Gordon in the News: last updated 03/30/2009

On The Economy: What Would John Wesley Do?

March 2, 2009
Jo Kadlecek
Office of College Communications

WENHAM, MA-In the midst of challenging economic times, people look for advice and help from experts to navigate their way. If they were to ask Ted Wood, Gordon College professor of economics and business, what he'd say about today's crisis, he would point to John Wesley.

Yes, that John Wesley, the 18th century British preacher best known for founding the Methodist movement.

According to Wood, Wesley enjoyed the security of wealth largely because he wrote theological pamphlets and sold them for a penny during the 1700s. But it is one of Wesley's sermons, The Danger of Riches, that Wood believes offers particular relevance for today. In it, Wesley issues three principles for financial success, steps that could fit easily in today's self-help books: "I gain all I can, without hurting either soul or body. I save all I can, not willingly wasting anything. I give all I can, so I am effectually secured from laying up treasures on earth."

Wood, who is also co-director of Gordon's new Center for Nonprofit Organization Studies and Philanthropy, says Wesley's advice is especially worth heeding during times when many feel confused or distraught about finances.

"My take (on Wesley's sermon) is that the way to financial peace is this: Earn a little. Spend a little. Give a lot. Save a lot," Wood says. "These four steps, of course, often lead to a pretty simple lifestyle, but one that is free from anxiety."

Earn a little means that we should work to provide for ourselves and our families. Wood cites the woman in Proverbs 31 as an example of a hard working business person who buys vineyards, weaves her cloths, sells them in the marketplace and takes care of her family-all before sunrise. So what does it mean to earn only a little?

"The question is how much is enough? When making money is our principal goal, then there may be a problem," Wood says. "It comes down to the management of time and energy and what we value most. When a friend's son was a senior in high school, he made sure he went to every one of his son's basketball games. If his goal had been to earn a lot, he may have given up going to the games in favor of work."

Spend a little, according to Wood, means living a simple lifestyle with contentment. Again he cites a proverb on the subject, "Love of pleasure leads to poverty." Learning not to be impressed by wealth but to be content with the simple gifts of every day life can help refocus a person's priorities.

Give and Save a lot might sound paradoxical, Wood says, but it's actually economically sound advice in preparing for the future. He says that wisdom often means saving for what's ahead with an eye on the needs of those around us. In contrast, fools too often spend all they have or hoard their possessions so tightly they miss the opportunities to help their neighbors.

"The key is to hold loosely onto that which we've been given," Wood says. "In the process, it's important to remember there's a difference between financial peace and financial freedom."

Wood says someone might have great wealth or financial freedom but carry an unhealthy amount of anxiety or greed with it. On the other hand, Wood finds it almost surprising--and certainly pleasant--to observe those whose lives are peaceful though their financial resources are limited. They are without the means to live extravagantly but somehow maintain a peace and genuine enjoyment.

"In the first case there is financial freedom but without peace, and in the second, financial peace even without freedom," Wood says. "The key is to know the difference, and Wesley's mandate--to gain, to save and to give--is at the heart of that."  

For more information or to arrange an interview, contact the Office of College Communications, 978.867.4752, or e-mail .

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Gordon College is a Christian college of the liberal arts and sciences on Boston's North Shore. The College offers majors in 37 fields and has graduate programs in education and music education. Leading the way in Christian college merit, Gordon is nationally ranked for its excellence in academics and its role in character building. These achievements recognize Gordon as one of the nation's top Christian colleges.