Student Stewardship Group hosts panel discussion on what it means to be a steward
There was no beating around the bush in Payton Hall on
Tuesday, November 14, as four Fuller professors spoke candidly and honestly
about money and what it means for Christians.
The subject, which each professor admitted is often taboo,
is central to spiritual life, said Jake Mulder, leader of the Student
Stewardship Group, which hosted the evening event titled “Let’s Talk About
The group gathered the professors to ask and answer
questions about how Christians should think about and spend money, because it
believes “money is not something that is separate from our discipleship,”
Mulder told the audience.
He added that money is an important topic for students as
they think about debt and loans, wise use of resources by the seminary, and
financial leadership at church.
Dr. Scott Cormode, professor of leadership in the School of
Theology, led the event by posing questions and offering insights. The School
of Intercultural Studies’ Jude Tiersma-Watson, the School of Psychology’s
Cameron Lee, and the School of Theology’s David Downs offered their opinions
and theories about money in relation to their studies and expertise.
Cormode began with a story that highlighted how “money” is
often regarded as a dirty word. He explained how in his graduate school years,
he and his wife were part of a Christian Bible study group. As the group
members all just had or were about to have kids, the group’s discussion turned
into a month-long conversation about sex. But six to eight months later, when
Cormode and his wife wanted to discuss finances, nobody was on board.
“Almost instantly everyone in the group said no,” Cormode
recalled. “We could talk about all sorts of things, including things that are
not talked about in polite company, but we could not talk about money.”
Dr. Downs hypothesized that people may not be comfortable
talking about money because it reveals too much about who they are.
“The ways we use, acquire, and dispose of resources
communicate fundamentals about how we view the world, how we view God, and how
we treat others,” he said. “We like to talk about things on the surface, but
not about who we really are as people.”
On top of that, the Bible often has difficult things to say
about the wealthy, which when viewed in a global context would include most students,
“That means that quite often we probably should identify
with the wealthy, who are condemned in Scripture more than we’d like to admit,”
he said. “That informs a lot of our practice of trying to sometimes avoid what
the Bible says about money, because it has a lot to say and not all of it is
Dr. Lee added that one reason people have difficulty
discussing money is because it is a “potent symbol of the various things that
are important to us in terms of what we want out of life,” like security or
Dr. Tiersma-Watson had a different take.
“People who have money don’t like to talk about money,” she
said. “In poor neighborhoods, everything is out there. If we grow up in white
suburbia, we have this cushion, this façade of control and niceness.”
And from a cultural perspective, one of the deep issues
surrounding money is the individualism of American society, which says, “my
money is my business,” Tiersma-Watson said.
“Is that biblical? I don’t think so.”
So, just how much is our approach to money a spiritual
question that requires a spiritual response? Cormode asked.
Lee told the audience it comes down to idolatry. What lies
at the root of many arguments he sees couples have in his marriage and family therapy
practice is that money—or what money symbolizes—becomes so important that it
trumps all other things.
Tiersma-Watson and Cormode agreed, each noting that security
and control are qualities of money that are hard not to idolize.
“Part of the reason we talk about idolatry is that we use
money to cultivate independence,” Cormode said. “I would like to not be
dependent upon my neighbors. I would like to not be dependent on my government.
And, truth be told, I don’t want to be dependent on my God.”
Downs noted that there must be a dispelling of the implicit
assumption that we can segment the spiritual from the rest of our lives.
“There is no segment of our lives that is not implicated in
the gospel,” he said. “How we dispose of our possessions communicates what we
think about our Creator and what we think about the creation.”
The early Christians, the professors agreed, gave many practical
examples of how to better deal with money.
For starters, the Bible is fraught with commands to be
thankful and grateful, Tiersma-Watson said.
“One of the greatest neglected holy habits in spiritual
discipline is gratitude,” she said. “Gratitude is the opposite spirit of
consumerism and materialism.”
She told the audience that when she worked for what was then
Fuller’s School of World Mission, she would often encounter international
students who could easily identify that materialism was a problem in Western
“People notice so easily the idols of another place,” she
said. “These international students who came here to Southern California would
say, ‘we can feel the oppression of consumerism. We can feel the gods around
Gratitude should be practiced daily in order to
intentionally resist culture.
Downs pointed to scripture from 1 Corinthians 16 that
explained offering and giving as an act of worship and a physical sharing of resources. The Corinthians shared communion and fellowship with people of
different levels of economic resources, he said. They made giving about
“In the Western world, we’ve invented this neat device
called ‘charity,’ which is a foreign concept in antiquity,” he explained. “We
have this notion that we can give of our money to people with whom we have no
relationship whatsoever. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, but if
you are never in direct relationship and friendship and community with people
who have less than you, you will never be transformed by them. The poor have
much to offer and to give to us, so it becomes a relationship of reciprocal
Downs said that ancient practice should be cultivated in our
Turning to more familiar things, the panel discussed debt.
Cormode encouraged students to honestly express their fears
and angers about financial stability to God.
He explained that many people shy away from the psalms of
lament for being disrespectful to God. He challenged this thinking by saying
that God can handle honesty.
“If you’re going to talk about money, feel free to be honest
with God in a way that says, ‘God I trust you,’” he said.
Tiersma-Watson also acknowledged that debt is a huge
challenge to students. Globally most students are in the top one percent in
terms of wealth, she said, but “$60,000 of debt is still $60,000 of debt.”
She offered encouragement that if the world and creation
belong to God, so does the debt.
Downs had a different view of debt that he cautioned might
seem unsympathetic to Fuller students with loans.
“I think it’s kind of a privilege to take advantage of a
system that allows one to withdraw loans to pay for an education,” he said.