Thursday, November 8, 2007

Review for Managing Your Finances (Purpose Driven) by Crowne Financial

Just so you get my bias: I follow under the banner of being reformed in theology but progressive in methodology. So in the camp of Mark Driscoll and Tim Keller. I'm in agreement with Gospel Centered preaching rather than Christ Centered preaching (the difference between grace & moralism).

I'm going through this program right now, and I must say I feel like shooting myself, or screaming very loud.

SUMMARY
This program is about 6 modules and goes through different sections on how to view money God's way. It's intended to be done in small groups. There's a lot of basic, practical advice, and like the "Purpose Driven" model, is peppered with one-liner Bible verses to support point by point structured lessons that are taught via a 15-20 minute DVD segment. So for example, they might have 3 points as to how you should save money, and have one-liner Bible verses supporting each point.

In each module, they have you take home and do "homework," which typically means that you need to meticulously keep track of every expenditure, categorize it, make a budget, do an asset inventory, debt-repayment plan, etc.

STRENGTHS
- It's a very good overview of how God views money and how Christians should view money.
- It brings the question of finances into the churches view in a very accessible way!
- Very good practicality (they provide Excel worksheets that'll do a lot of the "budgeting" for you)

WEAKNESSES
- Too simplistic. Nothing in this packet isn't something that you can easily find by googling in five minutes. I'm talking about the financial advice they give. The theological issues are items that someone somewhat knowledgeable about scripture can pull on their own (ie. All your money actually belongs to God!) This material could easily (and more effectively) be prepared in-house (well, I guess if I could've taught it myself, it can't be THAT hard? But that's an assumption based on the fact that all my "knowledge" has been gleaned from free material off the web, both practical financial advice and theological worldviews toward money)


- Teaches bad Bible study techniques. This program is littered with one-sentence or even partial sentence Bible verses. There's a "matter of fact" simplicity they use these Bible verses to support various points they make. For one thing, these verses are taken out of context and are often applied in a different manner than what the original author intended. There's no explanation of the context of the passages and how they were able to apply the verse to the situation. It's just a "here's the Bible Verse," and here's my point. The end. No further explanation. . . WHAT? Are you kidding me?

If you want to take a verse and apply it differently than what the original author's intent was, I think there should be at least some effort to at least mention that and explain the process in which you get to the "application."

They'll sometimes list about five verses, and one verse will be from Proverbs (very practical and explicitly referencing money) and another verse from Romans (that's more about "spiritual matters" and somewhat unrelated to money unless you make a bunch of connections). Of course, I may know that they're pulling "application" and some of the verses are out of context, and I may have better Bible Study skills and acumen, but what does their whole Bible study methodology teach?

Basically, the end truths they may get to are sound enough, but the means they get to it is very sloppy and simplistic. The ends do not justify the means, and by teaching a bad means towards a final interpretation of scripture, I feel does more harm than good.

I think it would be much better for them to just take one verse or passage, and dive deeper into how they pull out the applications. Less quantity, and more quality in their Bible support would practically serve better. This way you can teach solid Biblical scholarship, while teaching about money at the same time. Rather than teach horrible Bible scholarship but teach about money. At least if you teach good Bible scholarship, the individual will be better equipped to investigate further questions they have on their own.

I think in their quest to make the program more accessible to a wider audience, they looked sort of short sighted trying to spoon feed the points to the audiences, rather than looking longer term, to teach people how to study. More of the concept of teaching a man to fish rather than just giving them fish all the time. But in this case, by giving the fish so easily, this program essentially teaches a very BAD way to fish, and will actually hurt people should they try and do a Bible study with the same methodology.

So if I were to do this program, I would have to caveat the sloppy scholarship the program does, despite its truthful points. And then at the end, I would have to run another class to show how the whole program used the various verses to connect their "applications." But then at that point, I would point out that some of their application of verses was way off and show how. And so on and so on, undoing the harm the program did. I might as well not do it and develop one or two quality lessons with some practical financial management tools.


- Doesn't deal with the heart issues. Okay. . . is it because people just don't KNOW that money is really God's that they're not being generous about it? Is it because people just don't KNOW that they shouldn't be in debt because it puts them in bondage that they shouldn't go into unnecessary debt? Is it because people just don't KNOW that spending more than you make is being a dumb ass so that's why they do it? The SNL skit shows this fairly clearly at http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xt0c6_snldontbuystuff_fun

My point is that people know in their heads they should be more generous, or OUGHT to do things. People recognize their own sin and selfishness. But rather than seeing money as an issue of having idols, they see money as a MORALISTIC obligation (ie. I ought to give more money, I should save more, I shouldn't be in debt, etc.) . . .

The question more to be asked is why do we buy more than we earn or are not more generous? Why go into debt based on an instant gratification and hedonistic compulsion? And of course this question will be answered in different ways. But the bottom line is that the ultimate person who should be our greatest satisfaction (John Piper theology inserted here), Jesus Christ, is not our ultimate pleasure. Instead, we feel that some material possession or "functional savior" (Tim Keller theology inserted here), rather than our true savior, Jesus Christ, will save us.

Everyone has their own personal "hell" that they don't want to experience here on Earth, so they try to find some kind of "functional savior" to bring them out of their hell, rather than Jesus Christ. So hell for one person can be where their peers aren't respecting him/her, so that person may go into debt to maintain the image of being important. In that case, the money becomes the functional savior to the individual to buy those things that make him/her look important. What the individual should be doing is looking at their personal hell and asking Jesus to save them from their fear of no one respecting them. So in essence, allowing Jesus to weed out the root issue in the individual's heart.

Okay, so all that to say that the series I'm going through only shows the moralistic and practical methods of temporarily fixing the problem without actually digging deep to root out the true causes for the self-destructive behaviors people have with money and debt.

People may change their habits with money for about a month in response to the study, but long lasting change will only occur once the individuals have been fully redeemed and released from the "functional saviors" they rely on day-in-day-out by the true savior.


In the end. . . a lot of my observations/critiques can be applicable to just about most church programs/sermons, and I'm probably just more annoyed with the state of American churches as a whole.

3 Month Observations of Orange County

I’ve been in Orange County, California, for about three months now, and here are some things that I notice are the difference in comparison to Seattle:

1) There seems to be a much more shattered/shallow sense of community. Maybe it’s the crazy commutes everyone has or the whole thing about how everyone moves to OC to live the OC life. Suburbia with minimal contact of your neighbor.

2) People don’t play computer/video games down here socially. Like up in Seattle, it was okay to be a nerd. Bill Gates is a nerd. Microsoft is a big nerd. And Seattle has a lot of nerds. If you’re a nerd and like nerdy things, that’s actually considered to be somewhat hip. In the OC. . . well, not so much. I think of more of “Bill & Ted” being more acceptable than a “nerd.” I think people are more concerned about maintaining the OC “image.”

To further contrast point 2, when I was in the Air Force, nearly EVERYONE was a nerd at heart. It was more accepted to play video games because when people went downrange, that was all they would end up doing on their off time because there was nothing else to do. I guess in the OC, there’s so much sun, no one really wants to stay indoors so there never was much affinity toward playing video games. People in the OC play outside!!! Crazy, I know.

So what does that look like in reality? When Halo 3 came out and I asked a bunch of people down here if they knew anyone who had a party with their friends over to play together . . . no one knew anyone. . . I was alone. . . and sad there was no one to play with.

But anyway, that’s about all I have to say about that. The more recent entry was really what cooked me to write a blog.