Jonathan Kopke, author of God’s Thrifty Extravagance, answers some tough questions people have asked about the Bible’s teachings regarding money and about his book.
It makes me uncomfortable that you’re presenting a whole new way of understanding what the Bible says about money and possessions — and you’re only a computer programmer. What credentials do you have to give your book any authority?
To tell you the truth, I’ve struggled a lot with the very question you’ve brought up: What authority do I have for writing a book about Christian stewardship — especially a book that has such a unique viewpoint? But three events have convinced me that I’m not just another crackpot with a homespun theory about the Bible.
First of all, for more than twenty years, I’ve been writing and teaching in churches about the paradoxes in what the Bible says about money, and over and over again, people have come up to me to say, “Everything you said rings true with the Bible, but I’ve never heard it before; you ought to write a book.”
Secondly, when I finally put a manuscript together, before I showed it to anybody else, I sent it to four of the most educated, spiritually mature, biblically literate people I’ve ever met, and I asked them to give me their brutally honest opinions of what I’d written. Honestly, I was prepared to throw away ten years of work if they told me to, but all four of those people were embarrassingly adulatory about the book.
And thirdly, I registered a sample chapter of my manuscript with the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association, and a few weeks later, Discovery House Publishers lived out their name and “discovered” it. In one of the first conversations I had with Discovery House, I happened to mention another book that I knew had sold seven million copies after it was rejected by every Christian publisher in the country, and the editor from Discovery House told me, “Jonathan, even if we had known that that book was going to sell seven million copies, we still wouldn’t have published it because we don’t think it’s completely faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” Now that’s integrity! And that’s the third basis for my book’s credibility.
Unlikely as it seems, a computer programmer in Cincinnati has somehow ended up as the author of a stewardship book that brings up eight or nine pages of references when you Google its title. As Andrae Crouch would sing, “I didn’t think it could be until it happened to me.”
I believe that the Bible is the authoritative Word of God, and I believe that God never contradicts himself. You must not believe these things if you think the Bible is “riddled with paradoxes,” as you’ve said in the very first sentence of your book.
I agree with you 100% that the Bible is the authoritative Word of God, and God never contradicts himself. At the same time, I don’t think it honors God to brush aside the statements in the Bible that seem to contradict each other. To cite a trivial example, when one gospel writer says there was an angel at Jesus’ tomb on Easter morning, and another gospel writer says there were two angels, I’m certainly not going to conclude that the Holy Spirit made a mistake when He inspired one or the other. But at the same time, I can’t help but notice that there’s a difference between the two stories, and I think it actually honors God when we want to see what we can learn by studying differences like this one more closely.
One of the problems I’ve had to deal with, though, is that we don’t have any familiar word that describes the idea of eternal truths couched in seemly contradictory statements. I’ve had to use the word “paradox” which can mean “a self-contradictory proposition.” But in my dictionary, that’s the second definition. The first definition says that a paradox is “a proposition that seems self-contradictory but in reality expresses a truth.” And it appears to me that from our stunted, mortal point of view, the Bible is riddled with such seemingly contradictory truths. It makes me uneasy to confront them head-on, but frankly, I think it would be juvenile to ignore them.
Don’t you think your writing style is awfully “flip” for somebody who’s trying to explicate the Holy Word of Almighty God?
Believe me, I spent years trying to make this book sound scholarly. I even came up with some great words like “hermeneutical” and “pecuniary.” And every time I stopped to read back what I’d written, I sounded like a complete phony. I didn’t even like the person who was trying to preach at me from the page.
Finally, somebody asked me to teach about stewardship in our Adult Discovery Hour, down in the basement of little North Church in the inner city. I can’t be a phony there; my church family at North would see right through me. So it occurred to me that if I could just write down what I said to my friends, and write it the way I said it to them, that manner of speaking would come across as a lot more genuine.
Now you have to understand that when I’m teaching in our Discovery Hour, if I read something like the story of Goliath yelling “Give me a man, that we may fight together,” I’ll hear all kinds of tramping under the tables like the armies of Israel running for their lives, and I’ll hear soldiers yelling, “I want my mommy.” At old North Church, we take the Bible very seriously, but we’re just not all that serious about ourselves. So I’ve ended up with a book that sounds a bit “flip” — about as flip as it would sound if somebody said that a judgmental person should pull a plank out of his own eye, or that a wealthy person is going to get stuck like a camel in the eye of a needle.
There’s no “how to” information in your book. You haven’t given us any detailed instructions for how to put all of these lofty ideals into practice.
I didn’t intend for God’s Thrifty Extravagance to be a “How To” book; it’s more of a “How Come?” book. There are loads of other financial “How To” books that are better than anything I could write, but most people who try to study those books lose their motivation before long because they don’t appreciate the “How Come?” In other words, they don’t understand the cosmic significance and the eternal consequences of managing our finances under the lordship of Christ. That understanding is what we need to motivate us, that’s what interests me, and that’s what I’ve written about. And if you want to know the whole truth, in my household, it’s my wife who does the budgeting. She’s just better at that kind of thing than I am.