REVIEW: Books address faith and financial crisis
With large-scale unemployment and home foreclosures, we often dread the future.
In these uncertain times, many are turning to the Bible and wondering how our faith influences our finances. Two recent books tell us what the Bible says about money.
In “Jesus and Money: A Guide for Times of Financial Crisis,” BenWitherington presents a comprehensive examination of biblical teachingabout property and riches.
More of a systematic theology on wealth in the Bible than a how-tomanual on improving our finances, Witherington begins with creation.All things belong to God with humanity as God’s appointed stewards overthe earth. As a result, we are called to use these resources for thebenefit of others.
Witherington works through the pages of the Bible, tackling difficultScriptures that speak to wealth, money and prosperity, and challengesus to rethink the way that we view “our” possessions.
His treatment of the socio-economic conditions of the Bible isfascinating. In the Old Testament period, wealth was not measured inmoney but instead through land and herds. From Israel to Jesus, mostmade their living off the land, making them dependent upon God forsurvival.
Unfortunately, the wealthy often prospered at the expense of the poor.High taxes and rampant corruption burdened the needy. After payingtaxes to Rome, local authorities and the temple, the average familybarely eked out a living.
Witherington’s major focus aims at deconstructing the“health-and-wealth gospel.” He holds that its proponents take Scriptureout of context, argue that God wants us to be prosperous yet ignore thepassages about trusting in God for daily bread. Biblically, wealth doesnot necessarily equate to godliness.
Jesus does want us to be rich, but rich in the love of God and servicefor others, Witherington writes. We are called to selfless giving,taking care of those less fortunate without any thought of return.
Just as the early church took care of all who had need, we too arecalled to be generous, to provide for widows and orphans and to takecare of the less fortunate without any thought of return.
The most important question to ask is, “What would God have me do with this property that he has blessed me with?”
In essence, no follower of Christ should be left in need. Witheringtoncalls this “Communitarianism,” when our sense of connection andobligation to our brothers and sisters, and to Christ, is so strongthat we want to meet their needs and help them prosper. Thisstewardship is not a handout but an offering to God.
The final chapter takes up “deprogramming” ourselves from our culture.He argues we have simply “baptized” materialism in order to makeourselves feel better. He challenges us to differentiate betweennecessities and luxuries, and calls us to live within our means.
While Witherington’s book is an excellent theological resource, itprovides little practical application, leaving us asking, “How can webegin to live within our means so that we can give our finances over toGod?”
In “The Power to Prosper: 21 Days to Financial Freedom,” MichelleSingletary provides practical tips on controlling our spending andgetting our finances in order by calling us to change our financialhabits so that we can be better stewards and live below our means.
The central theme of the book is a 21-day fast from shopping, usingcredit and debit cards and dining out. She urges us to change the waythat we view our money. She recommends replacing our anxiety about ourown prosperity and our sense of entitlement with an acknowledgement ofour blessings. We should not only strive for financial security butalso use that security to bless someone else.
Singletary walks readers through making a practical budget, saving forthe future and paying off debts. She also challenges us to bless thechurch and the needy through giving and mentoring others who strugglefinancially.
After the fast is over, Singletary challenges us to track our spendingfor 30 days in order to identify the destructive trends that derail ourfinancial prosperity. Although this may be a struggle, it will profitthose who choose to participate.
Readers may tend to focus on the term “prosperity,” found throughoutthe book. Although Singletary focuses on tithing and helping others,there still seems to be an underlying focus that we are trying to helpourselves prosper. The danger lies in trying to improve our financialpicture for our own benefit rather than to give God glory and be goodstewards.
As a campus minister, I frequently talk with students and young adultswho fret about their future. Many worry about the lack of jobs andschool debt. Older church members face similar circumstances.
Witherington provides the theological reasons, and Singletary offersthe practical methods to help us see ourselves as stewards, change tolive within or below our means, rise to serve others and recognize ourblessings.
Tough economic times come and go, but God is constant, and he will see us through.
DANIEL McGRAW is a campus minister at Southside Church of Christ in Lawrence, Kan., and hopes to plant churches in the future.