Monday, March 24, 2014

"Flourishing Faith" by Chad Brand: A Review

. . . most Baptists, especially Baptist evangelicals, have strongly contended for the free market. (120)

On January 21, 2013, our nation re-inaugurated the most liberal, big government President of its history. His speech, reflecting both the 2012 campaign and his overall approach to government as an executive, was about more government, more spending, more entitlements, and more class warfare (not to mention moral warfare). It is in this context of an American celebration of such a President that I began to read Dr. Chad Owen Brand's book Flourishing Faith: A Baptist Primer on Work, Economics, and Civic Stewardship.

The book is one of four volumes from various theological viewpoints that deal with the subject of work, faith, money, politics, economics, and stewardship. Dr. Brand, professor at Boyce College and the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, writes from the Baptist point of view (the other three in this series are Pentecostal, Wesleyan, and Reformed). The quote above is a basic summation of his conclusion. Rooted in Baptist doctrines like religious liberty, autonomy, priesthood of all believers, etc., Brand defends limited government and economic liberty (commonly referred to as Capitalism).

The book itself walks the reader through this argument. Brand, a theologian, goes into detail tracing what the Bible says and what Christians have argued throughout the centuries on work, economics, government, the state, and wealth. Brand offers a theology of work, a theology of wealth, and a political theology taken from Scripture and how Christians have thought about these issues throughout history. In other words, Brand approaches this topic of economics, wealth, and the governments role through the realm of theology - biblical, systematic, and historical theology.

I found this extremely helpful. Consider his chapter on work for example. There he begins with a biblical survey of the subject tracing it from Creation to Consummation. His basic argument is that work is good and reflects our image bearing status. We work and find dignity in work. But consider how this has been applied throughout history. Rome, Brand argues, contributed virtually nothing to the world of inventions and technology. The reason is because Rome was built on the back of slaves. The wealthy did not work. The philosophers argued that work was undignified. Thus the slave owner had no motivation to improve work conditions or utilize new tools and technologies to make work easier because they were not the ones in the field. Brand goes as far to say that Europeans in the year AD 500 used essentially the same kind of wagons, plows, ships harnesses, weapons, farming techniques, and blacksmithing that they had used a thousand years earlier. (14) The monastic movement, however, changed all of that. Seeing dignity and godliness in work, the monks updated technology and farming techniques.

Brand does the same thing throughout the book. He makes an argument based on an exposition of Scripture and then looks at how influential thinkers and leaders have thought about the issue throughout history. His concluding chapter looks at what the Bible and Christian theology has to say about economics in a political context. Brand looks at three options: socialism (as articulated by Karl Marx), the Keynesian Model (named after John Maynard Keyne), and Capitalism (as articulated by Adam Smith).

Brand begins by noting that the Bible does not explicitly lay out a theory of economics in a political context. But it does address issues of freedom, the use of resources such as money and time, justice, generosity, and governance (113-114). With that said, Brand rejects socialism on the basis that Scripture as it advocates a limited state and . . . it teaches that remedial justice, that is, the care of the genuinely poor, is primarily a function of the church and generous individuals who give of their own initiative to help others (114).

Regarding the Keynesian model, Brand too rejects it as it too grants government sweeping powers that have no biblical justification. The reason goes beyond this. The second half of the book criticizes the current administration and its Keynesian model of governance and economic policy. Both Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama's stimulus passages are a reflection of the Keynesian model. As Brand shows clearly, this model simply does not work. This model assumes that the free market can be fixed with the right manager at its head. This Utopian dream, which sounds nice to the voter, is a just a dream especially from the Christian perspective and doctrine of depravity. Brand is no fan of President Obama's policies as the book makes clear. We are in real danger!

That leaves us with the free market approach. Brand prefers this model as it encourages citizens to work (a biblical concept), reflects a biblical view of depravity, and Adam Smith encouraged benevolence. This does not mean that there shouldn't be some safety net for those who desperate need it, but that our current nanny state is on the verge of taking money from a few who work and giving it to the many who refuse to. That is a recipe for disaster.

This third option is the Baptist approach to economics and I think he is right. From the beginning, whether it be the Anabaptist or the English Separatists, Baptists have argued for religious liberty. No marriage or close relationship between faith and politics is ever good as the state always becomes coercive and tyrannical. Freedom reflects Scripture better. This is true, not just in the realm of faith, but also in the realm of economics and wealth. In a fallen world, a system that promotes the dignity of work, generosity, and the rule of law is best though still imperfect.

Overall, this is a great book that is full of information, theology, and practical insights. I am barely scratching the surface here. As a pastor I really appreciated his final section on what minsters are to do with the information in this book. How do we preach this and take it to our congregation? I strongly encourage you to pick up the book and read it especially in light of what will likely take place the next four years. The state has grown immensely the past 12 years and shows no signs of slowing down. We should be concerned about that and Christian theology is not silent on these issues. So let's stop being silent.

For more:
Why Capitalism is More Progressive Than Progressive Socialism
"Capitalism and Freedom" by Milton Friedman
The Economic Value of Marriage
Poverty and the Breakdown of the Family: Santorum Raises an Important Point
Economic Freedom Is Better: A Video Worth Considering
The Gospel and the National Debt:  Why Only the Cross Can Save Us From Ourselves - Part 1 
The Gospel and the National Debt:  Why Only the Cross Can Save Us From Ourselves - Part 2 
The Economics of Greed:  What Economics Can Teach Us About the Gospel
Occupy Wal-Mart?: So This is What the Kingdom of Heaven Looks Like
"A Patriot's History of the United States"
"A Conflict of Visions"
Occupy Wal-Mart?: So This is What the Kingdom of Heaven Looks Like
Glenn Beck on Fabian Socialism
The Transcedence of Greed: What Economics Can Teach Us About the Gospel
World Magazine: Why Intellectuals Hate Capitalism
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