For the Least of These, The Bible and Poverty

For the Least of These is a collection of twelve essays termed “the biblical answer to poverty.”  Notably, each essay is written by a different author, but the entire book is compiled and edited by theologian Art Lindsley and economist Anne Bradley. The book entails three distinct but related sections: the biblical perspective on the poor, markets and the poor, and poverty alleviation practices. Thus, the book is informed by theological and economic perspectives on poverty.

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In the first section, biblical perspective on the poor, the primary theme is that Christians have an obligation to care for the poor in a way that is characterized by dignity. The book presents poverty alleviation as a partnership whereby the fortunate have a responsibility to ensure that the less fortunate get the opportunity to improve their situation. As for the less fortunate, they are obligated to maximize the presented opportunities. Concurring, the book makes a valid point as it is evident in various Bible verses. For instance, Deuteronomy 15:7 states that “if among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother.” Therefore, the biblical perspective on the poor as presented in the book is correct as the Bible emphasizes society to extend a helping hand to the poor. Regarding the poor taking advantage of opportunities presented, “The Parable of Talents” in Mathew 25:14-30 best explains the argument by For the Least of These.

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In the second part, market and the poor, the book explains the role of markets in poverty alleviation; thus, taking an economic perspective fused with Biblical concepts. In examining poverty alleviation approaches by the markets, the authors strongly oppose redistribution of wealth, open-ended entitlements, and unending aid to the poor. Instead, they propose that Christians adopt an evangelical approach to the market by supporting developments and formulating relief efforts that emphasize building infrastructure and creating job opportunities. According to Walker (2019), the best way to alleviate poverty is to empower the impoverished as opposed to continually giving them relief financial, food, clothing, and emergency services. Empowering them through opportunities provides them with a leeway to break from the vicious cycle of poverty. The book also advocates for a holistic community approach transformation undergirded by the transforming power of the gospel. The authors postulate that transformed believers will no longer oppress the people they employ but will instead pay a fair wage. Also, transformed believers will strive to end harmful behaviors that create and amplify poverty to embrace and cherish hard work. Agreeably, systemic injustices in the job market and laziness are some of the factors that fuel poverty (de Neubourg, Roelen, & Gassmann, 2016). Addressing these issues would prove vital to alleviating poverty.

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The last part, Poverty Alleviation in Practice, focuses on practices that can constitute a long-lasting solution to the poverty problem. Often, economists are mired in abstract theory, but the authors opt for practicability. Unfortunately, this section falls short of what its labeling suggests. Whereas most of the chapters focusing on poverty alleviation in practice are fairly informing, they do not give sufficient attention to practice. However, Chapter 12 provides a practical solution. The Chapter proposes that governments and citizens should emphasize job creation and ensure the jobs pay wages that can afford people a decent standard of living. According to the book, this not only benefits the poor but also the economy as a whole. Khairullina et al. (2016) support the recommendation. Khairullina et al. agree that increasing employment reduces poverty since when citizens are gainfully employed, they pay taxes. The collected funds facilitate the development of many aspects of the economy and alleviate poverty. According to Fields (2019), for employment to alleviate poverty, three conditions are necessary – that is, there must be: (1) creation of job opportunities, (2) increased employability, (3) efficient labor markets. Although the book proposes job creation and meaningful wages as strategies that can be used to alleviate poverty, it does not discuss how to increase employability and enhance the labor market’s efficiency. Fields elucidates that increasing employability entails providing citizens with the skills and knowledge they need to become competitive in the labor market. As for the improvement of labor market efficiency, Saleem and Donaldson (2016) explain that it entails ensuring that the labor markets match workers with jobs that suit their skillsets and incentivize both employees and employers to behave in a manner that promotes optimal productivity of human capital. Therefore, apart from Chapter 12, the third section of the book is underwhelming as it mostly focuses on US political perspectives on poverty alleviation before the modern welfare state.

To sum up, for the most part, For the Least of These, provides plausible arguments regarding the poor and how to curb poverty. It serves as a driving board from which people and governments can delve into the Biblical mandate to care for the poor using practices informed by economic principles. Despite its shortcoming in part three, parts one and two can spark a conversation about poverty and markets that can subsequently lead to the formulation of strategic approaches to alleviate poverty. The book is a compelling reminder that poverty tarnishes human dignity and, therefore, needs combating.

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