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Profits with purpose: gain wealth for good

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The Economics of Neighborly Love: Investing in Your Community’s Compassion and Capacity
Tom Nelson
IVP Books, 2017

“If we are going to love our neighbor well, we must not only manage our financial resources well; we must also have ample financial resources to manage.”

In recent years, several authors have suggested that pastors who fail to preach regularly about money, (sermons where the focus is other than giving) are committing clergy malpractice.

Given that more of Jesus’ teachings dealt with material things and work than any other topic, it’s not difficult to agree with the malpractice theory.

Yet many pastors are given precious little, if any teaching about personal finance or economics during their Bible college or seminary studies. Significant numbers arrive at their first ministry post with crushing student debt. Neither of those life experiences serve them well in meeting the needs and expectations of the people they are called to serve.

Work and economics are themes that run throughout Scripture from Genesis to Revelation pastor Tom Nelson says.

In his well-researched and thoughtfully argued book The Economics of Neighborly Love, Nelson makes a compelling case that clergy and congregants alike need to pay more attention to these topics.

No one who wants to serve their neighbor and be found faithful to a Christian calling can ignore the intersection between theology and economics, he argues.

“If we are going to love our neighbor well, we must not only manage our financial resources well; we must also have ample financial resources to manage.’’

Nelson repeatedly drives home the importance of economic capacity accompanying compassion for anyone who wants to care for local and global neighbors.

The book is even-handed in its treatment of the necessity and spiritual complexities of wealth for those who strive to make a difference.

Nelson, senior pastor at a Kansas church for close to three decades and now the president of the Made to Flourish teaching network, has a lot to say about closing the Sunday-Monday gap that will resonate with MEDA supporters. He also recognizes the essential role capital plays in providing jobs, restoring human dignity, and lifting people out of poverty more effectively than aid alone can ever do.

“When we learn and apply economic wisdom, we can be hopeful that economic injustice can be confronted, economic opportunity can be offered, and economic flourishing can be a reality, even for the most vulnerable and marginalized of society,” he writes.

His careful examination of economics and biblical teaching is likely to irk some readers, whether they be liberal or conservative in matters political or theological. Nelson thoughtfully points out the theological errors found both in the prosperity gospel (success is viewed as a measure of God’s blessing) and the poverty gospel (the view that the greater the material poverty, the more spiritual the person).

He recognizes the need for government and regulators to intervene to ensure fair practices, noting that morality and fairness are important parts of flourishing economies that provide opportunity. Profit is not held up as an end to itself, and Nelson cites the value of triple bottom line economics, where profit goes along with promoting the flourishing of people and the planet.

No mere theorist, Nelson is quick to share stories of faith communities that he sees taking steps in the right direction. He gives examples of U.S. churches housing business incubators, leading financial literacy classes, replacing vacation Bible school with a BIZ camp teaching youth to develop business plans, and even providing seed capital for business startups in the same manner as the pitch competitions held at many universities.

“Neighborly love is more than sentimental compassion; it is also a call toward active capacity building,” he concludes.

Buy this book for your pastor. Most churches should own at least one copy. With any luck it will end up in your church library and possibly form the basis of a small group study.

[Mike Strathdee is editor of The Marketplace, the bimonthly magazine of Mennonite Economic Development Associates, where this review was first published.

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