Blomberg's New Book Asks, "What Are We to Do with All Our Stuff?"
We are living in arguably the most prosperous era ever. We are living longer. We have more opportunities than previous generations. We have more disposable income than we know what to do with.
But we also have greater anxiety, debt, and waste resulting from this prosperity and our dogged pursuit of it. We have what some have coined affluenza—the painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of affluence.
It's this socially transmitted disease that Craig Blomberg aims to cure in his new book, Christians in an Age of Wealth. Blomberg especially aims to correct the toxic thinking that "a lot of people think they can be Christians, even very good ones, without much or any stewardship of their treasures." (25)
As someone who has personally struggled with affluenza, I appreciate Blomberg's desire to sketch for us and our people a biblical theology of stewardship by focusing on what we are to do with all of "stuff." And by the looks of it, we haven't got a clue.
Church Spending & Giving Patterns
Blomberg first sketches a dramatic picture of American spending patterns in recent years, including Christian spending patterns. Between 2000 and 2005 Americans spent a load of cash on a load of stuff (25):
- $15.2 billion on boats and other marine products
- $27.9 billion on candy
- $29.7 billion on sporting goods
- $29.8 billion on alcohol
- $36.5 on pets, toys, and playground equipment
- $59.4 billion on jewelry and watches
- $203.7 billion on entertainment products and services
- $288.7 billion on domestic travel and tourism
That's an astounding $700 billon. Another estimate places the amount we spend on non-essential stuff at $1.2 trillion (26); this doesn't even include basic necessities. Compare this to the $188 billion that Americans gave to all charities combined. Affluenza, indeed.
The Church is no better, Blomberg reveals. "We own over $230 billion worth of ecclesiastical real estate and buildings. We have created a performance-based mind-set in far too many of our worship services that can only be satisfied with state-of-the-art facilities and technology. The numbers of full-time pastors per church member or regular attender have noticeably increased in recent decades, and it takes money to pay their salaries and benefits." (27)
On top of this only 2.5 cents on every dollar given by evangelical Christians in the US goes to foreign missions. (31) Figures for 2009 revealed per capita giving of American church members as a percentage of their annual income to be 2%. (24) 20% of strong and very strong Christians account for 80% of giving while 10% give nothing. (24)
It seems the Church's spending and giving patterns have been as affected by the socially transmitted disease of affluenza as our broader culture. This is why we pastors and teachers need to listen to the questions Blomberg is asking about Christian stewardship.
5 Pressing Issues of Stewardship
Blomberg makes it clear his book is not merely a biblical theology; it's a biblical theology for life. "That means taking the answers to our questions that emerge from our biblical analysis and applying them to contemporary Christian living in the early twenty-first century, in view of national and global realities." (34)
He has identified five clusters of questions that drive a biblical theology of stewardship:
1) The Goodness of Wealth
The first set of questions consider the goodness of wealth. Does God indeed promise a certain level of prosperity to those with sufficient faith? If not, in what ways is wealth particularly good? If God desires his people to have a minimally decent standard of living, what are the implications of this observation for us? What does Scriptures say about how we help the materially needy in our world today?
2) The Sinful Power of Possessions
The second set considers the power of possessions to seduce people to sin. Are possessions as inherently evil? Just how much damage can wealth wreak in a Christian’s life? When and how does something designed to be God’s good material for living turn into a danger instead? Do riches themselves prove tempting or simply their idolatrous use apart from faith in Jesus? What turns possessions into idols anyway?
3) Maximizing Wealth's Goodness, Minimizing Its Badness
Next, Blomberg explores how we maximize wealth's goodness. What consistently characterizes godly rich people throughout the Bible? What does generous giving look like? Is the giving that God wants a form of redistribution of resources and can that be helpful? Is there one normative pattern of how God’s people give throughout the Bible?
4) Divesting Ourselves of Surplus
Next Blomberg delves into the specifics of generosity. If part of what God calls us to do is to divest ourselves of some of our surplus, how much do we give away, to whom, and for what purpose? Must we surrender a tenth of our income, and to our home church? What is the Christian role with respect to paying the government to do what, arguably, other sectors of society could or should be doing? Does this relieve us of certain burdens so that we can justify giving a smaller amount to contemporary congregations?
5) The Stakes of Stewardship
Finally, what are the stakes of stewardship? Is stewardship a major or minor theme in Scripture? What happens to us when we do not treat possessions properly? Can the lack of stewardship threaten our salvation? Does it affect the degree to which we experience sanctification? Are there any key texts that sketch out a norm for Christians in all these areas? Where does salvation by grace through faith factor into all this?
"Materialism...may well be the biggest competitor with the God of Jesus Christ for the allegiance of human hearts in our world today." (243)
Us Americans, Christians included, need a renovation and recalibration of our hearts. I understand full well the seductive power of stuff upon the human heart, which is why I am personally thrilled Blomberg has taken up the task of helping us steward well.
Over the next few weeks we are going to take a greater look at this important new resource. In the mean time, watch Blomberg explain why this book is distinctive and important and order his new book to help you and your people steward well.
Jeremy Bouma (Th.M.) is a pastor with the Evangelical Covenant Church in West Michigan. He is the founder of THEOKLESIA, a content curator dedicated to helping the 21st century church rediscover the historic Christian faith; holds a Master of Theology in historical theology; and writes about faith and life at www.jeremybouma.com.
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