I’d like to propose a little thought experiment. Let’s begin by reminding ourselves of two familiar but explosive realities. First, about God:
- God loves justice. God’s heart is broken by poverty and human suffering. Jesus is the Head, and we are the Body—we are God’s hands and feet on earth, showing the world what Jesus’ compassion looks like. This is beautiful.
Second, about the world:
- The world includes more than two and a half billion people surviving on less than $2 a day. Almost half the world’s population has no realistic opportunity to encounter God’s love in Christ. This is intolerable.
So the question I want to ask is: when it comes to our financial lifestyles, what would a genuinely just lifestyle look like?
Standard Christian teaching on stewardship looks something like this:
- Be honest, work hard and don’t get into debt.
- Tithe 10% to your local church.
- Put some extra money in the offering when there’s a big earthquake or famine or tsunami in the news, and perhaps sponsor a child in Africa on a monthly basis.
But when I take an honest look at this conventional advice in the light of the first two realities, I can’t help feeling that it’s a thin, watered-down echo of God’s ideal for a just lifestyle.
Here are some more radical approaches that I think might be closer to the mark:
1. John Wesley—founder of Methodism, one of the most influential evangelicals ever
- Context: extremes of wealth & poverty in 18th century Britain
- Big idea: Gain all you can, save all you can, give all you can.
- Concrete action: Determine what you need for “the plain necessities of life” and give away the rest (Wesley eventually gave away more than 90% of his income).
2. Ralph Winter—missions leader, founder of the US Center for World Missions
- Context: Frontier evangelism
- Big idea: We should make the same sacrifices for missions that American civilians made during WWII in order to support the war—a “wartime lifestyle.”
- Concrete action: Live at the same economic level as a missionary on furlough, and give away the rest.
3. Mother Teresa—missionary to the poorest of the poor, Nobel Prize winner
- Context: Street-dwellers in Calcutta, India
- Big idea: Increase your giving step by step as God increases your compassion and freedom from materialism
- Concrete action: Live progressively more simply in order to increase your giving.
4. Peter Singer—secular utilitarian philosopher
- Context: Global poverty, especially famines
- Big idea: We are responsible for suffering we fail to prevent if we have the power to alleviate it, regardless of geographical, national, or cultural distance.
- Concrete action: Buy only the necessities of life, and give away the rest (Singer reckons “necessities”= approximately $30,000 per household annually).
What do you think? What would a just lifestyle look like for you, given God’s compassion and the world’s poverty?