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Is Money Dangerous?

Thought I’d share this post from Monday (HT: John Fea). The author, Patrick Mitchel, is a guest on Scot McKnight’s blog on Patheos. He has some very challenging thoughts about Scripture, and what it has to tell us about money. Here are a couple of quotes to give you a taste.

I’ve been thinking a bit about money recently, not least prompted by Ireland’s recent financial apocalypse that current and future generations will be paying off for years to come.My proposal for this guest post (thanks for the invite Scot) is that we (western Christians) have, by and large, read the Bible in a way that neuters much of what Scripture says about money.

The question: how can Christians be subversive members of God’s kingdom in terms of how they use money within a hyper-consumerist culture?

The Bible has an astonishing amount to say about money. Yes, some of it is comforting to Westerners – it seems to legitimate private property, affirm personal responsibility and (within limits) views prosperity as valid fruit of hard work and a sign of God’s blessing.

But the vast majority of the Bible’s teaching on money should make us very wary indeed of all that money brings.  I suggest that in both in the Old and New Testaments the overwhelming message is this:

Money is highly dangerous to your spiritual health

He later continues …

How often have you heard a sermon warning that money is a spiritually risky commodity that needs to be handled with great care? That what we do with money is a deeply spiritual issue? What would be a reaction to the idea that we should be spiritually accountable to each other in how we use money? When, if ever, would we call someone out for selfish use of God-given resources in terms of how they spend money? When is enough enough?

All sorts of other things are high on the list of evangelical ‘spiritual dangers’– sexual temptation, ‘going liberal’, disbelief in the authority of the Bible – we can all make our own list. But the love of money somehow gets marginalised. Yet this is not what Paul does in his various sin lists – greed is on an equal footing with stuff like orgies or idolatry.

This raises a number of interesting questions. Certainly, if you wonder where he is coming from, read the whole article, linked above. It is also interesting to read through some of the discussion in the comments section where Patrick gets a chance to clarify some of what he is saying as he responds to commenters. Keep reading for my thoughts.

I have wrestled with some of these issues myself. I had a brief flirtation with “health and wealth”, “prosperity gospel”, or “name it and claim it” type theology at one point in my theological journey, but rejected it as fatally flawed partly for the reasons that Patrick points out in his post. I just find the many warnings about money and its propensity to grip our souls and become an idol to be totally inconsistent with a belief that God is in some way obligated to bless me financially if I just have enough faith. I don’t find anywhere in Scripture where I can ground a belief that one of the poor (or infirmed) that Christ meets is that way due to a lack of faith. In fact, Christ casts the demon out of a boy whose father admits that while he believes, there is still unbelief. This admitted unbelief does not prevent Christ from performing the miracle. (I could say more, but this post is about money, not healing.)

We see plenty of examples of the Church working to address the issues of finances in the letters in the New Testament. We see people selling property and donating some or all of the proceeds to the Church to care for others. We see Paul commending one Church for donating resources to help care for their brothers and sisters experiencing hardship in Jerusalem. There are plenty of warnings about greed, and the dangers of seeking for things. We are admonished by Paul who has learned to be content in all circumstances, whether in plenty or in need. He has learned to not allow his finances to determine his outlook and his attitude. It seems as though it doesn’t really matter to him if he has money or not. He knows that he can trust God no matter what is going on. That is enough for him.

For many of us who claim the Name of Christ in this country, this is a foreign mindset. We have come to equate God’s blessing and favor with material circumstances. When someone gets a promotion, we assume that God is blessing. (He might be, but how do we from the outside know?) If an investment goes bad, we begin to wonder why God would allow this hardship. This doesn’t really seem like what God has called us to. In the Kingdom economy, I’m pretty sure the size of my 401(k) doesn’t really matter. Actually, I’ve begun to wonder how much saving is appropriate. Yes, I do need to be a good steward, but doesn’t saving for retirement sound like the servant who buried the resources in the ground? Jesus calls that servant evil! I’m pretty sure that some saving for the future is wise, but it is just a question of how much, and making sure of my priorities. (The other picture I get is of the man who built bigger barns to hold all of his grain, and was told that he wouldn’t get to enjoy any of it because that very night his soul would be required of him.)

I need to be looking for ways to invest God’s money into the things He would want it to go to. I believe that all of my money is really God’s. The tithe that I give to my church is just a token to remind me that the other 90% is His too. In many churches, the impression you get is that 10% is God’s and the rest is ours to do with as we want. Of course, I’m pretty sure most churches would be flush with funds to do Kingdom work is every Christian even gave that 10%!

As a Christian, everything I have is God’s. Part of being a good steward is making sure that I am holding everything loosely so that if God were to come to me and ask for something back, I would be ready to gladly give it to him. Right now, I am not as close to being able to do this as I would like. Too much of my money is tied up in debt (we’re getting much better on that, but there is still some way to go). I am tied to many of my possessions much more closely than I would like. Many of the things I have I would find it difficult to let go of, even if I was sure that was what God wanted.

I found this article to be a good reminder to evaluate myself. Am I allowing money, or the lifestyle it provides, to become an idol that gets between me and God. I pray that if it has, I will be able to tear it down, and place God back on the throne.

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