Theology and Economics - Lesson 7

Interview with Gerry Smith

In this interview with Gerry Smith, he discuss the relationship between theology and economics. He covers topics such as the importance of work and the role of the church in the marketplace. Smith argues that a Christian view of economics should focus on the flourishing of all people, not just profit. He also addresses issues such as income inequality and the role of government in regulating the economy.
Greg Forster
Theology and Economics
Lesson 7
Watching Now
Interview with Gerry Smith

I. Introduction

A. Overview of the Interview

B. Gerry Smith's Background and Expertise

C. Purpose of the Interview

II. Understanding the Relationship between Theology and Economics

A. Definition of Economics and Theology

B. The Role of Ethics in Economics

C. The Relationship between Christianity and Capitalism

III. Impact of Economics on Christian Life and Witness

A. Money and Material Possessions

B. Stewardship and Generosity

C. The Role of Business in Society

IV. Challenges and Opportunities for Christians in the Marketplace

A. Challenges in Integrating Faith and Work

B. Opportunities for Witness and Service

C. Practical Tips for Christians in the Marketplace

V. Conclusion

A. Recap of Key Points

B. Call to Action

C. Final Thoughts

  • Learn about the intersection of theology and economics and the role of Christians in the marketplace, as this document covers biblical economic principles, resource stewardship, ethical decisions, and faith's impact on business.
  • Discover the biblical concept of stewardship and its relation to human flourishing, exploring the parable of the talents, Genesis creation account, and practical applications for business, government, and personal finance.
  • In this lesson on Work and Value, you will gain insights into the nature of work and its inherent value as explained by the concept of the Imago Dei, the influence of the Protestant Work Ethic on Western culture, the role of technology in shaping the modern workplace, and the idea of vocation and how Christians can find purpose and meaning in their work.
  • In this lesson, you will learn how to live out your faith in the workplace by being a good steward of your resources and striving for excellence in your work. The lesson on productivity and opportunity highlights the importance of diligence, setting goals, and eliminating distractions to increase productivity. Ultimately, the course aims to equip Christians to serve God and others in the marketplace.
  • You will gain insights into the role of Christians in the marketplace and the importance of responsible action, which includes understanding economic systems and acting ethically with justice, love, and compassion.
  • This interview provides valuable insights for Christians seeking to integrate their faith with their professional lives by exploring the intersection of theology and economics in the marketplace. Jon Marks offers practical advice for ethical decision-making, discusses the role of money, wealth, and greed in society, and explains how Christians can resist the temptation to prioritize financial gain over moral principles.
  • Gerry Smith discusses the relationship between theology and economics. He argues that a Christian view of economics should focus on the flourishing of all people, not just profit, and addresses issues such as income inequality and the role of government in regulating the economy.

Why connect theology and economics?

We need to connect these two because lives of Christ followers should manifest the Gospel, making it tangible and visible.  In addition to personal holiness, we need to reach beyond ourselves and have an impact on the world around us.

Christians are called to live out God’s creation purposes and be signposts of the glorious future to come. That includes activities like religious works, charity, and volunteering, but these take up only a small fraction of our lives; discipleship must be a whole-life endeavor. If we want to follow God’s call and live into our true identity as his stewards, we have to integrate our faith with the spheres of life in which we invest most of our time: work and the economy.

This course, taught by Dr. Greg Forster will enable you to think clearly about these two issues, their relationship to each other and to all of life.


Dr. Greg Forster
Theology and Economics
Interview With Gerry Smith 
Lesson Transcript

[00:00:01] Hi. Welcome back to our series on theology and economics. I'm Greg Forster, a program director at the Current Family Foundation and our program on Faith, Work and Economics. My guest now is Gerry Smith, who is a pastor at Grace Community Church here in the Greater Portland area. Grace Community Church is a missional community that's been here for over 32 years. They describe their mission as loving, God, loving people, reaching people and developing people. And they have a number of community initiatives that are aimed at helping people move away from from relief and toward rehabilitation and development. And they're in dialog with Western Seminary here about how best to do that. Jerry, thanks for being with us. I really appreciate your coming here for the dialog. My pleasure. Now, partly as a result of your conversations with Western Seminary about the whole area of work and the economy, your church is doing a sermon series on work. Can you tell us a little about that? Yeah, we're doing a four part series right after Christmas first of the year, and basically just talking about work and motivation, secular versus sacred, and what work and rest have to do with a believer's life and just feel it's really important to talk to people where they are. You know, just an example, several weeks ago in a community group that I was a part of when it came time to pray, we have a couple of teachers and administrators in the group, and one administrator was asking for prayer because she was need wisdom to make decisions about how to best help the kids in the community. Another woman asked for prayer because she hated her job and she couldn't wait till retirement. She had ten years left and she but she hated the job.

[00:01:47] And this is where people are. And we really feel it important to speak to that, that it's important to look at work as a believer in Jesus Christ and as a good steward. I think people need to know kind of how theology fits in there. Yeah, and people have. I love that you mentioned prayer needs because people have prayer needs in their work. And one of the big themes in the faith and work movement is churches have a prayer time, often during the during the service. But workplace needs don't often find their way into that that prayer time. Yeah, it was so illustrative of of how we need to help. The woman who was upset didn't want to work, wanted to retire as quickly as possible, but had ten years of job she hated. We need to somehow pray for her at the same time, pray for this other woman who's administrator and asking for God's will in the job that she's in. So, yeah, very important. You mentioned sort of describing the sermon series on work. You mentioned secular versus sacred. Can you tell us a little about what's what's the importance of that for you? Yeah, well, I think I think it's important. And some of your other questions I know related to my family and whatnot, it's it seems like we're always fighting in the church against there's you come in on Sunday morning. This is the work of the church on Sunday morning. You worship, you tithe, and then you go home and you forget all of that. It's this break between what's what's secular and what's sacred. And we need to help people with where they are. I mean, they need to know, you know, how to respond Christlike in their 40 hour job.

[00:03:27] You know, Paul and Colossians have a lot to say for those who are, you know, masters and those who are slaves, you know, works and and employees and employers. And I think people need to understand that. I've heard Dallas Willard described that as the provider of religious goods and services model that we constantly struggle to make sure the church doesn't just degenerate into a provider of religious goods and services for people. So how do you see how do you see the the message of the church speaking into people's work lives? What kinds of things are you encountering? Well, I think we're encountering encountering many different things as we reach more to the community. We are coming in contact with greater poverty and we brush up against welfare recipients. And and I think we can speak to that. You know, that work is good, that just because you're on welfare doesn't mean you you don't try to get yourself out of that situation or try to invest in the community or invest in your church. We can speak to that. I think we can also speak to those in our church who are wealthy. And, you know, how are they using their resources? How are they stewarding their employees and how are they stewarding their their businesses resources to the glory of God and their own talents, as well as their vocations that they have, they're equipped, they're equipped to do. Things. Right? So. So how are they stewarding that? Yeah, it's turning that as well. Now, you've you've mentioned that you and some others in your church said just continuing on this, this theme that you've mentioned that you and some others in your church had encountered, the book When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian figured and that that convicted you of concerning the way the church helps those who are in need.

[00:05:25] Can you tell us a little about that? Yes several several years ago, our churches arranged in such a way that we have a benevolence fund that people give to monthly, and that's for the needs of the folks in the congregation. They they actually give quite generously. It's been going on for the life of the church, and so people are used to it. And then that's administered by a team called the Care team, which help people with rent or with job searches or things of that nature. From those resources, we also have an outreach budget which goes specifically towards community activities, involvement with the school involved with our Hispanic community, the food bank that we've mentioned and things of that nature. And a number of years ago, how we had it arranged was that I would take all of the care calls from the community and so people would call and things were difficult. I would get maybe 5 to 10 calls a week from people outside the church body who were asking for help and specifically asking for food. And after a couple of weeks of this, I just couldn't take it any longer. And I said, you know, we need to start a food bank, and I'll put all of the food in my office. I can pass it out. And the care team said, wait a minute, they are just read this book. Wait a minute. This isn't we're not sure this is the way to go. And they said we want to create value. And if if we do as a church, want to be involved in some of those relief efforts, we think that maybe the money could be better served than you putting boxes of groceries in your office and being able to pass them out.

[00:06:55] And so they really kind of held me to it. And then we started talking about, you know, the money that we even use in our community for I mean, our for our church community. You know, how effective are we being at providing relief and restoration? You know, are we just are we just doing relief? And so our people are never learning that there's value in relationship. There's value in being a community. And so that has changed the whole way we deal with calls now that come from outside. We have made a decision that we will contact each person personally. And though we might be denying food or clothing because they're not part of our community, we will be inviting them to community and saying, you know, there's a number of resources that we have here as part of our church that you can you know, we have some addiction recovery classes, we have parenting classes, we have married marital helps as well. But that came out of that discussion. And, you know, it it's difficult for us to measure adequately. And we're really, I think, struggling with that as a church. How do we measure adequately what our money is doing? You know, we give a lot of relief in the church. We give out a lot of just money to help people who are in desperate need. But how are we helping them get beyond that point, That book, really, I think it was helped, been the catalyst for us to start having some more serious questions. And the measurement question that you're asking is how do we know that we're having an impact beyond relieving material needs? How do we how do we measure whether we're helping people become rehabilitated or develop to the point where they're not in the position of needing that? How do we how do we know we're successful? That's that's a difficult question to tell, is with we've as as a church, we struggle with that.

[00:08:43] Mm hmm. I think what we've come down to at this point is our next step is to have basically, essentially exit interviews. We've helped you. Now, would you help us by telling us, you know, what has this money that we gave you changed? Has this class that we asked you to attend changed you? Has the counseling that we helped provide changed you? Do you see yourself starting to make better choices? Are you able to leave some of the mistakes of your past and start to be productive? And are you active and active giver in this congregation or in this community? That's very encouraging to hear. I think this is a challenge for a lot of churches. There's there's no really perfectly worked out model out there right now. So I really appreciate hearing that you're coming up with just innovative, innovative and entrepreneurial ways of changing, changing the way we do ministry. That's that's very encouraging. Now, now, coming back to this just broader topic of work, you've said that when your daughter went into the Peace Corps instead of going into missionary work. Your response to that at the time is not necessarily the response that that you would have now. Can you tell us a little about that? Yeah, it's it's almost embarrassing to say, but. She was when she signed up for the Peace Corps. I was I ask the question, why didn't she? Why is she not working for a mission agency? Why is she not working for the church, doing God's work? And I think that just really illustrated some holes in my thinking. And now that she's been in the Peace Corps for a year, I have seen the benefit of what she's doing. I mean, she's helping young, young girls learn skills so that they can provide for themselves.

[00:10:25] She's helping kids stay in school. She's providing immunizations. She's helping people fight disease through cleanliness. This is the work of Jesus Christ. And for me to have imposed my, you know, secular versus sacred work, good versus bad kinds of things on her to my you know, I'm just sad that I even had to struggle with that. But, you know, our kids frequently help us see pieces of our personality need change. Oh, I've never had that happen. No, not even to me. You know, it reminds me of one of my favorite books about Faith and work is a book by Lester DeCoster called Work The Meaning of Your Life, in which he looks at the parables of Matthew 25. And one of the points that he makes is in the parable, the sheep and the goats, where Jesus talks about, I was hungry and you fed me, I was naked and you clothed me. I was in, I was sick. And you. You visited me. He says, We tend to interpret that parable as referring only to a special set of works that a special happened through special programs. And it's a small portion of your time, something that you squeeze in when you're not at your job, you go to the to the soup kitchen, he said. But think of it this way. And then he made a list of every profession that contributes to feeding the hungry. And it runs from the people who grow the food to every step in processing, to the truckers who bring it to the store and the grocers and the. And it just the list goes on and on and on. And then that's just feeding the hungry. And then he starts to go, too. He provides a list for everything in that parable of here's how everybody is serving these needs through their through their through their work, and that every legitimate vocation is making that kind of contribution.

[00:12:14] Yeah. Now, as you've as you've heard from your daughter about her experiences. Has that made you noticed ways in which different cultures have different assumptions about work and the the whole world of economic exchange that work takes place in? Yeah, it really has. I think as my daughter has been overseas now for a whole year and she's been blogging on her one year experience. And and one of the things she said, she says she knew that she has been taken advantage of many, many times in the market because she didn't know the language and because people expected to pay more because she was a wealthy American, although by our standards, she was living in poverty, you know, but had enough to survive. And the the amount of corruption that she's seen in a country that she's in, new facilities were funded by the United States for medical care, for women, for mothers who are having babies. Big celebrations took place. And then when everybody went home, they closed the doors and they were never to be used again. Then you see this kind of corruption and misuse of funds frequently. What that did to me was I started a saying, thank you God, that at this point embezzlement is still a bad thing. When people misuse money in the United States is still a bad thing. We still, you know, it goes on. And when I go shopping, I don't expect to be taken advantage of. I expect people to deal with me fairly. And, you know, when you go garage sale, you expect a dicker a little bit. But when I walk into the supermarket, you know, I can trust that this is a fair price I'm paying. You know, I'm I'm paying for the the benefit of having this close to home.

[00:13:55] I'm thankful for flushing toilets. I'm thankful for an economy that works for a city that works for the most part. I'm thankful for paying my taxes. This is all things that have come about from realizing, Wow, I've never had it so good, right? Well, and we don't notice these things because they're unspoken. They're they're they're unconscious. Like you said, you don't walk into a supermarket thinking about, am I going to be taken advantage of in some way? Because there is this assumption that it is wrong and deviant behavior that needs to be punished if if people cheat, lie or embezzle money. I knew I knew a man who helped start an orphanage in Eastern Europe not long after the the wall fell and Eastern Europe was opened to the west and the orphanage was shut down because it was doing too well. And it was embarrassing. It was embarrassing to the local of. Authorities whose orphanage was was really just there as part of their, you know, pass through to get the money to some corrupt crony. And they had started they started an orphanage that actually took good care of kids, and they were shut down by the authorities. You know, thank goodness, you know, that that we have some some, you know, presupposition of of honesty. Yeah, I guess. Do you do you see that? Do you see that as having a relationship to our faith and the the presence of of of the gospel in our society historically? I do see that I you have had multiple conversations with my daughter about that very thing. Do you think it has something to do with our Judeo-Christian background? And I believe that it does. I think our moral fiber of of the United States is still based kind of in jail.

[00:15:53] Christian, thoughts and practices. I think it has a lot to do with kind of this moral flavor we wear to be kind to each other. We're to be good, responsible stewards of our resources. You know, when our tax money is to go towards the right things and and we have a say in that. And and it's still a good thing to pay taxes. You probably should delete that from that. I'm saying this, but no, it is good things. You know we have water we running water, roads, electricity, roads, police, firefighters. Yes. And that all comes from taxes, which are the which are funded by a productive economy. There's not an opposition between economic success and having public services provided. It's it's the economic success that provides the public services through through taxation. So it all it all fits together. If it's if it's done within these this value system of honesty and keeping people keeping people on the straight and narrow. Yeah, it's difficult, though, I think, for most pastors to see that as relevant to their work. What does it what do you think of it? It is I think it there is a tendency to to see the economy maybe as evil or money as evil and. I think I think part of that might be that we spend our time fighting against the evils of society and we see the ravages of what the love of money will do to a family. We see what wealth will do to a family. We see what, you know, people fighting against poverty. You know, we brush up against all the time people who are in welfare and who need resources and come to the church for need. I think it's easy to become cynical as a pastor and say, well, nothing's working.

[00:17:50] This is not a good thing. But I think my experience of having my daughter overseas kind of raised my eyes a little bit and more joyful. Thank you, God, that we have these opportunities. And now as a church is we're reaching more into the community. We've had a lot of opportunities to work with the city and and find ways to help them to kind of get into dialog with them. We have this track of land. Is there something you could use that for? And started those dialogs there several months ago? Because our church provides charter health care for all of its employees. We received quite a significant tax break and boy, wasn't it fun to figure out what to do with that. We gave a check to the city just as a way to say thank you. We know that you have needs and here's some of our money that we've been given. You know, we gave to other agencies that we use some within town or within the church as well. But that was just kind of an affirmation to say, hey, we're with you. We're praying for you. We're in this together. Yeah. And the church can play a constructive role in the community without having to be in a sort of, you know, this culture belongs to us and we're going to tell you what to do. Yeah. Paradigm. Very much so. Very much so. There are there are challenges that come up. You just you mentioned a moment ago that the church essentially, by its nature, ends up dealing with essentially the worst things. The problems. I have one friend of mine who's a seminary professor, says the garbage floats to the top. The things that are the most, the things that are the most challenging are the ones that we have to deal with to notice the most.

[00:19:40] Have you struggled with these new insights in terms of integrating faith with work, changing the way we help people, the role we play in in society? How is that? How has that been a challenge? Yeah, well, many years ago we prayed that God would allow us to get into the community, and as soon as God started answering that prayer, we realized, Wow, this is overwhelming. We have people be careful what you pray. Exactly. There. There are there are things here that we don't understand and we need to be able to answer to that. One of the one of the things that initially we realized that our community had a lot of single parents. Our community that the church is kind of in the center of had a lot of addiction issues and our community had a lot of poverty. And so we have a lot of resources of the church how we're going to manage those best. We do a lot of relief, but we've really had to ask those questions, I think, related to the you know, are we are we just providing relief or are we actually helping with restoration? Are we helping people learn to be stewards? You know, I think part of some of your lectures on stewardship in the kingdom, I think we're particularly helpful on those along those lines, as we're called to be stewards. That means we are called ACT, and we're called to help our neighbors learn how to be stewards as well. And so some of our programs are how to handle your finances, how to relate to your finances, how to have a savings. You know, it's interesting, just driving in here, I saw this billboard which just really com I was quite funny and I think apropos for our discussion said saving money can leave two bundles of joy can lead to bundles of joy.

[00:21:29] And there was a man in the hospital and he had two babies under his arm and one was in a little picture. The face was Benjamin Franklin and George Washington. And this is where our people are. This is a savings, right? You know what can savings do? Mm. It can lead to bundles of joy, you know. I don't know. Right. You know, they were it's feed the pig dot org or something. I mean to give it a but this is where our folks are, they need to know how to handle money in a way that glorifies God, how to be good stewards. And the value of savings, I think is a good indicator, excuse me, of this larger set of values that we're struggling to help people develop. Because, of course, the the opposite of of saving is is living on debt. Right. When we have a we have a major problem with people losing the ability to. Troll their desires and live within their means and they finance their lifestyle by borrowing. I was shown I was in a lecture where the the lecturer showed an ad and the the person in the ad had a very old fashioned clothing and he was with a car that was clearly a vintage, you know, an older, an old car. And the tagline was, you can have a car save for it. And the the lecturer asked, When do you think this ad appeared? And people started shouting out, you know, 1923 I think the very latest year that anybody said was in the early thirties or so, he said, you know, this ad appeared in 1974. He said this set of values is not that far gone. Right. So as you've as you've worked to help people kind of discover that that set of values, how does it resonate with people? Does it you know, when when you bring people this idea of saving and living within your means, what are you encountering? We are we're encountering a lot of excitement, I think, across the board.

[00:23:31] We've participated in the it's called Advent Conspiracy, a program that started in Portland, now go, you know, worldwide and whatnot. But the idea of spending less on Christmas or spending less on us. Thinking more wisely about what we do, this is really resonate with people. We've had people think about, okay, what's really important about Christmas, you know, is it is it going into debt after a year? So in that regard, that that has really helped. I think where it's been a harder discussion has been for those who are truly in poverty. You know, I think of examples of people that have come in contact recently just helping them set up basic budgets. And it seems like everything goes towards just paying rent, paying for hospital bills, paying for paying for transportation, paying for food and. For them too. It seems hopeless. So why save a little bit if that's only just a little bit? And if we never get my kid to school anyway? So I think those are the kinds of conversations we need to continue having and learn how to speak that language a little bit better. And I notice that word you used hope less that in fact, hope is really key. It is to this, to this, and hence, hence the need for a church. Right. You know, hope has something to do with with the message. Very much so. Thank you very much for for being here for this conversation. I really appreciate it. My pleasure. Thanks for engaging with us in this. This is very helpful.

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