I have a background in economics (if a B.A. in the subject and a lasting enthusiasm count as a background) and have long been interested in the ways this discipline I enjoy intersects with my faith and vocation as a pastor. So, it has been encouraging to watch this connection become a fertile field for thought in the last couple of years. A lot of organizations and intelligent people are working this through right now, and I think it is beneficial for pastors to have at least some start on how to engage it.
As a result, below I have collected several of the recent books I have read on the topic. This is not a ranking or in-depth review, but a kind of personal annotated bibliography. I list the books alphabetically by author just to give the list some kind of order. I clearly do not cover everything published in the last few years, and I do not cover very many books by those who have been room temperature for a while.
In any event, I hope this list encourages you to pick one or two of them up and begin the journey of synthesizing your theology, methods of discipleship, and work.
Knowledge and Power: The Information Theory of Capitalism and How it is Revolutionizing our World. George Gilder
George Gilder is one of those people you have (probably) never heard of, but who had a significant impact on recent American history. The book he is best known for, “Wealth and Poverty”, was influential in the Regan administration and credited with a lot of the economic boon of the era. This book needs to be chewed in chunks in order to be absorbed. His fundamental thesis is that information is the driving force behind the health of an economy and entrepreneurial success. The flow of information, then, becomes critical for the health and progress of an economy. An absolutely fascinating read.
The Economics of Neighborly Love: Investing in your Community’s Compassion and Capacity. Tom Nelson
Tom Nelson is founder and president of a wonderful organization that facilitates these kinds of conversations and resources among pastors and churches called, “Made to Flourish”. If you are interested in these things, I encourage you to sign up as part of the organization. This is at least his second book specifically on the confluence of work and theology and does a wonderful job of detailing how churches can help encourage the value of their parishioner’s work. Very accessible and a great place to begin if you are new to this topic.
Foundations of a Free and Virtuous Society. Dylan Pahman
Pahman divides his book in two, developing first a “Christian Anthropology”, and then asking “What If?” with the intention of building basic economic principles on fundamental anthropological principles. If God created humans like this, then we will do best if our economic principles look like this. It is a great way to build a book on this topic. Pahman is Orthodox, so many of the works cited are from Orthodox authors. I found that fascinating and invigorating. It helped give me a broader theological view on this subject, while reading a clear and enjoyable author discuss economics from a biblically faithful anthropology.
The Virtues of Capitalism: A Moral Case for Free Markets. Scott B. Rae
This relatively short book makes for a great primer on a controversial topic – can capitalism or the free market be the moral choice? It is often argued that some form of state control and redistribution of goods and services will accomplish the most economic justice, but is that true? If you want to dive into an argument for the moral case for the free market, this is a great place to begin.
Practicing the King’s Economy: Honoring Jesus in how we Work, Earn, Spend, Save, and Give. Michael Rhodes, Robby Holt.
Rhodes and Holt divide their book into essentially two sections – one theological and the other practical – in the form of pairs of chapters. The first chapters in the pair address what they see as a “key” to unlocking what a Kingdom Economy looks like as given to us in Scripture, and the second chapter discusses practical applications of those principles. A lot of the strength of this book is wrapped up in seeing both work and justice as vital components to the King Jesus economy. One cannot be pursued while neglecting the other. And then a pastor will likely be invigorated by some of the stories of how churches and Christians lived these principles out.
A Humane Economy: The Social Framework of the Free Market. Wilhelm Ropke
I discovered Wilhelm Ropke in an article I read. The author’s description of him and his biography sent me straight to “A Humane Economy”. So far, I think just about every page is written on. I find the intersection of his faith, his social critique, and his economic prowess to be almost intoxicating. It does not dive deep into too many of the weeds of economic theory but is a magnificent take on how societies and economies work best for people. Ropke was German, a dissident and refugee from the Nazi regime, published the book in 1958, and saw the rise of Communism and “mass society” (a version of crass consumerism) with unique clarity. If you are interested in these things, I think it is an indispensable work.
This volume from Acton compiles essays from a broad array of Christian and interfaith thinkers and leaders on the interaction between religious freedom and economic freedom. The authors often tackle the common assumptions regarding state control of certain sectors of the economy and the good of individuals, making for an exciting read for people who are committed to several things at once: free markets, religious liberty, and individual flourishing. From time to time the collection may be a bit academic for some but is well worth the effort.
My friend, Charlie Self, wrote this book as part of “The Oikonomia Series”, designed to tackle a theology of faith and work from various theological backgrounds. As a Pentecostal, Charlie argues that the church requires the work and empowerment of the Holy Spirit to be the kind of influences we were intended to be. He is concerned that our models of discipleship have not met the needs of congregants who spend most of their weeks, months, and years at their vocation. How can we encourage churches and discipleship so that we can attain flourishing churches and communities? This is also a wonderful book to help pastors think through this critical issue.
The Gospel at Work: How the Gospel Gives New Purpose and Meaning to our Jobs. Sebastian Traeger, Greg Gilbert.
The authors build their book around the image of avoiding both idleness at work and idolatry of work. Rooted in what has come to be called the “Gospel tradition” (largely Reformed authors grounding their work in the fundamental truths of Scripture), they encourage Christians to think about the value of their work through questions about honoring God and what he has put us here on earth to do. An accessible book, it is another encouraging addition to this largely neglected topic among evangelicals. Our work matters to God, and how we work matters to him and our communities. “The Gospel at Work” helps us think that through.
How Then Should We Work? Hugh Welchel
Hugh Welchel is the Executive Director of a wonderful organization, The Institute of Faith Work and Economics. You can find a wealth of resources on this topic at their website. His book is part of what helped this wave of theological and economic work catch momentum a few years ago. The book is written to craft a biblical vision of the importance of work and how our efforts fit into God’s economy. It is another wonderful and accessible book that can be a great addition to a pastor’s shelf.