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More Money, More Ministry: Money and Evangelicals in Recent North American History
Edited By Larry Eskridge and Mark A. Noll
Eerdmans, 428 pp. Ever since Jesus threw the moneylenders out of the temple and told rich men they didn't have much chance of making it into Heaven, money has posed special problems for Christians. To be a good Christian is to follow a poor pariah who told us the least beggar is equal in the eyes of God to the wealthiest Park Avenue baron. But how can Christians in a modern society follow His example? More practically, how can the church do work in the world without having a steady financial base? In recent years, the ambiguous relationship between faith and finance has been further clouded by swindlers like James and Tammy Faye Bakker. Notorious frauds like the New Era philanthropy racket--in which Philadelphia evangelist John Bennett cheated religious colleges and churches out of millions of dollars through a classic Ponzi scheme in the early1990s--only make matters worse. Such scandals make faith and fundraising appear diametrically at odds; when the church asks for money, it's as likely to be lining the pockets of its ministers as it is to be ministering to those in need. "More Money, More Ministry" suggests some reasons why it's a good thing for Christians to take finance seriously. The essays in this fine collection explore many different aspects of the relationship between evangelical Christianity and moneymaking: the ethics of possession; the Christian attitude towards money; the different ways that churches have sought to raise funds in the past. But the editors also seek to make a larger point: evangelicals historically have thought a great deal about money without giving up their claims to faith and devotion.
Some early missionaries eschewed fundraising altogether. For example, the China Inland Mission, a missionary group founded in the late 19th century, took "no solicitation" as its motto. In his essay on the organization, Alvyn Austin describes members' refusal to ever ask anyone for money--a strategy which worked surprisingly well at some very odd times, like during the Great Depression, when without doing any fundraising the group continued to survive thanks to large donations from a few very rich people. Other Christians used a hard sell, telling believers that by giving money to the church they'd be able not only to improve their spiritual conditions but their financial ones. Minnesota Fundamentalist William Bell Riley campaigned for funds in the early years of the Great Depression by offering an annuity in his Northwestern Bible and Missionary Training School that promised "fair and certain earnings," an extra incentive to invest "for Christ." The high point of the book is Michael Hamilton's title essay, on financing of American evangelism since 1945. Hamilton traces the decline of "faith principles," the belief that, as the president of the Dallas Theological Seminary put it in 1945, "if we were worthy and were faithful in prayer, no fund-raising activity would be necessary." Hamilton argues that adherence to this model declined in the second half of the 20th century, but that this does not reflect any decline in the vigor of faith. Though modern parachurch organizations have tremendous budgets, Hamilton argues they are far from simply entrepreneurial. Their financial success is intimately, and positively, linked to their ability to spread the Gospel. "Growth requires more money; more money means more ministry." Call it investing in the best possible kind of growth stock. A rich man might have trouble getting into Heaven--but a poor church won't be able to do much to help others get in, either. This may, of course, seem a slightly self-serving position. "More Money, More Ministry" is based on a study sponsored by the Christian liberal arts college Wheaton, an institution which presumably has plenty of its own questions about fundraising. Perhaps the only certain lesson we can draw from this stimulating collection of essays is that the right relationship between dollars and devotion can't be answered in the abstract. It's a social question, not just a theological one, and churches and Christians will surely keep grappling with it for years to come.
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