Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Gospel and Money

It's always risky business when you start questioning people's motives. But when there's money and livelihood's on the line, it's naive to ignore them.

In the affluent West the gospel is embroiled in big business. People pay thousands of dollars to attend seminary for a high quality education, expecting some kind of employment at the end. There are churches who can offer these graduates very reasonable salaries, provided the graduates tick the right boxes. There is an array of Christian publishing companies, looking for big sellers. There is an array of Christian authors, looking to grant these publishing companies their wishes. And behind (or in front of) it all is the gospel -- or in reality an array of interpretations of the gospel. And without these interpretations, thousands of people would either be unemployed or in a different line of work.

I don't necessarily lament this reality. I am a Bible college student, after all.

But I wonder, I just wonder, how much gospel debating and defending is merely towing the party line so that one can stay in a job, or maintain prospects of a job.

I know I said I wouldn't talk about it again, but the Rob Bell fiasco presents an interesting case study.

Of course on the one side you have Bell, earning enormous sums of money out of all of this. On the other side, you have a collection of Christian men deriding the book, lamenting the perceived false teaching, and slapping each other on the back for doing so. "The gospel is at stake" is something you might expect both sides to be saying. Of course that's true, but it's not the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Rob Bell and his opponents earn money from the particular gospel interpretation that they hold to. If one of Bell's opponents became convinced by Bell's arguments, he would probably very quickly find himself out of a job, or at least disinvited from the next Together For the Gospel conference. The life he once lived would have to change quite drastically, I would say. This is more than defense of the gospel alone; this is defense of livelihood also.

Brian McLaren raised this point very briefly in a video I watched about a year ago. At the beginning of a discussion on inerrancy, he remarked that a lot of people present in the room there and then would be out of a job if they didn't sign up to the word. Can faithful, honest dialogue really happen in a situation like the one we're in?

A lecturer once told me that he is too evangelical for some colleges and not evangelical enough for others. What does one do in this case? When doctrine is conjoined with paychecks, what should you do when your particular interpretation of certain doctrines means you either do or don't get paid?

I don't have the answers. I probably don't even have the right questions. But to ignore money in all of this -- as appears to be the case in most of what I've read -- is un-Christlike. He had quite a bit to say about the gospel's relationship with mammon and our relationship with mammon, none of which makes for comfortable listening in this day and age.


  1. I appreciate that you are a Bible college student and for you everything is or has to be endlessly questioned but those who are pastors don't feel they have to 'reinvent the wheel' every time there is a theological debate or discussion. There is satisfaction that many, many reformed scholars down through the centuries have done a lot of ground work for us so that we may turn over a few sods but the field is already well dug for us. It is therefore not a matter of 'toeing a party line' but rather within church denominational or 'family' structures being happy and comfortable with the scholarly theological work already done that broadly reflects the views of those in 'full-time' ministry. Where ministers/pastors feel they no longer can theologically agree with with what they once held those with integrity move, change or leave.

  2. I'm quoting people much smarter than myself when I say this, but the work of theology is never done. Pastors who think that the theological wheel has already been invented are dangerous theologians and ought not to have blogs, because their blogs will end up hurting the Christian community.

    This isn't meant to sound harsh because I really appreciate the comments, but it's hard to respond to someone called "Anonymous". The blogosphere is impersonal enough as it is!

  3. Yes, there may be people smarter than yourself who are 'making up' theology as they go. I believe the revelation of God is complete within the Scriptures and that although we may receive further insight and 'illumination' much of what pretends to be new theology today is in fact well worn theology dressed up in new clothes. I don't have a blog but am simply responding to yours. What way could I be hurting the Christian community? By the way, there are pastors out there who would resent being called a dangerous theologicans simply because they aren't interested in the latest fad. As for anonymous - its perfectly reasonable position to be in.

  4. I don't believe that the revelation of God is complete within the Scriptures. What we have received is "in part".

    I have no problem with pastors/theologians who are uninterested in the latest fad. I do have a problem with pastors/theologians who think that everything is settled. Such thinking is usually a form of power and control, which I think is hurtful towards the Christian community. Am I against truth? Certainly not, but we must ground all conversations on truth in love, which requires of us patience, kindness, humility, and the knowledge that "then" will not be the same as "now", and truth "then" will be far grander than truth "now".