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By Helen Rhee / Baker Academic / 2012
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The issue of wealth and poverty and its relationship to Christian faith is as ancient as the New Testament and reaches even further back to the Hebrew Scriptures. From the beginnings of the Christian movement, the issue of how to deal with riches and care for the poor formed an important aspect of Christian discipleship.
This careful study analyzes the significance of wealth and poverty in constructing Christian identity in the complex socioeconomic situation and cultural milieu of the early Roman Empire. Helen Rhee shows how early Christians adopted, appropriated, and transformed the Jewish and Greco-Roman moral teachings and practices of giving and patronage. She examines how early Christians developed their distinctive theology and social understanding of wealth and the wealthy on one hand and of poverty and the poor on the other, demonstrating that this understanding impacted early Christian identity formation. She also explores the vital role wealth and poverty played in the construction of eschatology, soteriology, and ecclesiology in the social and cultural context of the time. In addition, the book draws out relevant implications of early Christian thought and practice for the contemporary church. Professors and students in courses on Christian origins, early Christianity, church history, and Christian ethics will value this work.
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In contrast to our modern world’s way of talking about issues of wealth and poverty, Rhee takes us back to a time when confronting wealth and addressing the concerns of poverty were identity-forming experiences for the Christian church. . . . Rhee’s conclusions yield some valuable reminders that the world of early Christianity invites the world of modern Christianity to live more simply. I think Rhee will be happy if even this is as far as most readers go after reading her delightful and informative book.
—Brian Matz, assistant professor of the history of Christianity, Carroll College
Helen Rhee’s Loving the Poor, Saving the Rich provides an excellent and deeply informed study of early Christian views of wealth and poverty. Rhee’s analysis is especially sensitive to the social contexts of nascent Christian economic discourse. She presents a compelling and highly engaging analysis of the role that theologies and practices of wealth and poverty played in shaping the emergence of a distinctively Christian identity in the pre-Constantinian period. This book is essential reading for anyone interested in early and contemporary Christian understandings and practices of wealth and poverty. I commend it highly to scholars and students alike, and I will enthusiastically use it in my own research and teaching.
—David J. Downs, associate professor of New Testament studies, Fuller Theological Seminary
The past 10 years have witnessed a flurry of studies on wealth, poverty, and Christianity that have tended to focus on the New Testament and post-Constantinian periods. In Loving the Poor, Saving the Rich, Rhee produces what we have all been waiting for: a sensitive study that documents not just the ‘what’ but the ‘why’ of the important trajectory of a small and tentative Jesus movement within Greco-Roman society to an imperially endorsed and fiscally powerful church. From its beautifully articulated historical context to its final chapter that speaks to the contemporary Christian, this work sweeps beyond a mere historical study into the realms of inspiration. It is a sheer pleasure to read.
—Wendy Mayer, honorary fellow, Centre for Early Christian Studies, Australian Catholic University
Helen Rhee’s new book is the first in 30 years to provide an in-depth focus on responsible Christian giving in second- and third-century Greco-Roman church communities—and what that means for today. Historically sensitive and accurate, Loving the Poor, Saving the Rich is a welcome pastoral call to affirm the physicality of redemption and the grace of doing good.
—Susan R. Holman, member of the board, Pappas Patristic Institute of Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology
Helen Rhee is an associate professor of church history at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California, and served as a pastor for a number of years. She specializes in early Christian history, especially second- and third- century Christian literature, and is the author of Early Christian Literature: Christ and Culture in the Second and Third Centuries.