Jesus and Money, by Ben Witherington
Editor’s Note: We have begun a series called The Preacher’s Bookshelf, in which we interview authors of books that might be of interest to pastors and preachers. In this installment, we interview Ben Witherington, whose blog we are now happy to present at Patheos.
Dr Witherington is a professor of New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary and on the doctoral faculty at St. Andrews University in Scotland. He has also taught at Vanderbilt University, Duke Divinity School, and Gordon-Conwell. Now considered one of the top evangelical scholars in the world, Witherington has written over forty books, including The Jesus Quest and The Paul Quest, both of which were selected as top biblical studies works by Christianity Today.
Witherington’s Jesus and Money was published a year ago, but we thought it would be interesting to hear his thoughts on the subject and how it might bear on pastors guiding their congregations through tough financial times.
This book presents the evidence for what the Bible actually says about the inter-related topics of money, wealth, economic matters and principles, and the Christian’s responsibility to the poor. It argues that Christians are called to live a simple lifestyle that doesn’t involve conspicuous consumption. Christians are not called merely to tithe; Christ calls upon his followers to give sacrificially, which raises the ante, so to speakl. The Bible’s theology of property is “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.” We are not owners of anything. We are only stewards of God’s property, and therefore accountable to God for what we do with the resources with which he has entrusted us.
The book also makes clear that the prosperity Gospel is a false Gospel. There are more warnings in the New Testament about the dangers of wealth to our spiritual well-being than there are warnings about sexual sin.
2. What can pastors learn from this book for their own spiritual lives?
Pastors are supposed to lead by example, and yet often their financial lives are a mess, and their financial accountability non-existent. They can learn how you cannot serve two masters, ‘God and money’. Pastors should model the proper stewardship of resources they expect of their flock. The lure of material gain is no good basis for making decisions about: 1) where to pastor; 2) what church members to cultivate; 3) how to plan out one’s future in ministry.
3. Can this book be preached? What might a sermon or sermon series based on the book look like?
This book is an exegetical and theological inquiry, but it has plenty of fodder for preaching and Biblical teaching. Its message is in part: repent of your materialistic ways and sins. They are ruining your spiritual life.
4. Are there any particular anecdotes or stories (whether or not they are told in the book) that crystallize its message?
There are various stories and illustrations in the book which make clear how to live a self-sacrificial existence. I like the one about the shut-in who was a member of my home church in Charlotte. When visited by a well-to-do member of our church who was doing the every-member canvas and collecting pledges, she turned down the wealthy man’s offer of paying her pledge for her. She got up in his face, grabbed him by the lapels of his Brooks brother’s suit and told him directly: “Don’t you take away from me the privilege of contributing to the cause of Jesus.” The story of the widow lives on.
5. What did God do to you in the process of writing this book? How did God use it in your own spiritual life?
This was one of the books I felt I needed to write to sort out my own thoughts on the subject of Christians and money and wealth. I knew that there were certain obvious mistakes one could make in interpreting God’s Word on this subject, but I wanted to have a better overall picture of what God requires of me, as I approach my sixth decade of living. I wanted to be more intentionally accountable for what I do with what I have. I am thankful to God that in this year I have sold my library to a worthy seminary, and we will pay off our mortgage on our house about four years early. There are various ways to achieve debt freedom, and Christians should be modeling how that can be done, especially in this economy.