Book Review: Neither Poverty Nor Riches
Craig Blomberg is Distinguished Professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary in Colorado. Neither Poverty nor Riches offers studies of biblical passages that deal with worldly or material possessions. Blomberg draws his title from Proverbs 30:8: “give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread.” He looks to give a biblical theology on how to view and use possessions. His book provides a helpful look at biblical stewardship.
Blomberg sets out to give the reader a biblical theology of material possessions. His goal is to provide a survey of the contributions of the major biblical passages to such a theology for the church age. He looks at materials from the Old Testament, the intertestamental period, and the New Testament in an attempt to provide a complete biblical view of material possessions. Based on his conclusions, Blomberg works, then, to provide application for the contemporary context.
Blomberg utilizes the research of others on the subject of material possessions. The chief value of his book, however, is the intensive study of pertinent biblical texts. Blomberg lays a foundation for a theology of material possessions by examining the Old Testament and intertestamental materials, giving special attention to historical backgrounds, literary context, and unique genres in order effectively to interpret texts as they relate to material possessions. Among the significant observations are the following:
- “Extreme wealth and extreme poverty both appear undesirable.” (56)
- “We must seek neither poverty nor riches. Those who have already been blessed with wealth must be generous and compassionate in using it.” (83)
- “The key to evaluating any individual church or nation in terms of its use of material possessions . . . is how well it takes care of the poor and powerless in its midst . . .” (84)
- “. . . Judaism had a God who cared passionately about the poor and marginalized and opposed both religious idolatry and social injustice.” (110)
Blomberg then turns to the New Testament. Chapter four surveys Jesus’ teaching in the four Gospels. Here, he gives significant time to studying the parables and concludes that the “good news of the gospel is consistently holistic” (145). The main focus of Jesus’ ministry, Blomberg continues, “suggests the overarching paradigm of generous giving, rather than ‘godly materialism’, for the one who would faithfully follow Christ.” (146) In chapter five, he works through James and Acts and, in doing so, reaches conclusions similar to those already provided. The early Christian communities were to look after one another, while never forgetting the most impoverished among themselves. In fact, Blomberg concludes about the New Testament: “All the primary New Testament witnesses agree that grace through faith justifies but inevitably produces good deeds and works of compassion . . .” (212).
Blomberg completes the book with a summary of his survey, conclusions from his work, and applications. In a final, broad application, he calls for a biblical theology of material possessions that encourages Christians to be good stewards of what God gives.
Blomberg provides a convincing biblical theology of material possessions. His book is concise, well thought out, and well organized. His survey of biblical material builds to well-supported conclusions. His logical applications are convicting, yet helpful and enriching. Furthermore, his conclusions directly apply to an understanding and philosophy of urban evangelism.
The historical survey and its progression are easy to follow. Furthermore, Blomberg’s hermeneutical approach, as described in his introduction, and his contextualization of the biblical content are sound.
Blomberg progresses from the Old Testament to the New Testament to give a well-supported theology of material possessions. He builds a foundation by looking at the Old Testament and the intertestamental periods. While his theology of material possessions is focused on the church age, he provides a complete biblical theology of his topic by looking at the broad biblical picture. In this way, he supports his claims from the New Testament by basing them in the very character of God as seen in the Old Testament and the survey of those who walked with Jesus.
His well-contextualized application is convicting and encouraging. He gives statistics in his introduction to show the failures of most of the world, and Christians in particular, in providing for the poor and helping the disadvantaged. His concluding remarks push people toward sharing the blessings that God has given them and using wealth for God’s glory. He encourages Christians to be better stewards. His real-life examples of people “doing it right” are helpful in motivating Christians to give generously. He pushes Christians to use their resources wisely for both social and spiritual impact on others. Christians are called to take the lead in helping the poor and disadvantaged. Furthermore, he exhorts Christians not to allow material possessions to become the idols that they so often become.
Blomberg’s work provides a philosophy of urban ministry that is holistic in nature. Effective urban evangelism will seek to meet spiritual and social needs. This holistic approach to evangelism is supported by Blomberg’s work in the Old Testament, the intertestamental period, and the New Testament. Furthermore, he shows that Paul was focused on urban ministry that focused on holistic urban evangelism.
From the Old Testament, Blomberg argues that the poor and disadvantaged are to be ministered to spiritually and physically. He explains the reality of socio-economic injustice and describes how the poor and afflicted are shown favor in God’s sight while the oppressors are abhorred by God. Furthermore, he explains that the very law given to Moses typifies universal principles of liberty and justice (55). The Old Testament describes God’s concern for the spiritual and social welfare of his creation. Applying the Old Testament concern for the poor and powerless, Blomberg concludes that churches can be evaluated by how well they care for the poor and powerless in their midst (84).
Blomberg also finds evidence for holistic ministry in the intertestamental period, though the poor were often unjustly exploited by others (101). From the New Testament, Blomberg describes Christ’s ministry as one in which the physical and spiritual ministries of Christ work hand-in-hand (109). He explains that “religious and economic issues were deeply intertwined” and that God was concerned about both religious idolatry and social injustice (110). Based on his study of the Old Testament and the intertestamental periods, Blomberg concludes that earlier motifs eventually led to a strong exhortation in the New Testament to practice holistic ministry.
Moving beyond the Gospels, Blomberg describes Paul’s ministry as focused in urban centers and holistic in nature. Blomberg states, “In his evangelistic ministry Paul focuses on the major urban centres of the Greco-Roman empire, with only a handful of exceptions” (177). Reflecting on Paul’s showed concern that all are treated fairly (“the right of all to a fair share” 195), Blomberg argues that Christians need to be involved personally in holistic evangelism that works toward the salvation of body and spirit while also giving financially to people and institutions that offer such a ministry (199).
Blomberg persuasively asserts that the Bible calls for holistic ministry. Christ shows concern and compassion for the outcasts of the world. The gospel of Jesus is consistently seen as holistic. Blomberg concludes from James that social injustice must always be denounced and that provision must be made for the dispossessed (160). He explains John’s concern with meeting material and spiritual needs and his warning not to let riches get in the way of ministering holistically (234). Blomberg concludes, “Material sustenance without spiritual salvation proves meaningless, but the liberation that God in Christ grants regularly includes a physical or material dimension to it as well” (145).
In application of the New Testament precedent for holistic ministry, Blomberg argues that Christians are to meet physical needs, while at the same time explaining that only God can completely and ultimately rescue one from both temporal and eternal plights. Blomberg, thus, is quite effective in contending for a correct philosophy of urban ministry that is holistic in nature and that evangelizes through meeting the needs of the whole person.
Blomberg’s scholarly and biblically sound exegesis of the Scriptures provides a biblical theology of possessions for the church age. He does not simply devote his time to academic disciplines. He also offers practical applications. In doing so, he does not read the Bible merely through wealthy, suburban eyes. Blomberg’s work is helpful in showing God’s heart for holistic ministry. Such a philosophy of ministry is essential to effective, evangelistic urban ministry. Blomberg has provided a great resource for a biblical theology of material possessions. His book is a must read for all Christians as it provides evidence for and application of good, wise stewardship of the blessings God provides.