Should all wealthy Christians feel guilty that they are wealthy? William E. Diehl, a professed Christian economist, says “Yes.” Many of today’s Christians believe the same thing. Consider a statement he made in the book Wealth and Poverty:
"In this age of hedonism, crass materialism, and excessive consumption, Christians can make a theological statement that, as God’s stewards, we are to use for ourselves what is necessary. We will conserve resources whenever possible and care for the environment around us. We will be modest in the selection of the homes we live in, the cars we drive, the clothes we wear and the food we eat. Of course, we can enjoy good restaurants, good music, the arts, travel, and vacation. But for all these things, moderation and modesty should prevail. We live this style not because others have less than we do, but because as stewards of God’s creation we should take only what we need."
This sounds like a very noble and spiritual statement doesn't it? Surely this statement is pleasing to God because “money is the root of all evil” (they always forget to to add the “love” of money) and “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven.” Right? This type of thinking has dominated the mainstream Christian church for far to long. It is flawed in so many ways. Let’s take some time to diagnose the problem with this belief system.
The central questions of the “theology of enough” or “principles of modesty” is who is it that gets to decide what is enough or what is modest? Diehl seems to quickly insert that this theology does not apply to certain things in his life. He was most likely a cultured man who liked good food, the arts, and to travel based on his statement, “Of course, we can enjoy good restaurants, good music, the arts, travel, and vacation.” For him they were still in play because he enjoyed doing them. That’s the problem: Who gets to decide what is enough as it relates to the money a Christian earns and how they spend that money? Many Christians say that it is excessive to eat at restaurants, enjoy the arts, or take vacations because of how expensive those things are. Who is right? Both parties are arguing for modesty, but no one can agree on what is truly modest enough. Another part of the book Diehl provides this same muddled type of thinking:
"If we are to follow a theology of enough, it will mean that in whatever capacity we serve, our lifestyle will be a modest one. This does not mean that Christians who are bankers will walk around in worn-out blue jeans, that physicians will have antiquated equipment in their examining rooms, that homemakers will do laundry of scrubbing boards, or that lawyers will use orange crates for desks. In order to serve God in our roles in society we do need adequate tools to be effective. The banker must dress well enough to secure customer confidence, but that does not mean a wardrobe of fifteen hand-tailored suits and nine pair of shoes. The physician must keep his or her office and equipment up-to-date enough to assure patients will have adequate treatment. But that does not mean a large, fully carpeted suite of rooms with expensive furniture and redundant equipment. If order to assure that time can be spent with family, the homemaker will have enough labor-saving equipment to handles household chores efficiently. But that does not mean top-of-the-line appliances with elaborate controls and capabilities which are really not needed. Lawyers need adequate desks, chairs, and office equipment to carry out their work. But that does not mean that major law firms need huge, oak-paneled rooms with antique furniture, rare art, expensive desks, and elegant private bathrooms with showers. By living modestly, as a banker, physician, homemaker, or lawyer, as an electrician, assembler, bus driver or waitress, we will be demonstrating how Christians can live a theology of enough."
Do you see the problem? So exactly how many suits can a banker own? What is the maximum amount he can spend on those suits? Who gets to decide how many suits and at what price? How does the physician know when his equipment is outdated and what the up-date-equipment is that is not considered luxurious? Again who gets to decide this? The problem is that this theology does not have a just standard to operate by. It has a fiat standard that is very fluid from person to person and opinion to opinion. The questions then linger, “What is enough?” and “Who gets to decide when enough is enough?”
The Root of the Problem
After identifying the problem it is time to consider the root of the problem. Diehl and the vast majority of evangelicals who agree with him are essentially antinomians as it relates to how they view economics. The word antinomian means “against the law.” Diehl and others like him do not like what God’s Law says and they build their entire worldview on the notion that God’s Law does not apply anymore. He, as well as others, are much craftier in their anti-law rhetoric though. They says things like this:
"The fact that our Scriptures can be used to support or condemn any economic philosophy suggests that the Bible is not intended to lay out an economic plan which will apply for all times and places. If we are to examine economic structures in light of Christian teachings, we will have to do it another way.
There is no economic system which is inherently Christian."
Certainly as it relates to his view of economics and wealth he employs antinomian thinking as was evidenced by the previous statements. The problem does not stop here though. It gets worse.
Antinomians don’t have the ability to just be against God’s Law; they must also replace it with another law. The ability to remain neutral is a myth. As it relates to wealth and economics if God’s Law is rejected then a substitute law must be made to replace it. This always leads to legalism. A legalist is someone that binds others consciences with man made laws either for the purpose of obtaining salvation or spiritual growth. All antinomians become legalists. They attempt to bind Christians consciences with fiat laws. For Diehl, a Christian is a person who believes in Jesus and who embraces a lifestyle of modesty (whatever that is). Do you see how this is bondage? Every single purchase leaves you wondering if the item purchased is modest enough. True freedom is always lost when God’s Law is rejected and it is always found when God’s Law is obeyed.
The Freedom of God’s Law
The freedom the gospel of Jesus Christ brings to Christians is not freedom from God’s Law, but freedom in God’s Law. Man cannot receive Christ for salvation and then live out his Christianity in autonomy. Christ becomes not only savior, but Lord. God lays out very clear stipulations in His word as it relates to personal wealth. He has clear commands for Christians to follow concerning their finances and possessions. Here are several questions that you should ask yourself if you are a Christian blessed with wealth:
Time to drive this point home! If you are obedient to God in what His Law clearly outlines then you can enjoy the wealth that God has given you. God has given you this wealth so that you can richly enjoy it (1 Tim. 6:17). Don’t allow someone to bind your conscience with man’s law. If you are obeying God in these areas then don’t feel guilty about the food that you eat, the clothes that you wear, the car or cars that you drive, the home or homes that you live in, or the vacations that you take. If you are obeying God’s requirements then He blesses you with great freedom to enjoy the excess that you have. If you are a productive Christian who is obedient to God then don’t allow the guilt manipulators to manipulate you into bondage but find your rest in Christ and in His word.
Contributor / Eric Stewart
Eric Stewart is the Lead Pastor of ONElife Church in Flint, MI.
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