Reform Retirement, Redeem Investing

by Jeff Haanen

In Al Wolters’ book Creation Regained, he makes the point that Christians are reformers, not revolutionaries. A revolutionary wants to wipe the slate clean and start over, but a reformer seeks to restore something that’s been tarnished, acknowledging that it was once good. “Humankind, which has botched its original mandate and the whole creation along with it, is given another chance in Christ; we are reinstated as God’s managers on earth,” writes Wolters. “The original good creation is to be restored.”1 

This is a helpful framework for investing. Needless to say, investing has often been sullied with greed and idolatry. Throughout church history, warnings against usury have echoed from pulpits and town squares. But God’s original intent for investing is entirely good. As with our vocational endeavors, God intends that our investing be done with the aim of furthering human flourishing.

We do that by sharing in ownership of good businesses — ones that provide ‘goods and services’ to meet the world’s needs, that create meaningful work, and make real contributions to their communities and society.2 Indeed, our task as Christians in investing is not to wipe our hands of a fallen world, but to find ways to redeem what has been disfigured by sin and evil.  A restored vision for retirement (i.e., for our later years) is, I believe, critical to that redemptive view of investing. 

How, then, might this biblical view of retirement (aging) contribute to a more holistic vision for investing? Here are four ways. 

1. A biblical view of retirement opens the door to portfolios that prioritize human flourishing.

Concern for the vulnerable, environmental stewardship, the curing of otherwise intractable diseases — these are the sorts of human-flourishing-focused business outcomes that often fall by the wayside when investors narrowly focus on maximizing their retirement savingsYet if we have a vision of retirement not as a 20-year vacation but as a time of humble contribution as elders committed to the good of the world that God loves, investors are freed to take a closer look at their portfolios and make a foundational shift. God believes redemption is more important than returns.3 So should we.

If you plan on working for a lifetime, albeit less as you age, you simply don’t need as much to fund your retirement lifestyle. More importantly, you can see your work, and your investing, as contributions to human flourishing over a lifetime — provided, that is, that your investing is appropriately calibrated to a vision for the human flourishing brought about by the good businesses of which you’re a partial owner. The fear/greed combo subsides in the context of God’s promise of provision for his children, and opens the door to re-envisioning investing beyond a narrow focus on returns (2 Corinthians 9:84).

2. A biblical view of retirement provides a better vision for the vocation of financial advisors.

The idea of retirement sits at the core of the work of financial advisors. In a short piece I once wrote for financial advisors, I said:

Financial advisors have the privilege of encouraging people to prepare for the day when they cannot work due to old age or health. Saving is wise (Proverbs 21:205). They also have the honor of helping clients still have enough to share with others (Proverbs 13:226; 1 Timothy 6:17-197). 

But Christian financial advisors resolutely resist the narrative about saving for retirement built on utopian dreams of travel, never-ending vacation, and a care-free lifestyle. They recognize that sin and the Fall have affected all people, both wealthy and poor, and that there is no such dream of heaven on earth until Christ comes again. They also boldly call into question fear-based motives for saving in retirement, pointing people to trust God alone for their daily bread. 

Also, since retirement (the cessation of work for the balance of one’s lifetime) is essentially a foreign concept to the Bible, Christian financial advisors work diligently to help people save for the day when they can no longer work due to health concerns — but not for the day when they simply don’t want to work.8 

Financial advisors serve as caretakers of their client’s investments, but also as gatekeepers (protectors from) our secular contemporary notions of retirement. A biblical view of retirement gives financial advisors a broader, more faithful vision for their vocations. 

3. A biblical view of retirement re-situates investing in proper proportion to giving, saving, and spending money.

How much do I really need for retirement? 

This question is entirely dependent on your vision for what you want your retirement to look like. If you want a perpetual vacation, that’ll be expensive. You’ll need to invest as if maximized returns are all that matters. 

But if it’s a biblical view of growing older — which includes a mix of family, work and rest over a lifetime — you might consider giving more to charity now. Or spending money on vacation(s) while your kids are young rather than waiting for your own vacation in your seventies. It may mean spending money on private school tuition, saving for an aging parent’s condo, or adopting a teenager from foster care. Service comes in a great variety of forms.

Jesus told a haunting parable about a rich fool who stored up wealth for himself by building bigger barns on the very same night his life was demanded from him (Luke 12:16-219) He also says that our confidence in having enough for tomorrow should ultimately be more like children who ask a parent for bread each morning, simply trusting that it’ll be there (Matthew 6:1110). 

Investing for old age is important, including as a means of loving and serving our neighbors through the human flourishing work of good businesses. In fact, this is one of the primary ways we fulfill the cultural mandate, the sacred assignment given to humans in the Garden of Eden. Still, investing must be put in its proper place among other biblical priorities for money, including giving, saving, and spending (Genesis 1:2811). If God promises to care for us now, he will most certainly care for us as we age (Matthew 6:25-3412).

4. A biblical view of retirement heals our vision of work and rest over a lifetime.

In Leviticus 25, God called his people to give the land a rest one year out of every seven — the origin of our concept of sabbatical. Yet today, we stack up all our years of rest onto the end of life and call it retirement. 

Could you imagine taking one year off after every six years? Could you imagine the kind of investment in your family, your heart, and your professional growth if you took even 6 months off every 7 or 10 years? For most, this is financially impossible. Though some voices are encouraging sabbaticals in corporate America, this is mostly a luxury for the rare senior executive.13 But a biblical view of aging gives us a vision for rhythms of work and rest of which a workaholic American culture knows nothing. 

If you see retirement more as a different season of productive service, what would that mean for how you prioritize rest now? Rather than “scale quick and exit,” as is common in the tech startup world, or the FIRE movement (Financial Independence by Retiring Early), which is common among white-collar professionals, a humbler vision for vocation over a lifetime opens the door to new possibilities. Do good work today, even if you’re paid less, because this is your life today. Get enough rest today, because God himself, who never tires, nevertheless chose to rest after six days of creation. And be content with enough today, because your God, not your portfolio, is your final provider. 

This vision for retirement has long-term policy implications as well. Could ‘retirement’ accounts be used, in part, for mid-career sabbaticals? Might companies build sabbatical policies into their benefits packages as a way to invest in employee health and retention? 

A biblical view of retirement (aging) is one small part of creation regained. It heals the motive for investing, the work of financial advisors, our relationship to money and our vision for work. 

It also points us to a better and truer vision of Del Webb’s “paradise town,” a lasting inheritance for those whose treasure is finally in heaven (Luke 12:33-3414). 

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared at the Eventide Center for Faith & Investing. Through their courses, journal, and resources, ECFI helps to equip both individuals and financial advisors with a biblical framework for investing. Denver Institute for Faith & Work is grateful to learn from ECFI and support their vision for a theology of faith, business, and investing.

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Citations

  1. Al Wolters, Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for a Reformational Worldview (Eerdmans, 2005).
  2. See my keynote address, “Theology for Business.”
  3. For an excellent article on faith and investing, see: Tim Macready, “Integrating Faith with the Way We Invest,” Denver Institute for Faith & Work, 12 Oct 2017.
  4. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.
  5. The wise store up choice food and olive oil, but fools gulp theirs down.
  6. A good person leaves an inheritance for their children’s children, but a sinner’s wealth is stored up for the righteous.
  7. Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.
  8. This manifesto can be found at: https://www.uncommonretirement.com/financial-advisors.
  9. And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ 18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’ 20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ 21 “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”
  10. Give us today our daily bread.
  11. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
  12. “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? 28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
  13. One interesting push in this direction is The Sabbatical Project.
  14. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Jeff Haanen

Jeff Haanen is the Founder & CEO of Denver Institute for Faith & Work. Jeff lives with his wife and four daughters in Littleton, Colorado, and attends Wellspring Church.