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Topical Tuesday: Dethroning Mammon

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Posted by Peter Ould, 10 Jan 2017

Peter Ould reviews the Archbishop of Canterbury's Lent book on the subject of money and materialism.

As a non-stipendiary priest working as a banking consultant across Europe and beyond, I’m often challenged by friends, parishioners and colleagues alike about the “conflict of interest” between Jesus and Mammon. It is this perceived struggle that Justin Welby writes about in his first full-length book which is offered as a source of contemplation during Lent.

Dethroning Mammon is not a typical Lent book, in that it doesn’t focus on the Passion narratives or have a clear cross-centric focus. It is however divided into 6 chapters (one a week for group study) that help us explore how the forces of Mammon, the spirituality of giving things economic worth, dominate our lives and need to be reined in and mastered. Welby explores how we value things (economic utilitarian value vs the value God gives us), then specifically how the way we value things controls us, how we hold onto what we value (and why) and how we receive and exercise power in the form of Mammon. The tone then switches for the last two chapters to looking at the anti-Mammon dynamics of giving and discipline over money. All this is communicated with personal stories and engagement with life at Lambeth Palace, particularly the new Community of St Anselm.

This switch in the dynamic of the book in the last two chapters is similar to that we find in Lent texts like William Vanstone’s The Stature of Waiting, where Vanstone asks us to reflect on how Jesus switches from activity to passivity as he passes into the Garden of Gethsemane. In a comparable literary dynamic, Welby asks us to spend time contemplating how the power of Mammon controls our actions and then invites us as we approach Calvary to let go of it in the same manner that Christ lets go of his earthly and heavenly power as he approaches his moment of triumph. Welby turns us away from Mammon and towards viewing and valuing the world and the people in it as God does.

If you are looking for a contemplative examination of the Passion then look elsewhere. If however you want to explore issues of control, power, and value in our modern economies from a Christian perspective, then this would be a perfect resource, not just for Lent but for dipping into afterwards as well. It should also prompt reflection on ways that other spiritualities of power and identity can control and dominate our lives, drawing us away from and not towards Jesus.

Peter Ould is a minister in the diocese of Canterbury, and a banking consultant.

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