Neither Poverty nor Riches: A Biblical Theology of Possessions. By Craig L. Blomberg. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999, 300 pp., paperback.
Many people in the Church have ideas about money, but how many of those ideas are actually founded on principles developed through a solid biblical theology of the scriptures? This is an important issue, especially for Christians living in affluent societies such as, Canada, USA and much of Europe. In my city for example, I often struggle as I drive through downtown Ottawa and see the many homeless people with nothing while I drive by them in my nice car with heated seats, drinking a hot coffee, while checking email on my iPhone 5 etc… As a Christian, what actions should I take on behalf of the poor in my city? Blomberg masterfully answers these questions and many more through the lens of a global view of scripture.
Blomberg presents the subject of possession with a biblical and pastoral balance. The title of the book is borrowed from Proverbs 30:8 “Give me neither poverty nor riches.” As Blomberg notes the Bible mandates an avoidance of extreme riches, or extreme poverty. Blomberg’s point is clarified by verse 9; “Lest I be full and deny you and say, “who is the Lord?” Or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of God.” Therefore, poverty or riches are not always bad. One can be exceptionally poor yet pious, or exceptional rich yet godly; the emphasis of condemnation is the impious impoverished and the unrighteous rich.
The introduction is much more than just an introduction. Blomberg sets the stage of the statistics regarding poverty. He brings out statistics that continue to elevate our wealth as North Americans.
- At least one billion out of the more than five billion people in our world fall below any reasonable poverty line.
- Two million children die every year from preventable infectious diseases.
- A survey of expenditures in the late 80s and 90s demonstrated that Americans spent annually twice as much on cut flowers as on overseas Protestant ministries, twice as much on women’s sheer hosiery, one and a half times as much on video games, one and a half times as much on pinball machines, slightly more on the lawn industry, about five times as much on pets, almost one and a half times on chewing gum, almost three times as much on swimming pools, approximately seven times as much on sweet, seventeen times as much on diets and diet related products, twenty times as much on sporting activities, approximately twenty-six times as much on soft drinks, and a staggering 140 times as much on legalized gambling
- And constantly, Americans with lower incomes give more of their earnings than those with higher incomes.
There is a real shock value to these statistics. I believe it shows us where our heart is. (Matthew 6:21) In this volume, Blomberg attempts to ground our Theology of Money on the whole console of God, and not on pop-culture teachings. In the introductions he also addresses the Issue of the prosperity Gospel. Blomberg explains that his type of teaching can only be developed by ripping text after text from its context and making applications that would seem ludicrous in most two-thirds world settings (page 25). He quotes John Stott saying, “We have to have the courage to reject the health-and-wealth Gospel absolutely, it is a false Gospel.”(Page 25)
For the rest of the book Blomberg faithfully and diligently works through all of the books of the Bible pulling on what they say about Material Possessions. His summary of the Torah is worth sharing, he says, “God created the material world wholly good but sin has corrupted it along with humanity. In the first stages of God’s plan for redeeming his creation, he chose a man (Abram) from whose family would come a uniquely chosen nation (Israel) which was to be a blessing to the entire world. (page 55) Blomberg continues through rest of the books of the Old Testament, drawing out truths that many people may not notice during a reading of the text.
The largest section of teaching is devoted to the New Testament. He surveys the teachings of Jesus on money and says, “in light of the larger pattern of Jesus’ teaching which we will observe, we dare not under estimate the potential deceitfulness of wealth to keep people out of the kingdom.” (Page 115) Jesus teaching of money is clear. The good news of the Gospel is consistently holistic. Materiel sustenance with spiritual salvation proves meaningless, but the liberation that God in Christ grants regularly included a physical or material dimension to it. Blomberg says, “It goes too far to say that one cannot be rich and a disciple of Jesus, but what never appears in the Gospels are well-to-do followers of Jesus who are not simultaneously generous in almsgiving and in divesting themselves of surplus wealth for the sake of those in need.
The most helpful sections on the book for me personally were his discussions on tithing. Having really started studying and reading in the past couple years, I have some of my views confronted by the truths of scripture. I have realized that things I have been taught have been based off of poor interpretation of scripture, or traditionally held beliefs with little or no scriptural basis. I had been taught in this regard about tithing and material possessions. This book challenged a lot of my thinking, but it did not leave my hanging, because through scripture it brought me answers. In the end, this is a fabulous book and I would recommend it to anyone interested in this subject. It is a must for anyone serving in ministry, especially those who preach or teach.