Why Not Blame Christianity?

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.


Dr. Tim Spivey is Lead Planter of New Vintage Church in San Diego, California. He is the author of numerous articles and one book, "Jesus: The Powerful Servant." A sought after speaker for events, Tim also serves as Adjunct Professor of Religion at Pepperdine University. Tim serves as a church consultant, and his writings are featured on ChurchLeaders.com, Church Executive magazine, Faith Village, Sermon Central, and Giving Rocket.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

Share Your Thoughts

5 thoughts on “Why Not Blame Christianity?

  1. To answer the question, I tend to think Health/Wealth teaching is worse than no teaching because H/W affirmatively misleads people into a wrong course of action & keeps them there. If there’s no teaching, most people tend to figure it out, either intuitively or through hard-earned experience. Plus, if people are left to develop their own theology & do so in good faith, they will eventually encounter all those great Proverbs, which boil seemingly complex financial matters down to some pretty clear fundamentals. Maybe I’m dead wrong, but you asked 🙂

  2. Interesting commentary Tim – I’ll have to read the entire article. Reminded me of this quote from Tocqueville written many, many years ago.
    “Not only do the American practice their religion out of self-interest, but they often even place in this world the interest which they have in practicing it. Priests in the Middle Ages spoke of nothing but the other life; they hardly took any trouble to prove that a sincere Christian might be happy here below. But preachers in America are continually coming down to earth. Indeed they find it difficult to take their eyes off it. The better to touch their hearers, they are forever pointing out how religious beliefs favor freedom and public order, and it is often difficult to be sure when listening to them whether the main object of religion is to procure eternal felicity in the next world or prosperity in this.” Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Vol. II, Part 2, ch. 9

  3. It would seem illogical to lay sole blame on any one group for the economic woes. Perhaps there is not enough biblical teaching on financial stewardship taking place in churches across America. But as you pointed, the coorporate groups still had to offer and approve unwise financial loans and such. But it is not just the coorporate level’s fault. For those of us who have made unwise decisions with our finances in the past, no one forced us into those decision. Though it may be true that we were more susceptible through manipulative advertising…we still had a choice to make.
    As far as what fault lies with Christianity…I remember hearing a few chapel lectures at my alma mater on the subject of financial stewardship and trying to avoid credit debt. Then I would receive in the mail a credit card offer with the university’s logo on it (something which earned them some money). I think that was hypocracy on the university’s part to teach against credit debt and then allow a bank to use its logo to advertise and offer credit cards to student who, most likely, do not have the financial means nor the wisdom to act responsibly with a credit card.
    Grace and peace,

  4. Chris,
    Good stuff. My point in the second point has more to do with political correctness, etc., than whether or not Judaism or Islam had an “apples to apples” comparison.
    I agree that Christians don’t need to play the “victim card,” often, if ever. It wasn’t my intent to do so here, but rather to critique the Atlantic’s supposed truth claim.
    The final question is one I’m not sure I can answer definitively either. That’s why I asked it 😉

  5. Good post, though I wouldn’t put too much stress on your second bullet point. I don’t think Judaism or Islam have anything comparable to the health-and-wealth gospel. The closest thing I can think of elsewhere in religious America would be the New Age “think and grow rich” crowd, which has striking similarities to the “name it and claim it” crowd anyway. (Also, I don’t think Christians come off well when they play the “victim” card, because of the dominant position Christianity held for so long in the modern West and still holds, despite occasional potshots, in the USA.)
    I can’t answer your final question, because I would hope that responsible teaching of the type you mentioned in the fifth bullet point could be a third choice.