Over at Thought Life, Owen Strachan uses David Platt’s book, Radical Together, as a launching pad for asking, “Are you and I making and using money as if there is no such thing as the work of the gospel?”
I’ve already written about my disagreements with Platt’s approach in his first book, Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream, and Strachan expresses similar reservations. While appreciating Platt’s emphasis on “exaltation of and dependence on a sovereign, awesome God,” Strachan is concerned that on the topic of wealth—a primary target of Platt’s—readers might easily rush to the assumption that wealth and prosperity are bad altogether.
Evangelicalism desperately needs Platt’s laser focus on the gospel and missions. The church exists to make disciples for the glory of God, both locally and abroad. I would only point out that I think that wealth and philanthropy can actually be our friend here. In other words, if you want to apply the “radical” model–with its many strengths–I can think of few things more radical than using one’s wealth for gospel purposes. Maybe the most spiritual thing to do to support the promotion of the gospel is this: stay in your job, save and invest scrupulously, and keep pumping out money to support missionaries and pastors.
Here’s just one example of thousands we could give on this point. A forgotten man named Henry Parsons Crowell made vast amounts of money through the Quaker Oats company. Did he hoard it? Nope. He gave away 70% percent of his massive income and helped bankroll Moody Bible Institute, the school that…has sent out thousands upon thousands of missionaries in its century of ministry. Yes, every time you eat Quaker Oats, you’re paying masticular homage to a man who–merely by giving money–helped catapult the gospel all over the world…
…This is a testimony to what wealth, including but not limited to truly fabulous wealth, can do if committed to the Lord. It’s one of countless others we could share of evangelicals of great or small means who tucked money away not for themselves, but for the work of Christ’s church.
This point on charity, philanthropy, and missions is important, but it is here where most Christians typically stop. As I emphasize in my own critique, and as Strachan goes on to observe, God also uses our wealth through trade and commerce, and, I would add, uses trade and commerce for gospel work in and of itself. Except for some more specific Biblical constraints (e.g. tithing), we should be wary of boxing God into broadly applied cookie-cutter molds for how wealth should be carved up and divvied out (at one point, Platt recommends curbing our incomes at a fixed figure).
As Strachan continues:
Let this also be said: beyond support of missions, I don’t think the Bible is against using money for other purposes, either: buying cars or houses or air conditioners or running shoes. Where, after all, are we going to draw the line on this issue–you can’t have indoor plumbing? You shouldn’t buy ground coffee beans from Starbucks? You’re in the wrong if you pay a photographer for family pictures? Where are such directives in Scripture? And wasn’t Job, for example, wealthy and prosperous as a sign of God’s blessing (Job 1, 41)? This is a pretty slippery slope, as one can see. It can lead to false guilt for leading a normal life. Platt has already given us all the foundational motivation we need in Radical Together: the greatness of God and the mercy shed abroad in the cross of Jesus Christ.
The real radical life, then, involves using daily spiritual discernment across all of our economic endeavors and decision-making, asking, “Lord, what would you have me do?” within a framework of sacrifice that includes the world of profit.
For some of us, God will ask us to drop our extra cash in the Salvation Army bucket. For others, it will mean investing in and sacrificing for a new enterprise or a sorely needed invention. In all cases and at all times, we should lean on and leverage Platt’s message of “radical obedience” but we need to be keen to look forward with a broad range of possibilities in mind—always asking, always discerning, always doing.
Read Strachan’s full post here.
For more on restoring a proper view of work and wealth, see Work: The Meaning of Your Life.