I’ve been doing some thinking about the whole Dave Ramsey drama from earlier in the month. Actually, I thinking more about the fact that some of his critics have accused him peddling a version of the Prosperity Gospel.
The Prosperity Gospel tends to have critics all along the theological spectrum. There is a good reason to be at the very least suspicious; it does seem to be more concerned with earthly riches than with heavenly goals.
While I’m not suggestion people endorse the Prosperity Gospel, I have always been bothered by the immediate reaction to it. It’s hard to explain why I feel that way, except that the criticism of the Prosperity Gospel reveals a big gap in American Christianity: that is, money is something that we don’t like to talk about. When money is talked about it is usually about how bad it is. In someways, the reticence in dealing with financial topics is akin to how some Christians deal with sex; we don’t talk about it and when we do, it’s all bad.
The Prosperity Gospel is faulty. If there is an upside; it’s that they are at least talking about money and not viewing it as something that is horrible.
The same goes for Dave Ramsey, who doesn’t preach the Prosperity Gospel. He is willing to talk about money and offer some hard advice on how to handle it which is far more than what we find in our churches.
While we can condemn that rampant consumerism in American society; we can’t escape the fact that we are consumers. How should we act as Christians in the marketplace? How should Christians handle credit or student loans? Is it okay to want that new iPhone or new car? Churches should be talking about how we can be godly consumers in our society and not get caught up in the greed.
Michelle Singletary is a financial advice columnist for the Washington Post. I’ve always loved following her, primarily because she is one of the few African Americans talking about finance and she is not one to hold back if someone is acting silly. In a 2008 column, she talks about the intersection of faith and money:
There’s nothing wrong with being prosperous. However, prosperity should be achieved for a purpose. With wealth comes responsibility. As you prosper your personal mantra should be: To whom much is given, much is required. How tragic and selfish is it for you to have the money to buy a Mercedes Benz C-Class if you won’t give someone else a ride?
She also shares the findings of a survey on low wage workers. The results were that those on the lower end of the pay scale tended to rely more on faith:
With the economy still tanking there’s been a lot written lately about people’s faith and finances.
In a recent series, the Post examined the plight of low-wage workers, who have been hardest hit by the ongoing economic downturn. A national poll of 1,350 low-wage workers found that they have been pummeled by pervasive job losses and rising prices. Yet, despite their increasing financial insecurity, many say they remain hopeful for a better future and are still reaching for the American dream.
One of the questions in the poll asked low-wage workers: “What role does God or your faith play in helping you get through tough financial times?”
Seventy-eight percent of respondents said their faith played a very or somewhat important role in helping them cope with the current economic crisis, a vast majority. You can see graphics that dissect the highlights from the poll online.
Singletary, who is Christian, has started a ministry in suburban Washington designed to help African Americans become prosperous. Prosperity Partners “believe in financial independence, and we know that God is more than able to help us reach our goal. In a world where it is all too common to be stressed out, frustrated, depressed and held in bondage by the chains of financial dependency we need to look to the Word of God for guidance, strength and encouragement.”
She gives her own definition of what prosperity means:
We strive to show people that prosperity is not about having a lot of stuff. Prosperity is about allowing God to direct how we receive and how we use our financial resources in ways that glorify Him.
And right there she shows us what is the problem: a lot of Christians don’t really want God to have control over our financial lives.
Saying that money is evil means that we take God away from our pocketbooks- save for that one time each year when we talk about stewardship; giving money to the church.
You don’t like the Prosperity Gospel? Good Neither do I. But pastors and churches leaders need to offer a real alternative other than what we have been peddling which is basically nothing. We have to decide if the Lord is going to be Lord of the checkbook as well.