Jay Richards: Money, God, and Greed reviewed

I will cut to the chase – this is going to be a very, very positive book review. This is an excellent book, and I will explain why I am so fond of it in just a moment. But since I write a lot of book reviews, and the one negative thing I have to say about this book is something I have never said before, I will just get it out of the way up front so I can move on to the real review: I wish I had written this book. Quite literally, Jay Richards took the need for me to do something I was very serious about doing (some day) right off of my “to-do” list. A book for laymen of faith that provides a Biblical defense of free market capitalism is in tremendous need. John Schneider’s The Good of Affluence is a fantastic contribution, but its focus is exegetical and theological. Dinesh D’Souza’s The Virtue of Prosperity is delightful, but it is specifically contextualized to an era that was practically gone by the time the book was published (the dot com techno-affluence world). A slew of treatises exist that provide an underlying defense of capitalism, but the sad reality is that most books defending the morality of a free market ideology were not written by people of faith, or at least not people publicly identifying their faith-based presuppositions. The book concept I have been so excited to see is one that was (a) Written for an audience of laymen, (b) Written for an audience of professing believers, (c) Written with an underlying theological credibility and understanding, and (d) Written with a very specific economic expertise. Perhaps I was fooling myself to think I was the person to tackle such an endeavor, but I am happy (and sad) to report that my vision has now been fulfilled. For Jay Richards’ new book is clear, highly readable, wonderfully written, Biblically literate, and economically irrefutable. In all serious, Richards has written a crucial, vital book. I only pray that it receives the audience it desperately warrants.

I tend to be an overly-optimistic person, but I have been predicting the final nail in the coffin of the relationship between the church and today’s “youth generation” for some time. I believe on the scholastic and doctrinal side of the faith, generations of in-fighting and dead religion have pulverized the chances of young people continuing on as “church people” once they reach full adulthood. On the pietistic side, a decade or more of insulting and inane attempts to reach the youth culture have backfired in dramatic fashion, as church “leaders” have found out the hard way just how good young people are at detecting phonies, even when they are wearing really cool Hawaiian shirts. My prediction is that the contemporary church’s utter failure to speak to young “twenty-somethings” about the subject of career, money, prosperity, and ambition will be the final nail in the coffin of this relationship. No event will more solidify this than the church’s complicity in present times with the forces of socialism and egalitarianism. It is the most abhorrent of theological errors that has allowed the demonization of wealth to take place in pews across this country week after week, preying upon people’s natural tendencies to envy, to covet, and to resent. It is inexcusable that the cause of global poverty has been outsourced to the federal behemoth we ironically call “government”, and that blindly putting aid in the hands of third world dictators has been labeled “Christ-like”. Indeed, N.T. Wright is perhaps my favorite theologian on the planet, but any address he has ever offered on anything remotely connected to subjects economic or socio-political has amounted to nothing more than rank collectivism, and N.T. Wright is one of the sharp ones! The Christian church has failed, and failed in a profound way, to teach the Biblical edict on work, prosperity, incentive, private property, sound money, investment, and freedom. Western Europe has been a goner for some time, but in recent times the uniquely capitalistic United States of America has been attacked by forces of class warfare and Robin Hood-economics that would have been considered unthinkable just a few years ago. The response of the church to the demonization of the business class and the centralization of so many market forces has been either consent and agreement, or at best complete silence. I do not believe it is possible that such a blurring of Biblical teaching on risk and reward will possibly endear the youth of today to the church of tomorrow. How can tomorrow’s leaders possibly take serious the idea that ours is a faith of stewardship and morality when we sit idly by and condone an economic system of redistribution? Free market capitalism is alive and well, unless one is looking inside the halls of the secular academy, or sadly, the sanctuaries of today’s churches. May we reverse this course before it is entirely too late.

Richards’ book is to be commended for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is its delightful structure and flow. His credibility is enhanced by his autobiography – like so many people of faith, his path to a Biblical view of money and economics went through the pietistic town of socialism. But even more so than most secular books on the subject, Richards uses a basic checklist of economic errors to methodically walk through the pertinent topics. If only every believer would take the time to evaluate their own thinking in the light of these common economic fallacies! Richards tackles every popular objection in circulation to the idea that the Bible provides the foundation for free market prosperity and incentive. He decimates the intellectual error of Communism, and lays out the step-by-step case for an integration of modern capitalism with the Christian faith. His treatment of the subject is simple, but filled with profound insights. The book is inundated with Scripture, yet he does not sacrifice economic literacy for the cause of Biblical fidelity. There is a tremendous nod to the great champions of capitalism (Adam Smith and F.A Hayek, in particular), yet he avoids the error of suggesting that their insights are somehow superior to the text of Scripture. Rather, he shows through careful reasoning and persuasion that the invisible hand of the marketplace is a God-created phenomena, and that the current practice of maligning the pursuit of wealth is not at all compatible with the Bible. I believe the book is absolutely read-able for high school age students, and yet the vast majority of adults I know ought to read it as well. It is balanced, comprehensive, and irrefutably logical. I can not recommend it strongly enough, and I truly do pray that it will gain the audience it deserves before the cause of freedom and opportunity is completely monopolized by the forces of secularism.

If only I had written it first … =)
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It is no small coincidence that the book’s author, Jay Richards, is a past fellow of the Acton Institute and contributor/writer to their great cause. In a time where the Christian Left claims to have a monopoly on Christian social thought and economics, the Acton Institute stands alone intelligently proclaiming the cause of markets and morality. Their task is a gigantic one, but they perform it admirably, and with as much intellectual firepower as any organization out there. They have an incredible set of shoulders to stand on, and they are not afraid to be shot at while they do their goods work.