This book is part of the “New Studies in Biblical Theology” series edited by Don Carson, and is subtitled “A biblical theology of possessions”. The format of the book is basically to survey the entire Bible for its teaching on money and possessions, and to draw out the principles it teaches.
The introduction contains a sobering array of statistics, highlighting the severe problem of poverty in the world, and the meagre contribution that many Christians and churches are making. He agrees with many of the ideas from Ronald Sider’s famous book “Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger”, and asserts that there is “a substantial disparity between the biblical mandates and contemporary Christian practise”.
Obviously the subject of possessions is discussed directly in numerous pages throughout the Bible, and indirectly in almost very part. Blomberg does a remarkable job of surveying the material concisely, while still finding the time along the way to discuss alternative interpretations of key passages, and very briefly suggesting practical applications.
In the two chapters on the Old Testament, Blomberg detects that riches can be both associated with those whom God has blessed for their righteousness (but their generosity is always underlined as well), and those who have obtained it by unrighteous means. In the law, there are a number of safeguards to prevent extremes of wealth and poverty from emerging. This idea that there are extremes of wealth and poverty that are intolerable, is one of Blomberg’s main theses. He doesn’t see the Bible as advocating asceticism, or even unrelenting simplicity, but that excess should be avoided, and ‘surplus’ should be honestly identified and shared.
There is a chapter on the intertestamental period, showing how a gap between rich and poor, which started under the Israelite monarchy, grew even further during this period. The New Testament is dealt with in four chapters, starting with the synoptics, which are broken down into parables and teachings. Blomberg deals with some of the more radical calls to giving possessions away, and advocates Sider’s idea of a “graduated tithe”, where more affluent Christians should endeavour to give considerably more than 10% into the work of the kingdom and also directly towards holistic mission to the poor.
James and Acts are surveyed in a chapter on “Early Christianity”. Blomberg rejects the liberation theology idea of “God’s preferential option for the poor”, while acknowledging that it is often the poor who are righteous and the rich who are not both in the Bible and in general experience. He does not endorse violent revolution, but for the church to be a prophetic voice and a counter-cultural community. He sees the sharing of property in Acts an example of having a “communal purse” which was replenished by occasional generous contributions and used for helping the poor.
In a chapter on the Pauline epistles, 2 Cor 8-9 is covered in some depth, and the “patron-client” system is seen as the background to much of Paul’s teaching, along with communal meals. He notes that during this period a broader socio-economic spectrum was found amongst church membership Blomberg argues that Paul’s understanding of possessions is much closer to Jesus and James than some people have claimed. A final chapter surveys the rest of the New Testament as well as noting Luke’s unique emphasis on the poor, a category that can include any outcasts, including the more materially prosperous tax collectors.
Every chapter has its own summary, which is always admirable for its conciseness, and there is a final chapter which presents summary and conclusions for the whole book, which is similarly succinct. Blomberg draws out five main principles, affirming that though possessions are good gifts, they can turn our hearts from God, and that we need to be transformed in our attitudes to money. Again he reiterates the idea that there are excesses of wealth and poverty that are unacceptable, and that our attitude to material possessions is inextricably linked with more ‘spiritual’ matters. He then gives an excellent but brief section on application, including some biographical information on how he has sought to implement these principles in his own life. He also shows concern that churches are not giving enough themselves, and encourages churches to rectify this situation and individuals to give directly to those organisations who combat poverty but also care for the spiritual well-being of those they serve.
In all this is an excellent survey of Bible teaching, and will prove very challenging to all who have the time to read it. The brief application notes will need further reflection by those who want to take action in their own lives, but this may be a strength of the book. The author cannot be accused of being a “guilt manipulator” (as Sider was), but rather has set the biblical evidence out clearly and let it speak for itself. Those who don’t have the time to read the whole book would do well to borrow a copy and just read the final chapter (and maybe the “Conclusion” section from each chapter).