Book Review – “The Good of Affluence”
“The Good of Affluence” by John R. Schneider
by Mark Sooy
The foundation of Christian Worldview thinking follows the contours of Creation, Fall and Redemption. In this scholarly work, John Schneider explores the subject of wealth from this basis. Beginning at the beginning, that is, with Creation.
The full title is “The Good of Affluence: Seeking God in a Culture of Wealth.” It is a scholarly work, and admittedly difficult reading at times for those not used to the extended argumentation that requires focused attention. However, it is well worth the effort.
Schneider states his purpose as “renovating” the common perspectives, and misconceptions, of how faith and wealth mix (p. 2). Rather than a theology of ascetic denial, or even the more common idea of keeping “only what you need,” Schneider sees a theology of “delight” within the text of Scripture. He states, “Material prosperity (rightly understood) is the condition that God envisions for all human beings. It describes the condition that God desired for human beings when he created the world” (p. 3). Thus, he begins his argument with Creation – that God created a good world in which He intended goodness for humanity in the form of material delight.
He builds a strong case for his position as he leads the reader through Genesis as providing the original vision for material goodness. He proceeds through the Bible carefully choosing texts which legitimately reinforce his ideas. The Exodus shows God liberating the poor and downtrodden into the materialistically described “land flowing with milk and honey.” The Prophets (particularly Amos) are used to express the dangers of how “delight” can be twisted into greed, opulence and lack of concern for the poor.
Schneider spends several chapters discussing Jesus. First, in regards to the misplaced assumption that Christ was part of a lower class, poor family – when in fact He was a member of a somewhat well-off family (possibly similar to our middle class). Beyond that, Schneider discusses Jesus’ teaching on wealth and notes how Christ turned the ideas on their head – rather than always blast the wealthy for being rich, He had much more to say about their heart attitudes. He includes a discussion of a number of parables regarding wealth.
Throughout the book Schneider is found to be in dialogue with a number of other writers concerning faith and wealth. At times he uses their points to bolster his own, and at times he uses them to show the weakness of their thinking in order to prove his own point. This seems to be a good feature, as it allows the reader to see how Schneider might take issue with current books on the subject of wealth and faith. Schneider’s work, in fact, dismantles the thin layer of exegesis found in some popular treatments of the subject.
Do not assume that Schneider is simply putting a new spin on the “health and wealth gospel.” Far from this, he does well at helping the reader see the importance of the heart in regards to material wealth and the reality that spiritual health and a relationship with Christ is wealth beyond measure. He spends time discussing the dangers of holding on to wealth without any legitimate concern for the poor and oppressed. The book considers our responsibility to fellow human beings and how to appropriately respond to their needs. Overall, this book is well-balanced and worth the time and effort to read and understand the “good of affluence.”
John R. Schneider is a retired professor of theology. This book is an expansion and revision of an earlier work titled “Godly Materialism: Rethinking Money and Possessions.”