This title is a phrase coined by Presbyterian theologian Francis Shaeffer in his famous book How Should We Then Live? He introduces it in a critique of the Church’s absence during the Industrial Revolution. Schaeffer argues, “If industrialization had been accompanied by a strong emphasis on the compassionate use of accumulated wealth and on the dignity of each individual, the Industrial Revolution would have indeed been a revolution for good… Following industrialization, the noncompassionate use of accumulated wealth was particularly glaring… This resulted in the growth of slums… the exploitation of children and women… Seldom did the church, as the church, lift its voice against such ‘utilitarianism’ (the teaching that utility is the ultimate appeal on all ethical questions).”
Shaeffer is spot on to highlight utilitarianism as the sin of the Industrial Revolution. In our day and age it could be argued utilitarianism has been replaced by pragmatism. I hear too often, even from ministers in our own Presbytery, arguments for actions based on pragmatism. Pragmatism is the teaching that practical application is the ultimate appeal on all ethical questions. This often comes to a head in churches during debates over finances. Applying utilitarian or pragmatic notions in these conversations obscures the Christian’s true responsibility.
During the 1990s there was a movement among evangelical churches called WWJD. It encouraged young people to ask “What Would Jesus Do?” when considering some action. I argue the question should be “what would honor Jesus?” This is Paul’s point when he draws our attention to Christ as the image of the invisible God. “For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have preeminence in everything. For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross.” (Colossians 1:16-20a)
Christ is to have preeminence in everything, meaning He is to be the superior objective of our honor and praise. When I speak of prioritizing Christ, I do not mean simply thinking of Him first, but of thinking of Him in everything. Does our use of wealth give Him preeminence? If He is not preeminent then something or someone else is. This is just one small application of Paul’s teaching, for that passage has wide implications if we are willing to take it seriously.