We often read that an unexamined life is not a healthy or realistic way to live, yet when it comes to money, we tend to shy away from what Scripture teaches us about how we spend, give, and save our money. Practicing the King’s Economy: Honoring Jesus in How We Work, Earn, Spend, Save, and Give provides readers a brief guide “about how to live economic lives that are more in line with the righteousness, justice, mercy, and generosity of our King Jesus.”
Michael Rhodes and his co-author, Robby Holt, begin the book reminding believers of their citizenship in Christ’s kingdom. This kingdom focus means Christians must understand how God’s kingdom values and ways of living are distinct from the “normal” American life, especially when it comes to economics and money. Rarely, if ever, do congregational leaders seek to hold us accountable about our economic patterns.
Yet this is problematic, because, as Rhodes and Holt argue, we live in a world dominated by homo economicus (being people who embody the way the world thinks about economic life) and we’ve been trained in routines for living in that economy. We need retraining — but few churches offer it.
The six keys
Practicing the King’s Economy offers readers a training manual that is organized around six “keys:” Worship, Community, Work, Equity, Creation, and Rest. Each key represents a biblical theme the authors believe “captures an important element of God’s heart for our economic lives.” They devote two chapters to each key, including a biblical investigation of the theme, and then stories of individuals and churches putting this key into action. Each key also includes recommended training and application exercises for readers both personally and corporately. The six keys are outlined below.
We begin to get disentangled from the idolatries of greed, consumerism, and power, Rhodes and Holt assert, when we worship God through the practice of sacrificial giving. The discipline of worship reminds us God rules over our lives and all we have comes from him. Jesus’ teaching that “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” shows that if we invest in Jesus’ kingdom, our hearts will follow. And getting our hearts to go in the right direction is the first and most crucial step in practicing the Jesus economy.
Influenced by theologian Christopher Wright’s Old Testament scholarship, Rhodes and Holt discuss how Americans typically value community far less than God does:
In our U.S. cultural climate, we tend to think of society as just a collection of individuals; the community itself is more of “a bonus in the background” of our minds. But for God’s people in the Old and New Testaments, the pattern “tends to start the other way around” [Wright, Old Testament Ethics]. In other words, the Bible sees the community as absolutely essential for the sake of both individual and communal flourishing.
This reality should move us, the authors say, from a soup kitchen mentality to a potluck mentality. In other words, the goal of giving and serving needs to be the creation of a community in which there are no helpers and helped, no givers and receivers.
They continue, writing that “Our economic lives should be fundamentally oriented toward worshiping God and welcoming our neighbor.”
In Scripture, we see God’s emphasis on community. As believers, we belong to each other; we all have responsibilities toward one another. We actually are our brother’s keeper. Moreover, no one is the ultimate owner of his or her goods, for God is owner over all. God’s normative intentions for us are that we live interdependently, and therein find true personhood. In the West, and perhaps especially the U.S., that cuts across the cultural grain.
Living out the work key, they write, “requires all Christ followers to bend their economic lives toward the marginalized, creatively and sacrificially leaving some of our own profits in the field to create opportunities for struggling workers in our societies.”
This section of the book highlights the most uncomfortable intersections where the Jesus economy meshes with the capitalist economy we live in (and largely accept as normal). Its arguments are based largely on the authors’ reading of the meaning of the Jubilee (Lev 25) as well as their exploration of themes in the prophetic literature.
The train of thought here extends what lies before. If God owns it all and expects us to share it so all people can be full participants in the life of the economy, then we need to accept some limits on private property. And, those who’ve historically benefited from prior economic injustices will need to take steps to remedy the wrongs done — wrongs that have often been institutionalized.
This section of the book deals with how humans should interact with the natural creation, given God’s love of, delight in, and provision for his handiworks. The authors’ thoughts here are derived from the Hebrew terms abad and shamar in Genesis 2:15. Since abad can be translated “to serve” and shamar is used to describe attentive keeping, the authors write that one can “translate Genesis 2:15 in the following way: Yahweh God took the man and placed him in the Garden of Eden to serve it and to care for it.” This then implies the dignity of God’s creation and the need for humans to honor it for its inherent worth — not just its instrumental worth in how it provides for our needs.
At the heart of the argument for rest and keeping the Sabbath is a practical exercise of trusting in God’s provision. Rhodes and Holt explain how rest is not only an act of trust. It’s also an “act of resistance” that “declares in bodily ways that we will not participate in the anxiety system that pervades our social environment.”
So Sabbath and worship are connected: We can rest because we trust, and we respond to the gracious gift of rest with worship of the giver — the one who is in control. We can take time on the Sabbath to delight in God’s work and in our own. Instituting this practice ensures that any who work for us in our wealth-creation endeavors also enjoy the gift of rest.
At first, I called this book a “training manual.” But their careful exegesis, wonderful stories, and practical recommendations can only achieve the authors’ hopes if readers actually put on their exercise clothes and put it into practice. It will require prayer, the Spirit’s help, and effort.
But good things are worth working for. We work for good health in our broken world by eating vegetables, exercising, drinking in moderation, and other deliberate (and not always fun) practices. Living a good economic life will also require that intentionality and that effort. But just like that gym trainer can help coach, cheerlead, and guide us in our physical exercise, Rhodes and Holt have offered Christ’s church an invaluable source of counsel to show us the way forward.