Saturday, June 19, 2010

What's in YOUR wallet?

I'll be honest. When my friend Milton Stanley asked me to review Jeff Weddle's The Gospel-filled Wallet, I didn't exactly jump at the chance. I mean, one of the things about Christian media that tires me the most is the constant torrent of advice. Do this, do that, do it this way, do it that way, and have a happy life. Was Jeff's book going to be yet more Christian-ish advice about money management? I had an inclination to pass it up.

But, well, the book is the first offering from Milton's publishing venture, Transforming Publishing, and after years of reading both Milton's blog and Jeff's, I had a competing inclination to trust their judgement. So I agreed to read and review the book here.

And I'm glad I did.

The first point I want to make is, this is not really a how-to book about wise financial management. This is, as the subtitle suggests, a book about "what the Bible really says about money." Jeff spends the lion's share of these pages pointing out the sheer consistency of the Bible on the subject of money. In passage after passage the message is the same: you cannot serve both God and money. If you love the one, you will hate the other.

The strengths of this book are: first, Jeff's no nonsense handling of the Scriptures. In most cases, the Word is simpler and more straightforward than we like to think. I love the way Jeff handles these verses. Second, Jeff's writing is crisp, punchy, to the point. Brief, uncomplicated sentences, clear thinking, and a swift pacing make this book a pleasure to read.

More importantly, The Gospel Filled Wallet is not financial advice. As Jeff explicates one Scripture passage after another dealing with money, we quickly get the feeling that the Bible's counsel on this topic is, to put it mildly, challenging. As Jeff puts it (in a chapter provocative titled, "I think I hate God"):
Our lives are consumed with money. All of our life is centered on the pursuit, acquisition, and spending of it. Our lives prove that we love money. You show what you love by where you put your time and energy. Money consumes us. We love money.

Thus, we hate God.
Much of this small book is taken up with demonstrating that Jesus, Paul, and the other prominent voices of the Bible never back off from this strict understanding. The things of this world, the things money can buy, are a poor investment. You should give it away!

If you're wondering where the Gospel comes in amidst all this (the book is called, after all, The Gospel-filled Wallet), well, so was I. If I have a criticism of this book, it is that Weddle did not make the connection between the Gospel and a Biblical attitude toward money as clearly and unmistakably as he might have. It's there, in his last chapter, but somewhat muted, I think. In my notes I marked the page where I found its clearest expression (page 69, by the way), and yet I believe Jeff could have used his fine skill for explaining and applying Scripture to better purpose here. I think Jeff misses a chance to vividly apply the Gospel to this issue in a manner that inspires. We know more clearly than ever, after reading this book, that the love of money is truly the root of all sorts of evils, and that we love money far more than we ought. But what we don't know any better how Jesus solves this dilemma.

Two more points, one a strong positive, and the other a minor criticism. The positive: Jeff's attitude throughout the book is one of humility. He admits that he doesn't have this all figured out, and that his own life does not comport with the Biblical perspective on money. He's working it out, just like the rest of us. I really, really love this aspect of the book. The minor criticism: I'm sorry, but I see no reason to use the KJV for all Scripture references. I don't know if Jeff is a KJV-only sort of guy, but for those of us who don't read it (or Milton or Shakespeare) regularly, it's distracting.

In summary, The Gospel-filled Wallet is a brief, highly-readable, and at times powerful book. Its challenge to us is a Biblical challenge to live Godly lives in an evil age. But I do think that Jeff's explication of problem is more thorough than his explication of the Biblical solution, which, yes, has everything to do with the good news.

The book is for sale at Amazon, and Jeff continues to ruminate on this subject at his book blog of the same name.


jeff weddle said...

Thanks for the review, Bob.

Thanks for the kind words and the criticisms. I could have stressed the Gospel more and given more applications, but I wanted it to be open-ended. I used 2 Corinthians 8:9 three times in the book as my explanation of the Gospel and how it relates to our money. I let the reader figure the rest out since I don't know what everyone should do.

As to the KJV, I am not a KJV only guy, but I do like it and I memorized all my verses in it so I can't find verses in any other translation! Just a preference.

Thanks again for reading the book and reviewing it. I appreciate it.

Bob said...

Thanks, Jeff. I still would have preferred a fuller unpacking of the gospel with regard to this issue, but you know what? You got me thinking, and that's a good thing. I guess it's not always necessary for the author to have all the answers!

Good work, and I pray that your book will bless many.