The Creation of Wealth
A review of Fred Catherwood's, "The Creation of Wealth: Recovering a Christian Understanding of Money, Work, and Ethics," by Dr. Craig Blomberg.
Catherwood, Fred. The Creation of Wealth: Recovering a Christian Understanding of Money, Work, and Ethics. Wheaton: Crossway. 2002 Paperback. 208 pp. $14.99. ISBN 1-58134-352-3.
The work and writing of Sir Fred Catherwood, well known in Europe in Christian and non-Christian circles alike, deserves a much greater press in the U.S. Eleven years the CEO of international companies, five years chairing the British Overseas Trade Board, and fifteen years in the European Parliament make him uniquely equipped to write on this topic. But he is also a committed believer and a faithful Cambridge Baptist churchgoer, who has presided over British InterVarsity and the British Evangelical Alliance, and a humble and self-effacing person as well.
American evangelicals too often have a very truncated understanding of the full counsel of biblical teaching on stewardship and money matters. Due to our unique history, we have often linked our cause to the Republican party (whereas in the U.K. for another set of reasons equally more historical than biblical, all but Anglican evangelicals have typically aligned more with Labor). Neither nation has fully recognized that faithful implementation of all the social ethics of Scripture cuts right across traditional party platforms of both liberals and conservatives. Catherwood brings great common sense, borne of his experiences, to help us chart out truly biblical positions which inevitably wind up being fairly centrist, politically speaking, across the spectrum from “right” to “left.”
Catherwood sets his various discussions in their proper historical contexts. The work ethic (most notably associated with Calvinism and Puritanism), democracy, and even modern science all have deep roots in the Christian worldview. It is no coincidence that they grew up in historically Christian societies and have not been well developed in cultures without pervasive Christian influence. But Western Europe has increasingly jettisoned its Christian heritage and, at least in the public arena, the United States is following in its steps even if it isn't as far down the same path. On the other hand, European states have preserved some of their once more explicitly Christian commitments–for example, to minimize unemployment because of the inherent value and dignity of work for all human beings–than have Americans, since we have wedded our values more to conservative (i.e., non-interventionist) economics than to biblical ethics.
So, too, a pervasively Christian form of capitalism once stressed saving and giving as the primary outgrowth of making money, whereas today even Christians in the U.S and U.K. save and give less than ever, at least in terms of percentages of their total income. We can debate the most effective mechanisms for producing the desired results but all believers should put opportunities for adequate health care for all citizens, adequate income and benefits for all workers, relief for the victims of famine and other natural disasters, and concern about the rape of the environment at the forefront of their social ethics.
Corruption is the single biggest reason why the so-called developing countries often remain undeveloped or grow poorer. But the widespread disclosure of corruption among big Western businesses, epitomized by the Enron scandal, reflect an alarming trend in our societies, which, if unchecked, could lead to economic decline of unprecedented proportions even among the “developed” countries. The same is true if those investors who do not support companies over the long haul, but simply want to make money on each little upswing of the market by constant selling and buying, ever come to dominate Wall Street. The resulting instability is a recipe for economic disaster.
Separation of church and state is a good, biblical concept. While many European countries still have an established church, de facto separation exists there, at times in an even greater way, than in America. The church should be the primary mechanism for doing God's work in the world, but the state should encourage rather than hinder the church's humanitarian ventures–“looking after the homeless, the fatherless, and the prisoners, as Christ taught” (p. 72). Conversely, churches should support and participate in democracies, seeking distinctively “public arena” types of arguments to support causes that the Bible also endorses. The pro-life and pro-family movements have largely lost the battle in this respect; things will turn around only when the church is perceived by society as doing everything it possibly can to provide families for unwanted children when the mothers are willing to carry them to term and to care for AIDS victims, regardless of the causes of their affliction. “The early Christians did not convert the Roman empire by lobbying pagan emperors; they did it by being such good neighbors that those living around them were impressed by their neighborly love” (p. 86).
Catherwood's various roles enable him to speak with particularly keen insight to the multinational world of trade laws and trends. Equitable policies for rich and poor alike may do as much as any other single action toward alleviating poverty and suffering worldwide, but how often is this issue even on any evangelical's radar screen? And even for people who (sadly) care little for folks outside America, it ought to be alarming that from the early 1980s to the late 1990s, the U.S. went from being the world's biggest creditor to the world's biggest debtor. The new common currency in much of Europe, the Euro, has largely been a boon for the economic prosperity of that continent; sooner or later Britain and the other dissenting nations will have to join up.
Of all the practical help that the West can give to the Two-Thirds World, “the most effective in the long run is likely to be on-the-spot training in the professional ethic, with its deep roots in the Christian faith” (p. 144). But “it is a race against time because . . . Western exports can wipe out employment in whole towns” (pp. 144-45). The disparity between the haves and the have-nots with respect to state-of-the-art computer technology also increases and must be addressed.
The enormity of the problems could easily lead to pessimism, but this is not a Christian attribute. God raised up in Scripture solitary leaders who had profound impact on their societies, none perhaps more dramatic than Moses. He can do it today for those with vision and a will to act on it. A leader acting Christianly in a large company can impact it and its clients in enormously good ways. Catherwood did it himself and can cite others around the world who have done likewise. But it will happen only when our understanding of the ethical issues about which evangelical Christians should be concerned broadens considerably.
My interest in and writing on the Bible and money matters led me to agree to review this book, even though it is not primarily a work of New Testament exegesis. I am not an economist and thus unable to discern if there are subtle flaws at any point in Catherwood's analysis of contemporary societies, though I detect no obvious ones. His treatment of Scripture, however, both in referencing single texts and more commonly in applying larger themes, is impeccable. This book deserves a wide readership. It was probably deserving of being published by someone (like, say, an Eerdmans) who would have given it much greater circulation than it will probably achieve with Crossway.
Craig L. Blomberg
Distinguished Professor of New Testament