Spiritual Capital

The most recent edition of Mission Frontiers magazine includes an article titled “Spiritual Capital: How the Church Is Uniquely Equipped to Break the Poverty Cycle”. It’s based on chapters titled “Spiritual Capital” from God Is at Work and The Integrated Life.

Spiritual capital represents one of the deep connections between faith and work. It explains why an economy in which personal piety prevails will be more successful. It explains why the top of the GDP-per-capita list is almost exclusively occupied by nations that have a long history of Christianity. It also explains why decades of pumping billions of dollars in financial aid/investment into Africa hasn’t improved the situation there.

The embodiment of biblical values is what really makes a nation and an economy successful. A recent piece in the Wall Street Journal makes this point as well:

Social capital, [Robert Putnam] wrote in “American Grace,” has not disappeared. It is alive and well and can be found in churches, synagogues and other places of worship. Religious people, he discovered, make better neighbors and citizens. They are more likely to give to charity, volunteer, assist a homeless person, donate blood, spend time with someone feeling depressed, offer a seat to a stranger, help someone find a job and take part in local civic life. Affiliation to a religious community is the best predictor of altruism and empathy: better than education, age, income, gender or race.

Much can and must be done by governments, but they cannot of themselves change lives. Governments cannot make marriages or turn feckless individuals into responsible citizens. That needs another kind of change agent… It needs religion: not as doctrine but as a shaper of behavior, a tutor in morality, an ongoing seminar in self-restraint and pursuit of the common good.

One of our great British exports to America, Harvard historian Niall Ferguson, has a fascinating passage in his recent book “Civilization,” in which he asks whether the West can maintain its primacy on the world stage or if it is a civilization in decline.

He quotes a member of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, tasked with finding out what gave the West its dominance. He said: At first we thought it was your guns. Then we thought it was your political system, democracy. Then we said it was your economic system, capitalism. But for the last 20 years, we have known that it was your religion.

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