January 16, 2021

Review: Economic Parables by David Cowan

David Cowan is a Lutheran pastor with a background in journalism and the world of banking and finance. In Economic Parables he brings these life experiences together to write a series of Bible studies built off of the monetary teachings of Jesus found in his parables.

Each chapter contains the parable and an extended reflection, as well as excellent discussion questions and in-depth Biblical references for deeper study. This book is really ideal for a study in a church or small group. The topics are interesting and the materials for leader use are outstanding and suggestive of many applications.

I was a bit surprised that the book is not an in-depth study of the economics of Jesus. The chapters are use more pastoral and sermonic approaches and applications than scholarly or even financial insights.

Cowan wants the book to present an alternative to those approaches to the teaching of Jesus that assume socialism or Marxism. He demonstrates that the teaching of Jesus supports a committed and faithful Christian participation in capitalism.

The book provides many parallels between the use of money and the experience of faith, as well as exploring how the use of money is an extension of obedient faith.

I was looking for more of Cowan’s financial experience to be referenced in the book. Some Christians will disagree with Cowan at particular points regarding personal finance, especially on the subject of debt.

As a small group or educational resource, I highly recommend the book. As an analysis of the economics of Jesus or a look at current financial issues with an in-depth reference to the teaching of Jesus, I would give it less of a recommendation.

A copy of this book was provided for the reviewer.


  1. Michael,

    There’s been a lot of discussion about how American Evangelicals have turned the bible into the ultimate “how to” manual: how to improve your marriage, how to balance your checkbook, how to improve your self esteem, how to decide that you should vote Republican, etc. On the surface, based on your review, it sounds like this book is another variation on the theme. Is your recommendation based on the book providing a “spiritual” or “biblical” perspective on finances and economics, or based on the author’s “vocational” expertise and experience? I don’t mean to sound challenging, but how would you describe the difference between this book and the thousands of books on Christian bookstore shelves that take the bible way out of its intended realm? That is, the revelation of who God is, who we are, the effects of sin, and God’s plan for reconciling us to himself in Jesus Christ. Maybe the gift of cynicism is being stirred up here; maybe I’ve missed the point and purpose of the book; maybe you can help me put this in perspective.

  2. Interesting review. Cowan is in fact not only a Lutheran pastor, but that rarest of beasts: a British Lutheran pastor, in the ELCE, though not currently pastoring a congregation I believe. Nor have I met him myself yet – despite there being, of course, only six Lutherans in the entire country. 😉

  3. I would be interested about what ways the author felt that the present situation doesn’t fit into Jesus’ sayings in the parables.

    Otherwise it would just be a case of assuming the authorial context and Christianity not having anything to say to world about economics.

    I guess though that this material was covered as indicated by your paragraph on debt?

  4. Michael, thanks for the good review! My book is aimed at being a study guide and to get people talking, rather than be a systematic analysis, so I am delighte you are recommending it as such.

    Dave R, no it is not a “How to” book, it is a challenging study to get people thinking about their engagement with economic issues, and to get them talking in a relaistic and biblical way about the economy. I would be very happy to hear your own reflections having seen the book itself.

    John H, sounds like you’re in England!?

    Chris E, the book was published before the current crisis, but does warn that we were living in a bubble and all bubbles burst, so quite prophetic in that respect! The issues I tackled remain alive.

    Great to read these comments on the original review, and thought I could answer them. Thanks to all!

  5. “I was a bit surprised that the book is not an in-depth study of the economics of Jesus.”

    I don’t think there is such a beast as “the economics of Jesus”. I don’t think you can say “Jesus is a socialist/Jesus is a capitalist.”

    If you want to find evidence, you can certainly strain it out – but what do you do about such passages as telling the rich young man “Go, sell all you have; give to the poor, and come – follow Me”? That doesn’t sound like capitalism.

    On the other hand, “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s” and the Miracle of the Tribute Money instructs us to pay our taxes. That’s not seizing the means of production, either.

    I wonder what the point of this book is – is it as a guide to how a Christian should deal with the worldly financial matters we all have to deal with, or is it a political tract that is concerned to push Capitalism as the One True Method of Salvation, and Jesus is roped in for an endorsement?

  6. sounds like a book that needed to be written – adding it to my to-read list – It is funny how some Christians will use the Bible to say that their particular philosophy of economics is correct. Socialist Christians want the government to do what Jesus said we should do. Capitalist Christians want the free market to sound like it’s an God-ordained institution.

    But this shouldn’t stop us from looking at how Biblical principle does affect the economic realm. There are Biblical truths (like the inherent sin nature of man) that can radically affect what you think of the works of different economists. And I believe Adam Smith and Co. made natural law arguments that economics is much closer to the laws of mathematics than it is to just an ideology you can choose from.

    There is a big difference between what I should do personally with my finances trying to follow what Jesus taught – and what the government does in the economy, with the pretense of following what Jesus taught – which is why I’m going to have to read this book. Thanks for the recommendation.

  7. J.P gets what this book is about. I argue that Capitalism is what we have, and like a mirror reflects what we are like through the choices we make in life. If we don’t like what we see, then don’t smash the mirror, it is us, we need to change our hearts in the economy.

    So, no Martha, I do not rope Jesus into anything. You’re right to raise the points you raise though, and in fact, the first chapter of “Economic Parables” starts with the rich young man and what Jesus is telling him, and then stats with the first parable of the “Parable of the Dishonest Manager”, where Jesus tell us to use worldly wealth wisely. Remember, wealth, greed and all these things predated Capitalism, and Jesus talked about how we should respond.

    Thanks Michael for creating this forum for discussion, I appreciate all the comments that are coming in!

Speak Your Mind