Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Money
In an effort to think through my philosophy and theology of money, I recently read Money, Possessions, and Eternity by Randy Alcorn. It’s about what [the author thinks] the Bible says about every possible financial topic you could imagine and then some. This book is so incredibly thorough that it should be called Everything You Ever Wanted to Know (and some things you didn’t) about Money, Possessions, and Eternity.
To save you 400 pages of reading, here’s my review. Despite being comprehensive, it’s not about a 7-step financial plan or any other specific guidelines except tithing. I should warn you, this book could really shake up your financial plans. It led to me think through our goals in a different light and makes me want to be more generous. I recommended the book to a friend and it motivated her to broach a very difficult financial topic with her family and make some major (and good) changes. This is a powerful book; handle with caution!
“Materialism is Stupid”
Critiquing our consumer culture, Alcorn keeps it real: “We must understand that materialism is not simply wrong. It is stupid” because “you’ll never see a hearse pulling a U-haul.” Jesus made the same point a little more eloquently: “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26).
The second part is probably the most unique compared to other books about money. Alcorn makes an interesting case for viewing money and possessions in light of eternity (hence the title). Basically, if you believe in the afterlife then why not invest your money in whatever you can take with you? Mainly this means helping people by caring for others’ spiritual and material needs. He also describes a pilgrim’s mentality because it navigates the “in but not of the world” balance well: “Material things are valuable to pilgrims, but only as they facilitate their mission….We must cultivate the pilgrim mentality of detachment, the traveler’s utilitarian philosophy concerning things.” If you’ve ever felt bogged down by the clutter in your home, I think you understand his meaning. Stuff can be a burden. Contentment is key.
The Hot Tithe Debate
The third section is about generosity. He calls tithing the “training wheels of giving” and makes a strong appeal for why believers should give 10% at the very minimum. I come from the rare church that doesn’t teach the tithe; he goes on at length about why you can’t write off the tithe by calling it legalistic or Old Testament. He makes some good points and, rules aside, I agree it would be good to give at least 10% of your income and that grace should lead to greater generosity than the law. But the figure is from the Old Testament; New Testament believers gave more than this in some examples but we don’t read about any requirements.
Debate aside, this book made me want to be more generous. But I have to point out that he wants it both ways when it comes to Old Testament financial advice. He preaches the tithe but dismisses the Proverbs statement about leaving your children’s children an inheritance, saying it no longer applies in part because we don’t follow all the OT laws about leaving a double portion to the firstborn male and yada yada yada.
His Take on Typical Money Topics
The final section deals with common financial topics like his thoughts on debt, saving, retiring, insuring, investing, and leaving an inheritance. See Ramsey vs. Alcorn Throw Down for a summary. About investing vs. giving he asks, “Are we truly obeying the command to love our neighbor as ourselves if we’re storing up money for potential future needs when our neighbor is laboring today under actual present needs?” This is a real tension, but he tends to overlook Bible passages about being a shrewd money manager. Plus a big advantage to pretending to be poor is that you don’t need nearly as much to retire because you maintain a low-cost lifestyle regardless of income.
He critiques financial dependence on grounds similar to ours, but he is also a pastor who loves his work and has no desire to retire early.
He’s got good stuff on choosing a lifestyle below your means, giving generously, and practical ideas for battling materialism and teaching children about handling wealth well. He suggests determining “to live on a certain amount of money each year, an amount that allows some room for discretionary or recreational spending. All income beyond that I will give to God’s kingdom purposes.” This sounds great but again, where do saving for retirement or college funds fit in? He paid off his mortgage early, has a retirement account, and helped his daughters with college costs, so he clearly doesn’t give away literally every dollar that he doesn’t spend on his immediate needs.
The Appendix “Practical guidelines to control spending” had some really good tips. My favorite was to “pray before you spend.” If you want to buy something, especially if it’s outside of your routine expenses, why not pray about it? Maybe God will answer by providing the item for free and at a lower cost from an unlikely source. Maybe He will show you that you don’t really need or want it, especially since praying will delay impulse buying. Maybe nothing will happen and you can proceed with whatever you see fit. But why not ask? This approach could get weirdly super-spiritual, but that isn’t his meaning. I’ve seen certain provisions come in just as I wanted or needed them.
Overall, I’d recommend this book to anyone who believes in heaven and wants to think more deeply about why to resist materialism, pursue financial goals, and be generous.
What do you think about giving away money? What’s the best financial book you’ve read?