The Gospel of Materialism

The above title might suggest that I’m about to rail against the “health, wealth, and prosperity” gospel which has unfortunately infected many segments of the visible church.  Instead I’m going to address another, but very similar, false gospel promoted by the world.  The gospel of materialism is certainly nothing new, especially here in the West where wealth has become our favorite idol.  We truly need perspective when it comes to defining what it means to be poor.

Ironically, the reactions to the concentration of wealth are equally idolatrous–and equally materialistic.  Most of the folks who rail against the wealthy want to create an entirely new system which focuses on redistributing wealth rather than concentrating it.  But the main focus is still upon wealth and who gets it.  At the end of the day, the poor man in the street who protests in favor of more redistribution to his benefit is just as greedy and materialistic as the rich man who obsesses over how to increase his holdings.

Now that I’m engaged, I’m getting some rather dire warnings from some people about whether I ought to proceed with the wedding.  The main concern among these people is almost exclusively financial in nature.  I’m not going to question the motives of these people and I believe they are well-meaning.  However, I think such sentiments are a reflection of our materialistic culture and a general lack of trust in God to provide for our needs.  Yes, needs–not wants.  Americans have a hard time being able to distinguish between the two.

“Children are expensive!”  “Most divorces are caused by financial problems!”  “You don’t know what kinds of emergencies might happen!”  These are some of the statements I’ve heard so far.  This is living by sight, not by faith.  This is living in fear.  What we see in those statements stands in stark contrast to the words of our Lord found in Matt. 6:25-33, speaking to our needs:

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

None of this is to say that Christians ought to live recklessly or with a fatalistic attitude.  There’s always going to be that tension between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility.  We are to be good stewards of what has been given to us and maintain a good work ethic.  This isn’t saying that we can’t prepare for the future or maintain a savings account in case something goes wrong.  Jesus is talking about our attitudes and where we put our trust.  He’s teaching His people to be more and more reliant upon Him.

I don’t need cable television or video games.  I’d rather read a good book.  As a part-time grad student, I really don’t have time for it anyway.  Nor do I need a fancy vacation.  A hiking trip up Old Rag Mountain will do just fine.  I may not have the greatest car in the world, but I just need something to get me from Point A to Point B.  I told Hollie one day that I would be content to live “like a married monk.”

Preaching against materialism is nothing new in church history.  John Chrysostom was known for doing exactly that, perhaps going too far at times.  Yet when we condemn the false gospel of materialism, we have to be balanced in our approach.  It’s correct to condemn an inappropriate obsession with wealth and all things material.  That being said, it’s important to remember that merely possessing wealth–even a lot of wealth–is not a sin.  And getting rid of all your wealth is not in itself going to bring you closer to God.

To whom much is given, much is required.  John Calvin is famous for saying that the human mind is a constant factory of idols.  This is definitely true when it comes to material wealth.  Whether we constantly worry about our material goods or glory in abundance, we are in rebellion against the One who sustains us.  Those who have been blessed with wealth are obligated to use to the glory of God.  It’s all His anyway…something we often forget.

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12 Responses to The Gospel of Materialism

  1. Valerie says:

    Next year I am applying to a lot of volunteer/mission programs. After reading the handbook for one of them, I’ve become sort of fascinated with “intentional simplicity,” or “intentional poverty.” I sometimes get sick when I think about the amount of stuff I have. I don’t even use most of it! While looking for something to wear to work out, I was overwhelmed by the amount of t-shirts I have.

    My current goal/project is to get rid of most of my possessions. Luckily, my parish has a rummage sale, so I don’t need to throw away most of it.

    Jesus told us more or less to give everything away and follow Him. I want to take that literally.

    I think it’s awful people are warning you about getting married. Hollie doesn’t exactly strike me as a gold-digger. 😛 The Catholic Church is against pre-nups. That makes me happy.

    If you and the kiddos do nothing but hike and stuff in their spare time, you’re killing two birds with one stone: fighting materialism and obesity.

    • I know the feeling about the clothes. Hollie chides me for having too many clothes. But she’s right. I’ve got too much stuff. I plan to sell my excess on Craigslist and whatever I don’t sell will be given to the church. This year I’ve decided that I won’t buy anything for myself unless I need it for class. Seems to be working out well so far.

  2. Daniel Franzen says:

    Josh,

    Get used to hearing that marriage and kids and giving them “a certain lifestyle” just takes too much time and money. But since God is triune–we were created to be in relationships with others and like God (analogically, of course) our love for our loved ones is not drawn from a finite reservoir that can go dry upon producing a certain number of children or having to work a certain amount of hours.

    Marriage and fatherhood are huge responsibilities that are both terrifying and indescribably rewarding and beautiful. God Bless.

    Daniel

  3. Vita Consecrata says:

    Great post!
    So often people forget that God provides everything. How easy it is in our humanness though, to fret and worry.

  4. Hollie says:

    This is a wonderful post! People have been tricked into thinking children require a myriad of stuff. For hundreds of years childrlen required very little– just their mother’s breast and some clothes for the most part. I think it all ties into the mindset that children are a burden. You know I could go on and on about this but I’ll stop there. 🙂

    Anyway, I am very much looking forward to our life together! “For richer , for poorer …” I love you!

    • There are probably articles out there about this, but I’ve always been intrigued by the arguments that children cost X amount of money. People don’t remember their own upbringing and they are frightened by any little jolt in the economy. You can really tell just how shallow and weak the foundation of a marriage really is when that vow you quoted above is completely ignored by most people once hard times set in. As that pastor from Mississippi said, we stick with the stuck…that’s the way it ought to be.

      I love you too! And I look forward to the day when we can face the challenges of life together as a family. Sometimes I think people forget why family exists. It’s a common grace institution in more ways than one.

  5. Kim says:

    While of course finances are not unimportant, I don’t think (particularly in your case) they are a good reason to postpone a wedding or not get married at all. Neither of you seem like the type to desire an extravagant wedding, and the issue of finances really doesn’t get better or worse after you’re married. It will take an adjustment to get used to providing for a family of four instead of just yourself, but life is all about making adjustments and working with what you have. Maybe you find ways your budget can be adjusted, maybe Hollie works for a bit of time after you’re married until your budget stabilizes, etc. It will all work itself out in time. If everybody waited to get married until they had the perfect financial situation , most people would be waiting a long time. That’s not to encourage irresponsibility, but if between the two of you, you can afford your obligations, have a safe place to live, and can be fed and clothed, you can make it work – everything else is extra. 🙂

    I’m very happy for the two of you – what you may lack in wealth you clearly make up for in love, and that’s far more important to the success of a marriage.

    • Kim, I appreciate your insights. You are correct in your observations about our chosen lifestyle. We are simple folks. Not prone to living beyond our means. Lord willing, we’ll be able to manage this effectively.

  6. Lauren says:

    Ah, this is familiar. I don’t know how much I heard that Sam and I should wait to get married until [no debt, buy a house, get a certain job, etc] happens. Even more so, we intended on getting pregnant right away in our marriage (which obviously hasn’t happened, but that’s another issue) and we heard a lot about how stupid that was. We’ve had a few difficult financial times, job losses and some debt issues, but God has always provided, even more so through the harder times. And I know that those things would have been much harder without someone to go through them with.

  7. Christina says:

    What an excellent and insightful essay you have written! I agree wholeheartedly with your assertion that both those who want to redistribute and concentrate are focusing on the same thing: wealth and who gets it.

    Providentially, my younger cousin who recently graduated from Indoctrination U. with a Masters sent me a text message the other day. It read, “I did it! I am the first in my family to get a Masters. $$$” This, from the young man who fits your description of someone who rails against concentration and touts redistribution! You hit the nail on the head. Christ alone. It all points to one thing! He is in need of a Saviour! May God raise up a generation of believers — men in particular, who will preach a crucified Christ to a lost and dying world at any cost!

    And, I know my comment is already too long but I just have to say this to you and your sweet fiance: “YAAAAYYYY!!” I am sooo happy for you guys!

    Love and blessings my dear brother!

    • Thank you, sister! I enjoyed reading your comments and insight. No such thing as a comment too long. I’m encouraged by your joy on our behalf. I’m also glad to have you, along with other brothers/sisters, who are able to give us sound advice. In a culture which lives for today and incurs all kinds of debt, we want to live as responsibly as possible. It’s not easy, but it can be done.

      That’s really interesting about your cousin. We’ve reduced the value of education down to something that can make you more money (and even that’s a lie). Education no longer has value in itself. It took me until seminary to figure this out. Very few people seek education for it’s own sake or to use their gifts for a purpose beyond enriching themselves. Anyway…it’s the spirit of the age.

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