the shape of leadership

The Economics of Neighborly Love

A look at Tom Nelson’s book on investing in compassion

Charlie Self on August 23, 2017

Pastor Tom Nelson has written an important book for our turbulent times. With communities and congregations beset by conflict and political polarization, his focus on economic flourishing rooted in personal wholeness offers biblical hope and practical wisdom for discipleship and mission.

Connecting the divine design of Genesis 1-2 with the destiny of Revelation 21-22, Nelson argues for a hopeful realism rooted in the present activity of the Holy Spirit in and through the local church. Pastors will find this work helpful as they connect Sunday worship and Monday work, uniting spiritual intimacy with economic integrity.

Nelson writes this book as a fruitful, seasoned senior pastor of a multisite church in the Kansas City, Missouri-area, with urban and suburban campuses and positive alliances with evangelical churches of diverse cultural and denominational identity. His biblical and theological material is rich — and Nelson is not writing from an ivory tower of academia or the media, but from the pastoral trenches, where he helps everyday folks.

The Economics of Neighborly Love: Investing in Your Community’s Compassion and Capacity is more than another “faith and work” book. Drawing on the full narrative of Scripture and up-to-date economic research and wisdom, the author overcomes the polarizing “capitalism vs. compassion” and “profit vs. nonprofit” conflicts and argues that Jesus-centered compassion begins with all of God’s people serving at full capacity. Such fullness is the work of the Holy Spirit.

The final chapter (13), “The Hope of the World,” summarizes the whole work: the local church is still God’s Plan A to reach the world with the gospel and make disciples who exemplify the Kingdom. Nelson states, “As God’s new creation community, the local church must not merely embody compassion for the world but also play a vital role in building capacity for the world.”

Compassion and capacity are rooted in the Great Commission. To reach the world and make healthy disciples, we must offer all of life — including economics and work — as worship to our Lord.

Every chapter contains wisdom that believers and pastors can apply to daily life. Neighborly love, exemplified by the Good Samaritan, includes the work we do each day and growing our capacity for generosity (Chapter 1). Chapters 2 through 4 connect human flourishing with material well-being — not as a dangerous “prosperity gospel” but in the biblical mandate that each believer stewards well the material, relational, natural and spiritual resources they possess.

Jesus-centered compassion begins with all of God’s people serving at full capacity.

The author explains these insights with the stories of his own impoverished childhood and the real testimonies of God’s people.

Chapters 5 through 8 take on challenging economic and social issues with biblical principles and practical ideas for helping people and neighborhoods flourish. An important big idea in these chapters is the replacement of unhelpful “left” and “right” ideologies with biblical economic wisdom.

“Building human capacity” is discipleship at its core. Nelson grounds his thoughts in John 15, where Jesus calls us to abide in Him and be fruitful. This is not cheap self-help, but quite the opposite. Apart from the Lord, we can do nothing of value.

Economic wisdom includes ethical enterprise and well as wise generosity. We must be liberated from scarcity thinking and understand that wealth can be created in ways that benefit all.

Chapters 9 through 11 take on poverty, its complex causes and cures. Nelson exposes the structural injustices that keep people in poverty. Poverty alleviation includes the whole person, beginning with receiving the gospel and moral change and culminating in more just systems. The author skillfully weaves biblical narratives with contemporary examples and offers hopeful pathways.

Chapter 12, “Getting to Work,” might be summarized in a paraphrase of an old ’60s song, “What the world needs now is … jobs, sweet jobs.” God’s love expressed in Jesus Christ is the foundation of all of Nelson’s reflections, and this love compels us to action on behalf of others.

There is another reason I highly recommend this book for pastors and thoughtful believers. I am delighted to work with Tom Nelson, building networks of pastors across the USA connecting Sunday worship and Monday work. Our humble effort is called Made to Flourish. Nearly 1,800 pastors representing 1,400 local churches have joined, including many Assemblies of God leaders.

With unqualified joy and respect, I affirm Pastor Tom and his partners are the real deal.

Book Reviewed:

Tom Nelson, The Economics of Neighborly Love: Investing in Your Community’s Compassion and Capacity (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2017).

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