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When Does Building Wealth Become Greed?

Written by: on March 8, 2018

Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism proposed that because Calvinists believe in predestination, they developed a deep psychological need for clues about whether a person was actually saved. Therefore, the author asserts Calvinists came to value profit and material success as signs of God’s favor. [1] Supposedly, the Methodists, Baptists and others had similar attitudes, but to a lesser degree. [2]

Last time I checked, the Methodists weren’t Calvinists, so my critical thinking skills questioned that assertion. Thankfully, Weber emphasized that he was not arguing “Protestantism” caused capitalism (or what he calls the “capitalistic spirit”), rather that it was just one contributing factor. [3]

Thankfully, the past semester and a half, we have studied capitalism in a variety of forms, and to my knowledge, our two main authors Cavanaugh and Polanyi, have not completely dissed the free market system, although they have certainly highlighted dangers in getting caught up in the excesses. I don’t think Weber is saying we should immediately switch over to socialism, rather it appears he is simply trying to explain how we got here, with the help of good meaning Protestants fueling modern capitalism.

I choose to focus today on that one line–Calvinists came to value profit and material success as signs of God’s favor–while at the same time connecting to my dissertation topic of relating to Dave Ramsey’s Baby Step #7 in Financial Peace University, Build Wealth (and give). [4]

[5]

I must admit, I cringe every time I hear Dave Ramsey talk about wealth building. I have NOT started 43 Financial Peace University classes across the country so people can be wealthy, I simply want to disciple Christians to be FAITHFUL STEWARDS of all God has trusted us with–our time, talents and treasures. I desire us to hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” from Matthew 25:23. [6]

Sure, I understand Dave’s highlights of debt elimination and saving/investing to be Biblical concepts (“The borrower is slave to the lender” from Proverbs 22:7, and “Go to the ant you sluggard…they store up their food during the summer, getting ready for the winter” from Proverbs 6:6-8. However, building wealth for the sake of building wealth reeks of the rich farmer who tore down his barns and silos to build bigger ones so he could eat, drink and be merry. In Luke 12:20 God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you.” [7]

The elephant in the room that Weber highlights centers around the words “material success” and “God’s favor” being intertwined.  I remember Dr. Jason Clark in a previous Zoom meeting discussing Cavanaugh’s Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire, saying Christians were being misled into believing because we have money, we might falsely think we are blessed. SPOT ON! I immediately recalled a Pastor friend of mine from Kenya who said he was praying for me because I owned so many things that might become snares for my soul…

Scriptural snapshots arise in my mind saying, “You cannot serve both God and mammon”, “How hard it is for a rich man to enter heaven”, and “the deceitfulness of riches choke out the word that was sowed”. I reject the so-called “prosperity preaching” where I witnessed American “name it and claim it” missionaries telling dirt-poor Africans if they had enough faith, they could have the house of their dreams and never go hungry a single day in their life.

Now, let’s be clear. I believe God wants to bless his children, but not always in the ways we think. I remember the words from James 5:1-3, “Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days.” We would be best if we remembered God’s riches actually might include the promises of more love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (the fruits of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22-23). [8]

Please Lord, let me not be a hoarder! It’s possible to have life insurance and a retirement fund, while practicing faithful stewardship, but there is a fine line between faithfulness and GREED. I Timothy 6:17 gives a warning to the rich: “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” [9]

Thankfully, Dave Ramsey adds these two beautiful bridge words to his plan–AND GIVE. [10] To me, that is the brilliant key. Those two words explain any reasoning for desiring wealth, so that generosity may flow like a river to achieve Godly purposes. Get your butt out of debt, be a good steward, and SHARE your ample resources with a lost and dying world, so they may hear about the love of Jesus Christ! I give Dave Ramsey credit for adding those two words.  They have not always been a part of Financial Peace University. When re-writting the class, he listened to feedback from a bunch of alumni, including us Pastors, who asked if he would consider, AND GIVE; and I am grateful Dave did.

You might be wondering how much of Weber’s book I needed to read in order to write this Blog.  To be honest, at the end of the day, I needed only about three paragraphs. I am not sure if that makes me a Doctoral candidate, or a intellectual fool.  But at the very least it helped me connect to my dissertation, which I thought was part of our goal…

 

[1] Weber, Max, Peter R. Baehr, and Gordon C. Wells. The Protestant Ethic and the “spirit” of Capitalism and Other Writings. New York: Penguin Books, 2012. p. xviii.

[2] Ibid., p. xxi.

[3] Ibid., p. 87.

[4] Ramsey, Dave. Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University Member Workbook. Lampo Licensing, LLC, 2012. p. 13.

[5] Ramsey, Dave. The Total Money Makeover. Nelson Current, 2010.

[6] Matthew 25:23. (NIV).

[7] Proverbs 22:7, Proverbs 6:6-8, Luke 12:20. (NLT).

[8] James 5:1-3, Galatians 5:22-23. (NIV).

[9] I Timothy 6:17. (NIV).

[10] Ramsey, Dave. Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University Member Workbook. Lampo Licensing, LLC, 2012. p. 13.

About the Author

mm

Jay Forseth

Superintendent of the Western Conference of the Evangelical Church. Blessed with 28 years as the husband of my amazing wife who I can't make it without. Now three of four in our family are attending University, but both my children are way smarter than me.

10 responses to “When Does Building Wealth Become Greed?”

  1. mm Jennifer Williamson says:

    Jay, I really appreciate how you connected the reading to your topic. I have done FPU, and did find it helpful in so many ways. But I do with that generosity was given an even stronger emphasis in the program. I think this is a heart attitude that needs to be cultivated beyond the call to give tithes and offerings. Generosity affects how we interact with others, our willingness to be interrupted, our capacity to set aside our own agendas for the good of the other. And some of us are not ever called to “build wealth.” David and I have some retirement savings, but as we live on the generosity of others, we have little to set aside. That’s not a complaint–I have faith that God will supply all of our needs (even as we do our best to steward what we have.”

    Would it be possible to enlarge and put a greater emphasis on the theme of generosity throughout the entire FUP course, rather than simply as an addedum on the end?

  2. mm M Webb says:

    M. Webb
    Jay,
    I was hoping you would use this week’s book to really show us your thoughts about Dave Ramsey, and you did! I am also very proud of you to use one of Bayard’s “non-reading” techniques to tackle this week’s critical post on Weber and The Protestant Ethic. You have a love-hate relationship with Ramsey I think. Anyone who introduces the Financial Peace University 43 times relates to the material, the message, and the creator-author. I am glad the Ramsey listened to you on his Step 7- “build wealth and give.” You and your stakeholders encouraged Ramsey to add “And Give” to his building wealth plan, and praise the Lord, he did!
    Stand firm,
    M. Webb

  3. mm Kyle Chalko says:

    excellent connection to your dissertation. I definitely see capitalism as building bigger barns to build bigger barns. I also see protestants building bigger churches to build bigger churches.

    The words And Give, changes the point of giving from being able to be more industrious or have more more comfort, into being able to love your neighbor as yourself. I wonder if Christians should set a build wealth goal so they can live off of 50% of their income and give the other 50% away. Love your neighbor as yourself. pay your neighbor as yourself?

  4. Very clever blog my friend. Jenn and I couldn’t agree more with the premise of building wealth so we have more to give and ability to make more of an impact financially. I have always been inspired by the story (which I’m not completely sure is true) of James Cash Penney who started giving 10% of his earnings and continued to increase it to the point where he was giving away 90% and living on 10%. His store called JC Penney did pretty well. Not sure if we will make enough someday to live on 10%, but we look forward to giving away much more as the years go by. Thanks for your wise words.

  5. Greg says:

    I find even I say that I don’t believe God goals are to bless us financially but find myself disappointed that certain funds didn’t come through to fund a particular project. It is such a easy trap to get caught up in. You talked about a Kenyan friend that prayed because you had lots of things. I have had Chinese friends tell me that America is too wealthy and have it too easy and they are praying for some persecution to come and refine the faith. Both those prayers (Kenyan and Chinese) are scary and needed. Way to go connecting to your research.

  6. mm Dan Kreiss says:

    Jay,

    Thanks for your post and your work to connect Weber to Ramsey, even if you only read 3 paragraphs of Weber. I have always liked what Ramsey has attempted to do with his Financial Peace. I think he has made an effort to help people get a handle on the rampant need for more stuff but I am not convinced that he has helped them think differently about what constitutes blessing from God. He has developed a framework that fits perfectly into the capitalist mindset that already exists (and has profited nicely from it in the process) but does not seem to question the ideology behind it. Not sure he would have much success if he took a different tack so it’s a moot point. Keep up the good work and questioning you are doing. It is valuable and appreciated.

  7. mm Jason Turbeville says:

    Jay,
    Great post, I have a friend who you would love. He is a great man of God. He owns about 12 different companies and is a very wealth man, but you would never know it just passing him on the street. What he is though is a conduit, his words not mine. He believes that God has blessed him in his work so that he can bless other ministries. I will give you and example. In 2012 I took a group of 18 to Thailand on a mission trip. While there I had set up transportation in the form of two drivers with vans. Midway through our 12 day trip I was informed by the missionary we were working with that the price for the vans had doubled to $3200 for the two weeks. I had about $1000 in emergency funds but that still put me $1000 short, I gathered my leader told them to pray about the situation and then was led to contact my friend in the US. I told him the situation and he said find a Western Union I will send you the money tomorrow, without hesitation. He did not even go to the church I was working in. We ended up not needing it, God made it work, but the point was this he told me God gave me this money so that I can help anyone who needs it without question. He has built wealth, but he gives it away.

    Jason

  8. Shawn Hart says:

    Jay, I taught out of Revelation 3 this morning; “Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’ – and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked – I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined by fire, that you may be rich…” (17-18a)

    I too cringe when people see that earthly wealth connection to God. I always…and sometimes literally…shout out, “Have you even read the Bible!!!!” There is an ignorance that comes from only seeing $$$$ next to the name of God. Don’t get me wrong, when we pray before a special contribution and it comes out even better than expected, I give God ALL the glory He deserves; however, I do not place faith in finances equal to faith in God. They are not the same.

    I am curious how the past couple readings have effected you concerning your dissertation work…has it fired you up or frustrated you?

    • I totally agree with both you (Jay) and Shawn’s comment above.

      You said, “Christians were being misled into believing because we have money, we might falsely think we are blessed. SPOT ON!” Thanks for highlighting this for us.

      I hear many people make comments such as Jason’s friend above who said, “God has blessed me financially so I can bless others.” I beg to differ. Perhaps we could say, “I’ve worked really hard, I’ve been ethical, I’ve adopted strategic and smart business practices, and, happily, the right timing happened with my investments, and I’ve therefore become rich. So I will bless others and honour God by giving to them.”

  9. Chris Pritchett says:

    I really appreciated your thoughtfulness and how you connected Weber’s ideas to Dave Ramsey. It seems to me that the Calvinists that Weber described as looking to wealth as a sign of God’s favor is a notion that would cause Calvin to roll over in his grave. I believe Calvin did not promote wealth for it’s own sake- he was no prosperity gospel preacher – but believed that all work done by the Christian – even secular work – is done to the glory of God. And this gratitude for God’s grace fuels a response of hard labor for the sake of the common good, to the glory of God. This quote of yours was gold…such a helpful summary of the semester: “Thankfully, the past semester and a half, we have studied capitalism in a variety of forms, and to my knowledge, our two main authors Cavanaugh and Polanyi, have not completely dissed the free market system, although they have certainly highlighted dangers in getting caught up in the excesses. I don’t think Weber is saying we should immediately switch over to socialism, rather it appears he is simply trying to explain how we got here, with the help of good meaning Protestants fueling modern capitalism.”

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