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The Almighty Dollar: In Which God Do We Trust? Chapter 4: Toward Developing A 21st Century Faith & Money Ethic

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Michael Troutman presents theological reflections that engage contemporary economic theory and financial market realities. He is motivated "by my search for a relationship with money and wealth that will allow me a faith-filled journey that is more truly reflective of the gift of grace that a loving God bestows on me and all of creation."

The Almighty Dollar: In Which God Do We Trust?

Chapter 4: Toward Developing A 21st Century Faith & Money Ethic

Introduction and an Historical Note

By Michael Troutman

The story of Donaldo and his family offers a good place to begin this exploration of restructuring our relationship to money and wealth accumulation.  I met Donaldo while working as a lay missionary with the Lutheran Church of Nicaragua in the mid 1990s.  Donaldo was a leader of small cooperative of subsistence farmers seeking to eek a livelihood for their families in the hills about 25 kilometers south of Managua.  Donaldo and his neighbors cling fiercely to small plots of land they had gained as part of the Sandinista revolution of the 1980s. Despite lacking a stable water supply for 4 to 6 months a year--they haul barrels of water by ox cart over several kilometers of deeply rutted dirt roads to provide drinking, cooking and wash water for their families--they plant beans and corn and tend small plots of coffee on their marginal lands.  Beset by seemingly unending cycles of drought and flood, they barely managed to feed their families and depended frequently on international donations to clothe and feed their families.  Nevertheless, Donaldo had dreams of sending his children through high school and improving the cooperative's coffee fields, so that the annual harvest could be marketed through growing fair trade coffee networks in Central America.  He also held a strong respect for the natural setting in which he lived and the wild life that lived there.

Returning to the community several years later, I was shocked to find Donaldo and his neighbors digging large pits for producing charcoal from local forests.  Although the practice of cutting trees from surrounding land and hauling charcoal to nearby Managua was largely illegal and the work hard, dirty, unhealthy and the profit margins meager, Donaldo told me he felt little choice if he was to keep his family from starving.  Years of government corruption and macroeconomic policies imposed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on impoverished Nicaragua combined with ongoing weather disasters had left his family facing even more precarious conditions than before.  Sadly Donaldo recounted how devastating his charcoal venture was to the mountains in which he lived, but how trapped he felt regarding the need to feed his family.

Standing next to Donaldo, I recalled the jarring contradiction between his desperate poverty and the wealth of North America.  I also recalled how often I have heard friends and colleagues express their feelings of being trapped in a life of pursuing money and wealth.  They express a range of rationalizations of why they have little choice, but are often left feeling spiritually hollow from their pursuit of wealth.  

The juxtaposition of the grinding poverty facing Donaldo's family and the hollowed spiritual lives of wealth aspiring North Americans are the fruits of separating religious ethics from the world of economics, locally and globally.  And the prosperity doctrine is not a life enhancing way for either Donaldo or the stressed Wall Street broker for reuniting the spheres of religion and economics.  In preparation for looking at alternative perspectives on faith and money, we should recognize earlier attempts at bringing economic and religion together in North America.  

Perhaps most widely recognized in American religious history is the social gospel movement that flourished around the turn of the 20th century.  The rapid modernization and urbanization of the late 19th century contrasted extensive child labor, shoddy tenement housing and dangerous working conditions with the growing wealth of a small industrialist group of owners and managers.  In His Steps, a popular novel of the late 19th century by Congregational pastor Charles M. Sheldon, introduced the phrase "what would Jesus do?" and applied it to the wealth being accumulated at the time.  In Sheldon's book, a fictional preacher calls on his congregation to consider their Christian faith in making money decisions:
What would Jesus do in the matter of wealth?  How would He spend it?  What principle would regulate His use of money?  Would He be likely to live in great luxury and spend ten times as much on personal adornment and entertainment as He spent to relieve the needs of suffering humanity?  How would  Jesus be governed in the making of money?[1]

At the same time, Roman Catholic proponents of the social gospel explicitly tied their critique of economic and social ills to Roman Catholic traditional views of religion's role in society.  Monsignor John A. Ryan of the National Catholic Welfare Council articulated this Roman Catholic view and identifies the Protestant Reformation as a source of the prevailing split between business and morality:
In a word, all free human actions, whether without or within the field of industry, come under the control of the moral law; and the teaching and application of the moral law is the business of the Church.  The notion that business actions and business relations are somehow an exempt territory, free from regulation by the moral law, neither morally good nor morally bad, is a heritage partly from the Protestant Reformation, partly from the false liberalism of the early English economists, and partly from the commercialized ethical code which came into practice owing to the failure of the state or any other powerful social authority to apply and enforce the principles of justice in the province of industry.  It never has been and never can be the Catholic doctrine.[2]

Without criticizing the Reformation, several prominent Protestants advocated a similar connection between morality and business.  Walter Rauschenbusch, who is credited with providing the social gospel movement with its soundest theological support, was one such advocate.  From his German Baptist tradition, this Rochester Seminary professor argued that the church and individual Christians had the duty to confront the "materialism and mammonism of our industrial and social order."  Rauschenbusch explains how Protestant individual responsibility needs to carry over to the sphere of economics:
It is the function of religion to teach the individual to value his soul more than his body, and his moral integrity more than his income.  In the same way it is the function of religion to teach society to value human life more than property, and to value property only in so far as it forms the material basis for the higher development of human life.  When life and property are in apparent collision, life must take precedence...Religious men have been cowed by the prevailing materialism and arrogant selfishness of our business world.  They should have the courage of religious faith and assert that "man liveth not by bread alone," but by doing the will of God, and that the life of a nation "consisteth not in the abundance of things" which it produces, but in the way men live justly with one another and humbly with their God.[3]

Despite the voice of the social gospel movement and other voices during the 20th century (e.g. Reinhold and H. Richard Niebuhr), the prosperity doctrine emerged as the most widespread way of integrating economics and religion in late 20th century America.  With its central role in large "evangelical" churches, the prosperity doctrine became woven into their view of life.  Although there are exceptions, evangelicals tend to promote a more integrated view of religious living compared to mainline Protestant denominations.  Prominent evangelical preachers strongly encourage their followers to carry their faith into not only their family life, but also into the voting booth, the workplace and to local community organizations and governing bodies.  Mainline churches tend to be more reluctant to espouse a particular social or political agenda for their members.  As a result faith is more often focused on church and family.  By default then, prosperity thinking has dominated much public discourse on faith and money in contemporary American society.

Challenging the Spirituality of Accumulation

Because money has come to have such deep psychological roots, we first need to explore the rationalizations and psychological needs that money and wealth address.  We will then see how scripture serves as a foundation in challenging the prosperity doctrine and developing alternative ways for reintegrating faith and money in our lives.  Because of the impact money ultimately has on our spiritual life, the focus will be on approaches that offer the potential for deep transformation in our relationship with money.  The alternatives offered are not all Christian-centric, but they all address the interplay between money and spiritual growth and development.

Ron Sider, an evangelical theologian, has articulated three of the primary rationalizations that those living in affluence use to justify the quest for wealth.  First he points to "lifeboat ethics" popularized by Garrett Hardin, a biologist at the University of California at Santa Barbara, who argues that rich nations should refuse aid to poor countries because there is not enough for all to survive and poor countries that received and do a poor job of asking aid and fail to curb "rampant" population growth in their countries.  Ignoring the moral and national security implications of a policy that would lead to greater inequality and mass starvation, Hardin suggests it is ethical to let poor countries to "learn the hard way--by letting them starve now."[4]

Sider cites the example of Robert Schuller's crystal cathedral to illuminate his second rationalization for wealth accumulation, namely that to evangelize the wealthy, the church itself needs luxurious facilities.  He notes Schuller's defense of his church's expensive facilities:
We are trying to make a big, beautiful impression upon the affluent non-religious American who is riding by on this buy freeway.  It's obvious that we are not trying to impress Christians! But suppose we had given this money to feed the poor?  What would we have today?  We would still have hungry, poor people and God would not have this tremendous base of operations which He is using to inspire people to become more successful, more affluent, more generous, and more genuinely unselfish in their giving of themselves.[5]

Finally, Sider dissects a third rationalization--spending by the wealthy "trickles down" to provide jobs for the poor.  He describes a conversation with a wealthy friend who argues that "the best thing he could do for the poor was to buy more things for himself."  While acknowledging that almost any kind of spending generates some economic activity, Sider makes the obvious point that certain expenditures (e.g. investing in micro-loans to the poor) have a far greater impact on the marginalized than other expenditures (e.g. buying a Jaguar luxury car).[6]

Perhaps such rationalizations arise because we believe excess accumulation meets a useful psychological need.  James A Knight, military chaplain, seminary professor and professor of psychiatry, was an early voice in explaining how money serves deep, if perverse, psychological needs.  Citing the "Calvinistic ethic", Knight acknowledges how "wealth was reconciled with a good conscience."  But he goes on to observe how the striving for money has increased in importance for modern man as he strives to overcome interpersonal isolation through highly competitive striving that increases anxiety.  Knight sees money functioning as an "ego-replacement" as the individual pursues a "successful" life:  "Acquiring wealth appears to be a means of increasing, or preventing a lowering of, the level of one's self-regard...Thus the original and basic aim is not for riches, but to enjoy and respect among one's fellow men or within oneself."[7]

Accumulation of wealth can even move beyond its perceived value of belonging and status to the pursuit of redemption and immortality.  Wealth is used to purchase and build monuments, both corporate and personal, that will somehow project the individual beyond their death.  The famous British economist, John Maynard Keynes recognized the destructive power of these psychological desires related to money:
When the accumulation of wealth is not longer of high social importance, there will be great changes in the code of morals.  We shall be able to rid ourselves of many of the pseudo-moral principles which have hag-ridden us for two hundred years, by which we have exalted some of the most distasteful human qualities into the position of highest virtues.  We shall be able to afford to dare to assess the money-motive at its true value.  The love of money as a possession--as distinguished from the love of money as a means to the enjoyments and realities of life--will be recognized for what it is, a somewhat disgusting morbidity, one of those semi-criminal, semi-pathological propensities which one hands over with a shudder to the specialists in mental disease.[8]

This striving for meaning through money leads many to a feeling of emptiness and anxiety--a spiritual hollowness in their lives.  This is not a new insight.  In the synoptic gospels, Jesus talks about the spiritual illnesses related to the pursuit of wealth.  John C. Haughey, a Jesuit priest and professor, describes three symptoms of mammon illness that he sees developed in the gospel of Luke.  According to Haughey, Jesus first identified "running after things . . . and] Luke's Jesus links running with anxiety and anxiety with futility."[9]  Seeking self-provision through anxiety is for Luke's Jesus a sign of disbelieving in the kingdom of God.

A second symptom is how mammon illness has led individuals to lose compassion for those at the margins of society.  This numbness to the condition of others leads to a rupture in community relationships.  "One's own compassion economically related concerns make others remote, even invisible.  Compassion takes a lesser and lesser place at least operationally for one who has caught from one's economic culture this sick relationship to others...Jesus saw the numbness that it 'induced'."[10]

Mammon illness also manifested as a false split in consciousness in an individual between the material world and the world of faith.  Jesus points to the Pharisees as examples of this split consciousness.  Pointing to Luke 16:14, Haughey sees Jesus proclaiming how the Pharisees "were patently religious yet at the same time they were avarice people."  Haughey notes how we have inherited from our culture an approach to society that separates the economic sphere from the religious sphere.  Haughey's comments echo the analysis of Weber as well as Tawney's two-sphere perspective:
The culture teaches, engenders, and reinforces this separation of the economic sphere from the sphere of human valuing and religious believing...But the world of economics and finances, it is separated in our consciousness from the world of faith, has its own sphere of "values" which communicates along with the monies and possessions that are the stuff of its "life."  This sphere of goods can become a sphere of meaning with its own canons to teach on how to "make it," what making it entails, and even who you are who would make it.  The cost of retaining each of these spheres in their separateness is that by trying to serve each, one "makes it" in neither.[11]

Haughey observes that this conflict is resolved by subordinating God's sovereignty to "the gaps" in our pursuit of material wealth.  While we congratulate ourselves for our hard work and shrewd investment decisions, we are often left with a deep empty alongside our accumulated wealth.  Yale Divinity School theologian Miroslav Volf observes:
It is possible to have a fortune and as many talents as any Renaissance man and still be poor.  The bottomless pit of our hollow core will never be satiated.  No matter how much we have we remain "not-enough" people...No matter how much we have, we will still hunger and thirst, railing against the obstacles others place in the path of the satisfaction of our insatiable desires.
Volf calls this over consumption and excess accumulation the paradox of self-love, "The more you fill the self, the more it echoes with the emptiness of unfulfillment."[12]

It is ironic that anxiety about wealth and money is at least as widespread in 21st century America as it was in first century Palestine, despite the incredibly greater levels of relative wealth that we possess today.  Lutheran pastor and anti-hunger advocate, Arthur Simon explores how contemporary American anxiety relates to Jesus' experience 2000 years ago.  Simon attributes money anxiety today to rising expectations fostered by our consumer culture.  "Rising expectations expand our perception of what we need.  We see things and want them, and before long we need them."  As we employ our material gains in false pursuit of our individual happiness we fall under the spell of mammon, an attitude toward happiness that is shallow and unfulfilling.  "Instead it provides satisfactions that are fleeting, but additive.  Like drugs, the dose of mammon has to be regularly available and perhaps periodically increased in order to keep out satisfaction at an acceptable level."[13]

Simon goes on to describe how our preoccupation with money raises our level of anxiety--an anxiety that Jesus also recognized:  "In both Mathew (6:24-34) and Luke (12:22-31) concern about money is directly linked by Jesus to anxiety...So the problem is preoccupation with mammon more than the amountt of mammon.  Poor people are apt to worry about food and clothing, rich people to covet much more."[14]

Ironically as one accumulates wealth, there is little decrease, and often an increase, in worry about having enough.  Few of us take the attitude of Virginia Wolfe, who embraced the freedom of financial concerns after she received an inheritance that paid her 500 British pounds per year.[15]  Far more often accumulation of money seems to bring increased stress and anxiety rather than freedom from money worries.  The accumulator asks:  "Am I managing my wealth in the best way possible?  Do I have enough to meet all the unforeseen circumstances of the future?  Do I have the stature I want (deserve) among my peers?"

At one level, the desire for more and more is simply the sin of greed, which has been recognized and decried for millennia.  William Schweiker, ethics professor at the University of Chicago Divinity School, traces the long history of how the sin of avarice has a complex relationship with one's community but ultimately undermines social relations:
Greed lives from while it also undermines social relations.  It is a culturally formed craving riddled with excess.  The excess is that the greedy person wants to subsume the socially defined wealth at the violation of the natural limits of satiation and normal communal bonds.  This is why greed is one of the traditional vices, in terms of both individual moral failing and also a violation of the demands of distributive justice.  "Greed" is vice that links the person's self-relation to her or his interaction with a community.[16]

From the Decalogue through the prophets to Jesus and the early church, covetousness is condemned and the disastrous effect on one's right relationship with God is recognized.  Therefore greed has long been recognized as a threat to both community and the individual.[17]  And by tying one's self-worth to money, the accumulator has created a major barrier in their life to receiving God's love as well as their ability to love others.  Based on his work with scores of wealthy individuals, Father Haughey has come to understand wealth (and Jesus' commentaries on wealth) as having less to do with greed and more to be about self-love:  "Jesus saw that riches were an accessible and seductive place on which to base one's self-worth." This misplaced focus on the pseudo-self makes it difficult to be in true relationship with others and leaves one feeling alone and adrift in the world:
When the basis of self-worth is something as superficial as wealth, then relationships with other people become flawed.  The depth of mutuality that is possible for a person in a relationship in which self-worth is located at the superficial level of "have" is going to leave such a person shallow and lonely all his or her life because deep can never call to deep...If you see yourself and your worth in terms of what you have or in terms of performance, you will see others' worth in terms of what they have or their performance.  What a lonely place to be. [18]

Psychiatrist Knight recognized this alienation in the people he counseled during his career.  Knight found his clients engaged in futile efforts to find meaning through materialist accumulation:
Today, many are aware of their emptiness and long for something that will fill them with a zest for living, with wholeness, with a sense of belonging.  Such people often seek an antidote for their emptiness through the acquisition of more and more money.  The acquisition of money ends in stultification when individuals lose sight of the true meaning of money--the expression of loyalty in economic relations.  The scriptural reminder, 'to whom much is given, much is required,' stands in judgment upon accumulation as an end in itself. [19]

Biblical Perspectives for Reuniting Faith & Money

Most Christians look first to the Bible for insight in how live in fuller relationship with the Divine.  And the Bible is riddled with messages and stories about money and wealth accumulation.  Jesus directly addresses accumulation in the parable of the rich fool. (Luke 12: 13-21)  As the rich man contemplates his perceived blessing of overflowing surplus harvest, he neglects his relationship to neighbor and God.  Material wealth proves empty in the face of the brokenness from community life.  In contrast the story of the barns built in Egypt as a result of Joseph's interpretation of the pharaoh's dream (Gen. 41) offers an alternative perspective on accumulation.  In the Genesis story, the surplus from 7 years of abundant harvest proves critical to the survival of Hebrew and Egyptian alike the 7 years of famine that follow.  One important distinction in these two stories about barns is the purpose of accumulation--is the accumulation intended for the benefit of an individual or for the broader community?  In short is wealth a possession that is source of security or is wealth a tool that can be used to promote the life of the community?[20]  

These passages are only two of hundreds of references to money and wealth in the Older and Newer Testaments.  Following is but a few of the scholars that are providing perspectives for a reuniting of the spheres of religion and economics that is more fully integrative of Biblical messages on money and possessions than the prosperity doctrine.

K.F.W. Prior, an Anglican vicar, offers a short but comprehensive review of money messages in the Bible.  Prior, like many before and after, does not see anything wrong with money itself, but more with how it is used.  He asks: Who is in charge?  Is the Christian and Christian principles the master of money with a primary focus on the needs of the poor, or is money the master of the person?  Prior recognizes that while the Bible takes a harsh view of unscrupulous behavior in the acquiring and the use of wealth, there are many godly people with wealth.  Money is a stumbling block when it becomes our master.  And there are dangers for all who covet money and more subtle dangers facing the wealthy. [21]

Ron Sider offers a succinct, yet compelling analysis of biblical messages on property and possessions.   Sider finds a central concern in scripture regarding the danger of riches.  From God's warning to the Israelites as they prepare to enter the Promised Land (Deut 8:11-14, 17) to Jesus' frequent comments and parables on how wealth diverts attention from the poor, the Bible warns that obsession with possessions allows one to forget God and leads to covetousness and greed.  But neither does the Bible affirm riches as an absolute sign of righteousness.  "It is a heresy, particularly common in rich nations, to think that wealth and prosperity is always a sure sign of righteousness."  Sider sees a message of biblical balance in which the norm of material possessions is sufficiency, a celebration of God's good creation that is based on generosity, not greed:
In a consumer society that increasingly measures a person's worth and importance by the amount of his or her material possessions, biblical Christians will reject materialism without falling into asceticism.  They will delight in the splendor of the material world but not forget that things cannot ultimately satisfy.  They will enjoy the good earth and celebrate its abundance without neglecting sacrificial sharing with the needy.  They will distinguish between necessities and luxuries.  They will enjoy possessions while recognizing their seductive danger.  When forced to choose between Jesus and possessions they will gladly forsake the ring for the Beloved. [22]

Craig L. Blomberg, professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary, takes Sider's theme of biblical balance and makes it the centerpiece of his analysis, asserting, "the avoidance of extremes of wealth and poverty is a consistent, recurring biblical mandate."  Blomberg highlights Proverbs 30: 8b-9[23] as endorsing a "middle way" between extreme poverty and wealth.  Blomberg is careful to remind us that before using this verse to idealize the average North American lifestyle, we need to recognize that the standard of living implied in this verse is one that provides "daily bread", "a far lower standard of living than that to which most people calling themselves middle-class today aspire."[24]

Nevertheless, according to Blomberg, Proverbs does not see wealth itself as evil and that in moderation and used according to God's plan, need not interfere with one's relationship to the Divine.  Not only is one enjoined from gaining wealth through exploitation of others, especially the poor and vulnerable but also that generosity toward and concern for the poor are paramount concerns.  (Prov. 3:27-28; 29:7)  At the same time, several Proverbs echo themes from Job and Ecclesiastes that wealth is not a central purpose of the fulfilled life.  (Prov. 23:4-5; 18:11).[25]

Blomberg finds related themes in other parts of the wisdom literature.[26]  The wisdom literature offers a variety of perspectives on wealth and may be especially useful to North Americans since much of wisdom literature is widely believed by scholars to have been written for the educated (i.e. wealthy class) of its time.  Qoheleth in Ecclesiastes, among his mix of contemplations on the purpose and meaning of life, raises up the futility and emptiness of a life based on wealth accumulation.  Blomberg sees the author of Ecclesiastes stressing the vanity of and ultimate futility of trusting in riches (Eccl 5:8-17; 6:1-12; 9:11) and concludes that Qoheleth recognizes that "despair can often arise out of circumstances of plenty without an eternal perspective on life and death."[27]

Blomberg's examination of the issue of wealth and possessions throughout the Older and Newer Testaments leads to additional conclusions about wealth.  Material possessions are God's gift and meant for people to enjoy, while at the same time, material possessions are often a primary cause of people turning their hearts away from God, either by exploiting the poor or neglecting how one's excess accumulation negatively affects others.  Further how one makes financial decisions is a most telling area of one's religious commitment, with generous stewardship held up as a necessary sign of the redeemed life.  Contrary to the theology of the Protestant work ethic or the proclamations of prosperity preachers, Blomberg warns that, while poverty is never idealized in scripture, wealth and godlessness are often found "hand in hand": "the rich are not necessarily wicked, but frequently surplus goods have led people to imagine that their material resources can secure their futures so that they ignore God, from who alone comes security."  And while salvation is the central message of scripture, Blomberg asserts, "Biblical salvation is always holistic--involving body and soul, material and spiritual dimensions.  And a major component of the material dimension is transformation in the way God's people utilize 'mammon'--material possessions."[28]

Ministries for Transforming Our Relationship with Money

"Christ is our wealth!"  This is John Haughey's suggestion for how to reorient ourselves in relation to material possessions.  "By centering our finances and ourselves on a horizon that includes but transcends them, our attitudes toward our possessions and finances are likely to be kept in a proper perspective, depending, of course, on the depth of our release of these into Christ."[29]  Haughey's words serve as a fitting introduction to the growing literature for pastors and lay leaders to use in reuniting faith and money in the journey to spiritual wholeness.

As the biblical resources highlight, spiritual wholeness and having a right relationship with God, requires us to confront our attitudes and behavior toward money and possessions. Pastors, theologians, ethicists and even financial advisors are calling for transformation of our relationship with money that is radical and profound. What is this transformation?  How can we effect this transformation in the consumer culture of 21st century North America?

Spiritual wholeness is not possible in our current culture without addressing money and wealth.  Presbyterian minister Marie Cross is one of many who believe that our faith and money journeys cannot be separated:
The questions of faith merge at the line between money as a means to function and to do good, and money as a measure of value and worth according to our culture of consumers.  These questions are matters of faith and trust, and by extension, a matter of hope for the future...Money, the values we attribute to it, and the judgments we make in using it must have integrity with the rest of our convictions and statements of faith.[30]

Based on her experiences with a wide range of people, from those with vast amounts of wealth to those who struggle to survive, fundraiser and global activist Lynne Twist has come to believe that one's "relationship with money...shapes our experience of life and our deepest feelings about ourselves and others."  Twist sees a great divide between our most deeply held core values, what she calls our soul, and our attitudes and behavior around money.  She sees us engaged in a "lifelong tug-of-war" between our deepest callings and our money interests resulting in a deep division in ourselves that "keeps us from integrating our inner and outer worlds to experience the wholeness in our lives... [a] quieter experience of wholeness [that] has been...overtaken by the noise and scramble around money."  Indeed Twist, believes that grappling with our relationship with money is an integral part of our spiritual practice and growth. She says:
Your relationship with money can be a place where you bring your greatest strengths and skills, your highest aspirations, and your deepest and most profound qualities...In a world that seems to revolve around money, it is vital that we deepen our relationship with our soul and bring it bear on our relationship with money.  In that merger and that commitment, we can create a new and profound spiritual practice. We can have our money culture both balanced and nourished by soul.  Our relationship with money can become a place where, day in and day out, we can engage in this meaningful spiritual practice.[31]

The three parts of the faith and money journey
There are three primary arenas in one's faith and money journey that require conscious discernment and action--how we spend money, how we save and invest money and how we give money.[32]
1. More conscious spending and simpler lifestyles: Repeatedly a key ingredient of a transformed relationship with money is to step away from the mindless consumption promoted by our culture and to reevaluate how and where we truly find meaning in life.  Resources for more simplified living are widespread, most relevant here are those that grow from American religious roots.  A number combine the practical with the inspirational.

Lutheran pastor Arthur Simon summarizes well the three reasons for living more simply. First a simpler life helps us feel better--both physically and emotionally.  By stepping off the cultural treadmill of more and more, we can reduce stress and have more time for friends and family.  Second a simpler life is better for God's creation.  A simpler life usually means less consumption of non-renewable energy and material resources.  It also means less impact on the environment through reduced air and water pollution.  Third, a simple lifestyle can increase the opportunities for others to be better fed and housed.  Of course, Simon points out that this happens only if one uses the savings from a simpler life to channel more resources to those who are struggling to survive.[33]

One of the challenges for Americans is determining how much we need to live compared to what we want.  The constant streams of advertising we are exposed to make it difficult to judge objectively what are necessities and what are luxuries.  And "progress" over the decades has made many luxuries of the past into necessities of today.  Anne Basye offers a valuable insight into the journey of simplicity, the daily joys and the challenges.  Her Sustaining Simplicity journal captures a year of living without a car in a two-flat apartment with her 17 year-old son as he explores post high school options, as they radically reduced the amount of "cheap stuff" in their lives.  Her journey and the journal that results were inspired by her faith-driven decision to explore what is truly necessary in our lives.  As she acknowledges:
"What is necessary?" is a different question than  "How can I spend less?" or, "How much can I save?"  Those questions help us adapt to our culture without ever questioning its premises and beliefs.  "What is necessary?" is an exit door.  It invites us to take a good look at the concept of "the good life" that always requires more and start considering other sources of wisdom...Unfortunately; this wisdom had been buried under my proliferating possessions and crowded days.  Asking, "What is necessary?" every single day helped me sift through that stuff and nonsense and begin to recover those enduring principles. [34]

Faithful money decisions on spending involve more than how much to spend for one's self and family.  Faithful action also includes being conscious of the effects of a product or service purchase on the people who produced the product and the communities in which they live, as well as the broader implications for the environment.  The growing fair trade movement is one example of buyers consciously choosing brands that will guarantee that farmers and farm workers will be paid a higher price and that positive socio-economic development criteria are being used with increased fair trade resources.[35]  A growing number of faith-based consumers are also taking into account the impact of their buying decisions on the global environment.  Sustainability to many means both how much is consumed as well as which particular product is bought.[36]

2. Managing wealth faithfully: traditionally investment decision-making represented the epitome of separating values from the economic sphere.  Fiduciary duty is often interpreted very narrowly by investment professionals and fund trustees to mean that only strict profit maximizing criteria can be considered in investment decision-making.  However with the growing recognition that ignoring environmental and employment policies and practices of large corporations was threatening not only healthy communities and the environment, but also long-term corporate profitability, has led an increasing number of investors to incorporate a broader analysis of stakeholder impacts in investment decisions.

The resulting Socially Responsible Investment (SRI) movement combined with the growth of defined contribution pension plans, that put investment decision making increasingly in the hands of individuals, has given North Americans of varying degrees of wealth increased opportunities to align their investment decisions with their core values.  The number of mutual funds that purport to use one or more social values in their investment process have grown from $12 billion in 55 funds in 1995 to $179 billion in 201 funds in 2005.[37]  In addition to restricting investments in companies that are especially exploitative of the environment, produce harmful products such as tobacco and weapons, there are also increasing options to make investments in housing and job creation in low and moderate income communities and countries.[38]

Another aspect of SRI is using one's ownership position in publicly traded companies to raise moral issues in the economic sphere.  Either directly by owning the common stock of publicly traded companies, or indirectly through mutual funds, share owners have an opportunity and responsibility to influence corporate policies and practices through how they vote on proxy issues addressed to shareholders for their approval.  Issues submitted to shareholders range from election of the board of directors of the company to executive compensation to labor practices in foreign countries.[39]

3. The Path of Radical Generosity : At the center of a transformed relationship with money is the call of generosity.  The act of giving itself is heart transforming. Radical generosity becomes the capstone of reintegrating faith and money.  This is not the "seed-faith" giving as described by prosperity preachers--a kind of giving that is investment-model based. [40]  Faith filled giving is not calculated to generate a "return" for the giver--be it future gifts, community esteem or a means to cover over a "moral nakedness," as Miroslav Volf calls it.  Rather giving is a way to fill our hearts with Christ, a way of finding true meaning and fulfillment in life.  The spirit of generosity "opens the doors of our hearts for Christ's indwelling...[and sets] us on a...deeply fulfilling journey of faith."[41]

While the call to be generous is ancient, 21st century Christians have available a vast array of resources for implementing giving programs.  Among the many inspiring approaches to transformational giving, Ron Sider offers the "graduated tithe", a process whereby one gives increasingly higher percentages of income above the level of core necessities.[42]  Another example is the "50% league" which encourages and supports those who have giver away 50% or more of their income or wealth over a three-year period.[43]

We are also called to use all of our talents in our giving.  Being a faithful giver means using our heads with our hearts.  Slothfulness in giving is as much a sin as slothfulness in other aspects of life.  As Volf says: "It takes work to give.  To pay attention when someone speaks, you must concentrate;  to make a donation to a charity, you must not only earn the money but, as a wise giver, you must research the charity before writing the check."[44]  To help ensure that your giving not only goes to organizations consistent with your values, but also are effective in achieving their mission, investigate how much organizations spend on fund raising.  Some organizations spend the majority of their revenues on fund raising while the best spend less than 10%.  Another factor to consider is whether your giving addresses the root cause of the injustice you are concerned about, or simply a "band-aid" that ignores the underlying causes of a broader societal problem.  Many organizations combine working on changing the economics, social and political causes of injustice, while they also serve people facing immediate needs.[45]

Faith and Money Ministry Programs

Given the centuries long development that have led to current perspectives on faith and money, changing attitudes and behavior will necessitate a complete revisioning of our relationship to money, not simply learning a few new money management techniques.  A variety of faith-based programs are available for transforming one's relationship with money and developing a values-based approach to personal finances.  See the appendix for a summary of several resources that would particularly useful to groups embarking on a faith and money exploration.  The messages that they have in common include: Money is more than neutral; engaging money and our desires to spend it hold the potential for spiritual growth; grappling with issues of money and wealth raise issues to related to virtually every aspect of our lives; discerning our life's purpose is part of the money journey; generosity is both a path and an outcome of a money and faith journey.

Michael Troutman
3156 Elliot Av
Minneapolis, MN 55407
Master of Arts in Religion and Theology
United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities

[1]Gaustad and Noll, Since 1877, 103.

[2] Gaustad and Noll, Since 1977, 122-123.

[3] Ibid., 110.
[4] Ronald J. Sider, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger: Moving from Affluence to Generosity, (W. Publishing Group, 1997), 34.

[5] Robert H. Schuller, Your Church Has Real Possibilities! (Glendale, CA: Regal Books, 1974): 117, quoted in Sider, 36.

[6] Sider, 36.
[7] James A. Knight, For the Love of Money: Human Behavior & Money, (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Co., 1968), 14, 18.

[8] John Maynard Keynes, Essays in Persuasion (New York: Harcourt, 1932): quoted in Knight, 29-30.
[9] John C. Haughey, The Holy Use of Money: Personal Finances in Light of Christian Faith (New York: Crossroad, 1992), 11.

[10] Ibid., 12.
[11] Haughey, Holy Use, 15-16.

[12] Miroslav Volf, Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), 52, 109.
[13] Arthur Simon, How Much Is Enough?  Hungering for God in an Affluent Culture (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2003), 20, 62.

[14] Ibid., 62.
[15] See Kinder's discussion of Virginia Wolfe in George Kinder, Seven Stages of Money Maturity: Understanding the Spirit and Value of Money in Your Life (New York: Delacorte Press, 1999), 127.
[16] William Schweiker, "Reconsidering Greed," in Having: Property and Possession in Religious and Social Life, William Schweiker and Charles Mathewes, eds. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 2004), 257.

[17] For discussion see how greed was reappraised by Bernard Mandeville and his followers, whose Fable of the Bees portrayed the vices of pride and avarice as necessary to fuel economic activity--i.e. private vices lead to public good.  This economic philosophy about the benefits of wealth accumulation is carried on by the rational choice theorists of today, Schweiker, 260-262, 266-267.

[18] John C. Haughey, Virtue and Affluence: The Challenge of Wealth (Kansas City: Sheed & Ward, 1997), 124.

[19] Knight, 177.
[20] Ideas that have surfaced from Bible studies on these passages conducted by the author in workshops on faith and money issues.

[21] K. F. W. Prior, God and Mammon: The Christian Mastery of Money, (Philadelphia:  Westminster Press, 1965).

[22] Sider, 99,105.

[23] "give me neither poverty nor riches; 
 feed me with the food that I need, 
9or I shall be full, and deny you, 
and say, 'Who is the Lord?'
or I shall be poor, and steal, 
and profane the name of my God." All biblical citations are taken from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), except where noted.
[24] Craig L. Blomberg, Neither Poverty nor Riches: A Biblical Theology of Possessions (Nottingham, England: Apollos, 1999), 68.

[25] Ibid., 63-67.
[26] In addition to Proverbs, the wisdom literature most frequently includes Job, Ecclesiastes, and parts of Psalms, as well as Baruch, Sirach and Wisdom of Solomon in the apocrypha.

[27] Blomberg, 62.
[28] Ibid., 246.
[29] Haughey, Holy Use, 211.

[30] Marie T. Cross, The Price of Faith: Exploring Our Choices about Money and Wealth (Louisville, KY: Geneva Press, 2002), 31.

[31] Lynne Twist with Teresa Barker, The Soul of Money:  Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Life (New York: W.W. Norton & company, 2003), 6, 17-18, 19-20.

[32] Nathan Dungan, Prodigal Sons and Material Girls: How Not to Be Your Child's ATM (Hoboken, NJ: John Wily & Sons, 2003), 165-215.  Dungan, an innovative faith-based financial advisor,  offers a similar share-save-spend approach to a faithful money journey and has developed extensive materials for both children and their parents.
[33] Simon, 129-130.
[34] Anne Basye, Sustaining Simplicity: A Journal (Chicago:  Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, 2007), vi-vii. Web-based resources developed by the ELCA allow congregations and other groups to conduct lifestyle workshops based on the topics that Basye raises in her journal, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America World Hunger, "Simple Living," Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, (accessed September 20, 2008).

[35] A good source of information is TransFair USA which is the only third party certifier of fair trade products in the U.S., Transfair USA, "Fair Trade Certified," (accessed September 20, 2008).  Another good source is Lutheran World Relief which coordinates a major fair trade project as part of its international development work, Lutheran World Relief, "Fair Trade Overview," (accessed September 20, 2008).

[36] Resources include: a green living guide from the Natural Resources Defense Council at Natural Resources Defense Council, "Green Living," (accessed September 20, 2008); shopping guides from Co-op America at Co-op America, "Responsible Shopper," (accessed September 20, 2008) and Co-op America, "Shop and Unshop," (accessed September 20, 2008); and organic food information from the Organic Consumers Association at Organic Consumers Union, "About the Organic Consumers Association: Who We Are and What We're Doing," (accessed September 20, 2008).

[37] Social Investment Forum, "Social Investment Forum," and SRI World Group, "Social Funds," (accessed September 21, 2008).

[38] Social Investment Forum and Co-op America, "Community Investment Center," (accessed September 21, 2008).
[39] If ownership is through mutual fund shares, an investor can write a letter to the management of the mutual fund company asking that the fund company take into account the owner's views and perspectives on moral issues.  More on shareholder actions can be found at Co-op America, "Shareholder Activism," (September 21, 2008).

[40] "When we give in the sales mode [betting on a bigger future return] we give for our own good, not the good of the recipient," Volf, 90.  Miroslav Volf argues that we are not independent agents who can negotiate with God for getting something in exchange for what we give.   Conversely, the extensive use of the "planting seeds" metaphor by prosperity preachers can encourage the view of negotiating with God for God's blessing--"if I give this much, then I will eventually be blessed with that much."

[41] Volf, 116.
[42] Sider, 187-190.

[43] Christopher Mogil, Anne Sepian and Peter Woodrow We Gave Away a Fortune: Stories of people who have devoted themselves and their wealth to peace, justice and a healthy environment (Philadelphia: New Society Publishers, 1992) and Bolder Giving, "Bolder Giving in Extraordinary Times," (accessed September 23, 2008).

[44] Volf, 100.

[45] Useful resources include:  Chuck Collins, Pam Rogers, Joan P. Garner, Robin Hood Was Right: A Guide to Giving Your Money for Social Change (New York: W.W. Norton, 2000); The Funding Exchange, "Funding Exchange: "Change Not Charity'," (accessed Septe4mber 23, 2008); and  Headwaters Foundation for Justice, "Headwaters Foundation for Justice," (accessed September 23, 2008).

Table of Contents:



Chapter 1:  A Revolution in Attitudes Toward Prosperity & Wealth
  The Moral and Economic Philosophy of Adam Smith
  Weber and Tawney on Religion and Economics

Chapter 2 - America's Exceptional Individualism
  The Frontier
  The Religious Aspects of American Individualism
  New Thought Theologies

Chapter 3 - Evolution of the Protestant Ethic in 20th Century America      
  The Gospel of Success
  Pentecostal and Neo-Pentecostal Theologies
  The Prosperity Gospel Today
  Related Ethical Defenses of Wealth Accumulation
  The Reach of Wealth Accumulation Defenses

Chapter 4: Toward Developing A 21st Century Faith & Money Ethic
  Introduction and an Historical Note
  Challenging the Spirituality of Accumulation
  Biblical Perspectives on Reuniting Faith and Money
  Ministries for Transforming Our Relationship with Money


Appendix: Faith and Money Resources


A M.A. thesis submitted in candidacy for the degree of Master of Arts in Religion and Theology
Copyright ښ 2008 by Michael Troutman} , 3156 Elliot Av
Minneapolis, MN 55407 - 612-822-6059
[Michael Troutman} , 3156 Elliot Av
Minneapolis, MN 55407 - 612-822-6059

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