The Good of Affluence

Michael Metzger

When was the last time you heard a sermon praising the virtues of getting rich?  I’ll bet it’s been quite a while!  According to one survey, 99% of sermons reflect negatively on wealth accumulation, affluence, and success at work.  Why?

John Schneider — who wrote The Good of Affluence — believes a great deal of Christian thinking about wealth, possessions, and money developed in the eras of scarcity (prior to the rise of capitalism in the 1800s).  Hence, we assume that having less is better than having more.  Furthermore, this assumption has led to a misunderstanding of important stories told by Jesus, according to Schneider.  For example, consider the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30.  You remember — it’s the tale where Jesus gives five talents to one servant, two talents to another, and one talent to the last man.  The man with five aggressively gains five more.  The one with two earns two more.  The last — given one — buries it and returns it to his master unscathed.  Jesus commends the first two for investing and earning — while he condemns the last man for playing it safe!  John Schneider understands this story as

…a parable of power and the enlargement of dominion through wealth.  It is a parable that honors the fearsome courage and strength of a warrior and king, who will not stop until his realm is enlarged over all the earth.  It is a parable that honors the strength and courage of his servants who are fruitful in the worldly realms of power.  It is a parable the honors the enlargement of people who would become stronger, and would make their master stronger, through the creation of wealth.  And it is also a parable of dire warning against a spirit of timidity and fruitlessness in our response to the world.

In other words, accumulating wealth is good!  Scheider goes on to lament that “In my whole life, I have never once heard (nor heard of) a sermon on the dangers of cowardice in the business world, much less on the virtues of bravery competing within it.  The point of the parable is to engage in the economic life of the world.”

And the point of engaging the economic life of the world is to have dominion, according to the mandate at creation: Be fruitful, and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it.  Having dominion means — among any things — acquiring and using the wealth of the nations.  But, as Smith Barney put it, you first have to earn it.  You can see how the Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration way of seeing life makes a difference.  Getting rich is not inherently evil.  In fact, it can be quite a godly endeavor; restoring creation.  I wish we heard that more often from the pulpit.

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