Monthly Archives: September 2012

Marketplace Redemption: Acknowledge, Connect, Glorify

The current global economic upheaval presents an opportunity unlike any before in history for the advancement of God’s Kingdom. It is the time that marketplace Christians can witness in word and deed to demonstrate the goodness of God to the world. Given the proliferation of global electronic communications, it may well prove to be the most effective era of evangelism, spreading the Good News of Christ, the Church has ever seen.

There are two simple practices commanded by Christ. These, in part, fulfill the discipleship mandate of the Great Commission, to do all he commands (Matthew 28:19-20), and produce evidence of godly love, that we walk according to his commandments (2 John 1:6).

The first step is public confession of the Lordship of Jesus Christ in our lives. In many places, marketplace Christians may suffer restrictive policies but there are more opportunities than we likely realize to confess Christ. But Jesus says, “Everyone therefore who shall confess Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven” – Matthew 10:32.

When my wife and I owned our bicycle shop, we adorned the front page of our web site with a simple cross right in the middle. If the reader passed their cursor over the cross, it became apparent that it was a link. That link took them to a simple faith statement, proclaiming the salvation of Christ. It was not offensive or in your face but it was effective as we had many people email us to comment on their appreciation that we openly confessed Christ. The ratio of favorable to unfavorable comments was about 200:1 over a five year period. Some might think that we likely lost business due to our testimony and we may well have. But that little business grew from $8,000 in annual revenues in the last year under the previous owner to $638,000 the last full year under our ownership in just nine years. While it may not have been the hand of God contributing to our success, our confession would have been worth it even if it cost us everything in this world.

Business owners have a much greater opportunity to be overt in their public confession but most companies do not have policies against simple, faith-oriented postings within employees’ own work spaces. Even wearing a simple cross on a necklace is making a statement, despite it being largely appropriated by secularists. We have many more opportunities to witness, proclaiming our faith by our actions, living out the character of Christ, than perhaps we do to share our testimony or faith in words. But our behavior should make us standout as the most dutiful, diligent, generous, helpful, and kind workers. Our work should always be identified with the excellence of Christ. Paul asks if we think lightly of the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?” – Romans 2:4. It is these same attitudes and behaviors on our part, especially at work, that will attract others to us into meaningful relationships and open the opportunities to share our faith.

For some reason, we have come to believe that making a statement openly about our Christian faith is a death knell professionally. So?  Jesus preaches, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do men light a lamp, and put it under the peck-measure, but on the lampstand; and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” – Matthew 5:14-16. The question becomes, which is of greater importance – financial security or obedience to Christ? Following Christ involves more risk than even the edgiest entrepreneurs face in their endeavors but what reward is there in gaining the things of this world? We too easily allow our worldly pragmatism to overwhelm our heavenly faith.

Public proclamation is the first step out of denial: “Hi, my name is Dave and I am a Christian.”

So, step one is lose all shyness about who and what you are as a Christ-follower. Live without fear before the world. What can they really do to you in light of Jesus’ promise that if we will seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness that at the very least our basic needs will be met (Matthew 6:33)? Maybe go so far as to include pertinent information about your faith in the activities and interests section of your resume’ and LinkedIn page!

I believe it is fair to say that without acknowledging God openly and fearlessly, we must question not only the substance of our faith but if we are truly willing to serve God’s Kingdom at all. That may seem harsh or legalistic but it is not. The choices we face are our own to decide upon, and to weigh as to whether we think those are even legitimate criteria for assessing our faith. At the very least, an unwillingness to openly share our faith, not in offensively running over people by preaching at them but in living godly and transparent lives, should at least give us pause to examine the depth and meaning of our Christian faith. If it turns out to not be real or of any other than our first priority before all other things, we are better off to abandon it as a charade than to misrepresent God (Revelation 3:16).

The second step is to put real meat on the bones of our faith. While our works do not in any way provide our salvation, James 2 is pretty clear that if good works are not a significant part of our normal behavior, our faith is dead. Lifeless faith is no faith at all. It has no power and no real impact inwardly or outwardly.

You see, love is not an emotion. It is an attitude that compels action. To love is a choice to serve others. Jesus addressed this frankly: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another” – John 13:34. Our actions speak louder than our words and loving one another accomplishes two things. First, truly serving one another by good works glorifies God (Matthew 5:16). Second, and this pertains to loving the Church specifically, it demonstrates to the world that together, in community with one another, we are Christ followers (John 13:35). There is no Christian faith in isolation but only as it is lived out in relationships. An isolated entity cannot be holy. Holiness is a function of interaction, of character in action.

There are substantial results in loving one another within the Church. Israel was called to follow God’s commandments for the very same reason we are: to glorify God, to make him known before the world that all nations would be drawn to him. Why would they come? Deuteronomy 4:6 is telling: So keep and do [my commandments], for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’”

While we are called to love and serve all people of the world, including our enemies, even the very enemies of God, our first allegiance in Christ is to show favor to the Church, God’s people. We can witness to the glory of God in many ways. We can be honest in all our dealings. We can be generous financially in tipping (the difference between a fifteen percent tip and a twenty five percent tip on a thirty dollar meal is just three dollars, three dollars that is unlikely to make any real difference in your own life but may make an enormous difference to a young server just starting out in life or a single mom feeding and clothing her children). We can be generous in wages. We can be generous in sincere praise, encouragement and appreciation of subordinates, co-workers, and even bosses. We can favor other Christian businesses even if our bottom line suffers a bit. Such favor will demonstrate that God takes care of his people by having his people take care of his people.

The marketplace has suffered enormously, just as has every other aspect of human society, due to sin. But the power of God to redeem the marketplace, especially as a powerful witness of his glory, is far greater than our sin. Our sin is finite because we are finite creatures. But the infinite love of God is the pure, victorious love of our infinite God.

The whole purpose of God’s creation is to glorify God. The three Persons of the Trinitarian God, motivated by their essential loving nature, wanted to bestow goodness outside themselves to share the benefits of goodness, as an act of love. The Westminster Short Catechism tells us that the chief end of humanity is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever. We can begin anew glorifying God and enjoying him every day as we first extend ourselves in service to the Church, living sacrificially for the sake of others within, as wise and understanding people, then welcoming the world into the fold as the love of God, demonstrated by the shalom community of those in his Kingdom, draws them also to repentance.

Leave a comment

Filed under Discipleship, Faith, Faith in the Marketplace

A Hierarchical Theory of Cultural Institutions

This attempt to review the “seven mountains” of culture is, hopefully, to demonstrate to some extent the degree of relevance of each of the meta-institutions in human experience, establishing a hierarchy of influence (or perhaps at least explicate the varying depths of relative or necessary integration of each institution into individual experience and cultural development). Some have suggested a comparison of the seven mountains to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs but there is significant difference between individual experience and the overarching experiences of cultural groups and diverse societies. While institutions tend to operate at the macro- level, trying to discuss them from an individual’s perspective would be somewhat analogous to the conversational disconnect between an economist concerned with trends in international trade and a factory worker or farmer contemplating how to pay for auto insurance. There may be relevant connections between them but too much distance to converse coherently across the concerns and terminology  of completely different perspectives.

The “seven mountains” is a paradigm originally put forth by a group of evangelical Christians in a campaign to compel adherents to carefully consider how they might influence these realms of human experience toward a godly society, at least according to a widely acceptable Christian worldview. I have made one slight adjustment from the original list of seven institutions, re-labeling religion as ideology in recognition that some compelling philosophies are not religious per se, such as secular humanism or Buddhism, in the sense they do not necessarily recognize a particular god or groups of gods as distinct influences on human behavior.

My listing of these core cultural institutions includes business, family, ideology, governance, education, arts / entertainment, and media. This study is an attempt to establish a hierarchy of relevance while recognizing that all these institutions have significant connections to all people but that those connections also vary widely by degrees in individual lives.

I created the diagram below to illuminate the hierarchy I have assigned to the seven institutions of culture. I will attempt to justify the positioning of each institution, working from the outside and moving inwardly. My thesis is that business (specifically, the fruit of production and the increase, or productive gains, which manifests in cooperative and collaborative trade) holds the highest relevance of all the institutions in human experience, perhaps not emotively or spiritually, but practically. However, since practicality is the gears, belts, and fuel by which we live, so to speak, the engine of staying alive, then we must reconcile all these meta-institutions to their role as related to the full nature of being human, that is, in mind, body, and soul.

The outer ring includes media and arts / entertainment. These are important institutions as they are the mechanisms for large-group (at the societal level) communications and self-expression. They are the means by which we give and receive news, oftentimes give and receive instruction, and how we artistically share with one another expressions of values whether visually, audibly, textually, or any combination of all three. These tend to be more integrated into individual experience in the most economically developed societies as the various means of mass electronic communication – television, radio, telephone, Internet – are there most widely available.

The depth of integration of these with the other pillars is easily seen when we think about the news media bringing information about governmental policy issues, public television distributing educational programming to a broad population base, families and friends connecting and communicating through social media, and so on, and how arts / entertainment, as an expressive outlet, lets us examine psychological and emotive responses to social and political conditions.

As said, the media and arts / entertainment functions play a high role in developed and complex societies. They may play a lesser role, at least as meta-institutions, in developing economies and especially amongst those in abject poverty or living under authoritarian regimes or ideological constraints where available news and artistic expression are limited to highly censored news, minimal Internet access, or socially normalized moral codes. Both the media and other mechanisms of arts / entertainment contribute enormously to social, economic, political, and even environmental viability, and can inform and facilitate very important cultural needs like cross-cultural awareness, integration, and tolerance.

Hierarchy of Social Institutions

The next tier, moving inward, includes education and governance. If we can use an analogy of a fish tank to represent a particular cultural context, governance goes a long way to creating a “field of containment,” the tank itself, as an environment conducive to varying degrees of expression and communication and economic development. It also contributes substantially to the shared mindset of social complexity, tolerance, opportunity, etc. Legal institutions may or may not protect and encourage personal safety and well-being, prosperity, and the orderliness of the society. Typically one would expect governance to embrace the collective social view in free societies and the elite social view in authoritarian societies, i.e., it expresses the view of the over arching power structure of the society and the interests of those in control, whether that power is closely held or broadly distributed among the masses.

One expects to find varying restrictions on the general population under monarchical or oligarchic regimes as the governors tend to serve their own welfare, or as benevolent leaders in such systems  produce social and economic conditions quite the opposite. Where power is widely decentralized (specifically in democratic societies) one expects to find greater degrees of personal freedom and opportunities for self-actualization, as citizens work within frameworks of complex legal structures created through representative governance to establish orderly markets and social institutions.

Resorting again to the fish tank analogy, education is likely the oxygen component of the water filling the tank. I will revisit the hydrogen below. It is widely held that education is the fastest track out of poverty. The abilities to obtain, retain, and manipulate data and ideas is inherent in all people. Often, in the environs of the least access to formalized education, these abilities are actuated through peer experience and trial and error (in effect an informal practice of the scientific method posing hypotheses based on prior observation, experimenting, and then synthesizing new observations with other experience).

Education serves a multitude of purposes on a personal and cultural level and, like governmental structures, can make enormous contributions to social well-being, and economic and political development, and, like media and arts / entertainment, can inform and facilitate cross-cultural awareness, integration and tolerance.

Access to education — primary, secondary, collegiate, and post-graduate — varies dramatically according to levels and complexities of economic development. Highly industrialized nations host public and private educational institutions at all four levels. Obviously the diversity of what is available has a high degree of correspondence to the diversity and strength of the surrounding economy, hence large economies typically will host more institutions affording broader opportunities for specialization than smaller, though as economically viable, economies. Education tends to function with a snowball effect. Through time, as students graduate from one level to the next, their inputs into their economic context increase the overall value of that context which in turn can afford to birth greater educational opportunities and so on and so on in an upward cycle.

Education also plays a large role in worldview as students are exposed to the world of ideas, foreign cultures, new technical disciplines, new friends, or educators with varied life experiences, ideologies, and knowledge. Often higher education is very formative of younger students who are moving for the first time away from the environs of family and the religious or philosophical institutions of the family. However, as children are highly formed socially at a very young age and tend to stay closely connected to their families and cultures of origin, it is not likely to prove as influential as the institutions in the next inward tier of the diagram.

Thus far we have delved into the cultural pillars of media, arts / entertainment, governance, and education. History proves that these are long-standing institutions that have evolved toward higher degrees of complexity through time. The forerunners of our modern conceptions of media and arts / entertainment in societies without written language or electronic gadgetry would have taken place in activities like social and religious ritual, storytelling, music, pageantry and such. Governance of isolated tribes may have consisted in hierarchies similar to family structures today with villages operating as autonomous economic units under the auspices of a strong man ruler or a council of elders. Education in agrarian or hunter-gatherer cultures would have been largely through intergenerational and peer teaching and experience sharing.

That said, these institutions have been vital cultural components of human history for organizing interdependent and / or interactive social groups. But they still function peripherally, to a degree, by comparison to the vitality of the remaining three institutions: family, ideology, and business. Nomadic tribes survived with informal (largely undocumented or absent complex structures) methodologies in these first four institutions for thousands of years before the invention of written language (though hieroglyphs, especially cave drawings, as conceptual expression through symbology certainly support the notion of very early starting points), the invention of governing documents of covenants and creeds, and formal education for training.

The third inward tier includes family and ideology. These are highly formational and central institutions given the importance of nurture of the young in both physical and social well-being and the relationships between the family structure and the other institutions of the surrounding culture. Family and core philosophies, mythologies and religions, learned most often inter-generationally, form the basis of one’s relationship to the reality outside one’s self, and of the concept of conscious life itself. In the fish tank analogy, I would tend to equate ideological development and retention to the hydrogen in the water as it largely informs self-concept…who or what am I in the context of reality…a defining function in social development and involvement.

From such philosophic beginnings and coupled with both individual and, more predominantly, group experience, ideology helps frame value systems and morality. Behaviors are chosen and their acceptability within society learned through the varying direction or responses by other actors. The foundations of functional ideology are laid in the normal operation of the family during early childhood development. Hence the family and its core philosophies, and then the dominating ideologies of the surrounding culture, help lead the child into social cohesion where functional place, the individual’s roles in trade, politics, and the other communal institutions, can be discovered and entered into.

Attitudes on display and learned in the family, and early ideological exposures define the relationship one has with the self, with others, with nature, and with the divine. These are powerful influences and notions that have lifelong meaning, whether they are accepted or rejected. The family is also the first level of socialization, the foundational step in the path to self-actualization. In effect, our families and our ideologies define who we are and our responses, whether emotional, rational, or a combination of both, to life events.

Finally: it may seem odd to think that business is at the very heart of human institutions but, coincidental with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, business, as the provider of basic human physical needs, is an issue of survival, proliferation, and physical well-being. Where the other institutions are influential in informing attitudes, choices, and actions, which can vary widely in application, sustenance is fundamental to staying alive. The provision of sustenance (water and food) and physical protection (warmth, shelter, sleep) are largely made available and sought in market mechanisms and participation. This is a reality of being social animals working cooperatively and collaboratively to increase well-being, raising the standards of the quality of life. It is through the basic economic mechanisms of the division of labor, specialization, collaboration, and exchange that we typically meet the most fundamental of our needs (other than air) for survival.

This points to the marketplace primarily as a realm of essential social cohesion – relationship valued for advantageous communal survival and proliferation – before it becomes the place for individual financial gain. It is through amicable, cooperative social cohesion that we best facilitate the most desirable states of life: peace and prosperity, in effect, shalom. Market exchanges facilitate increased efficiency in providing the fundamental necessities of life, creating new wealth and the opportunity to formalize all the other meta-institutions. Business “pays for” family (household provision), supports the priesthoods of ideology, funds the workings of governance, makes formal education available, creates the cultural leisure necessary to advance the arts and entertainment, and drives the technological development of ever-broadening means and reach of communication. Our exchanges underwrite all that is good in human society, even while tolerating coercion, greed, and self-aggrandizement.

The centrality of business has largely been neglected in the sense of its foundational function in human experience, especially in most mainstream ideological doctrines and expressions. To understand the role of business as central to the human social contract, its potential for deepening social cohesion (peace), and its ability to provide sufficiently for the entire human family (prosperity) would prove a commendable pursuit in the theory and practices of all the other core institutions.

I believe, though it is generally unspoken, the well-being of the whole community (the common good) has been the compelling force of the market throughout history, before personal financial gain, which has taken stronger hold with the increased autonomy and egocentrism motivated by the ideologies and psychological impacts of Western individualism and capitalism. The economic interdependence of individuals and nations (community), given the abundance of global wealth and growing awareness of disparities of economic stability, is now motivating much of the rising current of social venture mentality and initiatives. Business has always been a force for good almost in spite of human involvement toward self-interest. In fact, the highest levels of self-interest can only be achieved in the mutual interest of market participation.

Copyright David B. Doty, 2012.

4 Comments

Filed under Faith in the Marketplace

Speaking Opportunities

I am seeking opportunities to speak to small groups of marketplace Christians and churches, with particular focus on the biblical theology of the marketplace developed in my book, Eden’s Bridge: The Marketplace in Creation and Mission (see also my blog at http://www.edensbridge.org).

God is on the move in the marketplace worldwide: find out who, what, why, when, where, and how!

3 Comments

Filed under Announcements

Holiness and Exchange

Most marketplace ministry and marketplace theology focuses on an incomplete picture by trying to read the creation narrative at face value. The key points are taken from Genesis 2:15: “Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.” From this verse we delve into the theologies of work and stewardship, both of which are relevant to marketplace theology but do not complete the picture, so to speak.

The real keys are two-fold. The first is God’s pronouncement that it was not good for the man to be alone and that a suitable helper was necessary for “goodness” to be fulfilled (Genesis 2:18). After examining the various creatures that were already with Adam in the Garden, it was determined no such partner existed and God created the ezer neged, Eve. Ezer neged means, most literally, something like helper in sight, helper in front of, or helper opposite. There are three implications here. The first is the helper is present, visible to the one being helped. Adam is aware of Eve’s presence and her role as co-worker. The second is the helper is not in a position of prominence, not behind, not beside but in front of Adam, that is, the helper is in a position that Adam must deal with right up front. This hints at some degree of equality which is not at issue until after the Fall when he is placed over her in the fallen order. The role and relevance of the helper cannot be easily ignored, disregarded, or dismissed. Finally, the helper is in a complementary position, opposite. This is probably most apparent in the sexual differentiation between Adam and Eve. They are counterparts. The sense of opposite here does not mean contrary (though many couples may think it a more appropriate explanation of things) as we commonly think of opposition but rather serves functionally in a correspondent way (co-respondent, specifically, to God).

There are three ways in which it was not good that Adam was alone that only the presence of Eve could resolve. The first, which is also the one most apparent in the text, is in the role of wife for the sake of procreation. It was biologically impossible for Adam to produce progeny without Eve. The organism was not designed like an amoeba that would simply divide to reproduce. The second is in material prosperity. We have all likely experienced the difference of tackling large projects alone and of tackling them with a co-worker. Gained efficiency is typically apparent in that the division of labor and the sharing of overwhelming tasks (either mentally or physically) in the midst of the project. Camaraderie, which dispels the loneliness of being alone and offers encouragement at discouraging moments, adds a psychological boost to the physical work. In any case, as we recognize in the functioning of the marketplace, the division of labor requires ordered cooperation and leads to heightened specialization and collaboration, deepening the interdependency of workers and corporations, all to greater gains of efficiency, which is the crux of creating wealth through increased productivity.

The third component in the partnering of Adam and Eve is the most critical to God and man. As we have noted, Adam’s material prosperity was very limited without Eve, given the absent proliferation of the species and the inefficiencies naturally inherent in working alone. But more importantly, Adam could not prosper spiritually without Eve. That may, at first glance, seem preposterous since he was often (always?) in the presence of God in the Garden but there was no way for him to rightly relate to a veritable equal, someone like himself, that is, not God.

In Genesis 1:27, we are told that the image of God included both the male and female forms. That indicates that Adam was incomplete and can be most easily related to the [pro]creative aspect of God’s image. Adam could not “create” more generations without the female counterpart. But, the image of God also included the community of the Trinity in that three co-equal but distinct persons within the godhead were always in intimate relationship with one another. To fulfill the image of God, Adam needed a co-equal human. Herein lies the key to his spiritual reflection (image) of the holiness of God, in the relationship with Eve.

As I discuss in Eden’s Bridge: The Marketplace in Creation and Mission, there was no need of profit in the Garden of Eden. The abundance of the Garden might be said to have been, in business parlance, all low hanging fruit and easy pickings. Work in the Garden was neither tedious or demeaning. Basically, the production of the ground was so prolific that Adam did not even work up a sweat in getting the job done. There was more than ample supply for Adam, Eve, and the generations that would follow. But if there was no need of profit, what was the point, first, of creation and, second, of the relationship between Adam and Eve? If we continue in the line of considering the reflection of the image of God in Adam and Eve, we must consider how the holiness of God can be seen.

I posited in a recent online post that “holiness is practiced and perfected in our interpersonal exchanges, not the least of which, or perhaps more appropriately, among the most meaningful of which are our economic exchanges.” The central importance of economic relationships in the Bible is found throughout when the prophets rail against the injustice of neglecting and oppressing the poor, Jesus’ accusations of the social, political, and economic elitism of the Israeli leadership in his day, and the multitude of exhortations of Paul and, especially, James concerning how Christ-followers handle wealth and possessions.

The mishandling of economic relationships is far and away one of the greatest hindrances of the church in the West as we can attest to the disparity between the affluence of even our lower middle class by comparison to lifestyles of Christians across the world, and even across town. Sadly, this is not an issue spoken of with regularity in the churches of America that most need to hear it. It is enormously recognized by the poor and their cries are being heard by God. But for most of us, our possessions have come to possess us and our concerns of securing our households and retirement have taken precedence over acting compassionately toward the rest of the church, the world, and even our enemies, all of which, the New Testament is clear, are our responsibilities.

We have convinced ourselves that our prosperity is a clear sign of God’s blessing for being righteous by our hard work, diligence, and wise investment. This conflicts with the message of the Bible, especially in the Old Testament, and the witness of Jesus Christ and the New Testament authors makes it clear that our prosperity is a poor means test of our holiness. Even in the Old Testament the wildly successful king of Tyre is exposed for the violence inherent in the acquisition and use of wealth accumulated through unjust trade (Ezekiel 28:16). If we believe that our prosperity somehow reflects righteousness then those who become rich by unethical, and even immoral or illegal, means can hold up their prosperity to demonstrate that apparently God does not condemn them for their practices. Obviously that makes for a ludicrous argument but it is one which we buy all to easily in justifying our own marginal business ethics (means) and the abundance of our prosperity (accumulation as ends). We all too easily deflect the accusation of unrighteousness by resorting to the worldly adage that “it’s is not personal, it’s business.” But business is always personal. No matter how remotely we may carry out our transactions, our marketplace decisions, whether in the practice of conducting a business or in our purchase decisions, always affect the lives of a multitude of others, moving outwardly from us like ripples on a still pond.

But, we have a multitude of opportunities every day to glorify the presence of God with us and within us in our economic transactions. The most immediate that come to mind might be paying our bills on time and with gratitude for the wonderful products and services we receive in return, tipping wait staff generously as a demonstration of how graciously God has poured out his kindness on us, or restricting our “wants” to practical limitations, welcoming the growth of personal discipline we gain by delayed gratification, awaiting the promises we will inherit in the life to come.

Less apparent is to be conscientious consumers, wary of corporations that stroke our egos by the cool factor of obtaining their products, and of our own desire for status and self-indulgence in the homes, luxury automobiles, sumptuous meals, and “deserved” vacations we buy. The globalized world, always at our fingertips through the magic of wireless modems, presents opportunities to pursue the selfless glory of God every day. Our commitment to shalom, far more than peace as the absence of conflict, but rather the well-being of every human being made in the image of God, is tenuous at best. Shalom is a communal word, not meant to be privatized for our own self-satisfaction and security. True shalom reflects the glory of the Trinitarian godhead, the perfect creative, life-giving community of love.

Money is not the root of all evil but, as the root of all kinds of evil, it whispers us away from godliness in the subtlest of ways, but most especially in its promise of security. The disciples left all to follow Christ, the one homeless with no place to lay his head. Yet the disciples gained family, households, and wealth through the fellowship of the church wherever they went, and it is unlikely that Jesus, during the years of his earthly ministry, spent many nights without a roof over his head. His provision, whether of bed or board, came from the hospitality and generosity of his followers, in holy exchanges, self-sacrificial acts for the sake of following a higher Way.

The creation narrative of Genesis 1-2 reveals the life God intended for his people. We now live in a fallen world in which we hope to witness to the glory of God that, in the Kingdom to be consummated at Christ’s return, we shall live in abundance without scarcity, that no child of God will be without place and provision. Jesus proclaimed that the Kingdom had come, in himself, into the world. Our best witness of the power of the Incarnation is to put our money where our mouths are, doers of the word and not just hearers, deceiving ourselves (James 2:2). If we claim to be that which our actions deny, we are no better than the hypocritical Pharisees, practicing a form of godliness but without the transforming power of God (2 Timothy 3:5), power that transforms both us and the world.

The New Testament gives four strong messages concerning wealth and possessions. These are discussed in detail in Sondra Ely Wheeler’s Wealth as Peril and Obligation (Eerdman’s, 1995). Wheeler’s chapters examining four key passages on wealth and possessions lead to deeper considerations of wealth, in Chapter 8, as a stumbling block, as the object of devotion (worship),  as evidence of economic injustice, and as a vital resource for meeting human needs. The first two chapters, explaining her methodology for the study, can be a bit heady for many readers but well worth the effort to understand how she reaches the conclusions she shares. I would recommend this book to any Christian who considers themselves serious disciples of Jesus Christ. Wealth as Peril and Obligation is deeply challenging. It does not prescribe specific courses of action (rules), simply because the myriad of life circumstances facing Christians crosses a broad spectrum of possible responses to the Bible. But the book ends by asking a long list of hard questions which need to be asked, especially in the modern age of explosive global capital growth and the disparity of wealth within the church itself between the developed world and the developing world, and between affluent neighborhoods in our urban centers and those neighborhoods and small towns struggling in poverty.

The Parable of the Talents, from which we famously derive the misty-eyed looking-forward-to-hear “Well done, good and faithful servant,” was a story of economic exchanges analogous to how we expend (invest) all our resources, whether monetary, our time, or the gifts and talents which God has bestowed upon us each. Every interaction with God or others is an exchange. Many are done casually without deep consideration of eternal ramifications. Each, including economic exchanges, is an opportunity to walk according to the Spirit, as light and salt to the world because a measure of holiness, inherent as we are relational, is inherent in every exchange.

7 Comments

Filed under Discipleship, Faith in the Marketplace