This year, as I’ve started to read Justin Welby’s new book Reimagining Britain: Foundations for Hope, I found myself needing to revisit a slim paperback I read about this time last year. Dethroning Mammon: Making Money Serve Grace. This little paperback was Justin’s first solely authored book, and is a Lent book looking at what it might mean to replace money with Jesus in the way we approach and arrange our lives.
Dethroning Mammon is a vey helpful lent book. Laid out simply, calmly written, and rooted in Scripture, this little book is a gradual and careful discussion of six key themes. Related to Lent, but entirely readable and reflection-able outside of that season, Dethroning Mammon offers six points to think about, based on what Welby identifies as the tension in the Bible between following Jesus and serving wealth. These six big ideas take the place of chapters, with discussion questions: ‘What we see we value‘, ‘What we measure controls us‘, ‘What we have we hold‘, ‘What we receive we treat as ours‘, ‘What we give we gain‘, ‘What we master brings us joy‘. Throughout the ‘lent’ reading of this book, I was struck by Justin’s exhortations to move beyond ourselves to community, and his creative but provocative reading of scripture. If you are looking for a Lent book – or a book that, read in parts, might bring you closer to God, then this book, Dethroning Mammon, might be a helpful one to pick up.
Having said all the above, this little book is also a helpful introduction/offering to theological discussion around economics and what money is for. Welby’s background, interests and expertise is predominantly financial – Dethroning Mammon is definitely theological. The above-noted six points are more theological than a skim read might think – and I’d hope that any future theological engagement with what the Church of England thinks about money takes into account what Justin writes here. The deep theology here is summed up by what Justin writes about Jesus:
“Jesus transforms what is possible. Because Jesus is God, there are no limits to possibility. The story of the incarnation – of God accepting the limits of human form – is the story of revealing of endless possibilities of God to human beings who, otherwise, see only limits. In Luke 9, the blind man is transformed by healing and follows Jesus. Zacchaeus has his personality transformed by meeting Jesus, and the hold of Mammon on his life is decisively broken”
Justin’s book is not about the Gospel, per se. Or even the church, properly understood. What it is about, ultimately speaking, is an invitation to choose who sits on the throne: the throne that rules your life and arranges our society. Dethroning Mammon is an invitation, deeply theological but also deeply informed by and aware of economic realities, to consider where money fits into our lives.
Overall, then, this is a good book. If you are looking for a Lent course to invite people to, this would be a good one. If you are looking for a book to speed read before Easter arrives, one you will take seriously, then Dethroning Mammon would be a good way to read seriously before easter. Also, as it happens, this is an informed and important book about money from a Christian perspective. I hope you’ll read this book, and I look forward to seeing what Justin writes next.