Economics 101 & Public Square & Theology 101

We Need to See Poverty as Being about People, Not Statistics – Here’s Why

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After over a year of thought, writing, and production, IFWE released its newest book, For the Least of These: A Biblical Answer to Poverty, today.

To celebrate the launch, we partnered with the American Enterprise Institute to host a discussion about some of the topics that the book covers, featuring four of the book’s authors:

  • Art Lindsley, Vice President of Theological Initiatives at IFWE.
  • Anne Bradley, Vice President of Economic Initiatives at IFWE.
  • Peter Greer, President of HOPE International.
  • Jay Richards, Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute.

Here are some of the highlights. Watch the whole video here.

A Theologian’s Introduction


Art Lindsley said,

We want each person who is poor not only to survive but to thrive.

He then went into some controversial, easily-misinterpreted passages in Scripture, explaining their relevance to today’s conversation about poverty.

  • The first passage was Leviticus 25 which detailed the Old Testament practice of Jubilee. Lindsley explained that this practice was not a redistribution of wealth; it actually demonstrated a lot of respect for private property. For a more detailed explanation of Jubilee, check out our blog post here.
  • Next, Lindsley explored Acts 2-5, the controversial passage in which believers shared everything that they had in common. Lindsley explained this passage was not necessarily advocating widespread wealth redistribution since this was a specific instance in which a few people voluntarily shared what they had with each other for a temporary amount of time. For more on this passage, check out this post.

To conclude, Lindsley encouraged us to look at Scripture as a whole instead of isolating individual stories and mistaking them for overarching principles.

An Economist’s Perspective

AnneAnne Bradley tackled the topic of income inequality, noting that different incomes are not the heart of the issue – opportunities for the poor to get out of poverty are. She noted,

What we really want to be seeing is progressive cheapening of goods and services so that more people can afford them.

She added,

You might not realize it, but you are some of the richest people who have ever walked the planet.

Simply by being born into the twenty-first century, we have abundance that even the richest kings and queens of the past would not have had access to.

According to Bradley, this is a good thing. The rich might be getting richer, but what really matters is whether everyone is better off, too.

A Practitioner’s Convictions

Having worked in nonprofits and microfinance most of his life, Peter Greer shared a few convictions that he has developed over the years:

  • The discussion about poverty alleviation is about people – individuals who are hurting. If we try to make the debate about statistics and numbers, we will lose the argument and our focus. We need to start with the heart.
  • The traditional way of helping can actually cause long-term harm. Poverty is not just a lack of material goods, it is voicelessness, powerlessness, and a feeling of worthlessness. We don’t want to give handouts; we want to empower people to realize their God-given dignity through meaningful work.
  • A job is better than a handout, but a job is not enough. We need to change people’s hearts so that they are able to become good stewards of what they have.

Greer sees entrepreneurship and free trade as the best way to empower individuals to break free from the cycle of poverty. But ultimately, the conversation has to center around the individual. He said,

If we put a system above a person, we have failed.

Markets and institutions are a means to an end: human flourishing.

A Philosopher’s Conclusions

Jay Richards concluded the remarks with two thoughts:

  • As the story of God’s plan for mankind, Scripture is going to provide us with key economic insights, though it will not provide us with all of our economic knowledge.
  • There is a known pathway toward poverty alleviation and wealth creation. How long will we continue to ignore the biblical and economic principles that can help us create long-term flourishing for the “least of these?”

Each of the panelists approached the issue of poverty from a number of different angles, providing a lot of answers and provoking many more questions. To delve deeper into this topic, you can access the full video of this event here or purchase For the Least of These here.

For the Least of These is available today and tomorrow for 50% off! Get your copy here

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