Economics & Theology: A Conversation with Wayne Grudem

Unbelievable?Recently I had the privilege of taking part in a an episode of the UK podcast ‘Unbelievable?’, hosted by Justin Brierley, in which I discussed theologian Wayne Grudem’s new book on solutions to global poverty with Wayne Grudem himself. (Thanks to Justin for having me on the show). The podcast is now online, here. A special welcome to anyone visiting my blog for the first time, having heard the podcast – be aware that my blogging is both sporadic and diverse, but I hope you find something worthwhile!

The conversation with Professor Grudem gave me an opportunity to explore the intersection of theology and economics – a particular interest of mine – in a way that I haven’t for a while, and so I thought some follow-up blog posts might be in order. In my review of Professor Grudem’s book for the Bible Society I was only able to scratch the surface of these issues; in addition, some of Professor Grudem’s responses to my criticisms on the podcast were, I think, insufficient.

Issues of poverty and justice are at the very heart of the Christian scriptures, as Professor Grudem and his coauthor, economist Barry Asmus, agree. Christians need to think hard and deep about how our faith informs answers and solutions to such questions. However, both the economics and the theology are more complex than either the book and our conversation imply. My hope is to continue to explore these issues on my blog over the next little while (but I give no guarantees about how quickly it will happen!).

So, in short, here’s what I propose to tackle in forthcoming blogs:

  1. Free Markets: Separating History & Myth
  2. Foreign Aid: Its Role in Development
  3. Botswana: A Case Study
  4. Doing Theology
  5. Creation As God Made It: Market Economy & God’s Economy
  6. Markets & Morality
  7. Equality: Good Goal or Distraction?
  8. Final Reflections: What Is Economics?

As I’ve said, no guarantees about the timeliness of the proposed blogs. I have assignments due and dead languages to learn. But it’s important we think about this well and get this right, because many in our world continue to suffer extraordinary poverty – and the God who made them gives us hope for their future, if only we have eyes to see it.

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11 thoughts on “Economics & Theology: A Conversation with Wayne Grudem

  1. I’m one of those that discovered your blog through the Unbelievable? Podcast, and unfortunately, I was rather disappointed. I am here in the US, and I hear these same arguments from economic conservatives all the time without any real data to back up their assertions. Grudem’s lack of interaction with the argument made by Chang for example, while being allowed to continue parroting his conservative talking points was incredibly frustrating.

    It is encouraging to listen to Christians from countries other than the US, and remember that most of us aren’t twisting the scriptures to justify an oppressive Plutocratic Governmental structure like Grudem and friends are. Thank you for taking on the daunting task of debating Grudem. I’m looking forward to your future posts expanding on the topics you outlined.

    • By the way, I do realize that the topic of conversation was Global Economics, with respect to the usefulness of foreign aid. One of the frustrating points for me was that Grudem conflates economic prescriptions for developed nations with those of undeveloped ones. The prescription that he proposes isn’t a simple, “one size fits all” measure, yet he presents it as though it is. In an extremely primitive command economy, which many of the developing nations find themselves in, cutting taxes and liberalizing land ownership may be the best thing for that country. But, once a well entrenched legal system is in place, and the economy is on a stable footing, “getting the government out of the way” so that people can have “freedom” has done nothing for the developed nations but increase economic inequality and reduce opportunity for the “least of these”.

      • Hi Jeremy,

        Thanks for getting in touch. It was frustrating not to be able to get into more detail about Chang’s argument (among other things), but such is the nature of this form of media; often there isn’t the chance to follow up as one would like, hence the desire to write a few follow-up posts. You’re right, though: the ‘one size fits all’ argument is bogus, and that’s largely what Chang is saying. Indeed, given the content of Grudem’s rebuttal, I’m not sure he’s really grasped Chang’s argument at all, but that probably isn’t surprising: Grudem cites Easterley fairly regularly, and Easterley’s critique of Chang largely misses the point, too.

        But be assured: I know not all American Christians are in this same economic boat!

      • Thanks again Richard. You have definitely expanded my reading list. Looking forward to the follow up posts…

  2. Thanks for your helpful corrective to the narrowness of Grudem’s approach in ‘The Poverty of Nations’. I was involved in a panel discussion with him on the issue at the European Leadership Forum where, again, we only scratched the surface of the issues.

    • Thanks David. Narrow is certainly right! Is your panel discussion available to read/watch/listen to somewhere?

  3. Richard,
    I respect and love your heart for the poor. From what I have read, it seems that you cannot see ALL that Grudem is saying because of your particular worldview. In your 20’s, little work experience, not ever run your own business, beginning your Moore studies, the influences of living in Newtown and the rather infantile frappachino references are all going to put you behind the 8 ball on issues of such magnitude. It also worth considering that Sydney Uni, as with most of the education system, is devoutly religious, and that religion is Humanism. The slow and relentless indoctrination in humanist beliefs most of us have received can blind us to real biblical truth and principles.

    In the “Unbelivable” interview, it was clear to me that you were never open to anything Wayne said, so it was a bit of waste of time really. His book covers 78 points that could have been discussed, and yet you stuck to the standard Christian socialist lines, and even then had your arguments completely dismantled. I was genuinely cringing for you.

    As a brother in Christ, I in no way mean to put you down or condemn you. I do not intend to re-state what Grudem has done such a great job in stating, but I do pray that you may have eyes that are open to genuinely consider what he is saying, and eyes to see how if God’s word does not effect the nation in it’s political, legal, and economic systems, and in the beliefs of the people, then the nation can never prosper.

    There are two ways to view everything: Gods way, and Mans way. Mans way is Humanism, and one of Humanism’s great triumphs has been to convince people that equality is what we should desire. What a great lie from the great deceiver. The Bible calls for equity, not equality. God has given us unequal gifts, but always calls for equity, or equal treatment for ALL under His law.

    As I see it, God can fix world poverty in less than a heartbeat, but our response needs to be one of obedience to all of the principles he has given us. We must choose obedience, not pragmatism. Focus on obedience, leave the outcomes to God.

    Culture is religion externalised. Religion is a cultural system of behaviors and practices, world views, ethics, and social organisation that relate humanity to an order of existence (wiki). We all have a religion, whether we admit it or not.

    Western culture has been heavily influenced by God’s word, and over the generations the (largely) God honoring systems of those countries have allowed their people to better themselves and experience a standard of living unprecendented in world history.

    All other nations, be it Muslim, Communist, tribal or any other system have been desperate, miserable and tragic failures. And why should be expect anything else? If a nation, family, or individual is going to live with a complete rejection of God, of course it will not go well with them. We are told that throughout scripture, and the OT is littered with historic examples of such.

    “Taking the Gospel to ALL nations……..teaching them to OBEY ALL I have commanded” is the only way we can have any lasting impact at any level, for any nation. It is also the only way to deal with world poverty. Anything else, even if we do put food in desperate peoples mouths, is tragically a “cup of tea on the road to hell”.

    Culture is religion externalised. With the full counsel of God’s word and His Holy Spirit, the culture can be changed. Nothing lasting and good will come until that culture is changed.

    In my work (in Asia) with asylum seekers and the poor, one thing is clear to me: They flee the ‘unchristianised” countries, and flee to the ones that have been “christianised” (unfortunately those countries now deny God and are living on their “christian capital”, but that is an issue for another day).

    I thank God that King Alfred adopted Mosaic Law, that we ended up with British Common Law, and I further thank God that Australia adopted the Reception Statute, so that this nations people could rise up from our desperately poor beginnings to become the amazingly free and prosperous nation we are today.

    Finally, with regard to the way you quoted so many people in the interview, I suggest you (and all of us), seriously consider the following from A.W. Tozer:

    “Listen to no man (or lecturer, or author, or humanist university) who has not listened to God.”

    Thank you for reading, and God bless.

    • Thanks for your reply, Adam. Needless to say, there’s lots I disagree with in your response – not least the label ‘Christian socialist’. I am not a socialist of any kind, let alone a Christian one.

      You’re right about the links culture and religion. You’re right about Sydney Uni’s humanism. You’re wrong in your (implicit) suggestion that we Christians can only learn from people who (in Tozer’s words) have ‘listened to God’. In fact, Prof. Grudem often quotes non-Christian economists. So I’m not sure why my quoting people is any different.

      The “debate” wasn’t great. I will grant you that. The main reason is that the issues we had arranged beforehand to discuss were not the issues we ended up discussing. Prof. Grudem was on the lecture circuit promoting his book; I was called in a few days prior to provide a counterpoint. I was on the back foot because I have little preparation time, little experience, and the issues I wanted to discuss were passed over. I had no intention of discussing foreign aid, nor necessarily to defend it, but that’s what we ended up talking about.

      Furthermore, you present a very rose-coloured picture of wealthy vs. poor nations. It is not as simple as ‘Christian’ nations are more wealthy. People need to stop saying such daft things.

      You may disagree with me, but the patronising tone is a little much. I do happen to have a Masters’ degree in this stuff. The fact of the matter is, that while capitalism has led to economic growth, it has also led to a widening gap between rich and poor. You’re right that the bible doesn’t argue for ‘equality’ in a total, absolute sense; but it does suggest quite clearly that there are extremes of wealth and poverty that are unacceptable: hence the sharing among Christians of Acts 2, 2 Corinthians 8–9, and the warnings about wealth in passages like Matthew 6 and Proverbs 30:8–9. Interestingly, even the IMF – certainly no lefty, socialist organisation! – has recently argued that extreme wealth inequality hampers economic growth.

      There is no ‘Christian’, God-given economic system; all of them are products of human culture, and as such need to be evaluated against a Christian theological and framework. None of them will be perfect; (almost) all of them will have something to offer. Capitalism is no different, and Prof. Grudem’s very poor attempts to ‘prove’ the theological merits of capitalism by way of shallow proof-text is a wholly insufficient approach.

      • Hi Richard,
        If my opening paragraph was too harsh, I apolgise. I have found it helpful in my walk when a brother has said things in such a manner to shake me out of my bubble. It is up to each of us to work out if the cap fits, and in my life, there have been many times where it has fitted.

        I was careful to not label you a Christian socialist. I know very little about you, and therefore could not say such a thing with any degree of accuracy. I simply said that you stuck to socialist points, or as you pointed out, the convener led it that way. I am very relieved actually, to hear you declare that you are not a socialist.

        As for my Tozer reference, I thought it was clear that we would all do very well to bear it in mind. Of course we can learn from a non-Christian, but we must always be cognisant of the fact that if they deny God, they will have many things wrong as their most basic pre-suppositions and epistemology are wrong. I did not have a problem with you quoting a non-Christian, but it would be worth bearing the comment in mind when you assess all you have learned from the cathedral of Humanism that is Sydney Uni (and what all of us have learned via the Humanist education system).

        As for my “rose coloured view on wealthy vs poor nations”, I will simply state this as a macro view (which is helpful, lest we get caught up in the detail and not see the forest for the trees):

        The belief system of a nation’s people determines that nation’s political, economic, and legal system, and the way the people “do life”. These systems dictate what life will be like in that nation, primarily its freedom and prosperity (among other things).

        Real progress, freedom and prosperity in the world only came once we had limited government, and when that limited government acknowledged God and His Law, acknowledged that the government was answerable to God, and that all people are made in His image etc. The best example, although still flawed and marred by human sin, is British Common Law. This is where we see the colonies that adopted BCL and the Reception Statute have done comparatively well in the freedom and prosperity stakes (UK, NZ, Aust, Canada, US et al), even when compared to the British colonies that did not adopt the Reception Statute (India, Ghana, Pakistan, Nigeria et al), who favoured the post WW1 Fabian Socialist views of the British elite and intellectuals. Protestant influenced northern Europe fairs well, but not as well as the BCL Reception Statute countries because they Roman Civil Law influence.

        Look at the track record of the BCL nations, and compare that to countries that flat-out denied God. Russia, China, Cambodia, Syria and on and on and on it tragically goes. Take a look even at the juxtaposition that is Hong Kong and China, side by side and even the same people group. The aspects of BCL that are God-honouring did not just give prosperity, but personal freedoms, AND the absence of human tragedy on scales that the world still cannot get its collective head around (choose any one of the hundreds of Hall of Shame incidents such as the Cultural Revolution, Russian Revolution et al). In these countries whose systems deny/denied God, we see hundreds of millions of people dead as a result of their own governments, whose ideas are based upon a denial of God and His reality. Bad ideas have bad consequences, and Humanism, Darwinism, Communism, Socialism etc are all bad ideas because they deny God and his revelation at every turn. As Friedman rightly points out, Political freedom is the corollary of economic freedom. History bears witness to that.

        All other things aside, God’s word is given to us to explain many things, including reality, and His promises and His-story show that the more we align ourselves with His word, the “better it will go for us”. If that is true for the individual and the family, surely it must be follow for the collective/the nation.
        You’re right when you say “the bible doesn’t argue for ‘equality’ in a total, absolute sense.” That is because is just does not argue for it at all. As for the Bible suggesting “extremes of wealth and poverty that are unacceptable”, my reading of scripture is that it has nothing per se to do with the amount of wealth a person has or doesn’t have. The problem is always the heart of the person and God’s desire for equitable treatment of all, by all. Rich people can perhaps more readily exploit others, but everyone else in society can at times exploit others, including the rich being exploited or treated without equity (think French Revolution, Russian Revolution etc)

        I am just a hopeless sinner doing my best to apply God’s Word and work out what I can through His grace. I appreciate coming across people such as you who are willing to have a go also, even if we have some differences. Fortunately, God is sovereign and is above all of our failings and limited understanding.
        Via my direct email, which presumably shows up at your end, I would really like if you could send me your thoughts on why you think it is “daft” for people to say that “Christian nations are wealthier”. I would like to consider it.
        Cheers, and thanks for your time,
        Adam

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