Materialism, Wealth, and Idolatry

Product Details This is quite the book – a truly deep and thought-provoking read.  Although it was written around 30 years ago, the message is still relevant.  Schlossberg takes the reader through the main things in American culture that serve as people’s idols.  At first I thought it was going to talk about how Christians end up making idols out of certain things in our culture, but the book is broader than that.  He simply lines up the main things American’s “bow down to” and gives proof, citation, and critique.  The chapters include idols of history, humanity, Mammon, nature, power, and religion.  He ends with a few “application” chapters.  Below is a part from his last chapter, a constructive account of how Christian pilgrims should live in and interact with this idolatrous culture, specifically on the topic of materialism and wealth.

“Materialism, coupled with the productivity of machinery and electronics, has brought us to the universal expectation of More, first rising expectations and then rising entitlements.  This is what the Bible refers to as covetousness, which is condemned from the original Ten Commandments through the whole biblical literature.  The common observation that prosperity tends to bring spiritual complacency, pride, and moral decline goes back at least as far as the Pentateuch.  The wicked are identified as those who trust in riches rather than in God.

The biblical outlook on wealth seems odd only because we have adopted as normal a way of life that is hopelessly unable to produce what it promises and has demonstrated that inability to almost everyone.  As little children we learned that the doll or the game we invested with the aura of desire, and of which we thought we would never tire, inevitably palled on us after a time.  The same is true of all the world’s glittering satisfactions.  What they have in common is that, after the initial flash of gratification, they fail to satisfy, leading us to seek further for the next bauble. 

We ought instead to reconsider the basic assumption.  For if past acquisitions and attainments have not satisfied us, perhaps it is not in their nature to provide more than fleeting satisfactions.  This is the insight that led the prophet to inquire: ‘Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread…?’ (Is. 55:2).  For the greedy there is no conceivable level of wealth that would be enough, for greed is insatiable.  That is why trying to satisfy it, giving in to the love of money, causes such intense suffering (1 Tim. 6:10).”

Here’s his exhortation. 

“Christians need to renounce the systems by which their fellow citizens plunder each other, either within or outside the law.  …They should learn to give without receiving anything in return, reversing the process by which society is reducing itself to poverty.  They should be wary of the temptation to have ever more of the world’s goods, for that desire is what takes away personal freedom, delivering people into the clutches of those who want power. …The early Christians were said to have ‘joyfully accepted the plundering of [their] property’ (Heb 10:34); but this could only have happened to people who regarded themselves as pilgrims, content with whatever they had, having renounced the quest, on which their neighbors had embarked, for ever more goods to consume.  For them the statement of net worth was valueless in determining human worth.”

If I can add a quick illustration, we’re like that creepy dude in those treasure hunting movies – the foil to the main character who gets way into the cave to see all the jewels and gold.  We, like that guy, cram our pockets full of golden chains, saucers, and coins only to be stabbed for our idiocy by that spear-trap falling from the cave’s ceiling.  If only we could keep our hands off that glittering treasure!

Quotes above taken from Schlossberg, Idols for Destruction (Wheaton: Crossway, 1990), 311-312.

shane lems

sunnyside wa