Note: This article describes one of the four ON short talks on theology and economics designed to be used as class assignments.
Money is a critical topic, and not only for understanding the connections between theology and economics. It’s critical to each of those fields simply by themselves. Money is a central concern of economics, and it’s also a central concern of the Bible. Over and over again, the biblical authors admonish us about both the potential and the dangers of wealth.
In the Oikonomia Network, we have emphasized that “the economy” is not defined by money, it’s defined by human beings and their relationships with one another in the activities of work and exchange. However, you can’t teach students that point by running away from the topic of money! You can only teach students to think of the economy as centered on human relationships if you help them understand what money really is, what it’s for, and why it’s so dangerous as a source of idolatry.
In this funny and fascinating talk, Darrel Bock of Dallas Theological Seminary outlines what the book of Luke has to say about money. Along the way, we met:
- A college football coach who bequeathed $200 to each of his former players
- America’s 400 top earners, of whom only 17 are among the top 50 philanthropists
- A student named Darrell Bock, who went to college seeking money and found Jesus instead
Bock shows how Luke helps us discover the prevalence of the idolatry of money in our own time, and how this idolatry is often disguised. He also shows how Luke points to the proper purpose of money – as a tool for the stewardship of God’s creation – and how anyone, however much or little money they have, can respond to this calling of stewardship.
Below is a brief outline of the talk, with a few sample excerpts. We hope you will find this a useful tool to help your students see the potential of using wealth for stewardship, the danger of idolizing wealth, and behind it all, God’s “oikonomia” of all things!
SAMPLE: I had gone to college to try and earn whatever money I could, basically for myself. If we are honest, most people earn money to earn money for themselves or to support their family or to make their way. In fact, a few surveys surveyed people about why they work. Only 13% had the gall to say, “I work to make money for myself.” There were another 67% who said, “I work in order to free up time for myself to do what I want.” What they didn’t say is, in order to do that, you’ve got to make a lot of money for yourself.
Option 1: Money for Yourself – The Rich Fool, and The Rich Man and Lazarus
SAMPLE: When we think about what’s at the center of this parable, it was the rich man and what the money could do for him. I, me, my, mine; that’s what drove him. That’s what often drives all of us. The scripture calls that kind of self-attention, that kind of covetousness, that kind of greed, idolatry. It’s clearly not the way to go.
SAMPLE: The two men die and the rich man ends up in a very warm place, like Texas in the summer. The poor man has ended up in heaven. The rich man’s attitude towards the poor man, however, has not changed. He asks Abraham to send Lazarus so that he can cool down his tongue in this very hot place where he ended up. Another tendency that money has when it’s focused on our self is it that we want to use people, and we see people for how they can serve us rather than how we can serve them.
Option 2: Money for Others, to Lend a Hand – The Lessons of Zacchaeus and Barnabus
SAMPLE: Here we see a second use of money that we also see reflected sometimes in scripture. That is that money isn’t just for the self but money also can be for others. Money can be to lend a hand. It’s an important picture that we see and we see it also in a story in Luke, the story of Zacchaeus. When Jesus came into Jericho and said, “I can stay at Zacchaeus’ house,” the public was not moved by Jesus’ move, but Zacchaeus was. He said, even though I’m a chief tax collector and have defrauded many people, if I have defrauded anyone, I will pay them back four times what I defrauded them of. The full penalty of the law. He saw when he met Jesus that the way to handle his resources was different than the way it handled it up to that time. It’s an important lesson because it shows that money and resources are not designed just for ourselves. They’re designed to help us relate to one another and engage with one another and exercise and share stewardship together with one another.
Option 3: Resources from Anyone, Even the Poor that Serve – The Widow’s Mite
SAMPLE: The curve ball in all this is a parable that doesn’t involve a rich person. The curve ball in all this is a story that Jesus tells of someone that he sees going to the temple. Someone who doesn’t have any wealth at all. The curve ball in all of this is the story of the widow and the widow’s mite. She walked into the temple and she gave two simple coins – in fact, two pennies – dropped them into the treasury. Clink, clink. In the midst of dropping them into the treasury, Jesus said, “She has given of her entire life.” She had given out of a sacrifice and a stewardship and a commitment that she had to God. It driven her to give of her very self with the resources that God had given her
Survival, Success, Significance, or Surrender to Stewardship
SAMPLE: Money isn’t really for survival and money isn’t really for success and money isn’t really for significance. Money is to be surrendered into Stewardship. It’s to be surrendered into stewardship because that’s the way God has designed – not just the resources that he gives us, that’s the way he’s designed our very lives.
SAMPLE: It’s a commitment not to serve the self. It’s a commitment not to use other people as currency. What it is, is a commitment to let money make the world go round, but to make the world go round by serving people. Yes, money does make the world go round, but we drive that bus. It’s not the money that is the agent of change. We are the agents of change.