Money Talks

Money Talks

This piece originally appeared at

At a recent gathering of theological educators, I heard a series of three talks on “Money, Sex and Power.” All three presentations were excellent, but it struck me: money is the topic we pay the least attention to in our seminary programs. In the evangelical world where I spend most of my time, we certainly spend a lot of time talking about sex. We argue about it in our denominations and we preach about sexual patterns in our society. We have also become more sensitive to power topics: in recent decades we have become adept at organizing “moral majorities” and “Christian coalitions” to exercise political clout in the public arena.

Money, however, is not a favorite topic. Studies have shown that pastors do not like preaching about financial matters. Nor have they been encouraged to take these issues on by their theological mentors.

There are some obvious reasons for this. Seminary students spend their graduate school years hanging around with people who do not have much money. When they enter ministry they are often still struggling in their own lives to catch up financially, and they do not feel very confident talking about money to their parishioners. And often they come into their ministries after several years in an academic setting where simple-minded comments about “rich capitalists” occur much too frequently.

As a result, preaching about money is often been limited to the periodic sermon about the need to support church programs—so that church members come away with the impression that as long as they make their church pledges they have done their duty as good stewards.

So it is, that during this desperate time people are asking those of us who represent the church, “Where is your God in all of this? Why are you not telling us more about how we can make it through this economic storm? Isn’t it your job to speak truths about the basic issues of life?”

We need to hear these complaints. Thirty years ago, I heard a pastor preach about Jonah. Here we have a prophet of the God of Israel on a ship that has run into a dangerous storm. The prophet is having an intense religious discussion with the vessel’s crew of pagan sailors. We would expect, the preacher said, that the prophet is speaking the truth to folks who are religiously confused. But in this case, the sailors have the best of the argument. They tell the prophet, correctly, that he is being disobedient to the will of God. The preacher’s punchline: sometimes the world preaches important messages to the church.

I’ve been thinking about that punchline as the economic situation has gone from bad to worse in recent months. It isn’t just that churches are not saying enough about the present economic crisis. We have shied away from posing the basic questions about finances in general. Getting Christians to talk to each other about their spending priorities, the things they buy and sell, their attitudes toward possessions, what the Bible says about “the love of money”—in too many churches these have been the taboo topics.

A young Christian business leader told me recently that he and his friends—Christian and non-Christian—are realizing that they had gotten accustomed to putting their trust in progress and growth. They had learned to love luxury. Now all of this was coming apart, and they are being forced to think about what really gives meaning and purpose to their lives.

Those of us who are theologically trained may not be experts on economic systems and personal financial management, but we do know some important things about the underlying issues. The myth of inevitable progress is just that—a myth, and a dangerous one at that. Economic strength can be a false god; we must not give it our ultimate allegiance. Greed destroys souls. The quest for luxury cannot satisfy the deepest longings of the human spirit.

The Jonah story points to a good outcome for the church today. The prophet admitted that he’d abdicated his prophetic role and led the ship into angry waters. We should confess that we are not as prepared as we should be to offer guidance in the “money” dimension of life.

Our failure to speak at length about these matters during our long, past season of prosperity has contributed to the deep distress triggered by this present crisis. The recognition of our shortcomings, though, can be the occasion for an opportunity to new obedience. When people ask us, “Where is your God in all of this mess?” we are given a precious moment to speak words of comfort and guidance to a world that is looking for a place of true safety in the midst of the storm. We should be ready.


  1. I am a public school teacher, and I can tell pastors and teachers do not offer good money education, and I believe they should. Seminaries definitely should teach about money, and they should use books written both by Christian authors (there are some great books), as well as by secular writers, such as Kiyoasaki (Rich Dad, Poor Dad, If you Want to Be Rich and Happy Do Not Go to School) and Thomas Stanley (The Millionaire Next Door, and the Millinaire Mind). These books about money, teach also important life skills and have great educational value. Currently the only theological educators who speak about money are the prosperity preachers and they teach it all wrong. They, too, need to read the above books.

    While the financial crisis is real, let’s not forget this is a way for God to call our attention. Such crises always tend to draw people (Christians and non- Christians alike) closer to God. We Christians on the other hand, should participate in the financial life of our communities, and even try to make money and excell in business. We do not glorify God by being losers in the financial game, but instead we do, when we are generous with our finances. And as an antidote to greed, I have found of great help the concept of graduated tithe: every year we should plan to give a higher percentage of our income to God’s work.

    Comment by Konstantinos Kalpakidis — March 18, 2009 @ 10:48 am

  2. Here here!

    As a recent graduate of Fuller who is trying to make ends meet and pay off school loans, this speaks to the heart!

    How can we as Christians be servants with a mission heart and a business mind? Both are important in this day and age – to speak with the truth and love of Christ, while offering practical and tangible ways to be good stewards of what has been entrusted to us.

    Only with this balance can we soberly find peace in

    Comment by Tera — March 18, 2009 @ 10:52 am

  3. Thank you Dr. Mouw for this post. I think you are right on. We have not been responsible in our speaking out on this. It seems though that I have heard many preachers and teachers maintaining the status quo when it comes to attitudes about money; so that, capitalism and Christianity supposedly go hand in hand. Would you agree? I seems to me the challenging messages in the Gospel of Luke–as only one example–are often mitigated. I would be curious to hear what you think.

    Comment by Brett — March 19, 2009 @ 1:09 pm

  4. I appreciate your addressing this issue. I’m hopeful (not optimistic, but hopeful) that this economic crisis will result in a “correction” for Christian leaders. They should have been speaking biblically and prophetically about finances and prosperity all along. But, in America, almost all have uncritically merged the Faith with our country’s “past season of [American material] prosperity” so that, in practice, in America, the two (the Faith and American material prosperity) are indistinguishable.

    Our leaders would have to change their own lifestyles, and completely revise their practical theology in order to preach accordingly. That will be tough. Christian educational institutions that do not mind loading their students down with debt might have to adjust their practices (they would have to come up with a theology and ethic of indebtedness first, of course, which I’ve never seen them consider).

    Most of the people in our congregations would not like the change in our leaders’ teaching, since it would sound to them unAmerican, and most in our pews are more thoroughly American than Christian.

    Comment by JLBetts — March 22, 2009 @ 12:58 pm

  5. As a Fuller alum (1951) I have observed across my years in ministry that so many pastors and academics are remarkable innocent and naive about finance and investments. When I was responsible for chapel speakers at the American Baptist seminary in Covina, I invited a devout Calvinist banker to speak to the students about handling money. Perhaps a dozen students showed up for chapel that day. Years later I was asked to speak briefly about money to Fuller students in Orange County. I was given less than ten minutes to speak, and only a handful attended. I warned that those plastic credit cards were a time bomb in their wallets, and that they should be used with scrupulous caution. I think I spoke to deaf ears. I hope Dr. Mouw’s judicious remarks will be thoughtfully considered.

    Comment by David H. Wallace — March 23, 2009 @ 4:53 pm

  6. Money is mentioned 700 times in the Bible and is important. By itself, money won’t bring happiness and peace, but the lack of it is surely responsible for many ills. Prosperity teachers have got some biblical points right we must admit, and if we follow them we are likely to prosper.

    Again I believe that Christian and non -Christian teachings on prosperity do not differ much and the principles are the same. Christians should be even more motivated to follow them.

    I would encourage young seminarians to get wise about money. They should also acquire broad real world experiences in order to relate them to their Bible. That way, they will be respected more. And I want to thank the writer of post 4, he challenged me to work on developing my own theology of indebtedness. I believe we should not get into debt to get a good seminary education, and the seminaries should be telling us that. God has many ways to provide, and if God leads us to seminary, I believe his plan of provision for us does not include jumbo student loans. Alternatively, we could hold a job and study part time while in seminary. Lots of people are doing this in other secular careers, and we are no better.

    Comment by Konstantinos Kalpakidis — March 25, 2009 @ 1:10 am

  7. Thank you Dr Mouw for your time to post theological insights in your website. It is good to get time to hear Christians and non Christians asking the whereabout of God during this economic downturn. It is very sad that most of theological seminaries have never taught ‘biblical theology’ per se which in turn has resulted into ‘creating God in our Image’. Most of our Pastors teach a philosophical view of God and Jesus is only the Logos in Greek Metaphysics. We have lost God in Material world which has shaped our theological thinking.

    The quest of Historical Jesus by Albert Shweitzer resulted into a serious study of who really Jesus was/is. Today NT Wright is pushing the Agenda of redisovering who really Jesus is.

    Joseph Alois Ratzinger in his quest of Historical Jeus contends in his book ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ that the Jesus’ event simply brough God, God Near.

    Credit crunch in the UK was reffered to by the Bishop of York Dr JOHN Sentamu when he called the Bankers, robbers. However, Capitalism is so much interconnected to the theological fubric to the extent that the theologians leaves the Gospel to be shaped by economic situations of our time. This results into preachers and church members to define God in the light of social-setups.

    Prosperity Gospels tenet works out wonderfully with Capitalism. Is God a Capitalist? Certainly as we see through the pages of the Bible particularly in the gospels’ parables we can certainly say no. God isn’t a Capitalist. That is to say without capitalism the wealth and health gospels couldn’t survive. communism failed twenty years ago, and Capitalism just about a year now in a deep mess. Maxism, proved true against capitalism? Yes but Christianitly has a lasting solution which we always avoid to address. We would rather be politically correct rather than be Christ’s correct. We cannot substitute Christianity with Marxism which if fails creats rebels like those in Colombia.

    Let Dr Mouw and scholarly team teach as Ratzinger asserts in his christological-eschatological theology ‘in Christ you enter timelesness eternity’. In a nutshell let us see what is constitutive of christianity that will not pass with or without socio-economic tubulances.

    Pastor Joseph Chaggama

    Comment by Joseph Chaggama — April 1, 2009 @ 4:39 pm

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    Comment by Nona — March 7, 2010 @ 3:21 pm