Monday, 9 March 2009

Beyond the Rat Race - theological reflections on Art Gish's teaching

Art Gish's Beyond the Rat Race published in 1973 is a very challenging book. It still provides a tremendously powerful critique of our materialistic, spiritually bankrupt and increasingly secular society that serves mammon and actually enslaves people in debt, greed and the poverty of affluence. His book is really asking us the question posed by Amos, "What does the Lord require of you?" It is an invitation to take on simplicity as a lifestyle.

Gish gives us some great advice which is so very relevant to people living on reduced incomes in the times of the "credit crunch". Reading his book again in the 21st century brings new challenges and fresh insights. I am on a journey to live a simpler lifestyle. I can appreciate that the more we free ourselves from unnecessary clutter, the richer our lives become. There is an impoverishment in worldly affluence, self indulgence, greed and selfish consumerism. Embracing a simpler, more environmentally friendly and ecologically responsible lifesyle brings many benefits.

Some of the comments in the first part of the book may seem a bit banal and silly, but this book is worth reading to the end. It has controversial teaching, pithy sayings and memorable anecdotes. He even argues that wealth is theft, which is not really biblical, but he has a heart for the poor and wishes to help the needy. Gish contends that "One cannot be wealthy without stealing from others." Is this true of Abraham, Joseph and Solomon? AG probably does not know of dear Christian people who use their income wisely, and manage to create wealth and well being through their generosity. Art Gish is a man of peace and integrity. He is well known for his pacifist convictions.

Gish advises us to spend less and enjoy more in life. He advocates that Christians should work towards a caring, sharing community. Community is a natural outworking of the Christian vision.
He maintains that bourgeois American lifestyle is incompatible with following Jesus; we should not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of our minds, as taught in Romans 12:2.

Since the days of Mrs Thatcher, we in the UK have taken on targets to achieve economy, efficiency and effectiveness but we have neglected ethics. It is more blessed to give than to receive, but our whole worldly wise society wants to grab rather than to give. People may have material riches but also spiritual impoverishment.

Applying Gish's teaching may be hard and almost impossible for some Christians caught up in the health and wealth, Word of Faith theology, but it would be a powerful witness in a needy and greedy world. We live in a society that is all at sea in times of economic uncertainty and spiritual turmoil. Will a simpler lifestyle help us to reach the lost? Art Gish certainly believes so.

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