Politics and the Preaching Dilemma: Preaching the Gospel in an Age of Materialism

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Stauffer, Clarence Roy III
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School of Theology Thesis 2015 , School of Theology, Sewanee, Tennessee , School of Theology, University of the South , Wealth and church , Materialism and church , Affluent congregations , Preaching and money , Money in the Bible
This thesis wrestles with one of the greatest tensions of our time: proclaiming the message of Jesus Christ regarding money and materialism in an age where the accumulation of wealth and possessions is glorified and coveted. When reading the gospels, it becomes clear that Jesus had more to say about wealth, money, and possessions than almost any other subject during his life and ministry. He knew it was a stumbling block then and still is today. Preachers who find themselves in affluent pulpits preaching to wealthy and powerful church members will certainly feel the tension when it comes to the topic of money. Many of the scripture passages are difficult to hear and “afflict the comfortable.” Preachers who find themselves in poorer churches must find a way to give hope and comfort to those who feel inadequate as they struggle to pay bills and make ends meet. Simply avoiding the subject of money and materialism is not an option if we seek to be faithful to the gospel. In some churches, money talk is taboo, but why? We live in a culture that is obsessed with money, driven by money, and focused on money. Money means power and influence, accomplishment and prestige. Money is often the way we judge the value of a person and whether or not they have been successful in life. Money drives political passions, perspectives, and elections. Money and possessions should be talked about and Jesus knew that. This thesis will identify what it means to faithfully preach the gospel in an age of consumerism and growing materialism. The Introduction will talk about the challenges of preaching and teaching in a politically diverse context and will draw on recent work in the areas of partisanship within churches, sociology of religion, and American cultural history. The chapters of the thesis will focus specifically on the issue of money and materialism and what various scholars have to say about the subject. Chapter one will incorporate some of Jesus’ specific teachings about money and materialism from Luke and Matthew to indicate how these teachings challenge the prevailing mindset of capitalistic North American culture. This chapter will also focus on some of Jesus’ parables while incorporating commentary from William Barclay, Richard Lischer, William Brosend, and Amy Jill Levine. The second chapter will analyze the work of theological ethicist Stanley Hauerwas who has spent his career critiquing Christian America and the dangers of capitalism. The third chapter will look at the sermons and writings of United Methodist pastor Adam Hamilton who does an excellent job of addressing this issue in a mainline context with his congregation, The Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas. Lastly, there is a series of conclusions based on the research of Hauerwas and Hamilton that should prove helpful for those called to preach and teach in a materialistic culture.