Book review: The Poverty of Nations

Review by Leigh Warmbrand

My initial thoughts were, Why should I read this book? I’m the pastor of a small church in a small town. Global poverty is beyond me. And it’s true: Grudem and Asmus provide a view of poverty from 50,000 feet up, with new and challenging ideas, difficult to process and apply.

It may not be necessary for me to read this book for my day-to-day functioning, but it does expand my mind and horizons, providing a God-sized vision. It fuels my imagination and gives me God’s heart for the nations. I also can speak about these issues more clearly. I shared this book with a young man at church who has a heart for social causes, and he wants to run with some of the ideas the authors present.

The Poverty of Nations answers the questions, “What is poverty, what do we do with poor nations and how can we help these nations out of poverty?” It is unique in its approach, written by both an economist and a theologian, and they provide a compelling biblical basis that a limited-government, free-market economic system is the best way for a nation to rise above poverty.

In the end, this book helps me, a pastor of a small church in a small town, see God who rules over all the nations, who cares for all peoples, who is glorified in economic systems.

Leigh Warmbrand is pastor of Crossroads Church (EFCA) in Custer, S.D.

Review by Carl Hetler

Where do your ideas about economics come from? Grudem and Asmus present an argument in The Poverty of Nations for a Northern European model of government and free market policy. They build a complete case for this model by using historical and economic data while answering anticipated questions, doubts and objections.

These systematic and economics professors identify common factors to help economies succeed, including the rule of law, the separation of government powers and ownership of private property. This material sounds similar to much of what comes from The Heritage Foundation. Without contesting their economic arguments, I want to consider some of the historical and biblical material they could have included.

The book could have gained credence by acknowledging the political power and influence of the wealthy. As the authors highlighted corruption in other countries, examples of corruption within the American system could have been included (such as the 2008 sub prime mortgage crisis)—showing that unfettered free markets can result in wild swings and abuses of that freedom.

It is also important to acknowledge the success in the United States that has come from mistreatment of other nationalities. The authors instead criticize other cultures, blaming different cultural views on time, history and leisure as reasons for poverty. Rarely do they laud other cultures, implying the superiority of Northern European culture and the need for others to adapt. As a result, they never criticize conservative U.S. economic policy (only liberal social policies).

As Grudem and Asmus criticize alternate economic theories, they combine socialism and communism, incorrectly merging any form of state involvement with a vast philosophical movement. As a result, they view any state involvement as harmful to the free market ideal, though most conservatives still want to protect Social Security, Medicare and the mortgage-interest tax exemption.

Although this book does use Scripture to support the arguments, I think there is an overemphasis on certain passages while ignoring others. The emphasis on measuring production requires reading into certain texts and twisting a troubling, direct statement in 1 Timothy 6:9-10. There is also no mention of Jesus’ warnings about wealth throughout the gospels (i.e. Matthew 19:23-24, Luke 1:53 and 6:24).

Suggestions for application of these economic theories are limited. At the beginning, Grudem and Asmus encourage wealthy global citizens to visit other societies as well as invest in outlined structures. Later in the book they do support general participation in micro-loans. The heavy use of theory implies the reader can only get involved in local politics by voting for these values and ideas.

This book helpfully summarizes and explains a free market perspective, yet it shouldn’t be the only book you read to determine your views.

Carl Hetler has pastored EFCA churches in Oakland, California, and South Bend, Indiana, and currently studies multicultural discipleship in the Ph.D. (EDS) program at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

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