Book Review: The Gospel-Filled Wallet by Jeff Weddle

“Being poor is not the issue; love is.”  This statement on page 22 should be the first sentence of the book.

Mention “stewardship” and many Christians get immediately defensive.  We will tolerate encroachment in many areas but the wallet is not usually one of them.  The nearer biblical counsel, preaching, exhortations and appeals get to our back pockets the more we “feel led” to a different church or ministry.  Though we rarely remember last Sunday’s sermon, we’re convinced the preacher is always preaching about money.  Does he expect us all to live in poverty, for God’s sake?

“Being poor is not the issue; love is.”

In some ways America’s rugged individualism has hijacked faithful Christianity and biblical community.  The “American Dream” may not always be heaven’s vision, however.  As Americans we are free to earn a living; but as Christians we do not live to earn.  And in a folksy way, Jeff Weddle attempts a helpful corrective for our love of money in The Gospel-Filled Wallet.

Book Summary

Weddle begins and ends his book autobiographically.  He was led to write this book because he was led to confess his own love of money.  I wonder if he may have been a bit hard on himself, but who is to stand in the way of confession?

He systematically surveys the New Testament’s teaching about money beginning with Jesus in the Gospels, then Paul’s letters and lastly the other writings.  He then highlights various biblical “celebrities” who either surrendered their wealth for God’s purposes or retained their wealth in a godly way.

So where does Scripture commend the spending of our money?  Weddle ends with practical and pastoral answers to that question.  In fact, I would suggest reading this chapter first in order to guard against any hasty conclusions and unfair presuppositions you might otherwise develop.

The postscript Q&A provides a helpful, humorous way to cushion the fall if you’ve been unusually provoked by the book.

Commendations

I commend Weddle’s courage to confront a volatile issue in American Christianity.  I must humbly appreciate any attempt to call me and/or the Church to faithful biblical stewardship.   We don’t want to be idolaters after all.  We need faithful exhortation to consider and organize our lives (including our money) around God’s word.  And Weddle provides just that.  Whether or not you agree with Weddle’s conclusions, you must wrestle with the biblical texts he addresses.  Although, any interpretation cannot stray very far from the plain reading of Scripture!

I commend Weddle’s understanding of Matthew 11.5 (pp15-16).  Of all the signs and wonders that would convince John the Baptist of Jesus’  Messiahship, one was that he preached the gospel to the poor.  Unlike the stream of Israel’s religious leaders who exploited the poor, Jesus brought grace to them.  Jesus turned the world right side-up again.  God’s kingdom would be populated by those considered least likely and least deserving of kingdom benefits.  In fact, as Weddle points out, a religious leader genuinely loving the outcast and poor is as radical as curing blindness and deafness.

Is the modern church much different that those first century Pharisees?  Are people a means to an end?  Do we serve those who can return the favor?  Do we find ourselves attracted to the same folks Jesus was?  Do we find ourselves attractive to the same folks Jesus was?  One look around a typical Sunday church gathering and it looks nothing like the gathering around Jesus.  “Talking to poor people shows that you aren’t selling something,” says Weddle (p16).  And they aren’t a consumer, product or project.  We do well to remember that.

I commend Weddle’s “rapid fire” treatment on where Christians’ money should be spent (pp56-62): on the poor, unbelieving friends (with some qualification), family, your church’s ministry, missions, hospitality, taxes and wise, tempered investments.  His tone softens in this chapter to steer us away from legalistic checklists toward hearts that love what Jesus loves and commends.

Recommendations

I hesitate to critique another man’s heart when it comes an honest pursuit of biblical understanding.  Therefore, I consider my recommendations of little value compared to the book as a whole.

1.  Weddle readily admits the King James Version is his favorite and “fun” (p2).  I’m not sure I’ve ever heard KJV and “fun” in the same sentence, but I did find the version cumbersome.  He admits that the KJV “employs words we no longer use” so why not provide a more readable translation for the general reader?  Where the KJV provides helpful insight then refer to it.  Otherwise the NASB or ESV would’ve been easier to digest.

2.  Weddle’s opening salvo had a superlative tone about it.  Based on what how he spends his money, he says he must inevitably hate God (p1).  I trust he’s speaking hyperbolically and provocatively.  Nevertheless, based on Mt 6.24 he writes, “If you love money, you hate God” (p3).  He then goes on to describe ways in which we may love money without ever realizing it.  However, given his scenarios we must all resign ourselves to the hatred of God, too, which is exactly where he concludes: “Thus, we hate God” (v5).

He concludes we’re “consumed with money” (p5) because most everything we need temporally requires money.  This is a large leap, in my estimation.  Just because I need oxygen to breathe doesn’t mean I idolize oxygen when I gasp for breath.  It means God has created me to need oxygen and he is to be thanked when it’s provided for me.  Likewise (and I think Weddle does eventually conclude this), because my two-year-old uses diapers does not mean I’m consumed with money because I must buy them.  And when I do I am to thank God for his undeserved favor.  We must be very careful of assuming the effects of how we spend money are necessarily to be imposed on others who may spend it with a different heart.

Does Jesus intend a “straight up dichotomy” (p3) in Matthew 6.24?  Or was he using rhetorical hyperbole to emphasize the nature of kingdom affections?  For example, in Luke 14.26, Jesus said his disciples must hate (Gk. miseo as in Mt 6.24) their fathers, mothers, wives, brothers, sisters and children.  Jesus did not establish a “straight up dichotomy” but depicted a rhetorical comparison.  Nothing and no one (not even the closest of kin) must come between our pursuit of Christ.  The same holds true for money.  I think Weddle eventually gets to this understanding, but the reader is not encouraged toward it until then.

3.  Weddle included Abraham in the catalogue of men who’d surrendered wealth and riches for God’s sake (Noah, Moses, Elijah, John the Baptist, etal.).  However, Abraham did not “give up his home and his stuff to follow God” (p41).  Genesis 13.2 clearly says “Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver and in gold.”  In v6, we learn that between Abram and Lot “the land could not sustain them while dwelling together, for their possessions were so great that they were not able to remain together.”  Although, on p51 Weddle did include Abram among those “who had wealth and still served God.”  Weddle should’ve instead included Abraham in with Joseph, David, Solomon and Job.

Review Summary

In The Gospel-Filled Wallet, Weddle doesn’t attempt an exhaustive exegesis of all things money and wealth.  He does provide witty, pastoral and provocative insights to get us thinking the right way.  You’ll find the book an easy read and one that will encourage more faithful stewardship.  In the end, I think he concludes with Paul that “those who use the world” are to do “as though they did not make full use of it” (1 Cor 7.31).

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