Ever since the crash of 2008, I've found myself doing a lot of soul searching. At first, like most people, I had no idea what the crash was about. Who caused it? What political party is to blame? And for Pete's sake, what in the world is a credit default swap? I still have more questions than answers, but now that I've had some time to think, and after reading Jim Wallis' book Rediscovering Values, I'm reminded of a success seminar I attended a few years back in St. Louis, Missouri.
The stadium event was packed with wannabe millionaires. The line of speakers was nothing short of astounding. Colin Powell, Suze Orman, Steve Forbes, Zig Ziglar, George Foreman, a real estate mogul, a wealthy stock trader, and Peter Lowe -- the godfather of success. As impressive as the line of speakers was, it's the wealthy stock trader that I can't get out of my mind. To show how easy it is to get rich off the stock market, the man invited a woman from the audience to read a chart designed to aid the would-be investor to know when to buy and sell. Whenever there were three green arrows pointing upward, the woman would shout "buy!" When the same stock had three red arrows pointing downward, the woman would shout "sell!" According to the chart, the woman would have made a hefty profit in a short period of time if she had invested real money.
After the wealthy stock trader pitched his course on how to get rich off the stock market, Peter Lowe gave a power point gospel presentation designed to convince the audience of their need for a savior. The presentation showed clearly that all of us are sinners and no amount of good work or personal effort can reconcile sinful people before a holy and righteous God. It also showed that Jesus is the bridge between God and people. Since the event wasn't billed as a Christian event, there was no altar call that day. But the content of Lowe's message could have easily been given by Billy Graham. So why am I looking back at the event as something less than Christ-honoring? Ordinarily I'd be thrilled that so many people had a chance to hear the gospel in one sitting. Has my evangelistic zeal diminished over the past few years? I certainly hope not.
Here's what's bothering me. What does it say about the state of American Christianity, and the classic evangelical gospel that's been the standard for decades now, when the message of Jesus dying on the cross for our sins can be inserted into the middle of a how-to-get-rich seminar? K.P. Yohannan in his book, Revolution in World Missions, puts it this way: "Christian magazines, TV shows, and church services often put the spotlight on famous athletes, beauty queens, businessmen, and politicians who 'make it in this world and have Jesus too!'"
To be fair to Mr. Lowe, the day wasn't only about getting rich. There were many great speakers talking about worthy topics. Perhaps I'm a little bitter because I did attend the stock trader's seminar -- and paid handsomely for it. Not surprisingly, I didn't become a wealthy stock trader. I couldn't find the motivation. Looking back on it, I'm glad I didn't. At the time it didn't cross my mind that some of these companies that were mere numbers on a chart could have been either a) propping up dictators overseas b) harming the environment c) paying substandard wages to their employees or d) exploiting third-world farmers.
If there's anything that the economic crisis has taught us, it's that economies -- and I would add individuals -- that base their lifeblood on speculative financing (absent of actual labor) may gain the world in the short run, but a day of reckoning will eventually come. I wonder what Amos, Isaiah, and Micah would say about a gospel that promises eternal life in the world to come and a life of wealth and "success" in the here and now. More importantly, I wonder what Jesus would say about it.
Aaron D. Taylor is the author of Alone with A Jihadist: A Biblical Response to Holy War. To learn more about Aaron's ministry, go to www.aarondtaylor.com. To follow Aaron on Twitter, go to www.twitter.com/aarondtaylor. Aaron can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.