Most of us live in this world unaware of how wealthy we are. We have much more than what we need. As people in the United States, or even much of the so-called developed world, we have more resources available than royalty in previous ages.
Lee Hull Moses seeks to address this condition and provide a Christian approach to living in our state of wealth. Her book, More than Enough: Living Abundantly in a Culture of Excess is an attempt to navigate through the tangle ethics of a global economy, with a myriad of decisions each day. This book is focused on showing how Christians should live in light of their situation.
Moses is Senior Minister of the First Christian Church in Greensboro, NC. The congregation she leads is part of the left-leaning United Church of Christ. A liberal approach to Christianity significantly colors the volume, and helps to explain where she lands in so many ways.
The volume is comprised of thirteen chapters, in addition to an introduction and conclusion. In the first chapter, she begins by calling the reader to desire to live well as Christians; she wants her readers to delight in daily existence. Chapter Two offers the assertion that we (middle class Americans) have plenty and need to learn when to accept we have enough. The third chapter decries the complexity of living a simple life: it just isn’t as easy as the books usually suggest. Chapter Four is a lament for injustice in this world.
In Chapter Five, Moses uses two texts of Scripture to commend generosity and self-limitation to the reader. Zacchaeus and the rich young ruler represent this paradigm for her. The sixth chapter offers a confession of her own wastefulness and indulgences, like buying candy that she fears may have chocolate sourced by child slaves, and taking a vacation trip to Barcelona, Spain. Chapter Seven addresses the plague of stuff—too much of it, more of it than needed, and much of it never really appreciated. The eighth chapter speaks of the Sabbath, the theory of which Moses pulls from Walter Brueggemann, with a call to practice it in contemporary society.
The ninth chapter calls for people to pursue social justice, particularly to seek the good of neighbors. In Chapter Ten, Moses celebrates hope and finds energy for her pursuit of justice in the future reconciliation of all things. The eleventh chapter documents Moses’ work to increase government expenditures on social programs some see as necessary to bring about justice. Chapter Twelve calls the reader to delight in the good things in life, which is about where the volume began. In the thirteenth chapter, Moses discusses participation in Christianity—particularly the mainline denomination—and finding continuity and future meaning related to her God’s goodness. The conclusion ends with plaintively, with a statement that there is good and bad in the world, but she hopes it gets better.
There are several strengths to this volume. First, Moses avoids the trap of idealism all too common with volumes on the topic of social justice and excessive wealth. She recognizes that sometimes we make decisions that are considered by some to be less than good because we don’t have time to research more, drive farther for a product, or simply walk instead of driving. By including a confession of her own failings and the sometimes murkiness of her own decisions, Moses captures the complexity of life in our contemporary world. This makes he volume more convincing than some advocates of a certain version of social justice.
Second, Moses recognizes the very apparent reality that the United States is awash in wealth. Much of the perceived financial pressure middle class families feel is self-caused, as they pursue a lifestyle that is just a little beyond their means. Life really is more delightful if we desire less and delight in what we have. Additionally, her assertion that Christians should be exemplars for others living in contentedness on less than others is biblically sound.
Despite these strengths, Moses’ approach has some deficiencies. The most striking is the absence of a real gospel, of propitiation, of actual forgiveness of sin. Moses does define sin in the volume, but she describes it as human action that interrupts to flow of God’s love rather than an offense against a holy God. (52) The deepest weakness of this volume is that Moses senses her own guilt, but does not seem to understand that the solution to the guilt is not marching in the state capitol or buying so-called fair trade products, but in throwing herself on the mercy of God and receiving relief from her guilt through Christ. Instead of building her faith on the completed work of Jesus Christ, Moses claims, “The faith we affirm is built on the hope of a future reconciliation, a promise that the world will be made whole.” (97) This is vastly different than Paul’s claim that the resurrection is of first importance. We have to have the resurrection before we can have that future reconciliation.
The missing gospel is due as much to the absence of a real, personal God through the volume. It appears that for Moses the most significant relationships on earth are those between her and other humans. In fact, the entire volume reflects an attempt at self-justification by attempting to mitigate human suffering. Moses puts herself at the absolute center of her Christian experience, and seems to believe others should view themselves as the center of their own. Therefore, she does not ask whether what she does pleases an almighty, holy, personal God. Rather, she asks whether she’s done enough to assuage her guilty feelings about her wealth and privilege. The book is built on a foundation of what appears to be moral therapeutic deism.
The efforts Moses suggests to bring about equality of outcomes tend to be built on growing the government and forcefully redistributing wealth. Moses claims that the government’s role is to “make sure nobody gets left out or left behind.” This is a far cry from pursuing justice, which is what Scripture repeatedly affirms as the role of government. By calling the government to enforce equality, Moses is asking it to do something that it simply cannot do in concert with pursuing justice.
In addition to a questionable definition of government, Moses also falls prey to the popular myth of a zero-sum economics. She views her own consumption as morally dubious because she sees whatever she uses as taking away from others. This approach to economics is common, but is certainly not universally accepted. It is also undermined by the fact that the percentage of the world’s population living in poverty is declining, contrary to her assertion that the “rich get richer and the poor get poorer.” (43) While there is too much poverty in the world, Moses fails to recognize the vast improvements in human welfare that have been made possible very recently, and that many who own nearly nothing in this world’s goods are among the most wealthy.
This book holds out a great deal of promise. There is too much injustice in this world. There are structural biases in our nation that need to be addressed. Many times companies and politicians are motivated by selfish gain rather than the common good. Individuals and families waste too many resources and ignore too much evil in this world. The topic is a worthy topic.
However, Moses’ approach is unsuccessful because it lacks the potency of the gospel, which motivates the regenerate to do justice, and love mercy in this world. It is the gospel that should inspire Christians in the West to work toward economic systems that recognize the goodness of human contributions and the justice of protecting private property. It is the holiness of God that should enflame the hearts of the Church to action. What Moses offers is a motivation built on a feeling of sadness due to personal guilt. Thank God that he provided a way for so much more through the cross.
Note: I received a gratis copy of this volume from the publisher with no expectation of a positive review.