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Looking at God's World

Keller: The Bible and poverty

Poverty “is seen in the Bible as a very complex phenomenon. Several factors are usually intertwined. Poverty cannot be eliminated simply by personal initiative or by merely changing the tax structure.” (p.34)

Timothy Keller, in his book Generous Justice, stakes out a biblical position on poverty and wealth that transcends polarizing views of the issues. In short, it takes no one off the hook, either the rich or the poor.

The second chapter of his book is titled “Justice and the Old Testament,” but it doesn’t just stay in the older portion of Scripture. It simply starts there. Here are some excerpts:

“The Bible is not a classist tract that sees the rich as always the villains and the poor as always virtuous.” (p.27)

“The gleaning laws enabled the poor to be self-sufficient, not through getting a handout, but through their own work in the field.

“How can business owners follow the same principle? … [T]hey should be willing to pay higher wages and charge lower prices that in effect share the corporate profits with employees and customers, with the community around them. … How could a government follow the gleaning principle? It would do so by always favoring programs that encourage work and self-sufficiency rather than dependency.” (p.30)

Regarding the story of manna during the exodus (Exodus 16:16-18):

“Any manna that was hoarded simply spoiled. … In 2 Corinthians 8:13-15 Paul interprets this as an abiding principle for how we are to deal with God’s material provision for us. He likens our money to manna. … [T]he money you earn is a gift of God. Therefore, the money you make must be shared to build up community. … To extend the metaphor — money that is hoarded for oneself rots the soul.” (pp.30-31)

“… [W]hen we come to the Old Testament social legislation, the application must be done with care and it will always be subject to debate. … Thoughtful people have and will argue about which is the most effective way to help the poor. Both sides looking for support in the Bible can find some, and yet in the end what the Bible says about social justice cannot be tied to any one political system or economic policy.” (pp.31-32)

“The three causes of poverty, according to the Bible, are oppression, calamity, and personal moral failure. … I have concluded that the emphasis is usually on the larger structural factors.” (p.38)

“It is not our lavish good deeds that procure salvation, but God’s lavish love and mercy. That is why the poor are as acceptable before God as the rich. It is the generosity of God, the freeness of his salvation, that lays the foundation for the society of justice for all.” (p.40)

(This is my third post on Keller’s book.  The first is here and the second here. I offer these posts in hopes to whet your appetite and to encourage you to read the entire book.)

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This entry was posted on May 15, 2011 by in Hunger and Poverty and tagged , , , , .
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