“Flourishing Faith: A Baptist Primer on Work, Economics, and Civic Stewardship”–A Review


51eWQQm4fsLChad Brand. Flourishing Faith: A Baptist Primer on Work, Economics, and Civic Stewardship. Grand Rapids: Christian’s Library Press. 2012, $9.00

Introduction

Chad Brand has given the church and the Christian a much needed and rare work on the theological importance of work, economics, the role of government, and politics. He practically addresses how Christians, particularly Baptists, should live in light of these issues and respond to our nation’s leaders and their economic and political positions regarding them. Flourishing Faith is a part of a four-book series, in which each book takes a look at work, economics, and politics from a different perspective. The book at hand is written from a Baptist perspective. Chad Brand is more than qualified to produce this work as he is writing from the perspective that he holds and his expertise in history, politics, and theology give him unique abilities that make him more than adequate for writing such a book that establishes the importance of work and economics from a Christian (Baptist) worldview. And in light of President Barack Obama’s second inauguration speech, which demonstrated just how liberal and even socialistic he can be, this book will be a vital resource moving forward as a Christian and a Baptist in our “changing” political and economic landscape.

Summary

Brand phenomenally divides Flourishing Faith into seven systematized and very well researched chapters where he examines work, economics, and political theory. His premises and final conclusions are clearly stated, which makes for an easy read on topics that are often made ambiguous, especially in Christian circles. Throughout this work, the author establishes the clear truth in Scripture that is often misunderstood by Christians of God’s not only approval of, but ordination of work in the perfection of the Garden. Brand begins very appropriately by asserting the fact that work is good. He argues biblically that “we were created to have vocation” by stating that though living in the pre-Fall era of uninhibited relationship with God they were “commanded to labor, to work” even in that paradise (2). This is foundational to his overall claim that it is good and right for Americans and, in particular, American Christians to flourish. While Christianity is often viewed as being a faith that is against flourishing, Brand biblically, historically, and theologically expounds why this is not true in the process of exposing God’s design for work, wealth, and stewardship while interpreting this in light of man’s plight in sin as a result of the Fall.

As previously noted, chapter one sets the stage very importantly for the rest of the book as Brand sets out to prove that work itself is not evil. He briefly observes ancient Greek thought concerning work and labor as being primarily negative since the majority in this society relied on slaves for labor. In Platonic thought and early Roman culture, labor was for those who had been conquered (i.e. people of lesser value). At this point, Brand briefly explains biblically why this view of work does not coincide with God and his purpose for mankind. In establishing a theology of work in this chapter and the next, Brand grounds this theology in the fact that God commanded man to work before sin had entered the world. Therefore, Brand makes the argument that work is good and is not a curse as a result of sin. “The notion that work was simply a by-product of the fall of humanity into sin is simply not sustainable” (8).

Brand notes that work was ordained by God in the perfection of the Garden, and therefore, in keeping with the tradition of Creation, “it was good.” Brand’s theology of work also has “between the times” as well as eschatological implications. Brand’s theology of work urges the readers to see the importance of work today (though difficult it may be as a result of sin) as well as into eternity in the new earth.

With this all important premise for a theology of work established, Brand continues in chapter two to answer the question that he left his readers asking in the first: What should this work look like? While biblically establishing this important premise, chapter two theologically and historically takes a look at how Christian theologians have viewed work. Tracing thinkers of the past from the Roman Empire through Catholic thought in the Middle Ages leading to the Reformers, Brand notes that there was no theology of work established until Martin Luther did just that. He was the first to understand that it was not solely the clergy that had a calling. No. All Christians have a sacred calling to vocational work. Brand expresses this by stating that “the calling to a ‘secular’ vocation is just as holy as a calling to a ‘sacred’ vocation” (17).

Indeed, all kinds of legitimate human labor are God-honoring (23). Important to Americans, Brand points out the oft forgotten theology of work held by the Puritans. The American Dream of working hard in order to earn a living was first seen in and probably gleaned from Puritan leaders like Cotton Mather who viewed working hard as ultimately glorifying to God (21).

The author moves from work to wealth in chapter three. This touchy issue in America is approached biblically by Brand. Though countless Christians believe that wealth is evil, Brand points out that this simply does not coincide with Scripture by giving Abraham, Job and others as examples of wealthy men who were clearly in the faith and found favor with God (29). In fairness, Brand points out men who were wealthy who were not faithful to God, such as King Ahab (29-30). Therefore, wealth does not necessarily correlate with faith. Ahab’s wealth was not the reason for his evil heart. His wealth was not evil. Brand makes clear that it was the way that Ahab obtained this wealth that made his transactions evil (30).

In chapter four, Brand works off of Augustine’s description of the City of Man. Brand continues building on his argument by arguing for the necessity of government due to the sinfulness of man, an argument first established by Augustine, and then dissects the thought of how Christians are to relate to the state. He points out the connection of this thought with Israel’s plea for a king (47). Brand then goes through the evils during the reign of Saul and similar Israelite kings that implemented unbearable taxes and a massive government. He then turns to answer the question that has plagued so many Christians: What does submission to the government look like?

The author is faithful to the Bible and to his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in his answer: “If we have to choose, we decide to follow the Lord, despite the consequences, even death” (52). Brand continues to be astutely and richly biblical by concluding that Christians should submit to the state in accordance to Jesus, Paul, the apostles, and even the acts of many during the Reformation until it comes to contradiction to the lordship of Christ. Submission to Christ as Lord takes priority over submission to the state.

Chapter five is directly applicable to our current political and economic situation in America. The question is posed: Is the redistribution of wealth biblical as so many claim? According to Brand, this is a preposterous thought. He bases this thought in the Ten Commandments by referring to the sins of theft and covetousness (73). Despite this, Brand points out how both of these have been accepted in the form of socialistic and Marxist class warfare and redistribution of wealth.

Though Obama and others have based their desire for what reeks of socialism in positive intentions for the betterment of all, Brand points out that these efforts are typically attempts for heightened self-glory and political power (86). Brand obviously opposes redistribution of wealth, but his thoughts are weighty due to their historical and biblical foundation. Based on the governing of Ahab and Rehoboam, Brand writes, “Governments that confiscate from one class of society for their own purposes only create moral and fiscal problems—they solve nothing” (87).

The most philosophical of the seven chapters, chapter six, discusses the political-economic theories of Adam Smith (Capitalism), Karl Marx (Socialism/Communism), and John Keynes (Keynesian Political Economy). Brand is fair to all three men and their theories while being clear on which theory he believes is not only most effective, but most biblical (Smith’s Capitalism). Though Keynesian models are being applied in America under the Obama Administration, Brand points out their deficiencies and how our capitalistic nation has had very few capitalistic presidents.

Brand closes out his book by focusing on the Baptist heritage and how they have traditionally viewed politics and economics as well as establishing the Baptist theology of work, politics, and economy that should affect our churches and lives today. In direct contrast to Marx and in a real sense, Obama, Brand notes, “the Bible does not teach that society is going to get better and more moral over time but that the only hope for salvation lies in the second advent of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ” (115). This Baptist view directly relates to the political and economic sphere of life, which directly affects the way Baptists view political and economic theory.

Brand establishes that Baptists would do well to be capitalists since this theory of Adam Smith is most consistent with Scripture. Likewise, limited government is how traditional evangelical Baptists have viewed political theory dating back to those first Anabaptists in Zurich (122, 127). Brand concludes that the “Baptist Way” has been rooted in “limited government, religious liberty, relative autonomy of local churches, and free-market economics (127).

Evaluation

The brilliant historical analysis, theological and biblical reliance exemplified in this work by Chad Brand is what Christians thinking about politics and economics need. The weight of his conclusions and arguments find substance not only in Brand’s reliance on history, but also his dependence on Scripture. His theology of work is highly biblical and his conclusions regarding free-market economics and limited government find biblical and theological basis in them as well. Knowing anything of the author’s background, it is easy to predict what his conclusions would be. However, the manner of his interaction with views he clearly finds incompatible with Scripture is commendable. Brand presents the views of large government and redistribution of wealth fairly and with a kind tone. This fairness makes this work easily readable and highly recommendable to those of differing political and economical viewpoints.

As previously mentioned, Brand’s faithfulness to historical, theological, and biblical research outweighs any bias that he may unintentionally bring to the table. I use words like “may” and “unintentionally” to refer to any bias in this work because none were apparent to me, but since I am a Baptist it is possible that I could have overlooked them. His presentation of how Baptists view work, politics, economy, and civic stewardship is clearly stated and therefore he accomplishes his purpose of presenting the “Baptist Way” in the public square. None of his historical references seemed to be out of context, which is a major strength vital to Brand’s arguments. Also, he makes no light claims or trite phrases with no meaning. All of Brand’s arguments are logically consistent.

By way of criticism, there could have been deeper theological and biblical frameworks presented. Out of the historical, theological, and biblical frameworks used for understanding work, politics, and economics, there was heavy emphasis on historical perspective. While this is vital and should not be left out, it may have served this book well and made a stronger argument if heavier emphasis would have been given to biblical and theological frameworks. However, despite this very slight criticism, it does not seem that this affected the overall outcome of the book. The biblical basis was clear, even though more attention was given to historical perspective. Brand’s theological and biblical stance is clear in this book and as a result gives his use of history more weight since it was coming from a strong Christian worldview.

Conclusion

In our culture that is continually heading toward political and economic socialism with the rising of bigger government and the diminishing of political, religious, and economic freedom, all American citizens need to know how to think, act, and vote in its midst for the sake of our future as a nation. All the more important, Christians who are typically ignorant of political and economic issues need to understand the present and eschatological importance of work and, as a result, politics and economics in 21st century America. Chad Brand has given the church and by extension America a tremendous resource to use to be able to think more clearly about our current political and economic situation and how it contradicts that of our Founding Fathers. Brand’s work is a much-needed plea for clearer thinking and ardent devotion given to our divine-given vocation, no matter what the field, to work toward a biblically sound economy and system of government in order to faithfully flourish for the glory of God.

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