Another Book You’ll See Around Here: Jesus and Money: A Guide for Times of Financial Crisis

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I believe that if we are to be a Christian-anything, we should do our best to base that anything on the New Testament. Maybe you don’t. That’s okay, I guess. But, in building up to maybe teach a (non-Sunday School related) class on the Economics of Jesus in the Gospel According to St. Luke the Physician, I’ve decided to purchase a few more books to broaden my understanding and to solidify my view on this topic.

By the way, I love the Kindle.

This book is by noted biblical scholar, Ben Witherington III. He is from the Wesleyan Tradition so I thought it might be fitting to first hear what he has to say about the matter. So far, I’ve only read the prequel. This book is published by Brazos Press.

From the description:

Widespread unemployment. Record home foreclosures. A vulnerable stock market. Government bailouts. In the wake of a sobering global recession, many Christians realize they need to rethink their approach to money. Here respected New Testament scholar Ben Witherington III explores what the Bible does–and doesn’t–say about money. He clearly and concisely examines what Jesus and his earliest followers taught about wealth and poverty, money and debt, and tithing and sacrificial giving to help readers understand the proper role of money in modern Christian life. Along the way, he critiques the faith promise and health-and-wealth approaches to these issues, showing what good stewardship of God’s possessions really looks like. Church study groups, pastors, church leaders, students, and all who are concerned about making sense of money in a world of economic uncertainty will value this book.

Look, I know that there is the usual rush to judgment on such things. You know that I am generally Progressive, although in some areas, I agree with Libertarians (think foreign policy and the rush to give away the store for corporate welfare). But, I want to find the way which is actually biblical. Maybe I won’t change, but maybe my opinions will, or perhaps, after some light reading on the Gospel of Luke, they already have. But, many will assume I see Jesus as the Great Marxist. (Although people generally have no clue about the philosophical underpinnings of Marx and confuse it with the War Communism of the Soviet Union or the Socialism of recent Europe.) But, that is why we read books, right? Especially books which we preconceive to have a different opinion than our own. I don’t know to expect with this book, but so far…

So, BW3 seems to promise a balanced take. Look, I’ll be honest. If I can find a third way between two extremes, that’ll be the one I choose. Some people are contrarian by nature; I am a reconciliationist. The author begins by noting all the issues with our overly materialistic society and how it has brought about the economic woes of 2008 (he’s writing in 2010), noting our change from saving to splurging. He calls this a “self-centered sense of entitlement. (8)” Couldn’t agree more, and I say this as I sit typing this post on my self-hosted blog on my 2-year old laptop, with an eye to getting another one (perhaps one of those deals from Amazon where I buy a laptop and get the XBox for free, although I already have a Wii and of course, if I get the XBox, I’ll need more games and the motion detector and a bigger tv), while reading BW3’s book my iPad2, surrounded by three phones. It is difficult not to believe this assessment according to the materialism and the damage it has done to my generation, but more than that, it is the way we get these gadgets. He notes, as I have and others have, that the “link between work and reward” has been severed. That is easy to see. Further, there is the issue of gambling, which takes on different forms, many of which have not been mentioned in this prequel. When our “work” produces only money, and that is seen as the highest form of “work”, we soon become alienated not only from our Work, but so too from our Reward. Granted, we need investment bankers, and other capitalists, but that is, it seems, as one of the highest professions, with those often untalented going to the ‘business’ with the only goal to produce more money in order to get more material with no longer term goals (this is not a slight to those who actually know what they are doing, as I have said, just now, a few lines up, that we need these types of people). But, in the end, we no longer make things. We buy things or produce money from other money, but what have I made?

BW3 is correct in noting that passages cannot be applied universally at all times, or it might leave us poor and destitute, with that seen as a path to righteousness. It is this context of Scripture which is often missed by both sides of the economic debate (when the economy is actually debated from Scripture), that it is harsh to take one command of Scripture out of context and use it to beat another person into economic submission. No doubt, this will alienate those who believe that “the poor will always be with us” is a divine allowance to make the poor.

The argument of the book seems to be based on ]]’s work regarding wealth and possessions from a biblical perspective. I think just examining these passages, under Wheeler’s heading would create a series of posts. Or a book… Anyway, In the Old Testament, Wheeler notes four views on wealth. Two deal with sin while two deal with reward. In the New Testament, Wealth is given four headings by Wheeler, with one being positive and three being negative. BW3 cites especially the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Revelation for the evidence of wealth as a symptom of economic injustice which is fitting, especially given the view in the latter book of Roman society as a place of wealth which has in part produce moral decadence and religious persecution against the poor. These headings are interesting in of themselves, and I might come back to it, but it is clear, as BW3 notes, that there is a variety of responses to wealth in Scripture. In my opinion, wealth is fine, but it depends on several things (how did you get it, what do you do with it, and does it come between you and God) before it is judged either good of bad.

Finally, our author is correct, in my opinion, that the New Testament calls us to a higher standard than the economics of the Old. Perhaps, I believe, it is because of the changing socio-economic systems, classes, and the such in which the New Testament was created. This book will detail some of that, it promises, by exploring Judaism and various sects  (such as Qumran) along with the New Testament. Personally, the only fault so far is the cover art. It is deplorable and makes it look like a prosperity preacher’s work.

I’ll give this attention when I can and post accordingly.

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