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We generally read personal finance books because we want to learn how to make our money work for us. We want to make more, save more, have more, and we want to know the secrets of the finance industry. None of those reasons are necessarily bad reasons to read a book about money, but none of those reasons are why Randy Alcorn wrote Managing God’s Money: A Biblical Guide. There are no concrete pieces of investment advice, no strategies on how to flip real estate properties on weekends, and no guidelines on how best to leave your wealth to your children. In fact, Alcorn tells his readers that he’s not leaving anything to his children, because his view of money is drastically different than 98% of other authors out there.
Alcorn starts the book by addressing our perspective on money. Money in and of itself is not good or bad. Having a lot of money doesn’t make you a bad person, nor does it make you a good person. Likewise, living in poverty doesn’t mean you’re a bad person, nor does it mean you’re holier than everyone else. What money is, he contends, is a tool to be used, and our worldview will dictate how that tool is used. Alcorn diagnoses the condition of our cultural financial sickness as being the result of our self-centeredness, and I would tend to agree with him. We want to make more money because then we’ll have more money. We want a bigger house because then we’ll have a bigger house. We want to have large bank accounts because then we won’t have to work. Many people don’t see that as a problem, but then we wonder why we have issues with homelessness, poverty, and hunger. Alcorn’s remedy is to redefine how we see money in light of the God who owns it.
All throughout the book, Alcorn uses Scripture to remind us that we never truly own anything, that everything down to the socks on our feet are God’s, and it all can be taken from us at any minute. Instead of wanting more, bigger, better, faster for our own gain, we should strive to give as much back to God as we can in the time we’re given on Earth. Our desire for more money shouldn’t be driven by greed, but by generosity; the more money we have, the more we can give to others. The bigger our house, the more we can open it up to those without homes. He reminds us over and over again that the bible promises wealth in Heaven for those who share theirs on Earth. He also reminds us that Heaven is a far greater place to invest in than the markets of Wall Street, because Heaven’s vaults will never lose value or be robbed or embezzled. In addition, we’re told over and over again throughout the bible that spiritual wealth is much more desirable than tangible wealth, which will eventually be lost anyway. In response, we should be more than willing to use our tangible wealth to grow the spiritual through things like giving to the local church, supporting missionaries and charities, and supporting organizations that translate bibles into unreached languages.
Alcorn spends 2/3 of the book dealing with the heart and making sure that our aspirations are in the right place. The last third is more practical teaching, on things like debt, work, and leaving an inheritance. This advice is very straightforward and leans heavily on the previous chapters. According to him, having debt is a direct hindrance to our ability to help other people, so we should avoid it whenever possible. Work is what our bodies were designed to do, so the desire to save up buckets of money with the intention of sitting on the couch for months at a time without bettering ourselves or those around us is selfish and lazy. Large inheritances can destroy a child’s work ethic and reliance on God, so they should generally be avoided if they’re not necessary (with exceptions for things like intensive medical care or other such situations where leaving money will not corrupt the beneficiary). Instead, Alcorn suggests, end-of-life donations to trustworthy ministries or local churches are better beneficiaries. He doesn’t claim that parents should leave their children absolutely nothing at the reading of the will, but just that great care should be taken to avoid the inheritance becoming a curse.
The Good: Alcorn is a favorite author of mine. He rarely ever presents an argument without proper, context-sensitive Scriptural backing, and this book is no exception. He does a wonderful job resetting our frame of reference regarding money and pointing us to the Creator who gave it to us. It’s almost impossible to come away from this book with the same perspective you had before starting it.
The Bad: I don’t know that I agree wholeheartedly with Alcorn’s stance on leaving a large inheritance, or rather, not leaving one. I do agree that children should be taught to work for their money, and that irresponsibility shouldn’t be rewarded, but I think that if they are raised well, children may be able to better use money to advance God’s kingdom than their parents. If the past ten years are any indication of how culture is to begin changing more and more rapidly, at the end of my life, I fear I won’t be able to keep up with the day-to-day shifts in social issues. At that point, I would hope my children can use my money in a responsible, God-honoring way.
Buy/Borrow/Pass? This one is a definite Buy. With a cover price of $5.99 and a copyright date of 2011, it can almost certainly be found at a used bookstore or online for a few dollars. There is so much wisdom packed in this book, it’s worth several read-throughs, and it would make a great addition to a personal library.