The Weakness of Asceticism

reviewed by Rick Pidcock

It has been a couple of weeks since the review of Chapter One of our series on finances and the gospel from Randy Alcorn’s book Money, Possessions, And Eternity.

Chapter Two is about the weakness of asceticism.  Randy begins by defining asceticism as, “a way of thinking that sees money and things as evil.”  He goes on to explain, “To the ascetic, the less you own, the more spiritual you are.  If something isn’t essential, you shouldn’t have it.”

UNDERSTANDING THE NATURE OF MONEY

In order to understand how we should use money, we must begin by understanding money itself.  Randy explains that money is simply a tool whereby services and goods are exchanged.  Its value is only to the degree that others place upon it.  He quotes William Ames who said, “Riches…are morally neither good nor bad, but things indifferent which men may use either well or ill.”

THE TWO FACES OF MONEY

Simply put, money can be used either to edify or to corrupt.  Money, in and of itself, is neither righteous nor evil.  But since it is used by people, it can be used for both good and evil.

USING MONEY FOR GOOD PURPOSES

Randy continues to expound on this thought of using money for evil or good by discussing the words of Christ in Luke 16:13 where Christ said, “You cannot serve both God and Money.”  He explains that Christ’s view of money was that we should use it without serving it.

TWO RESPONSES TO MONEY AND POSSESSIONS

In this section, Randy begins to introduce his discussion on asceticism.  He explains that while materialism views money as always good, asceticism view money as always evil.

SCRIPTURE AND ASCETICISM

Throughout history, many people have mistakenly believed that the physically appealing is evil and the spiritual is good.  Whether they apply that idea to food, music, sex, or money, the foundational idea is equally wrong.  Such ideas are clearly condemned in 1 Timothy 4:3-5 where Paul says, “They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.”

A BRIGHTER SIDE TO ASCETICISM 

Randy is careful to bring up a positive side of asceticism at this point.  He says that not all ascetics are the same.  In fact, some throughout history have been very godly people.  Rather than viewing pleasure as evil, many have taken great pleasure in what little they have.

THE MODEL OF MOTHER TERESA

Mother Teresa is a classic example of a modern ascetic.  Randy tells of a documentary that he saw one time of Mother Teresa, in which she was telling a mission house to remove their carpets and the hot water hookups.  Ultimately, she was inconsistent in that she viewed those conveniences as evil, while she still enjoyed food, drink, and clothing.  If the ascetic is truly consistent, then they would never eat, drink, or wear clothing.

THE INADEQUACIES OF ASCETICISM 

Randy closes the chapter with nine specific ways that asceticism falls short.

1. Poverty is not piety.
2. Spirituality is a matter of the heart, not one’s material circumstances.
3. Asceticism can be an attempt to win favor with God or man.
4. Asceticism can lead to unfair condemnation of others who choose a different lifestyle.
5. Modern conveniences can free up time to pursue spiritual aims as well as enhance ministry.
6. It would be disastrous if every believer dropped out of society’s mainstream and stopped making money.
7. Many forms of asceticism are not conductive to evangelism.
8. Asceticism doesn’t deliver what it promises.
9. Our Lord lived simply, but he was not an ascetic.

Randy Alcorn is the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries. He was a pastor for fourteen years and has written twenty books, including Heaven; The Treasure Principle; The Grace & Truth Paradox; The Purity Principle; In Light of Eternity; Perspectives On Heaven; Why ProLife?; ProLife Answers to ProChoice Arguments; The Law of Rewards; Deadline; Dominion; Edge Of Eternity; Lord Foulgrin’s Letters; The Ishbane Conspiracy; and Safely Home.  He currently lives with his wife in Gresham Oregon.

You can purchase Money, Possessions, And Eternity online at Amazon for just $10.64.

Previous Posts On MPE

Money Possessions And Eternity
Chapter One: Money, Why Is It So Important To God?

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