Monday, February 27, 2012

On Poverty - Part 1

Imagine two countries. In country 1, 55% of the households are "working households", and have an income after tax of around £100,000. The other 45% of the households don't need to do paid work - they are variously looking after children, retired, volunteering for charities and so on. Due to generous welfare, they have an income after tax of £40,000, which is still plenty to live on. They could get jobs if they want to, but have decided not to for this part of their life. Life expectancy in country 1 is in the mid-80s. Crime is negligible.

Country 2 is ruled by a small, fabulously rich elite, who plunder the natural resources of the country and exploit the workers. They earn in the region of £1M each or more. The other 98% of the country are living around the bread line. The government are "fair" in their oppression though, so none of the workers is much better or worse off than any other. Life expectancy among the workers is 35 years, because they have to work down mines from the age of 6. Most adults are malnourished; most teenagers are orphans.

Which of those countries has more poverty? Well, according to the definition used by the British government, country 1 has 45% poverty, and country 2 has 0%. That is because they use the stupid Marxist definition of poverty that someone is poor if their household has less than 60% of the national median income.

Why does this matter? Because we should care far more about the problem of poverty in country 2 than in country 1. Because I am concerned for those who are genuinely poor, but not for those who are only "poor" because of bad definitions. By the government's definition, I've been poor, but I haven't had to go without food, water or shelter. Our efforts for relieving poverty shouldn't go towards redressing the shape of the income distribution, but towards helping those who need it. And what that looks like might be the subject of another post.

Saturday, February 18, 2012


I've just noticed that the file I linked to last time might have been the original version rather than the cleaned up one! Oops and sorry. I've now changed the links in that post

Cleaned up version. short link.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Sermon on Habakkuk 1:12-17

I've cleaned up the audio from this sermon, which I preached a few weeks ago. The results are here. Sorry it's not great quality, but it's better than it was. short link.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Devotional Commentaries

One of the ways of studying the Bible that I find really helpful is using a devotional commentary. They're often books of sermons (or lightly modified sermons) working through a book of the Bible. Sometimes they are popular-level applied versions of heavy academic work. At their best, they combine high level scholarship with the heart of a preacher.

As a teenager, I found reading John Stott's devotional commentaries on Acts, Romans and Ephesians a real spur to spiritual growth. And as a minister, I don't often get to hear other people preach through a book of the Bible, so they are really useful for keeping me fed as a Christian.

The best list I've found of them is at the Good Book Company. They pick one (or occasionally two) for each book of the Bible. When I know the book, I guess I agree with the GBC list about 80% of the time. When there's a book I've not read any good devotional commentaries on, I'll now try the one they suggest first. But for what it's worth, here are a few where I'd pick something else:

Deuteronomy: CJW Wright (NIBC)
Ruth & Esther: I Duguid (REC)
Nehemiah: R Brown (BST)
Jonah: RT Kendall
Habakkuk: J Lamb (Keswick)
Zechariah: B Webb (BST)