The Theology of Welfare

Protestants, Catholics, & Jews in Conversation about WelfareJohn G. West and Sonja E. West

While government is increasingly turning to faith-based charities in an effort to make America’s welfare system more effective, the religious community remains sharply divided over what kind of faith-based welfare programs are best and the extent to which government should even support faith-based initiatives. The Theology of Welfare explores the theological basis for competing visions of welfare in the religious community by bringing together nationally recognized thinkers representing politically diverse strands of thought in Judaism, Catholicism, mainline Protestantism and evangelical Protestantism.

The conversations between these important figures in contemporary religious thought form the basis for each of the book’s chapters. In contrast to previous works, this book focuses less on the details of policy than on the theological beliefs that give rise to specific welfare proposals. In the process, the contributors clarify how differences in theological tradition are connected to variation in welfare policy. Aimed at promoting an understanding that is critical for successful charity, this work provides refreshing alternatives to materialistic welfare policies that ignore spiritual needs.


The Theology of Welfare: Protestants, Catholics, and Jews in Conversation about Welfare is a timely exploration of the differing visions of welfare and  welfare reform within religious communities. Eight nationally prominent ‘thinkers representing politically diverse strands of thought in Judaism, Catholicism, mainline Protestantism, and evangelical Protestantism’ present these visions in four discussions, each oriented around a particularly theological question… Reading The Theology of Welfare is like sitting in on an animated discussion of welfare reform, faith-based social services, and church-state relationship, and noting subtle and substantive theological differences separating devout believers on matters of faith and public policy. Readers are even invited into this spirited conversation through discussion questions at the end of the book. These questions are paired with each chapter and can be used to stimulate further individual reflection or to facilitate a fruitful group study.

Matthew SchobertFamily Ministry

Understanding is the arduous first step in successful charity. This volume seeks to further that process of understanding… The churches have a critical role to play in rethinking the welfare system because they ought to be the central cultural institution that cultivates intact families. As the traditional voice of faith, discipline, commitment, and hope in society, religion needs to find a way to re-integrate these virtues into American welfare policy. The conversations recorded here are a first step toward that crucial goal.

George Gilder, author, Wealth and Poverty

Introduce the topic of welfare to any mixed group, and you will certainly elicit a variety of strongly held opinions. When that mixed group is carefully selected to represent Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish faith traditions, as well as a range of conservative to liberal political perspectives, the result turns out something like The Theology of Welfare. John and Sonja West gathered such a diverse group for a series of conversations held over two days, and have compiled and edited the conversations into this lively volume… The strength of The Theology of Welfare is its distillation, in conversational form, of some of the basic religious perspectives in the current debates over welfare, poverty, and government intervention. Charitable choice and the faith-based initiative involve issues that will be a part of public discourse for some time. The Theology of Welfare is a useful overview and introduction to that discourse.

Paul MastinJournal Of Church And State

John G. West

Senior Fellow, Managing Director, and Vice President of Discovery Institute
Dr. John G. West is Vice President of the Seattle-based Discovery Institute and Managing Director of the Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. Formerly the Chair of the Department of Political Science and Geography at Seattle Pacific University, West is an award-winning author and documentary filmmaker who has written or edited 12 books, including Darwin Day in America: How Our Politics and Culture Have Been Dehumanized in the Name of Science, The Magician’s Twin: C. S. Lewis on Science, Scientism, and Society, and Walt Disney and Live Action: The Disney Studio’s Live-Action Features of the 1950s and 60s. His documentary films include Fire-Maker, Revolutionary, The War on Humans, and (most recently) Human Zoos. West holds a PhD in Government from Claremont Graduate University, and he has been interviewed by media outlets such as CNN, Fox News, Reuters, Time magazine, The New York Times, USA Today, and The Washington Post.