Why Some Countries are Poor
About the Guest
Are some countries destined to be poor? While traveling in Africa, seminary professor Dr. Wayne Grudem, was asked a troubling question by a local: "Why is Africa so poor? Are we under a curse?" Startled by this puzzling question, Dr. Grudem set out to find an answer. Today Grudem shares what he's found during his search, and encourages those in wealthier countries not to blame themselves for the lack in the poorer countries, but instead to look at the poorer countries' economics, which most often don't support a free market system and hinders productivity among its people.
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.
While traveling in Africa, Dr. Wayne Grudem was asked a troubling question: “Why is Africa so poor?
Why Some Countries are Poor
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, March 24th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. Why are there poor people in our world? We’ll explore that subject today with Dr. Wayne Grudem. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. We’re going to talk about something a little different today.
Dennis: I don’t know that we’ve ever done anything quite like this.
Bob: Yes, but I—by the same token, I don’t know that a theology professor has ever written a book quite like this.
Dennis: Well, here’s my question for you, Bob: “How many messages do you think you have heard over your lifetime—both in church and in conferences?”
And Dr. Wayne Grudem joins us on the broadcast. I want you to answer this question, too, Wayne: “How many?”—just an estimate—
—just a rough estimate of messages you’ve heard.
Bob: I’ve probably heard—I’ve probably heard 2,000 sermons.
Dennis: Okay. Wayne?
Wayne: For my whole life?
Wayne: Three hundred sixty—52 a year—and let me see, times so many years—
Bob: You’ve heard a few—
Wayne: Three thousand.
Bob: —a few tapes in between.
Wayne: Yes. [Laughter]
Dennis: You’ve heard more than that because—
Bob: That’s right.
Dennis: —you speak at our conferences and have heard the other speakers at the Weekend to Remember®.
I started reflecting back—how many of those—of those sermons that you heard—were about the poor and about how to address the needs of the poor?
Bob: I can remember one that sticks with me, out of those 2,000; but not a whole lot.
Dennis: Dr. Grudem.
Wayne: Not any—hard to think of any, right off the top of my head.
Dennis: I couldn’t think of any; and yet, we’re going to talk about poverty, the poor, and how—whether you are a college student and you’re feeling the need to go near the poor—
or if you’re a mom and dad and you are wanting to equip your sons and daughters with a biblical view of economics and of how we relate to the poor—we’re going to tackle it with a guy, who has so many degrees, he has to have a temperature [Laughter]—Wayne Grudem.
Bob: Our listeners probably know Dr. Grudem best for his Systematic Theology, which is widely-used and probably the best-known systematic theology being used in the church today. He is on the faculty at Phoenix Theological Seminary in Phoenix, Arizona.
And I was really—I was really interested when I got a copy of this book because I thought: “Why this subject?—for somebody who has written on gender roles. You’ve written on politics. Here’s a book on economics from a theology professor—why did you tackle this?”
Wayne: Two things happened, Bob. One, I was going with my wife, Margaret—you know Margaret. Both of you do.
Wayne: We were going into a center city area of Phoenix—
—a poor area. She was working, every week, at a food-distribution / clothing-distribution site—it was a Christian ministry. I went with her two or three times; but I began to think, “Is there a better use of my time to really more effectively help solve the problem of poverty than simply this meeting urgent needs of handing out food and clothing?”
Because you come back—and what I could see was happening was—you might be doing the same thing for the next 20/30 years, but the problem is not that these people are poor. The problem is that they are not earning money to support themselves. “Why is that? Is there anything I could do, using the gifts, and the skills, and interests that God has given me, as a scholar of the Bible, to try to understand why people are poor or remain poor and to find a permanent solution rather than just helping urgent needs?” So, that was one thing.
Then, the second thing was—I, actually, was in London. I was speaking at a conference for Christians on businesses.
There was a couple there from Nairobi, Kenya. After the conference, the wife of this couple turned to me—her name was Connie—she said, “Wayne, why is Africa so poor?” I was stunned because I couldn’t think of a reason.
Then, she followed up with this: “Are we under a curse?” I stood there silent. I couldn’t—I had no idea. Africa has 13 percent of the world’s population. It has 18 percent of the world’s land mass—has abundant natural resources—but it only produces 1 percent of the world’s economic output—what’s called the Gross Domestic Product—add it together with all the nations—1 percent.
Dennis: And most of that is produced by South Africa. They produce about 40-50 percent of what the entire continent produces.
Wayne: See, I don’t know the breakdown. Some of it is oil wealth—in some countries—but why was that? Now, I think—
—I know, Dennis and Bob—I think I know why countries are rich or poor. The cover of this book has a four-color map—
Wayne: —of the world. The wealthy nations of the world are green. That’s Canada, the United States, Europe, and Australia. The middle income nations—Mexico; much of Latin America—Brazil, for instance; Russia; China—they are in blue. Green [is] for rich countries [and] blue for medium countries. Red is poor countries—that would be India, for instance. Then, dark red is very poor countries—Afghanistan, Pakistan.
Dennis: And most of Africa.
Wayne: Most of sub-Saharan Africa. If you notice—way over to the right of the map—North Korea is dark red—extremely poor. South Korea is bright green—wealthy. “Why is that?” They are all Koreans. So, we began to ask that.
And that map says something else.
It says, “Whether you are rich or poor in the world basically depends on what country you live in.” If I meet you—and you’re an average person and you tell me you are from Ghana, or Uganda, or Bangladesh—I think you’re probably quite poor. If you say you are from Switzerland, or Norway, or the United Kingdom—I think, by world standards, you’re an average person—you’re wealthy.
So, wealth and poverty—we began to discover—is really largely determined at the level of the whole nation; but there weren’t any books written on this question of: “Why do nations become rich or poor?” and written from a Christian perspective, using biblical principles. So, I teamed up with a professional economist, Barry Asmus, who is a fellow elder with me at Scottsdale Bible Church. We put together this book called The Poverty of Nations: A Sustainable Solution.
Bob: And the goal for the book is to challenge us, as Americans, to think differently about poverty?
Wayne: Partly—because if you’ve heard a sermon about poverty—perhaps, it’s been the pastor beating up rich Americans because other people are poor. We’re saying: “No, it’s not the fault of our wealth that other people are poor. It’s the fault of things that are broken within that country—governments that are corrupt, economic systems that are robbing people, and cultural beliefs and values that are hindering productivity.” So, we talk about those three areas and 79 factors within those three areas—the government, the economy, and the culture.
You know—saying that the poverty of poor nations is the fault of rich nations is like saying: “There are too many healthy people in the world, and look at all these sick people. If you people weren’t so healthy, there wouldn’t be such a difference between healthy people and sick people. You should be ashamed of your health.”
Wayne: “Well, no.” We’re saying the problem isn’t that there are healthy people—the problem is that there are sick people.
So, here, the problem is not that there are wealthy people. The problem is that there are people whose country’s economies have not grown, and they’ve remained trapped in poverty.
Dennis: And that was one of the things that I really liked about your book. You took on the subject of wealth and poverty from a biblical standpoint—
Dennis: —and you didn’t condemn wealth. You gave a, really, a biblical perspective of wealth—that it can be the blessing of God—while, at the same time—you also held out the standard that you shouldn’t pursue becoming wealthy and ignoring God.
Wayne: Well, that’s exactly right, Dennis. I mean, the Bible does warn about being consumed with a desire for riches. Paul says in 1 Timothy 6:9, “Those who desire to be rich”—that’s making that your deep longing and goal in life—“they fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.” There is a strong warning there.
But what do you say to people—who get a job—and they start to do well? They get advancements in their work—
Wayne: —and they begin to be paid well. They—well, then, I think—and their goal is to be faithful in their work—to serve God in their job. All of a sudden, they grow in prosperity. Then, Paul says, in the very same chapter, in 1 Timothy 6:17, “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches”—there’s a warning—“but on God who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.”
So, I think Paul is saying, “If God has prospered your work, be thankful.”
Dennis: And he goes on to say—doesn’t he?—in that same passage—about being ready to share / being ready to give.
Wayne: And be rich in good works.
Wayne: In, maybe, your church—and in our church, we know a number of people who don’t have to work full-time to support themselves anymore; but they are, what I would say, rich in good works. They are doing many things that are helping other people and ministering to other people.
Dennis: So, as we think about our families and equipping our sons and daughters, as they grow up, to establish their own careers, their own families, their own work—
Dennis: —and perhaps becoming prosperous—we need to teach them a biblical perspective of both wealth and poverty—
Dennis: —so they’ll know how to address the needs that surround them.
Wayne: Exactly. Dennis, you have raised children. I’ve raised children. Bob, you’ve raised children. Isn’t it a joy when you see them supporting themselves?
Bob: Yes. [Laughter] Amen. Amen.
Dennis: Let me tell you how much a joy it is! I told them that, when they graduated from college, they had three months. They had three months; but the dole—however, we were helping them—and we weren’t sustaining an adult lifestyle, I promise you. They were—they all kind of complained that Mom and Dad weren’t coming alongside them like they’d like to live; but we told them they had three months to figure out where they are going to live, what they are going to do—
Dennis: —and they’re on their own.
Dennis: They’ve got to provide for their own lifestyle.
Bob: And yet, you know that there are tons of people, in their late-20s and early-30s, and Mom and Dad are still paying the cell phone bill for those—
Dennis: And they are living at home.
Bob: —young adults.
Dennis: I’m not condemning young people who are living at home. There may be circumstances where that needs to happen.
Wayne: But it’s not the long-term solution, and it’s not what’s supposed to happen for good.
Dennis: No. And it really goes back to the theme of your book—you want to empower people to be free to choose and be responsible for their own economic well-being.
Wayne: Right. They, then, attain what Arthur Brooks calls earned success. We talk about this in the book. It’s having a responsibility and succeeding at it—doing well at it. I tell a story of a student of mine who was a teaching assistant at Phoenix Seminary—where, earlier in his life, he had gotten in trouble with the law—
Dennis: Oh, yes.
Wayne: —he had dropped out of school. He was—actually, we have Tent City, under Sheriff Joe Arpaio, out in the Phoenix area. He spent some time in Tent City, as a prisoner; but he got his life turned around. Christ came into his life. He got out of jail and got a job at a Wendy’s. He didn’t know if anything he worked at would succeed—
—but one day, a manager came and said to him, “You’re doing a good job keeping the French fries hot.”
He remembers that comment as a turning point in his life because, all of a sudden, he had what we call earned success. He had taken a responsibility, and he was doing well at it. He began to think: “You know, if I keep on working at the French fries this way, maybe, I’ll get to be a shift-manager. Maybe, I could even be a manager of a Wendy’s.” It was a wonderful thing for him.
Well, he went back—finished high school, went to college—got straight-A’s in college—came to Phoenix Seminary—got straight-A’s at Phoenix Seminary—was my teaching assistant. After seminary, he felt the Lord calling him to law school. He is at one of the top law schools in the nation, right now, doing really well in his second year.
Bob: You know, I remember I was in college, working at a hamburger restaurant, and I had been there for about three weeks. The boss called me into his office. He said—he said, “You’re doing a good job.”
Bob: And I said, “Well, thank you.” I said, “I’m just curious. What is it that you’ve noticed”—
Bob: —“that caused you to say that?” He said—I’ll never forget this—he said, “You show up on time. You work hard during your shift, and you’re—I don’t have to worry about you.”
Bob: And I thought, “Well, isn’t that what all employees are supposed to do?”—right? Isn’t that what the job is?
Bob: But I realized, at that point, there are a lot of people who don’t show up on time / who don’t work hard while they are there. To be a good employee just meant: “Do your job well. Do it ‘as unto the Lord,’ as the Bible calls you to.”
Bob: That’s being productive; isn’t it?
Wayne: Earned success.
Wayne: So, let me apply that to poor nations. The same principle applies. It is not a biblical teaching that any individual poor people or poor nations should continually be dependent on hand-outs from others for their entire lifetimes or over decades. That’s the problem with millions of dollars / billions of dollars in foreign aid going to poor countries. They’re not earning their own success. They are not producing their own prosperity.
When that happens, there is a tremendous loss of this opportunity to have the dignity of producing your own prosperity and succeeding.
Bob: Don’t you sometimes, though, need to give somebody a boost—a little money—just to give them a leg-up?
Wayne: Okay. So, Bob, what Barry Asmus and I say in this book, The Poverty of Nations—we say that there is a place for charitable gifts to meet an urgent need—giving food to people who are hungry, giving medical care who don’t have doctors—but those gifts—though they meet an urgent need—they don’t solve the problem.
The problem is the poor country is not producing enough of its own food, and it’s not producing enough of its own medical care. So, we can keep on doing this forever; but it’s not solving the problem. It’s not allowing the dignity of nations helping themselves.
So, what we are saying in this book is—to poor nations: “You can do this.” There are success stories. Nations have already done this, throughout history. There are even in the recent—50 years—
—there are stories of nations that have come from poverty to greater and greater prosperity by following these principles. They are principles consistent with biblical teaching.
Dennis: I want to wrap some kind of local human flesh around this because we’re talking about nations—but we can talk about poor people, here in America, who are stuck in poverty, as well. For a number of years, I jogged by a young man’s house. It was really a shack.
I noticed him because he was a paraplegic—and Wayne, I didn’t hear an audible voice—but I think God spoke to me and impressed me, “Go offer that young man a job.” Long story made short—he learned how to type. He didn’t know how to type. I had an old computer that was in the garage that I dusted off, gave to him with a typing manual to teach him how to type. He got up to 40 words a minute. We hired him, here at FamilyLife.
Dennis: I’m going to tell you something.
He said: “I used to go to the barber and get my hair trimmed. The barber would say to me, ‘What do you do?’”—he’s 35 years old. He said, “Well, I don’t have a job.” He was on welfare. He said, “Now, I tell him, ‘I’ve got a J-O-B. I’ve got a job.’”
I introduced him to Mike Huckabee, who, at the time, was the governor of the state of Arkansas. Huckabee was so impressed with his story, he introduced him to the President of the United States—of a young man who wanted out of this loss of nobility that a man experiences who is not providing. He was a single man. He didn’t have a job—never had a job—but he made good grades in high school—was very smart.
All he needed was someone to reach out and to apply, really, what you’re talking about, from a national perspective, to an individual—and empower them to make the choice to be responsible to provide on their own.
Wayne: What a great story, Dennis. I do think the Lord led you to talk to him.
Dennis: Oh, no question—one of the great privileges.
Now, just taking a step back from this, for a moment, though, as a family thinks about going on a mission trip—I read the “Foreword” by Rick Warren in the front of your book. Rick made the statement: “From now on, all the families who go on missions trips to Rwanda”—and a number of countries that Saddleback is reaching out to—
Wayne: One hundred ninety-six countries.
Dennis: Yes. He’s touching a lot of them. He said, “We’re going to require these families to read this book.” Why did he say that?
Wayne: I think because it is the first book that has ever addressed the problem: “Why are nations poor?” and, “How do they become wealthy, at the whole nation level, from a Christian perspective?” We didn’t find, in all our reading, any book, in the history of the world, that ever looked at how nations can become prosperous and looked at it from a standpoint of biblical principles.
Bob: So, if I’m going on a mission trip, how am I going to approach my trip differently having read your book?
Wayne: I think your eyes will be different, Bob, because you’ll see a poor person—you’ll be able to understand the causes, in the economic system, that have led him to remain trapped in poverty. You’ll see markets that aren’t working because something is broken in the economic system, or because the government is heavy-handed and taking too much away from people, or because crime isn’t punished and lawlessness is rampant and businesses can’t thrive.
Or you’ll see dishonesty. Someone promises you to paint a house for so and so dollars. Then, he comes back and he says, “Oh, I’ve got it half done, but I need more money.” That’s not keeping your word. So, when those things happen, again and again, or someone promises to show up at your house at eight in the morning and won’t be there on time because he’s not telling the truth again—
Bob: Or the bribes that have to get paid—
Wayne: Oh, exactly.
Bob: —to get in and out of countries.
Wayne: —because government is working for the benefit—
—of themselves rather than other people. Those things just weigh down an economy. All of a sudden, it seems to me—that if families or children, who go on mission trips—high school or college-age children—if they have this basic knowledge of how economies function, as we explain in the book, I think they’ll see things with different eyes.
Dennis: I think they will, and I think they are going to be able to guide their children into understanding what they are seeing with their eyes and help them understand, from an economic standpoint, what’s different about that country and our country—not that ours is perfect—but that there are some biblical principles that we enjoy, here in America, because we have an ethical, moral society, for the most part, that enables business to flourish.
Bob: And this is a book that is written, not just for economists or theologians—although they’ll benefit from reading it—but it’s written for everybody who has to wrestle through issues like this: “How do we live, as Christians in this world, in this kind of a culture, with these kinds of issues?
“What’s the proper response?” I’d encourage our listeners, “Get a copy of Dr. Wayne Grudem’s new book, The Poverty of Nations: A Sustainable Solution.” We have copies of the book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can order the book from us, online. Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com. The book is called The Poverty of Nations. You can order online; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY and request the book by phone—1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY.”
Now, talking about economics, I think most of our regular listeners know a little bit about the economics of our daily radio program. FamilyLife Today is listener-supported. There are costs associated with producing and syndicating this daily radio program. We have some families, all across the country, who believe in what we’re doing—
—want to see it expand—want to see us be able to reach more people with the ministry of FamilyLife Today. So, they donate so that we can cover the costs of what we’re doing, here at FamilyLife.
And there is one group, in particular—a group that provides the foundational support for this ministry. We call them Legacy Partners. These are folks who make a donation on a monthly basis to make sure FamilyLife Today continues on their local radio station and on our network of stations, all across the country.
During the month of March, our team has been hoping and praying that God would raise a thousand new Legacy Partners. We really need to see some families step forward, and this is like 20 families in each state where FamilyLife Today is heard. Or you can think of it this way—it’s one family in every city where FamilyLife Today is heard.
We’re hoping that that one family, in each city, would step forward and say: “FamilyLife Today is important in our community. It’s important to my family.
“We’ll be Legacy Partners and make that monthly donation to support FamilyLife Today.”
If you do that today, we’d like to send you the welcome kit to welcome you as a Legacy Partner. We’ve got some resources in there for you—including the brand-new Legacy Partner Cookbook. We’ve collected recipes from our Legacy Partners, from some of our staff, even from Dennis and Barbara, and from Mary Ann and me. We’d love to send you the brand-new Legacy Partner Cookbook as our way of saying, “Thank you for your regular support of this ministry.”
You can become a Legacy Partner by going to FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the link you see there that says, “I CARE”; and you can sign up, online, as a new Legacy Partner. Or call 1-800-FL-TODAY—say, “I’m interested in becoming a Legacy Partner,” and get the information you need—or sign up over the phone. Let me just say, “Thanks,” in advance, for joining us as a new Legacy Partner family. Keep praying that we’ll be able to reach this goal of a thousand new Legacy Partners.
In fact, this week, on a number of these FamilyLife Today radio stations, we’ll be here, talking to you about how you can join with us and be a part of what God is doing through this ministry. So, I hope you’ll tune in for that.
And I hope you’ll join us back, again, tomorrow. Dr. Wayne Grudem will be here again. We’ll continue our conversation about poverty, about economics, and about how we, as moms and dads, can teach our children about money and about economics. Hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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