen some on just economics, such as Henry Hazlitt’s “Economics in One Lesson”, or Ron Nash’s “Poverty and Wealth.” Also would be writings from people like Von Mises, Walter Williams, and Thomas Sowell. People interested in economics will need more places to go to.

Still, I do conclude that Beisner’s work is a helpful work for anyone wanting to understand a Christian philosophy of economics and give it my endorsement.

In Christ,
Nick Peters