Equipping God's People to Create Missional Culture

An Interview with Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove about his new book “God Economy” Part II

God's Economy Book CoverToday is the second part of a four part interview with Jonathan about his new book God’s Economy: Redefining the Health and Wealth Gospel. You can read part one if you missed it. I will be posting the third and fourth parts of the interview next Tuesday and Thursday. So let’s jump into the on-going conversation about such an important topic.

JR: You live in a new monastic community called the Rutba House. What would you say are the most important thing(s) you have learned living in this intentional community?

Jonathan: That my ideas aren’t as important as my need to be loved. I think the biggest challenge to community–the biggest challenge to receiving God’s Economy–is that it’s hard to be loved by people who really know you. Because when people know all your junk and suffer it up close and personal, their love is an act of forgiveness. And it’s hard to be forgiven for who you are.

But it seems to me that’s the heart of the gospel–while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. God forgives us for being the enemies we’ve become and loves us into a new community. It’s like getting born again, Jesus said. If you’ve ever seen birth, it’s not easy. We forget the suffering of our natural birth, but we have to choose it if we’re going to be born again. I would not trade the life we have together at Rutba for anything, but I want to be honest: we’ve found it by choosing to stay together when things are hard and by learning to be forgiven.

JR: You mention in chapter five – Eternal Investments – that you have had times when you have wanted to walk away from your monastic community, what are some reasons you have been tempted to walk away and what has helped you stay committed to this community?

Life together is frustrating because the wounds we carry, which manifest themselves in annoying habits and defensive patterns, are so predictable. Community is so often the same thing over and over again. It’s easy to see these habits in other people. But I also have to come to terms with the old patterns that keep repeating in myself. The people who have to live with me have some personal interest in reminding me of my “growing edges.” But that can feel like an attack. And if you’re not a fighter by nature, the easiest thing to do is walk away.

What keeps me here is the hope that we are indeed being transformed because Jesus is risen from the dead. Some days the light breaks in and you can see it—new life is real here and now. The poor find bread and the rich find purpose and we are not alone anymore. But faith is the evidence of things not seen. We have the empty tomb to remind us that Sunday’s coming, even when we don’t feel resurrection’s power in our midst.

JR: You state in your book “The whole story of Scripture seems to say that God’s party isn’t finished until all his children are gathered around the table, breaking the bread we have, passing the pieces to one another and living the beloved communion with our Lord.” What do you understand some of the best practices are when it comes to development in places like Africa?

Jonathan: Globalization has made everyone more aware of the disparities between our way of life in America and how most folks live in the rest of the world. But this shouldn’t be news to Christians. We’ve been a global family from the very beginning. That’s the scandal of the gospel that Paul carried around the Roman Empire—that Jesus makes all of us family.

So our best practices when it comes to development are forms of economic sharing that help us remember one another as family. If we think we’re going to leverage the global economy to “end poverty” once and for all, we’re likely to get distracted from the very concrete forms of shared life that bring us into real relationship with one another. So I love projects like the one started by my friend Emmanuel Katongole called Share the Blessing, where people who’ve become friends across a continental divide build wells together. I love the work of Word Made Flesh and InnerChange that’s redefining mission as friendship with those on the margins of society. I love being part of the Relational Tithe, where we redistribute tens of thousands of dollars every year through relationships with people we know. Do we need structural reform within global financial institutions like the IMF and World Bank? Yes. But those institutions are never going to save us. We need to show them what God’s Economy can look like and invite them to join the party!

JR: You have many meaningful quotes in the book, in chapter three you say, “For Jesus, the cross isn’t simply one event that happens at the end of his life; it is the very shape of his everyday living.” What does it practically mean for us to carry our crosses daily and follow him economically speaking?

Jonathan: When it comes to money, I think taking up my cross means trusting that God will provide for me and my family (and everyone else) if I choose to invest what I have in people rather than in banks that promise financial security. Practically it means I don’t invest in a life insurance policy; I invest in kids from my neighborhood who are trying to go to college.

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove is a graduate of Eastern University and Duke Divinity School. An associate minister at the historically black St. Johns Baptist Church, Jonathan is engaged in peacemaking and reconciliation efforts in Durham, North Carolina, and directs the School for Conversion, an alternative seminary that hosts courses around the country. He is a sought-after speaker and the author of several books including New Monasticism. The Rutba House, where Jonathan lives with his wife, Leah, their son, JaiMichael, and other friends, is a new monastic community that prays, eats, and lives together, welcoming neighbors and the homeless. Take a minute tocheck out his website. Feel free to order God’s Economy, you will be enriched and challenged.

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