Business People 3 (Michael Kruse)

Business People 3 (Michael Kruse) March 13, 2012

This series on the church and business people is by Michael Kruse. I hope every pastor reads this.

Henri Nouwen once observed that when people came to him for counseling, most of them would open up and readily discuss the most intimate details of their sex lives. But when he began probing about personal finances, body postures became closed and people would want to know why he was getting so personal. Money is important to us.

Today we continue our discussion of John Knapp’s How the Church Fails Businesspeople (and what can be done about it). We are looking at Chapter Three, “Uneasy Bedfellows: Money and the Church.”

How do you reconcile the historic ambiguity about wealth and money? Going back to at least Calvin we have the realization that we are not in a zero-sum game but that wealth can be grown. Does this matter for how we see wealth? Why do you think we in the church find it so hard to wrestle theologically with money and wealth?

Dr. Knapp believes the divide between businesspeople and the church is rooted in a related issue: the Christian community’s longstanding ambivalence toward money. This is important because work and money are inextricably connected in our culture. Money and wealth are the means by which we “keep score” in our society, not just in terms of how we rate possessions but, unfortunately, too often it is how we value people. Money and wealth have been a central concern of Judeo-Christian ethical teaching from the start. In this chapter, Knapp gives us a brief survey of “Money and the Church” over the ages.

The Bible

Frankly, the Bible offers us a seemingly conflicted perspective. Wealth is presented as a blessing on some occasions while on other occasions we are warned not to desire wealth, even to renounce it. Knapp recounts several passages dealing with wealth in the Old Testament and sees three common themes:

  • • All wealth belongs to the sovereign God, whose purposes are not necessarily ours.
  • • There is spiritual danger in seeking after money or property for oneself, as this turns us away from our proper dependence upon God.
  • • Financial prosperity may indeed be a blessing, but a willingness to renounce wealth indicates that one is fit to be entrusted with it. (48)

As we come to the New Testament, things become more challenging. An ethic of selflessness, of taking care of other members of the Christian community, is central. There is teaching about forgiving debts. Jesus says that money may have spiritual power over us. We are told that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. How does one reconcile a modern pursuit of profit and loaning at interest with the Bible?

The Early Church: A Community of Sharing and Sacrifice

Knapp gives a quick sampling of teaching on money from the time of the New Testament on through to Constantine and on to Augustine of Hippo.  There is some diversity of opinion but Knapp sees four common themes:

  • • Christians are required to give generously, even sacrificially, to ensure that the needs of others are met.
  • • Responsible ownership of private property is permissible, but all wealth is intended by God to be used for the good of all.
  • • It is wrong to charge interest on loaned money, and even more so if the borrower is poor.
  • • A desire for wealth indicates a sinful heart and endangers the soul. (57)

The Middle Ages: Greater Accommodation to Wealth

In the millennium between Augustine and Luther, Knapp sees greater accommodation to wealth. Pope Gregory I in his Book of Pastoral Rule (a work that guided bishops for centuries) suggests that the rich not be condemned simply for being rich. He generalizes the rich man in the “eye of the needle” parable to mean any proud person. The medieval church relaxed restrictions on money-lending. Care for the poor was reduced to almsgiving.

At the same time, the church was becoming a major multinational entity, owning as much as one third of the developed land in Europe by 900. By the Thirteenth Century the church was making loans, often with ruthless enforcement. Knapp concludes:

“Medieval teachings on money were limited almost exclusively to individual practice (micro-economics in today’s terminology). It is fair to say that the church had not developed a theology capable of informing its own exercise of vast institutional and macro-economic responsibilities.” (60)

The Reformation: Rethinking Work and Its Monetary Rewards

Concern about financial behavior of the church was one of the sparks of the Protestant Reformation. Selling of indulgences was of particular concern. Knapp notes that many of the reformers, including Luther and Calvin were revisiting theology and ethics in light of the rise of a mercantile economy.

“No longer was wealth seen as “zero-sum game” where one person’s gain was another’s loss. These theologians recognized that a growing economy could provide new financial opportunities for the poor, that almsgiving was not the only way to help them.” (61)

Luther wanted to recover the dignity of work but he felt people should remain in their ordained life station. Calvin took a more radical view, seeing profits through business and investments as an opportunity to expand service. He broke with church history and encouraged people to pursue greater wealth, not for superfluous luxury but to create more to give to the poor. Economic development would give the poor “… the opportunity to work hard and to demonstrate they are among the elect.” (62) Still, even as he opened the door for capitalism (which came later), Calvin also stressed that generated wealth was to be used for the benefit of others, not self-centered pursuits.

Our Contemporary Confusion

Liberalism in the Enlightenment broke with historic Church teaching, advocating pursuit of personal enrichment without regard for the achievement of just ends. It was in stark contrast to the church’s historical teaching. That departure has certainly expanded the work and faith divide.

Knapp writes at the end of this chapter:

“So it is that some churches embrace money-talk with gusto, while others tiptoe around the subject except when necessary to raise the annual church budget. In either case, little serious attention is given to the practical concerns of working people struggling to apply their faith to questions of money in their own lives.

More often, major church bodies have taken the easier route of critiquing the macro-economic system and it injustices. They issue studies and pronouncements on economic policy, the moral shortcomings of capitalism, the effects of globalization, and other important matters that are not easily connected by Christians to their daily lives. Almost never do these pronouncements offer much help for living and working with an imperfect and frequently unjust system. Too often, these macro-economic statements suggest to individuals that the church is hostile not only to the system but also to the people who participate in it by going to work. Where the pre-Reformation church concerned itself with the economic life of the individual but had little to say about economic systems, the opposite is largely the case today.” (66)

In short, ambiguity reigns. Dr. Knapp is indeed an ambitious soul to try to capture 2,000 years of church teaching in twenty pages but I think he gives us a useful summary.

In the next chapter we will turn to the socio-psychological impact of the divide between faith and wealth. In succeeding chapters we will explore Knapp’s suggestions about how we might achieve some coherence.

Suggested discussion starters:

How do you reconcile the historic ambiguity about wealth and money? Going back to at least Calvin we have the realization that we are not in a zero-sum game but that wealth can be grown. Does this matter for how we see wealth? Why do you think we in the church find it so hard to wrestle theologically with money and wealth?




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  • Chris

    Yes, wealth can be grown. Just as a harvest yields more than the seed that is planted. The question is whether the harvest is to be collected by the “owner” or distributed among both those who provide the seed and those who tend the fields. This doesn’t even get into the matter of generosity which is a fundamental Christian value. The philosophy of the ordinary investor in our culture is that their benefit is superior to the benefit of the ones who do the work. In other words, the workers are a necessary means on the way to profitable enterprise. The book of James tackles that thinking head on. How many successful businesses and their investors want to read that book and actually take it seriously?

  • Randy Gabrielse

    Trained as a historian, I appreciate the historical perspective provided here. But I think that the historical perspective needs to be deeper. We are right to consider the relationships of wealth and the church, but there is much else to consider as well. We might benefit from looking at what, other than wealth, scripture calls us to.

    Namely, how does scripture call us to live with our neighbors, and what place does wealth/money have within those relationships?

    One of the benefits, if one can put it that way, of America’s battles in the Middle East has been occasional opportunities to see the place of hospitality, honor, and other aspects of human and group relations that have seemingly disappeared from modern life. Reading the NT through Kenneth Bailey’s middle eastern interpretation has been very fruitful for me.

    Second, (and Chris in #1 hints at this) we need to understand how wealth has changed in a society that is dominated not so much by a financial economy but by finance itself. Money is no longer held in the form of livestock, servants, etc. but in what financiers call “fungible form.” Unlike ancient wealth, cash money can be exchanged for things, and it can be put in a bank a
    and earn interest; it can travel around the globe at the push of a button.

    Our church is studying Job this Lenten season. I recently asked that we try to imagine a place where having “seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen and five hundred donkeys,” would make sense in light of how much grass etc. these creatures would consume. In the words of one pastor “I don’t want to be in control of the world, because then I would be responsible for it.” Or think of this. Mr. Romney’s wealth is estimated at $200 Million. What would owning that amount in livestock look like in an agrarian economy?

    Unlike livestock and servants, cash money does not need to be maintained or fed. So it is much more open to being accumulated by one person in massive amounts for their satisfaction. Certainly financial wealth can be grown, but the current credit crunch also shows that it does not have to be lent to those who most need it (note congress’ recent celebration of bipartisanship in making more money available to small and emerging businesses).

    Randy Gabrielse

  • Susan N.

    Hi Michael,

    This summary was very informative and clear; thank you for that.

    Because I do not strongly identify with the “businessperson,” and, because I have not viewed businesspeople as a marginalized group (in my mind, it seems that those successful in business are at the top of the food chain), it has been difficult for me to empathize with businesspeople who feel neglected in the church. I am beginning to try to relate to your position, Michael, at least from the place of aspects of my own identity which have left me feeling like an outsider in church. Many other groups have been highlighted here at the blog (women, young adults, even people with tattoos!), so I am making a concerted effort to understand the ways that businesspeople have been wronged in the church.

    From the sections ‘The Bible / Early Church’ — “an ethic of…taking care of other members of the Christian community,” — well, that’s a whole issue up for debate, isn’t it? Do we help only those in the Christian community or anyone in need, regardless of their in / out status?


    ‘The Reformation’ — Calvin’s ethical response to the rise of a mercantile economy: Wealth may not have been seen any longer as a zero sum game, but because empire and expansionism at the systemic level are prone to corruption, some would probably question the validity of that assessment, now more so than ever. ??

    Also, this: “Economic development would give the poor ‘… the opportunity to work hard and to demonstrate they are among the elect.'” Oh boy, that’s a whole can of worms that I won’t even begin to sort through; but, suffice it to say (no surprise to you, I’m sure), more than a little disturbing to me.

    ‘Our Contemporary Confusion’ – that there is a disconnect between the individual and the “macro” economic situation from a church and faith perspective, I can see. It would be good to confront both / the whole.

    The Henri Nouwen reference to a willingness of church members to be counseled about their sex life but finances being taboo was interesting to me. I would think it depends on why the person had sought pastoral counseling to begin with? When we are seeking help for a particular reason, naturally we want to talk about that issue. For a pastor to change the subject to what *he* (or she) wants to talk about is odd, isn’t it?

    Thanks for your voice on behalf of businesspeople and economics in the church. I come (and go now) in peace.

  • Does Knapp explore the Puritan v. Quaker perspectives? The Quaker ideal of tightly integrating faith and business mostly lost out to the Puritans, who saw spirituality and commerce as incompatible. This is why in most states it is illegal for a CEO or a board of a publicly-traded company to make decisions based on anything other than maximizing shareholder wealth.

    Today, we’re seeing a resurgence of Quaker-like movements bridging capitalism with social benefit. Here in California, as of January 1 2012, we now have B-corp and Flex-corp, two new legal corporate structures that allow for-profits to behave in many ways like non-profits. CEO’s of flex and b’s can now legally make fiscal decisions based on the well-being of their environment, suppliers, employees, community, and other stakeholders.

  • Thank you for an insightful blog.the church is definitely in need of some solid guidance on the issue of business people and their finance. I have realized that there are a number of young, budding business people who live lives of simplicity and give a lot of money for a worthy cause(s). I think (and pray) that the young generation of believers want to make a difference where the need arises.

  • Chris and Randy

    I also like reading history, particularly economic history. Any chapter like this is going to be intensely frustrating for historians. In twenty pages, we don’t get the 10,000 foot, even the 50,000 foot view of the topic. We get the view from the moon. 😉

    The issue that keeps popping up for me is that Scripture is the story of God’s people living in primitive agricultural (ancient Israel) and advanced agricultural (Rome) societies … complete with zero-sum thinking and pyramidal power structures of family and politics (like the patron and client pyramid of Rome). The bulk of theological reflection on economic questions over the ages, from micro to macro, has been within the context of (until recently) European agrarian society. My sense is that theology has on balance taken a conservative (wanting to conserve ancient perspective) tack on economic issues and been deeply suspicious of newly evolved economics systems. To me, the effect is that theological reflection on economics and business frequently has the feel that RJS must experience when Christians try to apply the “science” in the Bible to scientific questions of today.

    In particular, theological reflection shaped by zero-sum agrarian thinking is fixated on distribution to the exclusion of production. An abundance of goods is assumed, leaving the task of distribution as the central question, when it is in fact the revolution in production (with all the reordering of life that has entailed) that has brought about the abundance we now have to distribute. Everyday business behavior is consumed with the production of goods and services and I’m inclined to think that this may be one of the reasons it has received so little theological reflection.

  • T

    The reality that wealth can be grown much more in our day is a positive factor to consider as it pertains to the NT’s concern for the poor. However, it is a negative factor regarding the NT’s primary concern regarding money, namely, the idolatry of wealth and all the evils that accompany it, which are by no means limited to failure to help the poor.

    The NT is abundantly clear as to why one would work: for God, to be able to not need resources from others, to be able to help others (in the work and the pay), beginning in one’s own family. I have to say, in my view, while I think it’s possible that the calling of some is to create wealth so as to provide good jobs and mentoring and give away personal wealth, I think this “calling” is much more often a cleaned up and polished version of Satan’s 3rd temptation of Jesus in the desert, repackaged and sold to Christians who are already partially addicted to money. As a lawyer in Palm Beach County, I meet a fair number of people of wealth, including Christians. I know very few, if any, who did not develop a sense of entitlement and attachment to their wealth and the lifestyle it provided.

    It works like this: if money and/or a functioning business are the means/power through which God is using me, then I must be a faithful steward of this wealth. God has called me to steward this (not someone else, but me) so I must fulfill my calling and steward this wealth. Since I can’t steward what I don’t have, accumulation is part of the call, and part of what God expects (see parable of the talents). I must invest it and protect it against dangers. Attacks of the enemy and those influenced by him to steal and/or destroy my wealth are inevitable, and as steward, I must protect what God has given me to steward for the sake of my family, my employees, and all my customers. God is not only a god of mercy, but justice, so attempts by people to take what has been given to me (to steward) must be resisted.

    Before you know it, we’re so invested in our wealth and so attached to our lifestyles that the teachings by Jesus and Paul about giving up all wealth to follow Christ, giving to enemies, not storing up wealth, and not taking a Christian to court just seem to be from another world. And they are: they’re from the kingdom of God. They are from another Master with a totally different set of values, and with a Power that is not made of paper or coins. IMO, the teachings of the NT are as relevant as they’ve ever been regarding their main thrust on money: “Watch out. You’re probably already addicted to it, and any such addiction will interfere with your ability to follow Christ.”

  • Susan #3, the intent here is not to cast businesspeople as marginalized in the sense we think of the poor and oppressed. As a parallel, what would you say if RJS wrote a book called “How the Church Fails Scientists (and what can be done about it)”?

    I’m getting the sense that you think I’m saying (or Knapp is) that because businesspeople feel excluded the church should uncritically embrace them and what they do. Not so. Businesspeople need to be both held accountable and encouraged in their daily lives as they live out their call. The work of their daily lives is characteristically met with indifference or animosity in the church. The central point of “failure” is not that businesspeople are excluded from positions of status and power within church structures but that they are not well equipped and sent into the world in mission. The church does not partner with businesspeople in wrestling with difficult challenges. An important part of human activity is not brought under the lordship of Jesus Christ.

    John #4, nothing about Puritans vs. Quakers. (Again this is a very brief discussion starter summary).

    I’m not sure I’d lay all the charges at the Puritans feet. Any resources you’ve read that would be helpful on this topic?

  • Chris


    I appreciate the response. You are so right! We do get the view from the moon, so to speak. And I will confess that I am suspicious of systems (ancient and modern). One of those systematically executed the one we call Lord. Is any system anything other than a macro entity (even a single human body)? And how often our body can disappoint. 🙂

    The primary concern I have about contemporary economic systems (and I work in an organization other than a church) is that they are “impersonal”. I find it fascinating that Jesus seemed to regard the systems of his time as irrelevant to some extent. On the other hand, he considered the people he taught and encountered as eminently relevant. Very curious.

    The “business” I work for is such a system that deduces a person as a resource to be used for institutional ends. This is a “Christian” institution too! I understand that you are exploring the way that an individual Christian business person in a church is viewed. I’m looking at the business that person “runs.”

    It might be interesting for you to take a stab at how Jesus would interact (or not) with the economic structures and institutions of our day extrapolated from his day. How would he engage or ignore them? Certainly we have moved from an agrarian culture by and large to a much more complex interweaving today. However, one thing hasn’t changed much…the human heart. And I’m not so sure the pyramidal power structures have done much more than morph into an even more subtle and sinister form than then.

    On the final paragraph of your response, doesn’t it even beg the question about whether productivity itself has become the god of the new age…or at least productivity that tends to unbalance the distribution balance? How many conservative Christians glorify the imbalance as God’s reward and favor on those who “rule” those enterprises?

  • Joe Canner


    Very interesting questions; thanks for tackling this subject. For the economically illiterate among us, can you explain what it means to “grow wealth”? I have a hard time seeing how, on a global scale, wealth can be grown through unrestrained capitalism without there being winners and losers.

    For example:
    1. If you are growing wealth by buying low and selling high, there is the potential to cheat the producer out of a fair share of the proceeds.
    2. If you are lending money at interest, there is the potential to take advantage of those who have no other options and charge excessive interest.
    3. If you are selling a product that is in high demand, there is the (perhaps inevitable) potential that the price can be raised, making that product unavailable to certain sectors of the population.

    So, is wealth (often) grown on the backs of the poor and unfortunate, or am I missing something? (quite possible) If the former, then at best, following Calvin, we grow wealth at the expense of the poor and then give the profits back to them as charity. At worst, we grow wealth at the expense of the poor and keep it for ourselves (which seems to happen more often).

    It seems to me that the solution is not growing wealth and then giving it away, but encouraging entrepreneurship and encouraging businesses to having pricing and salary policies that lift up workers. Henry Ford, for example, priced his cars and paid his workers so that his workers could afford his cars.

  • “Any resources you’ve read that would be helpful on this topic?”

    Just my own conclusions from history, Michael. The Quakers tended to see a more holistic picture, weaving social justice into all facets of life and faith and commerce, and (importantly to this discussion) encouraging women to assume traditional male responsibilities in ecclesial, public, and social spheres. I think it’s no accident that today’s corporate structures are being radically changed for the better by the rapidly growing influence of women in executive roles. Already seven states have passed b-corp laws, with many more pending.

    Puritans were often just the opposite, with a distrust of women in leadership roles, what today we would call misogyny, and with sharp distinctions between religious and civic roles, with little fusion (imo) of social good outside of rigidly defined ecclesial contexts. Granted, these sharp distinctions were limited to the mid-1600’s. By the 1700’s, much of the “edge” had worn off both Puritan and Quaker tribal idealism, but Puritan influences have persisted.

    btw, great irony that few seeking Nouwen’s sexual counsel knew he was gay 🙂

  • Albion

    An abundance of goods is assumed, leaving the task of distribution as the central question, when it is in fact the revolution in production (with all the reordering of life that has entailed) that has brought about the abundance we now have to distribute. Everyday business behavior is consumed with the production of goods and services and I’m inclined to think that this may be one of the reasons it has received so little theological reflection.

    Yes. This is the issue to be explored. From guild to factory; from agrarian husbandry to a cog in the machine. Isn’t there an encyclical about this (c. 1893)? Would be interested to know your thoughts.

  • tim a

    I don’t think we’ll get much better answers without deeper reading of both scripture and history (including the histories of economies and of scripture interpretation, and as noted, this would seem to be view from the moon — too much covered in too short a time.

    I want to be theologically conservative about not letting history or world changes claim a more central place than in the past — eg, read all the bible on economy, the words of Jesus remain central –read all the history of interpretation, without ever disconnecting from Jesus.

    Yes the money economies of the nations (many economies, not one global economy) are different from in biblical times. But

    I think economy over the ages at least in its fundamentals of how we interact with God money each other and the land is more alike over the ages then diffferent. And I think the analogy with science tho partly true is also over-stated.

    I agree w Michael on not blaming too much on the Puritans. What I’ve read of Calvin shows him still very much within the ancient tradition of compassion for the poor and real skepticism about wealth. The concessions he made on interest were grudging and partial, not meant to open the flood gates. (and as pointed out, more traditional than the RCC, which had delinked itself from scripture on this centuries earlier.)
    The Quakers in practice are as mixed a bag as the rest of Christians. John Woolman spent decades in the 1700s in New Jersey (not just the south) trying to get Friends to divest of slaves. The New England whaling fleets were at one time mostly Quaker owned, the wealth brought in the eyes of many Quaker historians, a fall from earlier grace.
    Methodists (my tribe) started with Wesley preaching book of Acts radical sharing and a work ethic. This strong work ethic (and perhaps the changing face of the british economy) brought people up from poverty and near poverty so much faster than Wesley expected that he soon lamented the loss of fervor that followed… (David Hempton references somewhere…)

    The point being this is too huge a topic to treat fairly with broad brush.
    the catch 22 being many of us lack the econ and biblical theological backgrounds to take it on other than broad brush…

    my suggestion is to slow the pace and fill in more detail and fine tune the discussion. Which is very important.


  • tim a

    PS — on why the fundamental issues of economy and Jesus are still more alike than different see Wendell Berry —
    especially The Unmaking of America, culture and agriculture… and Home Economics…


  • #13 tim a

    “my suggestion is to slow the pace and fill in more detail and fine tune the discussion. Which is very important.”

    Yes! I don’t see Knapp’s book as that discussion. He doesn’t intend it as such. He is merely trying to pry open the door to let folks see how desperately we need the discussion.

    #12 Albion

    “Rerum Novarum,” 1891, by Pope Leo XIII. A must read. But it must also be followed by “Quadragesimo Anno” by Pope Pius IX, in 1931 and “Centesimus Annus” in 1991 by Pope John Paul II. Catholic Social teaching morphed over the 20th Century. Ideas like subsidiarity were deepened while idea while the initial embrace of corporatism was rejected.

    Writing in “Centesimus Annus,” Pope John Paul II writes:

    “Can it perhaps be said that after the failure of communism capitalism is the victorious social system and the capitalism is the victorious social system and that capitalism should be the goal of the countries now making efforts to rebuild their economy and society? Is this model which ought to be proposed to the countries of the Third World which are searching for the path of true economic and civil progress?

    The answer is obviously complex. If by “capitalism” is meant and economic system which recognizes the fundamental and positive role of business, the market, private property, and the resulting responsibility for the means of production as well as free creativity in the economic sector, then the answer is certainly in the affirmative, even though it would perhaps be more appropriate to speak of a “business economy,” “market economy,” or simply “free economy.” But if by “capitalism” is meant a system in which freedom in the economic sector is not circumscribed within a strong juridical framework which places it at the service of human freedom in its totality and which sees it as a particular aspect of that freedom, the core of which is ethical and religious, then the reply is certainly negative.” (Centesimus Annus, 42)

    Now, with all that said, we are doing just what Knapp accuses us all of doing: Heading for the macro-economic
    discussion while ignoring the micro-economic dilemma’s of businesspeople. The two are interconnected but I think we would all do well to enter the daily lives of people in business so we can get more than an abstract understanding of the challenges they face.

  • Randy Gabrielse

    Michael (#6),

    My history professor at Calvin College dated this change from a scarcity economy to an economy focused on selling what could be made to September, 1926. But my point about the agricultural economy was only a way of saying that perhaps focusing on sciriptures’ comments on monetary wealth lead us astray. They lead us to focus on wealth and the wealthy, rather than on human relationships. I find that if we focus on human relationships rather than money and wealth, then money and wealth,whether animals or denarii, come into much better focus.
    Randy Gabrielse

  • Joe #10

    Thanks, Joe. You are raising some issues that go to basic economic questions. I doubt I can satisfactorily address your questions in a blog exchange. I frequently recommend John Stapleford’s “Bulls, Bears, and Golden Calves” as a basic Econ primer for Christians. I hope to one day do a series (maybe here at Jesus Creed) on Stapleford’s book. Just one thought for now.

    Standard of living improves through a combination of two factors. A) Wages increase relative to the price goods and services. B) The Price of goods and services decline relative to wages. Either way, you end up with greater wealth at the end of the day. In the aggregate, market economies tend to drive the cost of goods down while driving individual productivity up. (There is some question these days about the impact markets are having on wages in post-industrial economies but that discussion would take us far afield of this book.)

  • #16 Randy

    “They lead us to focus on wealth and the wealthy, rather than on human relationships.”

    Yes. I think you will find you and Knapp are on similar pages in a later chapter.

    To everyone, thanks for such interesting comments and thoughtful engagement!

  • paj

    Theologically wrestling with money and wealth

    Why it is so hard?

    1. I think Jesus’ comments on money are both counter cultural and counter intuitive. For instance, as Witherington points out Jesus never asks us to pray for wealth but for what we need.

    This is in tension with the idea of financial planning for an abundant retirement (what happens in Australian advertising!). To play golf or something similar.

    2. In my experience, when Australian church leaders who discuss the economy come from a more liberal background they focus on the “structural sin” of capitalism. As a person with economic/financial degrees their understanding of basic economics is very poor. So they come across as hostile and definitely naive. They stress the poor (a good thing) but leave no room for others to dialogue and may use Luke 4 as Jesus wanting a redistribution of wealth etc [excluding church property!]. So the debate ends as a monologue.

    3. Even for more evangelical leaders I think the issue is a lack of confidence in addressing the big issues because (rightly) a lack of training. And perhaps a dualism that favors the “soul” and not the body rather than God redemption of our whole being. I often wonder if they have thought of a physical resurrection and new heavens/earth and hence the goodness of the material.

    4. I think the real tension is worship, is it towards God or Money? Followed by the Lukan tension of leaving everything and stewardship. Unfortunately, the bible never gives a number on which we know we have too much. But the impulse is to be generous (Sabbatical Years, Jubilee,etc), dependent on God’s provision (for our daily bread) and consequently to act differently to our culture (light and salt).

    People in business are not stupid, however blaming the Church is a great way to avoid some hard changes to one’s worldview. This was certainty my personal experience. Nevertheless, we can rest in the fact that our Father is the giver of all good gifts and start the difficult de-construction of our thinking from here.

    Shalom and thanks for your comments and Michael for your work.

  • paj #19

    “For instance, as Witherington points out Jesus never asks us to pray for wealth but for what we need.”

    This raises interesting questions. Witherigton writes in Jesus and Money:

    “Scholars of ancient economies often talk about the concept of limited good. In biblical culture there was both low productivity and no notable means of increasing productivity over time (as with, say, the help of modern fertilizers and modern irrigation techniques). Given these realities, ancient peoples tended to believe that the goods of life had been distributed, even distributed by God, and they could not be increased – they were decidedly ‘limited.’ This in turn meant that if a person wanted something he or she did not have, they had to to barter for it (or steal it). It was not a matter of finding some way to make ‘more,’ in order to increase one’s income and spending power. Under these pressures, and given the fact that droughts were regular and the land’s fertility could become farmed-out and exhausted, many ancients expected frequent decreases in productivity, thus prosperity on a regular, cyclical basis.” (46)

    This is the context into which Jesus was speaking. It was a zero-sum game. My gain is someone else’s equivalent loss.

    One scholar I read recently raised an interesting question. We tend to read “give us this day our daily bread” as a pious request to give us only what we need and no more. He argued that this was likely as much about people living in scarcity, honestly imploring God to give them enough to eat as it was an issue of piety. But even to the degree it is about piety, it is so because taking more than you need means depriving someone else. It is purely about distribution. Altering production is nowhere in sight.

    So the question is what would Jesus do when production can be radically altered? If I stumble upon a way to be 10 times more productive than others around me at making X and I exercise that ability to making X, have I harmed others? When Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes (a radical escalation in productivity) he is credited with a miracle. When a businessperson increases productivity, thus driving down cost and radically increases availability it is viewed negatively.

    I don’t have a specific answer but I think the economic revolution of the last few centuries requires more critical thinking.

  • Joe Canner

    Michael #17: Thanks for the recommendation and the brief primer. I will have to ponder that for a while. Perhaps some of my confusion has to do with having lived in several 2/3rds world countries which are at quite different stages of that process compared to the US. I suspect that the steps for increasing wealth required in those countries are quite different than the steps required in the US.

  • #21 Joe, I think that is likely very true. Many emerging nations have much more in common at present with ancient agrarian societies than they do with post-industrial contexts.

  • T


    You’ve argued in several ways that the NT warnings against wealth accumulation are only/merely about everyone having enough in a zero-sum economy. In fact, in this regard, you say this about the prayer for daily bread:

    “But even to the degree it is about piety, it is so because taking more than you need means depriving someone else. It is purely about distribution.” We have multitudes of reasons to think otherwise. Chiefly among them in my mind is the cross reference of this request for “daily bread” in Proverbs 30:

    “give 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.

    So 2 reasons are clearly given for asking for “only my daily bread” and just one of them is scarcity. The other is the tendency (seemingly confirmed by the research RJS posted not too long ago) for money to eclipse God, especially as wealth increases beyond needs. Considering how Israel’s own history tragically bears this out, and the general tenor of Jesus’ own teachings on money, it is simply mistaken to assume that the NT’s warnings about wealth accumulation, even in the Lord’s prayer, are “purely about distribution.” Regarding the Lord’s prayer in particular, it seems far more likely that Jesus was picking up on this phrase from the Proverbs and meant it in a way that is consistent with that proverb as well as the failures of Israel’s history, both for piety *and* providing for the poor.

  • T #23

    Fair enough. Rather than saying “purely about distribution” I might have been more accurate to say “the possibility of expanding production is not considered.”

    But let’s go with your statement that wealth is seductive and captivating. The great majority of the poor in America today have TVs, cellphones, access to washing machines, cars and climate controlled environments. These would be unthinkable for the wealthiest people 100 years ago, much less at the time of Jesus. Have we erred by making the poor in America so wealthy? Should be stopping economic growth in emerging nations so we don’t expose them to the same temptations?

    What constitutes “beyond needs?” Twenty years ago I did not need the internet or cellphone technology. Shall we roll things back to 1992? Fifty years before that we didn’t have computers, televisions, or air conditioned homes. Shall we roll back to 1942 when those things weren’t “needed”? Go back a few more decades and you have no electricity, internal combustion engines, or labor saving devices like washing machines. Shall we return to that life where these things weren’t “needed?” Conversely, what will we forgo in the future (equivalent to the impact of something like the internet) because we spend only on what we “need” today? If I could make everyone on the planet today wealthy with a snap of my fingers, then I should not do it because they will abandon God? Yes?

    I’m not discounting the very real seduction that wealth holds for us. It is plainly true. But what I’m suggesting is that we don’t have a practical theology that guides people in a world where a radical abundance, unimaginable in Jesus’s day, is now possible, eventually on a global scale. Already, only a rapidly shrinking minority of the planet lives in conditions that would be comparable to the masses in Jesus’s world. How do we live in an abundant world without losing our connection to God?

    I think we need a theology of work that incorporates the issue of productivity and helps us find a way to balance the triad of personal consumption, productive investment and generosity. I don’t know what it is you would have us say to businesspeople about creating wealth.

  • paj

    Michael # 20

    Of course I wouldn’t like to argue that the step changes in productivity of the last 200 years were available in 100 AD, but I actually think productivity (as opposed to a strict zero-sum game) or a basic increase in the size of gross domestic product is not as foreign as Witherington’s quote makes it sound.

    Another related issue is, does the bible have narrative sub-structure that allows for wealth creation and for that creation to be good?

    I would argue:

    a. Stuff is good, God blessed creation but we are stewards (some of the trees were good to look at, some for fruit,the command to work but also care for the garden)Gen 2:9, 15 etc
    b. Luke 12:16 ” the land of a rich mans was very productive…” and this may be suggestive of productivity. Although he is obviously not a good steward (note the rich man is not explicitly called a stealer of property)or Proverbs 31:10-31.
    c. The eschatological impluse of the bible is from the abundant garden to the whole of the earth to become super abundant (Rev 21-22) and that the mighty acts of God can seen in the wilderness provisions etc (redemption as new creation)in Exodus and also of Jesus’ mighty acts as foreshadowing the new creation. What is to come. [see Enns Exodus commentary or Rikki Watts Mark commentary or work by Dumbrell].

    So, I’m not against wealth creation. And I agree that what is ‘needed’ changes, obviously my Grand Father who died in 1980s never needed a computer but I do.

    Although,when the people of Israel offered a sacrifice in God’s presence it could also include a provision for the priests and sometime to people around them. There was vertical thanks (right worship) and expression of this thanks via horizontal gifts to the priests, poor etc.

    Hence are we not to worship personal consumption (where the average Australia eats now like a king), or productive investment (as exhibited in net present value accretion) although both are good things which have become idolatry. What we love, trust and serve should be our LORD as exhibited in offering ourselves wholly (the Shema and Romans 12) to him.

    In this context I find what I think I need is really a combination of want and need. I really only know what is necessary only after readjusting my world-view from wealth accumulation for me as the default position to offering my work/serve/worship to God.

    Maybe within the triad there is some room for contentment, as seeing the greatest blessing as God’s presence?

    Shalom and thanks again.

  • “In this context I find what I think I need is really a combination of want and need. I really only know what is necessary only after readjusting my world-view from wealth accumulation for me as the default position to offering my work/serve/worship to God.

    Maybe within the triad there is some room for contentment, as seeing the greatest blessing as God’s presence?”

    Beautifully said! Thanks.

  • John

    “a combination of want and need”

    Daniel Kahneman, psychologist, nobel laureate, and creator of the field of behavioral economics, studied the relationship between money and happiness. The studies show that, beyond a modest income, happiness does not increase. But below the studies’ threshold of “modest income,” happiness decreased. My own experience in the outer island villages of Fiji revealed (by a wide margin) the most genuinely happiest people I had ever lived with, yet living simply with few possessions.

    Kahneman’s excellent TED Talk:

    I would offer that the tension of money v. spirit is just one facet of learning (as PAJ hints) a transcendent contentment in all things, regardless of our material circumstances (Phil 4:12, Ecl 1:14, Mat 4:4, etc.).

  • T

    Michael (24),

    You’ve raised some great questions about relative “wealth”, “need” and how this relates to our work. In line with some previous suggestions, I’ll try to deal with these in a “micro” way as much as possible. But first let me say that I agree that what we “need” is always at least partially contextual to time, place and purpose, as is the concept of “wealth.” As a lawyer, I arguably “need” many things to do my work today that would have been unimaginable luxuries or even absurdities 50 years ago.

    As to your question regarding whether we in the U.S. have been wrong to make the poor so “wealthy”, I would say yes and no. To move this in a micro direction, we should ask: Should everything that is sold be produced in the first place? Or, to be more focused, are there times when the Christian ought not create and/or sell or buy a particular widget or enter into a certain transaction? I would say so without question. There are whole lines of work on the one hand and individual transactions on the other that a particular Christian will and should avoid. There are others still that ought to attract more attention and resources than they currently receive. Some enterprises or transactions will be suspect for all, while others will be inappropriate in a particular context or for particular people.

    Similarly for “wealth” and its harms: I do a fair amount of estate planning. The fact is that wealth can be harmful to many people’s development or even their physical life. Some are too young, too immature. Others are incapacitated in some way. Others still have addiction issues. Some are prideful. Others are just lazy or selfish. But for our purposes, my point is only that there will always be a relevant wisdom to Paul’s advice (which is not about sharing, but piety): “we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” Further, we do well to keep hearing Christ’s multiple warnings about how difficult it is for the rich to enter the kingdom and even to stay faithful to the true God.

    But I’m not against development and discovery of new technologies and products. I see this as part of the general call to subdue the earth and imitate our creator. Some of us will always and rightfully be creative and inventive. But motive matters. Attachment matters more. The Christian’s motive will hopefully never be primarily (monetary) profit alone. Even for secular folks, money has decreasing marginal utility. For the Christian, I would expect to that decrease to be, in general, accelerated. But that doesn’t mean there is no motive at all for work or even development. Many people invent new medicines and even underwrite the work more for the good they will do than the money to be made. But for the Christian, the motive for work must derive from Christ’s values, mission and character. “Whatever we do” is to be done in his name–for him, through him and to him. It is here where we have the most creative work to do, theologically and formationally speaking. Many people assume, for instance, that work in communications technology wouldn’t happen outside of profit motive. I say that’s hogwash. More importantly, I think it’s a failure to appreciate the massive scope of God’s own creativity, work and mission.