Book Summaries

Money and Faith: The Search for Enough

Money and Faith: a seemingly taboo topic for discussion in today’s society. The author, Michael Schut, finds this odd, seeing as how the Bible discusses finances, wealth, and faith and how Jesus addressed these such things often.

In life, we have relationships (family, friends, etc.), but when we think about money we never see it as a relationship. Our relationships help form who we are and how we see the world, and most people forget to factor money into that formational development. When considering who we are and the journey we are on, it is considered to create a “money autobiography” for ourselves. This will “often provide a revealing window through which we access a great deal of insight into who we are and what we value.”

“A money autobiography can be useful not only in personal growth, but also in the growth of the church. Whatever blocks our response to God as individuals also cripples the Body of Christ, the church.”

The topic of abundance and scarcity, when being addressed in the context of the church, promotes the idea that the world has caused us to constantly be in a “we need more” mentality when the Lord has already abundantly blessed us. Yet still we are not satisfied and instead are constantly worried about the possibility of not having enough money.

“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if liberal and conservative church people … came to a common realization that the real issue confronting us is whether the news of God’s abundance can be trusted in the face of the story of scarcity?”

Toxic Myths About Scarcity:

  • There’s Not Enough
  • More Is Better
  • That’s Just the Way It Is

In society, we place so much value on money. Yes, there is monetary value, but I am talking about a different kind of value. As a society, we are beginning to place hope and trust in money, and, more often than not, our happiness is wrapped up in our bank account. This is not just becoming a stark truth for society, but for the church as well.

When it comes down to it, money is just a piece of paper, so why is there this value placed on money that shouldn’t actually be there?

This value of money that we talk about relates back to the scarcity and abundance we feel wrapped up in our money. “Scarcity and abundance have much to do with the form of exchange as with how much material wealth is at hand. Scarcity appears when wealth cannot flow.” (54)

As Christians, we need to be “demystifying” money and finding our value in God’s economy versus the scarcity, abundance, and value our society stresses.

Compassion means “to suffer with.” There are two necessary steps to talk about when referring to compassion: empathy and justice. Compassion brings joy, consists of mutual giving and receiving, and calls us to “downward mobility.” When we allow the Lord to be in total control and we have a giving mindset, it allows us a deeper connection with people and the opportunity to be the church to those in need.

Within this section, the authors address the story of the rich man and the verse stating, “How difficult it will be for those with riches to enter the Kingdom of God!” In this story, Jesus is not inviting the rich man to change his attitude toward his wealth, nor to treat his servants better, nor to reform his personal life. He is asserting the precondition for discipleship: economic justice.

The Lord wants us to be able to be the church to people, and part of being the church is having economic responsibilities. When we release control of our money, the Lord has so much to work with and is able to open those doors for discipleship. It allows us to be compassionate and have a giving heart.

“To deconstruct our ‘inheritance’ and redistribute the wealth as reparation to the poor — that is what it means for us to follow Jesus.” (72)

When it comes to money, we all need financial advisors and economic experts, but we also need pastors and spiritual leaders to question the greed in the economy. Today’s global economic system does not see itself as rooted and wholly dependent on the larger world, earth’s economy. The earth’s economy revolves around local resources. Neoclassic economics assumes the unquestionable importance of the individual and his or her desire.

There is an argument that more is better that floats around in our society, not only in conjunction with money. He argues that growth is no longer making most people wealthier, but instead generating inequality and insecurity. Secondly, constant growth is profoundly colliding with ecological limits such that our planet’s ability to sustain growth may not be possible. Lastly, research supports what many of us feel intuitively: having more, growth, and greater wealth are not making us happier.

Traditionally happiness and satisfaction have been linked to economic growth. Economists call this utility maximization. This theory holds that every time a person buys something, sells something, quits a job, or invests, he is making a rational decision about what will provide one with maximized utility. However, this satisfaction is merely temporary. Researchers report that money consistently buys happiness right up to $10,000 per capita incomes, and after that point the correlation disappears.

The ecological economics begins with human needs: the need for a productive and permanent dwelling in which to live. We must maintain the health of the planet that gives us everything we need to live.

Thorn Hartmann details how corporations gained the legal status of persons in an 1886 Supreme Court case titled Santa Clara County vs. Southern Pacific Railroad Company. This was a simple tax case that resulted in ratification of the fourteenth amendment. The railroad company’s attorneys insisted that the company should be entitled to human rights under the amendment. A corporate person has certain advantages over most actual persons. They can operate/exist in more than one place at a time, they have millions, even billions, of dollars at their disposal, they do not heed to the guidance of a conscience, and they are potentially immortal.

Small, local businesses and actual persons have a harder time standing up against big corporations because they don’t have nearly the same resources at their disposal. When average people are challenged by corporations, they don’t stand a chance in defending themselves. That is why it is so important to support local businesses. Corporations are uniquely powerful and use their advantages to become even more powerful.

To experience liberation from an oppressive economic system, we need to listen and respond to the voice of those oppressed. An essay explores the damage of free trade on poor countries. They use Haiti as an example, telling how US subsidiaries on rice destroyed the rice market in Haiti, the number one staple food item for the country. The poor Haitian farmers could not compete with the cheap prices the US offered because they sold in bulk. Globalization is obviously a must in today’s economy, but there also comes a point where the voices of the oppressed must be recognized.

Liberation theology and ecology discourse are similar in ways. Both seek liberation, liberation of the poor by themselves, and liberation of the earth through a new covenant between it and human beings. The poor are to be cared for just as the earth. Creation is being threatened more and more with every upcoming generation, and the most oppressed human beings in creation are the poor. They are often discarded as unwanted and less than. There’s a danger that the “culture of satisfied” will become enclosed in its consumerist selfishness. It is our job to help cease this attitude.

The Jubilee entails the notion of returning to God what is not ours in the first place. The Jubilee is a fundamental practice of justice. Leviticus 25 elaborates on what finding out and giving back entails. The text makes clear the time of ownership and the fact that because everything in the universe is a gift you are only allowed to buy so much. It also mentions that the first time Jubilee was proclaimed was in reference to “capital” or land. There are guidelines being developed in today’s world to determine what belongs to whom. (1) There are limits to growth. (2) There are limits to earnings. (3) There are limits to accumulation. (4) There are no limits to all people having the right to certain benefits. (5) There are also no limits to two other things — human resistance and human imagination.

We are called to be a Jubilee church. The Bible offers a double blessing of salvation and liberation, which work in conjunction to develop our inner character. Acts is scriptural Jubilee text. The Jubilee was legislation, politics with a spiritual base. A just economic order was a way of life that cared for the poor and put restrictions on the rich. To be a Jubilee-based church is a spiritually-based political action, but it is also a spiritually-based lifestyle. We are called to love one another and pour into each other. When we do this, God will shower us with even greater signs and wonder.

“All Jesus’ teaching seem to hinge on this singular truth concerning the nature of life: It is all right. Do not worry about tomorrow. I have come that you might have life abundantly. Be not afraid.” (156)

The message that Chapter 8 conveys is that practicing the Sabbath and tithing are both necessary commands that the Lord gives to us. They are both ways of our saying, “God, You are in control, You will provide all I need, and You are enough.” For us to live in the way that God says will give us the most abundant life, we must make these disciplines part of our lives in order to disconnect from the world we live in and to connect with our Father in heaven.

“Sabbath represents a cautionary discipline that seeks to constrain … our fallen human impulse to work compulsively, to consume addictively, and to use and exploit resources and labor mercilessly.” (158)

Our fallen world is trying to get us to focus on everything but God, so we must do everything we can to make him the center. Our time and money are two of the many things we must keep in check so that our relationship with God can be the healthiest possible.

“When you support Fair Trade, you’re doing more than giving someone a job. You’re supporting an entire community, as well as raising the issue that we should care about where things come from and who made them.” (184)

We must move beyond charitable giving and broaden our concepts of stewardship to include how we deposit, loan, and invest our money. We must invest in ways that benefit and support others, especially the poor.

“We worry about retiring but most of us feel we have a right to retire. … Maybe we should begin questioning the assumption that “retirement is a right.” (196)

When and if we do retire (depending on a variety of circumstances), we should live out our retirement in a way that puts the Kingdom first. We should live with an “enough” attitude that is counter-cultural to the way society thinks about retirement.

“If the corporate sector devours nature, the commons sector would protect it. If the corporate sector widens inequality, the commons sector would reduce it. If the corporate sector turns us into self-obsessed consumers, the commons sector would reconnect us to nature, community, and culture.” (201)

We must strive to maintain a level playing field between private corporations and organized commons, while at the same time trading within limits that benefit and keep in check both parties.

“Reestablishing a stable, sustainable relationship between the global economy and the earth’s ecosystem depends on restructuring the economy at a pace that historically has occurred only in wartime.” (210)

We must rapidly reorient how we view the correlation between economy and ecosystem. The key to obtaining this balance is by having prices of goods that reflect and account for the consequences it has on the ecosystem.

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