More Money, More Ministry: Money and Evangelicals in Recent North
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
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
the least beggar is equal in the eyes of God to the wealthiest Park
baron. But how can Christians in a modern society follow His example?
practically, how can the church do work in the world without having a
In recent years, the ambiguous relationship between faith and finance
been further clouded by swindlers like James and Tammy Faye Bakker.
Notorious frauds like the New Era philanthropy racket--in which
evangelist John Bennett cheated religious colleges and churches out of
millions of dollars through a classic Ponzi scheme in the early
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
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
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,
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
describes members' refusal to ever ask anyone for money--a
strategy which worked surprisingly well at some very odd times, like
the Great Depression, when without doing any fundraising the group
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
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,
fund-raising activity would be necessary."
Hamilton argues that adherence to this model declined in the second half
the 20th century, but that this does not reflect any decline in the
faith. Though modern parachurch organizations have tremendous budgets,
Hamilton argues they are far from simply entrepreneurial. Their
success is intimately, and positively, linked to their ability to spread
Gospel. "Growth requires more money; more money means more ministry."
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
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
college Wheaton, an institution which presumably has plenty of
own questions about fundraising. Perhaps the only certain lesson we can
from this stimulating collection of essays is that the right
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.