Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Book Review: Seeking the City

At the outset, I want to acknowledge that I received this book free of charge in exchange for a review. Of course, I was not required to write a favorable review. Having said that, after reading this book, I felt I was somehow violating the principles expressed in this book by not paying for it. Seeking the City: Wealth, Poverty,and Political Economy in Christian Perspective is a massive work of 880 pages of text. This alone may prevent its distribution in a popular market, but that would be unfortunate. Chad Brand and Tom Pratt have given the evangelical world a counterpoint to much of the literature available on poverty, social justice, and the role of business in today’s market.

Unsure of what to expect, I was drawn to this title because of the work I do. I minister at a Rescue Mission in a rust belt city. We are very familiar with federally funded agencies, some of which use government dollars to entitle people under the guise of empowering them. Brand and Pratt speak clearly to this tendency.

Among evangelicals, social justice seems to be canon law. Perhaps we sense guilt or embarrassment that our historical emphasis on the gospel has resulted in neglect of poverty and injustice. Certainly, as Brand and Pratt concur, it is not a Christian virtue to see people destitute and hungry and fail to be moved with compassion. The difference is in how that compassion is expressed and what one means by social justice.

For many, social justice means a redistribution of wealth.  It is a more acceptable term than socialism. The premise behind Seeking the City, however, is that the best way to relieve poverty is to create wealth. The authors move the readers through a biblical theology of poverty and wealth, defining biblically the concept of justice. The second part shows how these principles were worked out historically – and how they were misused historically. The final section deals with the philosophy of economics and how this “trickles down” to street level.

The authors present a summation of the principles they expound in these statements:

It is not giving away money and resources that produces wealth and alleviates poverty. It is work and training/education and business acumen and risk taking and entrepreneurship and a host of other human character traits employed in the presence of property rights protections, the rule of law, and most of all, the elimination of corruption from the governments who rule where poverty exists. To load American Christians with guilt about the deaths of millions of children in the underdeveloped world because of what we are not doing about tithing is a gross misuse of supposed moral authority (italics original).

American culture is on the entitlement train and there seems to be no way to bring it to a halt. Furthermore, not a few voices from the evangelical side wholeheartedly endorse greater levels of entitlements. Brand and Pratt do a masterful job of demonstrating that this is not biblical, it is not helpful to the ones for whom it is directed, and, instead of being an expression of social justice, it is manifestly unjust.

Every Christian who is involved in any kind of charitable enterprise would do well to read this book. It is worth the effort.



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