[G]ive me neither poverty nor riches,
but give me only my daily bread.
Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’
Or I may become poor and steal,
and so dishonor the name of my God.
– Proverbs 30:8-9
The Gospel Coalition website posted an interesting excerpt last week from Tom Nelson's The Economics of Neighborly Love: Investing in Your Community’s Compassion and Capacity, runner-up in TGC's 2017 Book Awards for the best book in the "public theology" category:
Throughout the history of the church, there have been two prominent and diverging views of wealth. One view insists that material wealth and wealth creation are intrinsically corrupting.... The other view contends that material wealth and wealth creation are essentially good....
We can learn from both.
Nelson notes that both the "poverty gospel" and the "prosperity gospel" contain elements of truth.
Proponents of the poverty gospel are right to remind us of many biblical texts that speak to the sizable dangers that accompany increasing material wealth. They also rightly call an increasingly affluent Western church to greater material generosity and deeper sacrificial living...
Embedded in the prosperity gospel is a good and admirable attention to what is often a neglected robust theology of the goodness of human flourishing.
The whole truth
Regrettably, both emphases — poverty and prosperity — are "theological distortions" that fall short of a fully orbed understanding of God's design for economic and spiritual well-being. Nelson says that biblical teaching as a whole, beginning in the book of Genesis, suggests that "wealth is neither to be avoided nor praised but rather stewarded wisely and generously."
The July 2016 SMI newsletter featured a cover article by Patrick Morley (A Balanced Biblical Approach to Wealth and Possessions) that explored that same idea, represented in this simple graphic.
Here is an excerpt from Mr. Morely 's piece, contrasting the three approaches shown above:
- Poverty Theology
The disciple of poverty theology is disgusted with worldliness, best symbolized by man’s obsession with money. He believes possessions are a curse and has rejected materialism in any and every form. A strong bias toward helping the poor exists, but he has few, if any, resources to actually help with the solution. A few guilty Christians with wealth may also fall into this category, especially if they inherited their money....
- Prosperity Theology
The disciple of prosperity theology believes we have not because we ask not. They often have learned about tithing and have experienced the material blessings available by following the tithing principle. Because of their success with tithing, a preoccupation with money develops.
The prosperity disciple soon begins to explain the lacking of others who don’t experience God’s financial blessings as a lack of faith. The other dimensions of a relationship with God become, somehow, less significant. Someone who is not doing well financially is looked on as not "reaching out and claiming their blessings." No room is allowed for God to call some people to be poor. Many disciples of prosperity theology live consumptive lifestyles.
- Stewardship Theology
Stewards believe God owns and controls everything. Possessions are a privilege and not a right, and the steward indeed gives up his rights. He interprets Scripture as teaching that possessions are a trust given in varying proportions, depending on the innate, God-given abilities he has and his faithfulness and obedience to follow biblical principles. The steward believes prosperity results from faithfully administering his talents, as given by God at His sole discretion.
It is, of course, "stewardship theology" that we highlight and reinforce at SMI. As we say in our purpose statement, "We want you to have more so you can give more." We want you to be able to meet your family's needs, be generous toward those in need, and give faithfully to advance the work of God's Kingdom.
To again quote Tom Nelson:
Since you're familiar with SMI, you probably already have a "stewardship theology" mindset, but it never hurts to be reminded! As the Apostle Peter said, writing to a group of Christians about living godly lives, "So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have. I think it is right to refresh your memory..." (2 Peter 1:12-13).
Our seamless gospel faith tells us that every nook and cranny of our lives matters. The fruitful lives we are called to have profound economic implications for our world. As apprentices of Jesus, the mandate to bear much fruit in every dimension of our lives is at the heart of faithful Christian discipleship.