Remembering the Poor
About the Guest
What is the best way to help the poor? Seminary professor Dr. Wayne Grudem looks at the complicated problem of poverty and the Christian's response to it.
Wayne GrudemWayne Grudem (PhD, University of Cambridge; DD, Westminster Theological Seminary) is distinguished research professor of theology and biblical studies at Phoenix Seminary, having previously taught for 20 years at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He is a former president of the Evangelical Theological Society, a member of the Translation Oversight Committee for the English Standard Version of the Bible, the general editor of the ESV Study Bible, and has published over 20 books.
What is the best way to help the poor?
Remembering the Poor
Bob: What have you taught your kids about how they ought to handle their money? For that matter, what have you taught your children about how societies ought to handle their money? Here’s Dr. Wayne Grudem.
Wayne: Just as we want parents to teach their children about human sexuality, from a biblical standpoint, we want to teach them about creation and science from a biblical standpoint. We think that parents should be really well-equipped to teach their children some simple facts about how economies function.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, March 25th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. We’ll explore what the Bible has to say about wealth, and poverty, and nations, and governments. Our guest today is
Dr. Wayne Grudem. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I’ll never forget a—was a cold, December afternoon. I got a call from my son, David. He was 15 years old, at the time. He had been out, riding his bike; and he’d ridden down to the K-Mart. He called; and he said, “Dad, there is a guy here, outside the K-Mart, who doesn’t have any money and doesn’t have a place to stay.” Then, he just got silent on the phone. And—
Dennis: So, what did you say, Bob?
Bob: I said, “I’ll be right there.” So, I got in the car. I drove over to the K-Mart where David was. I met the man who was standing there. I said, “What’s the situation?” He said: “Well, I’m unemployed. I’m new in town.” So, I said—there’s a little restaurant, there in the K-Mart parking lot—a little hamburger place.
I said, “Come with me.” So, we went over to the restaurant at the K-Mart parking space. I said, “Here is the information for—there’s a rescue mission, here in town—that can give you a place to stay tonight.” I said, “I’m going to buy your dinner here.”
I gave the hamburger people—I said, “Here is ten bucks.” I didn’t give it to the man. I gave it to the hamburger people. I said: “Here’s the ten bucks. Let my friend get whatever he wants to have for dinner.” I said, “I want you to enjoy dinner.” Then, I said, “They’ll let you call from here, and these folks will give you a place to stay tonight.” He said, “Thank you,” and we went on our way.
Now, I have to tell you—I was conflicted, like I often am, when I see the guy at the side of the road with the sign. I thought: “Is that—did I just do the right thing? Did I help this guy or not?” So, I’m just curious—I hope we can get a theologically-sound answer to my dilemma.
Dennis: I think we have looked around the world to find the very best theologian we could find to address that issue. He couldn’t come, but Wayne Grudem is here. [Laughter]
Dr. Wayne Grudem—a good friend, whom I’ve insulted many times on the broadcast—joins us, again, of his own free-will. Welcome back, Wayne.
Wayne: It was a struggle—I have to say, Dennis. [Laughter] No, just kidding.
Dennis: Share with our listeners something that you just found out—that you just shared with me, a few moments ago, as we walked into this studio about something we share together.
Wayne: Right. Well, John Majors—who has worked with you for a number of years, and I know admires you very much, and was a student of mine at Phoenix Seminary, as well—he said to me, last night after he picked me up at the airport—he said, “I think you and Dennis share the same birthday.” And we do, Dennis, because I asked you your birthday this morning. You said, “Two-11-48.”
Wayne: And I was born on 2-11-48. Isn’t that incredible?
Dennis: That’s great. Well, if you don’t know who Wayne Grudem is, you need to know. He is the Research Professor of Theology and Biblical Studies at Phoenix Seminary in Phoenix, Arizona.
Yesterday, I mentioned that he has so many degrees, he has a temperature. He’s a graduate of Harvard, Westminster, and Cambridge; and he is one of the leading theologians in the world, and one of the best thinkers. He and his wife Margaret have been married since 1969. They have three sons. He’s written a book—in fact, Bob, you and I have commented on this—this is out of the box for us.
Bob: It is.
Dennis: It’s called The Poverty of Nations: A Sustainable Solution. And it’s really talking about a biblical approach to economics and poverty. Let’s go back to Bob’s question, Wayne. I was going to ask you this question. It’s great that Bob personalized it; but I was going to ask you, “What do you do when you’re in a city and you walk by a homeless person, or someone who is begging—someone who is asking for money—who is poor?”
Wayne: Well, I don’t think there is one right answer to that, Dennis. I’m glad for Bob taking the man to a restaurant, and getting him a meal, and getting him to an agency that can help him.
I have, in the past, done something similar to that. Sometimes, I just give some money. Sometimes, I don’t do anything because it just doesn’t seem right to me. It’s hard to know. You get approached by someone in a parking lot—it’s near Christmas—“Our car’s out of gas,”—and sometimes, we just help—not knowing if you’re doing right or being scammed—but maybe err on the side of generosity.
But our book, really, I mean—and I think that’s probably a situation where I’d say the number one rule is: “Pray for the Lord’s guidance, in the moment, and try to do the right thing”; but the Bible commends someone who is always giving generously and lending—and his children become a blessing. So, that’d be the side I’d err on.
Bob: You looked at a lot of what the Bible has to say about poverty, and about generosity, and about economics. The Bible has a lot to say about it.
Wayne: It does. Yes, I was especially—in my own life—
—I was impacted. The Lord just put on my heart, again and again, this verse in Galatians 2:10, where Paul tells about the fact that he had been preaching the gospel for a while. He went up to Jerusalem to meet with the apostles in Jerusalem—to talk and say: “Are we preaching the same thing? Are we preaching the same gospel?” They agreed with him they were preaching the same gospel; but then, Paul says this—Galatians 2:10, “Only they would have us remember the poor—the very thing I was eager to do.”
It’s very important because that’s at the heart of what he says was in his gospel message. They wanted him not to forget that part of the responsibility—preaching the gospel, as a Christian, is to remember the poor and to think about the poor. But I was increasingly thinking: “I’m teaching my seminary classes. I’m teaching class at my church. I have some friendships in my neighborhood, but I’m not doing much of anything to help the poor. Is there anything that I could be doing to help the poor?”
That was another factor that led me to think, “I should give some of my time”—it ended up being over two years—
—to researching and writing a book on why whole nations remain trapped in poverty or why nations increase in prosperity.
In the 1900s, Japan was a very poor, agricultural society. Then, it grew to become the second wealthiest country in the world in the late 1900s. In the 1950s, South Korea was poorer than many of the countries in Africa; and all of a sudden, now, South Korea is the 12th richest country in the world by per capita income. Why? What has happened? They’ve become prosperous by producing more—their factories produce more / their farms produce more.
It isn’t that people have to work harder. Many of these people in poor countries work very, very hard, from dawn to dusk; but it’s that they have to have economic systems that will reward them and let them keep the fruits of their labor—give them freedom to start a business and prosper from it. They have to have governments that are not corrupt and will not take the money from them when they begin to get ahead.
Chile is another success story about to happen in South America. I don’t know if you’ve noticed—
—but every once in a while, I’ll eat an apple; and it will say, “Product of Chile.” Chile has become much more prosperous by producing fruits and vegetables for export. What we saying is whether Japan, or South Korea, or Chile, or China are now growing—not all of them, in fact, have Christian backgrounds—but many of them are following the principles for economic productivity that are found in the Bible.
So, what we’re hoping in this book—for listeners—is that parents will understand simple facts about how an economy works so they can—when they go into a store and they see a price changing, they can teach their children some simple facts about how economies function and overcome the wrongful, secular ideas that are out there in the world that maybe promote much more government control and think the government is the answer to everything or something like that.
Bob: Wayne, I know a lot of young people—people in their 20s/30s—who have a—they have a heart for poverty around the world.
They aren’t buying certain brands of tennis shoes because—
Bob: —they are made in sweatshops in third world countries, or they’re insisting that products have a fair trade label on them or they won’t buy them, or they’re supporting microbusinesses that are helping people in poverty in other countries. Are those kinds of strategies—you’re smiling.
Wayne: Well, because you’ve given different examples.
Micro-loans are very helpful, but they help individuals or small communities. We’re thankful for that. The problem is—if the government is corrupt, it’s going to take your profit away from you anyway or regulate you out of business—or if the government is corrupt, so that this guy places a huge order with your store and then he won’t pay his bill—you take it to court, and the judge is his uncle and won’t enforce the law. All of a sudden, you have corrupt government and you’re going to destroy economic productivity. So, micro-loans, yes; but change the whole nation—the laws, and the economic policies, and the cultural values in the nation—and that’s what our book is about.
As for fair trade coffee, Bob, I’m afraid to disappoint you; but we do an economic analysis of fair trade coffee. We’re very skeptical that it will do much good. It really accounts for about 1 percent of the coffee market in the United States. It’s basically a charitable contribution to a select group of coffee growers in other countries. If you want to make charitable contributions, there are much more effective ways to do that.
But what it does is—it is saying, “Let’s persuade people to pay more than the market requires for a lot of products in the world,” so that most of your spending is going to be done for with added charitable contributions.” It’s not going to work. It’s trying to say that the laws of supply and demand can be violated, and they won’t set the prices for world goods. “We’ll do something different from that to increase the quantity demanded over the price.”
Bob: What about shoe or clothing sweatshops in third worlds?
Wayne: Yes, I’m concerned about that, but the problem is—it is difficult to get facts to know if what is reported is just a reporter trying to destroy a company by slanted or biased reporting or not.
I think that companies in the United States do have a moral responsibility—that the factories that they employ people in, in other countries, are not run under dangerous and inhumane conditions. I don’t think they all have to be air-conditioned—to the OSHA standards for the United States of America—because one of the benefits that poor countries have—one of their strengths—is the availability of cheap labor. If people are voluntarily deciding to come and work at a $1.50 an hour—it’s more than they were making—a lot more than they were making when they weren’t employed. That’s a free choice on their part. As long as the government hasn’t given this shoe factory a local monopoly, then, the free market is working.
Bob: We keep coming back to corruption in government.
Wayne: Of course.
Bob: Is there a solution for corruption in government?
Wayne: We say in this book, The Poverty of Nations—that the solution to corruption in government will only come about when cultures are transformed so that people no longer think it is okay for government officials to take money from the treasury for their own selves. And—
Dennis: And really, aren’t you thinking about the preaching of the gospel, at that point?—
Wayne: That’s right.
Dennis: —redemption of the human soul so that he understands right from wrong and that he is accountable to God for his actions?
Wayne: Exactly; Dennis, exactly. That’s why we say, “Pastors, in poor countries, have an immense opportunity to begin preaching moral standards about how business is to be conducted and how government is to be conducted. The government is to be God’s servant for your good.”
Pastors can preach on the story of Samuel—in 1 Samuel—where he’s saying, at the end of his ministry: “Whose ox have I taken? Whose donkey have I taken? And whom have I defrauded?” And they said, “You have not.” He’s an example of a faithful, honorable government servant; in that case, a judge, who didn’t use his office for personal gain—was not corrupt.
The Bible has other examples, as we explain in our book.
But if that belief—see, we have still, in the United States, a common cultural belief that, if a congressman, or a senator, or a governor is found taking money for his own gain, he’ll immediately be out of office because the culture won’t stand for it—but there are countries—where that doesn’t happen. So, we’re saying there has to be a cultural transformation. We list, I think, 35 cultural values that have to change in countries if they are going to become more productive, economically.
Bob: I have a son who works for Teach for America®.
Bob: He is in a lower-income school in the city where he is teaching. He and I have a number of conversations about the future of these middle-schoolers. He talks about some of the things that have them trapped in a social structure that they can’t get out of on their own. Is that accurate?
Or how should he approach these students, as their teacher, to encourage them to break through their cultural surroundings?
Wayne: Well, Bob, you told me a story about an early job that you had when you were a kid. The manager told you that you were doing a good job—why?—because you showed up on time, and you tried to work hard, and be faithful to the supervisor when you were working. My guess is your dad taught you that.
Wayne: But if kids grow up in families without dads to teach them that, then, mom can teach it, maybe; but one of the greatest predictors—maybe, the greatest predictor—of growing up in poverty in the United States is if you don’t have a dad in the home, married to your mom.
So, the breakdown of family structure has meant that you’re not learning those work habits, and diligence in work, and thriftiness, and the value of saving, the value of being faithful at work, telling the truth, being honest—those kinds of things. You need a dad and a mom to teach that best—a dad and a mom—both in the home.
Bob: And that’s true worldwide—that the issue of the family, worldwide, is systemic to everything we’re talking about; isn’t it?
Wayne: Yes. Although we do have cases, in a number of poor countries, where there are strong family values—higher appreciation for marriage and permanency in marriage—than we have in the United States. We’re saying to these countries, where those things are strong: “Consider these strengths. Do not lose them as you try to work toward greater prosperity, but maintain these and be thankful for them.”
Dennis: Right. In America, one of the quotes that I’ve been using recently is by the Brookings Institute, where they found that, if three things are present, you have a
98 percent chance of getting out of poverty.
Dennis: Number one, graduate from high school.
Dennis: Number two, get a job.
Dennis: And number three, have children within the bounds of a marriage relationship—
Wayne: Right. Get married before you have children.
Dennis: —where there is a mother and a father together.
Dennis: They can get out of that poverty situation. However, if those three things aren’t in place, you have a 76 percent chance of being in poverty in our country.
Dennis: But the breakdown of the family, here in America, is creating its own set of problems.
Wayne: That’s a very, very worrisome trend, Dennis. I could also say—just recently, there has been a push—and I think there might continue to be a push—for raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour or something. That, at first, sounds great to people because “Wow! Instead of making $7.50 or $7.80 an hour, now, I can be making $15 an hour.”
The problem is—if you force McDonalds®, Wal-Mart®, Wendy’s®—other places—to pay $15 an hour, they are going to say: “Hmm, at about $9 an hour, I can put in a machine to dispense these things; and the machine shows up on time. It does its job properly.” You take away the opportunity for entry-level jobs. What happens is—every time the minimum wage goes up, teen unemployment rises significantly. You raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour—
—all of a sudden, teenagers are not going to have nearly as many opportunities to get jobs at all. And $15 an hour sounds nice for a few people; but for many, many people the per-hour wage is going to be zero.
Bob: What about the whole issue of consumerism/materialism? As we’re raising our children, we didn’t want them to be fixed on materialism. Yet, for a capitalistic society to function and to prosper, there has to be some of that; doesn’t there?
Wayne: Well, the Apostle Paul encourages his readers, “You should work with your own hands to support yourselves, and be dependent on no one.” God wants us to be able to work and support ourselves. That means producing things from the earth and earning a living.
Now, a long time ago—1776, the famous economist, Adam Smith, in Scotland, said that the natural effort of every individual—to better his own condition with freedom and security—is so powerful that it is capable of carrying a society to wealth and prosperity.
In other words, when people are allowed to work, which is their natural tendency, and to try and do a better job and get ahead—that natural tendency, when there is freedom in the country for people to do that, and when there is security so when they get paid they can keep their money and not have the government take it away or a robber take it away—that’s so powerful it will carry any nation to prosperity.
So, that’s what we’re saying: “There are principles here that are valuable for nations around the world if they will just follow these things and provide the freedom and the security for people to be able to work and retain the fruits of their own labor.”
Dennis: I want you to speak to parents on this one because this is really good to train a child in terms of how to really address what Bob talked about, a few moments ago, about living in a capitalistic society, where there is a lot of wealth—a lot of things / a lot of stuff.
Wayne: Oh, yes.
Dennis: You make the statement in your book, “We all have limited needs for food, clothing, and shelter; but we have unlimited wants,”—
Dennis: —and really taps into the quote you just read. Those wants can be a good thing, or they can be a bad thing.
Wayne: Yes. It’s an important principle, Dennis. Barry Asmus and I say, in this book, The Poverty of Nations—when we say, “People have unlimited wants,” we don’t mean that it’s right for people to want a thousand pairs of shoes, or ten cars, or something like that.
Wayne: What we’re saying is our desire for new and improved products will always be there. That’s why there will always be new jobs for people in an economy. For example, people lived for thousands of years without knowing they wanted a car because cars didn’t exist. When cars were invented, then, people said, “Hey, you know, I could really use a car”—and the same with air conditioning. It was only in the 1950s that air conditioning started to become profitable or economical for housing. But now, in many parts of the world, people have air conditioning.
Television is the same thing.
Nobody knew that they wanted television when it didn’t exist. Now, I have this little smartphone. I lived quite happily for over 40 years of my life without knowing that I wanted a portable phone because I didn’t know there was such a thing.
When people say, “Well, what’s our country going to do when these manufacturing jobs are shipped overseas to China or elsewhere?” What happens is—people, who are working in the assembly plant for those goods, produced in the United States, are put out of a job because somebody produces it more cheaply overseas. More money is left in the economy here to invent and produce new products. There are all sorts of new jobs—whether it’s in air conditioning business, or the cell phone business, or the Starbucks® coffee business, or the bottled water business, or things that you and I take for granted today but we—30/40 years ago—they just didn’t exist.
So, I think that there will always be room for new things to be invented.
That means there will always be the possibility of people getting jobs.
Dennis: Wayne, I think your book is going to be used, I think, to set nations on a right course. But it’s also going to be used by, I think, a lot of moms and dads, who are going to get a better perspective of everything that is wrapped up in an economy—individual freedom; wealth; work and productivity, which you just mentioned; spending; saving; giving—all that’s in there—education. It’s—your book was, for me, a great reminder for a lot of things we take for granted, here in America, that are fully in place.
Wayne: That work; right.
Dennis: But we, as parents, probably need to pay a little more attention on today, with our kids, because the messages can be mixed today a bit. I just hope a lot of families will get The Poverty of Nations.
Bob: We have copies of the book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center.
Listeners are welcome to go to the website—FamilyLifeToday.com—to order The Poverty of Nations by Dr. Wayne Grudem and Barry Asmus. Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com; and the book is called The Poverty of Nations: A Sustainable Solution. And as I’ve already said this week, this is not a book exclusively for academics. This is a book that I think every family can read and benefit from. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com to order the book or call 1-800-FL-TODAY—1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY.” The book, again, is called The Poverty of Nations.
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