The Treasure Principle by Randy Alcorn

Alcorn is a gifted and articulate writer who has authored numerous books on Christian living. The Treasure Principle promises to help us “discover the secret of joyful giving,” an issue that appears to be very dear to Alcorn’s heart. Alcorn decries the materialism of the majority of believers, and calls us to reduce our lifestyles, re-examine our priorities, and make abundant joyful giving a focal point of our lives. To all of this we say “amen.” We need Christian leaders who will call us away from our passion for “stuff” and to draw our attention to true riches. For some this book may do exactly that, but for most I believe it misses the mark. (e.g. pp. 65-66, 71)

First, it is too extreme. Most illustrations given are of super-givers, the likes of which most of us could never match. This reminds me of books on prayer in which we are being motivated by examples of those who prayed for hours a day. Rather than motivate it often exasperates; and in comparison, even the earnest prayer feels like a failure. (e.g. p. 66)

Secondly, while Alcorn does not support the prosperity gospel by any means, he still uses some of its techniques. The implication is that if we will give more God will supply more, which of course is not substantiated by Scripture – nor should it be our motive. On one occasion an individual is challenged to trust God for $50,000 to give away – and God supplied. Obviously, God can do this if He desires, but nothing in Scripture indicates that He will do so. All my life I have seen people hyped by such testimonies only to be disappointed when it did not work for them.

Third, Alcorn lacks balance. Is it always best to give away all surpluses? Wouldn’t it be far wiser at times to invest so that there is more to give? Or perhaps to start a business that would provide employment might be better. Giving away all we have may sound more spiritual but there often are other alternatives that should be considered.

Fourth, it amazes me that in a book on giving that an author would not take the time to study the Old Testament system of tithing. Alcorn seems oblivious to the fact that Jewish tithing was taxation, not freewill giving (see pp. 59-65).

Finally, Alcorn regularly mishandles Scripture. From the opening misuse of Matthew 13:44 (p. 8) to Matthew 19:20 (p. 37) to Luke 16:4 (p. 38), Alcorn finds a verse dealing with money, dismisses the context and teaches his own viewpoint. He even throws in support for the Jabez prayer (p. 86). When he comes to 1 Timothy 6:17 (p. 35) which speaks to rich Christians, he does not wrestle with the text sufficiently. How, in his system, is it possible to be rich and godly? All indications throughout the book are that rich Christians should give all but the essentials away. If so, why does Paul not condemn riches, but only condemns trust in riches?

We need some good books on giving, but I do not believe this is one of them. Alcorn is somewhat like a cheerleader rallying us to more giving. We need cheerleaders; they hype us up for a short time and call for enthusiasm. But what we really need, in the long run, are coaches who will teach us how to really play the game. The Treasure Principle may serve as our cheerleader, but now we need a coach who will handle the Scripture adequately.