As part of my dissertation research, I’ve been looking into the Prosperity Gospel, the Health and Wealth Gospel, or the Name It and Claim It Gospel…whatever you like to call it. For those of you who don’t know, it’s basically the notion that God wants us to be physically wealthy here and now. Ironically, those who have been the most “successful” at preaching it often require something in return from the believers who hope to attain that health and wealth. This is especially problematic for poorer believers who hope to model the middle-class lifestyle of many of their fellow mega-church congregants or the upper-class lifestyle of their ministers. It’s a dangerous theology…some would say heresy. Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove‘s God’s Economy: Redefining the Health & Wealth Gospel is a thinly-veiled attack on such theologies and a prophetic re-imagining of how we relate to one another and God in God’s economy.
Hartgrove and the Prosperity Gospel proponents agree on one thing, God wants us to have abundant life here and now. Jesus promised as much when he claimed that he had come not just to give us life, but life abundant. However, they disagree mightily on what that abundance looks like. Hartgrove passionately argues that God’s economy is based on notions of abundance not scarcity and that the most important abundance is that of the relationality of God’s children gathered at God’s table. Rather than financial security, possessions, or wealth, true abundance lies in the healing, life-giving relationships that we cultivate and nurture with one another and particularly the people of the world that Jesus classified as the least of these. Hartgrove examines the life and teachings of Jesus and finds several tactics for implementing God’s economy in the here and now. He also warns that the notion of God’s economy is not a system to be put in place over against capitalism, socialism, communism, etc., but a radical, seemingly other-worldly, way of living that undercuts all of these flawed, earthly systems. Briefly, these tactics include Subversive Service, Eternal Investments, Economic Friendship, Relational Generosity, and Gracious Politics.
Of the first, Subversive Service, Hartgrove notes Jesus’ willingness to serve his disciples and everyone with whom he came in contact, claiming that the last shall be first. Hartgrove writes, “If our goal is to climb the ladder–to get to the top and use our influence for good–then we’ll always be stuck, in a competitive struggle for an elusive power. But if we strive to serve, our opportunities are unlimited” (86). Hartgrove’s discussion of Eternal Investments is perhaps the most challenging as he charges us to consider what we invest in financially and spiritually and what our current investments reveal about our level of trust in God. He argues, “The greatest obstacle to faith in our time may well be that most of us are too invested in securing our own futures to trust Jesus for the good life he wants to give us now” (108).
Hartgrove’s notion of Economic Friendships encourages us to use our resources to establish meaning relationships here and now. Who knows how new friends can help us in times of future need or how we could possibly help others? Hartgrove reflects on Luke 16:9 and claims that when “we spread the stuff [money] around we facilitate friendships that last forever” (147). Here, he offers a brief, but powerful encouragement to churches to engage in serious financial conversations and to consider how those with excess resources might be able to help their fellow congregants in times of financial need. Relational Generosity follows close behind Financial Friendships. Hartgrove cites the Bible’s overwhelming occupation with the poor and Jesus’ command to give to the one who asks of you. He claims that we are often plagued by a fear of (or discomfort with) the needy, but argues that in giving of our time, gifts, money, etc., in love, we drive out that fear. Hartgrove writes, “God doesn’t ask us to change people–God asks us to love people. When we share with one who asks, we are changed. Little by little, we grow into the love of our Father, whose love is perfect” (175).
Jesus’ final tactic, Hartgrove claims, is the notion of Gracious Politics, basically the tension of practicing God’s economy in a political surrounding that is often hostile to that economy. How do we render to Caesar that which is Caesar’s and to God that which is God’s, especially if we truly believe that it all belongs to God? Next to Hartgrove’s discussion of Eternal Investments, this is perhaps the second most challenging tactic that Jesus provides. Hartgrove recognizes that our money that “belongs” to the state often contributes to things antithetical to our Christian commitments. Moreover, some churches also align themselves too closely with a corrupt political system. Here, he encourages us to take up a prophetic stance to both church and state when necessary, arguing that Jesus will not be a political or material brand for our own selfish desires.
In an age of zero-sum politics and economics, God’s Economy is a much-needed, prophetic voice that contains signposts pointing to a way out of the meaningless malaise in which many of us find ourselves trapped on the road to financial stability and comfort. The book benefits from Hartgrove’s real, lived experiences in a community that practices, or attempts to practice, the tactics that he lays out here. It is full of stories of people who have found healing and wholeness in just such communities by recognizing that, from the wealthiest to the poorest, abundance is found in the community of broken believers living, working, and serving together. God’s Economy is such a spiritually challenging text and one that demands to be re-read over and over again. Ultimately, it is a rewarding experience that can radically change the ways we relate with one another and perceive our financial situation.
You can order God’s Economy here. You can also visit Jonathan’s website to learn more about his work and to view a series of discussion videos that accompany the text.