Free enterprise the solution for impoverished nations, scholars say at Southern Seminary’s Commonweal Conference
The Bible provides a blueprint for impoverished nations that gives hope for flourishing, said Wayne Grudem and Barry Asmus at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Commonweal Conference, Sept. 26-27.
“Our message is that there is hope for poor nations,” said Grudem, research professor of theology and biblical studies at Phoenix Seminary. “The Bible supports a nation producing its own products and building its own [economic health].”
Grudem and Asmus, senior economist at the National Center for Policy Analysis, co-authored the 2013 book The Poverty of Nations: A Sustainable Solution, which argues a biblical case for a free enterprise economy. The conference theme, “The hard work of human flourishing,” arose from the book.
The two main components of a nation’s economic strength or weakness, Grudem and Asmus said, are per-capita income and Gross Domestic Product — the market value of all goods and services produced in a country within one year. If per-capita income and GDP are both high, a nation will flourish.
Despite the frequency of wealthier nations providing aid to poorer countries, Grudem said the Bible supports a nation producing its own products in order to produce its own wealth.
Grudem and Asmus set forth three vital questions that a country must ask if it desires to grow economically:
Does its economic system promote a free market?
Is the government serving the people or undermining their ability to own private property?
Are a country’s cultural values “progress prone” or “progress prohibitive?”
The presence of Christian faith is a central factor for the growth of a nation, Asmus said. Poverty-stricken nations such as Haiti and India have suffered economically for generations because the dominant religions in those countries resist progress.
“Christianity is progress-prone,” he said. “Most religions are progress-resistant. You can start to see countries recover economically and begin to flourish where Christianity is introduced.”
This is true, he said, because Christianity promotes individuals owning their own property, which in turn provides collateral that spurs further economic growth. “You need title deeds and verifiable addresses and property documents,” he said. “These are important details to gain collateral.”
Grudem built a biblical case for human flourishing, arguing that the eighth commandment — “You shall not steal” — provides a theological basis for humans producing goods and owning private property. God gave Adam and Eve a stewardship to rule over the earth and produce things out of the ground, he noted.
Some Christians see material flourishing as participating in greed, Grudem pointed out, but God has designed men in his image to produce things and has endued people with talents to be used in making a living.
“I do not think it is greed,” he said. “I don’t think this drive is sin. I think it was in the heart of Adam and Even from the beginning before there was sin. It is a God-given desire that meshes with God-given wisdom and skill and ability.”
The ownership of private property, Grudem said, implies stewardship from God and the obligation of the Christian to use that property in a way that is consistent with the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25 and Luke 19, among other biblical texts.
Stewardship, he said, implies that humans were created to be productive with the talents which God has entrusted to them. God wants his people to flourish with the things he has given them, Grudem said, and ownership of private property motivates people to be productive.
“If God entrusts me with something, he expects me to do something with it, something worthwhile, something he finds valuable,” he said. “That is evident from the very beginning of the Bible in Genesis 1.”
While Grudem and Asmus agree that Christians should be generous with their money, time and possessions, ultimately, propping up the poor through gifts does not solve the dilemma of poverty. Those who merely promote the division of wealth with the poor rob Christians of joyful giving through a guilt ethic, Grudem said.
“It’s not moving from affluence to generosity, but moving from poverty to production,” he said. “The solution is not generosity by the rich, but production by the poor.
“This burden of false guilt robs Christians of the joyful thanksgiving to God which He wants them to feel as they freely enjoy the fruits of their labor. They are motivated to be more creative and more productive for the benefit of all people on the earth, and they are able to give more generously to the work of the gospel and to the advancement of the kingdom of God throughout the earth.”
The Commonweal Project on Faith, Work, and Human Flourishing, funded by the Kern family, is an academic initiative at Southern Seminary to foster a theology of work and economics.
Audio and video from the Commonweal Conference are available at sbts.edu/resources.