Wealth and Poverty in Christian History

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Wealth and Poverty in Christian History


    RS 150 Topics:

    Wealth and Poverty in Christian History

    Westmont College

    Spring 2008

    MWF 9:15-10:20 p.m.

    Professor Helen Rhee, Ph.D.

    Office: Porter Center 14

    Office Hours: MW 11:30 a.m. 12:25 p.m.; 3:15 4:50 p.m.


    Phone: 565-6834


    The issue of wealth, poverty and Christian faith is as ancient as the New Testament and reaches farther back to the Old Testament. As frequently noted, Jesus’ teachings in the

    Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) demanded a kind of discipleship that barred any competing commitment to peoples or things other than himself, including money, property, and possessions. From the very beginnings of the Christian movement, how to deal with riches formed an important aspect of Christian discipleship and was thought to express “an essential articulation of our faith in God and of our love for our fellow 1humans. Christians claimed that the Christian attitude toward and use of wealth was a critical identity marker that distinguished Christians from non-Christians. Regardless of how one theologized riches and poverty, Christians had to grapple with and respond to the “clear” call of the social (material) responsibilities of the gospel.

    This course examines through history the ways in which Christians interpreted, applied, communicated, and struggled with what they thought they understood as the Christian principle and mandate regarding wealth and poverty. The issues involving wealth and poverty have presented Christians both a challenge and an opportunity of “being in the

    world but not of the world.” The course will first proceed with Jewish (OT) and Greco-

    Roman backgrounds of early Christian teachings on wealth and poverty and focus on the New Testament teachings; it will then treat the subsequent interpretations and applications of those teachings in a broad historical development. Through engaging with primary and secondary source readings, films, lectures, discussions, and services, students will encounter Christian ambivalence toward and appropriation of wealth, and understanding of poverty in the context of Christian responsibility and discipleship. This course seeks to fulfill the GE requirement of Serving Society; Enacting Justice in

    Competent and Compassionate Action.


     1 L. T. Johnson, Sharing Possessions: Mandate and Symbol of Faith (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1981), 16.


    Westmont has identified the six learning standards and outcomes as crucial to Christian liberal arts educational vision: Christian Orientation, Critical-Interdisciplinary Thinking, Diversity, Active Societal and Intellectual Engagement, Written and Oral Communication, and Research and Technology. In light of these learning standards, this course seeks to enable students:

    1. To acquire a fundamental factual and thematic knowledge of the development of

    Christian understandings of and dealings with the issues involving wealth and

    poverty (Christian Orientation)

    2. To be acquainted with the critical methods of historical interpretation and

    contextual thinking (Critical-Interdisciplinary Thinking).

    3. To understand various theological issues involving wealth and poverty and their

    development in historical and social contexts and to relate them to the theology

    and practice of the contemporary church (Critical-Interdisciplinary Thinking).

    4. To grasp and assess the intricate and complex relationships among theological

    constructions of wealth and poverty, their social constructions and manifestations,

    and their moral discourses (Active Societal and Intellectual Engagement;

    Christian Orientation).

    5. To comprehend tangible and diverse “faces” and causes of poverty and its impact

    on people’s lives through sustained work with a community-based agency (Active

    Societal and Intellectual Engagement; Diversity).

    6. To gain exposure to tangible works and dynamics of charity and philanthropy

    through sustained work with a community-based agency (Active Societal and

    Intellectual Engagement; Diversity).

    7. To develop and articulate informed and sustained reflection on Christian social

    justice, responsibility and stewardship of wealth (Active Societal and Intellectual

    Engagement; Written and Oral Communication).

    8. To explore the ways in which we can move toward personal and systemic action

    and implementation in pursuing Christian social justice and stewardship of wealth

    (Active Societal and Intellectual Engagement; Christian Orientation).

    9. To demonstrate the ability to dialogue, discuss, and articulate their learning in

    speech, writing, and group research with creativity and effectiveness (Written and

    Oral Communication; Research and Technology)

    I consider my classes as “communities of learning.” I will treat each student as a responsible learner who pursues critical thinking, open dialogues and interpretive analysis supported by credible evidences. While I will respect independent thinking as an academic discipline, however, I will encourage interdependence and mutual care for one another as a community. We are in this academic endeavor together as a team. This basic attitude of learning and interdependence is critical and expected in the class. Any


    classroom behavior that discourages, belittles or disrupts this attitude will not be tolerated

    (see also Academic Integrity).


Blomberg, Craig L. Neither Poverty Nor Riches: A Biblical Theology of Possessions.

    Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1999.

    Lindberg, Carter. Beyond Charity: Reformation Initiatives for the Poor. Minneapolis:

    Fortress, 1993.

    González, Justo L. Faith and Wealth: A History of Early Christian Ideas on the Origin,

    Significance, and Use of Money. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1990.

    Phan, P. C. Social Thought. Message of the Fathers of the Church 20. Wilmington, DE:

    Michael Glazier, 1984.

    Schneider, John R. The Good of Affluence: Seeking God in a Culture of Wealth. Grand

    Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002.

    Sider, Ronald J. Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger: Moving from Affluence to

    Generosity. Fourth Edition. Dallas: Word, 1997.

    Supplementary articles will be handed out in class.


Brown, P. Poverty and Leadership in the Later Roman Empire. Menahem Stern

    Jerusalem Lectures. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 2002. Johnson, L T. Sharing Possessions: Mandate and Symbol of Faith. Philadelphia: Fortress,


    Landes, D. S. The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some Are So Rich and Some So

    Poor. W. W. Norton, 1998?

    Owensby, Walter L. Economics for Prophets: A Primer on Concepts, Realities, And

    Values in Our Economic System. Grad Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988.

    Pattison, Bonnie L. Poverty in the Theology of John Calvin. Eugene, OR: Pickwick

    Publications, 2006.

    Sider, Ronald J. Just Generosity: A New Vision for Overcoming Poverty in America.

    Second Edition. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2007.

    Stackhouse, Max L. et. al., ed. On Moral Business: Classical and Contemporary

    Resources for Ethics in Economic Life. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995.

    Wheeler, S. E. Wealth as Peril and Obligation: The New Testament on Possessions.

    Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995.


    Finn, R. Almsgiving in the Later Roman Empire: Christian Promotion and Practice 313-

    450. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.

    Mullin, R. The Wealth of Christians. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1984.

    Newhauser, R. G. The Early History of Greed: The Sin of Avarice in Early Medieval

    Thought and Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.



    1. Attendance: Attendance at all class sessions is required although three unexcused

    absences may be allowed without penalty (Student Handbook, p. 19). One excused

    absence will be allowed in case of illness, official college activities (e.g., athletic

    activities and field trips) or other extenuating circumstances, evaluated by the

    professor. Students are also expected to arrive on time for each class session.

    Excessive absences and habitual tardiness will result in the lower course grade at the

    end of the term.

    2. Class Participations and Reading Notes (15%): The course format will be a

    seminar. Due to its format, it is crucial that students not only attend the class but also

    actively participate in class discussions and contribute each other’s learning. For a

    class discussion, each student is responsible for having completed the assigned

    readings, raising one or two discussion issues and questions, and participating in a

    thoughtful interaction and dialogue on the given readings. We will do various

    reading and discussion exercises in class which require each student’s full

    participation; so come prepared! For reading notes, students may use one or two 3combination of the following examples:

    What most struck me about the text we read to prepare for the discussion

    today is . . .

    The question that I would most like to ask the author(s) of the text is . . .

    The idea I most take issue with in the text is . . .

    The part of the lecture/text that I felt made most sense to me was . . .

    The part of the lecture/text that I felt was most confusing was . . .

3. Service Practica and Reflection Journal (25%): Students are required to spend 15-

    18 hours throughout the semester working for an organization helping the poor and

    The professor will provide a list of the under-privileged in town.

    organizations/agencies with contact information. Students are to choose one from the

    list and contact the agent directly. While conducting a practicum, students are to keep

    reflection journal, connecting the course and reading material, and their experiences.

    The journal entries should include specific tasks/responsibilities, key events or

    moments of learning, questions/issues raised, and thoughts processed in light of the

    class discussions and readings.

4. Analysis Paper (15%): Students will write short analysis papers on one of the two

    main primary readings assigned for the course: an excerpt from The Shepherd of

    Hermas or an excerpt from Augustine (both in Phan). While students are responsible

    for writing one analysis paper, they are still required to submit substantial reading

    notes on the other reading on which they do not choose to write (see Class

    Discussions and Notes). No late paper will be accepted.

     2 Proviso: The professor reserves the right to change this syllabus when deemed appropriate; changes to the syllabus will be announced in class. 3nd These examples are adopted from S. D. Brookfield, The Skillful Teacher (2 ed.; San Francisco: Jossey-

    Bass, 2006), 126-27.


    The purpose of these papers is for the students to develop critical, analytical and historical abilities in engaging with primary texts. Each paper should be about 5 pages in length (1500-1700 words), double-spaced with one inch margin and 12 font

    type. In writing the analysis papers, students are required to adhere to the following

    instructions: 1) Provide an analytical and integrated summary of the basic and

    overall content of the text; that is, identify author’s thesis (or theses) or the main

    issues/points the text is addressing, including a conclusion (if applicable); basically, what is the point of the author/text? This part should take up a major portion (about four-fifths) of your paper. 2) In a paragraph or two, interact with the document.

    Assess the argumentation (the way the author argues for his/her

    thesis/points/arguments) of the author/text and the significance of the text in its historical and theological contexts and then respond to and/or reflect upon them.

In terms of presentation, please include page numbers and staple the pages. The

    paper should have a title page with your name, course name, due date and a title for the paper. Your paper must be proof-read before your final submission. Chapter, paragraph and verse citations are required for paraphrases and quotes.

    Grading for the review will be based on the demonstration of: 1) thorough, succinct and accurate summary; 2) thoughtful, insightful and creative analysis and assessment; 3) quality of the presentation, such as grammar, style and spelling.

** Please note that students need to submit all assignments in order to pass the course

    and that all assignments must be submitted in hard copy.

    5. Group Research and Action Project (20%): Towards the end of the course,

    students will be divided into groups to work on major research and action project for 4 weeks. While the professor will distribute a specific topic list, each group may propose a topic of choice upon initial discussion. Students are to incorporate and interact with the findings from the assigned books, articles, and practica, and also to use further resources for their research and action project. Each group is to submit a preliminary research bibliography and outline by ________and to provide the class

    with a final bibliography and presentation outline on the day of presentation. Each group will be allotted one full class hour (including Q& A) to present their research work and are encouraged to be creative in their presentations (PowerPoint, Poster, Panel, Film, etc.). This project will be peer-evaluated and accompanied by individual self-analysis of the group work (this form will be distributed later).

    6. Comprehensive Final Exam (25%): Students will take the final examination on the

    comprehensive materials covered and discussed in the class. The professor will provide the students with a study guide in advance.

    7. Inclusive Language: Students are expected to use inclusive language for all

    assignments whenever appropriate; for example, when referring to a human being in generic sense, use “human being, humanity, or humankind” instead of “man, men, or mankind”; other cases (possessive, objective, or predicate) should follow the practice


    accordingly. Repeated insensitivity will be noted though without penalty, but

    consistent use of inclusive language will be rewarded with extra credit at the end of

    the term.

    OFFICE HOURS: Please visit me during my office hours. I would love to get to know you outside classroom and discuss with you course material or anything else.


    Students are advised and expected to take academic integrity seriously as stated in the Student Handbook (p. 21). Any act of cheating (including giving or receiving unauthorized aid in completing any of the class assignments), plagiarism (i.e., using ideas and/or words from (un)published sources as one’s own without proper citations) or falsification will not be tolerated under any circumstance and will automatically result in a failing grade in the work and may result in a failing grade in the course and a report to the Academic Dean.


Biblical concept of wealth and poverty

    Biblical concept of the rich and the poor

    Social, cultural and historical contexts for the biblical concepts of the rich and the poor Social and theological contexts of early Christianity: Jewish and Greco-Roman Salvation of the rich in early Christianity

    Development of redemptive almsgiving and charity

    Monasticism (asceticism) and poverty

    The role of the church as a social welfare organization

    Development of medieval theology of poverty

    The Reformation initiatives for the poor

    Theologies of capitalism and socialism (“Christian” capitalism, “Christian” socialism,

    “Christian” communism?)

    Individual and systemic poverty: diverse faces

    The Social Gospel

    Liberation Theology

    Prosperity Gospel (“Gospel of Health and Wealth”)

    Evangelical social thoughts

    What does Christian stewardship of wealth look like?

    Constructing Christian accountability of the rich: the good of affluence, simple life or

    social activism?

    Constructing Christian responsibility for the poor:

    Globalism, wealth and poverty, and international politics and policies

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