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Leading biblical Greek scholar speaks about faith and work

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Dr. Robert Plummer is the New Testament Chair at Southern Seminary and founder of the hugely popular Daily Dose of Greek which is devoted to teaching ordinary people Biblical Greek. He is also the author of numerous books and in his (no doubt sparse) free time he studies economics and finance and in that capacity directs The Faith and Work Project. Dr. Plummer joined me on the podcast Business in the Kingdom on the Edifi network to discuss all this and more. To listen to the full podcast, click below.

Here are a few transcribed highlights from that discussion, lightly edited for clarity and length:

Jerry: You’re strongly associated with the teaching of New Testament Greek. You're the chair of the New Testament department, but probably best known as one of the founders of Daily Dose of Greek. And then not long ago you came out as somebody who's really interested in economics and you were launching this Faith and Work Project, so how did you come to this interest in economics and launch this initiative?

Robert: Well, I've been interested in economics for a long time. I was raised in a family where I was taught to work hard, and my father subscribed to the Wall Street Journal. I read the Wall Street Journal probably from when I was in middle school, just learning about economics by reading about it, I found it interesting. Then, when I was an undergraduate at Duke University I took some economics there, though I didn't major in econ, and so I've always been fascinated by personal finance, economics, those issues. Now, Southern Seminary has had something similar to this for a number of years that was called the Commonwealth project. One of my former colleagues started that and did a great job with it. But when the baton was passed to me, I felt there was some confusion over the name. I wanted to sort of relaunch it, rebrand it, and be a little more clear about what we were. That's when I came out with the new webpage thefaithandworkproject.com, and that’s sort of a refocus. We're going to talk about personal finance, especially for pastors. We're going to talk about vocation, God's calling on our lives, how all our work is for the glory of God. What it means to be a secretary for the glory of God, fly an airplane for the glory of God. And then about Economic Policy, what policies really help people to flourish? Governmental policies and things like that.

Jerry? Who would be your favorite economists? The Economist that you read, that you enjoy reading the most, or that had the biggest influence?

Robert: Well, I'm reading columns like Greg Ip’s column in the Wall Street Journal, stuff like that. I've given many students the book Common Sense Economics that's edited by Gwartney and others. And I like Hayek, just to tell you where I'm coming from, and I like Henry Hazlitt. But I’m confessing, I wasn’t an economics major in college, my knowledge is informal, I love to listen to the Planet Money podcast, and another podcast called EconTalk with Russ Roberts, and the Freakanomics podcast. I’m a big fan of the government not creating more problems by policies that are well intentioned but end up creating distortions in the market that cause people to give a lot of their energy to behavior which in the end is not a productive use of their time.

Jerry: On the topic of personal finance, what do you find is the thing that pastors most need to know but generally don't in that category?

Robert: I think that pastors need to know some very, very basics about personal finance and plan for their future. And so, they need to know about a Roth IRA retirement account, having a retirement account and storing away year by year, the power of compounding interest, and having life insurance for their family in case they were to die. You know, basics like that.

Obviously, you know, first we say everything you have belongs to God, right? That's given, give generously to the Lord's work. But if you pull a hundred finance books off the shelf, or you look at a hundred finance sites, they talk about regular saving for retirement, planning for disaster with insurance, that sort of thing. I've met with students here on campus who had such poor models of spending and saving, they never really saw their parents or knew their parents were saving for retirement. I mean, that's really not rocket science.

Jerry: Would you say pastors are generally ahead of the curve or behind the curve on personal finance?

Robert: I’d say most of them are behind the curve, yes, and I think they too quickly outsource that to experts. And I know financial advisors can be very helpful, but there are also some that are just looking to get your fees and take your money and invest. A pastor is inclined to trust someone who comes to help him, especially in the church, and maybe they're taking that and saying “Oh, you need to buy an annuity. Oh, you need to invest in this load fund” and the person doesn't even understand what they're talking about. And so, they end up, in my opinion, not making the best decisions for themselves, because they're not even aware of what this person is selling them. Now, I like I said, I do think of financial advisors, especially when they're serving more in a coach capacity to inform you and help you stay on track, can be very useful. But in my opinion, most personal finance is so simple that most people can do a lot of it themselves.

Jerry Bowyer is financial economist, president of Bowyer Research, and author of “The Maker Versus the Takers: What Jesus Really Said About Social Justice and Economics.”

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