Yet, now, over twenty years after Moynihan’s second report and after throwing $25 trillion into the “War On Poverty,” things have only become worse. Timothy S. Goeglein, “The Moynihan Report At 50,” in The City, 8, 2 (Winter 2015): 7-12, highlights that in most every ethnic group and demographic in America the family is unraveling. The result is a burgeoning poverty of different kinds.
By this point in our discussion we should see at least the following problems in how the United States has approached and continues to approach its “war on poverty”: It has seen the solution as only a material one; it has not taken into consideration a full-orbed approach to the various foundational relationships humans need to consider to flourish (God; self; creation; others, not the least of which is family), and it has not understood the injustice and harm that comes when we encourage people not to work.
However, there is another problem inherent in the approach that has been taken—the ever-growing tendency of the United States to redistribute wealth to help alleviate problems. That problem is found in our fourth truth that forms a biblical view of economics.
4. God’s Moral Will Opposes Taking Away From Others What Belongs To Them.
Yes, you read that right. Another way to say this is that forcefully taking resources from one person by another person(s), even if it is supposedly for the benefit of other people is immoral. Consider what the eighth commandment says: “You shall not steal” (Exodus 20:15).
You see, if a person were able to take your identity or hack into your on-line bank account and take your money, we would term this “stealing.” Yet, if that same person went to work for the IRS, demanded that you turn over your money so it can be redistributed to others for their help and then said if you do not do this, you will face greater fines or even jail time, we simply term this “taxation.”
It is not wrong for governments to tax its citizens. When Jesus was asked (Mt. 19:17), “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” he answered this way (Mt. 22:21): “…render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's….” In other words, yes, it is right to pay taxes to a government by which they govern. Paul is in agreement with his Lord when he writes (Rom. 13:6): “For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God….” Yet, we must not miss from our Lord and from Paul these two truths in context:
· In Jesus’ answer about taxes he added that we were not just to pay what is due to the government authorities, but also to God (Mt. 22:21): “…and to God the things that are God's.” In other words, though taxes will be owed to governing authorities, not everything should be owed to them. There should be personal wealth and resources we retain for other uses. This is a clear indication that the Bible is not favorable to socialism or communism.
· In Paul’s teaching about the government and taxation he had earlier affirmed the purpose of government is to be very limited. He mentions the protection of its citizens from enemies within and without and, along with this, to administer justice through its laws (the rewarding of law-abiding citizens and the penalization of law-breaking citizens). There is nothing to suggest that law-abiding citizens are rewarded monetarily, but the sense most likely is they are rewarded with freedom and protection to flourish.
Arthur Brooks, after discussing the reality that many nations around the world are flourishing and decreasing those in poverty through copying what has worked in the past here in the United States, writes the following that helps describe the economic approach to which we should return if we follow biblical wisdom:
But what about poverty right here at home? Paradoxically, here we have less reason to celebrate. To be sure, poor Americans have made material advances since I was a boy, like the rest of society. And in absolute terms, the American poor live more comfortably than poor people in the developing world. But relatively speaking, our progress in defeating poverty has been utterly substandard. While our values have been beating back poverty around the globe, the poverty rate here in America remains virtually unchanged since Lyndon Johnson’s day. While American-style free enterprise has radically reduced poverty around the world, our own progress against domestic poverty has ground to a halt.
Brooks then adds: “I learned that American-style democratic capitalism was changing the world and helping billions of poor people to build their lives.”
Brooks is right. And we can add, if we use current economic labels to describe the overall approach the Bible teaches we can do no better than democratic capitalism or a free enterprise system.
As such, if we want to pursue justice economically we can do no better than follow the adominition of Michael Novak: “Social justice is really the capacity to organize with others to accomplish ends that benefit the whole community. If people are to live free of state control, they must possess this new virtue of cooperation and association. This is one of the great skills of Americans and, ultimately, the best defense against statism.” In other words, yes, work together for justice, but this will involved freedom and less state control, not more.
One final area we need briefly to address in regard to God’s moral will leading us away from socialism or communism, and that is equality. It is true that we want to pursue equality in the administration of laws (Lev. 19:15). We also want to pursue equal penalties for crimes committed (Ex. 21:14). And we desire a form of equality in starting lines, i.e. people having opportunities to move toward success and flourishing. What it is not wise to pursue is equality in all ways, especially suggesting that everyone has to have an equal finishing line. This denies the biblical explanations of reality that affirm outcomes are typically commensurate with inputs (Gal. 6:7) and that affirm different people have different talents and gifts, as well as different levels of talents and gifts that lead to different outcomes (Mt. 25:14-30; 1 Cor. 12). To deny this or seek to destroy this reality not only eventually hurts society, but it also encourages envy.
On explaining this latter point we can do no better than quote columnist Andree Seu Peterson at length:
What do you get if you scratch the equality movement in America? Answer: envy…. No one wants to say, “I envy people who have what I don’t have, or who can go where I’m not allowed to go, or who can do what I’m not allowed to do.” They say instead, “I think everyone should be equal.” There exists a place where everyone is equal, and it is hell… (Is. 14:9-11)…. Hell’s ravenous lust for equality is echoed in the unshakable thirst for kings’ blood in the French Revolution’s egalite of results in contrast to the more felicitous fruit of the American Revolution’s equality of the pursuit of happiness…. Turns out that even after you have wrung the last drop of perceived unfair advantage out of the “haves” and handed it over to the “have nots” to quench the voracious god of Equality, there is always someone left in the room with a scintilla more than you to envy, a situation that cannot be tolerated.
Any view of economics or poverty relief that denies this fourth truth or shortchanges it will be unjust.
5. God’s Moral Will Is To Help The Poor, But Not In A Way That Hurts Them Or You.
As he addresses the myth of black inferiority, Tony Evans writes the following: “A contemporary manifestation of the myth’s impact is visibly demonstrated in the heavily dependent posture of the black community on government-based social service programs. The independent black church during slavery hewed out a community, culture, religious institution, and antislavery resistant movement with limited support from the government or broader culture.” He goes on to say that unfortunately the myth has been perpetrated in this dependence and a “victim mentality.”
Evans highlights here that there are ways to attempt to help an individual or entire group of people, to alleviate poverty or right past wrongs, that can hurt them. We can even create entire systems that are unjust in this way.
Part of the challenge in helping those who are poor is, on the one hand, defining accurately what poverty is and, on the other hand, defining how best to help and in a way that remains aware of our tendency to help in arrogant and harmful ways. We must avoid hurting both the poor and ourselves in these ways.
Due to the tendency for sinful humans to be deceived (Jer. 17:9; Heb. 3:12-13) and to be habituated in ways that are sinful and destructive (2 Pt. 2:14, 19), and this could include either those with material wealth being steeped in pride and God-ignoring self-dependence (James 4:1-10) or the poor being stuck in patterns of fear, hopelessness, and victimization that lead to poverty (Prov. 12:1; 17:22; 22:13), we must take very seriously this truth.
Because we have already said much that pertains to this truth in the previous two posts, we do not need to elaborate on it more. We could say that any approach to alleviating poverty that ignores the previous four truths will be one that hurts both parties.
6. God’s Moral Will Is For Us To Teach These Principles To Each Generation.
In Genesis 1:26-28 and Psalm 8:5-6, where we read of God creating humans, we are told humans have had a commission from God from the very beginning, that includes serving as his vice-regents who bring order to the world. This would include helping other humans flourish and once humans were fallen into sin, helping them come to God.
This call to reach the next generation, to bring them to God (including those in our own family), includes teaching them to observe all that God has revealed and commanded in regard to himself (Dt. 6:4-7a; Mt. 28:20). One of the ways we know this includes the economic principles we have discussed comes from grasping the original purpose of the book of Proverbs. This was book was compiled like other similar wisdom and proverbial works from the ancient world primarily to prepare young people for leadership in Israel, that is, among the people of God, by teaching them God’s wisdom for all of life. This is evidenced in the book itself (Prov. 1:1-7; 2:1-15; 8:15; 14:28; 16:12; 20:28; 21:1; 22:6; 31:4, 10-31). And Proverbs teaches much about economics.
One of the great needs we now have is to re-insert into education and into our discipling a biblically wise view of economics, government, work, and how to help the poor. This is a matter of righteousness and justice. To do any less is to walk by on the other side of the road and ignore those being deeply hurt by destructive views and philosophies. This does involve taking sides in views, but does not have to be inordinately partisan or caustic.
7. God’s Moral Will Is For The Gospel To Shape Our Approach To Economics.
This final truth we must take into consideration is very important, for without it we are sure to distort our approach to alleviating poverty and we are sure to encourage those we are helping to miss the most important relationship they need, and that is their relationship with God—that one that is foundational to the other foundational healthy relationships that are needed (self, creation, and others).
We must start by explaining briefly what is meant by the gospel shaping our approach to economics.
Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 that the essence of the gospel (that proclamation of good news that the king has come and delivered his people from destruction at the hands of the enemy, e.g. Is. 52:7; 61:1) is that Jesus Christ died, was buried, and was raised to save sinners. As Paul exemplifies in his epistle to the Romans, to proclaim the gospel (Rom. 1:15) involves explaining why the gospel is needed—i.e. we are separated from God by our sin and under his judgment, thus breaking and twisting our other foundational relationships (Rom. 1:18-3:20); explaining how this salvation is applied to us: We receive and rest upon Christ alone by grace alone through faith in him alone (Rom. 3:21-5:1); and what the results of that application are: We become new people who can follow God and live for his glory, empowered by his Spirit (Rom. 5:1-8:39). Responding to the truths of the gospel is the only way to salvation (Rom. 1:16) and it is the only way to be strengthen and to grow in our relationship to God (Rom. 16:25).
So, what we mean by the gospel shaping our approach to economics is that we understand as followers of Jesus Christ, the only way we can alleviate poverty or teach economics to the next generation in the ways God prescribes (the seven truths we have set forth), with the attitudes of heart God desires (with humility, love, and dependence on God, guarding against prideful deception), and for the purposes God desires (his glory as we display that our obedience is a result of his gracious work in us (Rom. 1:5; 11:36; 16:25-27), is that we must do so in dependence upon Jesus Christ in us. What is more, we understand that as we give aid to the poor and teach economic principles to others, if we are to help them find the four foundational relationships they must have, they must know why we do what we do, for whom we are doing it, and it is only through Jesus Christ they can come to know God and practice these truths themselves (John 14:6; Acts 4:12; Rom. 1:16).
Now that we know what we mean by the gospel shaping our approach to economics we can set forth a few key points to guide us in how to do this.
· We must be engaged in advocating these economic truths and helping the poor in dependence upon Christ, because we love others, and for the glory of Christ (Rom. 1:5; Gal. 5:6; Rom. 16:25-27).
· We must be ever dependent upon Christ and his means of transforming grace—not the least of which is having others speak into our lives—so we do not deceive ourselves and fall into pride, frustration, and anger in our advocation of these economic truths and how we seek to alleviate poverty (Gal. 2:20; 5:22-23; Heb. 3:12-13).
· We must depend upon our good heavenly Father who knows how to and loves to give us and others of his children good gifts through his Spirit as we carry out these truths (Mt. 7:7-11; Lk. 11:9-13).
· As much as possible we should let others know that we love because of Christ and we help ultimately for his glory (Mt. 25:31-40; 2 Cor. 9:12-15).
· As much as possible we must help people understand that to apply these truths in their fullest degree, Jesus Christ is needed (John 15:5; Gal. 2:20).
· We must never conclude that the difference between those of us who grasp and seek to practice these truths and those who do not is our own efforts. No, were it not for the grace of God, we would be no different (Eph. 2:1-10).
· As we advocate for these truths in the public square, empowered by his grace and the awareness of his grace, we will do so in a gracious and merciful manner, loving those who disagree with and oppose us (Mt. 23:23-24; Luke 6:27-38), and forgiving and releasing resentment against those who seek us harm (Eph. 4:31-32).
· Finally, though we know these seven truths are vey important to our loving others, teaching the next generation of believers, and helping people flourish, we also grasp that advocating them is not as important as helping others come to know God through Jesus Christ (Mt. 16:26). So, we are steadfast in not wanting to win the battle of advocating sound economic principles in a manner that we lose the war of people seeing whom our Savior really is and what he is like.
One of the most neglected areas of life among Christians today is economics. I pray that as you read these three posts, you have discovered the potential the church has for glorifying God, as well as loving and helping others flourish through teaching these seven truths. They are a significant part of how we do and pursue justice!
Joyfully Seeking Justice With You,
 I am indebted to Goeglein and his article for the information on the Moynihan Report and its sequel.
 Arthur C. Brooks, The Conservative Heart: How To Build A Fairer, Happier, And More Prosperous America, 2-3.
 Brooks, The Conservative Heart, 5.
 Michael Novak, “Social Justice Not What You Think It Is.” Accessed 6/17/18 at heritage.org/poverty-and-inequality/report/social-justice-not-what-you-think-it.
 Andree Seu Peterson, “Inequality And Envy: Ugly Motives Stand Behind The Push For Equality Of Results,” World (July 21, 2018): 63.
 Tony Evans, Oneness Embraced, 96.
 Steve Corbett, Brian Fikkert, When Helping Hurts: How To Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting The Poor…and Yourself (Chicago: Moody, 2012, repr.).