The Almighty Dollar: In Which God Do We Trust: Preface
The writer gives a personal story of his stewardship journey.
The Almighty Dollar: In Which God Do We Trust: Preface
I am a Boomer, born in 1952, right in the middle of the explosion of births following the end of World War II. As I grew up in the 1950s and 60s, I rarely thought about wealth. Although of working class background, our family seemed of average means compared to others in our growing suburban community in southeastern Pennsylvania. I was aware that some families had newer cars or traveled to exotic places like Florida for winter vacations. Nevertheless we had everything we needed and, looking back, were solidly part of the prosperity of post-World War II America that moved much of white America into the middle class. My parents enjoyed better incomes and material goods than their parents faced as farmers and factory workers in the 1920s and 30s. As a result, I had opportunities undreamed of by them. My parents' hard work and savings combined with generous public and private scholarships made study at an expensive private college possible. By the mid 1970s I had a college degree and, except for a couple hundred dollars in the bank, zero net wealth.
By 2006, my wife and I had accumulated sufficient assets that allowed me to leave my previous vocation to pursue seminary studies full time. I am a product of my heritage and share consciously and unconsciously many of the attitudes about money and wealth that I write about in this paper. For example I prefer to attribute our accumulated wealth more to my achievements--hard work, good investment decisions and modest lifestyle, rather than to relatively high pay of my investment career or the inheritances we have received. Nevertheless, we are fortunate to have the financial freedom at this stage in our lives to pursue the education and vocational opportunities that we find most soul fulfilling. While our wealth situation is well above normal, the level of income and wealth of many Americans is far above what is needed for comfortable survival.
Throughout these past 35 years, I recognized a call to be generous and share my good fortune with others. For most of our 30-year marriage, my wife and I have given away at least 10% of our annual income (in recent years we have aimed for a significantly higher percentage). Nevertheless giving is only one aspect of money decision-making in our lives. And even with giving, what does it mean to be faithfully generous? As I have studied scripture these past several years, practiced more regular prayer and spiritual direction, engaged in conversations with fellow seminary students and professors, led workshops on faith and money, and read numerous books and articles, I am convinced that how we make decisions about money and wealth is an important part of our faith journeys. How we choose to spend, invest, and give money will impact our relationship with the divine. While we cannot earn our way into God's grace, how we choose to relate to and use our financial wealth will be integral to our grace-filled journey with the divine.
As an investment professional with an academic background in finance and economics, I am sensitive to how economic theory and practice has attempted to incorporate the language of ethics. Furthermore, as a 21st century North American Christian, I seek to develop theological reflections that will engage contemporary economic theory and financial market realities. Therefore as I engage in the following reflection on wealth accumulation and faith, it is not purely an academic pursuit, but also a study motivated by my search for a relationship with money and wealth that will allow me a faith-filled life journey that is more truly reflective of the gift of grace that a loving God bestows on me and all of creation.
I have benefited greatly from many conversations with family, friends, seminary professors and classmates, and colleagues in recent years as I have explored faith and money issues. For this paper I want to express special thanks to Sharon Tan and Joseph Bush, professors at United Theological Seminary in New Brighton, MN for the guidance and resources they have provided me. I also thank Fred Smith, retired faculty member of the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs at the University of Minnesota, for his very helpful comments and suggestions on earlier drafts of this paper.
 Our accumulated assets come from 25 years of employment in the highly compensated field of investment management, a series of personal investment decisions that were well rewarded, modest inheritance from my wife's family, combined with a relatively modest lifestyle.
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 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
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