The left continually assaults rich people and covets their wealth. It’s no wonder that many of them do penance for having acquired such wealth by supporting socialist policies. John Schneider provides some relief for billionaires in his book The Good of Affluence: Seeking God in a Culture of Wealth.
I think of people like Janet Willis, who is CEO of the Wills Corporation, a firm that manages large investment portfolios held mainly by Christians. In telephone conversations, she has spoken at length and with obvious passion about her clients who have become wealthy beyond their imaginings during the last decade of growth in the stock market. She tells me that these people are almost invariably moved by their good fortune, and deeply troubled by it at the same time...And they look to the intellectual leadership in the church for direction."And those Christian leaders usually fail. They often recount the story of the rich young ruler in the Gospels and encourage the rich to give it all away. The fact that most do, as Bill Gates and Warren Buffet have done, doesn’t seem to matter because they didn’t put on sack cloth or join a monastery. According to the Christian left, especially those like Ron Siders and Jim Wallis, rich people need to suffer.
Schneider disagrees. He practices sound hermeneutics in that he looks at what the entire Bible has to say about affluence instead of just one passage. He finds that Jesus’ suggestion to the young man that he give away all of his wealth is an outlier among the dozens of verses on wealth. The Bible’s most common teaching on wealth for Godly is a blessing to be enjoyed. In the beginning, God instructed Adam and Eve to take dominion over the Garden of Eden, care for it and enjoy its great wealth. Their rebellion plunged them into poverty.
Next, God blessed Job, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob with great wealth as a reward for their faithfulness. He promised wealth to the people of Israel in their new land if they would obey him and if they rebelled, poverty.
For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing forth in valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper. And you shall eat and be full... Deuteronomy 8:7-10.Israel’s wealth had two purposes. The first was to fulfill God’s original vision in the Garden of having mankind enjoy him and the world he created. The second was to provoke poor pagan nations to jealousy and encourage them to join Israel in worshipping the creator God.
The Bible doesn’t praise or condemn great wealth; it condemns or praises the wealthy person based on how he gained his wealth. The Psalms and prophets condemn those who gained it through theft or bribing judges to take the property of innocent people. The historical books and Proverbs praise those who gained wealth honestly or through the blessing of God, such as when God made Jacob rich by having all of the ewes give birth to striped or spotted lambs.
What did God intend them to do with that wealth? He expected them to help the poor, but the Bible never suggests that they should give away all of it except enough to live just above the level of starvation as most theologians throughout church history demanded.
A superficial reading of the New Testament leads some to believe that Jesus overturned the Old Testament economy and demanded poverty for his followers as a sign of their devotion to God. The left sees spiritual wealth in material poverty. But with a closer analysis using sound hermeneutic principles Schneider shows that Jesus and the NT writers are assuming the mantle of the prophets in denouncing those who get rich by oppressing others and who ignore the plight of the poor. Both are signs of rebellion against God. Jesus and the Apostles depended on the charity of very wealthy people for their daily needs. In the first century, most churches met in the homes of people wealthy enough to enjoy large houses. For more, see these articles: Zaccheus Of Jericho, Jesus vs. The Rich Senator, and Parable Of The Rich Fool: Was He A Farmer Or A Ruler?.
Unlike the Christian left, Schneider has actually read books on economics. He explains that until the coming of capitalism most people got their wealth, if they didn’t inherit it, from theft, fraud or looting in war. Capitalism empowered humanity to create new wealth and most affluent people have gained their wealth through honest work, making it a blessing from God. As for helping poor emerging market countries, he recommends the excellent work of Dr. Hernando de Soto, especially his book The Mystery of Capital.
Schneider doesn’t mention it, but slightly freer markets have pulled half a billion people out of the muck of extreme poverty in the last generation alone, more than all of the charity in history has helped. For the first 1,500 years of its existence, the Church taught the affluent to give all of their wealth to it for the poor. The Church bought land and used the income from it to help the poor. At one time the Church owned a third of the land in Europe. But in those 1,500 years the standard of living of Europeans never improved. The number of poor only grew and millions starved to death with every crop failure. Only the coming of capitalism changed life for the better for the poor.
Affluent people should read Schneider’s book. He doesn’t promote the “prosperity gospel” that God will make all Christians rich if they have faith. But he shows that rich people who earned their status honestly can thank God for their wealth and enjoy it without guilt as long as they give some to the poor.