What do Dave Ramsey, Will Willimon, Brian McLaren, Bill Hybels, and John Ortberg all have in common? Hopefully among other things, they all like Adam Hamilton‘s new book Enough: Discovering Joy through Simplicity and Generosity
Adam Hamilton is well enough known in United Methodist circles that he needs no introduction. His most important contribution, in my view, is the role that he has played in the explosion of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, KS. Resurrection has grown from a handful of worshipers in 1990 to average weekly attendance of more than 7,500 in 2006. He has also written several other books. My favorites are Leading Beyond the Walls: Developing Congregations With a Heart for the Unchurchedwhich tells the story of UM Church of the Resurrection and offers many practical tips for pastors who want to learn from Hamilton’s successes and failures and Confronting The Controversies: Biblical Perspectives On Tough Issues: Leader’s Guidewhich provides a model for preaching on difficult issues.
In Enough, Hamilton turns to what is perhaps the stickiest subject for any pastor to try to talk about – money. Enough is characteristic of Hamilton’s other writing. It is concise, engaging, and well written. Hamilton seeks to challenge his readers in a way that will not turn them off or cause them to tune out.
Hamilton describes the problem that the books seeks to address in the first chapter “When Dreams Become Nightmares.” Hamilton suggests that the American dream may actually be a nightmare, describing the illnesses of affluenza and credit-itis which have infected so many Americans.
In the next chapter Hamilton encourages the reader to develop a plan (read: create and stick to a budget) so that they can live with deeper purpose. In the third chapter Hamilton focuses on “cultivating contentment” and “simplifying your life.” In the second and third chapters readers will find advice that is practical and true, but also likely familiar. In many ways this may not be stuff that we don’t know or haven’t heard, but stuff that we have heard and ignored. (Gavin Richardson has a similar take on this in his review.)
Hamilton concludes the book by exhorting the reader to give generously and to avoid the fear which often keeps us from living generously.
There is little in the book that I would take issue with. The main criticism that I have is not what is in the book, but what isn’t in the book. I could be wrong, but my guess is that Hamilton’s audience is primarily a United Methodist one. However, he offers what seems to be an intentionally generic account of personal finance. In other words, he offers no reflection on the contribution that our heritage as United Methodists has to make to this topic. This is unfortunate, because stewardship was something that John Wesley was deeply concerned about.
Wesley was concerned about Methodist stewardship because he was afraid that Methodists would grow rich and, as a result, become more committed to affluence, losing their zeal for spreading the gospel and growing in holiness. Wesley does not pull any punches. Indeed, it may be that he is too blunt about what he thinks is at stake. In the sermon “Causes of the Inefficacy of Christianity” Wesley asks:
Does it not seem (and yet this cannot be!) that Christianity, true scriptural Christianity, has a tendency in process of time to undermine and destroy itself? For wherever true Christianity spreads it must cause diligence and frugality, which, in the natural course of things, must beget riches. And riches naturally beget pride, love of the world, and every temper that is destructive of Christianity….
But is there no way to prevent this? To continue Christianity among a people? Allowing that diligence and frugality must produce riches, is there no means to hinder riches from destroying the religion of those that possess them? I can see only one possible way – find out another who can. Do you gain all you can, and save all you can? Then you must in the nature of things grow rich. Then if you have any desire to escape the damnation of hell, give all you can. Otherwise I can have no more hope of your salvation than for that of Judas Iscariot.”
Has Methodism undermined itself? Is our affluence in danger of destroying Methodism? Maybe these questions wouldn’t sell very many books. They do seem to be relevant and worth wrestling with. Moreover, I have often read or heard Adam Hamilton appeal to the Wesleyan tradition’s continuing relevance for United Methodism. From my perspective, any account of stewardship written by a United Methodist must at some level wrestle with Wesley’s hard, even radical teaching.
Perhaps it is unfair to criticize a book for what is not there, as more could always be said. What Hamilton has said is level-headed and is surely a helpful reminder for all who seek to become deeply committed disciples of Jesus Christ. Ultimately, Hamilton’s argument is implicitly very Wesleyan – Christians find joy when they learn to live simply and give generously, when they love not mammon but the Lord God.