posted April 4, 2007

Book Offers a Christian Response to Poverty

Dr. Kent Van Til of the Hope College religion faculty is the author of a new book that presents a Christian response to world poverty, calling for those in the wealthiest nations to help those in the poorest.

His book, "Less Than Two Dollars a Day: A Christian View of World Poverty and the Free Market," was published earlier this year by the Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. of Grand Rapids and Cambridge.

"Kent Van Til's timely analysis of poverty and free markets allows readers to revisit basic economic theories from a distinctly Christian frame of reference," says David R. Befus, author of "Where There Are No Jobs" and president of Latin America Mission. "Whether one agrees with his conclusions or not, this book is a fantastic resource for the current discussion about globalization and the world economic marketplace."

Van Til intends for his book to help contribute to distributive justice in more than one way. In addition to building awareness and presenting a call to action through his volume, he is donating all royalties from sales to Christian relief and development work.

In reviewing the Bible and interpretations of scripture, Van Til argues that the relatively privileged citizens of wealthy, developed nations have a moral obligation to assist the world's destitute, even while he affirms the desirability of the free market system in general. "Using Christian Scripture and traditions, I will argue that all humans merit access to basic sustenance because they all share God's image and God's world," he writes in the opening pages.

The free market, Van Til says, while a sound and desirable model in many ways, is not enough to assure that the needs of all are met. Accordingly, he says, particularly from a Christian perspective, societies must deliberately dedicate themselves to devoting resources to helping those in need.

"The market does work superbly for those who have commodities to exchange and does provide proportional rewards to those who make economic contributions to it," he writes.

"While I gratefully acknowledge that the market does provide basic sustenance and more for many within the marketplace, the free market does not provide basic sustenance for all," he writes. "It will not respond to human claims to goods that are based on need."

According to the World Bank in 2005, Van Til notes, more than 40 percent of the world's people live on less than $2 a day, experiencing a corresponding absence of basic necessities.

He argues that the cost of helping them wouldn't be cripplingly high from an economic perspective. For about $100 or $200 a year per adult, he says, developed nations could substantially eliminate such extreme poverty worldwide. The United Nations Development Program, he notes, has estimated the cost of a comprehensive international relief package, including water and sanitation, education, and health and nutrition, at about $80 billion per year, approximately 10 percent of the world's annual military budget.

Governmental and non-government foreign aid from the U.S., Van Till says, is currently less generous than people might suppose. It totals approximately $14 billion per year, which is 0.14 percent of the Gross National Product and less than the $34 billion spent annually on alcohol in the U.S.

Van Til has been a visiting assistant professor of religion at Hope since 2004. His primary teaching focus is Christian ethics, and he has made a variety of presentations focused on distributive justice and written articles on the topic published in scholarly journals.

Prior to coming to Hope he taught at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago; Marquette University; and ESEPA (Escuela de Estudios Pastorales, the School of Pastoral Studies) in San Jose, Costa Rica. After graduating from Calvin College in 1980 with a major in music and completing a master's in advertising in 1982 at Northwestern University, he worked as a media planner in Chicago. Changing his career focus, he subsequently returned to school to complete an M.Div. at Calvin Theological Seminary in 1989 and a Ph.D. at Marquette University in 2003.