Power of Money, Ideology of Money, our Response to Money

The three most important ideas presented in Jacques Ellul’s Money and Power, Craig Gay’s Cash Values, and Ron Sider’s Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger respectively are:

1) Christians ought to recognize the power of money before anything else; 2) Due to this power of money, it has formed its own ideology reshaping the values of society, particularly in developed nations; and 3) Christians in these developed nations must be aware of the global consequences their money and wealth has created.

While I have heard a few teachings on the stewardship of money or how the love of money is the root of all evil, I now realize how much more powerful money is compared to what society and the church regards it to be.[1] When Jesus was teaching his disciples and said “You cannot serve God and wealth,[2]” (Matt 6:24, NSRV) he was not getting “this idea from his cultural milieu.”[3] Rather, Jesus considers wealth as a sort of god and while wealth and money “is certainly God’s opposite in the area of behavior,” argues Ellul, it “enjoys no equality with God.”[4] It is this power that I think is often masked to most people, however most deceivingly to Christians. It seems that,

All that the church has been able to say about the exclusively personal nature of our use of money is no doubt true, but it is obsolete because of the character of the world in which we live… The church must not adapt to the world… The world itself once again seems to be God’s instrument in forcing the church to face up to its conscience… [the church] should not then take refuge in a new abstraction which has nothing to do with humanity today or with the structure of our times.[5]

This lack of attention, to say the least, or perhaps more significantly the lack of an active stance towards money may be the cause of how money has developed its own ideology, subconsciously influencing and shaping society including Christians, thus leading to the alarming statistics on the behaviors of Christians in developed nations. I believe I have been a byproduct of this lack of teaching and serious consideration of money and its power. My parents grew up in a Confucius society and partnered with the pursuit of the American dream, birth an extreme focus on studies leading to a well-paying job. Upon attending church and becoming Christians, their upbringing of me did not vary from this. This was not an uncommon narrative for other peers I knew. I would argue before anything else, that it is this power of money and its deception particularly over Christians, that has made our reflections obsolete, stance weak, and behaviors indistinguishable from the rest of our society regarding money matters.

Clearly Ellul’s idea has impacted me the most, thus it has led me to revisit prior thoughts, assumptions, and motivations. Most interestingly about the timing of these readings is how it has intersected with a recent pursuit, i.e. to become a millionaire by the time I am 35 years old. This goal was not just a pursuit to obtain more money for consumerism or security, but was rather a challenge to test myself to pursue audacious goals. This past summer, I noted for myself a desire for “financial freedom”.[6] However, I now have to ask myself—why? Another interesting timing is how money as we know today is rapidly changing from a predominately fiat-currency to a digital-currency. I wonder what kind of effects this marriage of digital technology and money will have on the nature of this beast—or more accurately, on both beasts. While I am actively learning about cryptocurrencies, new technologies, and now a renewed Christian reflection on money, I still feel inadequate to respond well to why and what I am exactly pursuing, nor to the greater implications this money-technology will have. More concerning is the complete lack of knowledge concerning this topic for the vast majority. My concern is that due to the lack of dialogue and engagement with money as a whole and its new developments, the church as a whole is largely unprepared for any intelligent, thoughtful, or wholesome response. At best, most will probably only respond after the fact when this massive train of change will hit all of global society.[7]

To provide a balanced response and fair treatment of the other authors, I must agree that Christians in developed nations need to take money more seriously.[8] If we acknowledge and accept what Gay defines as the Money Metric,[9] then we must also acknowledge that it is within this framework that Christians in developed nations are reflecting on money. Perhaps this is why Sider criticizes and calls forth rich Christians, simply because the Money Metric has already shaped the overarching narrative of their lives.

In closing, I must agree with Ellul about the complex nature of money. “Nothing, whether in human nature or in the nature of things, whether in technology or in reason, adequately explains the original act of creating and accepting money.”[10] Nonetheless, it has become a power of its own, a Money Metric, that will continue its reign as a counterfeit god.[11] Hopefully, Christians can be faithful to God’s will as we continue to tackle this problem of money.[12]

[1] The sheer lack of teaching on this topic, despite its numerous references in the Bible, is evidence of the lack of recognition of the power of money by Christians.

[2] In Greek, mammon.

[3] Jacques Ellul, Money and Power (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1984), 75.

[4] Ellul, 75, 94.

[5] Ellul, 32.

[6] This term has many definitions and viewpoints, most often coined by the wealthy elite class. It is interesting how the pinnacle of monetary pursuits is phrased as the freedom from it.

[7] There is much more to be said on this topic and I will further explore it in a future paper.

[8] Not just in the pursuit and acquisition of it, but asking themselves why and which master they are serving.

[9] I.e. the system’s ‘exaltation of the monetary unit’. See Gay, 52.

[10] Ellul, 81.

[11] Ellul, 95

[12] Ellul, 19.