The Wartime Lifestyle is a mess

October 17, 2007

I have a lot of thoughts about this. Hm … what a great thing to be talking about. I would take issue with a few of your placements. Cell phones, microwaves, computers and internet don’t seem “discretionary” to me … any more than a car is. I could live without a car, and I could live without a computer, but both would be kind of crippling.

I’d like to take a step back and ask the question: where’s the basis for a wartime lifestyle? It seems like this, and the modern evangelical missions mindset as a whole, go largely unchallenged. We just assume that they are good and right. Which is ok, if you’re making the choice for yourself, but this whole “Rich Americans” thing would lead me to believe it’s not just personal.

1) What’s the biblical / philosophical basis for a wartime lifestyle?

2) Does God need our money? Isn’t modern evangelical missions based in part on principles you totally disagree with (free will kind of stuff)?

3) Is there really any room for discretionary spending in a wartime lifestyle?

When I worked at USCWM, they would have a day once a month where the area grocery stores would bring past-due food around for the missionaries, kind of like how they would give away pies and junk at Lord’s Table. I think most of them lived below the poverty level. This is very inspirational, but I wonder if it is what God wants? I could (and did) live in a trailer instead of a nice house. Now I live in a nice house. Is that … wrong?

I guess I kind of wonder, too, about missions after being exposed to it so much. Do you, for instance, have an obligation to support someone who is doing a bad job? I mean, they’re basically doing a job that you are paying them to do. But their real employer (“the mission agency”) is not actually paying them at all, they’re taking money from them. We use the language of duty (“Reach the lost!”) and the language of destiny (“God called me!”), but what if God doesn’t really work that way? You may be bankrolling someone’s bad idea. I’ll get into this more in “Science of God” … but the Great Commission could just as easily be an imperative to the church, as to the individual (were any of us present among the 500 to whom Christ spoke?). Outside of our fragmented and individual view of the church, we might not interpret it as a personal calling. This is a bit of a straw man, but I’m realizing more and more that we just don’t challenge these ideas.

So maybe you’ll say … alright, forget missions (though the “wartime lifestyle” idea, in this form, was conceived for the missions movement), let’s just say … giving to the poor.

There’s still a lot to think about there. God definitely wants us to give to the poor. Christ says stuff like “sell all you have” and “it is easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle”. We place rationalized interpretations on these, of course … such a radical statement would be very difficult to live out. Once again, He is probably not commanding each person to sell all they have, but … well, from that point of view, can you really spend anything “discretionary” with a clear conscience?

How about guitar stuff? I buy guitar stuff because I believe that God gave me the gift of music to serve Him. But am I under an obligation to produce results to justify my expenditures? Can I really justify spending a significant chunk (my bass amp and cab cost in the arena of $1500) on this stuff, when I can’t say for sure that any single person has been drawn closer to God through my music? What if I can’t justify it? Is it ok to cultivate my gift, even if I’m not sure what God will do with it?

I already live in one of the poorer neighborhoods in Morgan Hill (oxymoron if ever I heard one) … do I have to move to Hollister to be a good Christian? Move back into an apartment?

Even further, does God want me to live a full life? I guess a big question mark in the back of my head is “am I really living wisely if I choose to put myself below the poverty line, and live 100% for the evangelical missions movement”. Obviously, many people I highly respect do. But part of me says, to understand God and life, you (as in me) will need to live a full life … not in the sense of fine wine and dining every night, but in the sense of Ecclesiastes … understanding as much as you possibly can. Experiencing as much as you possibly can. I just wonder sometimes if there isn’t an element of the artificial about the wartime lifestyle.

Another thing: missions takes money, but it’s not about money. I know that missionaries have mixed feelings about tentmaking (too much work to do what you’re really there for) but the more I think about it, the more convinced I am that you’re an awful fraud if your “entry strategy” is a fake. If you can’t make enough money to live in a host culture, should you really even be there? Certainly, once again, this limits your bandwidth, but is it worth being a hypocrite to have more bandwidth? Or the common charge of opponents of Christian missionary work, “These foreigners are buying converts.” Even if you don’t give the converts money, isn’t that what you are doing?

Go on, tear me to pieces.

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2 Responses to “The Wartime Lifestyle is a mess”

  1. seanrafferty Says:

    Interesting questions. I was just reading a book today (4hourworkweek.com – author mostly writes as if he were still in college, crude and opens his first two chapters w/quotes from Oscor Wilde lauding him as some one praiseworth… so while there’s much to be gained in this book in practical tips, the style and foundation of his philosophy – essentially do all that you do for your glory and joy – are wanting) and pondered simular issues. Such verses speaking disdainfully of this world and honorably about treasures in heaven don’t make the matter much easier.

    If memory serves me correctly Ben, don’t you believe Solomon would’ve preferred the end result of his readers of Ecclesiasties NOT seek the “full life” of the experiencial knowledge you seem to reference above?? Where did it get him??

    I believe God is not displeased when we seek to find joy in things that my not be considered “spiritual” (playing your guitar, traveling, snorkeling, playing golf, reading, or whatever other activity one may find pleasure in) when we are not elevating those activities to idolotry (and let’s face it, most of those activities take $ to do).

    One thing is for sure, God wants us to utilize the giftings He’s given us for His glory, so the idea of living below poverty line level for sake of being spiritual is lame… for example, you have skill set in software development, an advanced education and an intellect which allow you to earn a nice salary, were you to trade in your current job for one at say Taco Bell in order to decrease your standard of living that would be foolish. I don’t think this is your point though.

    I don’t believe it’s wrong to “move up” into nicer homes or drive nicer cars, etc if they are not idolitrous. Such possesions can be used to bring glory to God – for example, it’d be pretty difficult for Daniela and I to host a home group in our mobile home as small as it is but when we move into a larger house that can accomodate a dozen or so comfortably that more expensive home can be used for His kingdom’s purpose – and yes, it can be done now for smaller gatherings such as inviting over a single person to minister to – but another point is different socio economic classes of Christians can often engage their correlating culture better than cross (i.e. how likely is a poverty line Christian to engage a ultra wealthy pagean business man in a relationship condusive to ongoing spiritual discussion and vice versa? Not impossible, but improbably).

    2:03am, gotta hit the hay, too long on the Internet, must get some rest! U can pray for me, I do this stuff way too often (tell my wife “I’m just gonna ______” and end up going to bed 2-4 hours later :o( Such poor time management… but when else am I going to find time to read blogs, comment, and surf!? :o) Tell Bonny I said hi and Daniela and I really enjoyed lunch today. I asked her if I was a Calvinistic “lion” today and she seemed to think that my words were relatively “caged” …hopefully you and Randy felt likewise ‘-b

  2. Ben Says:

    Yeah, I really enjoyed our discussion as well. I agree with most of what you said here. I think that with Solomon’s case, though he would probably not advocate a “full life” in that sense, he does say stuff like “wisdom is better than foolishness”, etc. implying that though life is meaningless, to understand it is better than to not understand it, “like light is better than darkness.”


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