Acres of Diamonds: All Good Things Are Possible, Right Where You Are, and Now! By Russell H. Conwell and Robert Shackleton (Lexington: Feather Trail Press, 2009; originally published in 1915. 92 pp)
Born in Massachusetts, Russell Conwell attended Yale University and Albany Law School. Conwell founded Temple University and pastored The Baptist Temple in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
An Inspiring Story
For some reason, the simplicity of the standard “success story” conjures the hopeful sentiment that such accomplishments could occur in any life. Truthfully, most successful stories begin with an idea, a notion of which all human beings are equally capable. In Acres of Diamonds, Russell Conwell utilizes positive and negative narratives in order to inspire productivity in his community.
In Defense of Wealth
Simply speaking, Conwell is pro wealth. While many theologians and ethicists warn society about the dangers of increasing riches, Conwell believes that Christians possess an ethical duty to be rich. He writes:
“Money is power, and you ought to be reasonably ambitious to have it. You ought because you can do more good with it than you could without it. Money printed your Bible, money builds your churches, money sends your missionaries, and money pays your preachers, and you would not have many of them, either, if you did not pay them… The man who gets the largest salary can do the most good with the power that is furnished to him. Of course he can if his spirit be right to use it for what it is given to him” (13).
Viscerally, such statements seem disconnected with reality. Many people would love to make as much money as possible but do not possess the opportunities to do so. However, when charitably considered, Conwell’s philosophy seems sensible to a certain extent.
First, Conwell’s opinions resemble pro-business theological arguments. Many Christians affirm profit, arguing that it is an integral piece of the marketplace puzzle. However, profit ought not to be an end; profit ought to be made with the purpose of serving others. How is this position different than Conwell’s where he suggest that the rich can do more good in the world with money? It isn’t.
In many ways, Conwell’s theory resembles the first two bullet points in John Wesley’s economic theory: one, gain all you can; and two, save all you can. Once made rich by gaining and saving, a Christian is capable of doing good deeds in the world. This notion of good resembles Wesley’s “give-all-you-can” principles minus the all-you-can part.
The Problem of Systemic Injustice
Nevertheless, Conwell’s position on wealth is untenable because it disregards the concept of systemic injustice. Certain people who possess the desire and talent to succeed in business will never find the opportunity. In Conwell’s mind, such poverty is attributed to a lack of belief or a lack of trying. Given our economic system, it is important to remember the role of profit and to do good things when in positions of power. But, Christians also ought to campaign against systemic injustice in order to provide opportunity for those with a will but without a way.
Acres of Diamonds inspires people to pursue wealth. I am not convinced this position is correct. Conwell’s writing carries the foundations of prosperity gospel, a worrisome theology which focuses on wealth creation as evidence of faithfulness. Acres of Diamonds is an influential work and therefore ought to be studied. However, if you are uninterested in the relationship between theology and economic theory, avoid this book.
Verdict: 2.5 out of 5