In his Money and Possessions, Walter Brueggemann deduces from the Scriptures six general principles that can help to better understand how the Hebrew and Christian Bible inform us about money and possessions. Although there can be more than these six principles, Brueggemann asserts that these six are the clearest to him. In a nutshell, the first principle has to do with God being the source of gifts and all goodness. Brueggemann finds support to this principle in the Genesis narrative of the creation. God is not only the creator of all living creatures but also the provider, where he has made available “all commodities of value… [which are derived from] the generativity of the earth.” (p. 2) Among those commodities are found money, gold, silver, and alike. Important to note is that possessions, for Brueggemann, should be understood as “gifts and not achievements or accomplishments.” (p. 2).
The second principle is related with the belief that money and possessions, in Brueggemann’s reasoning, are some kind of rewards for human obedience. He finds support in the Psalms (Cf. Psalm 1:1-3) where the Psalmist connects obedience with prosperity. Brueggemann notes that this principle has sometimes reversed such as in the case of Job, but in general terms obedience can be assumed to be central to human flourishing and prosperity (p. 4).
After discussing the source of gifts and its connection to obedience, Brueggemann proceeds to establish the third principle. All possessions and money belong to God and human beings have been trusted to be faithful stewards of such gifts (Cf. Psalm 24:1-2, Isaiah 22). As stewards of the possessions owned by God, human beings must manage them in a responsible way. Brueggemann connects deduces such stewardship from the cultural mandate in Genesis 1:27-28.
The fourth principle has to do with the consequences of a bad management of the gifts trusted by God. If such trust is violated, then, money and possessions can be sources of social injustice. Brueggemann argues that money and possessions exist not only for our own benefit, but also for the sake of the neighbor. Therefore, a privatization of those gifts might lead to “destructive ways at the expense of the common good.” (p. 5) Brueggemann claims that as seen in many parts of the Scriptures, money and possessions must be a way to bring justice and wellness to the community. As the source of all goodness and gifts, if God is forgotten, money and possessions can serve as tools of explanation instead of means of blessings.
Based on this, Brueggemann offers his fifth principle: money and possessions are meant to be shared. God has intended that humanity can be flourished in community and resources are also meant to serve such a purpose. Without affecting the personal dimension of them, money and possessions are ruled by a communal dimension that seeks to promote the common good. Passages such as Isaiah 58:6-7 and Matthew 25:34-40 emphasize the importance of solidarizing with our neighbors, that is, all members of our community (p. 7).
Last but not least, the sixth principle establishes that money and possessions have the power to seduce us and lead us to idolatry. Brueggemann explains it in the following way: “[M]oney and possessions are not inanimate objects. They are rather forces of desire that evoke lust and ‘love’ in a way that compels devotion and eventually servitude.” (p. 8) As Brueggemann highlights, the story of the golden calf found in Exodus 32 is a good example of the power of the seduction of money and possessions.
Like Brueggemann, Randy Alcorn’s The Treasure Principle, offers good insight about money. It seems that the main thesis of Alcorn is that human beings are only stewards of money and possessions, which have been entrusted them to us by God in order that we can also give. Such giving is shaped by a covenantal relationship between God and us reflected in the tithing. As Brueggemann did, Alcorn offers six principles regarding money and possessions. The first principle is that God is the owner of all human beings are only stewards (Cf. p. 22-25). This does not require further explanation. The second principle Alcorn discusses is that the place where we put money matters because we will follow such place (p. 43). If we put money in the Kingdom of God we will store up treasure in Heaven. However, if we keep the money for us acting with selfishness, once we die everything would be lost.
The third principle Alcorn suggests is that earth is only a temporal place to live – heaven is the true home (p.47). This principle is a good reminder for Christians that what we store up here on the earth is temporal. Possessions value also depend on the use we give them. Related to the previous principle, the fourth principle holds that Christians should not live by our present life but the future (p. 51). This emphasis is significant because a future-informed life will lead us to pay attention to the act of giving. Giving can enable us to store up treasures that last forever whereas money and possessions are temporal and will disappear sooner than later.
The last two principles are also connected. The fifth principle states that against the danger of materialism giving is the only antidote (p. 58) and the sixth principle claims that the purpose of God’s prosperity is to raise our giving not our living (p. 71). Alcorn argues that when God gives us more money, this is more than a blessing, this is a test we should pass. We should live by giving and think about the neighbor (our children, members of our church, society, etc.). The purpose of an inheritance, for example, is more than storing up money only for ourselves. If we do such a thing, money and possessions will be soon lost. This perspective on giving can protect us from a rampant materialism while also raises our attitudes toward giving.
With a few differences, Alcorn’s principles resemble Brueggemann’s principles on money and possessions. Whereas Brueggemann discusses the topic from an ethical perspective informed by Christianity, Alcorn’s practical and sermon-like emphasis is also important. A bad management of money and possessions not only has repercussions here, but also affects the afterlife (the future).
The more salient principles to me are those dealing with God being the sole owner of everything and those highlighting our responsibility to be good stewards of money and possessions (Cf. p. 22). We can say that this stewardship principle is rightly key for both Brueggemann and Alcorn. Plagued by a culture that emphasizes a private use of money and that promotes the idea that by what we earn we live by, Brueggemann and Alcorn warns us about the danger of false beliefs on money such as the one I am noted earlier. If we fail in giving the principle of stewardship and the principle of the common good the place they deserve in the Christian life, money and possessions can destroy us. One of the best examples that illustrate this is the lottery. It is an open secret that most people who win the lottery tend to lose the money.
Alcon’s second principle about the place we put money is also salient to me. Our attitude toward money and possessions matter. Depending on our attitude we will put money in one place or the other. Despite being addressed probably for church-going people, I liked Alcorn’s emphasis here because for Christians the act of giving must be informed by the principles of the Kingdom of God and not the world’s. Christians ought to give, help, donate, and alike to first promote the Kingdom of God on earth, and second, to fulfill the command to love our neighbor.
These two beliefs are related but should not to be confused. These beliefs point out to the importance of shaping our hearts in light of God’s will without forgetting the one who we belong to. As I noticed in Alcorn’s view of money, both the act of giving and the reason to do so go hand in hand in the Christian faith. This aspect is sometimes downplayed in mainstream society, where the act of giving tend to displace the reason to give. Phrases such as “The important thing is that you give no matter what you think” reflect this issue. Someone might argue that this does not matter. However, it does. A misinformed or selfish act of giving can harm people through shaming, pity, or another mechanism to make people feel powerless. As Christians, our giving should not focus only on action but also on our heart’s desire to follow God in what he is doing in the world.