I was listening to a Christian financial writer and speaker recently and was disappointed to hear him criticize just about every well-known biblical money management teacher by name. Some had the wrong view of the economy, some gave self-serving advice, pretty much all of them lacked sufficient theological training. Or so he believed.

It was painful to listen to. Seemed completely inappropriate.

Just when I was about to stop listening, he referenced a Wall Street Journal article from a number of years ago that caught my attention. He said it pointed out that the recommendations of Christian financial planners are often little different from those of secular planners.

For a Christian financial writer/speaker to criticize other Christian financial writers/speakers seemed completely wrong. If he has a different view of how God’s Word is to play out in our finances, he should boldly teach without criticizing others. Or, he should describe the teaching that he believes is wrong and present biblical teaching that sets it right.

But if the secular press doesn’t see any difference between Christian and secular financial professionals, something does seem to be wrong there. 

It all made me think about what really does distinguish Christians in our approach to money — or what should distinguish us. I mean, shouldn’t our use of money mark us in some truly unique ways?

Behavioral indicators

C.S. Lewis thought so, especially in the realm of generosity.

“I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc, is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little.

“If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditure excludes them.”

Wow. Read that a few times and see what it does to your understanding of firstfruits generosity (Proverbs 3:9) and Paul’s challenge to “excel in this grace of giving” (2 Corinthians 8:7).

The Bible also warns us against becoming enslaved to creditors (Proverbs 22:7), and one of the most popular church-based financial workshops today is known mostly for helping people get out of debt. But being cautious in our use of debt — while very important and helpful — isn’t the highest financial expression of our faith, is it?

Attitudinal indicators

I’m sure many people would suggest that the central characteristic of a Christian money manager is recognizing God’s ownership over everything and our role as stewards of what has been temporarily entrusted to us. Of course, that perspective is absolutely true, and it stands in stark contrast to cultural teachings on money.

However, it seems to have lost some of its power and influence; for some, “God owns it all” has become a phrase that easily rolls off the lips but doesn’t have a very significant daily impact. Maybe it’s become too familiar.

Home is where the wallet is

A related truth was brought home to me through my family’s move from Chicago to Louisville in 2012. I’m very glad to have joined SMI and to have made the move. My wife and I strongly believe it was a God-given, God-directed opportunity. But it wasn’t easy.

For the most part, what made it tough was leaving family and friends. Another challenge for me was the fact that I really like Chicago and strongly identify with the city.

On a short visit to Chicago a year after we moved, I had a very powerful experience. One evening, while beginning to drive out of the city, I was completely swept up in all that I love about Chicago — the lakefront, the architecture, the history. But that euphoric state was soon harshly interrupted by the realization that I didn’t live there anymore. Chicago was no longer my home. In an instant, a happy moment turned deeply sad.

A few minutes later, as the city I love became smaller in my rearview mirror, I sensed God gently reminding me that whether I live in Chicago, or Louisville, or Timbuktu, this is not my home. The Bible tells us our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20). 

Ultimately, our move to Louisville has helped me on my journey of holding the things of this world with open hands. 

Living from this perspective has the power to impact all aspects of money management — from how much we give, to how much we save, to how we wrestle with the notion that “‘everything is permissible’ — but not everything is constructive” (1 Corinthians 10:23). It has the power to make us less frantic to own certain things, less disappointed if it looks like we never will, and less prone to look to the things of this world to satisfy desires that will only be fully satisfied in heaven.

Author John Eldredge unpacked that last point well when he said we express our longing for God best when we “enjoy what there is now to enjoy, while waiting with eager anticipation for the feast to come.”

Guilty as charged?

If I were put on trial accused of being a Christian and the only evidence brought against me were my financial behaviors and attitudes, I would hope that if the judge looked at my checkbook, he’d see a level of generosity he found unusual. If he asked some questions, I would hope he’d hear an attitude of thankfulness and contentment that isn’t tied to how much money I have in the bank or anything I own. And as he went about his deliberations, I would hope he’d sense that it all flows from a worldview built on the truth that this is not my home.

What about you? What would you say are the primary financial indicators of your faith?