If you’ve been following this blog for any length of time, you’ll know that we’re following Dave Ramsey’s Baby Steps in our effort to clean up our finances and ultimately start building wealth. And if you know anything about Dave Ramsey, you’ll have heard him refer to various parts of the Christian bible as the foundation on which he built those Baby Steps.
For example, his hardline aversion to debt comes from Proverbs 22:7 – “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender.” And his hallmark “gazelle intense” attitude about getting out of that debt? That comes from the first part of Proverbs 6 – “My son, if you have put up security for your neighbor, have given your pledge for a stranger, if you are snared in the words of your mouth, caught in the words of your mouth, then do this, my son, and save yourself, for you have come into the hand of your neighbor: go, hasten, and plead urgently with your neighbor. Give your eyes no sleep and your eyelids no slumber; save yourself like a gazelle from the hand of the hunter.“
Dave’s teaching has been followed by millions of people, his books have sold millions of copies, and his radio show reaches thousands every day. So to say he’s been successful in this program would be a bit of an understatement. Why, then, does it seem like his most controversial issue is that same biblical basis? Over and over again, I’ve seen comments like “Dave’s financial stuff is great, but I wish he’d leave the Jesus stuff out of it.” Or people asking whether they should attend Financial Peace University asking, “Will I still benefit from this if I don’t care about churchy stuff?” Some people love the advice, but don’t want anything to do with the source.
Do they have a point? Can you separate faith and finances?
A Matter of Identity
People identify themselves in a variety of different ways, and we’re all used to most of them. Imagine you’re at some social situation where you don’t know a whole lot of people. Normally, the first conversation you have with someone you’ve never met before involves giving your name and some fact about your life. How do you introduce yourself? Are you Steve, the engineer? Jennifer, the mother of two crazy boys? Lindsay, the animal rights activist? Nick, the day hiker?
Names by themselves aren’t that memorable (after all, there are over 7 billion people in the world!), so we choose to attach some sort of behavior or activity to those names so that we can get a better sense for who that person is on a human level. Most of the time, these identities are just one facet of a person, and people are much too complicated to ever be boiled down to one descriptive phrase, so the one we choose to introduce ourselves with says a lot about those other facets. If work ethic, material success, and social status is important to you, you’ll probably introduce yourself with your job title. If family life and relationships matter more, you might give your sibling, marital, or parental status.
Most of the time, those identities can be separate and still mesh together. You can be a father independent of whether or not you’re a computer programmer. You can be a dog lover regardless of whether or not you’re a Harvard grad. But what if there was one thing about you that influenced every aspect of your life, permeated through every single detail that made you, you? I’m talking the clothes you wear, the car you drive, the house you live in, the job you do, the person you marry, the food you eat, the TV shows you watch; everything you do in life, and not just what you do, but how you do it? I believe there is: my faith as a Christian. Faith is unique, because it can’t be extracted from any other part of the person who holds it.
I believe that true faith will seep into everything you do because it changes who you are. If you really believe that God is the owner of your money, it doesn’t bother you to donate or even lose some since it was never yours anyway. If you really believe that God will provide for your physical needs, there isn’t any point in stressing about an upcoming round of layoffs at work. If you really believe that God has commanded you to sacrificially love other people and care for widows and orphans, you’ll do whatever possible to make yourself available for the service of those other people.
Heart, Meet Wallet
I once heard someone say, “Show me a man’s bank statement and I can tell you what matters to him.” What would yours say about you? Do you spend money on family trips and activities? On local charities and church giving? On political lobbies? On business expenses? On entertainment and diversions? On status symbols like clothing, technology, or cars? Jesus said, “[W]here your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
The money we control goes where we want it to go. Your wallet is an extension of your heart; the most direct way to support something we care about is through financial means. Love cookies? You could talk about cookies a lot or look at cookies in store windows, but the behavior that most definitively backs that claim up is buying a lot of cookies.
For me as a Christian, how I spend my money is 100% affected by my faith because my heart is 100% affected by my faith. They go hand in hand. God tells us that at the moment we believe in Him as our savior, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” I don’t really have a desire to do the same things I did before I was saved, so my money doesn’t get spent in the same way as it would if I didn’t believe.
Dave Ramsey, Plagiarizer
I can’t speak in detail about what Dave believes, because I don’t know his heart. Only God knows that. All I know is what he has said publicly, and what’s in his book. Based on what he’s said, it would seem as though Dave shares many of the same beliefs that I have. As such, it’s impossible for him to separate the “money stuff” from the “Jesus stuff” because the “Jesus stuff” is the foundation of the “money stuff.” He hates debt because the bible tells us to not be in debt. He teaches people to save an emergency fund because the bible tells us to provide for our families and says that “There is precious treasure and oil in the dwelling of the wise, but a foolish man swallows it up.” He teaches people to give generously because God loves a cheerful giver. He teaches to build wealth and “change your family tree” because “A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children.”
Nothing that Dave Ramsey teaches is new, or unique, or groundbreaking. All he did was take biblical advice, package it up to make it easier to understand, and provide real-world experience from his own life showing that trying to do things any other way just doesn’t work as well. I don’t think he would disagree with me, and I (along with millions of others) am very thankful for the work he’s done. Dave Ramsey has a lot of identities. He’s a financial guru, business leader, public speaker, author, father, husband, counselor, and many other things. But the one thing that guides him in all those roles, that underlines who he is as a person, is his faith in Jesus Christ.
Leave Church At Church?
Christianity permeates everything in a believer’s life. It’s impossible to “leave church at church,” because the believer is the church. Everything we do is guided by God, through prayer and reading what He has written to us in the bible.
How do Rachel and I handle money as a married couple?
- Mark 10:7-8 – “‘[A] man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh.”
- Ephesians 5:25 – “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her“
Why are we working so hard to get out of debt?
- Romans 13:8 tells us to “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another.“
- Proverbs 22:26 – “Be not one of those who give pledges, who put up security for debts. If you have nothing with which to pay, why should your bed be taken from under you?“
Why is giving such a large part of our budget?
- Deuteronomy 16:17 – “Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the LORD your God which He has given you.“
- Proverbs 28:27 – “He who gives to the poor will never want, but he who shuts his eyes will have many curses.“
- Luke 3:11 – “And he would answer and say to them, ‘The man who has two tunics is to share with him who has none; and he who has food is to do likewise.’“
- Luke 6:30 – “Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back.“
What do we do if one of us loses a source of income, or if something doesn’t go according to plan?
- Matthew 6:31-33 – “Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.“
- Matthew 10:29-31 – “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.“
So, to answer the criticism about Dave (and pre-empt it about me, I suppose), no, it’s not possible to remove biblical teachings from our finances. Just like it’s not possible to remove them from our marriage, or our friendships, or our work ethic, or any other aspect of our lives. Being a Christian isn’t just something we do on Sundays or with family on holidays. It’s who we are.