Books

A Biblical Theology of Possessions

As I am preparing a message for this Sunday, I am reading Craig Blomberg's excellent book Neither Poverty Nor Riches: A Biblical Theology of Possessions. It is a very helpful survey of what the Scriptures have to say about the issues of material wealth, which pays due attention to matters of historical and theological context, while seeking to give guidance to contemporary Christians in handling wealth.

The final chapter summarizes the main teaching of the book, while providing final conclusions and applications. Here they are in digested form (all these quotations are lifted from pages 241-253).

Summary

• In the historical portions of the Pentateuch, the major contribution [is] the goodness of wealth and God’s desire to bless his people with material possessions, especially the land of Canaan and its bounty, through which they could in turn bless all the peoples of the earth.


• The major features of the Law with respect to material resources [are] the restrictions placed on the use and accumulation of property, precisely so that people would remember that God owns it all and wants all people to be able to enjoy some of it.

• The remaining historical books of the Old Testament narrate the fluctuating cycles of Israelite obedience and disobedience to God’s laws and the consequences that followed from their behavior.


• The wisdom and poetry of the Old Testament [hold] in a certain tension two contrasting themes: wealth as a reward for faithfulness and industry, along with warnings against the wicked rich and ill-gotten gain.

• The New Testament [carries] forward the major principles of the Old Testament . . . with one conspicuous omission: never [is] material wealth promised as a guaranteed reward for either spiritual obedience or simple hard work. This omission flows directly from the fact that the people of God are no longer defined as one ethnic group living in one divinely granted piece of geography. This does not mean that Old Testament promises are entirely spiritualized. God’s people from both Old and New Testament ages will one day enjoy all the literal blessings of the land, extended to encompass the entire earth and eventually a renewed cosmos.

• Jesus identifies God and mammon as rival masters; ultimately a person can serve only one of them. The kingdom of God contains a noticeable financial component, centered around almsgiving. Jesus and his disciples voluntarily limited their incomes for the sake of ministry, and the early church in Acts took their principle of a common purse and created the temporary mechanism of communal sharing in Jerusalem that modeled more timeless principles of concern for the poor.

• The writings of Paul and Luke are the best places to turn to see a growing middle-class and even upper-class minority of Christians in the emerging church. Neither writer calls upon well-off believers to change places with the poor; they are merely go give from their surplus, but also to be honest in acknowledging how much is surplus.

Additional Conclusions

1. Material possessions are a good gift from God meant for his people to enjoy.

2. Material possessions are simultaneously one of the primary means of turning human hearts away from God.

3. A necessary sign of life in the process of being redeemed is that of transformation in the area of stewardship.

4. There are certain extremes of wealth and poverty which are in and of themselves
intolerable.

5. Above all, the Bible’s teachings about material possessions is inextricably intertwined with more ‘spiritual’ matters.

Applications

1. If wealth is inherently good, Christians should try to gain it.

2. If wealth is seductive, giving away some of our surplus is a good strategy for resisting the temptation to overvalue it.

3. If stewardship is a sign of a redeemed life, then Christians will, by their new natures, want to give.

4. If certain extremes of wealth and poverty are inherently intolerable, those of us with excess income will work hard to help at least a few desperately needy people in our world.

5. If holistic salvation represents the ultimate good God wants all to receive, then our charitable giving should be directed to individuals, churches, and organizations who minister holistically, caring for people’s bodies as well as their souls, addressing their physical as well as their spiritual circumstances.



Blomberg concludes with a somewhat autobiographical (yet not self-serving) description of how he is attempting to flesh out these principles in his own life. I was convicted and challenged by his example, and helped by his exposition of the biblical teaching on possessions. Hopefully this summary will help you as well.

3 comments:

mwh said...

Have you ready anything else by Blomberg? I'm not surprised this was book was good. I've been consistently impressed by his scholarship:

Interpreting the Parables

And especially,

The Historical Reliability of the Gospesl

Brian G. Hedges said...

I've used his commentary on Matthew in the NAC and that it was excellent. I think that's all - so far.

Anonymous said...

"If wealth is inherently good, Christians should try to gain it"

Not quite sure if this is right. The Bible says that wealth is a gift, you don't work for gifts. No, I see gifts as things given because of what one has done. They are the effect and doing God's will is the cause. If the gift becomes the effect aren't you working for yourself and not for God?

So I think we should strive for God and than be thankful for what he gives us. If the gift ends up being money than cool, but shouldn't Christians strive for God not for money?

Another thing that makes me think striving for wealth is a good thing is the quote “never [is] material wealth promised as a guaranteed reward.” If this is true than trying to gain money could be fruitless and we know what Christ says about trees that do not bare fruit.