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Sunday, March 11, 2012

"God's Thrifty Extravagance" (Jonathan Kopke)

TITLE: God's Thrifty Extravagance: Understanding What the Bible Says About Money
AUTHOR: Jonathan Kopke
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Discovery House Publishers, 2011.

This book deal with one of the most important topics taught in the Bible: Wealth and Money. Kopke begins the book with a fascinating look at the paradoxes of life. Like a puzzle placed before mankind, there are statements from the Bible that appear at first look to contradict one another. One example is with regards to money and the handling of money. On the one hand, there are verses like Proverbs 10:22 that raise the happiness of having wealth. On the other hand, there is Jesus teaching us that with increased wealth comes increased difficulty in entering the kingdom of God (Matt 19:23). The key thesis for Kopke is that we need to learn to hold both truths TOGETHER. Both are true and are 'really two sides of the same coin.' What to man is paradox is from God a guideline to help man live.

He then applies this idea to five financial issues: owning, saving, borrowing, giving, and spending. At the end of each chapter, Kopke highlights some things that we can freely give in 'Loose Change' and how we can carefully steward the use of wealth through 'Negotiables.'


The amazing paradox is that even though God owns everything, he has given man dominion over all the earth! Such a thought should guide the way in which we own things lightly rather than tightly. We need to be trustworthy stewards of earth's resources. Kopke suggests that such a perspective can guide our fundraising efforts that are free from manipulative methods, to be wise in our budgeting, and to be ready to learn more about ourselves as money unmasks our true selves. Our idea of owning needs to be furnished with giving, simple living, and the cultivating of thankfulness.


The key point here is to adopt a balanced approach with wise savings on the one hand and generous giving on the other hand. We need to distinguish between hoarding and savings, for it is the attitude of the heart that is important. We save not for ourselves but for the good of the community. Being thrifty does not mean becoming cheap. Saving wisely needs wisdom from above. 


The main point is to learn how to practise biblically acceptable borrowing. It is important to see how the rich rules over the poor over money matters. How can one avoid borrowing beyond one's ability to pay back? Debt management is an increasingly important matter. Is usury a Christian thing to do?  Is debt evil? Kopke makes an interesting word study on the Latin word 'exculpatory loan' which is the biblical idea of loans. For example, this can be understood through the combined use of 'mortgage' and 'home loan.' In a home loan, the bank loans the money. The mortgage acts as an agreement to use the house as a collateral to guarantee the payback of the home loan. This makes the borrowing biblically acceptable. There are other issues which are not so clear cut, like borrowing money to pay medical bills, etc. Such things are deemed 'desperate borrowing' which can be an exception. Kopke provides ideas regarding thrift, self-restraint, reasonable interest rates, and co-signing a loan.


Why give to God when God already owns all things? This is because God cares about us and about how money can easily take a hold on us. God wants to free us from the tyranny of materialism. Through giving, we rein in money taking over our lives. Money is 'always barking orders' for us to buy stuff.  Giving enables us to use money to serve God, and to live free of the control of money. What makes giving most honourable is cheerful giving. This is the key to giving. We can learn to give in several ways, one of which is tithing. Kopke spends quite a lot of time on this. In the Old Testament, tithing is not just a one time giving, but involves several tithes.  In the New Testament, we are taught to give freely and cheerfully. Give whatever we can is the guideline. Application wise, Kopke deals with some questions about tithing which is very helpful. The tip is this:

".. bringing God the first of everything is to bring him the best of everything." (92)


Here, Kopke uses the story of the three little pigs to teach biblical spending and lifestyle choices. He urges us to avoid the excesses of the House of Bricks and the House of Straw, by learning to settle on the moderate ground: House of Sticks. More importantly, he draws us back to Jesus, that Jesus is not talking about money and possessions per se, but the kingdom of God. This means that we spend in a way that glorifies and expands the kingdom of God. Distinguish needs from wants. Check our motives. Trace backward to motives, and forward to ministry opportunities. 

Closing Thoughts

This book is big on applications and strong in tackling the questions surrounding the use of money and wealth. It does not delight on bashing the rich or ridiculing the poor. What it does is to highlight the different perspectives of truths so that we can appreciate all of them as one whole. We are urged to use money freely without guilt, owning in moderation, borrowing responsibly, saving wisely, giving with joy, and spending with caution. We are free to do all these. This is where Kopke leaves us. This attitude of freedom is aptly described by the Dutch theologian, Eberhard Arnold.
"The drifting balloon is not free. There is no freedom in being stirred by every opinion, steered by every spirit of the times, governed by every urge of instinct. Freedom is there only where a holy moral imperative and a mature will can show us the way we must steer our lives." (130-1)

We are free to own, to save, to borrow, to give, and to spend. This is because God has given us freedom to live. The best way we can glorify God and to express our deepest gratitude is to use money for the glory of God, instead of possessing money for the glory of man or the gratifying of the flesh.

Rating: 4.25 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Discovery House Publishers and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered are mine unless otherwise stated.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent book. Highly readable; written with humor as well.