Wineskins Archive

December 19, 2013

Does God Care How We Use Our Money? (Jul-Aug 2002)

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by Jeffrey B. Hammond
July – August, 2002

44If the reader can get past the sophomoric title, God & Your Stuff is a challenging book. It can be breezed through in one or two sittings; nevertheless, its thesis is profound and a body blow to many in evangelical and conservative Christian circles who sympathetically read it.

The thesis is disarmingly simple. There is an inexorable connection between a Christian’s use of money and other possessions and the condition of her eternal soul. If a Christian is profligate in her use of possessions, she in effect turns her back on the good that can be accomplished in the church. Contrarily, Willmer argues, the Christian who takes amore moderate view of possessions and distributes them for the greater purposes of the church, stores up for herself “treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy” (Matthew 6:20). According to Willmer, the Christian’s use of possessions helps determine the earthly course of the Christian cause, it is a testimony to the power and working of God in the believer’s life, and it determines in large part the believer’s glory and responsibility in the life hereafter.

Willmer encourages abundant giving to church and para-church causes because of the overwhelming abundance God has shown to most American Christians. Willmer strikes the moderate chord between rank asceticism and exultant, self-absorbed living. While he does not denigrate the middle-class lifestyle that many American Christians live, he does gently steer the middle-class (and upper-class) reader into a biblical view of possessions and stewardship that is stridently opposed to the consumerism that American culture lauds. True stewardship (the wise and God-ordered use of resources, given in freedom and without bitterness or complaint) should be the goal of every Christian. Too often, though, Christians are unwittingly ensnared by the lures of this world’s “stuff.” Willmer maintains that Christians have become disoriented because we have used possessions asa means to turn in on ourselves,thinking only that our temporal happiness is what ultimately counts. Willmer lovingly reortients his reader to a God-ordained view of possessions in which God’s rule and reign over the whole earth permeates even the most complacent Christian’s mind so that God’s glory would be magnified and God’s kingdom would be expanded.

Interestingly, Willmer does not dismiss riches qua riches as inimical to the Christian calling. In fact, in his pithy formula for Christian stewardship, he states, “1. Make all you can. (God desires to bless you.) 2. Live as inexpensively as possible (with contentment). 3. Provide maximum resources to God’s kingdom Work” (35). Like any formula, this one does not work if one of the constituents is missing. Industry and frugality are necessary so that stewardship may result. For the careful reader, the second component will be a particularly difficult test of spiritual discernment. Willmer adamantly refuses to define “contentment.” He reserves his criticism for “luxury,” yet he states that it is not his job to decide how much a Christian should spend on a car, house, clothes or other possessions. Indeed, Willmer correctly argues that with the freedom believers have been given through union with Jesus, such choices are not dictated from on high. Willmer’s overriding message is that the mark of mature stewardship is to be able to navigate the divide between need and want, and when the excess that would otherwise be used to satisfy want is used for kingdom purposes, the believer is on her way to becoming a God-oriented giver.

Although Willmer does a fine job of clearly stating his project, he unfortunately overstates it. He notes that Christians “earn” rewards in heaven based on their shrewd use of resources on earth (18). Rewards or positions in the afterlife are not distributed simply on the use of possessions. God is far too inscrutable to be reduced to a formulaic return on investment. Furthermore, tha a Christian must “earn” her reward can easily lead the spiritually unuspecting to try to earn God’s favor and not simply God’s reward. Willmer does not attempt to fend off this slide down the slippery slope. Willmer missed the opportunity to explain that any treasures Christians store in heaven are a by-product of God’s gracious ordering and are not a result of human effort, notwithstanding the noblest of motives.Wineskins Magazine

Jeffrey B. Hammond is an attorney in private practice in Nashville, Tennessee. He holds Master of Theological Studies and Doctor of Law degrees from Emory University. He has co-written a chapter for the forthcoming book, Cultural Transformation and Human Rights (Zed Books), with leading international human rights scholar, Abdullai An-Na’im. Jeffrey is married to Susan Hammond, and they have a daughter, Katherine. []

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