Tag Archives | money

Christian Ethics | D. Stephen Long

The cover of Long's Christian EthicsChristian ethics, for some, is an oxymoron. “For some modern persons, the term ‘Christian’ conjures up images of past immoral activities: crusades, the Inquisition, the conquest of the Americas, religious wars, the Galileo affair, defences of slavery and patriarchy” (1). D. Stephen Long argues otherwise. In this very short introduction (135 small pages), Long covers the history of Christian ethics from its pre-Christian roots through two millennia and into the postmodern era.

Long understands Christian ethics in terms of Abraham’s call in Genesis 12. Abraham was called to be different from the world for the sake of the world. Christians are different from the world in that “the community of faith … seeks to embody the life to which God calls” (70). The second part—for the sake of the world—is the more controversial element which has led to all sorts of difficulty. Indeed, “[t]he failure to fulfil this mission was a central cause in Christ’s crucifixion” (70).

There are a number of black marks on Christianity’s ethical history. Still, Long’s brief historical survey demonstrates that the issues were not as black-and-white as some suspect. Indeed, it was mainly Christians who, against fellow Christians, recognized the injustices listed in the first paragraph and sought to change them.

Long completes his short introduction with an application of Christian ethics to some of the major issues of our day, categorized by money, sex, and power.

So what is Christian ethics? It is the pursuit of God’s goodness by people ‘on the way’ to a city not built by human hands. It is not a precise science but the cultivation of practical wisdom that comes from diverse sources. (121)

Christian ethics is a call to develop the sort of wisdom needed to navigate postmodern waters in a Christlike way.

Long, D. Stephen. Christian Ethics: A Very Short Introduction. London: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Clever Money | G. K. Chesterton

G. K. ChestertonTo be clever enough to get a great deal of money, one must be stupid enough to want it.

—G. K. Chesterton in James Bryan Smith, Rich Mullins: An Arrow Pointing to Heaven (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000), 153.

The Confusion | Neal Stephenson

The cover of Stephenson's The ConfusionEpic doesn’t begin to describe it. The Confusion’s story-line literally circles the globe!

The Confusion is the second of three volumes in Stephenson’s Baroque Trilogy. I wrote about the first volume, Quicksilver almost a year ago. The final volume in my 3,000 page adventure is The System of the World.

This second volume contains Book 4: Bonanza which details Half-Cocked Jack Shaftoe’s exploits as well as Book 5: The Juncto which follows Eliza. In the interest of making the plot less confusing, Stephenson con-fused book 4 and 5 so they followed the same chronology. It worked. The moment when these two books first cross paths was electrifying!

As with Quicksilver, the number of topics covered was very broad. The most interesting idea for me was the shift from a society where money equals the value of the gold or silver the ruler’s face is stamped on to a system where something of lesser value can stand in place of a greater amount. Today we take it for granted—the polymer $10 Canadian bill in my wallet is worth less than a cent in raw material, but it’s much more valuable. Imagine living in the generation that made that transition—this is precisely what Stephenson does.

The Confusion was less confusing and a good deal more compelling than Quicksilver. I eagerly await the final three books in The System of the World.

—Neal Stephenson, The Confusion (New York: Harper Perennial, 2004).

Counterfeit Gods | Timothy Keller

The cover of Keller's Counterfeit Gods

What is an idol? It is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give. (xvii)

In Counterfeit Gods, Timothy Keller exposes the big three idols that attempt to subvert God’s role in our lives: Money, Sex, and Power.

This is the second book I’ve read on this theme. One of Richard Foster’s earlier works was originally called, Money, Sex and Power: The Challenge of the Disciplined Life. It’s now known by its subtitle (apparently the original title was too shocking for the ears of Christians living in 1985). I have found Keller’s little book to be just as valuable as Foster’s.

Keller’s greatest strength (among many) is his pastoral insight into human nature. He doesn’t buy the lies we tell ourselves but digs down to root issues. He has counseled enough people to understand the grip that money, sex, and power have in our lives.

In each chapter you’ll find a sermon complete with interesting anecdotes, sound biblical exegesis, and the aforementioned pastoral insight. This is a book worth meditating your way through. After all, it’s only when you “pull your emotions up by the roots” that you find your idols clinging to them (170).

—Timothy Keller, Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope That Matters (New York, NY: Dutton, 2009).

Ezekiel 7:10-24: Throwing Silver

And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon God they made.
— Paul Simon (“The Sound of Silence” from Simon & Garfunkel, Sounds of Silence)

As Ezekiel continues to relay God’s messages in chapter seven, he repeats some parts for emphasis, and adds new threats. Some of the expressions are so confusing that no one really understands what the original words meant.  My favourite is verse 17, “All hands shall grow feeble, / all knees turn to water” (NRSV).  Watery knees sounds like our “weak-in-the-knees” expression.  The LXX translated it more graphically.  It’s not really water we’re talking about!

Aside from all the repetition and confusing phrases, one verse jumped off the page as I read through the chapter:

They shall fling their silver into the streets,
their gold shall be treated as unclean. (v. 19, NRSV)

. . .

It does not matter what era you look at—600 B.C. or 2005 A.D.—money is the bane of God’s children.  From the immediate context in Ezekiel, we can infer that the Israelites were trusting in money for their salvation and security.

Nothing has changed.  We still place an overwhelming amount of trust in money for our future security.  I’m not saying we should neglect the future—wisdom and stewardship are biblical virtues.  The problem comes when our wealth becomes the source of our security.

In an ideal world, we would understand that God owns everything.  We would make money, and use it to meet our needs and the needs of the rest of the world.  In the real world, we fall into the trap of believing that we own what we earn.  Commercials repeatedly inform us that we deserve what we have.  After all, we’ve worked hard for our money, right?

We Christians follow the latest advertisements like sheep, believing that we deserve everything we have; all the while clinging more and more strongly to our mammon.  We get caught up with the greed-mongers (read: prosperity evangelists), who tell us that if we give to them, God will bless us with more.  God becomes the middle-man, delivering a massive return-on-investment.

. . .

When the time came for God to judge Israel, their money could not save them.  Rich people threw their silver and gold into the street, because there was no food left to buy in the besieged city.  The idols that the Israelites made out of their silver and gold—the things that they took pride in—were made unclean by God.

. . .

Oh Lord, Creator and owner of everything, help us to rely on you alone for our security.  Give us the courage to fling our silver into the streets, rather than to hoard it.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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