Social Ministry, Perspectives on Economics, Public Policy

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Part of the ministry resources on Christian Social Ministry, Social Justice. It is categorized in the site archive that is not updated past 2012.


Most Christian literature on social action, social justice, church-and-culture, and church-state relations convey a strong tone of advocacy. Authors write passionately to encourage a prescribed course of action. Not uncommonly, they convey strong advocacy or opposition for economic systems, both capitalism and socialism. This may be unintentional, but at other times it is quite intentional.

Popular authors such as Jim Wallis (God’s Politics), Tony Campolo (Red-Letter Christians), and Shane Claiborne (Jesus for President) appropriately address evangelical Christians who may align indiscriminately with the assumptions of crass capitalism and imbibe the evils of materialism, excess, oppression, and indifference to the poor. They remind us that the gospel of the kingdom has much to say about economic and social justice, and call the church to be a prophetic catalyst toward economics that address the needs of “the least of these.” Yet even though these authors may not intend it, readers could come away believing that a socialist economic system best conveys Christian values. Capitalist-friendly authors, on the other hand, also promote social justice, but do so while upholding the rule of law, limited government, the dignity of hard work, the role of families as income producers, and the government’s role in securing economic conditions that allow individuals to prosper and reap the rewards of their industriousness. Neither group completely embodies God’s will for the human community. Each group makes important contributions to the discussion.

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While most church leaders do not aspire to be economists, they may unwittingly convey economically ill-informed proposals if their only exposure to social justice is through authors who are more one-sided on the issue. As stated above, it is important to read the correctives of capitalism from authors such as Wallis, Claiborne, Sider, and others. It is equally important to read from Christian capitalists who possess a strong social conscience, and who are convinced that socialism is less, not more, conducive to God’s vision for social justice (e.g. Craig Carter). Authors in this vein are less well-known, but offer a perspective that helps Christians to see possibilities of forwarding the interests of social justice without the anti-capitalist sentiment. These include organizations such as the Acton Institute and authors such as Scott Rae, Craig Blomberg, John Schneider, Marvin Olasky, Ronald Nash, Michael Novak, and others. This Ministy Resource Guide seeks to represent an appreciative balance of Christian views of economics and public policy.

One more caveat. I love the quote by Rich Karlgaard, the Christian publisher of Forbes magazine, that listening to a minister preach on business “is like hearing a eunuch lecture on sex: He may have studied the topic, but really knows little about the mechanics.” (Richards, Money, Greed, and God, 5) Ministers may be tempted to use their captive audiences to spout off opinions on matters they know little about. The purpose of this resource guide is not to equip ministers to lecture on economics, but to give them a more informed basis for understanding and equipping others for the biblical calls to social ministry.

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I have divided this guide according to author or perspective. They are listed in a kind of suggested order within each category, but hopefully are described in a way that readers could assess the value of any individual volume for their needs.

Chuck Collins and Mary Wright, Catholic Social Teaching

Ronald J. Sider

Tony Campolo

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Jim Wallis

Shane Claiborne

Duke Divinity School Center for Reconciliation

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Capitalist-Friendly Authors

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Related Areas

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