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christianity today: buying some golden salvation

December 30th, 2005 by isaac · 3 Comments

I started receiving Christianity Today (CT) this past October. There was a free trial offer and I thought it might be a good idea to swim in that evangelical world for a bit. For me, the most helpful thing about the magazine is that it gives a window into Evangelical America. I mean, where else do you go to figure out some sort of unity to the constantly fragmenting churches that wave the banner of “Evangelical”? I thought CT would give me a taste of the conversations that assemble something of an Evangelical commonality. As far as the content goes, I like some articles better than others. I don’t want to offer a presumptuous commentary on those articles. But, I think, an advertisement in the recent January issue deserves some comment.

It’s a full page ad on p.23 for Genesis Financial. The top of the page reads, “Since the beginning of time it has always been gold.” Then the ad asks some questions that seem to capitalize on our culture of fear: “Are you concerned about the decline of the dollar?... The declining stock market? The increase of natural disasters? The threat of future terrorism?” The reader is invited into a world of economic scarcity where the “invisible hand” of an ever-fluctuating global market can, in a chance moment, turn against anyone and maybe everyone. With so much economic chaos all around us, what do we do? Well, we have no reason to fear because the good folks at Genesis Financial can lead us into safe pastures near still waters: “Talk to us at no obligation for the best way to protect yourself and your loved ones.” Our protection from terrorists lurking behind every corner is just a phone call away: 1-800-511-9010. How exactly does Genesis Financial offer us safety? Because they have Gold!! That’s right, gold will keep us and our loved ones safe from those natural disasters and terrorists. No reason to fear doomsday when you’ve got Genesis Financial on your side.

As I flipped throught he pages of CT, I gave the advertisement only a casual glance. I thought, “Well, I guess that’s just the way advertising works… right?” But just before I flipped the page my eye got stuck on a word that I had previously glanced over. I had read the sentance as a nice shout-out to the Christian audience by saying that God was our ultimate source of salvation not gold, but that doesn’t mean that we should forget about our economic safety… Nothing necessarily suprising about that. But then I realized the word I had read as “God” actually said “Gold”!! The ad reads, “GOLD has always provided salvation in times of need” (the caps are original). I couldn’t believe my eyes. The advertisers actually have the audacity to say that Gold provides us salvation. I think that’s a big deal, right? Salvation, after all, is a special word for us Christians. So it can’t just appear like that in a Christian magazine without some thought into the word’s contextualized meaning. Companies hire analysts to research target markets and what not. Magazines have editors to make sure everything fits well into their image.

I called the folks at Genesis Financial and asked if they are a “Christian business” (whatever that means), and the man on the phone wouldn’t answer the question. But before I can give them the benefit of the doubt—i.e. “they just didn’t know better”—it is striking that they put a bible verse in their advertisement: “And the LORD shall guide you continually” (Isa. 58:11). And that is also completely crazy because that’s the chapter from Isaiah that all the social justice folks love to quote. Isaiah 58 centers on God’s call for economic justice for Israel. I think it’s safe to say that using Isa. 58:11 alongside a declaration of the salvific protection of gold is quite the manipulative technique, to put it mildly. Here’s the context for that passage:

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. (vv7-11)

Yeah, it takes some nerve to use a piece of that passage to make people wanna buy gold. To my eye it seems like the call of the passage is for a people to turn their eyes and ears back upon themselves and repent from economic oppression. And part of that repentence means something like giving what you got to the hungry and oppressed, not buying stuff—especially stuff for the sake of salvation, whether that word means something like life after death or the reality of salvation among us through the gift of the Kingdom’s presence.

In the October issue of CT, J.I. Packer gives the standered Evangelical “exclusivist” line on salvation (see his “Salvation sans Jesus,” CT p.88). At the end of the short article he writes, “The New Testament only speaks of penitents being saved through knowing about, and coming to trust, the crucified and risen Lord.” It seems like this issue of trust in Jesus also plays an important role in what we think about gold (and, by extension, money). Gold cannot bring salvation, neither here nor in the consummated world to come. In fact, the cult of money-spirituality (“mammon”) is the only religion Jesus names as competting with our worship of the true God of Israel: “You cannot serve God and mammon” (Matt. 6:24, Lk. 16:13). Sure, what Christians think about other religions may be important. But, at least for Jesus, the only religion on his radar screen is the cult of money. Shouldn’t that mean something to us? And shouldn’t that register some concern for the advertising people at Christianity Today? I mean, how does an advertisement that seems to attribute religious significance (or, to be more more accurate, salvific significance) to gold find its way into the pages of America’s premier Evangelical magazine? Does this say something about the shape of American Christianity?

One last question: What are the differences between an advertisement that holds up gold as the medium of salvation, and an ad for a weekend retreat at a Buddhist retreat center that promises life-changing spirituality?

Tags: pop culture · theology

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Jason // Jan 2, 2006 at 10:37 am

    The problem is, Isaac, that you didn’t look carefully enough at the name of this upstanding financial institution to understand where they are coming from. Genesis financial. That must mean they are drawing their guiding principles from the book of Genesis. And for good reason! “The name of the first is the Pishon; it winds through the entire land of Havilah, where there is gold” (Gen. 2:11). It’s obvious that God has a major concern about the gold market, because why else would he make that his very first river?! And if you read on into verse 12 you’ll see a full-enough justification for any Bible believing Christian to put some serious stock in gold, because in verse 12 God says, and I quote: “gold…is good” (the “...” contains a few hard to understand words of no consequence to the true meaning of the text).

  • 2 isaac // Jan 2, 2006 at 2:20 pm

    Nice work, Jason. I didn’t even see that. I guess I ain’t no good at reading that there bible of mine.

  • 3 Eric Lee // Jan 2, 2006 at 7:26 pm

    Jason: bwa ha haha—- classic.

    Isaac: Yeah, definitely some reservations with that advertisement (you have to say that last word like the English do, by the way). I’ve read a few good things in CT, but usually only by clicking over to the online version, like the Books and Culture section. Christian Century is obviously a bit more, for lack of a better word, ‘liberal’, but there are still some reservations about that, of course.

    Peace,

    eric