Stewardship in Postmodern Culture
Planned Giving & Trust Services Director, Southwestern Union Conference of Seventy-day Adventists
Summary: The stewardship of giving, according to postmodern theory, means that you can create your own ethics and morals about giving.
In the US only 9 percent of born-again adults report they give 10 percent of their income to charity.1 Is stewardship skating on thin ice in our postmodern culture? Does it really make a difference anymore?
The following facts provide a startling glimpse of the economic landscape of postmodern America. The United States is the wealthiest nation in the history of the world.2 If you earn $1,500.00 per year, you earn more than 75% of the world’s population.3 Americans save very little. The savings rate of most Americans is negative, and for those who do save, it’s a little over four percent.4 There were over one million bankruptcy filings in 2008.5 Stress has a negative influence on the personal and professional lives of half of all Americans.6 The number one reason for divorce is money or the handling of it.7 In July 2009 the average credit card debt per household was $7,861.8 There are more Barbie dolls in the US than people9 and more boats than harbor slips to hold them.10 In 2007 we spent $9.9 billion on soft drinks.11 The square footage of homes is increasing while the number of occupants shrinks.12 Penalty fees on revolving credit cards made up almost half the industry profits.13
It is within this economic landscape that postmodern theory states, “Truth is not universal, is not objective or absolute, and cannot be determined by a commonly accepted method…truth is socially constructed, plural, and inaccessible to universal reason.”14 Jill M. Hudson states, “No longer are the rules and principles that formerly governed society understood to be passed down through families, religious groups, or community norms. Morals, ethics, and values are created and re-created out of personal experience.”15 And finally, postmodern psychologist Robert Jay Lifton states, “Those who are consistent in their beliefs, who try to live according to a specific set of principles, and who imagine that they have a single core identity are mentally ill.16
The stewardship of giving, according to postmodern theory, means that you can create your own ethics and morals about giving. It is a personal subjective experience, not an absolute belief to be governed by. Your belief may be different from others but can coexist in harmony. No one can tell you how to give, because it is your business and you make it what you want it to be. There is no question that the stewardship of giving and postmodern theory are difficult, if not impossible, partners. It is the encroachment of postmodernism that puts stewardship on thin ice.
Stewardship in the church
Money is to some degree considered a taboo subject in churches. There is fear that its discussion will create guilt and anxiety, so pastors avoid preaching on the subject.17 Clergy do not want to offend or make members uncomfortable. Many of today’s churches have an inward focus, a “keep-the-doors-open,” and “let’s-take-care-of-ourselves” attitude known as the “scarcity syndrome.”18 Reports show that bank financing accounts for approximately 52 percent of church buildings with mortgages and the largest portion of the congregations’ budget going to pay that mortgage.19 Randy Alcorn states, “There is more blindness, rationalization, and unclear thinking about money than anything else.”20 It should be no surprise then, that giving has declined for the past 30 years21 and now some think that the parachurch ministries do most of the biblical teaching on money. Members appear to be participating in church and worship but doing other things with their money.
It is proposed that in postmodern culture, churches cannot expect that the old methods of giving will continue to fund the local work. Articulating vision will regain the momentum of church stewardship.22 If American Christians averaged giving 10 percent tithe to their organizations, the phrase “it would transform the world” would be an understatement.23 Did you know that those Christians giving the most percentage of income earn the least amount of money? “Americans who earn less than $10,000 gave 2.3 percent of their income to religious organizations, whereas those who earn $70,000 or more gave only 1.2 percent.”24 The working poor are the most generous.
Stewardship in the Bible
The study of stewardship in the Bible reveals that, first, God owns everything (Psalm 24:1). Secondly, we are stewards of His property (Psalm 8:6-8). The third principle of biblical stewardship is to be found faithful (1 Corinthians 4:1-2). It is this third principle that is the baseline and the foundation for commitment that should differentiate the Christian from postmodernism. Faithfulness involves believing in a consistent and specific set of principles called absolutes. The best evidence of faithfulness is how we give and manage money.
One day Jesus was watching people give to the temple treasury. He observed the pious Pharisees giving with obvious display and ceremony. They wanted to be noticed and seen. Yet just a few days later, with murder in their minds, they were on their way to arrest Jesus. Money and power often go together, along with a sense of self-worth and self-satisfaction. They held giving in high esteem but failed to understand genuine faithfulness of the heart. They practiced one thing but did another. Church statistics and research in this postmodern culture seem to indicate that members are participating in church and worship but do not stand on the baseline of stewardship, which is faithfulness. We tend to give lip service but manage our money as secular postmoderns.
In the crowd that day was a poor widow who hesitantly approached with an offering in hand. With her decision made, the gift was completed quickly and unnoticed. Hoping to remain in obscurity, she hurried away but her eyes met the eyes of Jesus. Her gift was nothing compared to that of the Pharisees, but His gaze noted the passion of her heart and that gift of faith lighted the countenance of Christ. This now penniless widow with eyes riveted on Jesus heard Him say to His disciples, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put in more than all of them.”25 The gift she gave fearfully was returned to her in Christ’s loving affirmation. Tears of joy welled up in her eyes as she left the temple. Jesus observed her active faith give sacrificially. She gave all she had to support the work of the temple and to a cause she loved. Her gift was a genuine expression of her faith that has contributed “in a thousand directions to the extension of the truth and the relief of the needy.”26 It was a conviction that held consistent beliefs in absolutes. In return, her faith grew stronger, confident, and active. Only faithfulness to a vision or a Person produces this kind of gift. Could we do the same with our last fifty cents? Faithfulness will always do more than required. That’s the kind of faithful stewardship that really makes a difference.
See available PowerPoint at http://adventiststewardship.com/.
1Audrey Barrick, Study: Few Born Agains Tithe to Churches, April 14, 2008. www.christianpost.com/article/20080414/.
4Andrew Kaplan. “The Savings Rate Has Recovered…If you Ignore the Bottom 99%.” www.nakedcapitalism.com.
5American Bankruptcy Institute. www.abiworld.org.
6www.apahelpcenter.mediaroom.com. “One Nation Under Stress.”
9“Barbie Backlash” Parade, December 24, 2006.
10Scott Burns, “What I Learned on my Summer Vacation” Champaign, IL News-Gazette, July 10, 2005, C-5. For Universal Press Syndicate.
11John Sicher, editor; Special Issue: Top-10 Results for 2007. Beverage Digest, Vol. 52, No. 5; March 3, 2008. www.beverage-digest.com.
12Steve Brown, “The Peak of Home Sizes” The Dallas Morning News, appeared in Champaign, IL News-Gazette February 18, 2007.
13Gary Weiss, “Don’t Get Clobbered By Credit Cards!” Parade, August 10, 2008, p. 4.
14Albert Mohler, “Equip” September 2005, Stewardship in the Postmodern World.
15Jill M. Hudson, When Better Isn’t Enough: Evaluation Tools For The 21st Century Church. Alban Institute, 2004.
16Gene Edward Veith, “A postmodern Scandal,” World, February 21, 1998, p. 24.
17The Center of Philanthropy at Indiana University. “Faith, Money and Giving,” www.philanthropy.iupui.edu/LakeFamilyInstitute/faith_money.aspx.
18David S. Bell. Design Group International. Lecture on “Encouraging the Joy of Generous Giving.” September 2009.
19John R. LaRue Jr. “Loans and Capital Funding.” www.christianitytoday.com.
20Randy Alcorn, Money, Possessions, and Eternity, p. 12.
21John and Sylvia Ronsvalle, Giving to Religion: How Generous Are We?” The Christian Century, June 3-10, 1998.
22John A. Bash. Church Solutions, Avoiding the Church Bailout: Stewardship Beyond the Status Quo.” www.churchsolutionsmag.com/articles/641.
23Christian Smith, Michael O. Emerson with Patricia Snell. Passing the Plate, 2008, p.12.
24Smith, Emerson and Snell. Passing the Plate.p.44.
25Luke 21:1-4. Holman Christian Standard Bible, Ultrathin Large Print Reverence edition, 2004.
26Ellen G. White, Signs of the Times, November 15, 1910.