In IFWE’s new booklet, Wholehearted: A Biblical Look at the Greatest Commandment and Personal Wealth, Dr. Scott Redd, president and associate professor of Old Testament at the Washington, DC, campus of Reformed Theological Seminary, unpacks the true meaning of Deuteronomy 6:4-5, also known as the Shema.
Dr. Redd explores the connection between heart, self, and strength in connection to wealth. I spoke with him to discover his inspiration for this topic and why the message is so pertinent for our culture and the church today.
Christians have always struggled with connecting their faith to the various aspects of their lives. The Scriptures give us wonderful guidelines, values, and insight into the way that God has designed us to live in this world, but we still have to do the hard work of understanding our own worlds and applying the Scriptures into our own context. And it is really hard work, which is why some Christians give up on it. They say that the Bible only speaks to our inner life but not to our outer life, that somehow our faith doesn’t have any say about how we live or what we do with the opportunities God has given to us. That way of thinking is a cop-out.
Abraham Kuyper famously said that there isn’t one square inch of creation that Jesus has not claimed as his. This is true of the Christian life as well. There is not one part of our lives that King Jesus has not claimed as his, including our hearts, our minds, our bodies, and our influence in the world. There ought not to be any private fiefdoms in the empire of the human heart. The Lord claims them all.
When Christians study Deuteronomy 6:4-5, many might not connect it to the idea of wealth, as you mention in the booklet. Why do you think this is?
The idea of wholeness as the goal of redemption had been something that I had been thinking about a good bit. Many in my generation, including myself, have complained about a sense of fragmentation that the modern world seems to encourage. Fragmentation is really the opposite of wholeness. Modern life is complicated with multiple forces at work in our lives with cross-purposes, and this complication can lead to fragmentation, the dividing up of the self into discrete units, different personas operating in different contexts according to different rules and values. The person can be lost in these fragments.
I knew that the Scriptures called us to a more unified sense of self, and Deuteronomy 6:4-5 definitely gave voice to that. I think people read this passage, or they read Jesus’s use of it (Matt. 22:37; Mk. 12:30; Lk. 10:27), and they think that loving the Lord with “all of their heart, soul, and strength” means they are called to love God a lot. The categories of “heart, soul, and strength” seem general and not entirely obvious in their meaning.
As I explain more thoroughly in the booklet, the Shema is saying that our relationship with God ought to find purchase in every aspect of our lives, inner and outer. We shouldn’t think that there is a hard divide that keeps the Christian from applying the teaching of Scripture to every aspect of her life. As Jesus taught, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matt. 6:21).
What are the dangers of this truncated view of the Shema—seeing our heart, self, and strength just as discrete parts of our human nature instead of a complete, outward love for God in all that we do? How has this manifested in the church?
I think it is manifested whenever someone mistakes God’s inner work of salvation in the person as God’s only work in the person. Saving faith ought to pour out of a redeemed person in the form of new life, and that new life enlightens every aspect of existence, behavior, language, values, and, yes, capital or wealth. The apostle James is not being legalistic when he says that “faith without works is dead.” We should expect to see our faith mature in a way that spills over into every aspect of life.
If we read the Shema as merely a series of discrete facets of the human life, we miss the inextricable and organic connections between them. We miss the natural flow of faith to the human life. If, as the Apostle Paul says, we become new creations in Christ, then we should expect to find our wealth being directed toward ends that are more and more commensurate with our new creation.
This is a truly countercultural idea today, where the inner part of the person is often held up as somehow true while everything else is secondary or somehow derived.
Why is it crucial to connect the implications of the Shema to wealth? How do you hope this booklet will change the Christian conversation on wealth and economics?
On the one hand, many Christians think of their wealth as somehow separate from their faith. They might give a tithe to church, maybe more or less, but they do not see how wealth and their use of it should be informed by their faith and the love of God. After they have given God “his share” in the form of a tithe, they employ a basically consumeristic approach with the rest of their wealth, an approach that is undifferentiated from that of a nonbeliever. I think that it is because of this belief that so many Christians become very uncomfortable when wealth is discussed in church, from the pulpit, or in a small group.
On the other hand, many other Christians have this feeling that wealth is morally evil. It may be a necessary evil, but it is evil nonetheless. These well-meaning believers often voice romanticized opinions about poverty and the impoverished, pointing out biblical passages that speak of the dangers of wealth while ignoring passages that speak of the wealth’s many blessings. They might be wealthy themselves, and they carry around a good bit of guilt because of that fact.
Both approaches rob us of the joy of having and deploying our wealth to the glory of God. The Bible depicts wealth is a gift from God who gives generously to his people. We ought to rejoice in what we have been given, recognize the giver with our gratitude, and commit to using the gift wisely in a way that corresponds with the love of the Lord. The Shema teaches, and Jesus affirms, that God has offered a plan of salvation to his people that is threaded throughout the whole Bible, and that plan includes the whole of the person, body, self, and worldly effect. Wealth cannot earn redemption, but the right understanding of wealth flows from the redeemed imagination.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with the IFWE blog readers on this topic?
In the ancient Christian hymn, we sing “Praise God from whom all blessings flow,” and yet in the Christian life, many miss that basic idea, that every blessing in life is a gift from God, including our wealth.
Because of our faith, we can understand that we have received a gift, and we can use that gift with joy and gratitude. It also means that we have a responsibility about how we use what we have been given in a way that is consistent with our faith. Does our use of wealth increase the capacity for others to be blessed? Does it reflect the generosity of our God? Does it increase peace and stability in our communities? Does it help those in our communities to pursue their own well-being?
These are not always easy questions. They take faith and wise counsel, which is one of the areas in which I would like my booklet to have an effect. Christians need to counsel, conspire, and collaborate with one another about how their mutual faith and love of God can find expression in the way they manage their wealth. Where that kind of collaboration happens, exciting things will happen.
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