Sunday, September 20, 2020

Prosperity from Apologetics

1Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. 2Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. 3Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. 4Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. 5You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. 
James 5:1-5 (NIV)

 7For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 9Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. 

1 Timothy 6:7-10 (NIV)

One who oppresses the poor to increase his wealth and one who gives gifts to the rich--both come to poverty.

Proverbs 22:16 (NIV)

I love apologetics and always will. It's what led me to Christianity and it's the avenue through which God gives me the greatest fulfillment. My faith is not in apologetics or apologists, but it was still extremely disheartening to see in the public IRS records what some apologetics ministries are paying to their apologists (and to some extent, their other leaders, but that's a somewhat separate issue since teacher are held to a higher standard; James 3:1). Christian organizations should pay their people enough for them to make a decent living, but shouldn't be paying them so much that they're getting rich and living in excess.

What is too much?

It’s difficult to define what is too much money. The Bible doesn’t give us an exact metric, but it does give us some pretty good ones. The James and Timothy passages above put us in the ballpark for knowing what is too much. From a biblical perspective, what matters seems to be what is needed to live (while considering the amount of time worked). Credentials or comparisons with godless organizations to determine what is "deserved" seems much more like the type of godless or worldly thinking that the Bible constantly warns us about.

We need certain things to live and flourish, but we don’t necessarily need the best or most expensive forms of those things. We need food, but we don’t need a steak (or two) every night. We need a home, but we don’t need to live in wealthy neighborhood with expensive add-ons and extra bedrooms that rarely get used. Once a person has what is needed to live with a fair level of leeway for what is “needed,” then everything else is extra. Keeping, spending, and in some cases, even accepting money above and beyond what is needed seems like a highly suggestive, but not definitive sign of greed and a love of money.

Most other people seem to agree with me. In a poll on Facebook (in an apologetics group) and Twitter, without knowing the background, most people didn't think it's appropriate for ministries to pay six-figure salaries to anyone (let alone apologists and theologians, who are teachers of the Word). I'm sure moer and more people would have said it's wrong if I couldn't have specified higher values ($150k, $200k, etc.) I think $100,000 is a decent guideline based on average U.S. incomes ($60k median), but it certainly shouldn't be used as a hard cutoff for what is and isn't an appropriate use of funds, especially when considering the cost of living in some areas.


You can use this calculator by Pew Research to see what constitutes lower, middle, and upper class to get an idea of what is "needed." Cost of living in a specific area, hours worked, what an individual person needs based on their circumstances (e.g. single mom vs. dual-income spouses with no children), percent of overall ministry funds allocated to a person's income, comparable salaries in related disciplines, and experience also need to be considered, although the last two factors are largely tainted by secular standards. Should Christians really be paying apologists and theologians comparable (or higher) salaries as speakers for the Freedom from Religion Foundation and Planned Parenthood...people who have no hope in God and who worship money and power?

Apologist Earnings

Below are the IRS records of what some ministries are paying their apologists, but we also need to consider additional sources of income such as speaking fees, book sales, investments, retirements, and others that do not come from the ministry they work for. Some of these funds might be routed through the ministry (particularly speaking fees), but others aren't so it adds a layer of complication which we likely cannot find out through public means so it's best the be gracious to the ministries while also not putting our heads in the sand. In some cases, the funds legally have to go to the apologist, but in other cases, they belong to the ministry and do not necessarily need to go to the apologist. In cases where the additional funds do not go through the ministry, the person is probably making a fair bit more money than the IRS documents show (this isn't a case of fraud but a limitation of the public records which only show what a ministry pays a person, not all the income a person makes).

With that said, here are the apologetics ministries whose pay scales are somewhere between concerning and appalling (mostly around or above $200k): RZIMCross Examined, Colson Center, Summit Ministries, Christian Research Institute, Answers in Genesis, Institute for Creation Research, and Discovery Institute. To check others, here's the IRS non-profit search page. On a side note, churches are exempt from 990 forms and don't have to report salaries, and sadly, some ministries are classifying themselves as churches so they don't have to report these figures anymore.

While we don't know what people are doing with their salaries, some of the people are living in 4,000+ sq ft., million-dollar homes so I'm skeptical that they're donating huge sums of money rather than living lavishly. Additionally, how many apologists have preached against the prosperity gospel, yet they're living similar lifestyles while hiding their riches. For the record, I looked up comparable Christian writers and speakers outside of apologetics (e.g. John Piper) and all the ones I looked up seemed to be living much more modestly.

If these salaries are not something to be ashamed of, why not publicly display them and make them known when unapologetically pleading for money from donors? If there is some sense of pride about what is "deserved" based on non-Christian standards, then why not stop taking donations for all ministry operations and build all this wealth through selling a product?

How to Respond

I'm going to write to these ministries and ask them to donate the money I've given them to more responsible ministries and/or suggest they drastically change their pay scales. Additionally, I will be hesitant to promote the work of these ministries in the future without very clear qualifications about how they spend their money. They may produce good content, but I don't feel comfortable knowing that I have friends who are struggling to get by but still make sacrifices to buy resources from and/or donate money to these ministries all while their leaders are getting rich. 

On a more positive note, some apologetics ministries do seem to be paying their leaders reasonable salaries (although their figures are debatable, especially if just consider raw numbers) while some apologists don't even accept donations (but may or may not still be getting very wealthy from the gospel). Other apologetics ministries didn't have data on the IRS site or were in more of a gray area. I want to hold people accountable but also be fair. I also want to share a FB comment on this article by Corey Miller, the President of Ratio Christi, (who is not making an excessive wage) for some additional insights about what goes into the 990 forms.

I hope this challenges some apologetics ministries to use their money more responsibly and encourages people to spend and donate money wisely. While saddening, it has also been an eye-opening and helpful experience to learn this information. I suspect most others will view this information in a similar way. I also want to make it clear that I think ministries should pay people a decent living wage and I would be just as critical of ministries that underpay. There needs to be a balance with a fair amount of grace given. I only pointed out the above ministries because their pay scales seem to be way out of proportion for what seems reasonable to me (and probably to many of their donors).

Put most bluntly, affluent clergy are never a match for the lay preachers and impoverished ascetics in head-to-head credibility contests.

Rodney Stark in The Rise of Christianity (p. 174)

Other Resources

You can also find financial information about non-profits from CauseIQCharity Navigator, or GuideStar. The Washington Post Income Calculator and U.S. Income Percentiles will be helpful for determining what makes a person "rich" and how a person's salary compares to others in the U.S. and throughout the rest of the world.

More scripture

 2Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Romans 12:2 (NIV)


1Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ, who is your a life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. 5Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.

Colossians 3:1-5 (NIV)


17Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. 18For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. 20But our citizenship is in heaven.

Philippians 3:17-20 (NIV)


 2Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Romans 12:2 (NIV)


 7For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?

1 Corinthians 4:7 (NIV)


30"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

Mark 12:31 (NIV)


 14Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.15Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20As it is, there are many parts, but one body. 21The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

1 Corinthians 12:14-26 (NIV)


24No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

Matthew 6:24 (NIV)

2 comments:

  1. It's always good advice to donate wisely. So that's good. But I think you're misusing James here to apply to anyone that you deem rich. It's very easy for any of us to fall in to the sin of envy. Sometimes when we say we want others to make a fair salary, what we're really saying is "fair as long as it's less than what I make...". I looked over those that you linked to. The most concerning to me is the Handergraaff's setup where his wife is the 2nd highest paid employee. Maybe she is that critical but on paper it looks really fishy. DI's Stephen Meyer... lives in Seattle. A senior level programmer can earn 200K in Seattle, so that number can look big, but based on where he lives, not really. Again, not saying I'm a fan of these organizations but you'd have to deal with them on a more case by case basis. You complain that "some" are living lavishly. Just be careful that you're not equating a salary to sin or that some number on an IRS form suddenly means that person is guilty of what James is talking about there.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you for your comment. My income has nothing to do with this. It's a matter of 1.) what is needed vs. what they receive and 2.) how the money is earned. I don't think what could be earned in business is a very relevant factor. I don't see a biblical basis for it and if that's what's important to people, they should go make that money elsewhere instead of making it from the gospel, specifically from donations. These people beg and plead for money from people who would never give a dime if they knew what their salaries are.

      I don't know how all of them or really any of them are using their money, but I can tell you many of them are living in pretty extravagant homes, including Meyer.

      As for family members, I don't see hiring them as an issue, but doing so when they are not qualified is very problematic and adding an excessive salary makes it even worse.

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