Published in Preach magazine Winter 2016 - Preaching on Money
Preaching about money in contemporary church life often falls into one of two conflicting categories. The first category warns that money is the root of all evil. Christians should therefore tread carefully around issues to do with money.
The second and conflicting category of preaching affirms money as an avenue of divine blessing. Therefore money need not be avoided or approached with caution.
Category one is the kind of preaching with which I grew up and which can still be found in many quarters of the church. These are the sermons which point to the rich fool, to the rich young ruler, to the likelihood of the rich entering heaven being less than a camel passing through the eye of a needle; in other words this is preaching money as the root of all evil. There is a clear biblical basis for this approach.
However there is also a clear biblical basis for the alternative category. Here such sermons will point to blessings of Abraham, to the Deuteronomic reminder that it is God who gives the ability to gain wealth, allude to the example of characters like Job who was both fabulously wealthy and deeply godly, consistently maintain that God’s very nature is one of lavish generosity, and remind us that whether wealthy or poor it is only by grace that we enjoy divine favour.
The key problem is that these approaches to preaching money seem to be both biblically defensible and mutually exclusive. Moreover category-one preachers all too readily view category-two preachers as proclaiming a prosperity gospel whilst category-two preachers all too readily view category-one preachers as lacking faith.
It is therefore unsurprising that many preachers shy away from the topic altogether. However, money is far too important an issue to be avoided. Jesus didn’t shy away from preaching about money in his day. Neither should we in ours.
Money is both a social and political issue which we need to address more, rather than less often in our sermons. Why is it that in a nation as wealthy as ours there are so families many reduced to relying on food banks, even when both parents are in full-time employment? Why are there so many families in this country wrestling with fuel poverty, unable to heat their homes adequately in winter? What is it about our economic policies that result in an increasing gap between the rich and the poor in Britain? What are we to do about the fact that those who live and work in London and the south-east are in effect living and working a different economic climate and almost a different country from the rest of Britain? These are money issues but they are also gospel issues. If we never preach about money we never wrestle with some of the most pressing issues of our day.
Nonetheless, preaching money requires a more nuanced approach than the two mutually exclusive categories seem to provide. Preaching money must reflect the context in which such preaching takes place. This means that we might find ourselves preaching apparently contradictory sermons in different contexts.
Jesus did not tell all who would become his disciples to give away their money. However that was his message to the rich ruler of Luke 18. Similarly there will be some congregations who need to be freed from the corrosive and corrupting power of money and encouraged to put money in its proper context, especially when they have far more money than they need.
That same preacher preaching to a congregation who do not have enough money might well need to encourage them to trust in the God who gives the power to gain wealth.
Context, as usual, is everything. This is especially the case when preaching money. First, exegete your congregation, second exegete the texts, then preach; in season and out.
Calvin is the principal of London School of Theology. He is a Methodist minister and previously served as Academic Dean of St John's College and Director of Wesley Study Centre.