Banking on God: Theology, Part 3


I’d not intended on writing a third post on theology in my “Banking on God” series, but a combination of events convinced me I need to say more.

Today in church, we had a visiting evangelist from Ghana in Africa. He regularly comes to our church because we help his missions organization minister in the countries of Liberia, Ghana, and Togo. He’s a gentle, self-effacing, native-born African who always has a powerful word to speak to us Americans, especially how we must bring Jesus to Africans and also address their extreme poverty.

As I listened to him speak, he drove home a truth that can’t be ignored. And while I already knew of the situation he detailed, I never saw how critical it was until yesterday morning.

Islam continues to swallow the northern half of Africa, with more and more countries becoming majority/exclusively Muslim each year. Poverty, Christianity, and Islam in AfricaPart of the reason for Islam’s growth in Africa is that “evangelists” for Islam have learned what Christian missionaries knew for years: people are more willing to embrace your message if you help meet their physical needs.

To this end, Muslims are building schools, hospitals, wells, orphanages, electrical generators, and mosques at record pace. And they’re doing so backed by the money we pay for oil. With a barrel of oil over $100, it doesn’t take a genius to see where this is heading. The Saudis funnel massive amounts of money to Islamic “missions” programs, and the leaders of those programs go into villages loaded full of cash they lavishly spend to help poor people out of crippling poverty.

This evangelist told us that this is a very difficult issue to overcome, especially when Christians cannot muster the same outpouring of largess. Worse, he told us that many projects by a number of Christian ministries in his area have stalled due to a lack of funds.

Part of his work is to help new converts find work because so many people are stuck in grinding poverty. His organization equips people to start businesses and find careers because the need is so great and so practical. His hope is that the Christians in the countries he ministers to will leverage their new businesses to make local churches self-supporting. But they are not there yet.

Sadly, as Christian efforts break even or stall, the continued flood of cash by Muslim organizations is perpetuating Islam’s tsunami through Northern and Central Africa.

I heard this and, I’ll tell you, it just made me sick to my stomach. Truly.

I don’t want to think that the reins we keep on our wealth here in the American Church are so tight that millions will go to a Christless eternity for our stinginess. And while some may argue that money is not the reason for people going to hell, surely a lack of benevolence on our part contributes to that outcome. The starving African should not come to the Christian and be turned away for lack of funds—only to find comfort in the arms of wealthy Islam.

Are we ready for that kind of apologetic? Isn’t it sad to think that Christians, who once built the vast majority of hospitals, schools, and orphanages around the world are being rapidly outspent in those same areas by Muslims?

In an age when rational Western Christians have largely dismissed signs and wonders evangelistic techniques, we either need to re-evaluate our anti-supernatural position in light of Islam’s outpouring of cash or exceed that benevolence with our greater giving. If we can’t compete monetarily, we better have something a whole lot better to offer people, something that meets their physical need right where they are.

As the Bible notes,

But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!”
—Acts 3:6

That’s something Islam can’t possibly hope to match.


Banking On God: Series Compendium

16 thoughts on “Banking on God: Theology, Part 3

  1. His Sublime Direness: “If we can’t compete monetarily, we better have something a whole lot better to offer people, something that meets their physical need right where they are.”

    Bear Sterns just got bought out by J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., with a big helping hand from the Federal Reserve which revved up the printing presses at the Mint. The fifth largest investment bank just went belly up. Meanwhile, Mr. Endless-Wealth-And-Prosperity Larry Kudlow interviews Mr. Sunshine in the White House.

    You know, Dan, when America Babylon gets hit with The Great Depression Redux, at first, from the sheer schadenfreude of it all, people all over the world will be rejoicing and dancing in the streets because of our calamity. And then it will suddenly dawn on them that all the charity and foreign aid we’ve been giving them for years has now suddenly disappeared.

    You see, we’re gonna be too busy just bailing out our own boat to be able to do much of anything elsewhere. So you’re probably right about this. We xtians will to have something more than money to compete with the Islamic Juggernaut (largely funded by Dubya’s pals in Riyadh) which is poised to take over most of Western Europe and a big chunk of sub-Saharan Africa.

    This is mainly because what money we have left will be worth next to nothing.

    My sister has a head start on me because she already knows how to wrangle horses.

    James Howard Kunstler is a giddy pollyanna.

    • Oengus,

      I’ve been screaming for years for us to get ready for the next big downturn. It simply amazes me that the American Church has not prepared, especially after the last recession. We are always reaction, never action.

  2. Don Fields

    When I read Acts and see the spread of the gospel in the first century it is obvious that the gospel wasn’t spread by helping people financially. The church could barely take care of their own. Yet, despite that the church grew exponentially. So outspending Islam in an attempt to win converts will only accomplish what Islam can accomplish – financial converts, not truly regenerate people.

    So are miraculous signs and wonders the only option left to us? Will people only come to Jesus if he can heal them or get them out of poverty? If so, isn’t that just another self-centered religion? “I’ll follow Jesus IF he will heal me or get me out of poverty or…” Isn’t that just exporting the same spiritual malaise we find ourselves in here in America? Isn’t this what you have been writing against in this series? People who turn to Jesus solely for selfish motivations, will stay that way after their “conversion.”

    Although their were miraculous signs and wonders taking place in the New Testament, the majority of those recorded in Scripture took place during Christ’s ministry. There were some recorded in Acts, but not that many. The majority of first century Christians didn’t turn to Christ in response to miracles. And even with the miracles the majority didn’t believe. Why would it be any different today?

    Money or no money, miracles or no miracles, people reject the gospel because they reject Christ. Money or miracles won’t change that.

    All that being said, I agree that it is sickening to see the stranglehold Islam is buying across African nations. Christianity can’t compete unless the adopt the Christian nation model and out-buy Islam with state-funded “Christian” charity. I don’t see that as biblical at all.

    We must trust in a sovereign God that is bigger than all that we see. God rarely does things in ways that make sense to us.

    • “We love him, because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19 KJV). I think all believers come to Jesus first because He does something for us, whether that is as simple as the promise to save us from hell, or to take care of us, or to heal us, etc. Look at the priests who came to Jesus after the early Church got its Acts together about its widows (Acts 6:7). Priests took care of widows. Why should they believe on Jesus if He could not take care of widows?

      Indeed, why should any of us obey Him if obedience benefits us in no way? If I should obey Him, but still go to hell, then why should I bother obeying Him?

      • Don Fields

        We come to Christ because we find that we are unable to obey the Law without His saving power in our lives. We come to Him for forgiveness of sins which removes the penalty of an eternal punishment in Hell.

        So, I agree that there are tremendous (understatement) benefits in salvation, but not primarily the kind that Dan is talking about in this post, and not primarily the kind that the vast majority of the world is looking for.

        “Why should they believe on Jesus if He could not take care of widows?” Didn’t these same priests see Christ’s miracles? Why wasn’t that enough? Dan has set up the either/or of financial care or miraculous signs, but it appears that for these priests it had to be both/and.

        How about the person in a Muslim country? What does Christianity have to offer that is better than Islam? To accept Christ could cost them their job, their family, and even their life. So much for Christianity being a financial benefit and a healer of broken relationships. And so much for “God has a wonderful plan for your life” when accepting that wonderful plan means the end of your life.

        But these are the very conditions that the early church grew under. The very same conditions found in many present day countries in the world. The church isn’t growing in China because Christianity offers job placement and career enhancement. It is growing despite persecution, not for lack of persecution.

        I am not against helping people financially. I am not against job training and job placement. I am not against mercy ministries. But I am against the notion that those are the primary means that people accept or reject Christ. Lost people will accept your help and charity, but that doesn’t mean they accept your Savior.

      • Michael,

        You’re right. Everyone who encounters Jesus does so from a position of need. All of us need Him spiritually. Many of us need Him physically. There’s no way to say that we don’t come without a need, and that need is not always pure. The Philippian jailer wanted to know how He could keep from losing his own head. Is that wanting Jesus for Jesus’ sake? Hardly. But He got more out of the bargain than he counted on.

        And that’s the way it is with all of us. Only as we grow do we see the depth of what Christ has done for us.

    • Don,

      I don’t believe that most people come to Christ with absolutely pure motives that have not one shred of “What’s in it for me?”

      When people came to Jesus for healing, they came less for Him and more for themselves. And Jesus understands that. I think very few of us came to Him without a hand out. In fact, as a pastor you know that many people come to Christ when they are at their lowest point in life. There’s a need there and it’s not selfless.

      The problem comes when we can’t move people beyond that. And that’s the problem you speak of. That’s where people get trapped in prosperity gospel nonsense.

      But helping someone turn his or her life around isn’t automatically contributing to the problem. The African evangelist told how they were able to help a former prostitute start her own hair “salon.” I use that word in quotes because her salon is a tiny space in a building with a hair dryer. With the money she now makes styling hair, she helps her church care for street kids left parentless because of war and AIDS. If that’s not the Body of Christ in action, I don’t know what is.

      Did that prostitute come to Christ because she knew she would get a hair salon out of the deal? I HIGHLY doubt that. But something about those Christians drew her. There was something in her she knew was missing. Christ met her need. And he did so spiritually and physically.

      Historians who study the growth of the Church note that one of the major reasons for the explosive growth of Christianity in Rome was because the Christians cared for the sick the Romans left to die. Did that make an impression on anyone? Did that love in action not draw people to Christ? Isn’t that the beautiful, sacred aroma?

      Only after most people come to Jesus do they realize that He is worthy on His own, and not for anything we need. But that realization usually takes years to develop in someone. It rarely happens immediately.

      The other thing is that God proves that He is greater than idols. He will prove that time and again:

      When the Philistines captured the ark of God, they brought it from Ebenezer to Ashdod. Then the Philistines took the ark of God and brought it into the house of Dagon and set it up beside Dagon. And when the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, behold, Dagon had fallen face downward on the ground before the ark of the LORD. So they took Dagon and put him back in his place. But when they rose early on the next morning, behold, Dagon had fallen face downward on the ground before the ark of the LORD, and the head of Dagon and both his hands were lying cut off on the threshold. Only the trunk of Dagon was left to him.
      —1 Samuel 5:1-4

      Does God not work this way anymore? Of course He does! And that’s especially true in those places on earth where people still believe in the supernatural, like in Africa. This evangelist routinely deals with the demon-possessed. Almost daily. When was the last time we did in one of our churches here in the States? Does that mean that demons don’t exist?

      God DOES do things that make sense to us. The things He does makes sense to those people in Africa, people who were once sick or once starving to death and now aren’t because of the intervention of Jesus Christ and His Church. That’s one of the ways He shows Himself greater than all idols.

  3. Normandie

    My daughter and her NY City friends cry out, “Where is this God you speak of? What has He ever done for us?”

    People want to see, feel, hear, experience the reality of a risen Lord. They don’t want a pie-in-the-sky religion that is based only on hearsay. “It makes you feel good, Mama? I’m glad.” Meaning, “it doesn’t do squat for me, so I’m outta there.” In a world that says anything goes, the concept of a savior from sin seems infantile. Sin? What’s that? Heaven? Who cares?

    But if I could reach out my hand and offer God’s healing or deliverance, then I might be able to tell them about His mercy as I show them His love.

    If God had not gotten my attention in the midst of my agnosticism by reaching down to touch me with a couple of real, blow-my-mind miracles, I would have smiled just as condescendingly as my daughter does because I certainly wasn’t seeing anything from the Christians I knew that would make me want what they had. I think Dan’s absolutely right, and not just for Africa. We have a world of lost around us who are caught up in Islam or Hinduism or hedonism and need to see more than our smiling faces if they’re going to want to change. I pray constantly that the folk around me will see less of me and more of Jesus as we minister to them, because anything else isn’t going to get their attention.

    I sat in my prayer closet last night overwhelmed by how easily I could feel smug: “I know Jesus. I love Jesus. Jesus loves me. I am going to Heaven. I can find a bit of Heaven right here on earth.” In the midst of those thoughts, I saw a picture of my best friend from high school who is now president of a Hindu institute. I haven’t talked with her in 25 years but I dreamed of her recently. Also parading past were myriad faces of the lost who don’t have a clue that such a state exists. I saw them perishing…forever. Over thirty years ago God touched me with healing. I was changed at that moment and will be forever grateful. I long for others to know that same miracle-working Lord who never changes. I’m not talking about a sugar-daddy God, but One who walks today as He did 2000 years ago, stretching out His hand to touch the hurting and to raise them up.

    O, God, let us not rest from our prayers that You would become real to the lost, that You would manifest Yourself so strongly in and through us that the lost would see and know.

    • Normandie,

      Christ was as much a servant as He is Lord. He set the example for us. Are we following that example. Is our walk reflecting our talk? Or is it all talk?

      God would not have a Church that is all talk, would He? In truth, that’s one of the distinguishing characteristics of Christianity: it follows up in practical ways the words that it preaches.

      And that makes a difference to those looking for the Truth.

  4. Jeff

    Great series, Dan. Very convicting! First time commenter here.

    Sadly, I think we’ve underestimated the grip and power of the god of money. I, as a Christian, can say I don’t love or depend on money but would be lying. I spend more time on trying to earn money than I do anything else…besides sleeping, maybe. Why? Because I have to pay for the stuff I’ve bought that makes me happy and comfortable.

    Someone cannot point to me and say “look, imitate him. His faith is in God alone and nothing else.” 99.9% of my trials revolve around my dependence on, and love of, money. This is not suffering for Christ. This is self inflicted suffering for my flesh.

    I’m scared to say it, but, the coming economic crisis could be a blessing to me, and all “American Christians.” A chance for all of us to examine ourselves and see what our faith is in before it’s too late.

    As far as Islam “out-spending” Christianity to gain converts…well, we should worry about the $ $ signs in our own eyes first. I’m afraid we’ve even bought our so-called wisdom, knowledge, understanding, and power of God with money.

    Act 8:18 Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was bestowed through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money,
    Act 8:19 saying, “Give this authority to me as well, so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”
    Act 8:20 But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money!
    Act 8:21 “You have no part or portion in this matter, for your heart is not right before God.

    One of my favorite scriptures is in 1 Corinthians 2:

    1Cr 2:1 And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God.
    1Cr 2:2 For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.
    1Cr 2:3 I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling,
    1Cr 2:4 and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,
    1Cr 2:5 so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.

    Our first option should never have been money or effective and persuasive, but empty, words of wisdom. It should start with relying on the demonstration of the power of God. Are we too afraid of what might NOT happen if we put our trust in God to do the convincing?

    • Jeff,

      Thanks for commenting. First-timers are always welcome!

      I don’t know if this is a “God of Money” thing. I don’t think people in Africa walk into a church thinking they’ll walk out rich. I mean, if I’m naked, a shirt, pants, and shoes given me in Jesus’ name will not suddenly turn me into a profligate!

      Think Salvation Army here, too. William Booth understood that people have basic needs the Church can meet. It’s a lot easier to hear the message of Christ when you’re hungry and cold when the person telling you about Him has a bowl of hot soup to offer you. Know what I mean? I can hardly think that will ruin people forever!

      In fact, the very reality that the early Church took care of widows and orphans probably got around to the widows and orphans in Jerusalem. Can we expect that they thought to check out what these followers of the Way were offering? Of course they did!

      I don’t see this as the same kind of thing that some of these suburban megachurches do by handing out $20 to people to get them to come to church. The question is whether we set an expectation of always receiving something in return for being “faithful.”

      In many ways we do. For the Christian, that reward reflects on earth and in heaven. We’re told to lay up treasure in heaven, so obviously, a reward system exists there. God always rewards us for faithfulness by giving us greater responsibility and putting us in more difficult conditions so we can help the really destitute and helpless.

      Christianity doesn’t exist in a vacuum of reward. Our faith rewards us in many ways. Those may take on different apsects, but they are real nonetheless.

  5. Diane Roberts

    I think Don F. has some very good points. However, miracles show the nonbeliever the REAL God. The purpose is to point people to God through Christ. When a Christian gives healing in Jesus’ Name and the person is healed, I would imagine the “Jesus Name” part would catch their attention. Does Allah do these things? Buddha?

    But, I go over to Don’s corner in that we need a better evangelism with a cogent message after the miracle. Today we hear too much of “Why don’t you become a Jesus follower.” This is basically liberal Protestantism but being called emergent or progressive Christianity. It’s the same garbage I grew up in and it doesn’t do much to save anyone. We must not lose the message of the cross OR the miracle. I beleive we can and should have both. Oh..and the message MUST be accompanied with the power of the Holy Spirit to draw those who God is working with at a particular time to him (hey–I’m trying to please both Calvinists and Arminians here…LOL).

    • Diane,
      Every missionary I talk to tells stories of encounters where the power of God trumps the power of idols. Every single one. And some of those tales are dramatic.

      I can’t help but think that the early Church also operated the same way. The signs and wonders got people’s attention. Can those signs and wonders backfire? Well, Acts 14 shows that the people called Paul and Barnabas Zeus and Hermes for the powerful works they did. (Note also how Paul appeals to God’s past benevolence in giving fruit and rain.)

      You are absolutely right on miracle and message. They MUST go hand in hand. What kills me is when we drop one of those for the other. Spend enough time on the Godblogosphere and you immediately see the prominence of people who disregard entirely the miracle or who shun the message. Both of are mistaken positions. The Calvinist whose message decries miracles is just as bad as the Pentecostal who can’t get the message straight. It’s that classic either/or mentality that cripples us in the long run. We can’t make the Gospel into a cold, dead rational assent, nor can we turn it into parlor tricks. Yet that is what we too often do.

  6. Suzanne

    I’m also assuming these Muslims in Africa are not focused on the entertainment aspects of their religion like so many churches are in this country. If all the churches in the US sold their high priced sound systems, jumbotrons, and other electronic equipment, it would probably support an third world country for a year, not to mention the saving in their electric bills. But, no, the people wouldn’t come to church without their worshiptainment, would they?

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