Practical Theology: Stewardship & Finances (pt.2)

by on June 23, 2016

In our previous post, I offered one helpful theological principle that I have found helpful to keep in mind as a seminarian preparing for ministry in which finances is involved. I encouraged us to view God’s creation as one brimming with creational, financial, and resourceful abundance rather than scarcity. Today I offer another idea that has helped me see this differently.

An Economics of Mutuality

“[Mutuality] does not measure difference on a scale of higher or lower ontological dignity but appreciates them as integral elements in the robust thriving of the whole.”
Elizabeth A. Johnson (p.30)

“Without his fellows, [a] man is not man at all but only a shade of man. If he seeks to…work in abstract isolation, his existence is that of this shade….Fundamentally, we can work aright only when we work hand in hand.”
Karl Barth (p.536)

The other (and arguably more important) principle by which I think through a Theology of Stewardship is mutuality. Elizabeth Johnson articulates this well in her book cited above.

Johnson speaks of how humans relate to the world around them, often resorting to dualistic hierarchies that end up demeaning God’s Creation more that honoring it. She critiques the “Creational Stewardship” model, deconstructing how, in spite of its good intentions, it still ends up structuring the universe in the same destructive way that others do. It still sees the material and natural world as ontologically “other” and “beneath” us humans, leading to a certain patronizing view of “stewardship” for humanity’s own good.

Such dualizing discounts the reality of interconnectedness that every aspect of creation shares. Therefore she proposes a model of mutuality.

I find this helpful even in thinking through the “stewarding” of one’s resources. Elsewhere, Karl Barth talks of money not itself having any value, but rather serves as a sort of “incarnating medium”—a tangible vehicle—that connects us to other aspects of Creation. This is a fancy way of talking about money and resources being a “means” and not an “end” in and of itself.

But his fear, similar to Johnson’s, is not that humans would turn money into an end in and of itself, but use it towards humanity’s own attempts at “Self-Absolutization”.

This is where mutuality is helpful. Money and resources are not the point. They are a liminal space, a substance that connects humanity with the tools of its sustenance and existential glory and telos. And just as with God’s Covenant with Israel, God’s purpose and intention for all of humanity is not its own Absolutization, but the Blessing and Good of all things and others around it.

To Summarize

In short, to steward resources well is to see them first not as an end (which often happens when thinking in terms of scarcity) nor as a means to my own ends, no matter how inherently “good” those ends might be (which some models of “stewardship” might perpetuate.

Rather, it is to see our resources (internally, creationally, relationally, and financially) as an act of participation in the self-giving life of the Trinitarian God whose stewardship was not simply for his own Absolutization, but for the good, communion, and glory of others. This gives us freedom, security, gratitude, joy, and life in engaging in our resources well, for the blessing and life of the world.

I hope you find these posts helpful in your ongoing education and preparation for a life of ministry and money.

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About

Frequenting the coffee shops of Philadelphia while employed in social work and finishing up a Masters of Divinity from the Newbigin House of Studies at Western Theological Seminary. He serves Liberti Church as a deacon and seminary intern. Paul blogs at the long way home and tweets as @PaulBurkhart_.

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