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Neither Poverty nor Riches: A Biblical Theology of Possessions (New Studies in Biblical Theology) Paperback – January 1, 2000
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I was very impressed with this book. I like how he started with the Old Testament, and how he pointed out the generosity of the patriarchs (Abraham in particular), and how even Joseph used the possessions he had access to to provide grain for the world and for his starving brothers and family.
He then talks about wealth as God's covenant blessing to the Israelites if they obeyed Him (and how that this principle is not transferable to the New Testament era, as we have our own covenant with God that is NOT tied to the land).
There is also a discussion of wealth and possessions in Proverbs and in the other salient Old Testament books, Blomberg concludes that wealth is a blessing from God and that we should use what we have to be a blessing to others and especially to the poor around us (Proverbs 3:27-28; Deuteronomy 15:11). He notes the texts that promise judgment to those who neglect the poor (Proverbs 11:24-26; 21:13). He concludes that the overall OT understanding of personal possessions is summed up in Proverbs 30:8-9 (Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me my daily bread). As he says later on page 131, "Ask God to meet your needs, not your greeds." Right on!
There is a brief chapter summarizing the widely different views of possessions in Jewish intertestamental literature, as well as the literature of the Stoics and of Aristotle, and of other Greco-Roman writers.
Then Blomberg discusses the New Testament data. He notes that the overall message of the parables is that we need to be ready to part with material possessions to serve God wholeheartedly, to put kingdom concerns over material concerns. He interprets the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46) as Jesus' call to minister to the physical and emotional needs of his workers in particular. He is aware that this text has been co-opted by many as a directive toward all people, and while he acknowledges this as an admirable venture, he feels that this is a misinterpretation of the text.
I couldn't wait for Blomberg to get to the story of the rich young ruler, and I liked what he had to say. He notes that the young man's wealth stood in the way of him becoming a disciple of Jesus, and Jesus called him on it.
Yet Blomberg stops short of giving a clear application for believers today based on this text. I found myself wishing he had said more. He did say later that we cannot be legalistic and demand that everyone give 100% of what they have to the poor, as apparent from the fact that not everyone in scripture does this.
Blomberg also notes that the New Testament is consistent with the Old Testament in its admonitions to give generously to the poor (Mark 10:21, Luke 11:41). He goes on to say that Mary's anointing Jesus with the expensive perfume (John 12) was an extravagant act of giving in advance of a one time, never to be repeated event (the death and burial of Jesus).
Blomberg also surveys the material found in James, noting that true salvation will result in doing good in the lives of those are less fortunate.
He also discusses the material in Acts, observing that the early church tried to take the words of Deuteronomy 15:4 seriously (there shall be no poor among you). People regularly sold their possessions and laid the money at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need (Acts 4:32-36; Acts 2:43). Blomberg also recognizes that these were not one time acts, but as needs were made known.
He notes that Dorcas (Acts 9:36, Cornelius (Acts 10:2-4), and the Antioch church (Acts 11:27-30) are all commended for their giving.
He also points out that there are a number of wealthy people in Acts who use their possessions to be a blessing, yet they still held on to some of their wealth as well (Lydia in Acts 16, Aquila and Priscilla, who apparently had enough money to travel (Acts 18:2-3), and others.)
In surveying Paul's letters, he notes Galatians 2:10, which mentions the desire of the Jerusalem leadership and of Paul to remember the poor.
He observes that Paul is consistent with James in that genuine Christianity should lead to obedience, including the whole area of financial stewardship.
He notes from 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus that families should take care of their own before they burden the church with requests for support.
Blomberg also recognizes the possibility that Christians may be rich, as he instructs the wealthier members not to put their hope in their wealth, but to put their hope in God and to be generous (1 Timothy 6:17-18).
In surveying the Johannine literature, Blomberg states that Jesus is no ascetic, as demonstrated by his generously turning the water into wine, and his feeding of the 5000, and cooking breakfast for the disciples (John 21), after he allows them to catch 153 fish!
Blomberg concludes that there is danger in oversimplifying what the Bible says about material possessions. Yet he gives these observations: 1. Material possessions are a gift from God meant for His people to enjoy. 2. Material possessions can be used by Satan to turn people's hearts from God (Gen 3, 1 Tim 6:10). 3. A sign of spiritual life is that we become better stewards of what God has blessed us with (Jas 2:14-17; 1 John 3:17-18). 4. Certain extremes of wealth and poverty are intolerable. 5. The Bible's teaching about material possessions are intertwined with its teaching about spiritual matters.
Blomberg also gives a personal testimony of how he was challenged to give 25% ofhis money for ministries around the world, and now he and his wife give over 30% of their income, even though his family's income is $4000 less than the average suburbanite family in his neighborhood, and he gives all the glory to God.
This was a great book, and it makes me want to experience more of God's blessings by being a generous giver.
Blomberg divides the Old Testament study into Torah, the Prophets and the Poetry or Wisdom literatures, where the principle he outlined in the first chapter is specifically applicable, namely, the principles of the original texts can be practiced in changed contexts. This is important to note because "the closer the situation in any given portion of our contemporary world corresponds to the features, in this case the socio-economic features, of the world behind any given biblical instruction, the more straightforwardly one can transfer the principles of those texts to our modern age. The less the correspondence, the higher one has to move up the ladder of abstraction to look for broader principles that may transcend the uniqueness of specific situations" (p.30). Those embracing the prosperity gospel and liberation theology would do well to reflect on this since they mistakenly apply the Old Testament contexts that lead to some Old-Testament views, such as material blessings for obedience. But even with the abundance that God may bless someone with, Blomberg comments, "One can hardly claim that God's people were free to enjoy unbridled prosperity from their material resources" (p.47). It is sobering to note that when pro-rated annually, all the offerings instituted in the Old Testament added up to 23.3% `tithe' (p.46), that leads to the conclusion that tithing in a 10% sense shouldn't be the rule but something to start with, with the ultimate goal of the so-called graduated tithe for contemporary Christian stewardship (p.248).
The study of the inter-testament documents, though I love the lessons, needs to be digested with caution since some teachings might be potentially heretical. For example, consider the impression that almsgiving atones for sins, "For almsgiving delivers from death and it will purge away every sin. Those who perform deeds of charity and of righteousness will have the fullness of live (quoting Tobit 12:8-9 on p.94). Other examples that need to be treated with care include some verses in the book of Enoch that seem to equate the rich and the oppressor, and the treaty of Shem that links fortunes entirely to the signs of the zodiac (p.95). Here I believe Blomberg assumes the readers are able to discern what is to be imitated and what is false since he rarely points out the fallacy of the verses he quoted.
The New Testament studies, the choicest meat of the book, consist of the parables of Jesus, the gospels, Paul's general, prison and pastoral epistles, and other epistles, where a particular attention is given to James, the treatment of which is combined with Acts; among others like Hebrews, Jude, Peter, and John, which includes Revelation. There are so many precious lessons to learn here. I dog-eared so many pages and wrote so many side notes in these sections that I was worried that I dog-eared every page because the studies are simply too good not to be marked, re-read and studied all over again. Rather than writing the highlights from these sections that would cause this review to take up several pages, I would invite the readers to dig-in and enjoy the feast for themselves instead.
There are two additional reasons why I appreciate the entire study. First, Biblical principles on stewardship are pointed out carefully with numerous references and sincerity avoiding harsh and uncharitable language. Consider for example, in the last point in last chapter when summarizing the study, "Above all, the Bible's teaching about material possessions is inextricably intertwined with more spiritual matters. No ungodly poor people are ever exalted as models for emulation. No godly rich people, who are generous and compassionate in the use of their wealth, are ever condemned. But in a remarkable number of instances throughout history, poverty and piety have been found hand in hand, as have wealth and godlessness. There is no inherent connection between the items in either pair, just recurring trends" (p.246). Second, Blomberg is also sincere and realistic when using himself and his family to show he talks the walk and walks the talk. He goes to great details on how he applies the principles of generosity and moderation taught in the Bible to his family and ministry. His honesty is displayed when he wrote, "Nor is anything I have written meant to suggest that I believe savings, investments, insurance or pension schemes are wrong. I have all these and hope their earnings continue to grow. While I know of others who, for a variety of ministry-related reasons, have adopted a much more radically simple lifestyle, and while I admire and approve of their approaches, God has not yet led me to follow them, even after considerable discussion, prayer and soul-searching. In short, I feel I have a very rewarding life, materially speaking, and am not a particularly exemplary model of sacrificial giving (p. 249).
In recommending "Neither Poverty Nor Riches," I can not find better words but agree with Prof. D.A. Carson's comment on this book,
"On a subject as sensitive as this one, it is extraordinarily rare to find balance and prophetic voice rolled up in one. In my view, this is now the best book on the entire subject,"
though the difference between he and I is that I have not read much literature on material possession. Nevertheless, it has been a great joy and blessing to find a book like this to learn from.
Top international reviews
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.