Friday, August 14, 2015

Dr Justin Thacker, “The Poverty of Nations by Wayne Grudem and Barry Asmus: A Critical Review”

Below is an excerpt from Dr Justin Thacker’s two-part review of The Poverty of Nations by Barry Asmus and Wayne Grudem (a popular Calvinist author/theologian).  Dr Thacker is a lecturer in theology at Cliff College, and a Fellow of the Manchester Wesley Research Centre.

Excerpt from Part 2:

Theological question #1: Should economic growth trump economic equality as a goal for Christians?

Thoughout the whole of chapters one and two of their book, Grudem and Asmus repeatedly make the claim that the goal to which we should be working is that of economic growth. Indeed, the whole of their argument – that unlimited free trade is the way forward – is dependant on agreeing that continual economic growth is the desired outcome. They write, “If we want to solve poverty, the correct goal is that a nation continually produces more goods and services per person each year.” They specifically advance this goal in contrast to those who would seek equality of economic opportunity or outcome as a purposeful ambition. “Making equality a more important goal that overall economic growth is a mistake for a government, because merely distributing the same amount of wealth in different ways does not change the total amount of wealth a nation produces each year.” Indeed, they go on to describe these two approaches as “opposing goals” citing a series of communist countries as evidence that seeking equality is necessarily wrong.

In light of recent literature on this issue, it would be possible to argue on purely economic grounds that they are mistaken but my interest in this section is the way they use the Bible to justify this claim. The first point to make is that they ignore or downplay many of the biblical texts that suggest the precise opposite, that equality (at least of opportunity, if not outcome) should be our goal. They dismiss the Old Testament Jubilee principle (Leviticus 25) by indicating that it was only meant as a temporary measure, they ignore the early Christian community practice of holding all things in common by pointing out they still retained some possessions (Acts 2:44; Acts 4:32) and they simply ignore Paul’s very clear instruction regarding aid in a time of famine that “the goal is equality” (2 Corinthians 8:14). Given that this verse, and the whole passage in which it sits, is concerned with a redistribution of wealth and stands in direct contradiction to their stated goal, we might have expected them to treat it with some diligence. But that is not the case. Perhaps even more troubling is that when they do cite other relevant passages, they do so only to dismiss them. They write, “When a man who has two shirts gives a shirt worth $13 to a man who has none, this is a good deed that genuinely helps the poor man (see Luke 3:11). But it does nothing to increase the GDP.” I think it would be perfectly possible to make an economic case that they are mistaken in this analysis, for one would could argue that giving gifts builds trust and co-operation, both of which are essential for economic productivity. However, even if we concede that there is no increase in GDP, the fact remains that we are still commanded to do it, that is, give to the poor (Deut 15:11; Prov 19:17; Matthew 5:42; Matthew 25:35-40 etc) We do not just ignore scripture because it fails to support a predetermined goal that we have gleaned from some 19th and 20th Century economists. What this passage in fact demonstrates is that the goal of continually increasing GDP may not be the goal to which Christians should aspire.


Further Reading:


  • Justin Thacker & Marijke Hoek, Micah's challenge : the church's responsibility to the global poor (2008), Find in a Library;

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