How to avoid prosperity and poverty gospels
Religion & Liberty Online

How to avoid prosperity and poverty gospels

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Over at the Kern Pastors Network, Owen Strachan uses the example of Quaker Oats founder Henry Parsons Crowell to demonstrate the level of stewardship Christians are called to.

Bringing his ingenuity and a variety of innovations to his company and the market at large, Crowell delivered value to his shareholders, employees, and customers. “But he didn’t stop there,” as Strachan notes, using the wealth he created not just to re-invest in material prosperity, but continuing to tithe around 70 percent of his earnings and invest in Christian education and missions.

Crowell “defied the way of the world,” Strachan argues, and in doing so, he illustrated how Christians ought not be bound either by poverty theologies or prosperity gospels, convenient though either may be:

Henry Parsons Crowell made a lot of money, but he didn’t make it for himself. He genuinely believed that he could serve God by using his entrepreneurial gifts to advance the gospel of Christ’s kingdom. There was a marvelous synergy in his life, in other words. His brilliant marketing wasn’t separate from his simple piety.

I want to be frank: some Christians might have a problem with all this talk about huge amounts of money. They might fundamentally distrust all money-making and embrace what’s sometimes called “poverty theology.” It’s certainly good to be on the alert about the temptation of riches. The love of money really does stimulate all kinds of evil desires and actions (1 Timothy 6:10). And the Bible condemns lusting after poverty or riches (Proverbs 30:8). It’s notable to us that Judas sold out Jesus not for fame and glory, but for a bag of money. What could be more evocative of the temptation of riches than that?

But let’s strive to be careful and nuanced in our thinking. The Bible doesn’t enfranchise “prosperity theology,” but neither does it support “poverty theology” as a way of life for the majority of God’s people. Some people today think it’s especially spiritual to opt out of the market, renounce one’s possessions, and live hand-to-mouth. That’s what you do if you’re really, truly godly. I disagree. Some are no doubt called to undertake some version of this way of life. We support many missionaries, for example, who raise support to take the gospel of Christ to lost souls. Our giving should be generous, sacrificial, and joyful. But that means that many of us actually need to lead money-producing lives. We need to tap our God-given skills to create wealth. We need to labor hard and well at jobs that aren’t explicitly spiritual in order to bless our families, our churches, and global missions.

Read the entire article here.

For more on this, including more about the story of Crowell and how we might learn from his example, see Strachan’s new book, Risky Gospel, which I’ve written about previously.

HT to Michael D. Jahr for the title of this post.

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Joseph Sunde

Joseph Sunde's work has appeared in venues such as the Foundation for Economic Education, First Things, The Christian Post, The Stream, Intellectual Takeout, Patheos, LifeSiteNews, The City, Charisma News, The Green Room, Juicy Ecumenism, Ethika Politika, Made to Flourish, and the Center for Faith and Work, as well as on PowerBlog. He resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with his wife and four children.