I was invited by Milton Stanley, editor, to receive and review an advanced copy of Jeff Weddle’s book The Gospel-Filled Wallet: What the Bible Really Says About Money (Morrison, TN: Transforming Publishing, 2010).
A Pertinent, Pressing Issue: Money
Having read Jeff Weddle’s book, I will offer three stimulating benefits and three pastoral concerns. Because Jeff addresses a pressing issue–money–that seems inescapable in American culture’s and its churches’ awareness, it is critical that we, as Christian leaders, offer wise counsel. With our nation’s economic downturn, the pervasive joblessness, sky-rocketing debt and a fragile global economy, we need voices of hope speaking in the Name of Jesus Christ. Enter The Gospel-Filled Wallet: What the Bible Really Says About Money.
Three Stimulating Benefits
First, I like honesty in writing. Jeff Weddle, a minister, writes honestly about his own struggles with money and what the Bible says about it. Jeff’s opening salvo regarding the stringent words of Jesus that we cannot both love God and Money catches our attention. This is both stimulating and a concern. In down to earth, no nonsense writing, Weddle challenges the readers with real, heart-felt questions. Throughout the book we sense the heart of a person who honestly wants to do the right thing. Weddle admits in the conclusion that he is “not perfect” when it comes to getting it right about money (65). Yet, we sense a person who is moving in the right direction and wants to help others to do the same.
Secondly, Weddle keeps the Bible in the center of the discussion. The subtitle does the book justice. The teachings of Jesus and the teachings of Paul are brought to the reader’s attention along with pertinent Old Testament teachings. In the chapter titled “What They Lived,” another biblical aspect is presented: biblical characters, both honorable and faulty, who interface with the issue of wealth and riches or who trusted God in the face of deep human need. “The best way to tell if someone believes something is to look at how they live” (40). Just two examples: Abraham–”Should he leave the security of his home, his family, and his stuff to follow God, or should he remain in his comfortable life and carry on” (41)? And Judas, the one who betrayed Jesus, “is the ultimate example of loving money and hating God” (46-47). The Scriptures inform and shape the book’s content.
Thirdly, the practical application of the money regarding money is “Spend it.” Weddle believes that this is an obvious way to show that we love God and hate money rather than the other way around. For Weddle, it is “totally awesome” that the best way to handle money is to get rid of it quickly (62). How should we spend it? Jeff offers some very plain and work-ready direction on how to spend money wisely, beginning with “spend it on the poor” (56-57).
The book is short (75 pages of content including a postscript of questions and answers) and very readable. As a fellow minister, I do have some concerns with the book.
Three Pastoral Concerns
First, While the opening salvo of “You cannot love both God and Mammon/Money” (see Matthew 6: 24) is an attention-getting declaration of Jesus, I think Jeff Weddle presses it too an unwise either/or reality for the reader. Jeff admits that as Jesus’ statement stands, Jeff must conclude that he (Jeff) “hates God.” I believe that Jeff is trying to take Jesus very seriously, as we all should, but Jeff is tripping over a characteristic debate/teaching device of 1st century Judaism. That language device is the aligning of fierce polar opposites to make a point. I don’t believe Jesus ever intended for Jeff to conclude that Jeff “hates God” because Jeff earns, spends and even enjoys money as part of his life. Jesus’ point is to press us to seriously reflect upon and readjust our use of money if money, indeed, leads us to be disloyal to God. I do not hate my mother and father, my wife and my children, my brothers and sisters in order to follow Jesus and be a loyal disciple (Luke 14:26-27). However, if any family member comes between me and obedience to Jesus, then I need to realign my relationship with God and that family member. People with very sensitive spirits and tender consciences can get extremely distraught navel-gazing, asking, “Do I really love God or money? Do I really love God or money?” Recognizing the difference in language expressions (rhetorical devices) between 1st century Judaism and 21st century America does not lessen the serious intent of Jesus’ teachings, but this recognition will deliver us from things like “If you love money, you hate God…It’s a straight up dichotomy. The two things don’t mix…” (3). I don’t think Jeff would say to me, “If you love Julie [my wife], you hate God. If you love your daughters, you hate God. If you love your mother, you hate God.” But I could use Luke 14:26 to conclude just these things if I used it the way Jeff used Matthew 6:24. I don’t even think God wants us to “hate” money (53). This is a genuine concern of mine.
Secondly, Jeff’s book came in like a lion and went out like a lamb. I was led to believe that Jeff would offer some new, prophetically-fiery teaching on money that has never been offered before (editor’s preface). Yet, after I got through the Scriptures (both texts and characters) and moved into Jeff’s practical applications, I felt like I was (re)reading stuff from others who have taught on money and Christian living. Jeff assumes that Christians “don’t hear much about this (annoying) topic” (53). That is not the case. I’ve heard/read others who offer: “There is nothing wrong with having money, unless you depend on it and trust in what you have” (55). The places that Jeff lists to spend money (56-61) are the same places others have suggested through the years. Pretty tame stuff. After offering the content in the book, Jeff leaves it up to the reader and Spirit on how to use money since Jeff is not the judge. I was expecting some cutting-edge applications. Because Jeff has set up a fierce divide between money and God based supposedly on Jesus’ teaching, he even wonders why the Bible suggests that parents save up to give an inheritance for their children. If money is so evil, why would God want us to give money to our kids? Jeff says he doesn’t have an answer to that one (61). At the point of that question, we need a voice. Jeff goes silent, not because there are no answers, but because Jeff has raised a needless dilemma based on his tripping over the first century use of language.
Thirdly, and similar to the last point about inheritance to children, in the questions and answers ending to the book, Jeff anticipates an objector’s question, “Aren’t you a hypocrite for charging money for this book?” Jeff answers, “Yup” (75). Again, this is a needless and, in my opinion, navel-gazing scenario. I would offer that since the book is an extension of Jeff’s labor as a minister, he should be paid for his teaching (in book form). Jesus said that the laborer is worthy of his hire and Paul quotes this saying of Jesus. This applies even when that laborer is an author.
I enjoyed The Gospel-Filled Wallet and I believe the book will provoke many redeeming discussions about the Christian life and money. It is my opinion that Jeff Weddle is really addressing greed and not money in his book. Greed is one of the seven deadly sins and needs often to be addressed. Jeff unwisely mixes money and greed together, and while related even Jeff knows that money in itself “is a just a thing, like a rock or a dog…”(55). Jeff’s book may also provoke numerous needless, rabbit-trail discussions that could be detrimental to the healthy spirituality of some.
Dr. John W. Frye, Pastor
Fellowship Evangelical Covenant Church