The Money Police: My Response to Accidental Pharisees

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As I mentioned earlier in the week, I read a very challenging book (that I recommend) called Accidental Pharisees.

Today I want to respond to the chapter entitled “The Money Police”.

The reason I’m publicly responding to the chapter is because I’ve had to honestly struggle with the question – am I guilty of the very things that Larry Osborne is addressing in the book?  Ultimately, I felt like it would be valuable to you for me to process my thoughts in an article.

What does Osborne say in this chapter?

After discussing gift projection (Tuesday’s post), he devotes an entire chapter to those who are especially doing gift projection when it comes to money.

There is one final group of gift projectors who need their own chapter. They’re deeply committed to Jesus, mercy and justice.  They’re incredibly sacrificial and generous. But they’re also myopic.  Mr. Magoo myopic.  They see the whole world through the lens of their passion and calling.  They have little patience (and no respect) for people who don’t share the same lens and the same calling.

They are the money police.  

They have the uncanny ability to know God’s plan for every penny they have – and every penny I have as well.  They’re the ultimate gift projectors. If you don’t line up with their standard of generosity, they won’t just criticize you. They’ll question your salvation.

Yikes.  Is that me?  Is that what MH4C is about?

I honestly don’t think so.

Here’s more:

The poverty Gospel also assails the American dream. It has no room for a God who blesses us with good things to enjoy.  Instead God wants us to live as simply as possible so that we can give away as much as possible. … today’s money police are quite sure that no true disciple would buy a big house, drive an expensive car, go on a fancy vacation, splurge on a nice restaurant, wear designer clothes, or attend a church with elaborate facilities.

Yikes.  There are elements where that is true about me and about MH4C.

Osborne continues:

The early church was surrounded by great poverty, yet there is not one word in the New Testament epistles encouraging the rich to downsize so that they can give more to help the poor.

Instead, Osborne points to the woman who anointed Jesus with a full jar of perfume.  This type of activity makes the money police go ballistic.  But it made Jesus happy.

Am I a ‘money police’?

The most honest answer is perhaps, but not intentionally.

From day one (over four years ago), I’ve done my best to position this blog as my journey and struggle with money and never as an edict of what all Christians do with money to honor God.  My wife and I have learned so much about what God would have us do with our finances, and it’s been a joy to go on this journey with God.  Even though the blog is very personal, I think there are themes that all Christians can glean from the blog.  I do think that all Christians should pursue debt-free and simple living along with generous giving.  

Why?

Because I think the Bible says you’ll experience tremendous earthly and eternal blessings living this way.

What I have avoided is defining what ‘simple living’ looks like.

In fact, in my book Transforming Your Financial Diet, I tried to make this very clear.

Nor is this book about enforcing an external standard.  I’m not going to say you are generous if you give more than 10%, 20% or 30% of your income.  Nor is there a standard that qualifies you for simply living.  Living on 60%, 70%, or 80% of your income does not necessarily equate to simple living.   In prayer, you must decide that number.  You decide the amounts.  If you seek God, He’ll lead you to the right place.  In this way, we remove ourselves from the position of judging.

Each of us must realize that we are not God’ s standard of righteousness.

Here’s the example I use in the book:

  • The person without shoes thinks the person with shoes has too much.
  • The person with shoes thinks the lady with the bike has too much.
  • The lady with the bike thinks the guy who has the clunker has too much.
  • The guy with the clunker thinks the fellow with the three-year-old Accord has too much.
  • The fellow with the Accord thinks the girl with the Lexus has too much.
  • The girl with the Lexus thinks the lady with the private jet has too much.

What is simple living?

It is intentionally living on less than you make so you can share with others.  I think this is an entirely defensible Biblical perspective.  All giving requires sacrifice.  All giving requires you to live on less than you make.  All giving involves one form of simple living.

The biblical call is generosity.  I believe that is a call for all Christians. Some people prefer to practice ‘radical generosity’, but not all are called to that.

I guess I’ll end with this observation:

I’m thankful for the direct challenge that Osborne offered, as it helped me evaluate what I’m doing with this blog.  That was a blessing to me.  Ultimately, I think there is an ongoing need to continue to offer the call and challenge I offer on this blog.

Here at MH4C, I offer a challenge to those who are willing to listen.  I cannot determine if you should be listening, but you can.  I do apologize if I’ve made you feel guilty and made you feel like God is not pleased with you.  Our God loves you deeply for who you are – not what you do.  Giving is never about trying to make God happy, but trying to become the very person God created you to be.

While I’ve always sought to make this blog a place where we challenge status quo, please understand this is not a place of judgement.

May God bless each of us as we grow into his likeness.

At the very least, at the end of the day, I’ve grown through the process of writing this blog, and it has been a blessing to me.  It’s for that very same reason I’ll keep writing – so through my writing God can form me more into the man He wants me to be.

Comments

  1. Robert says

    Craig,

    I have certainly been guilty of the behavior Osborne describes at moments in the past. I have been on a long journey to recognize that I need to be less judgmental of others’ who do not “live as simply as possible so that [they] can give away as much as possible.” You illustrate well that these ideas are relative to one’s circumstances. Simple living and generosity do not take the same form in every place and culture. MH4C has helped me a great deal on this journey, and I always appreciate reading your sound perspective.

    I also think the so-called “money police” have helped me on my journey. They offer an important corrective in a culture that embraced individualism and materialism long ago. As a whole, we Americans can and should live more simply and give more generously. I agree that some who advocate this belief are too quick to judge others, but I lament that in being quick to judge they have alienated those that most need to hear their message. Our brothers and sisters in the “money police” highlight aspects of Scripture that we gloss over or spiritualize – often subconsciously – in order to justify our lifestyle. Jesus warned his disciples against building bigger barns so that their lives would be more comfortable (Luke 12:16-21). We desperately need to take this message to heart.

    I am truly saddened that so few do not see past the harsh reactions of the “money police” – which comes through their deep conviction and passion for truth – to find the Gospel truth that we have overlooked.

    I am angered that Osborne would suggest that, “… there is not one word in the New Testament epistles encouraging the rich to downsize so that they can give more to help the poor.” Even if we throw out all of Jesus’ teachings on money and the example of the first Christians in Acts, and we limit ourselves to the epistles, we still have a strong warning against accumulating wealth while other around us suffer (James 5:1-6). Osborne overstated his case in order to correct his “money policing brothers’” error … which is the same pharisaical attitude that he condemns.

    • says

      Robert,
      You definitely make a valuable observation that ‘money police’ have really contributed something valuable to the American Christian culture. Every good movement has a dark side if pushed too far too often, but that doesn’t mean those movements are not valuable for us.

      I do think that the whole NT does offer a fuller picture of radical generosity than Osborne recognizes. I think in the end even Osborne would agree that he overstated his case, but does have a valuable point at least worth our consideration.

  2. Jane says

    I haven’t read the book you mentioned in your post but I have not felt in anyway that you have been judgmental or critical towards Christians living or not living a simple and generous life in previous posts. I feel that you have been informative and yet firm in what you believe God’s word is saying about the area of finances. Something I have found helpful and thought provoking. Keep it up!
    My initial response to Accidental Pharisees is that the author seems to be given much attention to what people are doing wrong in the church, rather than encouraging and building up the body. Yes we can all be zealous at times but I would challenge him to give up his current life and all its resources for a period of time and go and live amongst the poorest of the poor. Try one of the urban slums around the world. Maybe then he would develop a bit more zealousness for the cause of living a generous life. Something I feel very passionate about! I wonder if the book would be written any different then.

    • says

      Jane,
      Thanks for your encouragement.
      The author certainly does have an agenda. I think as Christians we need those who will encourage us in an effort to build us up and some who will challenge us in a effort to build us up. While I don’t agree with everything in the book I felt like it was a needed challenge to be sure we’re not walking down the same slippery slope of the Pharisees.

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