Review: Money and Possessions

By David Gill, reprinted from The 313.

One of the most influential Bible interpreters of our time, Walter Brueggemann (b. 1933) is the author of over one hundred books and numerous scholarly articles. He served on the faculties of Eden Theological Seminary (1961-1986) and Columbia Theological Seminary (1986-2003) where he is McPheeters Professor Emeritus of Old Testament. His magnum opus, Theology of the Old Testament (1997), is a look at the Old Testament through the lenses of “testimony, dispute, and advocacy.” Among his best-known works are The Prophetic Imagination (1978), Message of the Psalms (1984), and Sabbath as Resistance (2014).

Money and Possessions is an extraordinary tour through the whole Bible from Genesis to Revelation, stopping to explore its message about money, possessions, and related topics. The first lesson here is how frequently, regularly the Bible addresses these topics. It is not a secondary concern. The righteousness and redemption to which both Israel and the Church are called is in no way simply a spiritualized, interior, or futuristic matter. The ways money and possessions factor into our lives are a central concern of the Scriptures from cover to cover. The contest between God and Mammon for our affection and loyalty is recurring. The contrast between God’s economics of stewardship and sharing and the world’s economy of extraction and selfishness is vivid and urgent. While Brueggemann sticks close to the biblical text, he periodically wonders about the absence of these biblical lessons from today’s preaching and Christian business practices. This is not just an instructive but a challenging, timely book.

Brueggemann summarizes up front six “theses” he finds in the Scriptures: (1) money and possessions are a gift from God, for which we should be grateful. (2) Money and possessions are received as reward for obedience. A life in sync with the purposes of God will (typically) flourish. (3) Money and possessions belong to God and are held in trust by people in community. It’s all about faithful stewardship. (4) Money and possessions are sources of social injustice. Remembering that God is the owner leads to neighborly justice. (5) Money and possessions are to be shared in a neighborly way, ordered to the common good. (6) Money and possessions are seductions that lead to idolatry. They evoke lust, greed, and servitude. Brueggemann does a masterful job showing the power and prominence of the tenth command against covetousness.  

Against each of these six summary biblical theses stand the contradictory values and practices of our age, sadly including most Christians. We have been poorly or wrongly taught, with horrible consequences for our world. Time to wake up and Brueggemann’s study will help those who take the time to read it. The biblical accounts of Abraham, Joseph, David, Solomon, Job, Ahab, Jesus, Paul and so many others, better or lesser-known, are fascinating and instructive. The lessons of Israel’s laws regarding interest, loans, debt cancellation, property restoration, and wages deeply challenge our institutions and practices. The wisdom of the Writers, the fire of the Prophets, the radical Good News of Jesus and the New Testament writers, and the stark conclusions and judgments of Revelation—the biblical teaching on money and possessions is rich, deep, revolutionary, non-optional, and full of promise.

This great book is not just for biblical scholars and theologians. It is for pastors willing to grow and for all the rest of us workers and managers in all fields of endeavor. It is what ought to be our economic theory and practice.

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