Brian Rosner: Economic Religiosity, Syncretism, and Idolatry

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Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Colossians 3:5

“In western society in general the economy has achieved what can only be described as a status equal to that of the sacred. Like God, the economy, it is thought, is capable of supplying people’s needs without limit. Also like God, the economy is mysterious, unknowable, and intransigent. It has both great power and, despite the best managerial efforts of its associated clergy, great danger. It is an inexhaustible well of good(s) and is credited with prolonging life, giving health and enriching our lives. Money, in which we put our faith, and advertising, which we adore, are among its rituals. The economy also has its sacred symbols, which evoke undying loyalty, including company logos, product names, and credit cards.

People today conduct their lives primarily in terms of economic religiosity. The economy is the ultimate source of value and, as a religion, confers value on those who participate in it. Not to participate in the economy is to lack any social worth, as many of those without paid employment have come to learn.

As a religion, the economy supplies solutions to the basic puzzles of life and help in negotiating them. The meaning of a person’s life is found in full participation in the economy, as both a producer and a consumer. The purpose of life involves the full development of the individual’s economic potential and the pursuit of material progress for the good of all. Scores of books and courses are available at every level to assist the faithful to realize their potential. Whereas once the most vivid and intense experiences of life were to be found in traditional religion, today they involve money rituals, whether at work, on holidays or shopping. The religion of money even has its creeds and dogmas, such as “Money makes the world go round”…

Some forms of Christianity have followed a time-honoured course in response to this newly ascendant religion: namely, syncretism, an attempt to cash in on the attraction of its beliefs and practices. The gospel of health, wealth, and prosperity is the response of those who consider resistance to be of no avail. “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” When such preachers proclaim that it is God’s will for you to be healthy and wealthy, and that not to be so is evidence of your lack of faith, they fail to reveal only one thing: which god they are talking about…

The most disturbing thing about the fact that greed is idolatry is that hardly anybody owns up to being a worshipper. Imagine the response of disbelief in the local church if it were revealed that the vast majority of its members were secretly worshipping other gods. Yet if our analysis of the religion of money is right, the unthinkable may not be so far from the truth.

The most convincing evidence that greed is idolatry concerns the answer to a simple question: what do idolaters do with their idols which believers are meant to do with God? The answer is that they offer their idols love, trust, and obedience. In each case, that is exactly what the greedy do with their money. There are various ways to define greed. Greed is wanting more money and possessions. Greed is the opposite of contentment. Greed is a refusal to share your possessions. And so on. One approach is to consider greed in terms of its driving motivations. What causes people to be insatiable and mean with respect to material things? Greed is driven by inordinate love, misplaced trust and forbidden service; as such greed is rightly condemned as idolatry.”

Brian Rosner in “Unmasking Greed” Ministry Training Strategy Discussion Paper 3.10 (Matthias Media: The Briefing #250) 5-7.

Rosner is one of my favorite Aussie biblical scholars. In this peach of a paper he unmasks the complex layers of greed. He cuts through the Christian responses of economic religiosity, syncretism, and idolatry and shines light on the sin for what it is.

Our only right response to greed is to kill it. We must put it to death as the Apostle Paul instructed us. And, lest it creep up in our lives, we starve it through regular giving. As God supplies, we enjoy and share His blessings so as not to feed it. That’s why generosity is so important. It frees us from greed.

Australia is a place filled with many critters that can kill you. Sometimes they can be avoided; other times they must be addressed. In plain terms, you may need to kill one before it kills you. That’s how we must respond to greed. When we see it, we must kill it, or it will kill us. That’s the word picture I will use in my teaching this week.

Greed seeks to worm its way into our minds, our hearts, our homes, our lives. Before we know it, it’s got us. We don’t have to become victims. We can be victorious. Christ, not money is all we need, and we show the world it’s true through our living, giving, serving, and loving.