I was strolling through Barnes and Noble a week or so ago. Near the coffee counter, the cover of the Atlantic read, "Did Christianity Cause the Crash? How Preachers are Spreading a Gospel of Debt." At first, I thought, "Terrific, one more thing people want to blame on Christianity. Next, it'll be the bad weather in Des Moines." I could guess that the article was going to focus on "Heath and Wealthers," perhaps portraying them as typical of Christian teaching on money and possessions.
I was right.
Let me say at the outset that the article is not brutally unfair. It is simply misguided in portraying the smattering of health-and-wealthers as somewhat typical of Christianity's teaching on the subject. And, if we are going to be fair to even the health-and-wealthers…a couple of points should be made:
- Even if health/wealth pastors encouraged people to buy houses they couldn't afford because "God wanted them to"—a bank still had to lend them the money. So, the lenders are at least as much at fault as the customer.
- By far, most people who took out bad loans weren't members of the so-called Christian health/wealth movement. But, even if they were…a bank still had to loan them the money.
So, blaming the housing crash on the marginal health/wealth movement within Christianity seems somewhat illogical to me. I'm sure the title of the article was designed to get people to read the magazine and blog about it (mission accomplished). However, the Atlantic should be held responsible for the implications of their headlines and the substance of their journalism.
The well-written article reads like an investigative report. However, it's really an editorial piece in investigative dress. There's even an odd shot at Sarah Palin's family life and an attempt to link her to health/wealth toward the end—and a contrast between the promises of health/wealth and the "sure hope" offered by Presidents Obama and Clinton. Hmmm…
Here is a smattering of thoughts on the claims of the article:
- In truth, health/wealthers are a fringe group. To imply somehow that they speak for the majority of Christians is factually inaccurate.
- Swap in another religion like Judaism or Islam for Christianity on the cover and try to imagine the same magazine being put on the racks. Highly unlikely, given today's sensitivities.
- Most pastors I know of, whether in the mainstream (and even most of the fringe), hold a highly negative view of debt and incorporate it into their teachings on stewardship.
- In fact, the NY Times published an article in March of this year, asking, "Did Evangelicals Curb the Housing Bubble?" They found: Yes. Check it out here.
- I am well aware that the practice of religious quackery by those in the health/wealth camp has been damaging to those under it's influence. That is why a healthy biblical theology of money and possessions must be taught in every church in every place. Jesus talked about it constantly. So, it should be talked about more frequently than the annual Missions Sunday or Capital Campaign season. It is an integral part of discipleship.
As frustrated as I am at the way the Atlantic portrayed Christianity both on the cover and between the covers of their magazine, I cannot fault them for finding fault with the health/wealth crowd. I simply lament their limited understanding and representation of Christianity as a whole.
It pains me to think that virtually every person getting a cup of coffee at Barnes and Noble in Escondido will see that cover and think, perhaps de facto, that the current global malaise is a by-product of "Christianity." At the same time, it pains me that some people's lives have been ruined by those trafficking in the things of God for their own gain.
Here's a question: What does more harm to people's theology of money and possessions: Health/Wealth teaching, or no teaching at all? I would love to hear your thoughts on this.