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God's Economy: Redefining the Health and Wealth Gospel Paperback – October 10, 2009
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“Most of the compelling books I know of in current Christian literature are compelling because they dare to deal simply and directly with radical concepts that have become immobilized by shrewdly nuanced ideas and rampant cultural theology. Wilson-Hartgrove has mastered the art of that kind of truth-telling, and there can be no doubt but that God’s Economy is a compelling book.” -- Phyllis Tickle
“Through an examination of money-changing activities ranging from panhandlers to war, God’s Economy challenges the reader to confront Christ’s principle ‘For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’ A must-read for individuals and groups looking to invest time wisely.” -- Matthew Sleeth
“This is how the Gospel must hit the ground---running! God’s Economy is very brilliant, very timely, and very readable at the same time. This is practical theology and spirituality at its best!” -- [Fr.] Richard Rohr
“This is not the book to read unless you’re looking to change your life---in subtle ways and maybe great ones.” -- Bill McKibben
“This book is full of piercing questions that every serious follower of Jesus must ask. And its answers reflect a breathtaking vision and radical call to action.” -- Ron Sider
From the Back Cover
Are you dissatisfied with the gospel of health and wealth? Health and wealth proponents urge Christians to claim material blessings on earth. Others insist that God's best gifts can't be enjoyed until heaven. The truth of God's intentions, writes acclaimed author Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, is far greater than either perspective suggests. Packed with inspiring stories, God's Economy invites you to step into the good life God intends you to enjoy here and now---not a shrink-wrapped, plastic version of prosperity but a liberating approach to living that leads to genuine and lasting satisfaction. With persuasive enthusiasm, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove draws from Jesus' teachings on money, exploring five tactics for living in God's economy of abundance. Then, he demonstrates how people have practiced these tactics in the past, as well as what these principles can do for you, your family, and your church today. From your human relationships to your spiritual life, this practical guide cuts through the clutter and invites you to discover what can happen when you invest in God's Economy.
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Vol 2, #40 - 9 October 2009 ]
The biblical writer of Ecclesiastes wrote: "Of the making of books there is no end," and if that is true, it is even truer that there is no end of the making of many books about money: books on how to get it, books on how to keep once you've got it, etc. etc. But, in all my years of reading, selling and reviewing books, I've never encountered a book about money that is anything like Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove's newbook God's Economy: Redefining the Health and Wealth Gospel. Ultimately, God's Economy is about the good news of the kingdom of God; indeed that is the "health and wealth gospel" of the book's sub-title. But before your mind turns from the words "health and wealth" to images of the myriad of televangelists who have made plush lives for themselves - e.g. Benny Hinn or Creflo Dollar - by preaching such a gospel to the masses, allow me to reassure that Jonathan's message bears little in common with these slick television preachers. God's Economy is about "abundant life" - which although Jonathan doesn't specifically mention it - is perhaps a better translation of the familiar New Testament Greek phrase that is usually rendered "eternal life." He describes this abundant life: "It's a celebration of God's economy, where the poor find bread and the rich find healing because we rediscover one another as friends ... and we are not alone anymore." As he demonstrated in his previous books (including two superb ones that awe reviewed in the ERB last year: New Monasticism and Free to Be Bound), Jonathan is a masterful storyteller weaving together stories from Scripture, from church history and from his own experience. God's Economy is a delight to read, humorous at times, but ultimately these stories - like those Jesus told - are disarming, shining the light into those dark places of our souls in which lie our assumptions about how the world works and our deeply rooted plans for preserving ourselves (and those closest to us) in a hostile world.
Jonathan begins the book by calling us to submit our hopes and dreams to Gods' transformative "revolution of imagination." God calls us to a life of abundance, Jonathan observes, but we come to know this not in amazing possessions or wealth in our bank accounts or 401K's, but rather in the wealth of loving friendships we have in the family of God. Part of this transformation of our imaginations to which we are called is understanding the story that drives our lives no longer as a story about me as an isolated individual, but about us as a community of god's people. Readers who miss this point, might be to misunderstand statements that Jonathan makes like: "Joel Osteen and T.D. Jakes are right about one thing: our God of abundance does want to give you your best life now. It's just that God's abundance is more radical that many of us have dared to dream." As the book goes on it becomes clear that the abundant life that God offers is not to me, as an isolated individual, but for us a community of God's people that share life together.
After calling us to submit our hearts and minds to the abundant and transformative reign of God, Jonathan reminds us that money is a power. Here he observes that as a power, money "manipulate[s] and possess[es] people by creating believable illusions." Reminding us of numerous stories of Jesus from the Gospels, Jonathan notes that in God's economy, the power of money is unmasked and this new kingdom thus interrupts every economic system because "it refuses the law of scarcity and insists that the impossible can happen." Under the "believable illusions" that money creates as a power lies the reality that we are loved unconditionally by God and that we long to love and be loved by those that God has placed around us.
Over the remainder of the book, Jonathan surveys five economic tactics to which we are called as followers of Jesus. He contrasts tactics which are inserted into the cracks of empire, with the strategic planning of the world that seeks to systematize and control.
The five tactics that Jonathan explores here are:
1) Subversive service (based on Mark 9:35)
2) Eternal Investments (based on Matthew 6:20)
3) Economic Friendships (based on Luke 16:9)
4) Relational Generosity (based on Matthew 5:42)
5) Gracious Politics (based on Mark 12:17)
Perhaps the most striking of these tactics is that of economic friendship, which emphasizes the reality that "God's economy comes to us as a community of friendship. Though Jesus made it clear that miracles happen, it's not God's standard operating procedure to rain bread form heaven or provide money from a fish's mouth. Instead, God invites us into the abundance of eternal life through economic relationships with other people." Jonathan goes on to imagine that our sharing with one another could go beyond the routine meeting of one another's needs to even the idea of us lending money to one another, avoiding the ridiculously high fees and interest rates of most banks and building up friendships by working together in this way.
It is refreshing to find a book, such as God's Economy, that talks about money without bending toward either rewards that are merely eternal, abusive get-rich-quick schemes or self-preserving fear-mongering. Its message, although challenging to us who have lived for so long under the tyranny of money, is good news - full of hope and the abundant goodness of God's provision. God's Economy is a very readable book that calls us into the depths of divine love for which we were created, a love that functions best when shared with those around us.
Christians often make very bad economists, or at least bad economics writers. They may have good theology, but good theology does not necessarily make good economic sense. And Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove is OK with that. He wants to focus on ways that we can re-define our understanding of economics. This is a common theme of both Christian and non-Christian books I have been reading lately. Economics is increasingly moving toward mathematical/rational determinism and away from ethical theory.
Wilson-Hartgrove is writing directly to move Christians back toward an ethical understanding of economics. As a student he wanted to change the world through politics and the religious right. Then he was deeply affected by a homeless man and began a long journey toward redefining what it means to be a Christian.
The first third of the book is a long introduction to both the author's biography and his way of understanding economics. The last two thirds of the book explores five `tactics' that Wilson-Hartgrove believes will redefine our relationship to God's Economy. Those tactics are 1) Subversive service, 2) Eternal investments, 3) Economic friendships, 4) Relational generosity and 5) Gracious politics.
This is book written not out of academic or theological insight, but practical living. The author has spent the last twenty years exploring these ideas through actually trying them. He is calling the church to change, not from an academic window or prophetic pulpit, but from the streets and homes of his community.
I just finished a financial bible study with my church small group. It was filled with practical advice that is hard to disagree with: get rid of debt, live in your means, focus on God, serve him with all your resources, make giving and saving your priorities. Overwhelmingly the study was focused on balance. But when I read Jesus talking about money, he rarely (ever?) talks about balance. Instead he talks about selling everything you have and giving it to the poor. Or expecting God to provide everything you need and be completely dependent on him. Or using our resources to extravagantly celebrate God in ways that is actually scandalous. I do not think that the small group study was bad. It was practical, focused on skills for young couples to work on as they set up new households. But when I think about which of these better characterized Jesus' actual teachings, I have to say that Wilson-Hartgrove clearly captures the spirit of Jesus' teaching better than the conservative `balanced' approach.