Archives For Wealth

The evangelical world has flown into turbulent skies over the last few months. From Phil Robertson to bakeries in Arizona, and more recently the World Vision debacle. Evangelicals are facing a potential fork in the road in how they think through homosexuality. Then there’s the never dying debates about spiritual gifts, women in ministry, and the timing of future things. Worship wars. Doctrinal disputes. Young leaders improving on old methods; old leaders suspicious of new methods. House churches ditching the whole “institutional” church. An unforeseen flight of young Protestants to the Orthodox and Catholic churches. And the massive growth of Christianity in the majority world.

If I were a prophet, I’d predict a major divide in evangelicalism in the near future, one which would rival the split between fundamentalists and moderates in the early 20th century. In the one corner, we have a millennial, internet-savvy, social media driven, post-9/11 brand of Christianity that’s seeking authenticity, justice, and community. In the other corner, we have baby boomer Christian leaders, whose theology was forged in the caldrons of the Cold War era, where debates about the rapture, sign-gifts, and the rise of post-modernism formed a church’s identity.

One version of evangelicals define themselves by what they’re against; the other by what they are for. One group elevates truth; the other, love. One seeks authenticity and community; the other races to Bible studies and marriage seminars. One will divide over eschatology; the other over homosexuality.

We are facing a split. A growing chasm that will spawn two distinct versions of evangelical thought.

As I reflect on this inevitable divide, here’s my challenge to both sides:

1. Be Biblical. Don’t just blindly rehearse inherited presuppositions, and don’t base your theology as a reaction to your inherited presuppositions. Neither inherited theology nor reactionary theology is good enough. We are Protestants; we believe in the authority of the text. We value fresh exegesis and letting the text critique our theology. We don’t bend the text around our theology, but our theology around the text—even if we don’t like it. Head in SandWe cannot debate this doctrine or critique that theology with a closed Bible. We desperately need to root, and re-root, our 21st century theology in the actual text, and not some vague inherited notion of being biblical—without knowing the relevant chapter and verse, and being able to identity and articulate the strongest argument against our view. Search it out. Study with blood, sweat, and calloused knees. Be biblical. Root your theology in the actual text of Scripture.

2. Be humble. We believe in absolute truth. Absolutely! But such truth is harnessed and understood through fallible human interpretation. So be humble. Work your exegetical minds to the skull, but be humble in your conclusions. You may be right. You probably are (if your conclusions are backed by solid exegetical evidence). But recognize that you are human and you therefore might be wrong. And that’s okay. God is right. God is mysterious. God is beyond us, and He is always right. We are sometimes wrong. We are wrong more than we think. Much more. Our beliefs are clouded by presuppositions, cultural baggage, unexamined assumptions, and experiences that fog up our interpretive lenses. So be humble.

3. Seek truth and practice. That is, seek to live out and love out the truth you say you believe in. The world—and the evangelical left—is passionately unimpressed with unpracticed doctrines. Truth is validated and confirmed through doing it. So be biblical. Stay humble. And do it. Live out what you say you believe. For example, more than 2,000 passages in the Bible lambast the misuse of wealth, and only 6 address homosexuality. Align your values accordingly. Don’t be a stingy gay-hater, for this is not Christian. Become a Jesus follower who serves people who are attracted to the same sex. God served you when you when you were serving yourself—and idols. I don’t care if you are pre-millenial, post-millenial, or amillenial. Do you love the poor? Are you radically generous? Are you submissive, humble, and eager to love your enemies? Do these, and then I will know that you are a follower of the crucified and risen Lamb.

4. Study hard. I don’t say this because I’m an educator, but because the next generation of seekers are also thinkers. They ask hard questions and they get irritated at pre-packaged answers. With the rise (or world domination of) the internet, people have access to piles and piles of information. The anti-intellectual, Jesus-and-me, don’t-think-but-only-obey version of Christianity isn’t going to work with the 21st century generation. We need to think deeply and critically about sexuality, epistemology, science, and ethics. And if you don’t know what epistemology means, you need to. We need to think. We need to pull our heads from the sand and shed the stereotype that Christians have their heads in the sand. We need to think, interact, debate, and believe with our God-given minds the beautiful story about a God born in a manger. Millennials are asking very hard questions; recycled answers won’t work any longer. And we need to prove the truth we believe in not only with logical arguments—though we will always need these—but with an unarguable life that lives out the truth we say we believe in.

Let’s press on and obey and imitate the crucified and risen King, who pulled us into a beautiful story about a loving God who sought and saved the lost.

Danger SignEverything comes with a warning these days. Open ditches might cause injuries and hot coffee is liable to burn you—good thing they’re warning us! Commercials for prescription drugs (which should make us wonder why these companies are advertising to us instead of our doctors) are almost comical in the warnings they’re required to give. Sure, this product will curb your sneezing fits, but it’s likely to make you drowsy, give you constant diarrhea, and it just might kill you.

But one of the most dangerous activities our modern world offers us—an activity that almost every single person is engaged in—comes with no warning whatsoever. Unless we read the Bible. What is this dangerous activity? Pursuing wealth.

“Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.” (1 Timothy 6:6–9, emphasis added)

Paul is advocating contentment here. If you have food and clothes, you’re set. Jesus reminded us that he provides these things for the birds and flowers, so we shouldn’t be worried about going without.

But Paul gives a warning to those who lack contentment, “those who desire to be rich.” What happens to them? They fall into temptation, they get caught in a snare, and they get lured into “senseless and harmful desires.” The result? These people are plunged into ruin and destruction. Yikes.

What would you say the big ticket sins are? Lust? Unfaithfulness in a relationship? Lying? Stealing? Murder? Doctrinal Error?

All are bad. All will lead you into trouble. But according to this passage, the American Dream belongs on that list. For Paul, the American Dream is nothing but a big bear trap, ready to snap down on the legs of those blinded by dollar signs.

Let me be clear. There are many things that make America great. But if we asked what most Americans share in common, if we asked what makes up the heartbeat of the American Dream, the pursuit of riches is probably the common denominator. We’re not all greedy, but we do want a little bit more. Desiring God’s good gifts glorifies the Creator, but if you find yourself driven by that nagging urge to obtain just a little more, you’re in dangerous territory.

We tend to measure success in dollar signs and potential influence. Everything about God’s economy cuts in the opposite direction. We know this. As Christians, we’ve never truly believed that happiness comes through stuff. And yet the lie is all around us. Everyone believes it. The rich in this world appear so happy, so many of our problems could be at least alleviated with an increased cash flow, everyone around us is focused on the pursuit of wealth. Given enough time and enough subtle influence, we all find ourselves in the unrelenting pursuit of riches.

LadderSo be careful. If you’ve ever wondered where that ladder you’ve spent your career climbing ends, Paul can remove the mystery for you. It doesn’t end at happiness, as you’ve been promised since birth. The ladder ends with a sharp drop. Ruin. Destruction.

It’s better not to climb that ladder at all. Or to climb it with a sharp focus on the God who is the Giver of all good gifts and the Sustainer of all who find their satisfaction in him alone. If he leads you up the ladder, then he has a purpose in doing so. If he keeps you on the bottom rung, then he will keep you better fed than the ravens and more gloriously clothed than the lilies. After all, there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.

 

When Francis Schaeffer looked at our modern society, he saw a lot of apathy. He would trace the ebb and flow of Western Civilization, highlighting achievements, revolutions, and the longings of mankind. Many idealists, revolutionaries, and power-hungry people have changed the course of history—some for better, some for worse. But when Schaeffer looked at his own generation in the twentieth century, he didn’t see a whole lot of ambition either for good or for evil. Instead, he saw mostly apathy.

Schaeffer identified what he called “two impoverished values” that dominated the middle class in America and in other Western nations: personal peace and affluence.

Our American society is shockingly rich. Of course, we’re too used to it to feel the shock. But you’ve heard it before. As science was put to practical use in the Industrial Revolution, we began producing goods and therefore creating capital on a scale that the world had never known. We take our single family residences, our ratio of at least one car per adult, our electric everything, and our endless supply of running water for granted. We even protest when state colleges raise their tuitions, claiming higher education on our terms as a right.

So to Schaeffer’s point: affluence became one of our highest values. We want to be well off. We don’t need be as wealthy as the Wall Street execs (and we’ll occupy their sidewalks to show how money-hungry they are), but we’re not okay without a specific level of wealth-derived comfort. We take our stuff for granted, and we’ll hang on to our stuff and defend our right to own it, even if that means that other people will have to go without.

Schaeffer referred to this as a “noncompassionate use of wealth.” When we have more than we need, we subtly raise the bar of needs vs. wants. Other people are suffering, and we have the means to help them, but we’re so committed to affluence that we’re not willing to part with our money. We don’t use our wealth compassionately. Look around at our modern society and tell me you don’t see that as a trend.

And then there’s what Schaeffer referred to as “personal peace.” By this he meant that people simply want to be left alone. I’m okay, you’re okay. Let’s avoid all conflict. Even if it means that injustice prevails, I don’t want to get dragged in to any controversy. Just leave me be.

Schaeffer traced this into the political realm, saying that our society would vote for any candidate that could promise them their personal peace. I’ll give you my vote as long as it doesn’t upset my lifestyle. As long as things can stay the way they are, I can get behind anyone.

I err on the side of agreeing with (almost) anything Schaeffer said, but I really think he’s spot on with his analysis here. Apathy does prevail in large swaths of our modern society. The only thing that will get people riled up is a tanking economy or a threat to their personal freedom. It’s probably not wise to try to decide whether an evil regime would be preferable to an apathetic mass populace, but Schaeffer is certainly right to call these two values “impoverished.” Much of what plagues our society stems from our unswerving allegiance to these two values.

Schaeffer’s voice was prophetic. We should use his warning as a wake up call to our society as a whole. But beyond that, Schaeffer’s warning should be heard by individuals as well. How are you living your life? How much do value affluence? What is your level of commitment to personal peace?

Don’t be too optimistic about yourself in this regard. A vague passion is not enough. A generation rose up during the 60s and 70s to protest their parents’ commitment to these two values. They vented their passion, but in the end they took these values as their own. Tomorrow I’ll explain what this movement was about, why it collapsed into personal peace and affluence, and why that is important for the way we live our lives.

 

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