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EDUCATION DIGEST: Biblical response to wealth & poverty examined

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–Southern Baptist leaders gathered with experts in public policy at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary last month to discuss the biblical response to wealth and poverty.

The group assembled during the Summer Institute on Work and Economics, hosted by Southwestern Seminary’s Richard Land Center for Cultural Engagement. Guest lecturers included Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, and E. Calvin Beisner, spokesman for the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation.

The group discussed health care, the environment, capitalism, the family and vocation, consulting with one another about how they can better educate Southern Baptists on these issues from a biblical perspective.

Southwestern’s Land Center organized the May 23-25 summer institute to encourage local churches to engage the issues.


Jay Richards, senior fellow at the Discovery Institute and author of “Money, Greed and God: Why Capitalism is the Solution and not the Problem,” confronted common myths regarding economics.

“I am convinced that the free economy, rightly understood, is compatible with Christian theology,” Richards said. “I am also convinced that Christian theology illuminates certain economic mysteries and economic realities.”

The “greed myth” portrays capitalism as fundamentally selfish and greedy, which is not the case Richards said. According to the “Zero-Sum Game Myth,” people only gain when others lose. On the contrary, Richards argued, “free trade is by definition win-win,” since both parties in the trade gain something that they consider valuable. According to the related “materialist myth,” wealth is redistributed rather than created. According to Richards, however, “human beings,” who are made in the image of God, “transform matter into resources, creating wealth.”


Beisner applied economics to the environment, critiquing the environmental movement and outlining a biblical perspective for stewardship of the earth. In 2009, the Cornwall Alliance addressed these issues in a document titled “A Renewed Call to Truth, Prudence, and Protection of the Poor.”

Beisner disagreed with those who consider human beings as destructive “consumers” and “polluters” on the earth. Environmentalists’ efforts to tamper with business and trade, he added, often have a negative economic impact on people in Third World nations.

“We are to be creative and productive, as God is,” Beisner said. “We need not be consumers. We can be creators and producers. We need not be polluters. We can be stewards. We can be restorers.”

Beisner also said that, by encouraging the creation of industry and wealth in nations that are filled with poverty, Christians will also foster the responsible and biblically based stewardship of the environment. While filth and pollution are characteristic of poor cities and societies, those nations and cities that have affluence and technology show a greater concern for a clean environment and for the conservation of nature and resources.


Gene Veith addressed the Christian theology of vocation. Veith is provost at Patrick Henry College and author of “God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life.”

“The concept of vocation has been all but forgotten, and it has been reduced in common usage for just another statement for a job,” Veith said.

“The doctrine of vocation is basically the theology of a Christian life,” he added. “It really is that fundamental and that comprehensive.”

The doctrine of vocation teaches Christians “how to live out their faith in the world.” Vocation is the calling of God on a Christian’s life, Veith said.

“God’s normal way of operating is through human beings,” and he works through believers as they fulfill their vocations as disciples of Christ Jesus, as parents or children, as employers or employees, and as governmental leaders or citizens, Veith said. By following God’s call in these roles, Christians express their faith by serving their neighbors in love, he added.


During the final day of the summer institute, Land — the ERLC president — addressed the impact of the health care reform bill signed into law by President Obama. If the law is not rescinded, Land said, the federal debt will increase while the quality of health care in the United States decreases. Health care, he said, will also be rationed based on cost effectiveness: Some of the most effective medical treatments may be considered too expensive and, as a result, will not be covered.

“This bill is the greatest single redistribution of wealth in the history of the country,” Land said.

“You raise taxes on rich folk, and the people that suffer are poor folk,” Land said. “All tax cuts are not the same. Tax cuts on rich folk are the tax cuts that produce jobs…. You cut taxes on people who make more than $200,000 a year because those are the people who are doing investments, and when you cut their taxes, they invest more, they risk more, and they make more, and they end up paying more taxes to the government under the lower rates than they were paying under the higher rates…. Capitalism produces wealth, and socialism doesn’t…. The countries in the world that are attacking poverty are the countries that have capitalist systems.”


Craig Mitchell, associate professor of Christian ethics at Southwestern Seminary, closed the summer institute by outlining the biblical perspective on economics and the family.

“The family is the basic building block of society,” Mitchell said, “and the family is central to the economic welfare of the country.”

Even the ancient philosopher Aristotle recognized the fundamental role of the natural family — with a father, mother and children — in a healthy society, Mitchell said. Families not only provide labor and capital to society, but families also teach children the virtues necessary for living in a healthy society.

“The economics of a family supports a biblical view,” Mitchell said. “God’s design for the natural family is the best type of household for society. Children are necessary for the economic growth of a country. And all of these aberrant things like homosexuality, abortion and cohabitation are not only immoral, but they are just bad for the economy and the society as a whole. And good public policy is going to protect the family from immorality.”

The seminary’s Summer Institute on Work and Economics followed the Land Center’s effort to educate Southwestern Seminary students on the juncture between Scripture, work and economics. Throughout the fall semester of 2010 and the spring semester of 2011, the Land Center organized six luncheons for students and invited seminary professors to address various issues. To listen to these lectures, visit Southwestern Seminary’s website at http://www.swbts.edu/landcenter

ELLIFF RECEIVES OBU’S INAUGURAL HOBBS AWARD — Oklahoma Baptist University has named Tom Elliff, president of the International Mission Board, as the first recipient of OBU’s new Herschel H. Hobbs Award for Distinguished Denominational Service.

OBU President David Whitlock presented the award to Elliff on June 14 while attending the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in Phoenix.

The award, to be presented annually during the SBC, honors Hobbs, who was pastor of First Baptist Church in Oklahoma City from 1949-72 and a prolific author, popular preacher and Bible teacher and radio host. Hobbs died in 1995.

Whitlock said Elliff is “carrying on Dr. Hobbs’ legacy of denominational statesmanship.”

“Dr. Tom Elliff personifies the highest ideals in Southern Baptist ministry,” Whitlock said. “He is a passionate servant-leader who inspires others to follow his example in evangelism and discipleship. Throughout his career, he has tied vibrant local church ministry to global missions engagement. Through his leadership with the International Mission Board, he is using those proven gifts and abilities to guide our denomination to even greater effectiveness as we take the Gospel to people around the world.”

Elliff said he was thrilled to receive the honor and described OBU as a leader among all colleges in the number of alumni going into missions work.

The award, presented as a rendering of a bison by Harold Holden, carries an inscription stating: “Oklahoma Baptist University Herschel H. Hobbs Award for Distinguished Denominational Service presented to Dr. Tom Elliff for outstanding servant leadership to the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention.”

Elliff is a former president of the SBC and the Pastors’ Conference. He was a member of the OBU’s board of trustees from 1980-81 and 2002-06 and two of his daughters are OBU graduates.

Before his election as IMB president earlier this year, Elliff had served as the IMB’s senior vice president for spiritual nurture and church relations. Elliff was a pastor for 42 years, including First Southern Baptist Church of Del City, Okla., from 1985-2005. He is the author of several books about prayer, spiritual awakening and family life.

Elliff and his wife Jeannie have four children and 25 grandchildren. The family served as IMB missionaries to Zimbabwe in the early 1980s.

A native of Paris, Texas, Elliff is a third-generation Southern Baptist pastor. A graduate of Ouachita Baptist University in Arkansas, he holds a master of divinity degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Texas and a doctor of ministry degree from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kentucky.

OBU also has established the Herschel H. Hobbs College of Theology and Ministry, incorporating six divisions into one administrative framework at the Shawnee campus: the Joe L. Ingram School of Christian Studies, the Department of Biblical and Theological Studies, the Department of Christian and Cross-Cultural Ministry; the Department of Philosophy; the Avery T. Willis Center for Global Outreach; and the Don Kammerdiener Center for Missiological Research.
This digest includes items written by by Benjamin Hawkins, a writer for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, and Julie McGowan of Oklahoma Baptist University.

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