A Public Theology of Wealth and Poverty

The Mediatorial Kingship of Christ is an essential and very clear teaching of Scripture. Abraham Kuyper famously said, “No single piece of our mental world is to be hermetically sealed off from the rest, and there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!”[1] Kuyper and his legacy is dominant in discussions of Christ’s lordship over all of life.[2] Does this include economics? What is the Christian to make of economics: an ethic of economics? More specifically, what ought a Christian to think of wealth and poverty, especially in light of the fall of communism in the former Soviet Union?[3] Poythress argues that Jesus is Lord over all of life, including economics.[4] Is this true? If so, then what is (as Paul the Apostle contends), the good and acceptable and perfect will of God in matters of economics, especially as it pertains to the poor?[5] Such questions are important for the thoughtful Christian to ponder, but there is some evidence that some Christian pondering is not so thoughtful. Case in point is Widick Schroeder; Schroeder— who is professor of religion and society, at Chicago Theological Seminary— is most critical of such mushy thinking. Roger Shinn was part of a group of intellectuals whom the General Synod of the UCC endorsed to prepare a study paper to speak to the issue of theology intersecting with economics. Shinn relays “a biting criticism” from his colleague Schroeder vis-à-vis the process and content of that study paper that finally took the titular form of “A Pronouncement on Christian Faith: Economic Life and Justice.”[6] He “finds them ‘neither internally consistent nor systematically coherent.’ They are ‘harrowingly conceived.’ Doctrinaire’ and limited in scope.’ [as well as] ‘wistfully trusting of government…’”[7]  Dinesh D’ Souza makes a similar charge.[8] He contends that many Roman Catholic Bishops know less about economics than a college freshman.[9]

What is a Christian to make of this? The purpose of my essay is to make a case, a public theological case— grounded in the Christ’s Kingship a la Kuyper’s conviction of Christ’s Lordship over all creation[10]— for wealth and its relation to poverty within a modern free market context. This is not to say that wealth cannot be used as an instrument of abuse, misuse, and oppression to tyrannize the poor, but such a misuse does not negate the positive character of wealth as a means to combat poverty and promote the common good.[11] Contra liberation theology, social economic criticism was not a significant feature of Jesus’ ministry, but such criticism was a feature of the Prophets.[12] However, this is not to say wealth per se is evil. To make my case I will first delineate what I mean by public theology as a method of cultural engagement;[13] secondly, I will elucidate a biblical and early church notion of wealth and poverty as normative for Christian ethics; and thirdly I will make a case for wealth in our modern capitalist[14] context of globalization; and fourthly, I will conclude with a theological ethic conducive to globalization as a transformative approach in changing the cultural ethos.

When I refer to public theology,[15] I am not referring to a political theology.[16] The difference between the two is summed up by two concepts that Max Stackhouse has made central in his trajectory of public theology: one is a social theory of politics and the other is a political theory of society.[17] For Stackhouse, the latter is the essence of a “political theology.” A political theology qua political theory of society views government as the most “comprehending institution of society” at large.[18] Government— instantiated in  “political orders, regimes, politics and policies”[19]— or the Republic is prior to the Public, viz., the social sectors, or spheres such as religion, culture, (i.e., the sum total of beliefs and values and lifestyles), family, economics, and intellectual traditions or ideologies.[20] However, Stackhouse strives for a social theory of politics where the public is prior to the republic. He notes that a public theology qua a social theory of politics understands that politics “…comes and goes; it is always necessary, but is also a derivative artifact of those religious, cultural, familial, economic, and intellectual traditions that are prior to government, and every government is, sooner or later, accountable to them…”[21] For example, Stackhouse notes an interesting causal dynamic between politics and the sector of religion.[22] Stackhouse notes that politics is about power:[23] the acquiring, the consolidating, and the employment of power; it is a raw power of coercion. (I would also add violence or the threat of violence.) However, power needs legitimacy. Illegitimate power is not recognized. But Stackhouse asks: where does legitimacy find its source? He notes that it is found in law. But where does law find its source? It’s found in morality. Contra Christopher Hitchens[24] who argues that “religion poisons everything,” morality is founded on religion. This is an example of the religious sector being pre-political, while the political relying per se as a moral derivative of religion. This is what Stackhouse means by pre-political sectors. The stronger these sectors, the greater the check is on government; the weaker, the lesser the check is on government. But I also agree with Stackhouse that these sectors (though prior to and more stable) are not static. He says that, “The spheres also change in number and contours in history, they expand or contract in role and importance depending on the total dynamics of a society.”[25] This is an important distinction; such a distinction is a guiding principle in a proper understanding of a modern political economy. Educating the moral conscience in order to change or “transform” (ala H. Richard Niebuhr[26]) the moral ethos of a culture is far superior to political coercion. In short, public theology is formed and informed by a social theory of politics that understands the public, social sectors to be prior to the republic or state. This is why (for one reason) a free market economy is preferable over a state or socialist approach. The former is an instantiation of common grace.[27]

Secondly, when I refer to public theology I am (in lock step with Stackhouse[28])  neither referring to confessional, nor contextual, nor dogmatic theology, but to theology qua apologetic and dialogical as noted above in footnote # 12. Confessional theology is an intramural dialogue for a specific community of faith; a contextual theology is too specific; it’s in dialogue with a particular subgroup; a dogmatic theology seeks to intrasystematically make coherent sense out of biblical revelation and creeds. I, like Stackhouse, do not negate such theological methods, but incorporate or synthesize in dialogic fashion, making for a distinct public theological methodology.[29] Stackhouse sums this approach this way:

It may differ in that it is willing to encounter secular, philosophical and non-Christian religious orientation to the world and to explain its claims in their language. It basically assumes what, for example, the translators of the Bible assume: The truths it contains can be stated in words and conceptual frameworks and the meanings of key terms by the translating process.[30]

Thirdly, though public theology is a critical, constructive, and normative discipline. It is not a top down approach; Public theology is not a hegemonic approach that Lords-over every sector of society, but a dialogue between the public and theology. Stackhouse sums it up this way:

Every theology, as a proposal, has to meet the test of public reception—according to what manifests the truth, justice, and mercy of God, and what the public can internalize from it, and weave into the fabric of common life to enhance their moral, spiritual, and material existence.[31]

What Stackhouse means is that the public must first recognize public theology’s moral legitimacy, a legitimacy founded upon how and to what extent it evidences the good and acceptable and perfect will of God, a project made more difficult due to post-Christendom and apostate Liberalism.[32]

If public theology passes this test, then it will be received. However, in the case of an ethic of economics, this means that public theology must know the truths of economics and how those truths relate to the truth of God’s Word. This takes me to the second part of the essay: the elucidation of a biblical and early church’s notion of an ethic of economics, an ethic of wealth and poverty. Earlier I noted that I take very seriously a systematic approach to biblical theology. I do not mean to imply that the bible gives us a political economy or science of economics; I believe this no more than the bible giving us a modern scientific method for biology, or physics, or chemistry, even though Scripture does reveal truths that cohere with and have scientific implications.[33] However, I do believe that the Scriptures give us an ethic of economics: what should we value or what is valuable? And what ought to be the preconditions for economic exchange, a communicative understanding of justice?[34] One cannot begin to speak to and about economic issues without also addressing issues of justice.[35]

What does the Bible say about issues in regard to economics, more specifically to wealth and poverty? Christian thinker, Andrew Kirk, has misgivings about wealth; for him, wealth is evil. He says:

There can be no doubt, if we approach the Bible with honesty, that private accumulation is usually deemed to be the result not of harmless transactions in the market, but of either violence, fraud, bribes or expropriation.[36]

Kirk’s understanding of the Scriptures is that the Scriptures teach that all wealth, beyond subsistence, is immoral, immoral because if one person has more than is needed it is because it is taken from someone in need. For him, an economic transaction is always a zero-sum game, one that is never positive and always oppressive and exploitive.[37] He contends that the “two-thirds” of the world’s poor is poor because of the “one-third” of the world’s exploitation.[38] Some of the texts that Kirk points to as proof are: Micah 2:2; Hosea 12:8; Jeremiah 5:28. What all of these biblical references have in common is oppression, oppression by coercion and violence of the rich taking from the poor, oppression by unjust scales. Is this the sum total teaching of the Scriptures in microcosm? Or is there more?

One must first realize that oppression is a major lineament vis-à-vis the economic dynamics between rich and poor, wealth and poverty.[39] To ignore this reality in the biblical world (including our own), is to ignore the reality of sin in other sectors of society and to ignore what all Christians have as a constitutive component of their system of doctrine: i.e., Original Sin.[40]

How are we to understand oppression as a major lineament in the Scriptures vis-à-vis wealth and poverty, and is this lineament the only one? I have found Stackhouse’s distinction of “seven possible centers of economic organization” helpful.[41]  He notes only seven possible social centers of  economic organization or (what he calls), “capitalization”: individual, families, cartels, temples, the market, the state, and corporations— all within economic systems.[42] Stackhouse says that at different times and places in human history one social center of organization or capitalization will be more dominant than another. In fact (until recent times) the family and the state have been the two most dominant centers of capitalization.

However, there is an important side note I must make. Stackhouse notes that “pure economic individualism” is an economic fiction and an” ideological fantasy,” making it unfit as a true social center. He notes also that even though the market is a social center of capitalization it is an indirect center. It facilitates exchange; yet, it produces nothing.[43] He says that a “market can exist only when something is produced.” Noted economist James Gwaltney explains that:

At the most basic level, a market system is a form of economic organization where people help others in exchange for income. Pursuit of income induces individuals to produce goods and services desired by others. Both buyers and sellers gain from the voluntary exchange; otherwise the trading partners would not agree to the transaction.[44]

Gwaltney notes that people organize in exchange for the purpose of income: the market creates income, and income in turn produces goods and services. Not only does the market exist only when something is produced, but the converse is true: that which is produced can only exist when a market is already in existence. (This is an important notion that Adam Smith makes in regard to his concept regarding a division of labor.[45]) The reason for my distinction is to show that the market is an irreducible complex: one does not exist without the other along with individual agents within this complex.

Another reason I share this is to emphasize that the free market is not a modern-day invention. Free markets can exist without being organized by the state (though not very well without some legislation), without corporations, without guilds, without religion, without being organized even by the family—but capitalization does not exist without this irreducible complex. I say this because some thinkers assume that capitalism is an invention of modernity’s enlightenment project of rationalization.[46] That is not to say, capitalism has not been rationalized, but that does not mean that capitalism was invented during the 19th century’s and early 20th century’s process of urbanization and industrialization. This was one of the weaknesses of Rauschenbusch’s critique of capitalism; his view was that capitalism was by definition urbanization and industrialization, an “iron wedge” that induced one to compete against his or her neighbor.[47]

That being said, what is the bible’s notion of wealth and poverty? R.C. Sproul Jr. remarks that there are four different “kinds” of poverty in Scripture: slothfulness, calamity, exploitation, and personal sacrifice.[48] In reference to exploitation he writes this:

This group [i.e., the exploited] of the poor suffers indignities by living in societies where the social, political, judicial institutions favor the rich and the powerful and leave the poor without advocacy. One such society was Israel in the eighth century B.C., when ‘the poor were sold for a pair of sandals.’…. This kind of oppression provokes God, who hears the moans of his people.[49]

Because of the nature of poverty qua oppression, exploitation is front and center in discussing a biblical discourse concerning wealth and poverty, [50] and the need for relief.[51]

In light of this, in the ancient world of the biblical life setting, what were the social centers that dominated capitalization, and to what extent did these social centers define the discourse around the terms of wealth and poverty, the rich and the poor? Bruce Malina notes that there were four social structures of capitalization: kinship, politics, religion, and economic centers.[52] Malina defines a social structure as, “The means by which humans realize their basic values.” He notes that in the world of the New Testament, economics, and the religious social structures, developed through “political and domestic loci,”[53] that is, through the family and the regime. The family and the regime were most dominant; the implications for this is that economics was “tied to the regime and the family.”[54] The social loci of both kinship and regime determined the concepts and the discourse about economic issues. This will mean that, for instances, if the social center of dominance is political, then the discourse about poverty and the concept of impoverishment will take on a political valence, i.e., poverty qua oppressed.[55] The same is true of kinship: poverty qua sick and outcast. The same is true of economics: poverty qua indigent.[56] The same can, in turn, be said in regard to the cultural discourse about wealth and the wealthy; the wealthy are amassers of wealth and oppressors vis-à-vis political template; greedy vis-à-vis an economic template; inheritors vis-à-vis kinship template; prodigal vis-à-vis a religious social template.[57]

In regard to the Old Testament world, the same is also true.[58] Donald Gowan notes that when dealing with the Old Testament’s notion of wealth and poverty the discourse is centered around three groups: the widow, the orphan, and the sojourner.[59] These three groups[60] are definitive social categories in regard to the Old Testament’s prophetic concern[61] of the poor qua the oppressed, a group that F.C. Fensham brought attention to over a generation ago.[62]  These groups or classes of the oppressed were a concern not only for ancient Israel, in particular, but the Ancient Near East in general.[63] These groups or classes were oppressed in the sense of social dislocation.[64] What the poor qua widow, orphaned, and sojourner had in common was a precarious social status. In the case of the widowed and the orphaned it was the death of a husband or father; in the case of the sojourner it was social and political dislocation due to her or his alien status of not belonging. Gowan notes that the concern for these groups was not poverty per se as absolute poverty, but oppression. What he means is that economic poverty in the sense of a lack of subsistence was par for the course in the ancient world of the Old Testament. However, if one were economically disadvantaged due to any one of these three categories, then one was liable to oppression; that is, the wealthy— with their political clout and connections (social and political and economic capital)— could (and would) use their advantages over-and-against those with no such social capital. Gowan writes:

They were weak, for various reasons, and thus the plight of which the Old Testament most often speaks is not hunger or lack of shelter; it is their inability to maintain their rights, so that it is possible for others to oppress them.[65]

The rights that the widowed and the orphaned had was a right to her husband’s and a right to his/her father’s resources. The widow had certain “independent legal rights” that a married woman did not have.[66] Case in point, the gleaning laws mandated that what was left in the fields were to be left to the sojourner. Also, because the widower and the orphaned lacked sufficient “muscle power,” and the resident alien lacked equal opportunity, certain provisions were legislated: i.e., the gleaning of the fields; every three years a tithe was brought to the local town; and every seven years the land was left uncultivated so that the poor could harvest whatever grew on it.

In light of these realities, Gowan notes that the lack of “complete equality in the distribution of wealth” was not a disgrace. Indigence or poverty from an economic perspective was no scandal. Gowan says that, “[w]hat is a scandal…is when those who do not have much are deprived of what is rightfully theirs by those whose consciences do not bother them.”[67] The poor’s right may not have been the right not to be poor qua indigent, but it was the right of the poor not to be debased, disrespected, legally taken-advantaged of—i.e., not to be poor qua oppressed. Wealth (i.e., wealthy in a monetary, a political, and a social capital sense) is a good gift of God, not to be used to take advantage of the poor.[68] The reason why the poor—the widow, orphan, the sojourner—are a concern is because God hates the powerless being maltreated by the powerful. In order to be in right standing with God, one must not mistreat the poor. Righteousness (i.e., a right standing with God), was operative in defining justice in regard to the poor. Gowan says that this is one of the “flaws in the Old Testament’s approach” to the issue of poverty and wealth; that is, if one does not care about righteousness, how are the poor to be cared for and not disadvantaged? There were no coercive stipulations provided, just an “apodictic” or conscience driven approach.[69] (This I disagree; there were strict sanctions in the law, sanctions realized during divine judgment and exile.) In either case, we and our ancient forbearers are morally ambivalent about wealth. This is possibly why the biblical discourse that revolves around the concept of wealth and the wealthy is somewhat ambivalent. In one context wealth is a good gift from God. However, in another context wealth is a good gift corrupted, a misuse of economic, political, and social capital over-and-against the oppressed.

This ambivalence mirrors not only our modern ambivalence about wealth (from different perspectives), but also the early, post-apostolic Church’s ambivalence about wealth and the wealthy. Rebecca Weaver notes that though there is no definitive statement in the early Church about wealth and poverty, there are some reoccurring features; two of these features are ambivalence over wealth, and the wealthy, and specifically wealthy Christians, as well as the call of almsgiving, coupled with divine reward.[70] The poor were the recipients of divinely ordained largess, a largess given by the wealthy who in turn would be rewarded by God. In this way the rich could “lay up treasures in heaven.” Weaver notes that wealth was irrelevant to the early Church; what mattered was the disposition of one’s heart toward wealth and the use of one’s wealth. Weaver says that (for instance), “…in Clement we find someone who thoroughly adapted [wealth] to Christians ends. For Clement the value of possessions lay in their employment as alms.”[71] This normative value theory of wealth is contingent upon the use or misuse of one’s capital. This seems to be a sort of moral ontology of wealth. Wealth is metaphysically good, but its ontological goodness is “irrelevant.” Wealth’s utility is what makes it morally good. The moral ontology of wealth is based upon the use or misuse of capital.

To sum up a biblical and early Church discourse of wealth and poverty, one must realize— contrary to Kirk’s notion that the rich and wealthy are always so on the backs of the poor via violence, fraud, bribes and theft— that this was not always the case. There are other reasons or kinds of poverty within the biblical narrative. In the biblical world, the poor qua indigent via slothfulness or calamity or self-sacrifice is not the same as the poor qua the oppressed. The oppressed are always indigent by virtue of certain unfortunate preconditions (economically poor) but the indigent are not always oppressed. And the moral ontology of wealth is contingent upon the use of capital and capitalization.

This takes me to my next point: if wealth is a good, in both a moral and ontological sense, what place can wealth play in our modern capitalist context, and if wealth can play a productive part, how is this or in what way is this suggestive for an ethic for a global economy? The place that wealth plays in a capitalist context is important. As noted, wealth is an ontological good and a moral good if not misused, but the use or misuse of wealth in different contexts have implications for how we define wealth and poverty. What context do we find ourselves in today, and how is this suggestive for a global economy? David Krueger notes:

The collapse of the cold war, a nearly global rejection of centrally planned economies, the concurrent strengthening of market-based institutions and practices—all of these trends are dramatically influencing societies and businesses around the globe. These changes beg for fresh Christian ethical thinking.[72]

Our modern global, capitalist context, as Jeffery Sachs contends, began with the Industrial Revolution.[73] Around the mid-1700s, the world was poor, poor due to diseases, epidemics, hunger, and weather. Poverty, absolute poverty,[74] was around this time normal. He says that—the thousands of years B.C., as well as the eighteen-hundred years A.D.; there was never a period of “sustained economic growth.”[75] Not until the Industrial Age (which began in England and spread elsewhere), did the world experience sustained economic growth. However, this growth was regionally unequal; for example, with the U.S., Canada, and Oceania these regions experienced more growth, i.e. per capita intensive growth,[76] than say the former USSR. Sachs says that from the time between 1820 and 1998 the U.S. and Canada, and Oceania region experienced an annual per capita growth of 1.7%, while the former USSR experienced 1.0%.[77] His point is to illustrate that all regions of the world—he delineates eight— have experienced economic progress or regional per capita growth.

He contends that Gross World Production has increased fifty-fold since the 1880’s. He believes that the key to overcoming poverty is not transferring income from one region to another, i.e., by force, but by “the overall increase in world income.”[78] What is important is a steady, slow state of progress over time. He believes that the post-cold war is a second wave of globalization. The first wave of globalization began with the aftermath of the Industrial Revolution; there were three waves within the Industrial Revolution: the steam engine, the telegraph and ocean steamer, and the electrification of industry and urban life. Sachs says:

By the early twentieth century, Europe largely dominated the world. European empires controlled essentially all of Africa and large parts of trade as well. This was the age of globalization, an era of global trade, an era of global communications over telegraph lines, an era of mass production and industrialization–…an era of inevitable progress.[79]

However, all of this came to an abrupt halt in 1914. The juggernaut of a combination of two world wars and a great depression led to a global disruption of trade and communication. This disruption led to the end of the European-led globalization and the eventual rise of the so called First, Second, and Third World realities. This disruption led to First World restoring a semblance of trade, but it was no longer global, but regional among the First World based upon a market system of capitalization. The Second World was the world of central planning and one-party rule. This World cut itself off from the First, and in turn the Third World—which was even more isolated—cut itself off from both, trusting neither.[80] The problem with such global disruption (among many others), was that it destabilized any semblance of a steady state of global progress. This, he believes, explains such regional wealth discrepancies between 1820 and the present. This also explains why the discrepancies between rich and poor, between the First World (i.e., the rich) of free market capitalization, on the one hand, and the Second and Third Worlds (i.e., the poor) are evident. Sachs says that both, “Second World and Third World approaches did not make sense.”[81] Second World central planning and Third World autarkical isolation do not work, a point I whole heartedly agree.

Sachs proposes that our present wave (second wave) of globalization can close the gap between the regional discrepancies of wealth. His point is that our present phenomenon of globalization is a second chance to increase wealth, increase the world’s production. This is shown to be the only method in human history to pull millions out of absolute poverty. And in turn, the regional inequalities between the rich and poor may come to an end with the advent of our second wave of globalization, by opening up trade, and free markets.

David Krueger proposes something similar. Krueger espouses a notion of “productive justice.”[82] For him, as it is for Sachs, “higher levels of global economic output and wealth are morally defensible goals.”[83] He proposes an expanding of the economic pie. He notes that the main engine behind the train of free markets is the business corporation. Krueger and Sachs are on to something profound. If their project of productive justice is the best (and only) way to combat poverty, then disparaging wealth—as most Christian thinkers are prone to do ala Kirk and others—is not only wrongheaded, but morally obtuse.

This brings me to my concluding point: a theological ethic conducive to free market global systems. We have noticed that though wealth, in and of itself, is a good gift from God, it can be misused to the extent that it oppresses others. The Old Testament’s ethic to countervail such oppression was justice qua the righteous standard of God. Likewise, we need an ethic to countervail the abuse of capitalization in our day. Sachs reminds us that when societies become economically dominant the tendency is to misuse wealth. He says:

…the vast differences in power contributed to faulty social theories of these differences that are still with us today. When a society is economically dominant, it is easy for its members to assume that such dominance reflects a deeper superiority….Thus the inequalities of power and economics of the nineteenth century in favor of Europe was accomplished by the spread of new forms of racism and ‘culturalism’ ….These theories in turn justified brutal forms of exploitation of the poor through colonial rule, dispossession of the properties and the lands of he poor by the rich, and even slavery.[84]

If such poverty qua exploitation was a brutal concomitant during the first wave of globalization, then could not the same be said of our second wave? If the Old Testament’s ethic of righteousness was used to countervail such oppression, should we not, in turn, have an ethic to countervail oppressive tendencies that misuse wealth. Krueger offers such an ethic. Krueger proffers a theological/ethical vision of transformation: a transformation of the corporate ethos. Since the main engine behind the train of free markets is the business corporation, then Krueger’s tactic to transform the ethos of business corporation makes moral sense. This, he says, requires that “Christian theology” ought to make substantive claims about the good society, the proper roles of social institutions including business institutions, and the appropriate roles and responsibilities of persons within business.”[85] He calls his approach an “ethic of responsibility,” an approach employed by H. Richard Niebuhr. One paradigm of his ethic of responsibility is a “transformative/conversionist” approach.[86] Taken from Niebuhr’s classic Christ and Culture, the transformative template takes all creation to be a good gift from God (including wealth and its use), that has (from one extent to another) been corrupted. The work of the theologian/ethicist is to engage in a more critical assessment about the nature of humanity and human institutions and humanity’s limits and the role of sin in such limitation. A transformative ethic takes the nature of sin seriously within social structures, but it also understands that the nature of sin is one of privation. In order for sin to exist it must depend ontologically upon the good, for good is all that exists ontologically. But such an understanding of sin notes that sinful structures or institutions can be renewed. As Krueger says, “[though subject to misuse and perversion] that a transformative/conversionist [approach] understands that though capitalism and business practice to be flawed and marred by sin [it is still] open to the possibility of renewal and creative transformation under the sovereignty of God.”[87] Krueger believes that the liberationist stance is not at all helpful, at this point, because it sees market capitalization as an intrinsically evil social structure, hence unredeemable.

The reason I speak of Krueger’s “transformative” ethic is not merely for the fact that I may agree with it in theory, and that I believe that by changing the cultural ethos of a corporation makes sense in theory, but there is some evidence that changing such an ethos has been brought to bear in the culture. Peter Berger speaks of a new transformative ethical ideal of a “kinder, gentler” market.[88] Berger notes that the counter-culture ideals that began in the 60s—feminism, environmentalism, multiculturalism—have been absorbed by the culture. (I would add mostly not for the good.) A good result is a change in the corporate ethos: the disparagement of sexual harassment, diversity management, environmental sensitivity …etc. What is promising about this is that a social theory of politics and culture formed and informed and transformed by a public theology of wealth and poverty as proposed is not a pie-in-the-sky theorizing (as is the case of Marxist utopians), but a reality of globalization.

In conclusion, wealth is a good gift from God not to be disparaged but embraced by Christians as a good for humanity and especially for the poor. It is our calling as theologians and ethicists under the Lordship of Christ to evaluate and critique what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God in these matters.



[1] Abraham Kuyper, Abraham Kuyper: A Centennial Reader, ed. James D. Bratt (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998), 488.  The quote was originally part of Kuyper’s speech at the inauguration of the Free University of Amsterdam in 1880.

[2] James D Bratt, Abraham Kuyper: Modern Calvinist, Christian Democrat (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2013). See also Jan de Bruijn, Abraham Kuyper: A Pictorial Biography (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2014); Richard J. Mouw, Abraham Kuyper: A Short and Personal Introduction (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2011).

[3] Jeffrey D. Sachs, The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for our Times (London: The Penguin Press, 2005), 25. Sach notes that the First World of communism has fallen, and the Third World of isolation form the First and Second World have not worked for the betterment of their societies. Since the fall of communism, there is a recognition that market-based capitalization has triumphed and is triumphing.

[4] Vern S. Poythress, The Lordship of Christ: Serving Our Savior All of the Time, in All of Life, with All of Our Heart (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2016), 95-136.

[5] Donald E. Gowan, “Wealth and Poverty in The Old Testament: The Case Of The Widow, The Orphan, And The Sojourner,” Interpretations 41, (1987): 360.

[6] Roger Shinn, “The Christian Faith and Economic Practice,” The Christian Century July 1991, 21-23.

[7] Ibid., 3.

[8] Ronald Nash, Poverty and Wealth: The Christian Debate Over Capitalism (Westchester, Illinois: Crossway Boks, 1986), 10.

[9] Chad Brand and Tom Pratt, Seeking the City: Wealth, Poverty and Political Economy in Christian Perspective (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2013), 151-53. The work is the culmination of ten-years’ research and attempts to educate and develop a full orbed biblical, historical, economic, and theological defense of small government, free markets, and private enterprise.

[10] Most public theological discourse is based on Liberal theology a la Stackhouse, John de Gruchy, etc., who give no preference to Christianity. I hold to a public theology that does in the spirit of Kuyper.

[11] Jean Terole, Economics for the Common Good (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2017). Terole argues that is in fact a force for the common good.

[12] Michael J. Sandford, Poverty, Wealth, and Empire: Jesus and Postcolonial Criticism (Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2014). Sandford’s central claim is that “socioeconomic criticism was a significant feature of Jesus’ ministry.”

[13] The particular method in regard to public theology is a method of correlation, both polemical and dialogic. What I mean by the former is that by way of polemic correlation public theologians can speak against the culture as a voice primarily of criticism, deconstructing the idols within the culture or tearing away the ideological husk of our culture. For the latter, public theologians can speak to and with the culture as a voice primarily in dialogue, finding common ground so as to expose and appreciate and utilize the kernel of truth within the husk of our cultural and ideological misconceptions.

[14] Michael Novak, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism (New York, New York: American Enterprise Institute/​Simon &​ Schuster Publication, 1982). Novak’s works is programmatic in the articulation of a moral theory and a theological base for the implicit ideals of democratic capitalism.

[15] Max Stackhouse, Shaping Public Theology, ed. Scott Paeth, Harold Breitenberg, and Hak Joon Lee (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 2014). These selective writings are a primer on Public Theology, in general, and Stackhouse’s work in particular as a prominent thinker.

[16] Peter Scott and William T. Cavanaugh, eds., The Blackwell Companion to Political Theology (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2004).

[17] Max Stackhouse, God and Globalization: Globalization and Grace (New York And London: The Continuum International Publication Group Inc, 2007), 102-103.

[18] Ibid., 102.

[19] Ibid., 103.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid., 103.

[22] Max Stackhouse, Public Economy and Political Economy: Christian Stewardship and Modern Society (Maryland: University Press of America, 1991), 101.

[23] Moshe Halbertal and Stephen Holms, The Beginning of Politics: Power in the Biblical Book of Samuel (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2017). The authors argue that the essence of politics is power. Their case in point is the King David. There were pro-and anti-monarchical biases in the book of Samuel. The reason why is because David was a politician who wielded power. I do not agree with the authors higher critical understanding of Scripture but suffice to say politics is more about the persuasion of power than the power of persuasion.

[24] Christopher Hutchens God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (New York, New York: Hatchette Press, 2007).

[25] God and Grace, 107.Max Stackhouse. “Public Theology and Civil Society In A Globalizing Era” (paper presented to the Bangalore Theological Forum, Bangalore, 1992).

[26] H. Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture, 3rd ed (New York, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2001).

[27] Jeffrey E. Haymond, “Common Grace and The Competitive Market System,” The Journal of Markets and Morality 19, (2016, Spring): 79-80.

[28] Stackhouse, God and Grace, 107.

[29] David Neville, “Dialectic as Method in Public Theology: Recalling Jacques Ellul,” International Journal of Public Theology, vol 2, issue 2. Ellul adds to the notion of dialectic both proximity and distance.

[30] Stackhouse, God and Grace, 107.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Daniel Strange. “What on Earth? Why on Earth? Evangelicals and Public Theology” (lecture given at Friends of Oak Hill College, London, England, September 1, 2006). Strange argues that said legitimacy is based on the Lordship of Christ. He correctly notes that most pubic theological discourse does not consider the noetic effect of sin. It relies too heavily on natural law, social science, etc., due to liberal theology. This is why the moral legitimacy of public theology must not only be apologetic, but biblical and orthodox. To this I concur.

[33] Henry Morris, Science and the Bible, 3rd ed (Chicago, Illinois: Moody Press, 1986).

[34] D. Hausman and M. McPherson, Economic Analysis and Moral Philosophy, 2nd ed (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006).

[35] B. Barry, Theories of Justice (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989).

[36]  Andrew Kirk, The Good News of the Kingdom Coming (Downer Grove, Illinois: Inter Varsity, 1985), 71.

[37] Lester Thurow, Zero Sum Society: Distribution and the Possibilities for Change, 2nd ed (New York, New York: Basic Books, 2001). Thurow provides a rationale for why the America economy cannot solve its most pressing issues of the day, while making a case for redistribution of wealth.

[38] Andrew Kirk, The Good News of the Kingdom Coming, 71.

[39] Ann Cudd, Analyzing Oppression (Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press, 2006). Cudd argues that political economies are not inherently oppressive. The oppression is perpetrated by social groups within the structure of an institution.

[40] Reinhold Niebuhr, Moral Man and Immoral Society, 2nd ed (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013).

[41] Stackhouse, Public Theology and Political Economy, 114-117.

[42] David W. Conklin, Comparative Economic Systems (Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 1991).

[43] Ibid., 116.

[44] Ronald Nash, Wealth and Poverty, 47-48.

[45] Adam Smith, Wealth of The Nations (Hollywood, Florida: Simon And Brown, 2012).

[46] Ellen Meiksins Wood, “Capitalism or Enlightenment?” History of Political Thought 21, no. 3 (2000, Autumn): 405-426. Woods argues that Capitalism and the Enlightenment are not to be conflated, that they arise from different social, political formations.

[47] Walter Rauschenbusch, Christianity and Social Crisis, reprint by Library of Theological Ethics (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1992).

[48] R. C. Sproul Jr., Biblical Economics: A Commonsense Guide to our Daily Bread, 4th ed (West Virginia: Tolle Lege Press, 2008), 135.

[49] Ibid.

[50] Craig Blomberg, “Give Me Neither Poverty nor Riches: A New Testament Theology of Material Possessions,” Stone-Campbell Journal 2, no. 2 (1999, Fall): 210. Blomberg surveys some of the major contributions of the NT to a biblical theology of material possessions demonstrating neither an unrelenting asceticism nor a “godly materialism,” but a consistent concern.

[51] Ronald J. Sider, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger (Dallas, Texas: Word, 1997), 205. Sider shows that typically a substantial majority of Christian charitable giving typically does not to be going to alleviate the physical plight of suffering people.

[52] Bruce J. Malina, “Wealth and Poverty in The New Testament and Its World,” Interpretations 41, no. 40 (1987): 38.

[53] Ibid., 40.

[54] Ibid.

[55] Ibid., 360-65.

[56] Ibid.

[57] Ibid., 364-67.

[58] R. K. Harrison, Old Testament Times (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Harper Collins Publishers, 1970). Harrison argues in part that the Old Testament gives at each stage of its formation an accurate, including the cultural context of the oppressed.

[59] Gowen, Wealth and Poverty in the Old Testament, 343.

[60] Shabu Joseph Thottumkal, “Do Not Oppress!” (Zech. 7:10): The Widow, the Orphan, the Sojourner and the Poor in Post-exilic Israel (Bengaluru, India: Kristu Jyoti, 2016). This monograph is a detailed study of the rights of the widows, the orphans, the aliens, and the poor in Israel according to the postexilic prophecy of Zech. 7:9-10.

[61] E. Hammershaimb, “On The Ethics Of The Old Testament Prophets,” Vetus Testamentum Supplements 6, (1960, January 01): 75-101. Hammershaimb includes in his discussion the relationship of this prophetic Old Testament motif regarding concern for the oppressed but erroneously finds “that in the prophets’ concern for widows and the fatherless there are quite obvious traces of a Canaanite origin” (p. 83).

[62] F. Charles Fensham, “Widow, Orphan, And The Poor In Ancient Near Eastern Legal And Wisdom Literature,” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 21, (1962, April): 129-139.

[63] Cyrus H. Gordon, “Biblical Customs And The Nuzu Tablets,” The Biblical Archaeologist 3, (1940, February 1): 7-9. The practice of levirate marriage for widows, well attested from many places in the Ancient Near East, not only among the Babylonians and Assyrians but also with the Hurrians and even the Hittites in Anatolia.

[64] Gowen, Wealth and Poverty in the Old Testament, 344.

[65] Ibid., 347.

[66] Ibid., 345.

[67] Ibid., 29.

[68] Ibid., 350.

[69] Ibid., 352.

[70] Rebecca Weaver, “Wealth and Poverty In The Early Church,” Interpretations 3, no. 15 (2003, January 01): 368.

[71] Ibid., 370.

[72] David Krueger, Donald W. Shriver, and Laura Nash, The Business Corporation and Productive Justice (Nashville, Tennessee: Abington Press, 1997), 17.

[73] Sachs, End of Poverty, 31.

[74] It is “absolute” in contradistinction to relative poverty. Krueger, and others, say that relative poverty is a level above subsistence due to an increase of wealth.

[75] Sachs, End of Poverty, 31.

[76] Not until the Industrial Age (which began in England and spread elsewhere) did the world experience sustained economic growth. However, this growth was regionally unequal; for example, with the U.S., Canada, and Oceania this region experienced more growth, i.e. per capita intensive growth

[77] What I understand to be the difference of per capita growth vis-à-vis Gross National Product is that the former is a better index of real growth because it factors in GNP minus populations increase; e.g., if GNP is 6%​ within a five-year period and if during the same five-year period the population increases to about 3.5%​, then per capita growth is 2.5%​.

[78] Ibid., 31.

[79] Ibid., 43.

[80] Ibid., 45-48.

[81] Ibid., 48.

[82] David Krueger, The Business Corporation and Productive Justice, 26.

[83] Ibid.

[84] Sachs, End of Poverty, 39.

[85] Krueger, Productive Justice, 30.

[86] Ibid., 31.

[87] Ibid.

[88] Peter Berger, “Vice and Virtue in Economic Life,” in Christian Social Ethics in a Global Era, ed. Max Stackhouse et al (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), 75-93.

[89] Ibid., 87.

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