Blomberg’s conclusions in Neither Poverty Nor Riches are compelling, convicting, and yet also very hopeful.
What might we be able to do in terms of our own financial resources to free up more money to give away? What’s preventing us from doing so?
The New Testament carried forward the major principles of the Old Testament and intertestamental Judaism with one conspicuous ommision: never was material wealth promise as a guaranteed reward for either spiritual obedience or simple hard work. This omission flows directly from the fact that the people of God are no longer defined as one ethnic group living in one divinely granted piece of geography.
[However,] the Bible never views material poverty as good. God wills his people, the church, to distribute their wealth more equitably. …The writings of Paul and Luke are the best places to turn to see a growing middle-class and even upper-class minority of Christians in the emerging church. Neither writer calls upon upon well-off believers to change places with the poor; they are merely to give from their surplus, but also to be honest in acknowledging how much is surplus (242-3).
Some unifying motifs
1. Material possessions are a good gift from God meant for his people to enjoy. This is made plain from God’s creation of the material world as good, and his desire that all have access to at least a modicum of property, and from the fact that material possessions within God’s covenant with Israel are a blessing for their obedience. Throughout the Old Testament, Job, Abraham, David, Solomon, and a variety of other figures demonstrate that riches and godliness can coexist… at least for a time.
2. Material possessions are simultaneously one of the primary means of turning human heart away from God. Possess of, or desire for, too many material goods leads to a rejection of God, interpersonal hostility and exploitation or neglect of the poor.
3. A necessary sign of a life in the process of being redeemed is that of transformation in the area of stewardship. Ultimately, one’s entire life should be dedicated to God, but a particularly telling area of determining one’s religious commitment involves one’s finances.
4. There are certain extremes of wealth and poverty which are in and of themselves intolerable. These extremes cannot be quantified, and they will vary widely under different economic systems and depend on personal attitudes. But sooner or later every economic system leads to certain people accumulating material possessions above and beyond what they can possibly need or even use just for themselves. …The principle of moderation explains Jesus’ and Paul’s concerns to live simply, particularly while engaged in ministry, so as to afford no unnecessary cause for bringing the gospel into disrepute. And it summarizes a large swathe of wisdom literature, particularly as epitomized in Proverbs 30:8: ‘Give me neither poverty nor riches.’
5. Above all, the Bible’s teaching about material possessions is inextricably intertwined with more ‘spiritual’ matters. No ungodly people are ever exalted as models for emulation. No godly rich people, who are generous and compassionate in the use of their wealth, are ever condemned. But in a remarkable number of instances throughout history, poverty and piety have been found hand in hand, as have wealth and godlessness. There is no inherent connection between the items in either pair, just recurring trends. The rich are not necessarily wicked, but frequently surplus goods have led people to imagine that their material resources can secure their futures so that they ignore God, from whom alone comes any true security. That was certainly a recurring trend in ancient Israel. Conversely, when the Jews found themselves in desperate circumstances, they more often than not turned back to God. It has not always been so in the history of humanity, but it frequently as been (243-6).
This book was not an easy read. It is more academic than lay-oriented, but it would certainly be useful to the educated layman. It’s lasting effect on me will be that is has helped me to see even more clearly from the pages of Scripture the incredible spiritual danger of wealth and luxury and of the desire for wealth and luxury, and also to see the beauty, benefits and fullness of living simply. My prayer is that God would use it to cause me not only to spend less and to give more, but to deeply enjoy spending less and giving more.
NB: Bryan McInnis has an excellent post on the dangers of wealth and materialism.