There are two extremes of thought within Christianity about wealth: some think God wants us all to live a life of pleasure and abundance, and some think God wants us all to purposefully live on next to nothing. Both sides quote plenty of scripture to justify their angle and prove that the other angle is wrong, distorted, and (usually) deliberately sinful.
Both sides are very vocal—take Shane Claiborne (Philadelphia hippie and voluntary pauper) and Joel Osteen (Texas money with a Vaseline smile) as quick examples—and both sides make it very difficult to know what the truth of the matter really is. But both sides are out of balance—choosing to look only at “their” scriptures and dismiss the validity of the “other” scriptures in order to justify their position, reinforce their personal convictions, and repaint historical Christianity to be the version they think the world needs.
The one group looks at the vastly over-commercialized USAmerican culture, with its debt-affections and disregard for the penniless, and knows that God cannot abide such thoughtless opulence. They, as God’s spokespeople, must disavow our culture of love-for-affluence at the expense of the rest of the world. They voluntarily give up their own position and economic privilege so they can speak more authoritatively to others about the dangers of excess. Tony Campolo, Shane Claiborne, Chris Seay, and many others are good, godly examples of folks in this camp.
The other group looks at the massive problems in our culture caused by debt, lack of financial understanding and discipline, and the long-term negativity and hopelessness that accompanies financial failure. They know that God cannot abide such joyless destitution and that they, as God’s spokespeople, must disavow the erroneous notion in the church that Jesus was a homeless man without privilege, who refused to even speak to rich people, let alone be happy that someone had made something of himself. This camp aggressively dives into matters of financial security, biblical teaching on stewardship, and find their faith strongest in the context of belief and prosperity. Joyce Meyer, James Robison, Casey Treat, and many others are good, godly examples of folks in this camp.
But which one is right? And, to which camp should we belong if we are to live faithfully with the biblical teaching on money?
To put it simply, I think you’ve got to believe like the prosperity group and live like the poverty group…ish. The truth is that God does, in fact, want you to prosper and if you ignore this simple, albeit controversial, fact the entire gospel message falls apart and God’s vision for human dignity, worth, and value collapses. God wants you to experience every good thing in this life in good, god-fearing and god-honoring ways. He wants you to experience his pleasure and presence in the midst of delight.
Think about it. If it feels weird to think of God wanting you to prosper, I suggest you imagine another person’s scenario. Imagine, for example, a poor man living in a hut in Guyana. Imagine that this man has hardly any food, no clean water, wears the same clothes everyday, cannot work, and has no one to love him. Do you think that this man is experiencing all that God wants him to experience? Or, do you think that God’s heart breaks for the suffering of this man and that God wants – more than anything – to look after him, to put people in his life to care for him and educate him and clothe him and help him find meaningful employment so he can bathe and eat and dress and live with dignity and value?
Right. God’s plan for that guy is to get him a home, a job, some clothes, lots of love, and to lead him into something much more abundant, prosperous, and delightful than what he’s experiencing now.
Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.
Matthew 25.34-26 NKJV
I will heal my people and will let them enjoy abundant peace and security…and they will be in awe and will tremble at the abundant prosperity and peace I provide for it.
Jeremiah 33.6, 9
Let me tell you why I believe this is so true: Genesis 1 begins with a liturgy of abundance, a creation account that repeats over and over again the generosity of God by proclaiming: it is good, it is good, it is very good. It shows us that God blesses…extravagantly.
Dr. David McDonald is the teaching pastor at Westwinds Community Church in Jackson, MI. The church, widely considered among the most innovative in America, has been featured on CNN.com and in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and Time Magazine. David weaves deep theological truths with sharp social analysis and peculiar observations on pop culture. He lives in Jackson with his wife, Carmel, and their two kids. Follow him on twitter (@fossores) or online at fossores.com