Money Matters: Faith, Life, and Wealth

By R. Paul Stevens and Clive Lim
Eerdmans, pp. 199, $19.99

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Review by James W. Murphy

Integration is the main theme of a helpful new book Money Matters: Faith, Life and Wealth by R. Paul Stevens and Clive Lim. This short book will be a useful new tool for personal reflection as well as for stimulating conversations about reconciling the benefits and challenges of wealth and the dangers that an obsessive love of money creates.

Using numerous biblical and historical references, Stevens and Lim encourage a healthy and integrated view of money, wealth, and the abundance of God’s grace. Unlike many other spirituality focused texts that tend to denigrate secular success, Stevens and Lim encourage a broader, biblical view of wealth, through honest personal storytelling and insights on the history of currency, capitalism, and changing Christian perspectives on wealth through the ages.

Their personal reflections on wealth and money are quite intriguing because of their very different cultural histories. Clive grew up poor in Singapore, followed by substantial but hard-fought business success, as compared to Paul’s very comfortable childhood in Canada. The authors’ stories will move readers to reflect on their relationship with money and the successes or failures in their work lives. Their book also provides an interesting historical perspective on changing attitudes toward wealth, including how ancient temples, including Jerusalem’s, served as nexuses for wealth to show God’s glory and as places for the redistribution of resources to those in need.

The authors argue for an integrated attitude toward wealth as an opportunity to benefit society without its self-serving near deification in the secular world. The authors also elaborate on the false integration found in the prosperity gospel. Others may find Chapter 9 a revelation on how the positivism of postwar American society provided the perfect breeding ground for its growth. The authors do a good job discussing the recurring Christian prejudice against secular work as opposed to holier activities.

As someone who has sought to integrate spiritual grounding into in my work roles, I appreciated their reminders that Christ typically grounded his parables in daily work and tasks, to be more meaningful and to join the secular and sacred. As Lim writes in Chapter 5, market reasoning is not complete without moral reasoning. Stevens and Lim seek to stimulate honest reflection and conversation on the place of money in our lives and the importance of finding holiness in everyday experiences, in place of a faulty and dangerous dualism.

The love of money, not its possession or accumulation, is what endangers one’s soul. Their Chapter 6 recommends a very biblical shrewdness, that wealth is meant to be a grace from God and therefore a tool to care for others and enhance community well-being, not simply for self-serving hoarding.

I would certainly agree with Lim and Stevens that gracious capitalism and the scientific innovations that market-based economies encourage, have improved the human condition throughout the world. However, this book will likely not convince every church leader of the societal benefits of individual wealth. No economic system is perfect, and the authors admit capitalism’s potential down sides, especially the risk of the commoditization of nearly everything and the radical income disparities of the 21st century.  I also regret that it’s not specifically discussed, but their insights on the duty of wealth for improving the lives of others could encourage socially responsible investing, corporate stewardship and stockholder engagements with companies.

For most readers, the book’s study questions will be a very useful exercise for encouraging more honest personal reflection and beneficial conversations about money within congregations. Their questions encourage important discussion on how we often segregate our work and spiritual lives from more integrated moral choices. Whether we are statistically wealthy or not, this book encourages its readers to listen to God’s call to weave holiness into every part of our lives.

James W. Murphy is managing program director for stewardship resources and operations at the Episcopal Church Foundation and the managing editor of Faithful Investing: The Power of Decisive Action and Incremental Change.