Nine years of economic growth have showered prosperity on Americans as never before. At least 4.1 million households have a net worth of $1 million or more, an increase of 1.7 million households since 1983. Wages of many in traditional blue-collar classes are moving along smartly too. Low unemployment, decreasing welfare caseloads, lower crime rates, and rising incomes all suggest that the American Dream has become reality for the majority. A $40,000 salary and a 401(k) retirement plan are today's equivalent of a previous generation's homesteading and sod-busting.

American Christians have savored this new prosperity as much as anyone. But in addition to wise spending and ethical earning, Christians must embody a vision of prosperity that rests not solely on a growing economy, but on the flourishing of right relations between people.

Biblical prosperity (based on shalom, justice, and righteousness) must coexist, and function cooperatively, with economic prosperity (based on new technology, productivity gains, hard work, and the painful reality of manufacturing jobs moving to cheaper foreign labor markets). Otherwise, inequalities between haves and have-nots will persist from generation to generation.

PROBLEMS WITH PROSPERITY

Material prosperity is not virtuous in an absolute sense. The ancient Romans certainly brought great wealth to the Mediterranean—and oppression and slavery along with it. As the new century beckons, Christians do not have a special mission from God to be the grouch at America's garden party. But there are unexpected consequences when the rich become richer.

Economic prosperity may give license to gluttonous consumerism, illusions of individual autonomy, and the ratcheting-up effect in which ...

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