A friend and colleague of mine – Marty Duren – is giving away copies of his book The Generous Soul: An Introduction to Missional Giving (see information below). To help him get the word out, I’ve asked him to join me for a conversation about how generosity is connected to the mission of the church.
Trevin Wax: Marty, welcome to Kingdom People. What prompted you to write this book in the first place?
Marty Duren: Thanks for the invite, Trevin. Many years ago, I was blessed to hear some really solid preaching by a number of evangelists on the biblical attitude toward possessions. Early in our marriage, Sonya and I committed to give from what God had entrusted to us, so over the years, we supported numerous missionaries, ministries, and whatever local church we attended. We really wanted to lay up treasures not on this earth.
During the past few years as the conversation around missional church, missional living, missional Christianity, etc. expanded, it seemed that the direct relationship to possessions was being overlooked, if not completely, then in a big way. If missional has to do with the believer’s partnership in the missio dei, then there is simply no way around the fact that this must impact our relationship to money and possessions.
Trevin Wax: I like the phrase you introduce in the book: “missional giving.” What do you mean by that?
Marty Duren: Missional giving is the idea that our relationship to money and possessions is subordinate to the mission of God, that all money we have under our control is under the control of God. We cannot say that we are on mission with God if our stuff is actively impeding that mission. To be a missional giver is to live in such a way that financial support of kingdom work is a planned priority. The thesis of the book is stated this way:
Missional giving is the financial strategy of the missionary manager, purposefully utilizing all the money and possessions God has entrusted to him or her according to His priorities and viewing all financial activity as integral with God’s kingdom.
Trevin Wax: Why is it important that those of us in the West, and in America especially, come to grips with our role as “missionary managers”?
Marty Duren: Possibly the most important thing to come out of the missional conversation is the truth that all believers are missionaries in their country, culture, and context. This has contributed mightily to our exploration of cross-cultural mission work within our own cities and communities, leading us to embrace cultural distinctives rather than judging them. More and more, Christ’s followers see themselves, accurately, as missionaries.
This leads to a question: How should being a missionary affect our use of money?
When missionaries are sent into international contexts, there are expectations, both spoken and unspoken, that their lives will be sacrificial: lesser goods, lesser money, one car, less emphasis on possessions, and smaller houses. One well-known mission agency allows their missionaries to live only in homes up to 1,600 square feet in size. In virtually every instance, if a missionary demanded a U.S. sized home, multiple cars, a large yard, i.e., almost everything we as Americans expect, we would demand they either repent or come back home.
Why do we place expectations on missionaries we send to other countries but do not live according to the same expectations even though we are missionaries sent by God as well? How does the fact that we are in our home culture change the fact that we have the same gospel responsibility to our host culture as someone who travels to a new culture? It does not.
Trevin Wax: Elaborate on how you see materialism having become embedded into the western church’s worldview?
Marty Duren: Anyone raised in America is familiar with the concept of the American dream—the idea that anyone who works hard and is self-sufficient can be successful. Though it has been under some attack in the last 2-3 years, it stands as the concept of each generation doing better than the generation preceding it. The problem for American believers is that “doing better” refers, almost solely, to having more stuff. The American Dream too easily slides into a life of materialism.
This has nowhere been more clearly demonstrated than when the economy became mired in the Great Recession. Out-of-control debt—the result of buying, buying, and more buying—was a curse on followers of Christ as well as those making no claim to salvation. Mortgage foreclosures hit believers and churches alike. Our credit card debt, as a whole, was also enslaving.
It is not just the questionable theology of the prosperity gospel that is the issue or the followers of certain “health and wealth” preachers. It is the blindness to our own idol worship. It is so engrained that we do not see it as sin and are loathe to admit it if confronted. When we get a raise or a bonus, it is rare for the first response to be “I wonder if God has a purpose for this extra money He has sent my way…” Most of the time, the money is gone before it ever hits our checking account: new toys, new trinkets, bigger car, and the like.
Trevin Wax: Why do you think Jesus set the worship of God and the worship of mammon in direct opposition to each other?
Marty Duren: Because money is more tangible and it is easier to trust. When God says, “Wait,” but First National says, “No closing costs!” and MasterCard says, “Priceless!” we often reach for what we can touch rather than waiting for Him who is invisible. Even though God has promised to meet all our needs, our lack of patience leads us to the immediate gratification money provides. There are many ways that mammon is the exact opposite of God: God is power; money provides power. God requires faith; money replaces faith. God teaches patience; money provides immediacy—and so on.
Mammon is an idol that directly affects our lives every single day. Mammon is not like Baal or Molech—stone images to whom some sacrifice is made—instead, it affects virtually every decision we make: clothing, electricity, gasoline, size of house, style of car, vacation destination, sports, and hobbies. Literally, the list could go on and on. Part of what makes mammon so endearing is that it is interactive.
If we are not careful, we will make all of our financial decisions not on the basis of what God would have us do but simply on whether or not we can afford it. At that point, mammon is in control.
Trevin Wax: Is there a lot of practical stuff in the book?
Marty Duren: Practical theology, yes. But this is not a book on balancing your budget or getting out of debt. It is not a how-to book. It is a “what is the truth and what does that require” kind of book. It is not an investment book, unless you count investing in the kingdom of God. Dave Ramsey and Ron Blue are safe.
Trevin Wax: I understand you are making The Generous Soul available for free. What’s that all about?
Marty Duren: I would like to say it’s because I’m such a generous person, but that might not be accurate. It is actually two-fold: first, due to shifts in the publishing industry, my publisher is going out of business. Consequently, my book will be out of print until I either get another publisher or decide to self-publish it. Second, I really do believe the content is important enough to put into everyone’s hands, even if I don’t always make money.
To accomplish this, I’m making the book available in serial form on my blog. Each Thursday, beginning tomorrow, March 22, a new chapter will be available to read. It won’t be downloadable, but quotes for reviews or use in teaching will be allowed. It will stay up indefinitely unless an unexpected book deal were to require it to be removed. It will remain available in both the Kindle Store and the iBookstore at very discounted rates.