We have seen in previous posts that communal abundance is a characteristic of the larger vision of shalom presented in the Bible. It is part of what a redeemed society looks like. We’ve also reviewed the extraordinary changes that have led to astronomical increases in economic abundance over the last three hundred years, presenting us for the first time with the possibility of material abundance shared on a worldwide basis. What does all this mean for our Christian discipleship? What response does this call forth from us? I suggest it calls forth from us the same response God has always called forth from us: Simplicity.
Unfortunately, simplicity has become synonymous with living a scaled down material lifestyle. It is seen as a response to the idolatry of materialism, the effort to find meaning and happiness through our relationship to our possessions. But simplicity, as understood here, can become every bit as idolatrous. Inordinate focus (and often pride) is placed on ascetic standards of living. Recently this idea of simplicity has become wedded to a populist worldview that foresees an imminent apocalypse from pollution and exhaustion of natural resources. Material restraint is an exercise of personal piety in an effort to save the world from the Beast of material abundance that is ushering in the apocalypse. Conspicuous consumption is traded for conspicuous non-consumption. Both are actually expressions of materialism.
Several years ago Richard Foster wrote a book called Freedom of Simplicity. Contrary to the ascetic approach to simplicity, Foster shows that simplicity is best understood as singleness of focus. When our focus is singularly upon God, other priorities in our lives fall into their proper order. Simplicity requires us to enter into the spiritual disciplines, liturgies, and daily practices that keep our singleness of focus on God as he deepens our relationship with him. Undo focus on either the acquisition or the denial of material goods takes us away from God. I believe this singularity of focus on God is at the core of the gospel, not a “health and wealth” prosperity gospel, nor a material minimalism.
What does the Bible, and in particular Jesus, have to say?