As multiple polls show increasing support among Americans, particularly the young, for socialism, For the Least of These: A Biblical Answer to Poverty offers a timely comparative analysis of whether government-sponsored programs or free market enterprise is best suited to help lift people out of poverty.  The book is actually a collection of essays by academics and theologians that address biblical perspectives on the poor, the markets and the poor and poverty alleviation in practice.  The editors are Anne Bradley, Ph.D. and Art Lindsley, M.Div., Ph.D., of the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, a “nonprofit, 501(c)(3) Christian research organization committed to promoting biblical and economic principles that help individuals find fulfillment in their work and contribute to a free and flourishing society.”

For the Least of These Part 1

Part 1 begins with a carefully researched discussion of poverty and the poor as discussed in the Old and New Testament.  The opening essay immediately lays the foundation that the Bible and history of the church “show that a two-pronged approach of supporting business and economic development and direct work meeting needs in the community is the best approach to promoting human flourishing…”  Part 1 also introduces the concept of state redistribution of wealth and how Jubilee and Acts 2-5 are the leading biblical examples used by evangelicals to support socialism.  While pointing out several flaws in this argument, Dr. Lindsley does not completely reject the notion that the government can play a role in providing a “safety net” for people in need.  He cautions against allowing this safety net to absolve Christians and the church from playing a personal and active role in helping the poor. 

For the Least of These Part 2

Part 2 argues that free markets are better suited to lift individuals out of poverty.  This is primarily because the property rights and the freedom of exchange and contracting associated with free markets are key drivers for increasing income and wealth.  Part 2 also discusses the roots of income inequality from an economic and biblical perspective.  From a biblical perspective, Dr. Bradley notes that while it is clear we are all equally loved by God and endowed with a diversity of gifts, those gifts inherently have different values in society such that “income inequality is a natural part of the human condition.”

For the Least of These Part 3

Finally, Part 3 highlights efforts to fight poverty that have been successful and ultimately failed.  The central theme of this section is that government welfare programs can often create a cycle of poverty that is difficult to escape.  The sheer growth of government sponsored domestic and international aid in the past fifty years is also contrary to the principles of the nation’s founding and ideology of many early presidents.  Compassion of ordinary citizens and organizations like the Red Cross were the traditional means of providing aid to those in need. The final essay further argues that promoting work, as called for in the Old and New Testament, is the best way to create jobs, increase incomes and give individuals hope.

For the Least of These inspires thoughtful reflection on poverty in general and how it impacts us personally.  The historical research on the conditions of the poor from biblical times to the current day was uplifting when considering how much things have improved for the poor in the U.S. and globally.  However, at the same time the book is sobering when one considers how close so many average Americans are to poverty, either by being the proverbial “one check away from homelessness” or through family and community connections, and the difficult choices faced by those in need of basic necessities.  

Combining biblical exegesis with proven economic principles, For the Least of These: A Biblical Answer to Poverty equips Christians with both a solid biblical and economic understanding of how best to care for the poor and foster sustainable economic development.

This was especially sobering when reading an interesting passage on character in Chapter 10 by author Lawrence Reed.  When discussing the fiscal debt created by welfare programs Reed states when a person “evades his responsibilities, foists his problems and burdens on others, or fails to exert self-discipline, he subtracts from his character.”  He goes on to note that “[w]hen he expects politicians to solve problems that are properly his business alone, he subtracts from his character – and drags the rest of us down with him.”  Although a difficult passage to read, this excerpt highlights the individual’s role in lifting themselves out of poverty.  It also crystallizes where biblical principles can have the most impact – strengthening the individual as they journey to self sufficiency and improvement.  
Related Links

Official Book Description

Today, many thoughtful and compassionate Christians are addressing the challenge of alleviating poverty. But while much progress has been made, many well-intentioned efforts have led Christians to actions that are not only ineffective but leave the most vulnerable in a worse situation than before. Is there a better answer?

Combining biblical exegesis with proven economic principles, For the Least of These: A Biblical Answer to Poverty equips Christians with both a solid biblical and economic understanding of how best to care for the poor and foster sustainable economic development. With contributions from fifteen leading Christian economists, theologians, historians, and practitioners, it presents the case for why a multi-faceted approach is needed, and why a renewed focus on markets and trade are the worldโ€™s best hope for alleviating poverty and serving those in financial need.

For the Least of These offers Christians both a solid biblical and economic understanding of how to best alleviate poverty in developing nations and nurture ongoing development. Edited by Anne Rathbone Bradley and Art Lindsley, contributions from several leading Christian theologians, economists, historiansand field workers make the case for a multifaceted approach in serving those in need.

This guest post was written by our dear friend, Lynn White. Featured image provided by mockupshots.com.