Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview

The Economics of Neighborly Love BOOK CLUB

The Economics of Neighborly Love: Investing in Your Community’s Compassion and Capacity is the new book by Tom Nelson, author of the excellent book Work Matters: Connecting Sunday Worship to Monday Work. Why not consider reading along with us? Download The Economics of Neighborly Love Study Guide from Made to Flourish.  madetoflourish.org/resources/free-download-economics-neighborly-love-study-guide/ …

We open our study by looking at the Introduction:

  • I couldn’t articulate it at the time, but I began to grasp on a personal level that economic flourishing and human flourishing were intricately connected.
  • Growing up I was puzzled as to why so many in our church didn’t seem to care about our family’s economic stresses and vulnerabilities. Was it a lack of compassion? A lack of capacity? Or was it something different altogether?
  • Each day I woke up in an economic world, yet the Christian faith I was taught seemed to have little to say about it.
  • In my professional education for pastoral ministry, I do not recall any serious discussion about economics or its connection to faith or to the local church.
  • Operating out of an impoverished biblical theology and pastoral paradigm, I had been spending the majority of my time equipping the congregation I served for the minority of their lives. I had to call it what it was: malpractice. This pastoral malpractice was impoverishing our congregation in its spiritual formation and gospel mission.
  • Pastors and Christian leaders in all vocations are called to care for the vulnerable and to seek the flourishing of every image bearer of God.
  • From my pastoral perspective, far too little has been written or taught to the rising generation of leaders about how theology and economics seamlessly intersect. The glaring irony is that Holy Scripture speaks a good deal about economic flourishing.
  • What does the Bible say about economics? What does a life of fruitfulness look like? What role do Christian leaders have in nurturing the economic well-being of their congregations and organizations? What about the well-being of the cities where they minister and serve?

Chapter 1: Neighborly Love

  • The everyday world we live in is an economic world. Daily we are confronted with global economic realities that impact us in a myriad of stress-filled ways.
  • The heartfelt concern I hear from so many people is not merely, “Does my work matter?”, but also, “Is there meaningful work for me to do?”
  • Our lack of thoughtful engagement in the economic challenges of our world is in part due to an impoverished understanding of Jesus’ teaching on the Great Commandment. Could it be we are overlooking something very important?
  • Jesus teaches us that neighborly love speaks into the collaborative work we do every day. He insists that our neighborly love should fuel economic flourishing.
  • A neighbor, properly understood, is a fellow image bearer of God, a member of the family of humanity.
  • Embedded in Jesus’ parable in an intentional contrast between the economic justice perpetuated by the robbers, who wrongly take what is not theirs, and the economic goodness demonstrated by the Samaritan, who generously gives what is rightfully his.
  • Loving our neighbor in need involves both Christian compassion and economic capacity.
  • Properly understood, neighborly love calls for truth, grace, and mercy to put on economic hands and feet.
  • The Samaritan was motivated by heartfelt compassion, but he was also able to engage in loving action because he had the economic capacity to do so.
  • Compassion needs capacity if we are to care well for our neighbors.
  • The gospel not only addresses our greatest impoverishment, which is spiritual impoverishment resulting from our ruptured relationship with God, but also empowers us to address economic impoverishment in neighborly love.
  • A primary way God designed us to love our neighbors is for us to do our work well, and from our work to have the capacity to be generous to neighbors as well.
  • If we have compassion without capacity, we have human frustration. If we have capacity without compassion, we have human alienation. If we have compassion and capacity, we have human transformation. We have neighborly love.
  • The Great Commandment challenges us to better connect Sunday to Monday, not only by nurturing compassionate hearts but also by growing in our economic capacity. And economic capacity does not appear out of thin air. It comes from our faithful vocational stewardship.
  • If we are going to embrace neighborly love, we will have to take the initiative to move out of the comfort zone of our cultural and geographic insularity and get to know our neighbors as people who, like us, have an unique history, have felt the pain of heartache, harbor unfulfilled dreams, and possess underutilized talents and future aspirations.
  • You cannot help your neighbor well if you do not understand economics well, because human flourishing and economic flourishing go hand in hand.
  • An important aspect of being an image bearer of God is to work and to create value by serving others within our collaborative economic system.
  • We are called to be agents of redemption, doing good work as an act of worship, while seeking to further the common good.
  • Doing our work well matters to God and to our neighbor. The best workers make for the best neighbors.

Chapter 2:  Made to Flourish

  • It is in the relationships we make and the work we do that meaning greets us. No matter our age, education, ethnicity, or gender, we long to contribute, to accomplish things, to make a difference, to live a flourishing life.
  • Jesus, the sinless Son of God, came to our sin-ravaged planet so that we might flourish in all dimensions of our human existence.
  • The measure of our neighborly love is not only seen in our ever-increasing Christlike character, but also in our outpouring of Christlike compassion and productive capacity for the good of our neighbors.
  • When we look back at God’s original design for human flourishing, we discover we were created for a vibrant life of responsible creativity, innovation, and productivity.
  • Human flourishing is first and foremost a flourishing of relationships—our relationship with God and with others. But human flourishing is also a product of fruitful work that reflects our God who works.
  • No matter our age, God created us to be creative, to serve others, and to work.
  • To minimize our unique creativity is to diminish the God who designed us in his image. Each one of us has the capacity to be creative and to reflect God with our creative output.
  • We were created to be creative, and we are also called to fruitfulness.
  • If we take the time to understand the cultural mandate, we see being fruitful means more than simply having children; it also speaks to productive human work.
  • Whether our work is paid or not paid, our work is to glorify God, honor others, and add value to their lives.
  • Looking through the lens of Holy Scripture, human work must be seen first and foremost as value contribution, not economic compensation.
  • Fruitfulness means adding value and bestowing honor to others in and through our work.
  • We may retire from our paycheck, but we never retire from work. We never retire from the privilege and responsibility of neighborly love.
  • We are not to worship our work, but our work is a vital aspect of our worship

Chapter 3: HUMAN FRUITFULNESS AND MATERIAL WEALTH

  • Wealth creation is something we are created and called to do in the world.
  • Throughout the history of the church there have been two prominent and diverging views of wealth. One view insists that wealth and material wealth creation are intrinsically corrupting and therefore must be avoided at all cost. This view contends that the right path for the true Christian is to renounce all wealth. The other view contends that material wealth and wealth creation are essentially good and are part of our creation design and cultural mandate. In its best forms this view admits that wealth can be perilous in our fallen world, while nevertheless advocating that wealth must not be avoided but rather carefully stewarded in love for God and our neighbor.
  • Today, in many Christian circles, wealth is seen as anything but a gift to steward well.
  • I believe material wealth is a gift rather than a curse.
  • There are two common and dangerous distortions advocated under the banner of Christian teaching. The first distortion is what we might call the poverty gospel.
  • Inherent in this distorted biblical teaching is that material poverty brings spiritual riches, and material abundance inevitably brings spiritual poverty.
  • Those who embrace the poverty gospel in its many explicit and implicit forms make a theological error by too closely wedding evil with material prosperity.
  • The prosperity gospel. A second dangerous distortion regarding material wealth is the prosperity gospel.
  • Proponents of the prosperity gospel believe the creation of wealth is an authenticating sign or a direct causal apologetic for God’s blessing. Prosperity gospel adherents assert that God wants everyone to be materially prosperous.
  • A closer examination of Jesus’ teaching as well as other biblical texts reveals a parting of company with both the poverty gospel and the prosperity gospel.
  • Seeing that wealth is neither to be avoided nor praised but rather stewarded wisely and generously, how should we think about material wealth creation?
  • The key principle we see both in the cultural mandate and in economic theory is that wealth creation is an exponential dynamic. This means the work of cultivating the Garden of Eden was a call to steward the raw materials of God’s creation and to create something that wasn’t there before, multiplying it many times over for the flourishing of all (Gen 2:15).
  • My sense is that likely a combination of spiritual, moral, cultural, political, legal, and technological factors has influenced the rapid trajectory of human economic betterment in the last two hundred years.
  • Jesus’ sobering reminder “to whom much was given, . . . much will be required” (Lk 12:48) is both a timely and timeless word in this time of human economic betterment.
  • We must be careful to avoid two dead-end roads of faulty thinking. On the one hand, we may be tempted to think that those who don’t have as much as we do are lazy or don’t have enough faith. On the other hand, we may convince ourselves that those who have more than we do are greedy and selfish.
  • Being productive in our work within our economic system—flawed and imperfect as it may be—is an important way we bear God’s image and love others.

Chapter 4: The Fruitfulness of Faithfulness

  • Jesus came not only to save us from our lives of sin but also to save us for lives of flourishing and fruitfulness.
  • The human fruitfulness Jesus has in mind during the Upper Room Discourse not only looks back on the prophetic past but also to the future day when he will make all things new.
  • When Jesus spoke of fruitfulness in the upper room, he affirmed that redemptive history was anchored in him and moving toward a glorious goal in the new heavens and new earth. Jesus also knew that a time of final judgment awaited fallen humanity and the broken world.
  • From original creation to final consummation, human fruitfulness is not only an important biblical theme—it is a serious mandate.
  • The fruitfulness of intimacy. First, the fruitful life is a flourishing relational life. As image bearers of the trinitarian God, we were not only created with work in mind but also relational intimacy in mind.
  • The fruitfulness of character. A fruitful life is also an increasingly Christlike life.
  • The fruitfulness of contribution. A life of fruitfulness is not only manifested in a growing intimacy with Christ and increasing Christlike character, but also by productive contribution to the world.
  • No matter what our vocational calling is, whether our work is paid or not, our contribution of productivity is a vital manifestation of the flourishing, fruitful life from which we serve and love others.
  • Success distortion. The first common distortion of fruitfulness is the success distortion. Through this distorted lens, the truly fruitful life presented in Scripture is co-opted by the cultural narrative of success manifested in material or quantifiable terms.
  • Mediocrity distortion. On the flip side of the success distortion is the mediocrity distortion, where external, quantifiable measures of fruitfulness are not merely dismissed but at times deemed inherently unspiritual.
  • Pietistic distortion. A third common distortion of the biblical picture of fruitfulness is the pietistic distortion. The pietistic distortion focuses on the personal, privatized, inward, and nonmaterial aspects of human fruitfulness.
  • Jesus desires to produce the fruit of intimacy, character, and productive contribution in the lives of all who follow him.

Chapter 5: Loving the Neighborhood  

  • The Bible tells us we were created to work together, cultivating blessings from the created order and expressing neighborly love in and through the collaborative work we do every day. This reality should cause us to reconsider what Jesus desires as he calls us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.
  • We don’t worship our work—that is idolatry. But from the beginning our work was designed to be a primary way we worship God.
  • If we care about maintaining biblical fidelity, as well as cultivating human flourishing, then economics matters.
  • Would we not look at economics differently and value economics more if we saw economic interaction as the place where value is created and where collaborative neighborly love is exchanged?
  • While there is certainly no perfect economic system, I am persuaded that the free-market economic system we currently have is the best system for economic behavior and exchange because it allows for proper self-interest, responsibility, incentive, and human collaboration.
  • The power of the gospel transforms neighbors and neighborhoods, speaking into every facet of economic life and paving the way for redemptive collaboration with others.
  • As people see our work and the kind of workers we are, as well as the ways we add value to others and how we care for the neighborhood, they will get a powerful glimpse of who Jesus is and why he matters so much to our broken world.
  • In both sins of omission and commission, we all need a posture of repentance for not loving our neighbor and not seeking the common good through our economic activity.
  • Are you living as salt and light in your vocation? Are you doing good work, whether or not that work brings a paycheck or other financial reward? Are you stewarding well your vocational power and influence?
  • While the free-market economy is the best less-than-perfect system we currently have, one possibility for making the free market better is to move beyond approaches that look to the sole bottom line of profit and to move toward triple bottom-line approaches that take into account not only profit but also promoting the flourishing of people as well as the planet.

Chapter 6: Economic Wisdom

  • Neighborly love calls for the integration of both wise theological insight and sound economic thinking. A closer examination of Proverbs will get us moving in that helpful direction.
  • In Proverbs, we hear that God delights in honest economic activity. We also hear a denunciation of dishonesty in an economic system that is rigged.
  • Improper use of wealth and outright abuse of economic power is abhorred.
  • Honesty of transactions is essential to flourishing economic life.
  • In Proverbs we are instructed that diligent labor within an economic system is a telling indicator of true wisdom. On the other hand, slothfulness or laziness is an identifiable mark of a person who lacks wisdom and love.
  • Another facet of economic diligence advocated in Proverbs is wisdom’s long-term view and the prudence of delayed gratification.
  • A virtuous person who brings value to the economic system of exchange through their diligent labor will have capacity for economic generosity.
  • Those who are not economically generous to the poor not only miss God’s blessing, they show contempt for God and their neighbor.
  • Material wealth in whatever form it takes can be a wonderful servant but a cruel master.

Chapter 7: Wisdom and the Modern Economy

  • If we are to love our neighbors wisely and to be faithful in our vocational callings, then we not only need theological insight but also sound economic thinking to guide us.
  • In addition to diligence of labor, a foundational building block of vibrant economies is the concept of private property rights.
  • Private property rights are strongly affirmed throughout Scripture.
  • Private property rights are vital to modern economies.
  • While the Scriptures strongly affirm private property rights, the ultimate owner of all of creation is God himself.
  • Both in Scripture and in economics, proper self-interest is a foundational building block for human flourishing.
  • Throughout Scripture the opportunity to create value through our work is strongly affirmed, and when that opportunity is thwarted through unjust means it is forbidden.
  • In modern economies the principle of providing economic opportunity is foundational to both the fairness and vitality of the social and economic ecosystem. Providing equal economic opportunity—not equal outcomes—for all is the goal that must be vigorously pursued.
  • Money, and the trade it makes possible, furthers the common good and greatly enhances our ability to love our neighbors—both local and global.
  • When property rights are well defined and contracts are consistently enforced, profits perform an important function within modern economies.
  • The apostle Paul, who like Jesus spoke a great deal about money, makes it clear that it is not money per se but rather an inordinate love of money that must be avoided.
  • Specialization of labor makes sense as a foundational building block in modern economies. Specialization also reflects God’s design.
  • We must also remember common-grace talents and spiritual gifts operate not only within the church on Sunday but also within the workplace on Monday. We not only walk in the Spirit, we work in the Spirit.
  • Although the scope of government involvement in economics is debated, there is consensus that government has a role to play in a vibrant economy.
  • Financial institutions also play a vital role in facilitating well-functioning capital markets.
  • The institutions of government, finance, family, and education all play an indispensable role in a flourishing modern economy.

Chapter 8: Wise Generosity

  • Thoughtful followers of Jesus wrestle with where to give their financial resources because wise stewardship is important.
  • Biblical generosity is not just about giving a particular amount or giving with a particular attitude, but also about giving according to particular wisdom.
  • Jesus cared not only about generosity but also about wise financial stewardship.
  • Each one of us must reflectively and prayerfully ask, Is my generosity being stewarded wisely?
  • Design-based giving challenges us to reconsider our generosity paradigm, reorder our heart loves, and reprioritize our giving.
  • At the heart of this design is a gracious generosity that looks through the lens of Scripture and sees the local church as the primary focus of our financial giving.
  • I would like to erect a theologically informed, paradigmatic scaffolding for giving based upon three bedrock ideas: (1) God owns it all; (2) we give God our best; and (3) the local church is plan A for the world.
  • All too often the confusion between first-fruits giving and grace giving leads to creative rationalizations for not tithing to a local church.
  • We are not to negate our responsibility for honoring God’s design by tithing to the household of God, our local church.
  • Properly understood, the biblical framework of design-based giving assists us in making wise stewardship decisions regarding the directional outflow of our generous giving. When we embrace design-based giving, we understand that God owns it all, that tithing to the local church is the baseline of God-honoring obedience, and that the local church is God’s plan A for his redemptive purposes.
  • A vital part of spiritual formation is growing in economic understanding, financial management, work productivity, and generosity. In this sense the local church is a school of generosity.
  • One aspect of loving Christ’s bride—a vital one—is our generous first-fruit giving, as well as Spirit-led, conscience-informed above-and-beyond giving. Design-based giving requires loving what Jesus loves, and reflects a properly ordered heart.
  • If embraced wholeheartedly, design-based giving provides a local church with the economic resources necessary to empower its catalytic gospel mission for the good of others, to the glory of Christ.
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