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Money, Possessions, and Eternity
Review by Stephen Caldwell
Randy C. Alcorn (Rev. ed. Tyndale House Publishers, 2003; paperback, 503 pp.)
Randy Alcorn always takes a long-range view when he writes, regardless of whether he’s penning a novel or what amounts to a textbook on stewardship.
How long is eternity?
It’s this perspective that distinguishes Alcorn from most other authors, including most other Christian authors, in his book, Money, Possessions & Eternity.
The original version came out in 1989 and stands on its own as a masterful work. But the “revised and updated” edition, released in 2003 by Tyndale House, is worth the price of a new copy because of its additional anecdotes, insights and resources.
The downside to the book is that it’s long, well more than 400 pages. Alcorn has an easy-to-read style, but in some places he borders on overkill.
Still, the objective was to write thoroughly on a difficult topic, so we shouldn’t be scared away just because we can’t polish it off in a few days like some breezy novel.
If a Christ-centered college were so bold as to create a class on money, possessions, stewardship and giving, Alcorn’s book would serve as the perfect text. He digs deep into Scripture to examine what God says about money and possessions, providing the eternal perspective that many of us ignore or dismiss.
At the heart of his message: As followers of Christ, we live forever. Our money and possessions don’t.
Alcorn contends that “our handling of money is a litmus test of our true character” and points out that eventually we who live in the most prosperous nation and in the most prosperous of all times will face some critical questions about what God gave us: “Where did it all go? What did I spend it on? What has been accomplished for eternity through my use of all this wealth?”
Alcorn’s book is an important read for those who are extremely wealthy and for those below the poverty line, not to mention everyone in between. Materialism and bondage to debt and possessions strike at us all.
And in addition to biblically sound theology about money and possessions, Alcorn provides practical resources and ideas that apply to people of all incomes and vocations.
For a foundation, Alcorn examines four things about money: What it is, whose it is, how God views it, and what its potential use is for two different kingdoms.
He covers a range of topics, including asceticism, materialism, prosperity theology and stewardship.
Alcorn doesn’t advocate “giving it all away”—although that might be what some of us are called to do. But when we look at what Scripture tells us, there are certain things we must do, and one of those things is to give.
How much? To what? When?
It’s different for every believer. But Alcorn makes the case that a tithe should be the minimum. A tithe isn’t just giving to a church; it’s giving “a 10th.” He acknowledges that we aren’t bound by Old Testament law to give a 10th, but he illustrates how making that a minimum is the place to start—a set of training wheels, if you will, for learning how to give generously.
He writes that “most who argue against tithing use their arguments to justify their own lack of generous giving.”
Alcorn doesn’t stop with tithing. His words are as challenging and as convicting on any number of topics. For instance, what if we all followed John Wesley’s model and established for ourselves a standard of living, then gave away everything else—even as our income grows? In other words, what if we saw an increase in our income as an opportunity to raise our standard of giving, not our standard of living?
Alcorn finishes the book with a series of chapters on handling money and possessions—including debt, saving, investing, retirement, insurance, gambling, wills, trusts and how to teach stewardship in our families.
That’s followed by a useful appendix section that addresses specific issues in more depth. There’s also a study guide, notes, a Scripture index and a subject index.
It’s a book that can be read and reread, studied and applied. It provides a foundation, based on Scripture, for how we should view money and possessions, and advice on dealing with practical issues.
It’s difficult to sum up such a book, but I’ll try. The overriding theme for Alcorn is that money and possessions belong to God and He gives them to us so that we can use them for His eternal missions. We’re not all called to take a vow of poverty, but we all are called to a vow of generosity. We should give, and give generously. In doing so, we will honor God and experience his blessings—here on earth, perhaps, but most certainly in our eternal home, heaven. As A.W. Tozer put it, “Whatever is given to Christ is immediately touched with immortality.”
Stephen Caldwell is city editor for the Northwest edition of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and the former editor of The Life@Work Journal. He has written for a variety of faith-based and secular publications.