No Merit and Due Credit

FEBRUARY 2006: LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

To the Editors:

Peter Bush’s article in the November issue (“Stipend: A Theological Challenge to the Marketplace”) puts forward an important truth: that the pay given to a pastor is a matter of grace, not works. Unfortunately, he suggests that this is only true of people who work for the church. But this truth applies to everyone.

Calvinist theology traditionally argues that everything good we receive in this life comes to us by grace from the hand of God. This applies not just to our faith and our salvation but also to the material resources at our disposal. This is true whether those resources come by way of inheritance, investment, gift, or salary “earned” by working. We get nothing by our own merit, because in the end we have no merit. Whatever we have that the market finds valuable is ours only by grace.

Though it is possible to find correlations in the data between pay and education, experience, and responsibility, at least within occupational groups, we economists know that pay differentials across occupations and industries are determined in large part by impersonal and arbitrary market forces. High pay is not a reward for hard work or virtue. Popular entertainers “earn” much more than nurses, CEOs much more than craftsmen, and lawyers much more than farmers. The distribution of pay has no important moral properties, even though we might wish to think otherwise. The church needs to teach these things.

So in an important way I disagree with Mr. Bush. Being a pastor has at least as much economic value as being, say, a major league, left handed, short relief pitcher. But it will never pay as well.

John P. Tiemstra
Professor of Economics
Calvin College
Grand Rapids, Michigan

Dear Editor:

I was pleased and surprised to see the illustration of the gravestone used twice in the January 2006 issue ofPerspectives. What surprised me was that you did not give photo credit nor did you identify the gravestone. The title of that gravestone is “The Recording Angel,” and it is located on the Shaler graves in the Waupun, Wisconsin, cemetery where the sculptor, a Mr. Shaler, and his family are buried. It is a beautiful piece of sculpture, and the angel is greater than the size of a human being. Mr. Shaler was an industrialist-turned-sculptor. Several of his pieces are located in Waupun as well as elsewhere.

Also, I was pleased to see the picture of the Rose Window of Dimnent Chapel at Hope College. Again, you should identify the picture and let your readers know its location. It would be good to make this a consistent policy of Perspectives magazine. We continue to enjoy every issue.

Elton J. Bruins
Van Raalte Institute
Hope College
Holland, Michigan

Editors’ response: Point well taken. We thank Professor Bruins as well for the additional information about the Shaler graves and hope that the recording angel there will not lay the gaffe to our lasting discredit.