This July, I’ll be leading a group of high school students and leaders from Grace Fellowship Church on a brand new experience. We’re calling it the Worldview Road Trip, and it’s designed to equip students to think Christianly about every single area of life. One topic we plan to cover is economics. We want students to know the central components of a Christian worldview and how they inform our views on poverty, money, the economy, free markets, and more. As we’ve been creating an outline for this training session, I’ve identified several key theological issues that are especially relevant to this topic:
The Image of God
Fallen Human Nature
The Nature of Marriage and Family
Self-governance and Personal Responsibility
The Role of the Family
The Role of the Church
And here are the key questions regarding economics that emerge from our theological reflections:
How does the Imago Dei inform our view of human activity? Why is man a creator, not merely consumer?
How does fallen human nature inform our views about economics, markets, and human interaction in these arenas? How do various economic systems take into account, or ignore, our sinful and selfish nature? How might a free-market economy hold human nature in check and create accountability?
What is “sphere sovereignty,” and how does this idea emerge in Scripture (e.g., Paul telling us that “if a man will not work, he shall not eat” in 2 Thess. 3:10)? Who is primarily responsible for taking care of us?
Is there a distinction between self-interest and selfishness? How does appropriate self-interest inform our economic views?
What should our approach be to the poor? How does our view of human nature inform our approach? How are free markets effective tools in fighting poverty in the world?
How does God’s design for the family protect people from poverty (e.g., looking at how single parenting greatly increases chances of poverty and how married men with children are the most productive members of society)?
What is man’s fundamental problem and need according to Scripture? How do we prioritize issues like poverty in light of the primacy of the Gospel (e.g., do people need wealth or Jesus more? Are we focusing more on social justice issues or the cross of Christ?)
How would you answer these questions? We will equip students to see how the Christian worldview has tremendous insight into these topics. If you haven’t given this much thought, let me pass along some of the great resources we’re using to prepare this training session. You may find them helpful as you too think Christianly about all of life.
A few years ago, I read a Christianity Today article titled “Go Overboard Celebrating Christmas.” A provocative title, especially given the Evangelical tendency to decry materialism and consumerism this time of year. Of course, those warnings are important to heed, but sometimes warnings and alarm and outrage are the entirety of our message to the world. So the author’s perspective was a breath of fresh air:
Celebrate the stuff. Use fudge and eggnog and wine and roast beef. Use presents and wrapping paper. Embedded in many of the common complaints you hear about the holidays (consumerism, shopping, gluttony, etc.) are false assumptions about the point of the celebration. You do not prepare for a real celebration of the Incarnation through thirty days of Advent Gnosticism.
Celebrate the stuff?! I could imagine such a message rubbing Evangelicals the wrong way. As if an exhortation to embrace celebration and gifts and food is inherently selfish and therefore wrong. If that’s your first impulse when you hear this, let me suggest a helpful distinction to free you up a bit from what I think is a distorted view. We must distinguish between selfishness and appropriate self-interest. This distinction is vital to grasp. Self-interest is not wrong. Do you desire food and shelter? Do you wish to take care of your loved ones? I hope so. Are these just greedy, selfish desires? Of course not. Indeed, appropriate self-interest is assumed by Jesus. How does He tell us we ought to love others? As we love ourselves (Matthew 22:39).
I’m reminded of C.S. Lewis's explanation in his essay “The Weight of Glory”:
If you asked twenty good men today what they thought the highest of the virtues, nineteen of them would reply, Unselfishness. But if you had asked almost any of the great Christians of old, he would have replied, Love. You see what has happened? A negative term has been substituted for a positive…. The negative idea of Unselfishness carries with it the suggestion not primarily of securing good things for others, but of going without them ourselves, as if our abstinence and not their happiness was the important point. I do not think this is the Christian virtue of Love. The New Testament has lots to say about self-denial, but not about self-denial as an end in itself. We are told to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses in order that we may follow Christ; and nearly every description of what we shall ultimately find if we do so contains an appeal to desire.
Does self-interest have limits? Of course. When appropriate self-interest is abandoned and we move into selfishness, we have crossed the line into sin. Paul tells us, “Each of you should look not only to your own interests [appropriate self-interest], but also to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:4). But selfishness must be dealt with within the individual’s heart and not merely pawned off on the “stuff”:
At the same time, remembering your Puritan fathers, you must hate the sin while loving the stuff. Sin [is] not resident in the stuff. Sin is found in the human heart—in the hearts of both true gluttons and true scrooges—both those who drink much wine and those who drink much prune juice. If you are called up to the front of the class, and you get the problem all wrong, it would be bad form to blame the blackboard. That is just where you registered your error. In the same way, we register our sin on the stuff. But—because Jesus was born in this material world, that is where we register our piety as well. If your godliness won't imprint on fudge, then it is not true godliness.
So in your holiday celebrations, go overboard. Did not God go overboard for us?
Some may be disturbed by this. It seems a little out of control, as though I am urging you to “go overboard.” But of course I am urging you to go overboard. Think about it—when this world was “in sin and error pining,” did God give us a teaspoon of grace to make our dungeon a tad more pleasant? No. He went overboard.
Hi Brett, I have a theological dilemma that I need your advice on. A friend, who is married and has 3 young kids and a wife that isn’t working, has guilt about not being able to tithe.
I have tried all the usual tactics about being under the New Covenant and tithing isn’t required anymore, but that you should give as much as you can. Then he brought up the widow’s offering in Mark 12:41-44, saying that it is excellent in Jesus’ eyes to give to the point that it hurts. I think that’s a valid point. But then I think it’s also a valid argument that God expects him to take care of his family – right? If he takes away from his family to give alms, isn’t that also wrong?
(1) It doesn’t seem Jesus’ point is that on a normative basis we should give until it hurts. Particularly given the immediate context, it seems like the larger point is a comparison between the outward righteousness of the religious authorities not being a true demonstration of love for God and what true love for God does actually look like. So I don’t think we’re obligated to take that passage as a command to give until it hurts, even though there is occasion to do so.
(2) Secondly, your friend is not in a parallel situation to the widow, who does not seem to have family to care for, so you cannot simply draw a direct comparison between the two. Your friend has a wife and kids, so he has to balance giving with his obligations to feed, clothe, and shelter them. The Bible does offer clear guidance on taking care of one’s family.
(3) Giving isn’t just about giving money. When one isn’t in a position to give monetarily, it doesn’t mean he or she has nothing to give. We can give of our time, our service, our current resources like a car, home, etc. So maybe during this season of financial struggle, giving to the Lord’s work looks different from just putting money in the offering plate. Maybe it’s taking a skill he has and offering it to someone else in need.
(4) Lastly, sometimes there is a time and place to give when it hurts. Maybe this is one of those times. But I think this has to be done in harmony with his wife so that they are of one mind. If she doesn’t agree, I would say don’t do it. And they must take into consideration whether or not giving puts their own family in jeopardy. If so, don’t do it.
When you're teaching, whether it's apologetics or any other topic, it's not just the information but also the presentation that counts. You may be able to dump theological knowledge on your audience, but that doesn't mean it will stick and have the impact you're hoping for, so you've got to work on your presentation skills too. This is especially important with youth audiences.
When I'm asked for advice on teaching youth, here are some of my suggestions:
Have a strong opener for your talk: Use stories, object lessons, and illustrations to draw them in, gain their attention, and earn their trust. And get into it quickly. Don't waste time with filler (e.g. "Glad to be here with all of you…").
Cut content to the most essential elements: Often you have such limited teaching time (30-40 minutes), so make sure you're focusing on the most essential material for each topic. Avoid an "information dump" where you regurgitate every single aspect you've studied. You may study hours upon hours for a single talk, but you'll need to boil it down to the key ideas and arguments for your audience.
Illustrate, illustrate, illustrate: As you explain spiritual truths and abstract concepts, you will need to illustrate these for your audience. For example, we use the ice cream/medicine illustration to explain objective/subjective truth. In addition, I created a "Truth Test" years ago to further illustrate the distinction between the two.
Close your talks with ways that hit home: Show your audience how ideas have consequences. Illustrate how what you've taught plays out in real life. Use powerful stories to close. Help them see the relevance of your teaching to life. This will help give your talks a strong finish.
Hang out with your audience: If I'm speaking to a group I don't know, I will take the initiative to get to know my audience (as much as possible) beforehand. Greet people as they come in, walk around, introduce yourself, ask questions and mingle with them as they wait for the event to begin. If I'm at a camp or conference, I'll try to have meals with them and even participate in some of the camp activities with them. And afterwards, make yourself available for further questions and interactions. I typically try to be one of the last to leave the event. All of this will help the audience connect with you personally and, therefore, help them connect with your teaching at a deeper level.
If you do a lot of teaching, I suggest you get a copy of Timothy Koegel's book, The Exceptional Presenter. You'll benefit from it tremendously and so will your audience.